SPSFC Book Review: “The Trellis” by Jools Cantor

The Trellis by Jools Cantor

The Trellis is a remarkable book. It engaged me from the beginning, held on, and eventually wrung me out the other end. It’s the story of two women. The first, Melody, is a detective summoned to the huge corporate building known as the Trellis to solve a murder that occurred on the premises. The second, Debbie, is a mediator looking to start a new job at the same place. Their stories take readers through an extraordinary tale of the near-future in which corporations run America, unfettered capitalism is the name of the game, and people start to wonder about whether they’ll be entirely replaced by AI programs.

The dark humor about unfettered capitalism dominates the early portion of the book, setting the stage for a, er, setting that supports the rest of the book. Whether it’s Debbie’s concerns about having drones snap videos of her face on the way to an interview, effectively sinking her before she starts because she had a wrong facial expression or Melody’s offer to a bigshot at the Trellis to expedite certain parts of her investigation for a moderate surcharge, there are all kinds of subtle or not-so-subtle looks at what happens if capitalism becomes the end and the beginning.

After several scenes that combine these two main characters’ everyday lives with vignettes of rampant consumerism, the plot switches things up and Melody’s investigation goes in earnest while Debbie spends time at her new job, discovering the ins and outs of her new job while balancing the concerns of her significant other back home. More and more complexity piles on here, as we learn about the inner workings of the police force in Chicago and how there’s another, larger force that looms over the investigation in which Melody is mired. Debbie, for her part, has to navigate office life while also trying to mediate disputes about often absurd conflicts and not lose her job because she’s being watched too closely.

The Trellis is a novel that has layers upon layers of secrets, and it’s not clear when first reading how deep it goes. However, once one gets deep into the plot, one finds that each small layer that got peeled away makes a difference to the whole, sometimes in surprising ways. The story is dense at times with the amount of detail, but the payoff each time feels satisfying.

I mentioned above the worries about AI programs. Cantor takes this in a different direction than most sci-fi I’ve seen. Essentially, she concedes through her characters that AIs could easily outthink and outsmart us but asserts that they simply don’t because they aren’t programmed to destroy us. Instead, they are content to do things like find out how a murder happened and dedicate all their energy to that until the problem is solved before moving on to another. It’s a subtle difference from how AI/robot tech is often treated in sci-fi, but it made for some compelling reading whenever the topic was broached. And, like so many other threads that seem to be unconnected to anything else in the novel, this ends up becoming important towards the end of the story.

The ending of the book is something I can’t really say enough about, but I don’t want to hugely spoil it. Let’s just say it took me somewhat by surprise but didn’t shock me, if that makes sense. It is the kind of ending I find myself enjoying more and more, in which consequences of all human activity can come down on some individuals.

If all this effusive praise seems a bit much, I would note that I didn’t think the novel was perfect. One very brief scene talking about how people in the now-separated country of California are coming for arbitration regarding preferred terms being used for people seems to hint at concerns about pronouns and other things being wholly unimportant. It’s hard to tell given the tone of the rest of the novel if this is the author’s voice making the claim or one of the characters, but it was a bit jarring. I’d say this: if something is ethically important, it doesn’t cease being so just because the state of the world has changed. Another very minor point is that the novel takes a little bit to restart the engine going from the spectacularly grim/funny introductory scenes before kicking into gear on the mystery and new job plots. I never got bored, but some may see that section as a little bit of a drag.

Jools Cantor’s The Trellis is a fantastic read that I highly recommend to fans of sci-fi mixed with mystery, dark humor, and/or flashes of cyberpunk. It’s a spectacular debut novel, and I hope Cantor has more coming.

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SDG.

Vintage Sci-Fi: “The Humanoids” by Jack Williamson

Vintage Sci-Fi Month has come and gone, but the fun continues!  As I recall, the rule for calling something “Vintage” is that it was written before you were born, but feel free to adjust that as you like. Follow Vintage Sci-Fi Month on Twitter and get in on the fun, too!

The Humanoids by Jack Williamson

There are few science fiction themes more well-known than that of Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, a seemingly foolproof method for controlling AI robots of the future. Asimov, some may think, provided a way to ensure the robotic future would be peaceful. By starting off with laws that prevent harm, whether intentional or not, to humans, Asimov guaranteed that peaceful coexistence would continue in perpetuity.

