Read: Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

Beautiful, brutal, haunting, and hopeful, Station Eleven is the story of several people whose lives briefly touched or affected each other, before or after the apocalyptic fall of modern civilization due to a violently aggressive flu strain that wiped out an unknown but huge portion of humanity.

The part of the tale that serves as back story follows the famous Hollywood actor Arthur on his road to fame; in the post-epidemic part we meet Kirsten, with the present-day story playing out 20 years after the apocalyptic events. Their lives touched briefly during the last weeks of electricity, international travel, air condition, and internet as he, an aging actor, performed the role of King Lear in a stage production in which she, at eight years old, had a non-speaking part.

Arthur never lived to see life after the flu changed the way humans live their lives, but never the less his he is present decades later, as the mythological person who gave Kirsten the lonely child actor the graphic novel Station Eleven, given to him by its creator, his first wife. By the time we meet Kirsten again, twenty years into the new world,  she has joined the Travelling Symphony – half orchestra, half theatre company – carrying her cherished and thumbed copies of Station Eleven close to her heart.

The two stories are silently interwoven, in fragments, flowing into and out of each other’s way, together telling av tale of regret, nostalgia, a fight to not only survive but to live gracefully, and, finally, hope.

I recommend it highly.


Review: The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi

So, at last – Bacigalupi‘s The Windup Girl. A near-future story set in a world where we have run out of oil all the while genetic science has its heyday being used by the corporate world as a way to more or less covertly own and commandeer all of the world and its peoples.

Welcome to Thailand. A nation set on isolationism as a way to avoid ceding its national sovereignty to corporate America. The greenhouse effect has brought a rise in the water table so half of Bangkok is now more or less sunken while the other half is kept dry by way of dikes and pumps. A fight is on with the isolationists on one side and the ones favouring trade with the world outside on the other; when we enter the story we don’t really know who to side with but it is clear that confrontation is impossible to avoid.

As if this wasn’t complex enough Bacigalupi adds a vat-grown human being, debating if this really is a human or not, and we follow her in her ongoing and daily humiliation. Because in isolationist Thailand anything not from within is impure. And anything genetically enhanced is a symbol for the devil enemy from abroad, something that deserves abuse. And abuse she takes, until one day she lashes back…

As the Chinese are said to curse – may you live in interesting times. The people in this book certainly do so.

The story is well written and well imagined but roaming a territory defined by William Gibson, Ian McDonald and, to me, containing much of Jon Courtenay Grimwood.  It very much feels like a first novel, trying to stake out a part of that land for his own. Yet, and perhaps because of his territorial neighbours, whom I love so much, I recommend this book highly.

Fast, fun, imaginative; not without originality; good penmanship, a fluid mind. And with one foot clearly set in the now. Because the world he describes is a result of how we presently treat our planet and our fellow humans. As extrapolations go, not very far-fetched. Which is scary.

Read it.

Review: Adiamante, by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

So, after a long period of not being able to read due to a combination of stress and physical problems that left me drained, during which I’ve tried different light rereads to get the reading going but without success, I finally managed to finish L. E. Modesitt Jr‘s Adiamante, which I had on loan from a long-time colleague.

Ten thousand years ago, after an age of massive segregation and ecological disaster resulting both from conflicts, overconsumption and a general disregard for the ecological balance, certain people – the cybs – were ostracised from Old Earth. They now return to exact revenge on the descendants of the perpetrators. The Old Earth people have learned and changed, something the returning cybs are unwilling to see.

I had absolutely no idea of either book or author but the cover hinted at hard SF of some kind. Soon enough it became clear that the book was written mainly as a way to put forward certain ideas, ideas regarding ways to conduct one’s life, both as an individual and as a society. At times this made the book hard going, with conflicts and scenes engineered not to drive some kind of story but to act as an arena for dialogues in which the ideas put forth could be displayed – a classic allegory. This puts characters in the passenger seat. Sometimes this is no trouble. For example if the ideas are interesting, or the way in which they are examined, are novel enough, or if the author is an exceptionally skilled writer, this may work. In this case it worked so and so – I would not venture as far as saying the prose was bad but it had a certain Clarkesian feel, in the way there is a tangible distance between protagonist/s and reader, despite the story being told in a first person perspective.

The cybs are representatives of ideas persistent in our present society, with the right and might of the strong prevails, and with the Old Earth people acting as advertising board for a philosophy where people respect the environment and have done away with money (instead you work up debts when you spend resources, debts you work off in different ways). Some aspects of this philosophy, like not protecting the weak or stupid (“because stupidity breeds”) instead letting those be killed off by the aggressive mutated wildlife, is entirely revolting.

In the end it was an OK read but nothing I’d recommend anyone, except if it was the only SF available from the airport kiosk and you really REALLY needed something for that flight ahead of you.

Not quite a review: Seeking North, shared universe stories by Lynn Abbey, Jane Fancher and C.J. Cherryh

At the turn of the year the Closed Circle group started publishing stories within their shared Seeking North universe. It was my definite intention to read them, but, well, somehow it never happened. And then when I finally made it to the Seeking North web site even my jaded self was considerably confused by the site design – what went were, and why, and… freaking nuts, where the **** could I find the STORY?!?!

Eventually, about two minutes later, I found it. And, eventually, too, because life conspired otherwise, I took the text and made it into an .epub file, so I could read it on my phone.

It’s too early in the story process to know exactly where this is heading but so far so good, is my verdict.

On a planet far far away there is a human colony, lost, sort of, and suffering from a planet-spanning EMP shock which took out all electronics, everywhere. The tech present seems more borrowed/inherited than anything else, and the main mode of transport is wagons hauled by mules.

One story, Lynn Abbey’s, features a group of people living in such a wagon, going from place to place; itinerants, earning some money here and there on temporary jobs.

Another, C.J. Cherryh’s, is, this far, about a scavenger who searches the more desolate spots for metals that can be gathered and sold.

The third, Jane Fancher’s, centres on some street kids and the economy of horses and mules.

Lynn’s story got me drawn in. She mainly writes fantasy, normally, and I’ve never read any of her other stories (I’m no fantasy buff), but I found I enjoyed the short story format. A contained voice, holding the story like a crystal ball, turning it this way and that, exploring. I definitely want to know what will happen.

C.J.’s story, now, felt wholly different, yet with deep roots in the same soil. The language conjuring images, scenes, the vastness and desolation… and a hint of the unknown. I know she’s busy doing other things as well but I definitely hope she can spare some energy for this one because I’m curious where this will lead.

Jane’s story, then, because that’s the order that I’ve read them in. Different pace, different altogether, in respect to what Lynn and C.J. has written in this universe. Not my favourite part but good nevertheless and I’ll gladly read on, to see what will happen.

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