Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy is about a weird area on the forgotten coast in a future with nameless bureaucracies instead of specific governments. With all the namelessness what is named is important. In the first book, Annihilation the names were given to the specifics of the environment the biologist was witnessing. In Authority we go with the replacement director into the bureaucracy that sent the expeditions in the first book. By the third book, Acceptance, we’re discovering the depths of what came before and putting names to the weirdnesses.
While each book has delved into the mystery of Area X, the characters are the reason to keep reading. I found that Acceptance, because it had worked up to four viewpoint characters in three timelines, was a bit less drag-me-along I need to finish this last night than the first two. They were all really good, but if you want to stop after the first I think that’d be okay too.
I wasn’t sure what my reading life would be like after my kid was born (a little less than 4 weeks ago now). So far, I’ve been getting through things all right, though the dead time when your job is simply holding a screaming grub trying to let it be quiet again isn’t as conducive to in-depth concentration as I’d prefer. If I could listen to audiobooks I’m sure that’d work a bit better, but someone would always be distracting me. In any case, huzzah for ebooks that let me turn bages by tapping something that’s always lying flat where I put it.
Charlie Jane Anders’ debut novel, All the Birds in the Sky is great. The main characters start off as a couple of weird kids, one who talks to birds and another who builds a two-second time machine, and the story is about how they, well, interact is a clinical word, but it’s an appropriate one. Each of them embodies a different way of looking at the world off-kilterly, one through nature-magic and the other through mad-science.
It’s really good, but don’t expect it to feel realistic. For the first third of the book I was unsure why this wasn’t marketed as a more science-fictional Eleanor & Park. As kids there’s an assassin sent to deal with them but he’s not allowed to directly kill minors so he becomes their guidance counsellor and becomes really well-liked in that role. Then there’s a time jump to adulthood and the fate of the world starts to become an issue (and it loses some of that YA romance feeling). Later in the book it feels much more like The Magicians, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, Makers or Seveneves.
One issue might be its optimism in the face of the end of the world, like there’s going to be an escape valve that we’ll actually all be okay. I think it walked the line well, but your mileage may vary.
Alastair Reynolds’ Revenger is his latest space opera and it is not very good. I often pick up one of his books thinking, “Why haven’t I read one of these in a while?” I was 2% into this one when I remembered.
It’s all tell and no show. Reynolds has characters that are cardboard standups engaging in cliche actions that anyone who’s ever read or watched better science fiction will see coming a million leagues away. In some of his previous space operas I know there’ve been enough good bits that I could deal with the plodding language, but none of that is in Revenger.
I can’t recommend such a formulaic and blah space opera, not when there’s such good stuff happening in the field these days. The Stars are Legion is a zillion times better than this, as is Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy (though that has more of a military sf aspect).
The Collapsing Empire is John Scalzi’s most recent space opera. It takes the tropes of far flung planets and space ships travelling between them and puts some interesting characters doing clever things in those ships and places of power and knowledge. Yup. Good stuff.
The collapsing part of the empire (called the Interdependency because they rely on trade between stars to survive) is that the bits of nonspace that connect these farflung worlds without having to travel actually faster than light (though the effect is pretty much the same in a Traveller-esque fashion) are shifting, and that’s shifting how power will play out on the grand scale. It’s a good ecological metaphor and I enjoyed how humanity has had to build habitats wherever they could connect to each other, rather than on planets that would be suitable for bearing human life.
I’m a bit interested in what will happen when the shifting status quo meets up with either Earth or a generationship kind of thing that didn’t use the networks that are shifting. It’s a series though, so that doesn’t happen in this book. It was a fine light read; a good popcorn book. As far as space opera I’ve read recently I like it better than The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet but not as much as Leviathan Wakes or The Stars Are Legion.
I liked Grant Morrison and Frazer Irving’s Annihilator, but I don’t mind stories about writers trying to write something good. In this comic, Ray Spass is an asshole screenwriter working on a dark space opera when the main character Max Nomax comes to him to find out what happened in Nomax’s life. There’s a data bullet lodged in the annihilator’s brain which corresponds to the inoperable brain tumour in Spass’. It doesn’t quite get to the level of Morrisony weirdness that it could, which is a bit disappointing and it’s kind of (extremely) wanky but it’s pretty.
Walkaway is the latest novel by Cory Doctorow. It’s a utopian tale of people who, because of ubiquitous 3d printing technology (that can produce food, drugs, shelter, clothing and whatever else out of raw material feedstock) drop out of the default society that has no place for them apart from working terrible jobs to try and become one of the zotta-rich (since the 1% is now giga-beyond mega-rich).
The story follows a bunch of different walkaways, starting with three who make the decision after a communist party. One of those three is the daughter of a zotta, which fuels most of the plot. Otherwise it’s about how a post-scarcity society based on walking away from the ratrace could work. It’s hugely utopian and I really liked it, even when default society was sending the troops in to destroy these techno hippies.
I have always wanted to live in something like walkaway. Owning nothing I didn’t mind getting stolen and working on things to work on them, not because I need a paycheque to live.
The marketing material stressed how it’s his first Adult novel in years (after doing a run of YA work), but the main difference between this and something like Little Brother is that this has sex scenes. Which are fine, but whatever. It still felt like a YA book and a big part of that is that until the last quarter of the book everyone we see walking away are people’s kids or hipsters or disconnected from the world scientists. No one walks away from their kids, or brings them with them. It feels very adolescent not to deal with the responsibilities you’re walking away from. Or maybe that’s just something I notice more now that I’m more of a boring grownup. The book feels like it’s telling me if I wanted to walk away I should have done it before now. So that’s kind of depressing, to have a novel show you the society you want and say you’re too late for it. I guess that’s just what aging is for though.