Williamson, however, took such seemingly harmless rules into logical conclusions. These conclusions, unfortunately for humanity, are chilling. What if robots took it seriously when they were programmed to, say, prevent harm from coming to humans? What if they determined it were prevention of harm to stop us from doing dangerous things like skydiving or driving? What about smoking? What if, even worse, unhappiness were determined to be harmful? In The Humanoids, these scenarios and more play out. Humans are put into drugged stupors by the robot overlords who, of course, are doing it all for our own good.

Williamson deftly presents the logical conclusions of robotics gone wrong to the extent that it should lead readers to wonder about the possibility of actually using AIs. How do we develop such intelligence and give it inputs that will not drive it into madness?

There are, of course, humans working to stop the robot overlords. Other humans acquiesce to the robots, giving in to simply letting them do what they want to protect humans. For this, some get special privileges. The humans who are resisting include a bit of Williamson exploring the scientific possibility of teleportation.

I’m not going to spoil how all of this ends, but I will say I was satisfied with the conclusion of the book.

The Humanoids is a surprisingly chilling take on good intentions gone wrong. Although it is simplistic at times in its characterization, the ideas in it are enough to keep readers interested throughout. I found it a refreshing read.

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SDG.

Vintage Sci-Fi Month 2022- Reviews Part 1

Vintage Sci-Fi Month is well underway, and I wanted to take a break to survey the books I’ve read to this point and offer some reviews as we go.

Lord Valentine’s Castle by Robert Silverberg
A science fantasy epic follows the story of Valentine, a man who’s memories have been repressed as he finds himself in a major city with a pile of coins but little knowledge of what to do. He becomes a juggler with a traveling party of humans and aliens for lack of anything better to do. As the novel goes on, layers of this fantastical world are peeled away and readers are swept into the adventure of Valentine as he rediscovers himself and his place on Majipoor. I used the terminology “swept” on purpose, because this is a novel that, if you’ll allow it, will take you up and carry you on an adventure across the massive planet. There are parts where the plot could drag, such as the lengthy descriptions of the juggling. However, if one lets oneself truly dive into those parts and see the flow, the rhythm, and the beat for what they’re intended to be, it’s enthralling. A slow burn read that builds on itself over its lengthy stay, I believe readers will largely get out of it the amount of emersion they’re willing to allow.

Dr. Bloodmoney, or, How We Got Along After the Bomb by Philip K. Dick-
acters go on a mind-bending journey and come out wrecked on the other end. It’s one of what I’ve identified as 3 types of books Dick writes. The first, and possibly most iterative strand is his “drugs are the answer” set of books. These became tedious to me after the first couple. The second strand is his “mind-bending don’t trust anything in the narrative” strand. It’s definitely the most enjoyable of the types of novel I’ve read from him, and includes the few I’ve enjoyed most. This one falls largely in this second category. The third category is the “I’m making up a pseudo theology in a (likely) drug-induced stream of consciousness with a bare bones plot threaded around it.” Dr. Bloodmoney is a fine enough read, but it takes quite a bit of work to get to the meat of it. There is so much going on that it becomes difficult to navigate after a while and turns into a bit of a chore to read.

Empire State by Samuel R. Delany
I have had a truly difficult time thinking what to say about this complex, puzzling read. Is it irrefutable proof that Delany is a master? Or is it incomprehensible? I’m not sure. I had fits of stops and starts with it, and I re-read several sections a few times. The core story is just an alien who crash lands and wants to be taken somewhere else by a simpler alien on the planet it crashed upon. There is so little information about some of the most important aspects of the plot that it becomes both baffling and frustrating at times. What is this information that is so important to take elsewhere? What about the enslaved aliens, what will happen to them? Why is the story a (seeming) loop? What’s going on with this aliens? None of the questions are really answered, either. The short novel (or novella, depending who you ask) is by turns fascinating and frustrating. I can’t decide if it’s a masterwork or a mess.

