Best of the Year 2018

By Nina Allan

As genre imprints become ever more conservatively focused upon tried-and-tested formulas, so the more interesting speculative fiction gets pushed increasingly towards mainstream imprints. 2018 saw no diminution in this trend, and with Sophie Mackintosh’s The Water Cure, Lidia Yuknavich’s The Book of Joan, Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad, Sam Byers’s Perfidious Albion, Kate Mascerenhas’s The Psychology of Time Travel, Patrick Langley’s Arkady and Ling Ma’s Severence to name but a scattering all being published by literary presses, if anything it is the opposite. Some hardy souls do continue to soldier on in the genre heartlands though, and my vote for best science fiction novel of the year would have to go to The Smoke, by Simon Ings, published by Gollancz. I’m a huge Ings fan in any case – both his 2014 Wolves and his 2011 Dead Water were egregious omissions from the Clarke Award shortlist – but The Smoke hits a new high water mark of excellence and should be read by everyone with an interest in what British science fiction is still capable of.

Image result for the smoke ings

Set in an alternate near future, The Smoke – like all the greatest science fiction – finds numerous ways to comment upon our own present. In the world of The Smoke, a volcanic eruption in Yellowstone Park in 1874 brings about a form of nuclear winter, and with it the devastation of much of Europe. World War One is brought to an end in 1916 with the invention of the Gurwitsch Ray, a new technology that inadvertently brings about the ‘speciation’ of humanity into three distinct genetic groups: non-augmented humans, who form the majority underclass, the Bund, a new stratum of mentally agile, biologically more resilient genetically altered humans who are potentially immortal, and the chickies, who might not be human at all. In the novel’s present day, a new space age promises full employment for the North by means of a renaissant and highly dangerous manufacturing industry. Meanwhile, large swathes of southeast London are being repurposed as a laboratory for the Bund’s increasingly transgressive medical science. Traumatised by deep divisions and changes within his own family and emotionally paralysed by a recent break-up, Stuart finds himself irreparably torn between the analogue world of his childhood and a ruthless digital future he barely understands. Ings’s depiction of both the physical landscape of his too-rapidly evolving world and the blasted interior spaces of its inhabitants is inventive, intensely tactile and palpably raw. The Smoke is a taut, scintillating and deeply affecting novel that never pulls its punches and – in today’s bleak age of bland dystopia and derivative space opera – comes as an invigorating reminder of how radical and innovative science fiction can be in the hands of a writer with the talent and insight to properly explore its full potential. Honourable mention: the newly reissued Rosewater, by Tade Thompson (Orbit). Aliens bearing gifts have pitched camp outside Lagos. But what do they want in return?

Image result for jac "the grip of it"

My favourite horror novel of 2018 remains Jac Jemc’s The Grip of It (FSG), which I reviewed for Strange Horizons back in August. Jemc takes the tropes of the classic haunted house novel – a young couple beginning a new life in the country, a weird neighbour you never see, dark secrets from the past – and twists them into something rich and strange, a masterful literary novel that works with its tropes rather than against them, dragging us deeper into the characters’ predicament and – even at the end – refusing the temptation of easy explanations. The Grip of It is a novel that demands engagement from the reader. With faint echoes of Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, this is a book to treasure for its ambiguity and genuine spookiness. Honourable mention: the atmospheric and again, genuinely creepy Little Eve, by Catriona Ward (W&N). When members of a strange religious cult are found murdered on a remote Scottish island, a discredited police officer is determined to discover the truth about the only survivor.

Image result for marian womack lost objects

The standout collection from 2018 is Marian Womack’s Lost Objects (Luna Press), which I wrote about for Interzone. The central themes of Lost Objects – climate change, political tyranny, personal struggle and transcendence – feel timely and urgent, yet what sets this collection apart is Womack’s particular treatment of those themes. Her personal iconography – birds, animals, landscape – is brought to life by means of a language that has a brittle quality, with sentences that seem to teeter on the point of dissolution, yet retain a core of steel. Sinewy and wild, Womack’s stories feel simultaneously open to argument and determinedly tenacious. What I look for most in a collection is cohesion. The stories don’t necessarily have to be explicitly linked (though I enjoy that, too) but what I do want to see is a sense of common purpose that runs through the collection as a whole, and it is precisely this feeling of cumulative effect that Lost Objects possesses. Honourable mention: All the Fabulous Beasts, by Priya Sharma (Undertow). Sharma’s stories highlight the divisions and inequalities of contemporary society, showcasing language and imagery that challenges even as it delights.

