This is becoming a historical novel, describing an alternative present in the 1960s, Dick uses the device of a book offering the perspective of the route history did take, which is widely held as both dangerously radical and impossible. Strangely though, little pivots around that device except the author of the book (who only appears in the last couple of chapters) and one of its readers. Far more pivotal is the I Ching, which slowly develops from a quiet source into a key active component, and the one detail that ties all plots together.
As this was written in the era when the world was coming to terms with the horrors of Nazi Germany and the development of nuclear powers, the obvious question as to how horrifying a future in which these two elements were combined is explored. It also deals with complete authoritarian superpowers who run the whole world. Interestingly it becomes clear that over time Hitler loses the respect he commanded, but that the power base he had built up had too many vested interests to allow for his systems to be disbanded. Instead horrors perpetuate without checks and balances.
Even though there isquite brutal violence, I now need to read more of his work.
The Secret People is a scifi classic with a setup reministent of Blyton (plus extramarital passion). We have a rich boy with a private jet who manages to crash it in the most inconvenient place possible. But then we take a swift turn into the underworld and discover “The Secret People”.
I loved the main concepts of this: environmental changes and evolution of races of peoples. It also considers zenophobia and true fears. Everything hangs together well on the two central characters and their investigation of this world. My only quibble is that the ending could have been improved above the current one!
Another trilogy lent to me during recuperation, this one is one I’d read before. This trilogy brilliantly subverts genre tropes, with a modern chemist catapulted into another world during the Age of Legends. Wallie Smith has to understand both how this world works and what is happening to fulfil a mysterious quest set to him by a god.
We have the trials, the faith and the work to drive the world to a better place. But we also have “magic” and strategy and leadership. Of course there is a culture clash, as Wallie has to get used to social norms in the World. How it ends is inspired, and I love that the big picture the gods view includes the purpose for souls, and the need for that soul to be the right age at the right time.
The characters are both strong and flawed, just how I like them! And the world-building is brilliant as we understand the geography and what the Age of Legends means in this world.
Looking for other work by Dave Duncan I am torn to discover that he has added a fourth book to this series. Unlike the existing books, which happen in swift succession, this one is set 15 years into the future. Such a distant epilogue feels like cashing in on a successful trilogy rather than having anything interesting to say
The third, and feels like the final, book in Beckett’s Eden series. Daughter of Eden takes place so far into Eden’s future that the earlier characters have firmly passed into mythology. He also still has something to say about human nature,and our need to believe in something. Through the characters he introduces he frames religious wars as the ridiculous ideas that they are,
But no one else looked at it that way. How can you ask if the story is true or not, if you’re in the story yourself?
I find it interesting that for the last two books he has focussed on female characters, with the surrounding male characters being two-dimensional at best. The women avoid the nurturing trap as well, and instead are powerful characters who have ambitions and leadership skills, despite the way that the society created on Eden has limited them. And the importance of the relationships between those women is central to this world.
I liked how the story was brought full circle without taking the easy escape. Of course Earth would eventually return, but how that was resolved was imaginative.
Alderman’s The Power well-deserves its place in the Bailey’s Shorlist. An Atwood-style utopian/dystopian future. I did though have a little less respect for the Atwood quote on the front cover when the acknowledgements make it clear that she mentored Alderman. I’m very keen for writers in a genre to mentor upcoming writers, but then providing public feedback seems misleading.
Onto the book though: I like the concept, a reversal of all gender-based power. It places misogyny into context, whilst questioning just how much is due to essential shared human nature, with the flipping of the power merely changing who abused it.
I found the introductory letters confusing, until I read the epilogue letters as well, at which point the whole story clicked into much clearer context. The setting of the main book is a near-future science fiction, in which all women have gained a new life and death power. We follow four characters, and see how the changing world shapes them. Each central character is given depth, and has their own voice throughout. Their stories twist together and apart through this, done perfectly smoothly.
A must-read, and my favourite so far to win the Baileys, although as a science fiction fan I may be biased!
Is anyone else reading from the shortlist?
Mother of Eden follows on from Dark Eden, but the characters in the former have now passed into mythology. Instead we are facing another round of social change and world development as different communities via for resources, space and ownership of their creator history.
Its set with a young woman who has barely been exposed to this wider world moving out to become part of a less innocent community, and the change this triggers across all of humanity.
Without revealing what happens, it is a story of politics, intrigue, dreams and sexism. It explores what we know against what we think we know, and how myths can be started and spread. Plus there is suspense and a battle between different factions.
Well worth reading if you enjoy far-future science fiction.
I picked out Wool as a knitter, but instead it scratched my dystopian future needs. There is wool, and knitting, mentioned in the text, but neither to the extent that it is what I associate with the story.
Instead I think of cleaning and silos, and law and politics. A detective story is interwoven with this dystopia, making this into a deeply compelling listen.
I enjoyed how Howey choose to reveal the truths of this place, and change viewpoints to good effect to unwrap the twisting story beautifully. And then how he tied everything together to a satisfying ending was not in a way I expected, having accepted that all the remaining “good” characters were doomed. I did find that after part 1 I was just expecting everyone to die as soon as I decided I liked them.
Harker is a good reader for this, and the pacing of her descriptions allowed me to absorb far more than I often do when reading from a paper book.
This was a “playaway” audiobook from the library, essentially a preloaded MP3 player to borrow. It worked better than I expected, although I did find myself wishing for a record of total chapters/overall time listened, as I had no feel for how far through the story I was.
Have you listened to an Audiobook recently?
The title of this is a classic. But I had always interpreted it as the sort of dream that happens when asleep, so the reality of this was a surprise to me. I didn’t expect an actual electric sheep, more an abstract concept.
As I went through though, the gradual reveal of the reality of android, or “andy” life on earth actually led me to sympathise with them a great deal, although the ending was what it had to be.
This is not only a key work in science fiction, but also well-written and executed. It is of course of its time, but that is manageable. The only thing to be worked past is that it is set in 1992. And of course, we have all sorts of high tech, but no mobile phones.
I struggle to say more about this than has already been said, but it is a good read.
The power of noise over the human mind, in terms of how music can affect us, or noise pollution blight lives, is a known fact in modern life. In The Other Side of Silence, Mostert focuses on this, and on where that power could be played with.
Mostert has picked up the concept of a Pythagorean comma, and the stated aim of the book is to derive a musical scale in which this does not exist. But despite three of the main characters being mathematicians, there is little information on the problem that they are trying to solve or how they are solving it (which makes little sense to me: a perfect musical scale should be easy, making it acoustically pleasing is of course very complex and could arguably benefit from the approach taken, but this is never mentioned.
This may be due to the central character being a woman who does not understand mathematics, and definitely doesn’t understand computers. Whilst the reader does require someone to whom things need explaining at a lay level, Tia’s level of ignorance goes beyond that.
Despite the flaws of such an unaware main character as the only serious female, this is a good exploration of human nature, and the world around us.
It is utterly impossible to discuss The Last Colony without using spoilers for the preceding two books in the Old Man’s War sequence, or the book itself. So before the cut I shall simply say that I loved it.
Continue reading “The Last Colony – John Scalzi”