“The Islanders” by Christopher Priest- Reading the Bristish Science Fiction Awards: 2011

The British Science Fiction Awards often highlight books that don’t even make it onto awards lists dominated by American authors. I hoped it would help round out my reading a bit, and haven’t been disappointed!

The 2011 winner was The Islanders by Christopher Priest. It won the BSFA award for best novel, but didn’t show up on the Hugo or Nominee shortlists.

The Islanders by Christopher Priest

Christopher Priest is rapidly becoming an author I seek out to read. I read The Prestige a few years back when I discovered the movie had been based on a book. I’d never heard of Priest before that, but as I go back and explore vintage sci-fi, I see his name time and again. The Islanders isn’t exactly vintage yet, having been published in 2011, but I could see it living as an acknowledged classic for years to come.

If I had one word to describe the book, I’d call it a maze. It’s written like a kind of travel gazette introducing readers to the Dream Archipelago, a group of islands that contains some apparent temporal and spatial anomalies (or does it?). It’s organized alphabetically by island, and after a couple islands, readers will wonder if it is only the a fictional travel gazette after all. But then we get introduced to some characters, and begin to wonder about a murder, and artists, and the narrator who is relaying these islands to us. Why do they include islands they don’t care about? Wait, who wrote the introduction? Oh!

I found myself flipping back and forth in the book as I continued more deeply into the story, and discovering that some names got repeated and hints of events taking place could be uncovered with some effort. The main plot of the story centers around a murder, a murderer, and lovers. But that main plot occupies perhaps a quarter of the text of the novel, much of which is dominated instead by vignettes of the islands and asides about literary, scientific, and artistic works. However, as you read the book, you discover that each of these may have mysteries embedded therein as well.

I’m not at all convinced I managed to tease out even a tenth of the threads interwoven throughout the book. What connection do the snippets of art have with the broader story going on? What, exactly, is “tunneling” and how might it have impacted the mystery in some way? I have many, many more questions, and I know I’ll be coming back to find out more.

The Islanders is an unforgettable maze of a novel. I believe I’ll be thinking about this one for a long time, and there’s no question it’s worth revisiting to see if one can extract more from its pages. I recommend it.

(All Amazon Links are Affiliates.)

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.

Reading the BSFA Awards: 1970 – “The Jagged Orbit” by John Brunner

The British Science Fiction Awards often highlight books that don’t even make it onto awards lists dominated by American authors. I hoped it would help round out my reading a bit, and haven’t been disappointed!

The Jagged Orbit by John Brunner

John Brunner is a gift. He’s written a ton of science fiction that avoids being predictive in intent while also somehow being hauntingly, disturbingly accurate in its visions of the future. The Jagged Orbit is his look at racial tensions, and it won the British Science Fiction Association Award for best novel in 1970. (It also got a Nebula nomination.)

At first, the novel is not an easy read. No, scratch that–the novel never becomes an easy read, but it’s for different reasons throughout. The format makes it somewhat difficult. There are 100 chapters, some are composed of just a fragment of a word. There is a large cast of characters who seem quite unconnected at the beginning. Later, these characters do get thrust together, but I’m still not sure I caught exactly how things got resolved–or if they were resolved. And, I’m unconvinced that that matters.

The Jagged Orbit is much more about the journey than it is about the individual plot points or resolutions. Yes, there is a plot–racial tensions in the United States have ballooned and there is a group making money off selling money to everyone based on the fear over the same. A “spoolpigeon” named Matthew is trying desperately to hold on to his job while also paying for his wife’s place at an asylum, which he is obligated to do–the debt piles up if he tries to do differently. His job is a kind of talk show/investigative journalist combo. Other characters thrust the reader in the middle of various conflicts, in questions about psychadelic drugs, about trances and meditation, and more. The novel fits nicely into the New Wave sci-fi.

But it’s at least a bit more than the sum of its parts. It’s hard to judge the comments about race and racism in a novel written more than 50 years ago. Are some of Brunner’s use of terms and language in poor taste? Maybe. But is Brunner using those in order to show the absurdity of racism? Sometimes. What the book does best, though, is hold up a mirror to the reader today. It forces the reader to ask: what are you contributing to this mess–this world we’ve all got to live in? And for that, I recommend this novel.

(All links to Amazon are Affiliates Links)

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.

“The Night Sessions” by Ken MacLeod – Reading the British Science Fiction Association Awards – 2008

I continue to search for ways to expand my sci-fi/fantasy reading, and decided that alongside my Hugo Award list I’d start reading the winners of the British Science Fiction Association Award. I’m not reading them in any particular order, just as whatever strikes my fancy.

The Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod

I cannot adequately describe how much I adored this book. It basically has everything that I love mashed into one fantastic plot. There are robots/AI, there is a murder mystery in a sci-fi setting, there are deep explorations of faith and religion, alongside questions of church/state relations. MacLeod demonstrates surprising insight and understanding of creationist movements as well, such that I, with my background as a young earth creationist (now a theistic evolutionist/evolutionary creationist, depending on which terminology you prefer), was totally engrossed from the get-go. MacLeod wrote a book with some insanely niche interest focus to it, but that niche happens to be basically me, and 100% me. And I could not put this down.

The plot is fantastic. It is engrossing. It starts off with a murder of a priest, and this is a problem because Earth has had some massive religious wars (The Faith Wars, of which it seems 9/11 was just the beginning) that has led to some radically different ways of dealing with religion generally in different countries. Where we are in this book, Edinburgh, Scotland, the way it is dealt with is by keeping intense separation of church and state, such that people’s religious backgrounds aren’t really even allowed to be referenced in official government inquiries (which leads to some awkward discussions about people’s titles and what they mean as our detective hero and AI bot pal go about their investigation).

We follow Detective Inspector Adam Ferguson as he investigates these murders. He’s a deep character, with antipathy towards religion–especially fundamentalism–while also carrying his own shame from how he helped brutally suppress religion during the Faith Wars. It is this latter aspect that truly adds to the complexity of character as well as the complexity of the plot. Some may see the premise of this book and dismiss it as an anti-religious propaganda piece. Others might actually see the premise and go the other way. But what MacLeod does here is balances these two extremes of anti- and pro-religion and shows how it is ideology, the type of ideology that matters. When religion is bent to extremism that leads to violence, that is a terrible thing. But the violence of the Nation State is itself a damaging, harmful thing. The complexity is woven throughout the fabric of a plot that is never compromised for the sake of an agenda.

There is so much happening in this book, and MacLeod shows immense talent for both breadth and depth of intensely important topics. The book ultimately plays out as a condemnation of fundamentalism of any sort–whether religious or not–and does so in ways that are intensely, deeply human despite sometimes playing out through AI controlled robots. Throughout the work there are questions related to creationism, church-state relations, and the deep psychological harm that can be done by violent acts–even ones that one believes were justified. The Night Sessions is a superb work that stands as one of my all-time favorites. I very highly recommend it.

SDG.

Links

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!

My Read-Through of the Hugos– Read along as I read every Hugo Award winner and nominee! Sci-fi/fantasy is the name of the game.

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.