Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees, and sometimes you can’t see your life for the stories that you’re weaving through it.
Tag Archives: SciFi
I have a new story up in Perihelion! Science fiction/horror.
Author: Orson Scott Card
This is a story about a short-lived civil war in a contemporary USA. It starts with the assassination of the president and VP by unknown terrorists, followed up by an attempted coup by the military and a rebellion of Liberal Elitists on the coasts, who are supported by a Bill Gates caricature with his army of iPod-like AT-STs ripoffs.
The novel started as a video game project that stalled, so OSC decided to convert the plot into a thriller. While it would have made a decent video game, he never really put the pieces together enough to make a coherent book. Too many holes, too many questions, too many implausibilities hamstring the effort. OSC specifically refers to 24 many times during the book, including in the acknowledgements. I haven’t seen the show, but I can only hope it’s tighter and better written.
But, Card is a decent historian, and presents us with an intriguing idea. Given the title and the content of the prolog, I don’t think I’m giving away anything when I say that the civil war is a ploy, a first step by a nefarious man to turn the US into an empire. Card’s thesis is this: it is improper to compare the US to the end of the Roman Empire. If the US collapsed right now, the vestiges of our culture worldwide would be shrugged off. He claims it is more proper to compare us to the end of the Roman Republic, having not yet entered the Empire stage. The plot came from Card’s attempt to imagine how the US would transition from the republic stage to the empire stage. It could use some polishing, but it is a thought-provoking idea.
Despite a transparent attempt to appear moderate, the book is politically charged. Strawmen emerge from the left and the right, but the stronger characters are all, let’s say, one sided. E.g. all the academic people are froo-froo and treacherous, while only half the military people are gruff, power-hungry bullies.
OSC claims that reviews of Empire break down political lines – low from the left and high from the right. This sort of mine-field tactic is a cheap trick of argument, unworthy of someone as smart as OSC.
Author: Larry Niven
This here is one of them-thur classics of sci-fi literature. Although written in 1970, it harkens back to the earliest days of science fiction, where men were men, women were things, things were people, and authors considered books mere excuses to explore (admittedly awesome) thought experiments.
Like this one: what if you could build a giant ribbon shaped world, with a radius the same as that of Earth’s orbit. You could get tremendous surface area per mass, and solar power to boot.
The sci-fi elements are pretty sharp – alien races manipulating one another, technological marvels, spaceships, and built planets. The story elements are tepid – one guy goes on this voyage literally because he’s bored. Many plot elements, including all the major turning points, are explained by a woman’s genetic gift of luck – a lazy author’s device, although one that admittedly intrigued me.
Author: James Howard Kunstler
A near-future genre-bending story of a fairly optimistic post-apocalyptic world. Oil has run dry, war has distracted the government, electricity and transportation are severely disrupted. All the worse, a virulent flu has devastated the population, particularly culling the very young.
Suburbia is dead, and the world returns to local community structures where power is divided between those who can get things done, and those who can have things done to others. In this world Robert Earle must contend with a mysterious new cult and the lawless interruption of the well-being of his town.
It’s a well written story, with solidly intriguing characters and a fairly tight plot. The “genre-bending” element jumps in abruptly two-thirds of the way through, though- this will disrupt the less dedicated readers. Keep it up, though – there’s plenty to enjoy.
Author: Cory Doctorow
While this is technically a Young Adult novel, I think I can confidently recommend it to an older audience as well. Not too old, mind.
This is the tale of the aftermath of a terrorist attack in San Francisco, of how the Department of Homeland Security came in and did more damage to the people of the city than the terrorists ever did. The protagonist, “I”, (actually, his name is Marcus and/or M1k3y, but of course it is written in first person, as required by the 2005 SciFi POV Disarmament Treaty with the UK…) Anyway, Marcus and pals respond by undermining the DHS and “jamming” their procedures. And by covertly recording DHS excesses (hence the term Little Brother). And by, er, occasionally by kind of being terrorists, just not the kind that actually cause death. Directly.
The book at times virtually becomes a manual for hacking and subversive activities. I would have killed with my bare hands and/or teeth to get this book when I was 14. The afterword points to more primary sources, too.
Let me pull no punches: This is propaganda. The opposing viewpoint – that security can and should be achieved by sacrificing personal freedoms – is made only poorly and by despicable or pitiable individuals. But it is propaganda that I agree with, mostly, and who loves a sermon better than the choir?
Little Brother does not patronize its target audience. Indeed, some parents may be uncomfortable with the alcohol, drugs, and sex mentioned in the text. And, you know, the overthrowing the government thing. But, aside from the last one, these are presented in a calm, straightforward, non-sensationalized way. That is, alcohol shows up, but it’s never the point.
Why do I keep putting this book down? I don’t know. I liked it (except when the protagonist temporarily becomes a tool), but it makes me a little uncomfortable. Maybe I’m getting old.
Now get off my lawn.
P.S. Like much of Doctorow’s work, LB can be found for free via Creative Commons licensing.
Author: John Scalzi
It’s been a while since I’ve read hard sci-fi, and perhaps as long since I’ve read military sci-fi. Old Man’s War is both, and succeeds as both, at least as far as I can tell.
It is the story of a man who, on his 75th birthday, joins a galaxy-spanning military service. This is standard practice, and those who join: a) don’t know why only the old are recruited and b) know they can never again return to Earth. Indeed, no one on Earth knows any details about human extra-solar colonization, except that it is occurring.
It’s a good story, fairly well told. Data dump expositions are inevitable, I suppose, and are handled with only modest awkwardness. Plus, the data dumps contain new (to me; see warning above) sci-fi elements, so that makes them all the more bearable. The rest is fresh and exciting, with at least two characters you care about.
It is told in first person, which gets to me because almost all sci-fi seems to be so, now-a-days (except when it’s in an even more annoying second person; I’m looking at you, Charles Stross). But I’m sure you can get over that.