the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘future

In 1968, Alexei Panshin wrote a coming of age novel called Rite of Passage.  The story follows twelve year old Mia Havero, as she readies for her “trial”, during which she’ll spend 30 days alone in the wilderness of a planet.  Having spent her life on a ship, she’s got a lot to learn about how to survive dirtside.    Rite of Passage won the Nebula, and was nominated for a Hugo.  This is most definitely  not your standard 60s “kid goes on an adventure”!

 

My close friend Andy lent me his copy of Rite of Passage, and although it took months of him asking me to do so, I finally read it.     It was an absolutely fantastic novel, and it was easy for me to see why Rite of Passage made it to so many awards ballots.  Even better, the story doesn’t feel dated.  Written almost 50 years ago,  it read like a novel that could have been written 10 years ago. Andy and I decided the best way to talk about it was to literally talk about it over Google Docs, and share our chat.   Our conversation below does spoil  some huge stuff that happens at the end of the story, there is plenty more we haven’t mentioned that awaits new readers.

 

 

Andrea: What did you think of Mia? She’s not the typical scifi protagonist [for a 1960’s scifi novel], that’s for sure!

 

Andy: I think Panshin had to tell this story through the eyes and experiences of someone Mia’s age (she is 12 when the story begins). Adults have hardened into acceptance (or, more rarely, rejection) of their society’s system of beliefs. Mia is still discovering these and so is receptive to alternatives.

 

Andrea: Not all the kids come back from their month on a planet.  I assumed that a percentage of kids “go native”, and decide that life on a planet is preferable to life on the ship.  What did you think happened to the kids that didn’t come back?

 

Andy: I’d like to think that many, if not most, did “go native.” However, given the mutual hostility and distrust between the starships and the planet-bound made plain in the novel, I think the majority were either killed by the planet-siders (if pursuing the aggressive “tiger” survival strategy) or died of exposure and starvation (for those using the “turtle” approach, keeping their heads down in remote places). Both the planetary societies and the one on Mia’s ship are quite harsh, in their own ways. Except for Mia and her friend Jimmy, and the people who befriend Mia on Grainau, there’s not a lot of mercy in evidence on either side.

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Will 2017 be the year of the reread? only time will tell. In the meantime, I’ve been enjoying Sheri S Tepper’s Arbai trilogy. Again.

 

Raising the Stones by Sheri S. Tepper

published in 1990

where I got it: who knows. I’ve had it forever.

 

 

If you’d asked me five years ago for a list of my top five favorite novels, Sheri S. Tepper’s Raising the Stones would have been on that list.  Is it still in my top five? Sadly, no.  Is it a hella good book? Absolutely. I wrote a review of Raising the Stones back in 2011, which gives a great overview of the plot if you’re interested in the plot end of things.

 

I’ve been itching for some comfort reads lately, escapist novels that I know I will enjoy no matter what is happening in the world around me.  Tepper’s Arbai trilogy fits that bill a hundred percent.  I have no idea how many times I’ve read Raising the Stones, I know exactly what happens in it, I know who dies at the end, who the jerks are, who should have known better, who was blinded by their own narrow-mindedness. It’s neat to read a book that you know so well, to set aside everything that you know you know about it, and find everything else that was hiding there in plain sight all along.

 

Something that did catch my attention this read through was how the novel is paced, and that the pacing matches exactly something else that is going on in the background. Lemme ‘splain.  The first half of the novel is painfully slow. I’d forgotten how slow it was. Slow isn’t bad per se, there is buckets of fascinating worldbuilding and learning about the various cultures in this star system and their beliefs; characterization of Maire, Sam, China, Jep, and Saturday; the slightest beginnings of what’s happening behind the scenes on the planet of Hobbs Land. There is tons of good *stuff* in the first half of the novel, it just doesn’t feel like anything is happening. Maybe I was just antsy for the good stuff? I dunno, but it felt sooooo sloooooooow.   The last third of the novel is solid anxiety. Everything comes to a head, rebellions and coups are put into action, what’s been happening behind the scenes on Hobbs Land is suddenly very much the center of attention.  It’s like something finally reached a critical mass.

 

And that’s exactly what the pacing of the plot mirrors – the pace of the growths on Hobbs Land reaching their critical mass.  Very slow, barely detectable at first, and then slowly increasing, and then reaching a point where it has no choice but to asymptotically reach for infinity.  Pretty brilliant trick for an author to pull off, when you think about it!

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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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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.