In film, the most pre-hyped horror movie of 2018 was undoubtedly Ari Aster’s Hereditary, in which Toni Collette stars as a woman not only on the edge of a nervous breakdown, but ensnared at the centre of a diabolical conspiracy to bring about the end times. Much though I was looking forward to it, I found Hereditary deeply disappointing. One standout chilling moment aside, the film is bog standard Hollywood tropes all the way, complete with one of the most ridiculous endings in recent horror film history. Conversely, Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria suffered a lukewarm reception from the critics, yet turns out to be something very special indeed. With its distinctly European sensibility, this re-imagining of a horror classic makes superb use of its Berlin backdrop and delivers excellent performances from each and every member of its talented cast. Dario Argento’s 1977 Suspiria depended for its effect on shock and spectacle. Guadagnino takes a quieter and more circuitous route, filling out the storyline in imaginative and satisfyingly complex ways, delivering what is for me one of the best pieces of new horror cinema in years. Sacrilege I know, but I actually now prefer it to Argento’s original.

Big-budget science fiction cinema continues to suffocate under a burden of tedious superhero movies and derivative dystopias, and if you want to see anything worth seeing you need to seek out the indies. One low-budget SF movie I particularly enjoyed this year were Drake Doremus’s Zoe, which traverses similar ground to Alex Garland’s 2014 Ex Machina but displays quiet sensitivity and pathos against a pleasingly low-tech backdrop. And for true weirdness, see Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s The Endless, in which the writer-directors also star as brothers whose return journey to the UFO cult in which they were raised traverses some wonderfully strange territory. A genuinely unsettling movie that demands a rewatch, and works as a marvellous antidote to the anodyne and superfluous offerings from the Hollywood franchises.

Best of 2018

In a change from recent custom, this year Vector will be holding our annual round-up right here online. So keep your eyes peeled, your noses twitching, and your statoliths shoogling for a series of posts throughout December and January. They’re going to be packed with all the highlights (and maybe a few lowlights) of 2018 in science fiction. We’ll kick off next week with Nina Allan‘s pick of 2018.

And — while we’re talking about SF that amazed and inspired in 2018 — don’t forget that nominations are now open for the BSFA Awards! As usual, there are four categories: novel, short fiction, non-fiction, and artwork. Anyone can suggest works on this eligibility spreadsheet. To nominate and vote in the awards you must be a BSFA member (join here). If you’ve recently joined and don’t yet have a membership number, don’t worry! You’re still eligible to nominate and to vote.

Economic Science Fictions reviewed: Speculate to innovate

This article originally appeared in Vector #288.

econSF

Reviewed by Madeleine Chalmers

Fantasies are things that can’t happen, and science fiction is about things that can happen.

Ray Bradbury, interview with Joshua Klein for The Onion (1999)

If self-proclaimed ‘not a science fiction writer’ Ray Bradbury ever needed an academic publication to bolster his sprightly quip, then Economic Science Fictions is it. In this bold and exciting collection, William Davies and his contributors offer us an unapologetic manifesto for the power of ‘can’, pushing Bradbury’s statement to its limit to issue a call to arms: economic science fictions are not just ‘about things’, they do things – and so can we.

Taking a firm stance amid the contemporary swirl of fake news and financial, political, and ecological hyperobjects, this major interdisciplinary contribution confronts the porosity between fiction and reality head-on, to interrogate the rigid boundaries we often impose, the assumptions we make, and the mental and social habits we forget to question.

As such, Davies’s collection is a welcome addition to a growing canon of post-2008 crash literature which seeks to combine critique and clear political statements with intellectual rigour, reconnecting academia with ‘the real world’. It takes its place alongside such titles as the late Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism (2009) and Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams’s Inventing the Future (2015). From Fisher’s luminous foreword, in which he posits economic science fictions as ‘effective virtualities’ (xiii), onwards, this collection aims to counter the fiction that is capitalism. It invites readers to turn from speculative finance and its logic of accumulation (with the permanent risk of catastrophe), to speculative fiction and its potential to write – and set right – the world. 