Half Past Human by T.J. Bass
pretty well within the current stream of dystopic fiction, though the flavor is much more in the vein of 1970s science fiction. Bass weaves in so many different strands that it is surprising he still takes a cohesive story. From what I understand, it’s a mashup of a couple novellas. At times, you can tell, but the larger narrative is interesting enough to carry the story through occasional disparate parts. Somehow Bass takes one of the classic sci-fi trope-like stories of having people wander around on an alien-seeming planet (which is Earth, in this case), and jams it together with a techno-advanced but weirdly backwards dystopic society narrative, then lumps together a few more ideas and then makes it all work. The more I reflect on it, the better I think it is. A forgotten classic.

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SDG.

SPSFC Book Review: “Age of Order” by Julian North

Age of Order by Julian North

Dystopias are all the rage. Age of Order might strike some as just another dystopia, but it has more going on behind the scenes than meets the eye. It starts of with Daniela Machado offered a shot to go to an elite school for the privileged and wealthy. There, she has to fight against classism and the genetic modifications of the “richies” even as she contends back home with the impact of a pseudo-police state. It’s a great setup that quickly turns into something that reads a bit like a school drama combined with dystopia.

Then… things kind of get out of hand, in both good and bad ways. At 20% in I was hugely enjoying it; at 40% it started to read like it wasn’t stopping. The extended school scenes and back-and-forth moves across the city read at times like an over-extended travelogue instead of a dystopic thriller. Then, twists and turns started to hit hot and heavy, and our main characters had some more interesting background revealed.

The novel begins to read like a roller coaster, with extremely high points of big twists and reveals punctuating an almost mundane otherwise story of going to school and dealing with bullying. The highs definitely outweigh the lows, however, and I found myself enjoying it all the way through. The character interactions are the strength of the novel, and I especially enjoyed how several major plots were intertwined almost behind the scenes before they got revealed to the reader. As that reader, I never felt cheated by having something come out of the woodworks. North certainly sets up the background to have even massive revelations about the characters feel believable. And there’s no way to avoid empathizing with these characters, who deal with struggles both in and out of their control.

As an aside, I appreciated the focus on questions of justice–economic, racial, and more–throughout the book. While these are sometimes implicit in a number of dystopic works, here they are part and parcel of even the character development. It’s great.

Age of Order is a great read that I would highly recommend to fans of dystopias. It’s got so many great character moments and huge plot points that it overcomes its own problems with being a bit over-bloated. I’ll definitely be reading the next novels in this series.

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SDG.

Vintage Sci-Fi: “A Funeral for the Eyes of Fire” by Michael Bishop

Vintage Sci-Fi Month is here!  As I recall, the rule for calling something “Vintage” is that it was written before you were born, but feel free to adjust that as you like. Follow Vintage Sci-Fi Month on Twitter and get in on the fun, too!

A Funeral for the Eyes of Fire by Michael Bishop

[Publication note: I am writing now of the original version of the book, which is the one I received through interlibrary loan. Apparently the edition available through e-book now is not that version but rather a total re-write Bishop created in 1980. I haven’t read the re-write yet, but I understand that it is quite different.]

I was astonished by this book. It is surprising and deep on so many levels that it makes it one of the most impressive science fiction efforts I’ve ever read. And it was a debut novel? Incredible. Bishop is in total control of the written word here, and it reads like the work of an established master.

The core plot of the novel seems simple: a pair of human brothers join a pair of aliens to try to earn riches by dissolving a conflict on another alien world (different aliens from the pair traveling with the brothers). The concept of pairing runs strong in the narrative (see the excellent review at Sci-Fi Ruminations for even more on this theme), but is perhaps only the most overt of the many layers found throughout the novel. At multiple points in the book, readers encounter stories-within-stories, as characters tell other stories to various characters. These stories are intricately woven into the meaning of the main plot itself, to the point where it becomes a Gordian-like knot of concepts, ideas, and stories.

The plot itself also becomes increasingly complex, as well. Peter and Gunnar, the human brothers, diverge in surprising ways. At the beginning, it is clear our protagonist, Gunnar, looks up to Peter immensely, but as he discovers revelations about his brother’s true character, he has to re-write his own internal narrative of relationships. The aliens’ conflict, between the allegedly progressive and forward-thinking Tropeans and the “backwards/religious” Ouemartsee, becomes increasingly tantalizing as we see the depths of ritual and how it can define society. In a way, the interactions between the Tropeans and the brothers or even the brothers’ pair of alien allies all becomes a large comedy of manners with the necessities of ritual and behavior taking on larger meaning in light of all that’s happening.

