“No Way Back” (2006) by Chi Hui

Listen to this review

English Translation by John Chu (2020)

(Read in Clarkesworld Magazine #171, December 2020. Link to the story.)


“When I’m online, Aksha keeps me company. Anyone who says cats can’t go online is an idiot. Twenty years ago, people said humanity couldn’t go to Mars. Ten years ago, people solemnly swore that there was no way to connect a human mind to the network. Five years ago, people said that cats and dogs couldn’t speak.”

My Thoughts

Xuejiao is a “Master Hacker”. She lives in a small apartment with a cat called Aksha. The cat joins Xuejiao online as backup guarding her against “government surveillance programs.” Master Hackers dive into the Net, searching for “ancient abysses” to “excavate data from and turn them into cash.” The author likens it to “spelunking” and makes it clear there are dangers involved in the process:

“Some abysses absolutely must not be tested. Hiding there are vast existences beyond our comprehension. All the jackholes who go there are drawn into a vortex of data, forever gone. They leave behind stiff bodies, lying comatose in hospital ICUs.” 

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A Big Book of Ballard

I posted a review of J.G. Ballard’s short story “Chronopolis” yesterday, so I thought I would show some photos of the HUGE book I read it in. The Complete Stories of J.G. Ballard (2010) was a present from my brother a few years back. I’ve only dipped into it occasionally, so I want to make an effort to read more of the stories this year. It’s also a good chance to read more Ballard–a writer whose work is reckoned to be essential reading for any fan of the science fiction genre.

This book contains 98 short stories written between 1956 and 1996. That’s one thousand one hundred and ninety-six pages! I think this will take me a few years to complete, as I’ve been advised not to read too much Ballard in quick succession. I can understand why. His writing is well-known for being “thought-provoking and unsettling,” his stories “eerie and melancholy.”

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Chronopolis (1960) short story by J.G. Ballard

‘In the bottom compartment of her jewellery case he came across a small flat gold-cased object, equipped with a wrist strap. The dial had no hands but the twelve-numbered face intrigued him and he fastened it to his wrist.’

-J.G. Ballard, Chronopolis

Norton paperback edition, 2010

Brief Synopsis

In a world where timepieces have been abolished, Conrad Newman is in jail, waiting to stand trial for murder. 


My Thoughts

The story opens with the protagonist Conrad Newman in jail awaiting trial. We learn that he has fashioned a sundial in his cell which he uses to keep track of the “daily roster.” It’s clear that Conrad is obsessed with time, as he worries about “going mad” if he is unable to tell what time it is “at any given moment.” There are no clocks in the prison.

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Agency (2020) by William Gibson

‘Very recent hiredness was its own liminal state, Verity reminded herself, on the crowded Montgomery BART platform, waiting for a train to Sixteenth and Mission.’

–William Gibson

These are the opening lines to Agency, Gibson’s twelfth novel. I had to look up the word “liminal” which means “between or belonging to two different places, states, etc.” It is an important word for this novel, as Gibson weaves his narrative back and forth between the “present” of this story and its future. The present is an alternate 2017 in which Hillary Clinton won the election, and the future is some time in the 22nd century.

Synopsis

In William Gibson’s first novel since 2014’s The Peripheral, a gifted “app-whisperer” is hired by a mysterious San Francisco start-up and finds herself in contact with a unique and surprisingly combat-savvy AI.


My Thoughts

I’m in two minds about this book. I initially rated it 3 stars, but I’m tempted to drop my rating down to 2 stars now. (Please note: 3 stars for me is what I consider “average”, 2 stars is “disappointing.”) The longer I think about the story, the more disappointed I feel. It has some cool ideas, but unfortunately they don’t really go anywhere. The plot is pretty basic and the characters mostly forgettable. Thinking back on it, I’m struggling to remember the characters’ names outside of the main character Verity and the A.I. Eunice.

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Reading the Sci Fi “Canon”

Ugh, we’re talking about the “canon” of science fiction literature, again, for reasons (most imminently the recent Hugo award ceremony and its fallout), and whether, basically, newer writers and readers should and must slog through a bunch of books in the genre that are now half a century old at least, from a bunch of mostly male, mostly white, mostly straight writers who are, shall we say, not necessarily speaking to the moment.”

–John Scalzi, Taken from his essay Oh, Christ, Not the Science Fiction Canon Again, August 2020

Selections from the recent Penguin Science Fiction collection

Maryam, over at The Curious SFF Reader, wrote a great post about the science fiction canon, asking if we should read it or not. Her essay and all of the comments made for a fascinating read and got me thinking about what this “canon” is. Is there a canon for science fiction like there is for literature? If so, who decided which books make up this canon?

