All posts filed under: Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Pastel City (M. John Harrison)

As can be seen from a casual glance at my book reviews, while I read little fiction, I am keenly interested in science fiction.  Sadly, almost all contemporary science fiction is mere social justice agitprop.  But there is some quite good relatively modern science fiction, and in particular, I am fond of (no surprise, I suppose) what is commonly called the “Dying Earth” genre, after the name used by Jack Vance in the 1950s.  This book, The Pastel City, published in 1971, fits squarely into this genre, but is distinguished by the gem-like quality of its writing, elevating it above the average pulp of late twentieth-century science fiction.

Leviathan Wakes (James S. A. Corey)

Leviathan Wakes is extremely well written, with a tight plot and carefully chosen prose.  This alone separates it from the vast majority of today’s science fiction.  Nor is it tendentious message fiction, further separating it from most modern science fiction, which is all about the navel-gazing identity of the characters, mostly as thinly veiled metaphor for present-day political conflicts.  Thus, the taut, straightforward story here has broad appeal, which is doubtless is at least part of the reason it has been serialized into a TV series (on SyFy), called The Expanse.  I haven’t seen the series, but if it is reasonably faithful to the book, it is probably very much worth watching.  Most importantly, it shows how a modern version of Manifest Destiny could work, a consummation devoutly to be wished.

Armada (Ernest Cline)

Most bad books have some redeeming feature.  This one doesn’t.  Ernest Cline’s first book, Ready Player One, was quite good for what it was—an exercise in Eighties nostalgia, aimed at people like me who came of age in that golden time.  Armada is an attempt to further capitalize on that nostalgia, but it’s more reminiscent of a creepy, jobless stalker who skulks every night outside his ex-girlfriend’s apartment, begging her to give him one more chance, because, after all, didn’t it used to be so good?

The Weapon Shops of Isher (A.E. van Vogt)

The right to be armed is the right to be free!  This call, like the battle cry of the Archangel Michael, Who is like God?!, echoes down the ages of Man.  If you are not armed, you are always wholly at the mercy of tyrants.  Who can argue with such a truism?  A lot of people, actually.  For the phrase does not, in fact, echo down the ages of Man.  It dates only to 1941, when this book, a now obscure science fiction classic, was first published—and the principle itself is not much older.  So, rather than making this review the pro-weapons screed my (few) readers doubtless expect, I will explore the principle itself—in particular its limitations within a conservative philosophical framework.

The Final Day (William Fortschen)

I did not have high hopes for this book. But I was wrong—this is an outstanding book. It’s way better than the middle book of the trilogy (One Year After), which was overly talky and seemed like filler. Sure, it’s not as awesome as Fortschen’s first book, One Second After—but it’s hard to capture lightning in a bottle once, much less twice. So you should read this book, because unlike most “prepper” literature, which tends to be, um, not “literature,” this book both engrosses the reader and makes the reader think.

The High House (James Stoddard)

“The High House” is a startlingly original book. It is, in some ways, young adult fantasy. In other ways, it is fully adult allegory. Naturally, such double effect, whether of allegory or some other adult theme, is the hallmark of all great fiction putatively directed at the young, from the “Chronicles of Narnia” to “Alice In Wonderland.” (This is why I think that in a few decades, nobody will remember Harry Potter—sure, it’s original, in many ways, but it is what it is. There is nothing to unpack.) Much of the allegory in “The High House” is Christian, or rather Judeo-Christian, as well as conservative in its view of reality, aside from religion. But the book is compelling simply as a fiction read, for young adult or old adult.

The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Third Annual Collection (Gardner Dozois ed.)

I have read all of the Dozois annual collections. And this one, the thirty-third, is the best. I applaud Dozois’ bold ability to collect stories that, whatever their merits as literature or entertainment, truly show a path forward. A path forward from historical oppression of womyn; of those of color; of gender non-binaries; and of the sexually fluid and/or non-conforming; and towards the world of LGBTQQIP2SAA unshackling, with total autonomic self-actualization free of bigotry and hatred. So rather than boring the reader of this review with plot summaries, since plot after all doesn’t matter when pursuing social justice, I’ll instead note the individual areas where Dozois’ story choices succeed so well.

The Three-Body Problem (Cixin Liu)

“The Three-Body Problem” is a science fiction novel, of the “hard” subgenre, that has received a great deal of attention. Much of that attention is due to a political tussle among science fiction fans, where some believe that various unworthy writings have been exalted by the establishment merely to make a political point about supposed under-representation by authors of certain types, including non-American authors. This book was nominated for the top awards in science fiction, and won the Hugo Award. Whether it “deserved” the Hugo I can’t say, having little basis for comparison in my own reading. But I can say the book is very good—with some non-trivial shortcomings.

Dangerous Visions (Harlan Ellison ed.)

“Dangerous Visions” is a semi-legendary compilation of science fiction stories, originally published in 1967, most of them written by legendary science fiction authors. The compilation features both the stories themselves, and for each an introduction and postscript by Harlan Ellison (himself legendary). There is also a longer set of introductions, forwards, etc., at the beginning of the book, including new ones written in 2002 to celebrate the thirty-fifth anniversary of this tedious, silly book of stridently bad stories.