Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel

StationElevenNorthAmericaHiRes“Dr. Eleven: What was it like for you, at the end?
Captain Lonagan: It was exactly like waking up from a dream.”

Disclaimer: The review contains some non-trivial spoilers. Though I am quite convinced that the reading of this particular book cannot really suffer from them, proceed at your own risk.

I like to think about Station Eleven as of science fiction in reverse. Where most SF stories conceive of the future as a superstructure built over their past (and somebody’s present), in this one the future looks back toward the past as a dream of wasted miracles and heartbreaking loss. Against the backdrop of a crippled world and through the excruciating prism of art, a thing of poignant beauty is brought together. Because survival is insufficient.

This last sentence – taken from a Star Trek episode and painted over the wagons of a troupe of actors and musicians, The Traveling Symphony. They ply the erstwhile American lands bordering the Great Lakes, performing their Shakespeare and their music. But America is no more, not for twenty years, since the Georgian swine flu almost wiped out humanity. Continue reading

Slow Bullets – Alastair Reynolds

slow bulletsI’m not very knowledgeable about Golden Age SF, and yet I would risk saying that Slow Bullets has most of its roots in precisely that era of the genre. It is lean, straightforward, functioning mostly on the strength of its focal conceits, and, of course, dealing with grand futuristic ideas. It definitely suffers in terms of complexity and veracity because of these same design features, but one could always argue that was done on purpose. Sacrificing depth for the sake of densely packed conceptual entertainment, pitched against a backdrop of cosmological scale, rarely works with longer fiction. Here, though, in the span of fewer than 200 pages, this compression is quite functional. The author probably had much fun writing this short piece, knowing from the get-go that he didn’t have to dig very deep in psychology, sociology, any –ology for that matter. It’s a pre-New Wave, pre-cyberpunk piece that just goes for that old thrill of exploring a bundle of great concepts, not caring that much about anything else. I imagine it can be a liberating experience for a modern author, to just go with the flow, for the sake of the flow, on a rare occasion. I certainly enjoyed reading it, it took me just a bit more than the duration of my flight to finish, and its succinctness is a quality worthy of applause. Continue reading

Hannu Rajaniemi: Collected Fiction

Hannu_largeIt’s hard to even begin to express how much of a Hannu Rajaniemi fan I am. I have reviewed his books before (here and here in English, and here and here in Bulgarian), journeying through them has always been electrifying. His fiction is a vortex where the science and strangeness of the future meet, exploding in ferris wheel fireworks of bold ideas, narrative complexity and damned good writing. It’s the kind of prose that could go into textbooks on why and how SF is the awesome thing it is (alas, no such textbooks that I know of).

Seriously. Hannu Rajaniemi is one of the few writers who balance a sound scientific background with a vivid writerly talent, expertly enough to hammer out a vision of the future that is truly alien, and yet so very relatable. It is one of the crowning feats of good SF – to make the seemingly impossible behave as though it is reasonable and, ultimately, quite plausible. The miracles of fantasy and SF lure readers with their desirability, even when they are terrifying. The gap between how much we want those miracles and how impossible it is to have them is by now something we as readers are comfortable with (should we really be?). But Rajaniemi’s fiction imbues the genre with a brand new strain of cognitive dissonance: yes, you can have those miracles! Maybe not literally, but you can certainly understand them rationally, you only need to pay attention. Often enough, you don’t even need to have read academic papers in the relevant subjects! Continue reading

The Dragon’s Path – Daniel Abraham

DragonsPath1The Dragon’s Path is the first book in Daniel Abraham’s series The Dagger and the Coin. On the face of it, the series promises a rich dish of the epic fantasy cuisine. The story takes place in a secondary world whose description is bound to raise pretty high the expectations of many readers. This world is a vast one, as it behooves a specimen of the genre; its history reaches thousands of years backward, when it was ruled by the ruthless dragons, who later destroyed each other in an internecine war. The dragons modified extensively – through magic or science, who knows – the genetic make-up of the Firstblood humans to spin from them twelve more races, better adapted to serve their masters’ hungry needs. Continue reading

Creatures of Light and Darkness – Roger Zelazny

creatures1This text is a translation from Bulgarian. The original can be found here.

Putting Creatures of Light and Darkness into categories is a difficult task. From the point of view of genre, form, style, anyhow. Its text is seemingly messy (and remains messy under careful scrutiny), as if under the influence of light drugs. The text itself – if I can be allowed this heavy-handed personification – and not the author who produced it, as underground fan legends sometimes have it.

Creatures of Light and Darkness strikes me as a science-fictional poem. I initially attempted to bolster this argument with the kind of discursive and formally elaborate writing associated with academic literature. Then I decided against it. The reader just needs to read the first chapter – in the House of the Dead – to see the poetry, shining through, crisp and clear.

Continue reading

Boy’s Life – Robert McCammon

Boy's LifeBoy’s Life starts off with the promise of a great novel about to unfold. I mean, just take a look at the opening passage:

“CORY? WAKE UP, SON. IT’S TIME.”

I let him pull me up from the dark cavern of sleep, and I opened my eyes and looked up at him. He was already dressed, in his dark brown uniform with his name – Tom – written in white letters across his breast pocket. I smelled bacon and eggs, and the radio was playing softly in the kitchen. A pan rattled and glasses clinked; Mom was at work in her element as surely as a trout rides a current. “It’s time,” my father said, and he switched on the lamp beside my bed and left me squinting with the last images of a dream fading in my brain.” Continue reading

Fortunately, the Milk – Neil Gaiman

fortunatelythemilk1The Ocean at the End of the Lane (click for my review) is about the child’s mind telling a story to that of the adult. It reaches back through memory and speaks in a language that children know much better, and many adults have forgotten. Fortunately, the Milk does the exact opposite of that. Cory Doctorow sums it up neatly in his review over at Boing Boing: “a magnificent tribute to the fatherly art of trolling kids with straightfaced, outlandish tales”.

Doctorow’s review does a great job of presenting the book, which is short enough that you could read it in less than an hour, anyway. Unless you are reading it to your kid, which will inevitably get you entangled, I imagine, in serious existential discussions, thus prodding you to contribute to the perpetuation of the art of kid-trolling. Continue reading