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Mockingbird (1980) by Walter Tevis

‘Only the mockingbird sings at the edge of the woods.’

-Walter Tevis

Did you watch the recent Netflix series about a brilliant female chess player: The Queen’s Gambit? I watched it and really enjoyed it. It is based on the book of the same name by the American author Walter Tevis. I’d never heard of Tevis before the series, but I did know the title of his most famous science fiction story: The Man Who Fell to Earth (1963). I’ve seen the film starring David Bowie but I haven’t read the book. After reading Tevis’s novel Mockingbird (1980), I now want to read all of his books including The Hustler (1959) and The Color of Money (1984)–made famous by the Paul Newman-starring movies.

Synopsis

Mockingbird is a powerful novel of a future world where humans are dying. Those that survive spend their days in a narcotic bliss or choose a quick suicide rather than slow extinction. Humanity’s salvation rests with an android who has no desire to live, and a man and a woman who must discover love, hope, and dreams of a world reborn.


My Review

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The Penultimate Truth (1964) by Philip K. Dick

“Then how come,” Blair said, “you’re squatting here in these ruins instead of lounging at a swimming pool in one of those conapt constellations?”
The man grunted, gestured. “I just–like to be free.”

Back in 2016, I took part in a Philip K. Dick reading challenge with a few fellow bloggers. I read and reviewed one PKD novel each month, while working through the mammoth, monster-of-a-tome that is The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick (2011), 75 pages at a time. That was the year my blog became more than just the occasional post about cherry blossoms or Halloween reads. So, I have the novels of PKD to thank for leading me–kind of–to where I am today, typing these words.

Publisher’s Synopsis

‘World War III is raging – or so the millions of people crammed in their underground tanks believe. For fifteen years, subterranean humanity has been fed on daily broadcasts of a never-ending nuclear destruction, sustained by a belief in the all powerful Protector. But up on Earth’s surface, a different kind of reality reigns. East and West are at peace. Across the planet, an elite corps of expert hoaxers preserve the lie.’


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Dune Messiah (1969) by Frank Herbert

‘The flesh surrenders itself, he thought. Eternity takes back its own. Our bodies stirred these waters briefly, danced with a certain intoxication before the love of life and self, dealt with a few strange ideas, then submitted to the instruments of Time. What can we say of this? I occurred. I am not . . . yet, I occurred.’

I recently read and reviewed Frank Herbert’s Dune. It was my second time to read it and the reread confirmed my opinion that Dune is a masterpiece. I believe it can stand on its own as a single story, a one-and-done work of incredible imagination. But like most readers of Dune, I wanted more. Imagine trying to write a sequel to such a book. How do you follow up a story like Dune? Where do you go next?

Art by Sean Francis O’Connell, 2017 Hodder & Stoughton edition
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Dune (1965) by Frank Herbert

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

I first read Dune some years ago, probably in my later teens. I really enjoyed it and it left a strong impression on me. I remember going to see David Lynch’s film version at a cinema in Manchester back in the winter of 1984. This was before I read the book. I also remember the hype building up to the film’s release and the focus on the special effects of the sandworms. Lynch’s movie; I know how much it gets slated but there’s something about it that I’ve always loved. Parts of it look and feel completely alien and strange. And those sandworms still look great today, I don’t care what you say!
But on to the novel.

There are so many reviews of Dune already out there that I wonder what I can add to the conversation. Only my opinion and what I liked about the story. I’m not going to attempt a critical reading or interpretation of the novel. If you want to read one of those, I highly recommend you check out fellow book-blogger Bart’s rich and thoughtful review over here at “Weighing A Pig Doesn’t Fatten It“. I can only dream of writing such a thoughtful and intelligent review. Continue reading

O Moon of My Delight! (1963) by Brian Aldiss

‘The planet Tandy was a gas giant as big as Jupiter, a beautiful object when it rose into Tandy Two’s skies, but uninhabitable and unapproachable.’

O Moon of My Delight” is a character-driven short story with an interstellar setting. It is one of eight stories found in Brian Aldiss’ 1963 collection “The Airs of Earth“. The story opens with Murragh Harrison preparing to watch the arrival of a Faster-Than-Light starship. He is on the moon Tandy Two, a place which is used as a kind of braking device for the incoming F.T.L. ships. Harrison, a wannabe poet, is there for the spectacular display.

‘The F.T.L. ship burst into normal space on automatic control, invisible and unheard at first. Boring for the world like a metal fist swung at a defenseless heart, it was a gale of force.’

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