As we are confronted with the alien and baffling rituals of the planet of Trope, readers begin to realize that the concepts of ritual, behavior, and conflict that emerge there are remarkably similar to our own. Perhaps, in many ways, they are mirrors for our own uncertainties, conflicts, and even wickedness and beauty.

The question of the ritual in the novel, in which the Ouemartsee maintain the mythic belief in higher meaning behind it while the larger group of Tropeans rejects the same while keeping all the trappings of ritual, is fascinating. If we reject the meaning or truth of religious belief, but maintain the rituals, what can they mean? Does turning the ritual into merely symbolic deprive it of all meaning? Can a society with a “scientific” worldview have deeper meaning by creating its own rituals? Bishop confronts these questions and even offers answers to some of them which are surprising and thought-provoking.

A Funeral for the Eyes of Fire is an anthropology of aliens, but also a true anthropology of humanity. It asks us what makes us human, and what might be inhuman. Moreover, it shows the importance of ritual even to those who have rejected the mythic meaning that infuses the ritual with objectivity. It’s a stunning work.

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SDG.

Nominating for the 2022 Hugo Awards! – A Reader Weighs In

It hasn’t been that long since the 2021 Hugo Award winners were announced, but it’s already nominating season for the 2022 Hugo Awards (and other related awards). I wanted to share with you some of my thoughts on works I will be pulling for and think you ought to consider nominating as well! I have some categories I need to fill out, so let me know your recommendations.

Best Novel

Novels are my preferred format, and I read more than 600 books last year. To be fair, a huge majority of those weren’t published in 2021, so that narrowed it down quite a bit. I still can’t get myself down to a top 5, though, and so I’m sharing some of my choices here in the hopes that you’ll weigh in and help me decide which to put on my nominating ballot.

Empire of the Vampire by Jay Kristoff- A dark epic fantasy about a world in which vampires have taken over after they used some kind of evil spell to darken the world and give them freedom to conquer. The story follows the narrative of  Gabriel de Leon, a vampire hunter known as a Silversaint. De Leon uses the combination of silver tattoos and vampiric powers to take the battle to the undead as he tells his story to a servant of the Vampire Empire itself. The relentless violence and action in the novel is supplemented by numerous twists and turns that keep readers guessing all the way through. It’s a fabulous read.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir- I always feel a bit nervous diving into a novel that is super hyped. Too often, it sets expectations so high that it gets hard to feel anything but unsatisfied after reading it. Andy Weir’s The Martian was a fun read, though, and I wanted to dive into his latest book. I’m glad I did, because Project Hail Mary lives up to the hype. It’s an inventive hard science fiction story that keeps throwing new wrenches into the works. Weir has a way of creating the atmosophere of “just one more chapter” in every chapter. I hugely enjoyed this book from cover-to-cover.

Catalyst Gate by Megan O’Keefe- The finale to O’Keefe’s “The Protectorate” series is a brick of a book with extensive political (and other) intrigue. This is a space opera/adventure novel that punctuates character moments with intense action scenes. It’s a fine conclusion to a great series.

The Helm of Midnight by Marina Lostetter- I went into this one with no expectations and walked away totally sold on the setting and characters. Speculative fiction being mashed up with mysteries is one of my favorite ways to do things, and The Helm of Midnight has mystery and intrigue in spades.

Shards of Earth by Adrian Tchaikovsky- Tchaikovsky continues his blend of unique aliens, excellent action, big questions, and great characters with this novel, first in a series. It’s an epic space opera that certainly delivers the goods time and again.

Chaos on Catnet by Naomi Kritzer- Kritzer raises questions about religion, who we are, how to perceive reality, and teenage angst in this delightful read that continues the Catnet series. I was shocked beyond all when I fell in love with the first book, and this was among my most anticipated reads this year. It did not disappoint.

To End in Fire by David Weber & Eric Flint- Hey, everyone has favorite series/authors. David Weber is one of mine, and it’s beyond insane to me that he’s never gotten even a nomination for his many wonderful Honor Harrington books, Safehold series, or any of his other great books. This novel continues another side series to the main Honor Harrington series, and I know that it’s so many books in that it’s unlikely to get a nod, but dangit, Weber deserves it and I’m going to keep pulling for him. This book is a satisfying info dump of a novel that helps wrap up a number of loose threads and advance the story, and I love it.

