Despite the high praise on the back cover and intriguing premise, this novel left me feeling kinda meh.
The worldbuilding and the plot were at least interesting enough that I
wanted to keep going for awhile, and I did manage to make it through
twelve chapters before setting it aside. However, the characters are as
flat as a Kiskashin’s sense of humor, and often take actions that don’t
seem to be motivated by anything except it would lead to a goshso cool scene or situation.
While intellectually interesting and many-layered, the plot and side-plots weren’t tightly bound to a cohesive story thread enough for me to become emotionally invested in what was happening. It doesn’t help that the star of the show, Brennan Pike, comes off as a happy-go-lucky cross between Han Solo, a leprechaun, and a cartoon pirate. The dialogue as-written reflects this. So annoying.
Highlights: expansive world-building, huge ancient alien starship, creative meshing of artificial and advanced biological life forms, interesting side plot that takes place inside a mind crystal
Lowlights: somehow manages to be pretty boring overall, despite all of the above
This is Part 4 of a six-part response to Visions, Ventures, and Escape Velocities: A Collection of Space Futures, which is available for free from Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination thanks to a grant from NASA. I say “response” and not “review” because I intend to engage with the ideas presented from my own point of view.
Section IV of VVEV is entitled Exoplanets, and contains one short story and two essays:
Shikasta, by Vandana Singh
The New Science of Astrobiology, by Sara Imari Walker
Negotiating the Values of Space Exploration, by Emma Frow
This is Part 2 of a six-part response to Visions, Ventures, and Escape Velocities: A Collection of Space Futures, which is available for free from Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination thanks to a grant from NASA. I say “response” and not “review” because I intend to engage with the ideas presented from my own point of view.
Section II of VVEV is entitled Mars, and contains two short stories and two essays:
The Baker of Mars, by Karl Schroeder
Exploration Fact and Exploration Fiction, by Lawrence Dritsas
I’ve come to this book later than most, and I’m so glad I did.
I’ll start with the criticism. First let me acknowledge that, as a book published in 1965, Dune contains a few elements that are likely to be problematic to the modern reader. The world depicted (which is an active choice made by the author) is almost universally patriarchal — not just one society, mind you, but all of them, with the possible exception of one. (However, even that one, the Bene Gesserit multi-generational society of powerful sorcerer-ninja women, is incomplete and cannot fulfill its ultimate purpose until a LONG-PROPHESIED MALE CHILD is born to do what somehow none of them can.) And apropos of long prophesies, the story is definitely among the Chosen One narratives, which seem to have gone decisively out of style (at least in more literary science fiction).
All that said, I was thoroughly engrossed in the world: the captivating setting with its desert aesthetic strongly influenced by the Islamic world, the interweaving of complex politics and deep religions, and the layers upon layers of motivations and counter motivations that tear at almost any character with a name. Dune also falls within the prestigious company of those few books that I’ve read which manage to blend hard science fiction and fantastical elements seamlessly together in the service of evoking wonder — such as Revelation Space or Anathem.
I’m hooked. I can finally understand why Dune became the genre’s gold standard for science-fiction that isn’t afraid to talk about the human element, and does it exceptionally well. I definitely plan to add the rest of the series to my To-Read list.
My first con appearance since moving to Virginia will be next week at Capclave 17, a literary sci-fi convention organized by the Washington Science Fiction Association. I’m looking forward to meeting new readers, writers, and fans of science fiction and fantasy! My panel schedule is below.
Does Hard Science Fiction Have to be Opaque to Non-Techies? – 10am Saturday – Frederick: Panelists will discuss how writing about quantum computing, string theory, nanotechnology, genetics, chemistry, rocket science, etc., can be done in a way that is scientifically accurate, yet understandable by people who have no science background past high school and maybe college distribution requirement. E.g. making Bose-Einstein Condensate understandable to someone who never got past “physics for poets.” Panelists: Jack Campbell, N.A. Ratnayake, Mike McPhail, Ian Randal Strock (m), David Walton
War on Science – 6pm Saturday – Rockville/Potomac: Some of America’s leaders don’t believe in global warming, want creationism taught in schools, and others want to ban human cloning or restrict genetic modified foods. Why this distrust of science? Is it growing? Are political leaders trying to appeal to the ignorant or do they really believe this? And what is the danger to the planet? Panelists: Carolyn Ives Gilman, Inge Heyer (m), Thomas Holtz, James Morrow, N.A. Ratnayake
What Are The New Questions That SF/F Should Be Asking? – 11am Sunday – Rockville/Potomac: SF in particular is meant to be a forward-looking genre. What questions should contemporary SFF writers be asking that they are not? What issues are being successfully addressed? Panelists: M’Shai Dash, Caroline Ives Gilman, Malka Older, N.A. Ratnayake
Positive Science Fiction – 1pm Sunday – Bethesda: Much SF these days is dystopian or grim. Why isn’t there more positive SF? Jetse DeVries’s anthology Shine demonstrated that it’s possible to write positive SF even when dealing with issues such as climate change. Panelists: Malka Older, Sarah Pinsker, N.A. Ratnayake, Bud Sparhawk (m)
This post is the first in what I intend to be several recaps of some of the most thought-provoking moments during this weekend’s Arisia science fiction and fantasy convention.