This title forms part of Goldsmiths’s PERC (Political Economy Research Centre) series, which defines itself as a ‘pluralist and critical approach to the study of capitalism’. This commitment to interdisciplinarity and dialogue between the academic and non-academic spheres is made absolutely manifest in the collection’s diversity. It has an echo of the democratic ecumenism of the underground 1990s zines, as theory-fictions intermingle with more canonical forms of academic writing. Indeed, the title of Judy Thorne’s ‘Speculative Hyperstition at a Northern Further Education College’ raises the spectre of that mid-1990s phenomenon, the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit. Today, in 2018, writers, artists, architects and musicians mingle polyphonically with founders of think tanks and consultancies, as well as journalists, early career researchers, and established academics. 

William Davies’s shrewd editing allows these very different contributions to speak to one another and shine. His opening ‘Introduction to Economic Science Fictions’ grounds the discussion in classic liberal economic theories of value. Taking as his sparring partners Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek, Davies teases out how capitalism is constructed around the flexible ‘division between “real” and “imaginary” value”’ which, as he points out, ‘is how financial bubbles occur: when collective imagination starts to become mistaken for an empirical reality’ (23). Lucidly and compellingly, Davies reconfigures this instability as an opportunity, positing politically progressive economic science fictions as a means to engage with capitalism on its own oscillating ground, poised between the fictional and the non-fictional.

The four sections which follow – each with a clear and concise introductory overview – develop this core thesis. The texts within them move fluidly from theory to practice and back again, with examples which will be familiar (or at least not wholly alien) to non-academic and academic readers alike. While it is only possible to pick out highlights here, what consistently impresses is the interweaving of analyses of science fictions, evocations of personal practice, theories of global megastructures, and creative riffs. Interlocking in surprising yet harmonious ways, within and across the various essays, these texts probe disciplinary boundaries in provocative and illuminating ways.

The collection’s first section – ‘The Science and Fictions of the Economy’ – grounds us in the nuts and bolts of the dream-mechanics of economics, with contributions from distinguished academics on the corporate imaginary (Laura Horn), the anthropology of money (Sherryl Vint) and automation (Brian Willems). Alongside these, Ha-Joon Chang’s contribution (‘Economics, Science Fiction, History and Comparative Studies’) stands out – as much for its laudable inclusion in a collection overwhelmingly dominated by ‘non-economists’, as for its content. A second section on ‘Capitalist Dystopias’ gives us a whistlestop tour of different dystopias in which capitalism is pushed to its limits. Here, accelerationist nightmares rub shoulders with the more ambiguous vision of Dan Gavshon Brady and James Pockson’s gloriously-titled ‘Fatberg and the Sinkholes: A Report on the Findings of a Journey into the United Regions of England by PostRational’. Readers wary of discourse about discourse will find the ‘Design for a Different Future’ section refreshing, for its pragmatic yet playful turn towards architecture, urban planning, and design.

But it is perhaps in the final section, ‘Fumbling for Utopia’, that Economic Science Fictions offers the ideal meta-reflection on the collection as a whole. Featuring four economic science (theory-)fictions, it closes with Jo Lindsay Walton’s ‘Public Money and Democracy’ – a fiction with footnotes, which perfectly encapsulates the collection’s aspiration to break down the barriers between the real and the imagined.

This collection makes no secret of its political stance. Readers looking for neutrality, dry objectivity, or dissent from the valorisation of science fiction and its role in building a post capitalist future will not find it here. The voices of economists who – unlike Ha-Joon Chang – are not avowed SF fans, sceptical SF writers, or interviews between converts and sceptics might have helped to redress this balance, and add a new dynamism to what remains an invigorating discussion – but not really a debate. Greater granularity in the definition of capitalism as it manifests itself in different national contexts (including non-European and non-US contexts) would also have added even greater bite to a collection that seeks to cross wires between the abstract and the pragmatic.

