the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘future

The Tourist, by Robert Dickinson

published June 2017

where I got it: received review copy from the published (Thanks Hachette!)

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Welcome to the 24th century, where the most exotic vacation a person can take is to a 21st century mall.  Experience germs and cell phones, risk mild food poisoning and interactions with sullen gothy teenagers, and then spend the night safely ensconced in a resort hotel.   There are tons of travel companies that offer these types of tours.  The companies and their employees choose to ignore all the smuggling that often takes place right under their noses. Time travel has become so easy and common, it’s not even called “time travel” anymore, it’s just called “travel”,  and you get to your destination via a high energy technology called translation.

 

“It’s the logic of travel: the past is just another country, and, if you can afford the translation, you can always go back. Nothing is lost, nobody really dies. You die, of course: but, if they have the right resources, other people can always come back and see you. You remain alive.”

                                The Tourist, page 310

 

The opening chapters of The Tourist fall somewhere between Kage Baker’s Company novels and the movie Twelve Monkeys, complete with a shadowy future century no one is allowed to see, rumors of a genocide in recent history, a near extinction event, and the challenges of how to tell someone you are from the past or the future.  There is a “map” of sorts in the front of the book, that on first glance looks like a map of a shopping mall, but then you realize it’s a chart of a time line. The time line is U shaped, with the character’s lives jumping back and forth all over the place. Ahh, the tricks you can play in a time travel book!

 

Spens is a rep with one of the travel agencies, his job is to shepherd his charges to the mall, show them how paper money works, and warn them against 21st-ers who know how to trick naive idiots.  For shock value, he buys a muffin at a coffee stand and eats it.  This is just a job for Spens, he lives at the resort and gets together for drinks with the other reps at night to share stories of their idiot clients.   He’ll work at the resort forever if it means he never has to work the tunnels again.

 

And then one day he loses a client.

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The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

published in 1969

where I got it: purchased new

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I was intimidated to read this book. I doubted my ability to “get it”. What if I read and said “ok, that’s nice”? What if I didn’t understand the author’s intent? Endless doubts and what if’s. At my local book club a few months ago, instead of having us all read the same book, the club organizer put a stack of Hugo winners on the table and told us all to pick one.  I grabbed The Left Hand of Darkness off the table.  Doubt can go screw itself.

 

The big idea in The Left Hand of Darkness is how would culture and society be different if there was no gender? Unique among the planets that support human life, the people of Gethen have no fixed gender – they are neither male nor female, and have the ability to both father a child and give birth to a child. These people have never heard the phrase “traditional gender roles” and sexism and gender bias don’t exist in their culture. In their language, the pronouns “he” and “his”, simply mean “person”, and titles and offices that sound male to our ears are inclusive. This book is full of “he” and “his”, but there is only one male character in this book.

 

Genly Ai, Envoy of the Ekumen, has travelled to Gethen to invite the planet to become a part of the Ekumen, which is an interstellar trade federation of sorts.  He has now been residing in the kingdom of Karhide for over a year, and he will stay until the planetary leaders voice their wish to join the Ekumen, or until they tell him to go away (them killing him might also happen). Genly is in some ways incredibly patient, but in other ways impatient.  Not only does he not in anyway understand the local politics, but he also struggles with the idea that his hosts are not men and not women, but potentially either, and always showing traits of both femininity and masculinity, often at the same time.  In return, they view him as a sexual deviant, a genetic freak.

 

Gethen isn’t just a planet of no fixed gender, it’s also a planet that is actively trying to kill you.  Nicknamed “Winter”,  this is a place of never ending ice and snow, with a narrow band near the equator that can support life. No large mammals, no birds, no apex predators.  LeGuin does magic with how the planet shapes the society and culture of the Gethenians – no birds to be curious about means no interest in airplanes,  no large animals to eat means many meals and snacks during the day and strict rules of socializing that revolve around eating. On a planet where frostbite can kill, hospitality towards the stranger is the norm. On a planet where the populace appears to have no fear or distrust of the “other”, there are plenty of arguments, but there has never been an all out war between Karhide and their bureaucratic neighboring country Orgoreyn. Sprinkled through the novel are interim short chapters that include both local folklore and  helpful commentary from anthropologists who visited before Genly.

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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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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.