All Roads End Here

All Roads End Here
By David Moody

All Roads End Here is the second volume in David Moody’s second “Hater” trilogy, and thus his fifth Hater novel overall. The Hater books are not terribly original or well written, but the label of great trash fits. They’re like a sugar rush of fiction: quick to put the hooks in and hard to put down.

The Hater premise is that a variant of the zombie apocalypse has infected a certain segment of the population (the Haters) with a murderous rage that compels them to slaughter the Unchanged. Much brutal violence ensues.

After surviving an outbreak of Hatermania while taking part in a corporate team-building exercise on a barren North Sea island (this was in the previous novel, One of Us Will Be Dead by Morning), Matthew Dunne has made the dangerous journey home to his wife. Home, however, is a city besieged by armies of Haters. Survival is once again the name of the game, only this time with more lives at stake. Fans of such nightmares as 28 Days Later will feel right at home with the mayhem.

The City in the Middle of the Night

The City in the Middle of the Night
By Charlie Jane Anders

Charlie Jane Anders bats lead-off in A People’s Future of the United States with one of the more obviously political pieces in that collection. It’s no surprise then that her new novel The City in the Middle of the Night is a political allegory as well, as politics seems to be everywhere these days. Blame Trump.

The planet January, split between perpetually hot and cold, light and dark hemispheres, was colonized long ago by immigrants from Earth. But now human society, divided among various city states, is breaking down due to environmental strains, declining technology, and political repression. Civilizational collapse seems to be another popular subject in our own time.

Enter a bunch of would-be rebels and revolutionaries, all with different agendas, headed by a young woman who shares a psychic link with some of the strange creatures native to the planet. It’s a good story and Anders does a great job with the world-building, leaving us with the expectation that we’ll be reading more January adventures soon.

A People’s Future of the United States

A People’s Future of the United States
Ed. by Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams

For several years now SF has had a good claim to being the most socially aware or “woke” genre of fiction. This is most likely because SF is by its nature more political and speculative in its imaginings, with its various utopias and dystopias representing critiques of our current ways of doing things. In the 2018 volume of The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy there was even a call by editor N. K. Jemisin for resistance to the “fascist” Trump regime by using SF stories to speak truth to power.

A People’s Future of the United States, which borrows its title from Howard Zinn’s lefty landmark People’s History of the United States, is an anthology very much in the same mode. The editors called for stories that would imagine a more hopeful, liberal, just future America. As you might expect, the results can sometimes get preachy with their calls for greater tolerance and diversity, and appeals for an end to oppression. It is not all virtue signalling, however, and there a lot of really good stories here that go in unexpected directions and achieve their ends with subtlety.

The Coming Storm

The Coming Storm
By Mark Alpert

At the end of 2018 a Chinese scientist claimed to have made genetically-edited babies using a tool known by its acronym CRISPR. The story created a lot of buzz and blowback, conjuring visions of a brave new world of designer humans.

Of course, this has long been a favourite subject in science fiction. In The Coming Storm CRISPR has been used to create a breed of super-soldiers, the shock troops of an authoritarian U.S. government. Mark Alpert mixes a lot of action and politics into this cautionary tale of a worst-case scenario future. The social order is falling apart due to giant storms battering coastal cities, increased immigration, and a collapsing economy, so the government needs genetically-engineered warriors to keep control.

Alas, genetic engineering is more complicated than it seems and things don’t work out as planned. This happens with a lot of scientific breakthroughs even with the best intentions, and the government’s intentions here are not the best. It’s up to Jenna Khan and her new-found guerilla friends to stop the powers-that-be from doing even worse things than messing with the nation’s gene pool.

The Time Machine

The Time Machine
By H. G. Wells

While I think Frankenstein deserves its ranking as the first science fiction novel, I give H. G. Wells pride of place as the father of the genre. Not because Wells was always the first (though he often was), but because he established the great archetypes of so many stories. Every alien invasion harkens back to The War of the Worlds, and in The Time Machine he invented time travel, whose long history James Gleick recently explored so well.

It was always part political allegory, and it’s interesting how much of that has stayed with us. The ambiguous myth of the Morlocks still crops up everywhere in popular culture, which is perhaps not so surprising given rising rates of social and economic inequality in our own time. At the end of the nineteenth century progress was being called into question, and degeneration being posited as just as likely an evolutionary outcome. A similar sense of decline seemed to set in at the end of the twentieth century, and has carried over into our own “automatic civilization.” The Time Traveler brought a warning from a future we’re waking up to.

Dead Astronauts

Dead Astronauts
By Jeff VanderMeer

For years now Jeff VanderMeer has been carving out his own genre niche, as an editor, anthologist, and author. The label most easily attached to it is that of “weird” fiction, identified as writing that is an imaginative, sometimes disorienting blend of SF, fantasy, and horror. VanderMeer co-edited a massive volume of The Weird and most of his own writing fits the same bill.

Dead Astronauts is set in the same weird universe as Borne, though it’s not really a sequel. In fact, given how confused the time scheme is the notion of sequence may not apply. A trio of quasi-human figures are on a mission to the City to destroy the Company. The City is the same (or at least appears the same) as the mutant-ridden warren of ruins and biotech run wild of Borne. It also bears some resemblance to the psychedelic cancer-in-Disneyland of Area X described in the Southern Reach Trilogy. In this realm of infinite plasticity time itself has been perverted, or is merely perverse. We learn that the three have been on this mission a long time. Or no time at all. Either way, it seems that alternate realities are running out.

It is a world bereft of landmarks, and perhaps without meaning. At least that’s what we’re told. One reader will confess his inability to draw much out of this primordial tidal pool of language. Rich in imagination, experimental in form, intellectually incoherent, Dead Astronauts is both alien and alienating. Some readers will find it a trip. Others will get a headache. Many drugs have that same effect.

The Body Library

The Body Library
By Jeff Noon

Somewhere in the tangled state of metafiction there is a city known as Storyville. Detective John Nyquist, hero of Jeff Noon’s previous novel A Man of Shadows, arrives in Storyville on an assignment that has him being paid to trail someone. When that someone ends up dead in one of the towers of Melville Estate (located just across Calvino Road and past Rabelais Plaza), Nyquist finds himself dragged into a police investigation layered in scatterings of Nordic myth (the police being headquartered in Kafka Court, of course).

The atmosphere in The Body Library is that of inky noir, shaped less by golden age detective novels than by such later wild re-imaginings as Alex Proyas’s Dark City and Robert Zemeckis’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Storyville is the dream world we all enter into when we open a book: the act of reading triggering a dissociative event that splits us into fictional and non-fictional identities. Mysterious and creepy, The Body Library contains many mansions in its pages, asking us to consider where it is stories come from and where they go, how they are consumed and how they transform us in turn.