the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘future

borrowed-manA Borrowed Man, by Gene Wolfe

published in 2015

where I got it: purchased new

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  1. Protagonist and supporting characters who you’re pretty sure are lying to you and to each other?
  2. Dialog that can be inferred in multiple ways?
  3. Not much of a pay-off at the end?
  4. Feel like you need to read the whole book again to figure out what’s going on?

 

If you answered Yes to all those questions,  you might be reading a Gene Wolfe. In classic Wolfe  fashion A Borrowed Man answers all those questions with a resounding Yes, and I’m tempted to read the whole thing again, just to see what additional hints I can pull out.

 

In the far future, not only can you take discs out of the library, but you can take an entire person out the library. Famous authors, artists, and poets have been “re-cloned” – they talk like a person, act and walk like a person, need to eat and sleep like a person, are a person, but are owned by a library. Reclones are property.  When someone takes out author A.E. Smithe, he has no choice about what they do with him.  But if enough years go by with no checkouts? He might get sold at a library discards sale, or he might get tossed into the incinerator without a second though.

 

To Smithe, his life is normal. He lives on a shelf in the library, he gets up every day and washes his hair and has breakfast. He paces, he reads, he fights with his ex-wife. If no patrons come to consult you, life is easy but boring.  Smithe remembers everything (or nearly everything) his original remembers, but he also remembers everything he’s experienced since becoming a reclone. Many libraries have E.A. Smithes, all with the same core memories. Reclones are forbidden from writing or creating art, it would cheapen what their originals did.  Yet, A Borrowed Man is told in first person, so  . . .  is Smithe writing this story?

 

Regardless of who is writing this story,  Smithe gets taken out of the library by one Colette Coldbrook, who says she needs his help solving a mystery. Both her father and brother were recently killed, and the only thing found in her father’s safe was a copy of the book Murder on Mars written by E.A. Smithe, yet our Smithe has no memory of every writing it. Are his memories incomplete? Was the book actually written by someone else (a law-breaking reclone, maybe?)?

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martian-chroniclesThe Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

published in 1950

where I got it: purchased used

 

I read Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles at the end of January as part of Vintage Month, but as you can see, I’m not getting the review up until now.  As these are short stories, this counts towards Tip the Wink’s Short Story February. Win!

 

This collection of short stories and episodic microfiction that chronicle humanity’s conquest of Mars is a fun read for a lot of reasons, foremost that early stories take place in 1999.  I always get a chuckle out of reading something that was written in the 50s and the author places it at the turn of the next century thinking “that’s so far in the future!!”. Well, the future is now, or it was 18 years ago. Fun little time slip there!

 

As the story goes, in the late 1990s, we sent expeditions to Mars, and the first few were complete failures. (Which makes me wonder – how much did we know about Mars in 1950? That’s the worldview that these stories were written in)  Some of the short stories at the beginning of the chronicles are from the Martian’s point of view, and they basically see humans as annoying curiosities. The Martians are telepathic and can appear in any shape to us, so sometimes they appear as humans as to help us feel more comfortable. One of the expeditions comes across an entire Earth village filled with the astronauts parents and grandparents, who “welcome” everyone home.  There’s a darkness here as well, as the Martian’s goal is be sure we never attempt to return. I viewed a lot of that with gallows humor, but I don’t believe it was ever meant to be funny.

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we-zamyatinWe by Yevgeny Zamyatin

written in 1921

where I got it: purchased used

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I’ve owned this little paperback for years, and I’ve always been intimidated by it. Because the introduction is 20 pages long? Because the story was considered so subversive that it couldn’t be published in Zamyatin’s native Russia until 1988, fifty years after the author’s death? Maybe. And maybe because I was nervous that what was a riotious dystopian political satire in 1922 wouldn’t hold up, that I’d be too far removed from what the story referenced to understand the satire.

 

I should never have been intimidated.  The story is not subversive to my modern eyes,  and the all-inclusive satire holds up very well, with Zamyatin going after everyone he possibly can in an unsubtle fashion – Christians, a helicopter-parenting government, Authoritarianism, Big Brother, and anyone who agrees tacitly with a majority without bothering to analyze what’s happening. I solved my problem with the introduction by leaving it until after I’d finished the novel.  The “utopia” of We is reason taken to the nth degree,  protection of the people by removal of all choice,  a society built around the concept that humans can only be happy if when when all choice, all worryor concern of making a misstep, all need of something out of reach, all creativity, all freedom is taken from us.   Citizens are referred to as numbers, not as people. This is a society madly in love with math, reason, and rationalism, and terrified by question marks, the unknown, and the imagination.   Dissidents are publicly executed.

 

“When a man freedom equals zero, he commits no crime. That is clear. The only means of ridding man of crime is ridding him of freedom”

 

Not only is choice and freedom gone, but so is privacy. Homes and buildings are constructed of clear glass, the concierge in your apartment building reads your mail and registers your visitors, and privacy blinds may only be drawn if the proper paperwork is product with the partner you have registered for that day.

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central stationCentral Station, by Lavie Tidhar

published May 2016

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (Thanks Tachyon!)

 

I’ve been reading Lavie Tidhar on and off since I started this blog. I really enjoyed The Tel Aviv Dossier, thought The Bookman was just OK, enjoyed some of his short fiction and the World Science Fiction anthologies he edited with Apex, and then I bounced pretty hard off of Osama. His work has won a lot of awards, and I constantly feel like I’m either not taking his work seriously enough, or taking it so seriously that I’m missing the point. With that background, it should surprise no one that this beautiful ARC of Central Station sat on my to-be-read shelf for as long as it did.

