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!
As a child, did you ever imagine having unusual and ever weirder superpowers just because they would come handy in your current situation, to resolve the quandary you got yourself in, so much better than what a Superman or the like could provide? Or were you an avid reader of the ever-proliferating (or so it seemed to me) superhero comics and stories and worlds, with ever more heroes and villains, with ever more contrived abilities and looks in a desperate attempt to somehow keep the never-ending churn of stories fresh? Or did you only trip over this on social media, with yet another share of ‘The 25 most useless superpowers’ or the like?
Either way, this is, I guess, where DC’s ‘Dial H for Hero’ started from - the ability to dial a one-shot superhero with one, maybe two specific powers from a phone dial. At least you didn’t have to keep them in the canon forever that way… But China Miéville, author of a substantial number of unusual, fascinating, and highly stylish books (Fantastic Fiction counts 11 novels, plus a number of collections and other formats) has had a fascination for these absurdist heroes for a long time, and has, as he explains, been talking to/at DC about exploring the universe behind the dial for a while:
“The DC people would smile politely. That would be that. Until, very suddenly, they said yes.”
And thus we now have this book, this graphic album, collecting 16 issues of Dial H plus one from Justice League. I’ve reviewed the Deluxe Edition, which comes as a Hardback with a fancy cover, an Afterword by China explaining some of the above in better (and more) words, Character Design sketches by Mateus Santolouco, and Interior Page pencils by Alberto Ponticelli. It’s a rather neat package, I felt.
Lauren Beukes is a South African journalist, director, and writer, who broke into the Mainstream with her time-travelling-serial-killer story The Shining Girls. Before that she worked as a journalist, scriptwriter, directed a documentary (about Gay Beauty Pageants), and published 3 novels - a non-fiction one called Maverick: Extraordinary Women from South Africa’s Past, and two genre-titles (corporate-dystopia Moxyland, and a magic-crime-thriller called Zoo City) Her latest novel is set in Detroit, and called Broken Monsters. Slipping is a collection of her short writing - fiction, essays, and non-fiction. All stories here have been previously published - you will, like me, have come across some/most of these before if you’ve been following Lauren’s career through genre success to exploding into the Mainstream & beyond.
The scope of and approach to the content is as varied as you would expect from such a retrospective - it runs from (re)visits of the world of Moxyland in Branded, to general current/near-future social commentary in the likes of Confirm/Ignore or Pop Tarts. There is horror here, like in the very uneasy My Insect Skin; and classic SF like The Green with its Alien Pharma harvesting, or Unaccounted which mixes Alien contact with Guantanamo and its associated paranoia. And there is pure, unfettered, near-Dadaist fun like Unathi Battles the Black Hairballs. All that before we even get to the non-fiction part, which throws an interesting light on Lauren's background, her approach to writing, and her thinking as a mother in today's society. The quality of the writing is very high, though, I do not recall anything which felt weak, or like filler here. Yes, the stories are very different, but they are well written, engaging, and frequently thought-provoking.
The book is split into fiction and non-fiction work, and followed by a Glossary of South African terms/slang/key concepts, plus the copyright notices from the original publication of the stories between 2003 and 2014.
This is just a quick note, as I've just tripped over the fact that Daniel Lieske has the 9th chapter in his long-standing webcomic (er, graphic web album? comic really doesn't do this justice!) called The Wormworld Saga available for all to see and read.
The Wormworld Saga follows the adventures of a boy called Jonas in a parallel world, which he entered through a picture/mirror/empty frame in his Grandmother's attic. So far so default a setting, what really sets this apart is the storytelling, but even more it's the artwork by Daniel which drives this. The drawings, in an unusual, vertical format, are exquisite, a visual smorgasbord of impression and references, really bringing to life the cultures, settings, and creatures in the story.
But go look for yourself - you will want to start with Chapter 1 if you have not read this before, there are no real jumping-on points, and it's very well worth starting at the beginning!
I notice that Daniel meanwhile also has a Patreon page, so if you like what you see you could, nah, should help him with making ends meet whilst he crafts these great stories (or you could always visit the shop, and buy the books, or merchandise, or the game to go with the on-going story!).
Anyway, enough hyperbole. Go look, and make up your own mind!
European History is full of wonderful (and sometimes horrific) little pockets of oddness, forgotten corners, and attempts at societies and developments which did not stand the test of time, or were extinguished before they could prove themselves. Pirate Utopia deals with one of those by telling a story set in it, and using it as a sketched-in jumping-off point into a different future than the one we ended up in. I found it rather fascinating to read up on the Regency of Carnaro, and the Free State of Fiume, which is the reality, as fantastic as it is messy, that this story is set in/based on. Not a chapter of post WW1 European History I was aware of previously…Sterling labels it as “one of the strangest episodes of political extremism in European History”.
Bruce Sterling himself is an old hand at this fiction game - he came to prominence as part of the Cyberpunk movement (I still wish he had written more in his Shaper universe before the world, and himself with it, moved on!), and the preface of this book lists 12 novels, 7 collections, 2 edited works, and 4 non-fiction books in his name. Good going, I would say, all the more so as several of these are considered genre-defining classics. These days he splits his time between Austin, Turin, and Belgrade, and knows the setting of this story first-hand.
The book kicks off in style, with an introduction to the topic by Warren Ellis: “Futurism, the business of the future, is the act of telling stories of about what’s next”. Of course, the Futurists had their own slant to how they saw things develop, being “drunk on speed, technology, youth, violence, war - the car, the aeroplane, the industrial city”. And, incidentally, being a precursor/influence on Fascism. This is followed by a Cast of Characters (most of them historically correct), the actual story in 6 chapters, an Afterword by Christopher Brown, an Interview with the Author by Rick Klaw (loads of interesting background in this!), Notes on the the Design by the John Coulthart, and Biographies of all involved (and no, Warren does NOT live in London).