A mathematical and political twist to the predictable oracular tale, the 1976 Hugo- and Nebula-nominated The Stochastic Man at first sight appears to be Robert Silverberg’s effort to legitimize one of SF’s favorite tropes, though he’s certainly not the first to try. Portraying telepathy as random probability forecasting in a political setting explains away many of the fanciful notions that might hinder the believability of yet-another SF work about preknowledge and predestination, but, considering earlier SF writers explored the same ideas with a similar conceit of logic, Null-A, and psychohistory, which, as Max Cairnduff cleverly reminds us in his review, is now called consulting, the attempt to blend superpowers with real-world reasoning is neither new nor fresh. What makes The Stochastic Man different from its pseudoscience ilk, aside from a gritty ‘70s essence, is that Silverberg draws from far older inspirations, adding a decidedly Faustian framework to this tale. Continue reading
More from the nerddoomdeification category, Blood Music (1985) is Greg Bear’s multi-award-nominated and later SF Masterworked sci-fi novel about nanotech apocalypse by the hands of one single, sociopathic nerd. Like The Terminal Experiment (1995) that I discussed last week (to everyone’s terminal boredom, if the crickets were any indication— please bear with me, Zelazny is almost on deck), Blood Music relies on the actions of a sociopathic nerd protagonist to test out a dangerous and untested scientific hunch, with little thought or regard for the consequences. Another individual depicted as deity, if you please. Continue reading
Always with that contrived, ripped-from-the-headlines-plugged-into-a-thriller-type feel and the distracting sense that his characters are just cameos of folks he met while researching his book, but you would think that after decades (and even centuries) of SF exploring the ramifications of AI and the afterlife, Sawyer would come up with something more insightful than just murderous AIs and an imaginary proof of soul-life resulting from a few taps on the keyboard. Another example of hailed Hard sci-fi that relies on arbitrary fantasy tools and measurements that are just as fuzzy as any magic spell. As a nineties novel, it can be valued for its projections of the current form of the digital age, though most interesting is the optimistic ending for his highly flawed protagonist. Given Sawyer’s commercial success and formulaic approach, it’s hard not to wonder if he and his readers have overlooked the fact of the protagonist’s abominable, sociopathic behavior. But surely… Continue reading
And yet–his ultimate move had fallen through because Linda Fox … it had been the wrong time. Her menstrual cycle, he thought. Linda Fox has periods and cramps? he asked himself. I don’t believe it. But I guess it’s true. Could it have been a pretext? No, it was not a pretext. It was real. (201)
Herb Asher experiences cognitive dissonance when faced with the biological reality of his Linda Ronstadt fantasy, while readers face similar uncertainty about the entire text. Which is the real timeline? Who is dead and who is alive? What do these weird names signify? Who knew that eyelashes could emote? Continue reading
Book Award News
I doubt it means anything that the sky suddenly opened up and hailed for five minutes right after I saw the Hugo shortlists, but that’s what happened. 4000 votes seems less like redoubled dog efforts and more like a galvanized voting community with little ballot overlap and little interest in the anything but the novel category. I just like to see my own nominees on the voting stats list in August… at the very bottom of the list probably… but still. Continue reading
There’s going to be a lot of defensive denial from readers who look upon my copy of Walk to the End of the World (1974) by Suzy McKee Charnas with “The terrifying science fantasy about a world ruled by men” blurbed on the cover. Knee-jerk responses will vary from “pshh, that’s not fantasy, that’s reality” to “that would never happen this author is a man-hater.” The cover image of an enslaved woman kneeling before two stern-faced men is equally contentious. (cover below, for I could not bear to make it the lead image for this post. this red one over here isn’t much better.)
So let’s take a moment to readjust our worldview: Systemic slavery of women exists today, in larger numbers than you think. It exists in first-world countries, with an estimated 60000 slaves in the US, most of them women. Even conservative states in the US are taking action, explicitly designating Human Trafficking Task Forces to differentiate from smuggling and immigration issues, while educators are being trained to identify victims of slavery, just as they do victims of child abuse and neglect. Moreover, areas of economic boom have the highest rates of slavery in the first world.
And no matter where you find it, or in what form, slavery today is overwhelmingly gendered, with men subjugating and controlling women against their wills, all over the world.
One of the reasons I prefer reading SF in contemporary groupings is because comparison often yields a better understanding of (and possibly appreciation for) works within their respective eras, so I’m not just assessing them based on my own contemporary value vacuum. Things feel less dated this way, and I’m better able to construe time-relevant cringe from anachronistic Heinlein throat-clearing creeperdom. I also just like reading lists.
My latest experiment is to read in canonization groupings, this time the Military SF canon. Canon doesn’t always mean the best or most worthy, but it usually means The Most Famous, though we’ll leave the chicken/egg discussion for another day. However, because these books are The Most Famous, sometimes they talk to each other, sort of like the way pop stars subtweet bitchy comments and block each other, which adds another element of fun while trudging through books I wouldn’t normally choose to read.
So, Fall-In!, About-Face!, and snap those shiny heels together! Here are The Most Famous Military SF novels this side of nationalistic superiority! Ten-Hut! Continue reading