Quibbles aside, this collection is stimulating for believers and dreamers, but also provides ample material to dig into and with which to productively disagree for those who are not quite converts. Its return to political and social commitment represents a passionate and urgent response to our contemporary situation, and an astute and convincing argument for – and illustration of – interdisciplinarity and the interweaving of theory and practice, inside and outside the academy. It is a collection which empowers us to speculate – to invest in fiction not just as a means to provoke but as a means to intervene in our confused and confusing world.

Madeleine Chalmers is studying for a DPhil in French at the University of Oxford, funded by the Oxford University AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership – Sir Ivor Roberts Graduate Scholarship at Trinity College. Her research project on ‘unruly technics’ explores how avant-garde French literature of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries negotiate the increasingly tight imbrication of technology into human life, and the challenge it poses to how we think about ourselves, our relationship to others and to our world. It seeks to place these texts of the past in dialogue with current philosophical reflections on technology, to explore how this encounter can help us to think about our technological present, and future.

BSFA events: Anne Charnock interviewed by Glyn Morgan

The BSFA holds regular events in London, usually on the last Wednesday of the month, at the Artillery Arms near Old Street. These events are free, and open to members and non-members alike. Keep an eye on the BSFA website for news of future events. In November 2017, former Vector editor Glyn Morgan interviewed acclaimed author Anne Charnock, whose first novel A Calculated Life was nominated for a Philip K Dick Award and whose second novel, Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind was listed by The Guardian as one of the Science Fiction Books of the Year in 2016. She also regularly takes part in The Ada Lovelace Conversations, a collaborative project between The Arthur C Clarke Award for science fiction literature and Ada Lovelace Day, an international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. Anne’s latest novel, Dreams Before the Start of Time, is out now.

 Andrew Wallace has checked his watch, confirmed he was there and reports as follows…

What will survive of us is love

dreamsThe themes of Anne’s latest novel Dreams Before the Start of Time evolved from ideas about reproductive technologies likely to be with us within the next forty years. The book explores the psychological, ethical, legal and social implications of these technologies by following generations of the same family into the future as they take advantage of these new opportunities and deal with the unexpected consequences. Anne believes that fiction offers the best means of analytically, emotionally and aesthetically engaging with the potential impacts of innovations and trends, from our ‘reproduction’ as digital selves to artificial intelligence, genetic engineering and the emergence of China as both a strategic world player and presence in our future lives.

Continue reading “BSFA events: Anne Charnock interviewed by Glyn Morgan”

Science fiction in theatre: Callisto – a queer epic

Callisto – first performed in Edinburgh Fringe 2016, is now playing at London’s Arcola theatre until the 23rd of December.  This brilliant and imaginative play packs in so much humour alongside the tragic, the absurd, and the science-fictional, that it is simply unmissable!

Callisto-10.jpgLondon, 1680. Photo: Lidia Crisafulli

The play consists of four love stories set in 1680, 1936, 1978-9, and 2223.  The stories talk to each, the text demanding their simultaneous presence on stage at several crucial moments in the play. These instances are key to some of the thematic threads that span the epic, knitting it together. Each viewer might perceive their own connections, beyond the obvious commonality that is part of the title: each story involves a love affair between people of the same sex. The complexity and the wit of the play are dazzling. There are stories within stories. In 1680s London, Arabella Hunt is an opera star, and we first encounter her rehearsing the lines from Cleopatra:

 

[…] and all the world,

is if it were the business of mankind to part us,

is armed against my love: even you yourself

join with the rest; you, you are armed against me

This sentiment echoes through time, the world is armed against homosexual love even when we are on the moon in 2223, albeit this time through its absence – Cal and Lorn are all that is left of homo sapiens, and only one of them is biologically human. Cal is an android that Lorn built, an android those very conscious existence depends on convincing Lorn that he loves him. With humanity having driven itself to extinction, Lorn is afraid of hope, and hence of love.

Callisto-12Lorn and Cal, Moon, 2223. Photo: Lidia Crisafulli

Continue reading “Science fiction in theatre: Callisto – a queer epic”

From Our Archive: On Falling in Love

The Finns achieved independence on December 6, 1917  – 100 years ago. To celebrate with Finland, we republish a review of a beautiful novel Not Before Sundown by Johanna Sinisalo.