Jade Legacy by Fonda Lee- The finale of the Green Bone Saga is a massive epic urban fantasy. I cannot emphasize how fantastic this series is, and Lee is just an absolute master of the genre. Magic, double-dealing, mafia-esque crime rings, and more abound.

Short Story

Here’s a category I have some catching up to do on, but I have a bunch of sci-fi magazines from which I can pick my favorites. I do have one work to discuss here, though.

Proof by Induction” by José Pablo Iriarte- this story rocked me when I read it early this year. In this story, Iriarte weaves an absolutely gripping story about the loss of a parent around some technology that allows a kind of continuing relationship with the deceased. I don’t want to spoil too much, and the story is freely available at the link I put there in the title, but this is a fabulous read. I lost my dad in 2020, and this short story helped me work through some of my own lingering issues and brought me to tears more than once. I consider it among the finest reads I encountered all year, and definitely an early choice for my best short story.

Best Related Work

Out of This World: Speculative Fiction in Translation from the Cold War to the New Millennium by Rachel Cordasco- An academic book about, well, what the title says. It’s a fascinating read by a true expert in the field and deserves to be on the ballot.

“The Problem(s) of Susan” by Matt Mikalatos (Tor.com)- What to do with Susan Pevensie in The Chronicles of Narnia? I love Mikalatos’s approach here, and with the continuing influence of C.S. Lewis and the beautiful prose and thoughtfulness of this essay, I’d love to see it on the Hugo ballot.

“Pro Wrestling is Fake (But You Already Knew That)” by Veda Scott (Uncanny)- I had a brief love affair with pro wrestling, even to the point where a bunch of us in college paid for the Pay-per-view for Wrestlemania. It was a lot of fun seeing the storylines and the humor surrounding the drama on the stage, and this article by Veda Scott was an absolute delight to read.

True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee by Abraham Riesman- A fascinating biography of the (in)famous Stan Lee that shows his life both good and bad. I highly recommend it to any fans of comics, movies, or even speculative fiction generally. It’s a fabulous biography.

Best Novella/Novelette

Would love some suggestions here, but novella must include Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovsky because he’s the best.

Lodestar Award

I’m still doing my reading for this, so I’d love some suggestions.

Redemptor by Jordan Ifueko- the finale to her duology, this is another fantastic read that combines some unique magical trappings with great character building and epic moments.

Best Series

I think this is one of the most fun categories for which to nominate works. It’s also a great way to see what others are reading and pick up some new series.

The Green Bone Saga by Fonda Lee- What if The Godfather was about Yakuza-esque criminals and had magic and questions of colonialism? Yes, this series is that and then some.

InCryptid by Seanan McGuire- One of my favorite authors continued perhaps my favorite series of hers here. The InCryptid series features a bunch of awesome use of cryptid-like and fairytale monsters along with some originals, all with sets of rules and a family trying to deal with all the drama. Truly some of the most fun books to read that I know of, and I would love to see it get a nod here.

The Books of Babel by Josiah Bancroft- I am finding myself at a loss for words trying to sum up this series. It starts with a man trying to find his wife in the Tower of Babel, only to get sucked into a wonderful adventure that features sardonic humor, a myriad of characters, and so many wonderful locales. It’s a truly amazing experience and this series is fantastic.

The Protecorate by Megan O’Keefe- This series moves from being a rather intimate story about two characters into a massive space opera over the course of three books, and each one has its own unique feel. I hugely enjoyed this series and commend it to you.

Best Fancast

I’m intensely biased here, having appeared twice on the “Hugos There” Podcast, I would love to have it nominated for a Hugo! Please! Also, “Hugo, Girl” is an absolute delight in every episode and ought to be on your nominating ballot.

All Editors/Artist categories, as well as Fan Writer and more

Still doing research and would love recommendations.

Cora Buhlert- she was nominated last year, but definitely deserves to be on the ballot again.

