Friday, December 30, 2016

Weird Connections: The Race by Nina Allan

Nina Allan's The Race is an unexpectedly weird book.  If you were to pick it up and read a randomly selected page, you might think it's near-future dystopian science fiction about genetically modified greyhounds, standard literary fiction about the pain and promise of family and romantic relationships, or a fantasy-tinged science fictional tale in the style of Ursula Le Guin.

This book is all of those things; it's not so much a novel as a series of tenuously connected novellas and (at least in the edition I stumbled upon at a local bookstore) an appendix.  The first and last sections as well as most of the appendix are set in the future and/or an alternate universe.  The second and third sections are basically literary fiction set in our world, in particular Britain in recent decades, although these are connected to the other sections in ways I won't say both because I don't want to spoil anything and because I'm not entirely sure I understood all the connections.

I may change my mind as I think about it more, but for now I'm giving it high marks for the quality of the writing, somewhat lower marks for being audacious but not ground breaking, and middling marks for the feeling that everything might only come together for me on a second or third reading -- if at all.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

History of the Future: Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer

Despite the fact that a lot of science fiction takes place in the future, few science fiction writers have much of a historical consciousness, a sense of how historical eras are both continuous with and disjointed from the eras before and after them.  Frank Herbert's Dune series has historical consciousness in an especially vast sense, but a lot of science fiction seems to basically transplant the people and ideas of the 20th and 21st centuries into some other century (this was, for instance, one of my criticisms of Peter F. Hamilton's Pandora's Star).

Ada Palmer's Too Like the Lightning isn't quite working on Herbert's scale, but her historical consciousness is something unique.  The fact that she's a history professor probably doesn't hurt either (and gives hope to this SF-loving philosophy professor!).

Monday, December 19, 2016

Two Years, 184 Posts, and Many Thoughts: My Second Blog-iversary

I made my first post on this blog, "Philosophy as Science Fiction; Science Fiction as Philosophy," on December 23, 2014.  About two years, 184 posts, and many, many thoughts later, I'm somehow still doing this and celebrating my second blog-iversary!  This calls for a celebration.  In blog post form, of course.

(I will be traveling to visit family on the hallowed day of my second blog-iversary itself, so I'm jumping the gun a bit in assuming this blog will still exist in four days.)

Here are a few reflections to celebrate this auspicious occasion...

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Non-Spoilery Reactions to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is gritty, action-packed, and surprisingly funny.  It's probably the most unique Star Wars film to date.  It's kind of like Star Wars fan fiction, but actually good.

At least these are some of my initial reactions.  I just saw it tonight.  I don't want to unleash any spoilers, at least not yet.  I'll probably write a proper spoilery review later, but for now here are a few of my non-spoilery reactions like the ones I gave last year for The Force Awakens...

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Melancholic Meditations, December 2016


2016 has been widely reviled a dumpster fire of a year, and for good reason.  From the deaths of beloved celebrities and a terrible summer movie season to a soul draining, mind numbing, bigotry stuffed shit sundae of an election topped with the demon piss soaked maraschino cherry of Donald Trump’s victory, it’s hard to see much good coming out of the past year.  As John Oliver and friends so eloquently put it, “Fuck you, 2016!”

As depressing as this year has been, I have to admit it hasn’t been all bad for me personally.  I have a new nephew and a new first cousin once removed.  I got to go to a conference in Hawaii in May, a family road trip to South Carolina in July, and then my first WorldCon in August.  My spouse got a job, thus solving what academics so tactfully call “the two body problem.”  I had a few academic publications and signed a contract to work on a book on skepticism in Indian philosophy.  I got on Twitter for reasons I still don’t entirely understand.  I continue to have a lot of fun with this blog, which will celebrate its second anniversary on December 23rd.

Of course, this is also the year I turned 40, which in itself isn’t so bad (and beats the alternative in any case).  Still, 2016 has not given me the greatest world in which to start my new decade of life.

As we come to the end of this difficult year, it’s hard not to feel melancholic.  And defeated.  And despondent.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Tectonic Fantasy, Part Two: The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin

The Obelisk Gate is a sequel as complex and interesting as its predecessor, the Hugo-winning The Fifth Season.

First, the relatively minor issues.  There's a bit of second-book-in-a-trilogy syndrome here.  That new universe smell has worn off to some extent.  The pace is a bit slow for much of the first half of the book.  As with the first book, occasionally all that complexity and subtlety made it difficult to follow.

Despite these issues, there's a lot to love about this book on account of the world building, characters, and all-too-timely expansion of the social themes of the first book.