First of all, I have to thank Andrea Hairston. As a panelist and audience member, moderators have consistently been the most significant factor affecting the experience of con panel. Andrea was our fearless leader during this panel and I think we all owe her thanks for her energetic and positive management of the conversation.
Panel Description: Is Optimism Just Nostalgia in Disguise? – Marina 2, Literature, Sun 11:30 AM: We are hearing, after a long sojourn in dystopia and postapocalypse, that optimistic SF is making a comeback. Is it really the case or is the optimism of yesterday just another type of nostalgia? When climate change, postantibiotic medicine, and resource depletion are major factors in our lives (topics that are not always as well addressed in optimistic SF), is there a way to temper our optimism and inspire those who might be able to face these problems? Panelists: Andrea Hairston (mod), N.A. Ratnayake, Matthew Kressel, T.X. Watson, M.J. Cunniff
I was happy that the conversation could begin with every panelist answering the titular question in the negative: no, optimism is not just nostalgia in disguise. We had different perspectives as to why and how to move forward, but it was great to have that connecting thread. I won’t (and really can’t) give a transcript or summary of the conversation as it happened, but here are some of my key conclusions that I took away.
[SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t yet seen Star Wars: Rogue One, skip the section “Positive Stories in Negative Spaces.”]
I’m excited to be returning as a panelist to Arisia 2017, New England’s largest and most diverse sci-fi and fantasy convention! Arisia is coming up in just a few weeks (January 13-16, 2017)… Grab a membership soon, because the rates go up after December 31.
My panelist schedule is below, and besides these I plan to attend many more in Science, Writing, and Literature.
What Are the New Questions SFF Should be Asking? – Burroughs, Literature, Fri 5:30 PM: Speculative fiction needs to speculate, as changes in the world pile up thick and fast. News of these new developments – scientific, political, cultural, and personal – reaches a broad audience, sometimes even before the developments have actually developed. Does SF have space to speculate? Should we try to keep pace with the way the world changes? Is that possible? What new questions should we ask? Panelists: Dr. Pamela Gay (mod), N.A. Ratnayake, John Sundman, Steve E. Popkes, N.S. Dolkhart
How To Use Real Science In Your SciFantasy Story – Alcott, Writing, Fri 10:00 PM: How can you use *real* science in your science fiction and fantasy stories? What is fringe science? Where do you dig it up? Where does STEM fit into your worldbuilding? And how do you adapt boring JSTOR studies to high-stakes action on a space-battleship or a magic kingdom? Our STEM panelists will teach you how to sprinkle a little science fairy dust to make even the most audacious story sound scientifically plausible. Panelists: Deborah Kaminski (mod), Timothy Goyette, N.A. Ratnayake, Ian Randall Stock, Stephen R. Wilk
The Intersection of Art and Science – Adams, Science, Sat 10:00 AM: Astronomical imagery, mathematical music, negative-space theorizing, gaming into data-structures. Panelists will discuss how they integrate their scientific careers into their artistic ventures, and vice versa. Panelists: Shelley Marsh (mod), N.A. Ratnayake, John Sundman, Sarah Smith, Drew Van Zandt
What We Know from Juno – Marina 3, Science, Sat 11:30 AM: Juno is a NASA space probe currently orbiting the planet Jupiter. For 20 months the probe will gather a wealth of new information including more details about the planet’s atmospheric composition and core density. Come find out what we’ve learned so far. Panelists: Jeff Hecht (mod), N.A. Ratnayake, Dr. Pamela Gay, Dan Brian
Is Optimism Just Nostalgia in Disguise? – Marina 2, Literature, Sun 11:30 AM: We are hearing, after a long sojourn in dystopia and postapocalypse, that optimistic SF is making a comeback. Is it really the case or is the optimism of yesterday just another type of nostalgia? When climate change, postantibiotic medicine, and resource depletion are major factors in our lives (topics that are not always as well addressed in optimistic SF), is there a way to temper our optimism and inspire those who might be able to face these problems? Panelists: Andrea Hairston (mod), N.A. Ratnayake, Matthew Kressel, T.X. Watson, M.J. Cunniff
Human expansion into space is happening. Where previous generations imagined the push into space driven by government programs such as NASA, we are seeing now that it is likely to be corporations or private interests staking claims out there at least as much as governments. In fact, multiple companies have already declared near-term space intentions such as orbital tourism, mining lucrative asteroids, extracting fresh water and hydrocarbons, and settling on the Moon and Mars.
There is likely more platinum and water in the asteroid belt than there is in all of planet Earth. To whom does this wealth belong? Commercial enterprise and private interests will need to play a large role in opening up space for humanity, but strong public space policy now is essential to shape and guide the coming age for society as a whole. Writers, scientists, engineers, and policymakers have been talking for decades about what our future in space will look like. The public at large needs to enter this conversation, so that we can make sure our expansion into space results in an equitable, sustainable, and responsible distribution of the truly staggering amount of resources right here in our own solar system.
Join me at Boskone (February 19-21, 2016) in Boston, MA for New England’s longest running science fiction and fantasy convention. It’s going to be a fun weekend filled with books, film, art, music, gaming, and more. For more information about Boskone, check out The Boskone Blog, Twitter, and Facebook. Visit the Boskone website to register.
I will be appearing in five panels, a reading, and a book release party. Details below!