SPSFC Book Review: “Above the Sky” by J.W. Lynne

Above the Sky by J.W. Lynne

Above the Sky has a familiar-sounding premise: teens are coming of age in a society with mysterious strictures that they take for granted but we readers know don’t make sense. Seven, our main protagonist, takes us on a journey as she discovers that her world isn’t what it seems. Sounds like a fairly straightforward dystopia, right? The answer, as readers move on with the plot, is no. It’s not that straightforward at all.

Basically, what happens is we get to experience Seven’s journey as she goes from finding out what she’s supposed to do with her life (be a doctor), to taking her sister’s place to chase after a love interest she’s barely even had any (physical) contact with, to being trained as a warrior for mysterious reasons in order to fight the threat that lingers Above the Sky, to finding out everything is way more complex than any of this seemed to begin with. Along the way, major and minor side characters appear and become more ore less important in believable ways. One of the most riveting scenes in the book involves an action sequence while our characters are under fire and Seven has to decide what to do with extremely limited vision and knowledge of the situation. It’s a truly excellent way to frame a narrative like this, and Lynne delivers time and again on character moments like that.

The plot revelations are spaced out in a satisfying way, such that just as I got settled in to how I thought the plot was going, Lynne introduced a new wrinkle that kept me guessing. It’s difficult to know who the bad guys or good guys are, and as you discover more about the outside world with Seven, it becomes more alluring and more urgent to know who’s who even while the confusion mounts. Meanwhile, the teen drama, training sequences, and discoveries about the characters are what one might expect from standard YA dystopias, but they’re all so well written that I never found any of it remotely boring. Instead, the book is an absolute page-turner from cover-to-cover.

When we finally start to really see that there’s more to the world than Seven has been allowed to find out, it just ups the tension yet again. Lynne truly weaves a story that keeps readers guessing even while investing enough in each major act to slow things down and allow readers to ponder the events and get used to the “new normal” even as Seven does. It’s a great way to write a book like this, and it definitely kept me engaged all the way through.

My major complaint with the book is the way the plot was driven at the end. (MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW.) I wasn’t surprised to find that Seven was pregnant, but the solution to it seems impossible. She and Six are to swap places and somehow Six is supposed to somehow be competent in all the things Seven was doing while also passing herself off as Seven while Seven does the same back home with Six? And they’re going to swap places multiple times? I just… find it really hard to buy into as a real solution. It pressed my suspension of disbelief beyond the breaking point. I’m definitely going to read the next book, because I’m sold on the world and the mysteries happening there. The characters are great, too. I just wish the ending hadn’t been so hard to swallow. (/END SPOILERS)

Above the Sky is a thrilling read that has me wanting more. There are so many different mysteries being teased here that it is impossible not to want to know what’s going on. The characters are strong as well, and Lynne shows she’s not above serious tragedy happening for the sake of the story. I am invested, and I’ll be reading more.

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The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Hub– Check out all of my posts related to the SPSFC here!

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Vintage Sci-Fi: “Radix” by A. A. Attanasio

Vintage Sci-Fi Month is here!  As I recall, the rule for calling something “Vintage” is that it was written before you were born, but feel free to adjust that as you like. Follow Vintage Sci-Fi Month on Twitter and get in on the fun, too!

Radix by A.A. Attanasio

I’ve been grabbed, shaken, run over, wrung out, and lifted up by Radix. Attanasio’s masterpiece is a breathless piece of science fiction that is at once shackled to its own time period while also transcending the time in which it was written and perhaps even ideas and concepts of humanity and science fiction itself. I hate when reviews are just a bunch of superlatives and concepts, but these are my initial thoughts on this remarkable book.

Okay, taking a step back, it’s surprisingly simple to offer an introduction to Radix. Published in 1981, its initial scenes read very much like something out of Blade Runner’s world. It’s a somewhat dark, gritty urban landscape in which our main character, Sumner Kagan, scrapes a living by with crime and hate. I thought I saw where this was going, sensing shades of a similar story to Robert Silverberg’s Dying Inside. Like that fantastic novel, Attanasio sets up a kind of coming-of-age that’s less a coming-of-age story as it is a revelatory journey. But the similarities end there as Sumner goes through stark landscapes one after another, ultimately coming to an awareness of self that transcends reality as we know it. Helped along by encounters with transhumans and AIs, whether for good or ill, Sumner turns into an ever more remarkable man from the hate-wracked boy we encounter at the earliest stages of the novel.

