By J. G. Ballard
Is it science fiction? Well, it’s prophetic. It describes itself, paradoxically, as a vision of “a future that had already taken place, and was now exhausted.” Shouldn’t that mean that its particular dystopic vision is now passé?
Not quite. This is a novel that juxtaposes the shallow surface of modern life with its lower depths, inviting all kinds of obvious Freudian and Marxist interpretations. The abyss, however, abides, which is why we continue to see so much of ourselves in the residents of the high-rise. Their need for comfort and security, for example, and their selfishness and narcissism are drives no less important than their unleashed libidos. Wilder’s camera would be a cellphone now, but otherwise it seems very familiar.
As a vision of the end of the world High-Rise is as resonant now as ever. This may well be the way the world ends: locked inside our dirty apartments, drowning in our own filth, and each of us (even, or especially, those of us with families) entirely alone. If not happy, at least content.
Nebula Awards Showcase 2017
Ed. by Julie E. Czerneda
The Nebula Awards debuted in 1966, with Frank Herbert’s Dune taking the prize for best novel, and since their inception they’ve been accompanied by a companion volume showcasing the nominees.
This year’s edition, the fifty-first, is drawn from the 2015 Nebulas and comes to us edited and introduced by Canadian author Julie Czerneda. It contains all of the nominees for Best Short Story as well as the winners of the Best Novella, Best Novelette, Best Short Poem and Best Long Poem prizes. In addition there are excerpts from all of the books nominated for Best Novel, and brief intros by the authors. While not as big a book as most Year’s Best anthologies (of which there are many), its sampling of different forms does make it something a little different.
There has been controversy in recent years over the underrepresentation of women in SF awards, so it’s worth noting that in 2015 all of the major Nebula Awards, for poetry and fiction, were won by women, from Alyssa Wong for best short story to Naomi Novik for best novel. Did the voters get it right? The Showcase lets you be the judge.
All Systems Red
By Martha Wells
The post- but still part-human cyborg has proven to be one of the most enduring figures in SF. And as our tools and technology lead to further extensions and augmentations in the best McLuhanesque fashion, it keeps getting easier to identify with these evolving human-machine hybrids.
The narrator of All Systems Red is a corporate cyborg unit named Murderbot. Despite having a bad-ass name, Murderbot actually has a shy, retiring personality, well-suited for the task of providing security for a team of scientists investigating a remote planet. This should be a simple task, giving Murderbot lots of free time to watch cable dramas while ignoring the annoying humans. But then things go crazy. Satellite communications are disrupted and contact is lost with a neighbouring research station. Murderbot will have to rise to the occasion if the team is going to survive.
All Systems Red is a quick read, the length of a novella, and Wells’s storytelling is light on its feet, making for a thrilling action yarn with a catchy plot and a conflicted narrator many readers will be able to relate to.
By Cory Doctorow
In the near-future Toronto’s social and political fabric is coming apart.
“Default” is the name given to the prevailing system, a security state with an entrenched uber-class of superrich (known as “zottas”).
Those who reject default are called walkaways. They are mostly young people who have chosen to abandon capitalism in order to build a new communal society based on free love, respect for the environment, and the ability of 3D printers to provide for all of life’s needs.
Natalie, a zotta heiress, is one such walkaway, and the story focuses on her adventures among her newly adopted family and the efforts made by her zotta dad to get her back. You see, default can’t tolerate alternative paradigms. And then there are these stories that the walkaways have found the secret of eternal life . . .
The label most often attached to Doctorow’s brand of SF is “optimistic,” and in Walkaway he’s that and then some. In his vision of the future not only are people basically good but there are no limits to what they can accomplish. We will live in a post-scarcity world where we are able to fashion our own reality and even, literally, create a new heaven and earth.
You can criticize Doctorow’s vision on a lot of different grounds – and I would – but you can’t knock its imaginative boldness or the energy and conviction with which he puts it forward. Walkaway is his fullest, most important book so far, and a lot of fun even to disagree with.
The Year’s Best Science Fiction, Thirty-Fourth Annual Collection
Ed. by Gardner Dozois
For over thirty years Gardner Dozois’s Year’s Best Science Fiction anthology has set a standard for excellence, but the 2017 edition stands out as something special, and would be my pick for the best in the series of the last ten years.
The stories are, as always, diverse and entertaining, but they also come with extra layers of significance, like pop allegories with bite. A sequel to John Carpenter’s movie The Thing, for example, turns into a new way of looking at the AIDS crisis in the ‘80s. Alien invasion and the supplanting of our own species is welcomed in “Touring with the Alien” and “Fifty Shades of Grays” (which has humanity seduced into committing a sort of auto-erotic extinction event).
The stories look in all directions: full of nods and winks to the past, and dreaming of the future while staying deeply rooted in the here and now. Christopher Marlowe is raised from the dead as an A.I. A cyborg Shane stalks the Saskatchewan prairie. A man digs a grave for his father and builds a tower to the stars.
In sum it’s a book to enjoy and wonder at, but also one to make you think.
By Tade Thompson
The aliens in Roseweater, the first volume in Tade Thompson’s Wormwood Trilogy, are some of the most insinuating imaginable. They’ve come to Earth to take over, but they have a subtle, long game to play that includes curing some of humanity’s ills and offering enticing new powers to a select few while slowly replacing their genetic make-up.
Kaaro is one such infected Earthling, gifted with psychic abilities that make him a star acquisition for Nigeria’s secret police despite his being a smart-ass delinquent. As the narrative jumps around in time and space, from our reality to the alien “xenosphere,” we learn more of what the visitors are up to and what they might be doing to us. What it all amounts to is a highly original take on the alien-invasion motif, where the aliens act like genetic material made conscious, colonizing the mental space of their hosts in order to control their bodies. Imagination has always been our undoing.
By Alex Lamb
Exodus is the third instalment of Alex Lamb’s Roboteer Trilogy, the first two volumes being Roboteer and Nemesis. You will definitely want to read those books first, as Lamb’s brand of high-tech space opera, while full of explosive action, is also pretty heady and can be overwhelming with all the stuff he throws at you.
As we pick the story up, things aren’t going well in the war against the Photurians. The Roboteer Will Kunot-Monet is going to have to pull his act (and augmented mind) together and get back in the game in order to save the day. This won’t be easy given the snake pit he’s starting from and where it is he needs to go: the very frontiers of consciousness and time.