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