The story of Sumner is unrealistic at times and maybe even comically overdone occasionally. But Attanasio’s style and genuineness makes every page worth turning even as one rolls eyes at the occasional blunder. The slew of characters that show up throughout the novel each of their own quirks. The number of locations in the novel isn’t huge, but each feels fully fleshed out and somehow both eerily familiar and utterly alien. Readers need to have a strong willingness to suspend disbelief, but the novel just keeps providing reasons to give it the benefit of the doubt at every turn. And the payoff towards the end is huge.

The best science fiction, in my opinion, makes readers think about themselves and our world in new and unexpected ways. Radix demands that on almost every level. Certainly, by the end of the novel, our views of the world are challenged and even shaped along with Sumner’s. Attanasio’s blog reveals a deep interest in global spiritual practices and, particularly, storytelling as a way to discover the self. There’s no doubt in this reader’s mind that Radix was a journey of self-discovery for the author as much as it was for the character Sumner. Moreover, Attanasio calls and challenges readers to embark upon their own journeys. Read this book.

Links 

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Vintage Sci-Fi– Click the link and scroll down to read more vintage sci-fi posts! I love hearing about your own responses and favorites!

My Read-Through of the Hugos– Check out all my posts on reading through the Hugo Award winners and nominees. Tons of sci-fi fantasy discussion throughout.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

SPSFC Book Review: “Extinction Reversed” by J.S. Morin

Extinction Reversed by J.S. Morin

What if humans went extinct, but the robots/AI that lived on missed us enough to bring us back? That’s the core question that drives the action of Extinction Reversed by J.S. Morin.

Eve14 is a new iteration of the attempt to resurrect humanity, and it appears she is a success. Kind of. She’s given specific inputs and raised in a lab setting, and this has a huge impact on how she interacts with the outside world. Morin delivers on this concept, making the marked difference between Eve14 and “robot” characters like Charlie7 especially stark. This raises questions of humanity, transhumanism, and what it means to be alive. Their interactions, along with several other characters, are interesting.

Unfortunately, I found some of the characters hard to navigate with the naming system. I don’t know why it bothered me so much, as I’ve been fine with naming systems similar to this in other books, but I had trouble keeping track of some of the side characters to the point where I would have to backtrack and reread sections to understand what was happening and to whom.

The main problem I had with the book is that it goes on for far too long without much happening. It reads like an extended action scene for much of the middle chunk of the book and only moves the plot forward more at the end. Charlie7 and Eve14 have quite the adventure, but I didn’t see enough happening with their development for me to get hugely into the story.

Extinction Reversed is a solid premise for a novel and it delivers on the action. Where it stumbles, though, is in dragging out the middle for too long. Readers who love AI/Robot fiction should check it out for the compelling look at themes of transhumanism.

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Links

The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Hub– Check out all of my posts related to the SPSFC here!

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1977

I’m a huge science fiction fan, and, having read a list of what are alleged to be the top 200 science fiction novels, I decided to next tackle a read-through of all the Hugo Award winners and nominees for best novel. Let me know your thoughts and favorites. I’ve marked the winner as well as my own choice for which novel would win, had I the choice among the nominees. I’ve also dropped a short reflection on the year’s Hugo list at the end.

Mindbridge by Joe Haldeman (My Winner)- Grade: A-
Haldeman’s Mindbridge is a fascinating work of sociological sci-fi that explores what humans might do with things like mind reading powers, teleportation, and first encounters with aliens. Haldeman deftly handles an almost kaleidoscopic novel with everything-and-the-kitchen-sink thrown into it and still pulls out a coherent and even fascinating plot. The reason I’ve downgraded it a bit is that there are some unfortunate aspects of the future world. I’m happy enough to suspend my disbelief regarding some aspects of future humanity, but the whole concept of using women as essentially breeding material out in the stars is very yikes to me. Yes, they go willingly to do so, but one could argue it is coercive due to the contractual obligations built in for any women who want to explore the stars. Sure, the men also have obligations, but there seems to be a latent misogyny here, though not as blatant or overt as some other novels from the period. I was deeply impressed by Haldeman’s handling of the many plot threads he juggles, and frankly didn’t see some of the directions he took coming at all. It’s not a particularly twisting plot, either. It is just quite well crafted. A highly enjoyable piece of sci-fi if you’re willing to look past some of the flaws. 