Reviewed by Geneva Melzack

Peter Owen Publishers, London, 2003, 236pp, £12.50, t/p, ISBN 0720611717

trollNot Before Sundown has also been published under the title Troll: A Love Story. The alternative title is, in some ways, a literal description of the book. The first chapter opens with photographer Angel stumbling across a sick creature near his home. It is a troll, and Angel takes it back to his flat and nurses it back to health. The rest of the book explores the consequences of having a wild troll living in close proximity to and interacting with human beings (and whether or not some of those interactions constitute a love story is perhaps a matter of interpretation).

The two prizes Not Before Sundown has found favour with reflect two major aspects of the novel. The Finlandia Prize reflects the book’s roots in Finnish culture and folklore, while the James Tiptree Jnr Award reflects the way it explores issues of identity and sexuality. The best way into both aspects of the novel is through its structure. Not Before Sundown utilises a very unusual narrative technique. The story unfolds through a series of relatively short (a couple of pages or less, and sometimes no more than one or two lines) first person narratives, as well as ‘extracts’ from texts on Finnish folklore, newspaper reports, and various other sources dealing with the history, biology and mythology of trolls, some real (most of the folklore extracts are genuine), some not. Thinking about these extracts and the role they play in the story is a route into understanding the book’s Finnishness, as well as the place it inhabits in the field of fantastic literature. Continue reading “From Our Archive: On Falling in Love”

From the BSFA Review: The Trials of Apollo

trial1The Hidden Oracle, Book One of The Trials of Apollo series by Rick Riordan (Disney Hyperion, 2016)

The Dark Prophecy, Book Two of The Trials of Apollo series by Rick Riordan (Disney Hyperion, 2017)

Reviewed by Christopher Owen

Winner of the 2016 Goodreads Choice Awards: Middle Grade and Children’s, The Hidden Oracle begins the next adventures in the Camp Half-Blood Chronicles. The Hidden Oracle and The Dark Prophecy are the first two books in The Trials of Apollo pentalogy by New York Times #1 Best-Selling Author, Rick Riordan. The Camp Half-Blood Chronicles is primarily made up of three five-book series. The first two, Percy Jackson and the Olympians and The Heroes of Olympus respectively, follow the adventures of twenty-first century demi-gods, teenage children of mortals and either Greek or Roman gods/goddesses. In this third series, Riordan does something different, focusing instead on the adventures of the god Apollo.

At the end of The Heroes of Olympus, Apollo is blamed for the problems the heroes have had to resolve. This third series picks up a few months following the events of the second series with Apollo’s punishment beginning with him falling from the sky and crashing in an alleyway dumpster. At first Apollo’s punishment appears to be one simply designed to humble him: he is transformed from a beautiful, powerful god to an awkward, acne-covered teenaged human. He is then further humbled when a couple thugs beat him up, when he is forced into the servitude of a young girl named Meg, and when he realizes that he is exceptionally less talented at music and archery than when he was a god. His inner-struggles throughout the narrative consist of a conflict between his over-zealous ego and his melodramatic horror at his newfound limitations. But Apollo also faces exterior struggles, and it is in these conflicts that he learns that his punishment is not just to be humbled, but also to right previous wrongs. Apollo must save five missing oracles and stop a secret organization called the Triumvirate. The Triumvirate is made up of three re-born Ancient Roman Emperors who have been pulling the strings in the background all along, causing all of the problems of the Camp Half-Blood Chronicles.

In The Hidden Oracle, children at Camp Half-Blood, a secret camp for demi-gods, are going missing. One by one they head into the forest as if hypnotized and are never seen again. While previous heroes in the Chronicles have travelled far in an American road trip-style adventure, in The Hidden Oracle Apollo does not need to travel farther than the forest neighboring the campgrounds. This changes the structure of the narrative from the previous books. Apollo is able to head back and forth between the forest as site of adventure and the campgrounds as site of respite, healing and communicating with aids. Furthermore, while previous books touch on the other campers only briefly, this book spends a great deal more time getting to know the people who live at camp year-round. This includes three of Apollo’s children, adding another interesting dynamic to this book, a greater focus on the relationships between demigods and their godly parents, something that is only touched on briefly in the first two series.

