Karl Schroeder makes a living plausibly guessing at the future. This might seem like it should be true of all science-fiction writers, but it’s really not. Some use fantastic situations to put the human soul under the lens; others dream up future settings, not because they’re likely, but because they make good jumping-off points for obliquely considering present-day societal issues. Others just want laser blasts and space battles. Few are professional futurists.
As fans know, however, Schroeder actually is a professional futurist, which is perhaps why he’s the one who works out plausible (albeit, yes, futuristic) new ways of reordering all society instead of writing an adventure story on Mars and calling it a day. You can read about which long-standing conundrum in space opera Schroeder has solved by reading my full review at the Free Press.
I’ve decided to revisit a favourite author of mine, Robert J. Sawyer, by checking out some of his early works. I’m starting it off with a review of his very first novel, The Golden Fleece. I’ll be reading at least a couple more of his books, but meanwhile my review of the first one is up now at AE.
Today on AE, five books you can forgo in favour of the film. I’m a die-hard bookworm, so when I say the movie’s better, well, opinion is still opinion, but you might pay a little closer attention. Of course, the films in question are all genre (with Fight Club perhaps straddling the line a bit). Here’s one more that wouldn’t have fit on the list at AE:
Non-genre Bonus Example!
Into the Wild. The film is a dramatized version of the true story of Christopher McCandless, a thoughtful, adventurous young man with an inspiring zest for life. The book is a stunning example of long-form journalism by a master of the craft. Jon Krakauer’s non-fiction account of the McCandless story grew out of an article he wrote for Outside magazine. The book is a mix of narrative, interviews, the history of adventure travel, and some of Krakauer’s personal anecdotes.
In fine journalistic fashion, speculations are clearly labelled as such, multiple theories are floated and batted around. But in the movie version, a single interpretation is taken, a single cohesive narrative emerges, and it really feels like we see things from Chris’ perspective. In the film, we have a protagonist. In the book we have a subject. Most of us would choose the former.
Just in time for its centenary, Robert Charles Wilson asks, what if the First World War had never happened? What if all the little things that go wrong before a breakdown in diplomacy had, instead, gone right? What if we were today celebrating a Great Armistice instead of a Great War?
Final review submitted in 2013, and first to be published in 2014. The full review is live at the Free Press.
But there are stories where the math is simultaneously central to the story, while also speculative enough to count as genre. . . . [Like] Robert Heinlein’s “—And He Built a Crooked House,” where a design based on a 3D projection of a four-dimensional shape actually shifts to an upper dimension during a minor earthquake.
Mathematical fiction! For a math geek who is also a literature geek, this is the sensation of geek squared. Read my full essay at AE.
There’s something terribly askew in Dave Eggers’ fictional high-tech giant, and you can read all about it in my Free Press review.
You can tell that Ashes of Candesce is a series finale. The heroes of the four previous books all come together for the first time. The stakes are higher than they’ve ever been. And almost every dangling plot thread, including some from the very first book, is finally tied off. If you weren’t entirely sure if the saga was finished or not, the book is capped with an epilogue for good measure.
Read my final Virga review at AE.
With book two of Virga, we pick up directly where we left off in the previous book, at least in one sense. . . . [But] [i]f Sun of Suns was sci-fi Treasure Island, with elements of coming-of-age, saving the day, and finding the long-lost pirate hoard, then Queen of Candesce is Henry VIII or Julius Caesar. . . . It’s a tale of intrigue and courtly politics, unlikely alliances and sudden reversals of fortune.
I forgot to post this, apparently. I’ve had the draft with the pointer to AE sitting here since June. Since my final Virga review goes up next week, here, belatedly, is Book Two.
In four books Schroeder has had four completely different main characters, in four completely different locales within Virga, with four completely different (immediate) plots. There’s a larger story, but Schroeder has almost been building it up by sonar. We’ve been getting a sense of larger, looming events by a series of glancing blows — collisions between our many protagonists and the greater story, as they pursue their own ends. But with Book Four, The Sunless Countries, one gets the distinct impression that we’re almost at the main event.
Read all about it at AE. One more Virga book to go.
When Alexander Morgan Woods was 10 years old, he was hit on the head by a meteorite. It passed through his roof as if it were papier-maché and split open his skull like it was a soft-boiled egg. But that’s not the most important part of the story. What matters is what came after.
Because after any tramautic event, life goes on and we keep pushing forward, bearing every bruise and scar we collect along the way. Read the rest of my review at the Winnipeg Free Press, and perhaps you’ll decide you want to read the book as well.