Inverted World (1974) by Christopher Priest

InvertedWorldGround that slips. Warped horizons. Variable forces. The limits to which genre fiction can be stretched and altered to accommodate its own metafictional boundaries are far and wide, yet few authors dare to test their tales against those limits. Straightforward stories of unique characters in unique circumstances carry their own appeal, but some authors move beyond that. In 1974’s Inverted World, Christopher Priest manages to probe those appraising, distant boundaries, while capturing the visual imagination of his readers, and without mangling the central tale of a boy becoming a man in a city of passive incomprehension.

We see the words “mind-bending” and “mind-blowing” thrown around a lot when describing speculative fiction novels, and it’s not without good reason. Most spec fic readers seek more than just a good story—they want to alter their reality, stretch their minds. But reading spec fic is a bit like mind yoga, and while there are many styles to choose from, some of them just aren’t very challenging. Still, it is with great hesitation, yet utter sincerity, that I deliver the following pronouncement:

Christopher Priest’s Inverted World is mind-bending. No hyperbole intended. (Although there are some hyperbolas.) (sorry.) Continue reading

The Jewels of Aptor (1962) by Samuel R. Delany

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“Was their leader a mistress of science or a witch of mutants?”       I don’t know, Ace Books. That was never the question.

Since I purchased this book, and for the rest of my life beyond that moment, my brain has decided to call this novel The Sword of Aptor instead of The Jewels of Aptor. I don’t know why. I don’t remember many swords in the novel—knives mostly—but this is what my brain has decided to call this book, every time, for whatever reason. I have to correct myself in my head. It’s about jewels! There is no sword! The title of the book is very straightforward!

In a vague, post-apocalyptic future with no electricity, a group of freelance sailors, including a poet and a four-armed psychic mute, are beckoned by the goddess Argo to steal back her mystical jewel from the dark god Hama. The mission takes them to the island of Aptor, a place where few men can escape, and no man wants to return. (And what about the women, ahem?) While there, the group encounters strange sights, consequences of a long dead and forgotten nuclear age, while uncomfortable changes in perception cloud their judgment, and cause them question their assumptions about good and evil. Continue reading

The Southern Reach series: Annihilation, Authority, Acceptance (2014) by Jeff VanderMeer

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Deep in the vegetative abyss of Area X, within the walls of a blood spattered lighthouse, a foreboding heap of forgotten journals lay moldering and unread, their owners long submerged into the ecology of the nebulous terrain. This journal is not part of that pile. This journal is my weak attempt to be different in a world where everybody already reviewed this series months ago.

WARNING! SPOILERS AND DEAD MOSQUITOES AHEAD!

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Second Ending (1962) by James White

secondending1I’ve a weakness for friendly robot stories, perhaps in the way that some people have a weakness for boy-and-his-dog stories. They usually lack substance, but there is something comforting about these facsimile friendships that usually result in personal growth for the protagonist. As much as we hate to admit it, dogs and robots are dumb beyond their roles, unable to demonstrate intellectual creativity or self-motivated improvement, yet human owners project human qualities onto both beasts, for whatever reasons. Both robot and dog represent unwavering devotion and love, unlike those annoying human relationships where support and interest waxes and wanes unpredictably. Dogs and robots can be taken for granted and they never resent it. Their constancy is comforting and safe. (Until rabies or the singularity happens, in which case you’re screwed). Continue reading

Falling Forward: September Review and Upcoming Reads

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I used to do these monthly reading summary posts, but they never seemed to interest anyone, and then I promised myself I would publish only one post per week this season. But now I’ve noticed other people doing them and it’s made me wistful for my old post schedule. Perhaps now enough book nerds have found me and maybe they enjoy book stalking me as much as I enjoy book stalking them. The greatest benefit of this community is the vicarious reading, amirite? Continue reading

The Bone Clocks (2014) by David Mitchell

theboneclocks1What’s that you ask? A book from 2014?

Yes. This is a thing I do sometimes. This happened last September, too, because September tends to be “book release month of famous, well-established authors” and I just can’t resist some releases. Speaking of reviewing new books, Books, Brains, and Beer has started an interesting discussion about the benefits of reviewing upcoming releases, but this post is entirely coincidental. If you follow my Twitter feed (@couchtomoon, ahem) you’ll notice that my reviews are posted at least two weeks after I read the books.

There are a lot of reviews out there for David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks, most of them written by fans and critics who are familiar with, and have expectations of, his work. I’m not and I don’t. I’ve neither read, nor seen, Cloud Atlas, nor any of his other works. I read this simply because the onslaught of marketing was difficult to avoid in early September and the plot caught my attention. A multi-character collage, in an historical and near-future real world setting, where small hints of magic intrude upon daily life and connect the unwitting human participants—sounds like a story I can dig.
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The World of Null-A (1948) by A. E. Van Vogt

The World of Null_A1stThe anti-Sherlock style of non-Aristotelian logic, otherwise known as null-A, relies upon a psi-like quality of inductive reasoning—something my high school vocabulary development teacher would have dismissed as “fuzzy logic,” and what I call, “jumping to conclusions based on a feeling.” Being a smartass, it’s something I rely upon quite often, though usually for humorous effect, seeing how ill-informed and hasty such inferences can be. Still, it’s a funny pastime at work, when my colleagues and I are trying to figure out what the administrators are up to.

During the mid-20th century, however, supernatural-style inductive reasoning experienced a surge in interest, and influenced much of the SF world. Nearly every book I pick up from the fifties includes some sort of vague psychic element—not always the meat of the story, but usually as a world-building aside, indicating that many SF authors believed that humans of the future would undoubtedly have these psychic abilities. The null-A philosophy, promoted by Alfred Korzybski, influenced many SF authors, including Van Vogt, who built his Null-A series off of this idea.

But why am I talking about null-A, anyway? It’s not like the book is really about this. Silly me. Continue reading