What do you call a human Empire, spread out across a number of star systems, and set up so each system relies an all or most of the others for survival? With an Emperor (sorry, Emperox, gender neutral term) at its centre, a trade guild/house system ruling it together with a Church, and a society in what amounts to a caste system? Thriving? (well, yes). Wealthy? (yes, albeit much more true for the top layer). Corrupt? (oh, certainly).
But more to the point, this first book in John Scalzi's new Interdependency series, The Collapsing Empire, also adds 'Endangered - due to its reliance on the little-understood Flow links which tie this Empire together' to the list of attributes. Never mind the fact that this could mean the end of humanity as they know it... There's more to be added here, but I really don't want to spoil a book which you should read for yourself! But let's just say that the title alone has at least two meanings.
John Scalzi is an American SF writer, who has been entertaining the readers with his tales since 2005, and has won Hugo, Locus, Campbell, and Seiun awards for his work during that time. He is a former president of the SFWA and was (to some extent still is) an exponent in the last few rounds of politics in the SF community (e.g - google Puppygate if you like non-edifying squabbling). He also writes non-fiction, and regularly blogs on whatever.scalzi.com on a wide variety of topics. The Collapsing Empire, out for a few weeks as I'm writing this (yes, I'm behind. Sorry.) kicked off the new Interdependency series in style: Scalzi summarised it as “Sales records broken, bestseller status achieved, and TV deal gotten”. Way to go...
Charles Stross has been enriching our lives with his (predominantly) SFnal tales for over 15 years now, and is thankfully showing no intention to slow down. His articles on antipope.org are as thought-provoking as his fiction output is entertaining, never mind his scintillating presence when put in front of a microphone, or a few pints (or both…). Empire Games is the first book in a new series of apparently the same name, set in his Merchant Princes universe. Now, I have so far avoided these books (6 novels or 3 omnibus editions, respectively) for reasons of time and inclination due to the original topic, so am coming at this with a ‘clean’ background. So, although Charlie considers this be a viable jumping-on point - any misunderstandings below concerning the setting are obviously mine, and most likely due to this; but feel free to point them out to me! The other books in the series are expected in January 2018 (Dark State), and January 2019 (Invisible Sun) - I shall be looking out for them!
The setting, for those who are like me not familiar with the universe this plays in: There is more than one world - there actually are, most likely, an infinitive number thereof. It’s explained to Rita Douglas, our main protagonist, as follows: “Let’s just say we live in a multiverse - a bundle of parallel universes branching off each other. The vast majority are identical but for some quantum uncertainty, and they keep merging and re-emerging. But there are sheaves of parallels where the differences add up to something we can tell apart. A huge number of such sheaves exist, and we call them time lines.” There are ways to move from one such time line into another - some humans can do it (we learn that this is an engineered ability, and not natural), and the USA have machines that can do this, too, rumoured to use ‘donated’ brain cells from captured world walkers. The book plays across (only) four of these time lines, helpfully labeled Time Line One-Four. Time Line One is the Merchant Princes one, I understand, with the Gruinmarkt as the home to the Clan of world walkers. This was nuked into oblivion by the US in retribution for a world walker blowing up the White House with a nuke.
And here is a little rarity - a story about a society at war, about how societies' structures and norms change in such circumstances, but especially about the price of taking up arms and of killing, and an unusual take on how to end war and bring about peace.
Unusual, maybe, but something I can greatly sympathise with - described and executed with the clarity and simplicity of mind of a child, and an impeccable logic.
The Days of the War, as Red as Blood, as Dark as Bile by Aliette de Bodard is set in her Xuya Universe, in the future/SF branch, and was originally published by Subterranean Press. A lot of things remain unsaid, unexplained, and you don't need to know them to appreciate the story and its marvelous conclusion. You also don't need to be familiar with the other Xuya works to appreciate this, either (but I would suggest you start reading these should you like this short story!)
The image on the right comes from Pinterest and without original attribution - if anybody knows where it is from then please let me know, so I can add credit where credit it due!
