The Challenge of Setting in SF

I had a roommate once who had never read any SF before we moved in together. She saw my collection of science fiction and decided to give it a try.

She grabbed a book off my shelf at random—a far future, hard scifi title. Pretty advanced for her first exposure to the genre. She found it very frustrating.

She had no problem getting into the characters or the plot. She understood the science well enough and enjoyed how the author extrapolated it. She didn’t get too tripped up over the genre-specific vocabulary, either, although she did have to ask me what some of the acronyms stood for.

The problem was the setting. She couldn’t make sense of the world of the story, the environment. She didn’t know what things were and couldn’t picture them. Presented with an imagined far-future, alien setting, she felt lost and disoriented.

She was frustrated because she thought she was supposed to understand it. She felt like she was missing something, some key that would bring the world of the story into focus. Something to make it all make sense.

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Book Review: Artemis by Andy Weir

Artemis by Andy Weir
Artemis
by Andy Weir
Crown, 2017

Artemis is the only city on the Moon. Established by the Kenya Space Corporation, it’s a series of habitable domes, filled with a mix of rich tourists and working class residents from myriad ethnic groups. It’s like the Wild West with few established laws, dominated by trade guilds.

A small bubble of life in the middle of a deadly and dangerous environment.

Jazz Bashara grew up in Artemis, the daughter of a Saudi Arabian welder with whom she’s had a falling out. An underachieving genius with a string of broken romantic relationships, she works as a low wage porter and she earns extra money on the side as a smuggler. She’s egotistical and bitter, smart and funny, strong and broken in equal measure.

One day, Jazz gets a job offer that may be too illegal even for her but which promises to pay enough to be worth it. Despite her reservations, she accepts. Next thing she knows, she’s wrapped up in a couple of murders and a Brazilian mafia family has sent an assassin to the Moon to hunt her down. To save her own life, she could end up risking the lives of everyone in Artemis.

And then there’s a new technology that holds untold riches for whoever controls it…

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Book Review: Warlock Holmes by G. S. Denning

A Study in Brimstone by G. S. Denning
A Study in Brimstone
by G. S. Denning
Titan Books, 2016

I’m not a fan of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes stories (although I’ve read all of them at least once, some more than once, and I’ve see all of the major BBC television adaptations). I dislike Victorian literature in general.

I’m also not much of a fan of contemporary paranormal fiction—I don’t dislike it but it’s not something I seek out.

So there’s really no reason why I should like G. S. Denning’s “Warlock Holmes” series as much as I do.

Because I kinda love it.

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“Remembrance of Earth’s Past” by Liu Cixin: A Critical Follow-Up

Shortly after I published my review of the “Remembrance of Earth’s Past” trilogy by Liu Cixin, I tweeted a link to it and @ referenced both the author and the two English language translators of the series, Ken Liu and Joel Martinsen. Shortly after that tweet, Ken posted a series of tweets in response.

I’m incredibly grateful that Ken took the time to respond. His tweets are insightful and his critique of my review is helpful. I’ve included them here with his permission. Please read through them.

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Book Review: “Remembrance of Earth’s Past” by Cixin Liu

Remembrance of Earths Past by Cixin Liu

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
(translated by Ken Liu)
Tor, 2014

The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu
(translated by Joel Martinsen)
Tor, 2015

Death’s End by Cixin Liu
(translated by Ken Liu)
Tor, 2016

In my review of Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey, I compare reading it to reading Asimov’s Foundation when I was a kid.

I’m going to make the same comparison with the “Remembrance of Earth’s Past” series by Cixin Liu. Reading this awakens the same sense of discovery and amazement as reading Asimov when I was a child. Liu gifts us a story that’s astounding in scope and vision, with some of a biggest Big Ideas in science fiction.

The English translations of Liu’s work boast an admirable level of stylistic polish. There’s a spare and refreshing lyricism at work here. I’m as impressed with the quality of the translations as I am with Liu’s story.

This is what science fiction should be. I’m in awe of Liu’s imagination and accomplishment.

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Further Ruminations on Jerusalem by Alan Moore

Reader comments left on a copy of Jerusalem by Alan Moore

Reader comments left on a copy of Jerusalem by Alan Moore

Photo from the ReBound event on March 21, 2017, hosted by the Young Friends of the Kansas City Public Library and KCUR’s Generation Listen KC at the recordBar in Kansas City, Mo.

Image © Kansas City Public Library. Used with permission.

After writing the single longest and most exhaustive review I’ve ever written for Jerusalem by Alan Moore, I find I still have more to say.

I’ve had conversations now with a few other people about this book and discovered that I’m in a minority in my opinion. Most people I know couldn’t stand it. Most didn’t finish it. Mostly, they found it too long, too wordy, too self-indulgent. The general reaction is that Moore desperately needed an editor to reel him in.

I get that. On some level, I feel this way, too. I spent quite a lot of the book convinced that he was over-indulgent and lacking writerly discipline.

However, as others have stated (and I quote Library Journal here), Jerusalem is “[m]ore a work of art than a novel.”

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Book Review: Jerusalem by Alan Moore

Jerusalem by Alan Moore
Jerusalem by Alan Moore
Liverlight, 2016
Cover art © Alan Moore

The greatest challenge about reviewing Jerusalem by Alan Moore is summarizing what it’s about. This isn’t a traditional novel and it doesn’t deliver a normal story. The plot is meandering, almost vestigial in some sections. Setting is paramount—language, tone, atmosphere, characters: all of these matter far more than mere plot.

I’ve come to think of this book as being akin to the Bayeux Tapestry—a sprawling and artistically audacious account of a place and its people. It’s a love letter to a neighborhood as only Moore can write it.

In general terms, it’s a quasi-fictional history of the Boroughs—the poverty-stricken Northampton neighborhood in England where Alan Moore was born, raised, and still lives—from ancient times through the near future, not told in chronological order, and actively eschewing the concept of linear narrative. It’s the story of a unique family who lives there through several generations, and various persons associated with them. It’s a story of the afterlife and eternity and the Universe. It’s a story about life and death, art and work, obligation and free will, ghosts and angles and builders and demons. Visions and dreams are as real in this world as reality.

If I had to categorize this book, I’d probably call it fantastical realism. Everyone is going to shelve it in their SF sections. But it’s more than just these—it’s philosophical, historical, political, religious.

It’s holy and profane, poetic and pedestrian, beautiful and gritty. It’s deeply human. It’s hard to explain. You really need to read it.

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