Wednesday, December 09, 2015

The Inevitable List Redux

A short-story collection and nine novels published this year that I enjoyed reading. Looking back, I realise that I haven't read much new science fiction, apart from short stories. I need to catch up. Three non-fiction books I especially liked were: Oliver Morton's history of climate change and geoengineering, The Planet Remade; Luc Sante's chronicle of the old, tough City of Lights, The Other Paris, and Owen Hatherley's tour of Eastern Europe and its architecture, Landscapes of Communism.


Blogger Mark Pontin said...

'Looking back, I realise that I haven't read much new science fiction, apart from short stories. I need to catch up.'

Maybe you don't. You look to have had the right of it reading more mainstream stuff. It's what I've found myself doing. Moreover, I'm increasingly seeing the best-written SF novels coming from putatively mainstream writers, as with Emily Saint John's STATION ELEVEN.

This year, Dave Hutchinson's EUROPE AT MIDNIGHT and EUROPE IN AUTUMN were about the best in-genre SF that I found -- oh, and earlier in the year there was the stateside publication of something called SOMETHING COMING THROUGH by somebody whose name escapes me (and the KSR and Neal Stephenson doorstoppers were doubtless worthy).

To scroll through the listings at LOCUS or the ISFDB of what's just been published week by week, though, is to be educated about the extent to which publishers -- and most younger writers -- don't want or understand pure-quill science fiction much at the moment. What's mostly coming from the genre SFF publishers are endless amounts of nothing but fantasy and milscifi drivel, usually in series.

There's clearly a counter-reaction to that already aborning. But more interestingly, I think, good 'mainstream' writers who have science fiction concerns are increasingly writing good science fiction novels. Here's the synopsis of Don DeLillo's next, ZERO K, due in in May, 2016 ---

The wisest, richest, funniest, and most moving novel in years from Don DeLillo, one of the great American novelists of our time—an ode to language, at the heart of our humanity, a meditation on death, and an embrace of life.

Jeffrey Lockhart’s father, Ross, is a billionaire in his sixties, with a younger wife, Artis Martineau, whose health is failing. Ross is the primary investor in a remote and secret compound where death is exquisitely controlled and bodies are preserved until a future time when biomedical advances and new technologies can return them to a life of transcendent promise. Jeff joins Ross and Artis at the compound to say “an uncertain farewell” to her as she surrenders her body.

“We are born without choosing to be. Should we have to die in the same manner? Isn’t it a human glory to refuse to accept a certain fate?”

These are the questions that haunt the novel and its memorable characters, and it is Ross Lockhart, most particularly, who feels a deep need to enter another dimension and awake to a new world. For his son, this is indefensible. Jeff, the book’s narrator, is committed to living, to experiencing “the mingled astonishments of our time, here, on earth.”

Don DeLillo’s seductive, spectacularly observed and brilliant new novel weighs the darkness of the world—terrorism, floods, fires, famine, plague—against the beauty and humanity of everyday life; love, awe, “the intimate touch of earth and sun.” -

December 09, 2015 11:25 pm  
Blogger PeteY said...

I thought KSR's Aurora was very good. I can see some SF fundamentalists might find it unacceptable though.

December 14, 2015 8:54 am  
Blogger Mark Pontin said...

Pete Y wrote: - 'I thought KSR's Aurora was very good.'

Excellent. Personally, I've nothing against KSR and AURORA's argument against interstellar colonization as a realistic 'trad SF' ideology. SF is supposed to be a literature of ideas. Let a thousand flowers bloom. In theory, KSR and, say, Greg Benford for the other side are both fine with me.

In practice, I personally find KSR's doorstoppers 'worthy' as in tending to plod along making obvious arguments via -- for the most part -- very average prose and characterizations. (Though some of the extrapolated 'science' mustered to support AURORA's argument, especially the biology, also sounds from reviews pretty risible.)

Hmmm. 'Tending to plod along making their obvious arguments' sounds like my over-lengthy comments here.

Anyway, KSR's making a serious SFnal effort in a world of milscifi and fantasy at least, and I may get to AURORA. But I'm really curious what, say, DeLillo's next one might be up to and I'll get it as soon as i can.

December 14, 2015 7:13 pm  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

I really liked STATION ELEVEN and EUROPE IN AUTUMN. There are definitely a lot of good books out in the edgelands. And thanks for the heads-up on the new DeLillo. Sounds meaty.

Aurora was as much about the complexity of Earth's life system as it was an argument about the difficulties of interstellar colonisation too often glossed over in other fictions. Some of the explorations of the latter too often involved beating straw men to death. But it was serious engaging stuff, and a hefty challenge to unexamined tropes.

January 05, 2016 12:39 pm  

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