I never thought it at all ironic that I’d given up on science fiction as we approached the 21st century. But I didn’t stop paying attention. In 2000, based on David Langofrd’s Amazon-UK review, I bought a hardcover copy of a UK-only title by an unknown (at the time) writer; Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds.
In it, Reynolds combined very hard science with imaginative, informed speculation, and crafted superb characters in polished literary prose. He’s just kept getting better. Here’s Beyond the Aquila Rift: The Best of Alastair Reynolds from Subterranean Press, a new collection of his best stories, many of them long enough to range into the novella category. This book is a superb introduction to one of our best writers in any category, and a must buy for anyone who enjoys Reynolds’ work.
Here’s a link to my most recent conversation with Alastair Reynolds: Download here:
With all the national attention on opiods and addiction, it’s (always) a good time to look at the latest science behind how we perceive pain and become addicted to painkillers. Dr. Mel Pohl offers some fascinating observations in The Pain Antidote.
In The High Mountains of Portugal, Yann Martel’s mix of the fantastic and the mundane feels as crisp and fresh as morning sunlight on a cold spring day. It’s written as a triptych, three narratives that might seem separate but reveal themselves to be cut from the same slice of writerly reality. The seamless blend of gritty details, real and imagined, with characters who seem like they walked off the street and into the novel, lend the reading experience the feel of a particularly vivid dream.
In one opening segment, Tomás sets off in search of a peculiar religious artifact. If I say there’s a bit of a Lovecraftian feel at work, it tells you more about my reading than the book itself but both authors play with the power of suggestion. In the second segment, we experience an unusual autopsy that leads to a unique take on Agatha Christie. In the third section, we meet a man who is moving to a remote locale.
Putting this all together is the where the fun comes from, along with a powerful feel of – nostalgia – whimsy? – or even, wonder? Whatever it is, it’s only to be found here and it is well worth seeking out. The prose is an understated star, and the book pulls you in to a place from which you’ll not willingly depart. The book manages to feel as if it is from the world it creates. It’s not this world, but it’s not different. We see it more clearly through the prose lends of Yann Martel. You may need glasses to read this book; but this book is itself a pair of glasses. Prepare to see clearly, as in the morning sunlight on a crisp cold spring day.
On Sunday, March 13, I hosted a panel for LitQuake on “Men-oirs,” which is to say, memors by men. My guests were superb; Kevin Sessums, author of Mississippi Sissy and I Left It on the Mountain; plus Jaimal Yogis, author of Saltwater Buddha: A Surfer’s Quest to Find Zen on the Sea and The Fear Project: What Our Most Primal Emotion Taught Me About Survival, Success, Surfing . . . and Love. Fun times! Listen up and get ready to pick up their books and seek out their videos.
Tonight on the Agony Column Literary Magazine, we’ll hear from TED talk sensation Amy Cuddy about her book Presence: Bringing your Boldest Self to your Biggest Challenges.
We’ll also hear an excerpt from a Litquake conversation with Kevin Sessums and Jaimal Yogis about writing memoirs from the male perspective. Kevin Sessums is the author of Mississippi Sissy, which won a 2008 Lambda Literary Award and a memoir, I Left It on the Mountain. Jaimal Yogis is the author of Saltwater Buddha: A Surfer’s Quest to Find Zen on the Sea, and The Fear Project.
We’ll hear a short interview with Rob Lieber about his book The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money.
And we’ll hear an interview with Tracy Chevalier about her new novel At the Edge of the Orchard. She’s the author of the novel Girl With a Pearl Earring.
Has it really taken us nearly one hundred years – or even eighty – to get to the point where the characters in science fiction are themselves aware of science fiction? That self-consciousness seems essential to the sorts of folks who end up in science fiction novels. Meet Zack Lightman, the kid at school who plays way too much Armada, a video game about alien invasion. Soon enough, of course, a saucer from the game shows up outside his schoolroom window, and his world gets s good deal more surreal.
As with Ready Player One, Cline trades on his encyclopedic knowledge of both video games and science fiction, and has a lot of fun doing so. But for all the in-jokes and cross-referencing going on here, it’s important to remember that Cline is working in a literary genre, that is, the novel – and the intricate structure he creates is primarily literary. Armada is not a video game. Cline knows that he’s working with the reader to create this world, not simply unreeling a series of special effects. We do care about the characters, and the science-fiction fantasies play out against a rather droll suburban backdrop. If you’re inclined to think that Armada is just about alien invasions, think again. Let the saucers arrive. Those who have to fight them now have a pretty damn good job opportunity.
Of course, sitting down to talk with Ernest Cline about this novel is itself a rather different digression. It’s all about digging into the fun stuff behind the special literary effects.