By Karl Schroeder
A number of different technologies — from steam engines and the telegraph in the nineteenth century to the Internet today — have promised to annihilate time and space by allowing ever faster speeds of travel and communication. Once we start getting into navigating distances of light years, however, some really fancy juggling is going to be required.
Enter the Lockstep, a sort of cryogenic rhythm method that operates by putting everyone into synchronized hibernation for thirty years at a time and then waking them up for one-month intervals. Downtime can thus be spent shuttling about the orphan planets of the cold outer reaches of our solar system while mechanical functions are handled by a robot proletariat.
Trouble ensues, however, when Toby McGonigal, a scion of the Lockstep Empire’s ruling family, returns to the waking world after a 14,000-year snooze. It seems not everyone is glad to see him back, and soon he is involved in a political struggle that threatens to upset the carefully calibrated tempo of Lockstep life. Karl Schroeder expertly draws us into this richly-imagined future corner of the galaxy and keeps the action moving at a pace that won’t let you take any breaks for a nap.
By Stephen Baker
Let’s face it, humanity will face a lot of challenges in the twenty-first century, and just to survive the species is going to have to up its game. Enter the boost: a computer chip (made in China, naturally) that’s implanted in the brain so as to link everyone into a nearly universal human network. The good news is that this makes us all a lot smarter. The bad news is that people become so dependent on the guidance of their boost they can no longer tell if they’re hungry or not without a prompt.
Technology has always been a double-edged sword. The hive mind may be a giant cognitive leap for humankind, but it’s also a boon for government surveillance and corporate hegemony. Stephen Baker’s monitory novel is set in the year 2072, just before the release of a new upgrade to the boost. After the discovery of a bug in the software, rogue programmer Ralf Alvare goes “wet brain” in order to figure out who is behind the doctoring of our neo-neural codes, and why.
By Edan Lepucki
Post-apocalyptic homesteading is never easy, and it’s even more challenging with a baby due. This is the situation Cal and Frida find themselves in after the multiple whammies of environmental catastrophe, terrorism, economic chaos, and total political breakdown have left them roughing it in the wild California bush.
Salvation in the form of a commune known at the Land turns out to be a mixed blessing, and before long Cal and Frida have some hard choices to make. While much of the territory Edan Lepucki covers may seem familiar ground for fans of after-the-crash survivalist lit, California still provides a piercing original take on twenty-first century notions of class and community, as well as the enduring importance of family ties.
The Little Green Book of Chairman Rahma
By Brian Herbert
Revolutions, even green ones, are not dinner parties. In Brian Herbert’s latest, the Corporate War of the mid-twenty-first century has overthrown our capitalist oligarchs and transformed the Western hemisphere into a Maoist-environmental superpower known as the Green States of America, where the human population have been herded on to high-density “reservations” and enemies of the state (poachers, polluters, tree cutters) are scheduled for “recycling.”
Leading this civilization of neo-hippies (they even wear bell-bottoms and are legally required to get high) is a Great Helmsman named Chairman Rahma, who believes that green ends justify all kinds of bloody means. Dissent, however, is still bubbling along underground, and nature, whether taking the form of assisted evolution or felt through the vagaries of dark energy, might still have the last word.
Herbert, best known as the co-author of the Dune chronicles, has written an anti-political fable that sets forth a cartoonish libertarian-anarchic creed closer to the spirit of Berkeley than anything in the Chairman’s little green book. It’s not all as preachy as this sounds, however, and you can feel the plot accelerate madly as events race toward the end of the world as we know it.
Head Full of Mountains
By Brent Hayward
Toronto’s Brent Hayward has a knack for creating incredibly lush alternative worlds and mythologies, and Head Full of Mountains may be his most complex and demanding work yet. On its surface it’s a psycho-mystical SF fantasy that describes the adventures of a figure (is he human? cyborg? an alien or artificial intelligence?) named Crospinal.
Because Crospinal is like a newborn being released into a world he doesn’t understand, the reader has to share much of his confusion as he explores an environment or mental geography painted in the rusting colours of industrial-abstract expressionism. His journey suggests an allegory of human development progressing through different stages of life, but readers will probably come up with many other interpretations as well, perhaps seeing in it a nightmare of isolated and introverted consciousness, or the endgame of technologies that have left humanity behind. The result is a different and difficult SF novel, but also one that is rich and rewarding.
By Laline Paull
Laline Paull’s The Bees sets itself a challenge: telling a story from a very restricted, almost alien point of view. The heroine is a bee, her life directed mainly by complex pheromone traffic signals.
Fables have been with us since the dawn of narrative, and bees have always been a popular subject, usually praised for their industriousness and sociability — sort of like ants with class. But Laline Paull gives us a darker, dystopic bee story, emphasizing the rigid hierarchies and structures of control characterizing the original hive mind.
The novel follows the rise of Flora 717, a lowly sanitation worker who runs afoul of the hive’s prime directives to “accept, obey, and serve” when she starts thinking for herself. What follows is an allegory that works on several levels, but mainly it’s a thrilling fantasy adventure that has the hive fighting for survival from various enemies known as “the Myriad” (wasps, spiders, crows, humans) while the broody Flora makes plans for what will happen when the Queen is dead.
By Josh Malerman
Josh Malerman’s debut effort Bird Box is an SF-horror novel that’s less cinematic in its effects than the genre usually runs. This is because the source of the terror is unseen.
The set-up has it that most of the world’s population has died after an outbreak of something known only (and rather unimaginatively) as “the Problem.” We don’t know what the Problem is, but we do know it’s out there, and if you look at it you go crazy and kill yourself (as well as anyone else who happens to be around). The only way to avoid being affected is to barricade yourself in your house, nail blankets over the windows, and never go outside without a blindfold.
As you can imagine, this makes life tough for young mom Malorie, who, five years after the outbreak, has to leave the safety of her shelter, taking two young children (named Boy and Girl) with her on a perilous river journey.
The Problem sets an almost Oulipan challenge for Malerman. Action sequences have to play out in terms of sounds, smells, and sense of touch. But it all succeeds remarkably well, effectively generating suspense through a number of spooky scenes while continually teasing us with the possibility of a big reveal.