But . . good news! By the 2nd chapter of Central Station I was hooked, by the middle I was grinning every time I learned about another character’s back story, and on the morning of Memorial Day I had either the best timing in the world or the worst, as I read about the robotnik soldier beggars of the future.

I don’t know why, but I shy away from using the term “mosaic novel” to describe Central Station. Yes, the novel does fit the definition of a mosaic novel, and it also fits the definition of a “fix up” novel. . . and the problem is that both of those terms feel too flat and too small to encompass this book. Central Station has the overwhelming sensory overload of an Ian McDonald, the fantastical descriptions and bio-technology of a China Mieville, and the each story is a foundation of the next of Cat Valente’s Orphan’s Tales. With nods to scifi greats like Cordwainer Smith, Philip K. Dick, and Isaac Asimov (and was that a Burroughs reference I saw?), Tidhar touches on history, culture, and socio-economics to tell a story about how we’re all stuck together and should really make the best of things because these kids need a village to raise them. Reading this book was like being a bartender at bar frequented by locals – Everyone has a different story to tell, but all their stories are interrelated and interconnected. The further I got into this novel, the more I enjoyed myself.

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china mountain zhangChina Mountain Zhang, by Maureen F. McHugh

published in 1992

where I got it: purchased used

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How to describe the plot of this book? Impossible. There are no grand quests, or enemies to defeat, or betrayals or heroes or world changing events or any of that. What China Mountain Zhang does offer is intimacy and intense subtlety in an SFnal world.  On the one hand, this is a quiet story of a man in hiding, who only lets the world see of him what they wish to see. If the safest thing for the public to see is a marriageable Asian with a decent job, that is what he will present to them. On the other hand, underneath the facade, underneath the social demands Rafael is crushed under, he is eternally screaming.  This is a story about how the only way to find yourself is to lose yourself.

 

Winner of the James Tiptree, Jr Award and the Locus Award for best first novel, and nominated for the Hugo and Locus award, China Mountain Zhang isn’t your typical SF novel.  Reading like literature, enjoyment of this novel is like discovering a new variety of wine you never knew existed and whose flavor you can’t describe, but you know you’ll be taking an entire case home with you.

 

China Mountain Zhang takes place about a hundred years from now, after America’s socialist civil war, after China came to our rescue and became the promised land, after Martian colonies were established. In America, to be Chinese means to get preferential treatment –  better jobs, better apartments,  easy acceptance to the top universities in China.  To this end, Rafael goes by the Chinese name Zhong Shan, and doesn’t tell any of his co-workers what he does after work. He can pass for Chinese, and that’s all that matters. No one needs to know that his mother is Hispanic.

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chris bucholzIf you’re a regular reader at Cracked.com, you’re sure to recognize the name Chris Bucholz. Over the last seven years he’s written over 300 humor columns at Cracked, touching on everything from Halloween costumes to confusing toys, customer feedback at McDonald’s, zombie movie mash-ups, and the history behind some really weird rock band names.   Chris’s debut science fiction novel is Severance (published by Apex Books) and he was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.  Let’s get to the interview!

 

LRR: Congratulations on the publication of your new novel, Severance! What’s the quick pitch for the novel?

CB: Severance is a comedic science fiction adventure set on a generation ship populated with stupid, stupid people. Severance is a warm fire on a cold day, and a cold drink on a hot day. It’s the son you never had, and now there he is, standing in front of you, arms wide, waiting to hug you. It is a masterpiece.

That may be overselling it a bit. It’s my first novel, ok? I tried really hard and I think it’s pretty great.

Severance_final_cover_large

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then againDivision by Zero #3: Then Again, an anthology of the MiFiWriters group

published Nov 6 2014

Where I got it: borrowed

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I knew there were a bunch of speculative fiction writers groups here in Michigan, but I didn’t know one of them published annual anthologies! How cool is that?  MiFiWriters is based in Michigan, and exists to promote the writing of science fiction by Michiganders.  They recently published Then Again, the third anthology in their annual Division by Zero series.  They choose a different theme each year, and the theme of Then Again was time travel. Imagine all the things you could do if you could travel through time: save lives, stop horrible things from happening, solve crimes before they happened. But what about the dangers of time travel? What if you only made the situation worse? What it time travel tore holes in spacetime? Ah, the beauty of what if!

 

Here are a few of my thoughts on some of my favorite stories from Then Again.

 

Time Enough, by Matthew Rohr  –  This was my favorite story in the collection. When Wilson Andrews successfully crosses a Campbell Bridge to go back in time, he doesn’t exactly come out when he expected.  He knows his mission to kill a certain person, but first he’s got to find her.  The scientists knew the journey through time would scramble his brain a little, so they’ve imprinted him with briefings and recordings to help him along the way.  The story involves a lot of flashbacks and partial memories, so it feels like it is not told chronologically, giving it a feeling of wonderfully off kilter weirdness. Remember the movie Memento? This story feels like that a little, with Wilson coming across faces and voices that jog his memory. As his memory slowly returns, Wilson is able to put the puzzle pieces together. Once he realizes what is going on, will he be able to carry out the murder?  Even though there is closure at the end, I liked that this story feels like a prologue or middle chapter of a longer book.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.