trial2The sequel, The Dark Prophecy, follows Apollo’s quest to save both his friend and all of Indianapolis from the control of the Triumvirate. This book follows a similar structure as The Hidden Oracle. While the characters travel from Long Island Sound to Indianapolis for this novel, and thus there is the potential for a road trip-style structure that the original two series of the Chronicles use, this book begins at the end of the journey, as the characters are arriving in Indianapolis. Within the first few chapters, the heroes are lead to a magical hideout called the Waystation, which functions in the same way as Camp Half-Blood in The Hidden Oracle. The heroes go back and forth between fighting their enemies in Indianapolis, and re-grouping and healing at the Waystation. During these adventures, Apollo and his friends team up with a variety of different species, adding interesting new group dynamics unexplored in previous novels of the Chronicles.

Both The Hidden Oracle and The Dark Prophecy feature intense final battles that take place in Apollo’s space of respite and safety, Camp Half-Blood and the Waystation respectively. Unable to go home on Mount Olympus, every home that Apollo tries to make for himself on his adventures is attacked, almost completely destroyed and becomes the site from which he must leave to continue his important mission to stop the Triumvirate. It is also from here that he meets and joins forces with previous heroes from the Chronicles, including Leo Valdez and Grover Underwood, suggesting, perhaps, that what is truly valuable is not the place called home, but rather the people we call family.

On the topic of family, one of Apollo’s sons, Will Solace, is dating a boy named Nico Di Angelo, a central character from the previous two series of the Chronicles. There are very few LGBTQ+ characters in middle-grade children’s fiction; three of them are in The Hidden Oracle. In The Dark Prophecy, a lesbian couple runs the Waystation, and the main villain is Apollo’s ex-boyfriend. The book uses frequent flashbacks to focus on the relationship between Apollo and his ex-boyfriend. Apollo is bisexual, making him very much a rarity as a same-sex attracted first-person narrator in a children’s fantasy novel. With six central LGBTQ+ characters, a wide range of ethnicities represented, and explicit feminist ideals, these books work very well to present progressive ideologies and a diverse representation of characters.

While reading the other ten novels in the Chronicles allows for a greater appreciation of The Trials of Apollo, this is not entirely necessary in order to follow the story. These books work well to begin a new, exciting series in Riordan’s universe. The adventure continues in The Burning Maze, which will be released in May 2018.

 

From the BSFA Review: That Bastard Wonderland by Lee Harrison

That Bastard Wonderland by Lee Harrison (Wrecking Ball Press, 2016)

Reviewed by Arike Oke

bastar

You can take the lads out of Hull, but you can’t take Hull out of the lads. That’s okay, I’m a daughter of Hull myself. That means I appreciate the dourness, sarcasm and bittersweet melancholy of my home, all of which come through beautifully in this love letter of a fantasy debut from Lee Harrison. I mean: mushy peas get an origin story.

There’s a backlash right now against maps in fantasy books. Utter tosh say I. A novel with this geographic ambition, outlining a startlingly well realised alternative world, could only benefit from a map. I kept flicking to the frontmatter and the endpapers to find only blank pages, beautiful blank pages though. Wrecking Ball Press, a small press operating out of Hull (see, some kind of theme emerging!), has made a gorgeous edition of this book, cover, paper and font all working together to make a quality volume. Is the image chosen for the cover a small spoiler of a one of the story’s treats? Perhaps, but it looks well on’t.

The protagonist, and main point of view character, is Warboys. No relation to the tragic lost boys of Mad Max Fury Road, this Warboys is as laddish and uncouth as they come. He reluctantly teams up with his dad on a begrudging journey across their world. They are caught up in the expansionist ambitions of a Napoleon–like figure, but soon come up against the old belief systems of the territories they are forced to invade. It seems that there might be some truth in the old myths, but who can Warboys and his dad trust? Is anyone looking out for the underdogs in this war that on the surface is about a conflict of cultures, but underneath is as much about broken dreams and sickening ego as any real-world conflict throughout our own history.

Harrison shows us the other side of the conflict through the eyes of Nouzi Aaranya, a young man groomed from childhood in more ways than one to be a soldier and martyr for a cause he barely grasps. Whereas Warboys is solidly placed within the world of pubs, back streets, sailors, drinking and swearing, Nouzi is altogether more delicate. He’s led a life of direct indoctrination, rather than the societal conditioning of Warboys’ context. Nouzi’s own identity gradually surfaces as the plot unfolds. This forms an enlightening counterpoint to Warboys’ growing sense of responsibility to others. By the end of the book both men find themselves changed.