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm (Winner)- Grade: B-
I initially loved this book. The opening was awesome. I thought it was going to be this epic story of a family struggling to meet the coming collapse of civilization in some kind of pastoral setting. But then, a sharp turn was taken, and the book jumps ahead a few times as we see the real story is about what happens to the clones that same family had set up to try to solve problems of depopulation in a post-apocalyptic setting. And I have to say… I was a bit disappointed. The initial characters were really just foils for the personality of the later clones, and I felt almost betrayed by the shift in premise. Perhaps this is one where I should have read the pitch on the back cover before diving in, because I think if my expectations hadn’t been so dramatically thwarted, I would have enjoyed it more. As it is, I still wrote about it for Vintage Sci-Fi Month, because there is much to discuss in this intriguing, sometimes familiar, often alien novel. 

Children of Dune by Frank Herbert- Grade: B
Following up Dune would feel a monumental task, I would think. but Herbert does an admirable job with Children of Dune. There’s something ineffable about this book that makes it tantalizing all the way through, even in the places where it could potentially drag due to its rather mundane plot. I think it’s the world that Hebert created and the sense of awe about the feel, texture, and rhythm of the same. I have to out myself here, though, I honestly enjoy the Brian Herbert/Kevin J. Anderson works well enough. I know they’re largely panned by a bunch of Dune fans, but for one thing, I don’t really care about gatekeeping fandoms. Yes, I’m a “real” fan of Dune even if I like the other books. For another, I enjoy books that are written as light reads just as much as I enjoy deep reads. Anyway, I’ve ranted long enough. Children… is another solid entry in Frank’s own sequels to Dune, though it never reaches the heights of the original work.

Man Plus by Frederik Pohl- Grade: D+
I don’t know what to make of this book. It’s like an artifact from a time past that seems out of place despite being a relic–like finding a dinosaur fossil alongside rabbits and other modern fauna fossils. The plot follows a man who has been made partially cybernetic to withstand the stresses of living on Mars. It reads, however, like a 1950s sitcom, complete with the casual sexism that goes along with that. It’s startling at times how out of place everything seems throughout the book. I struggled to connect in any way to the characters or the plot. The only part that really got me involved at all was reading about the struggles with being human/posthuman and the potentially interesting directions that could go, but even that got subsumed into the problems I already noted. 

Shadrach in the Furnace by Robert Silverberg- Grade: B
Silverberg’s corpus is filled with novels that I absolutely adore, along with some that are… not great. Shadrach in the Furnace was a surprising read from him, because it feels quite different from many of the other popular works I’ve read from him. Don’t get me wrong–much of the Silverberg flair (and problems) is there. But there’s a kind of sense of weirdness, discovery, and wonder in this one that just has a different sense than others of his works do. Shadrach Mordecai is the doctor for the dictator of the world, Genghis Mao. The names do matter to the plot… sort of. Anyway, Shadrach discovers more and more of Mao’s plans and is horrified to find out that one of the dictator’s ideas for survival involves Shadrach’s body. There are some difficulties in this novel with race and sexism, and no small amount of sex. In other words, it’s very much a New Wave sci-fi novel. The strangeness of the setting, which is largely taken as a given, lends itself to a sense of weird disconnect with reality as reading the book. The closest thing I can think of is watching “Blade Runner” for the first time. I enjoyed it, but it has some problems. 

1977- There are some great reads this year, and what I appreciate most about it is how different each of these books felt from all the others. While they’re all science fiction with barely a hint of fantasy to be found, they show some of the breadth of the field in the best possible ways. Man Plus is obviously not a favorite of mine, but any of the others would have been a worthy winner. Where Late the Sweet Birds Sing is a very strange Hugo winner, because it doesn’t really check any of the boxes many of its contemporaries did. It’s an almost pastoral post-disaster story that grabbed me. It doesn’t have the strong pay off of some similar stories I’ve read, but it certainly does grab the imagination. My own choice, Mindbridge, was surprising to me because I hadn’t terribly enjoyed some of Haldeman’s other works. Overall, it was a good year at the Hugos.

Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.