This is a book of two parts - the first half of it is the re-release, but Urbane Publications, of the previously self-published novella Two Dogs at the One Dog Inn; whilst the 2nd half consists of a number of short stories. David John Griffin, the author of the book at hand, has published two novels now, and I would think the publisher’s decision to re-publish this book is both timely, and well deserved from the contents. Griffin describes himself as a “writer, graphic designer and app designer, who lives in a small town by the Thames in Kent, UK with his wife Susan and two dogs called Bullseye and Jimbo.“
Two Dogs at the One Dog Inn is, in first approximation, the story of Audrey Ackermann, an animal welfare volunteer, who investigates a report of interminable barking of dogs at the historic Coaching Inn of the title. Or, rather, it’s the story of what she found, and of her working through the trauma of what she found. The actual story is told, exclusively, as an exchange of email between Audrey (who comes across as rather overwrought at times) and her artificially cheerful supervisor Stella. This is interspersed (and, to quite an extent, enlivened) by diary entries and notes for a novel from a memory stick which Audrey found at the Inn; purportedly belonging to an SF writer named Gideon Hadley. This way of storytelling is, by its very nature, rather repetitive, and so is the personal content in the exchange which frames the telling of the actual story. The attachments from the found memory stick I considered fascinating, not just for their content, but also for the protagonists' utter disregards for any kind of privacy, and lack of any attempt to return something which should have been precious, if not even valuable, to its owner. Of course, having a writer (Griffin) writing about a writer (Audrey) going through the notes of a writer (Hadley) for a novel is every so slightly meta, but writing seems to be a favourite topic of writers, somehow. And to be fair, the language here changes depending of which writer things are purportedly from - especially Hadley is overly descriptive, and flowery. The email based structure is not new, either, and has in my opinion been executed better, or at least more entertaining and less repetitive in Matt Beaumont's novel 'e', for example. We also get overdone local placenames (“Legatemead”??? really?) and unnecessarily obfuscated terms (Cyclowiki? To boogle information?). But despite these weaknesses this is a fascinating, and well executed story, with an ending which surprised me (there had to be a twist, but I didn’t expect it to turn the way it did. neat). This is Magic Realism, mostly, but can read differently, too. A contemporary and kindred spirit to the likes of Claude Lalumière, or Karin Tidbeck
Do I need to introduce Doris Lessing? Ok, briefly, for those who don’t know - Lessing was born in 1919 in Persia, grew up in Rhodesia (both only exist in the History Books anymore - what’s this do to someone’s sense of origin and belonging?), and lived in London for most of her life, until her death last year. She has a substantial body of work to her name, and was awarded an equally substantial number and variety of Awards, including the Nobel Prize in Literature. A literary heavyweight, known for her books on a wide variety of topics, styles, and approaches; including the rather marvellous “Children of Violence” series, and this here, her most openly “Science Fiction” (or Space Fiction, as she called it) series called Canopus in Argos: Archives. She frequently defended her decision to use the form of Science Fiction for writing some of her stories against snooty and disparaging literary critics, calling them out on being narrow-minded, and focused on the form instead of the content and the quality...
The Making of the Representative for Planet 8 (especially in this series she really went for rather long titles!) is the 4th book in the series. The series is mainly defined by being set in the same universe, and against the same back-drop of an interstellar civilisation (Canopus) who breeds, educates, uplifts other races and civilisations. Beyond this I think the individual books can very well be read out of sequence, or on their own - the reader might miss some background, some deeper understanding of the setting, but the book and the story it tells will work on its own.
The story of this rather slim volume ostensibly is relatively simple - it concerns a planet, only known as Planet 8 (it seems Canopus does not give all planets actual names), and the race of beings (in my mind they were humanoid, and rather human-like indeed) which live on and from it. Apparently the race was created from 4 others, with the aim of mixing it, after sufficient mental and societal advancement, with 2 other ones from the planet Rohanda (earlier books provide that this is Earth, or something very much like it) to achieve something new, special, a race able to raise to new levels.
Here’s a goodie for fans of African Speculative Fiction, or for those who are not yet, but are interested in the ever-increasing, and very distinct and interesting output coming out of this scene:
Red Origins is, in first approximation, a webcomic, but it has several parts to it, from music to animation to the comic pages.
“The show follows the young characters of Obi, Temi and John as they mystically get transported to 2070 Neo Africa. Upon arrival they mistakenly break a bronze taboo and are forced to join a Peacekeeping Magical Juju Force. In order to return home they must help stop a brewing war between Ancestral Africa and Neo Technological Africa. ” One interesting titbit is that Nnedi Okorafor, author of Lagoon and Binti (besides a lot more that’s also worth reading!) apparently got engaged as a ‘juju consultant’ by the project, so evidently has her seal of approval, too!