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Ted Chiang - Hell Is the Absence of GodHere's one I missed at the time - my loss, of course, and all the more my enjoyment and amazement of reading this now. Should, for whatever reason, you be in the same boat, then let me strongly suggest you spend half an hour reading Ted Chiang's novelette Hell Is The Absence of God.

Yes, the title is in itself a Christian quote I reckon, and the story setting/world builds from some parts of current Christian world-view/mythology (and I leave it to the reader to decide how far this is actually Christian, or if the story really constitutes a criticism of said religion). This is a world where the existence of God, of Heaven and Hell, and of Angels is evident, visible, tangible, and thus a major fact of life. Angels visit/pass through the world as a side effect of whatever business they are on, and effect miracle healings, life changing events, but also death and destruction.

There are two groups of people - those who are devout, and will thus go to heaven (and upon death it is observable which direction the soul takes!), and those who are no and go to hell, which is characterised by the absence of God. And, like any such system with decision points, influences, and partly deterministic outcomes there are people gaming the system...

In my opinion not about religion (never mind a specific one per se) but about the nature of belief, devotion, and what it does to a society. Also, in my opinion, a grand piece of writing and well deserving the Hugo and Nebula Awards it won!

 

 

Zen Cho - If at First You Don't Succeed, Try, Try AgainLet me give you a story of ascendance. Or, rather, a story of repeatedly failed ascendance, following an Imugi (Korean Lesser Dragon, some kind of giant serpent) in its repeatedly thwarted attempts to become a Dragon and enter the gates of heaven. It's a story of persistence, of human love, and of the coming together of two very different world views; and it's great.

Zen Cho is a Malayan author living in the UK - her website is linked below, and I would suggest you check it (and her other work) out.

If at First You Don't Succeed, Try, Try Again was was published by Barnes&Noble

The cover design on the right is by Shirley Jackson

Links: Barnes&Noble - If at First You Don't Succeed, Try, Try Again - Zen Cho - Shirley Jackson

 

 

As it's come up on one of my feeds, here I have an absolute classic for you:

Fredric Brown's 1954 short story Solipsist

Whilst he wrote novels, too, I always consider Fredric as one of the grand masters of the short - sometimes very short - story, frequently with an surprising twist to it that can turn an entire story on its head and forces the reader to start again. This is not one of those, but the twist is a classic.

For those not familiar with the term, Wikipedia provides the following definition for Solipsism:


 from Latin solus, meaning 'alone', and ipse, meaning 'self', is the philosophical idea that only one's own mind is sure to exist. As an epistemological position, solipsism holds that knowledge of anything outside one's own mind is unsure; the external world and other minds cannot be known and might not exist outside the mind. As a metaphysical position, solipsism goes further to the conclusion that the world and other minds do not exist.

 

N.K. Jemisin - The City Born GreatN.K. Jemisin is an award-winning (including the Hugo an unprecedented three times in a row) author of speculative fiction short stories and novels who lives and writes in New York. Besides writing, she also is a counseling psychologist and educator, and a political/feminist/anti-racist blogger. She used to write a science fiction column for the New York Times Book Review, and still writes occasional long-form reviews for the NYT.

The City Born Great is a story of her hometown, New York, telling how it develops to the point where it is being 'born' after growing for a long time, and the challenges that exist for cities what reach this stage of maturity.
Neither the idea of cities as entities, living things, separate beings nor the notion of beings, things, groups going through transcending stages and steps are new in themselves. Uncharitably I could describe the short story at hand as Childhood's End for Cities; more charitably I would describe it as fascinating, breathless, headlong, and absorbing in its detail and drive towards (re)birth, and reminiscent of the magic Charlie Human can evoke when he's not too focused on action.
And if I feel that some parts of the climactic scene do not live up the the initial setting and build-up then that's my opinion, and yours might well differ. Have a look yourself, it's worth doing so!

The story is hosted on Tor.com, and so is the picture by Richie Pope that goes with it.

Links: N.K. Jemisin - The City Born Great - Tor.com - Richie Pope

 

Aliette de Bodard - Children of Thorns, Children of WaterHere's a story set in Aliette de Bodard's 'Dominion of the Fallen' universe:

Children of Thorns, Children of Water is set between two novels - The House of Shattered Wings and The House of Binding Thorns. It was a preorder reward for The House of Binding Thorns, and was then made available for free online in issue 17 of the Uncanny Magazine.

It has now, deservedly in my opinion, been shortlisted for the 2018 Hugo Award.

To whet your appetite for the story, which I strongly recommend you read, I shamelessly nick Aliette's own description of her story:

Dragons, creepy magic, cooking (!).

In a Paris that never was, a city of magicians, alchemists and Fallen angels struggling to recover from a devastating magical war…

Once each year, the House of Hawthorn tests the Houseless: for those chosen, success means the difference between a safe life and the devastation of the streets. However, for Thuan and his friend Kim Cuc, — dragons in human shapes and envoys from the dying underwater kingdom of the Seine — the stakes are entirely different. Charged with infiltrating a House that keeps encroaching on the Seine, if they are caught, they face a painful death.

Worse, mysterious children of thorns stalk the candidates through Hawthorn’s corridors. Will Thuan and Kim Cuc survive and succeed?

Links: Aliette de Bodard - Children of Thorns, Children of Water - Uncanny Magazine - Hugo Award Shortlist

 

 

S.P. Somtow – I Wake from a Dream of a Drowned Star City

 

Thomas Pynchon - Slow Learner


Andy Weir - The Martian

 

Charles Stross - The Atrocity Archives

 

Sydney Padua - The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage

 

Somtow Sucharitkul - The Throne of Madness

 

Liz Williams - Empire of Bones

 

Tricia Sullivan – Occupy Me

 

Lavie Tidhar - Central Station

 

Doris Lessing – The Sirian Experiments

 

Thomas Pynchon – Gravity’s Rainbow

 

Doris Lessing - Shikasta

 

Iain Sinclair - Radon Daughters

 

Ian Sales – Adrift on the Sea of Rains

 

Aliette de Bodard – In the Vanishers’ Palace

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