Harrison handles the dual point-of-view third person narration deftly. Each character is well drawn and distinctive. The plot, once past an avoidably slow and dialogue heavy first act, trips along happily building towards a satisfying, touching and cinematic denouement that still somehow manages to retain the ‘call a spade a spade’ Northern tone. Female characters are few and far between in this boys’ own tale, but as this story can be read as intrinsically about male relationships this paucity of female representation is hardly unexpected.

The world that Harrison has created for this story is startling in its clarity and depth. The technology, the big reveal, the language, religion, even the descriptions of landscape, sea and street are deft and convincing. It is a nice touch that Harrison prefaces sections of the book with quotations from archival texts from within the universe he’s created. Harrison has set up a world that could contain many more stories. We are not left with a cliff hanger so much as an open window looking out across a vista of real humans living real lives in which Harrison will find rich pickings for many more stories. I’ll be in line to read them, pattie buttie and chips in hand and wearing my ‘It’s Never Dull in Hull’ t-shirt. One request though, forget what the internet forums say: next time let’s have a map, eh lad?

 

Jeremy Shaw’s ‘Liminals’

jeremyJeremy Shaw’s Liminals can be seen at The Store Studios 180 The Strand, until 10th of December 2017. It is the first off-site exhibition by Berlin based KÖNIG Galerie and forms part of their recent expansion to London.

Liminals, a work of Vancouver-born artist Jeremy Shaw, takes the form of a fictional documentary made not more than a couple of decades into our future. From the narration, we reconstruct some of its historical context, although the focus of the documentary is on ‘periphery altruist cultures’. The Liminals are one such sub-cultural group, who are observed by the posited filmmakers with a detached fascination (and a style) reminiscent of the early 20th century ethnographies.

It is far from clear who is the intended audience, because humanity’s days, the documentary reveals, are numbered. Technology is to blame, specifically, choosing to let computation replace ritual. Kieslowski’s warning in the first episode of Decalogue against elevating computers above faith has clearly gone unheeded, and in 2024 all spiritual experiences are replaced by VR via a technological innovation called ‘The Unit’. ‘The Singularity Disaster’ follows in 2033, and soon after ‘The Announcement’ of ‘the countdown to extinction’ is made.

Amongst the general apathy that ensues, radical groups emerge, as they always do – observes the film’s narrator – during the Millenarian periods of history. The most radical of these groups believe that a possible salvation lies in the ideas of ‘pre-Unit’ science fiction writer Samuel Delany, specifically the paraspace:

a specific paraspace could serve as a transitory zone for humanity – an intermediate area between the physical and the virtual where a generative incubation period towards our next phase in evolution could take place. They refer to this paraspace as The Liminal.

The documentary is an exposition of the methods by which The Liminals are trying to reach that paraspace.

 

Book Reviews: ‘The Murders of Molly Southbourne’ and ‘Rosewater’ by Tade Thompson

mollyTade Thompson, whose novel Rosewater was reviewed in Vector earlier this year (see below), has just published a new work of fiction. The Murders of Molly Southbourne is set to appear on screen as well, which is not surprising given the beautifully harrowing images that the novel fosters. It is a work of science fiction which reads like a thriller. It might be bloodier than Cormac McCarthy, yet it has the sweetness of a coming-of-age romance. The emotional confrontation with one’s reading self that ensues (‘should I be enjoying this scene?’), as well as all other inner conflicts, are put into perspective by the novel’s narrative of self-destruction. The science-fictional world of Molly Southbourne is a combination of Cold War past and a low-fertility future. The latter is particularly refreshing given the dominance of overpopulation scenarios in both science fiction and everyday conversations. Tade Thompson’s medical and psychiatric knowledge is always put to good use in his novels, the characters are entirely plausible in their contradictions, and the science is internally consistent and evidently very carefully thought through.

Continue reading “Book Reviews: ‘The Murders of Molly Southbourne’ and ‘Rosewater’ by Tade Thompson”