Hrm, just realized that I’ve inadvertently titled these articles “Science-Fiction Fiction Round Up.” Does that mean that I should be discussing fiction about science-fiction; meta-fiction where the fiction is written about fictional fiction (by aliens! or robots from the future!)? Is my post itself is fictional? This requires further pondering. While I do that, you read up on what books to pick up or avoid as we say buh-bye to Summer.Having been burned by Catching Fire (ZING! “Burned!” Get it?! HA! HA! HA! H-…OK, I’ll stop now.), I decided to try another author who seems to have gained some ground in the “quirky sci-fi” category, China Mieville. First up was his latest, Kraken. It’s a labyrinthine tale of a decidedly unremarkable museum docent tossed into a hidden, mystical London sub-culture where he and his preserved giant squid are the keys to stopping (or maybe starting) a coming Apocalypse. I loved the concept, though I was a little wary of too much Cthulu creeping into my reading diet (having just finished The Mall of Cthulhu, a mildly enjoyable, but altogether forgettable Cthulu tale). Turns out I need not have worried. There are squid cults in here, and the Old One does get name-dropped early on; but only so that Mieville can dismiss this pedestrian concept and replace it with something even more batshit. You see that picture up there? You see that smug look on his face? If you think he looks like an arrogant college kid who dismisses criticism because people aren’t evolved enough to “understand his art,” you wouldn’t be too far off. Mieville revels in introducing quirky scenarios and characters and, instead of fleshing them out, swiping them to the floor with a grand gesture and plopping down something even more incomprehensible. What you’re left with is a book full of half-formed ideas, writhing together in an indistinguishable mass (much like the titular Kraken). The other Mieville book I tried, Perdido Street Station, is more of the same; more so, even, since it’s more “traditional” sci-fi, taking place far from Earth (though London obviously informs the setting) and doesn’t have to bother with the familiar at all. I couldn’t get through the first 100 pages. After following around an “arteest” with a bug for a head (not a “bug-headed girl,” mind you, but a girl with a complete giant beetle for a head; the former is, again, far too pedestrian) for about 3 chapters and getting nowhere except deeper into the “Look at this needlessly complex piece of crap that has spewed forth from my brain! Oh! Look! Here’s another! WHAT DOES IT MEEEEAAAAAAN?!” I decided that Mieville was far too clever for his own good and left him to his own devices.
So at this point I’m zero-for-four and starting to wonder if maybe I shouldn’t just run back to the pages of Gibson and Simmons. But no! I must press on and find new and exciting authors! Stones will not be left unturned! Asteroids will not be unexplored! That’s no moon! A recommendation trickled down the pipe for The Unincorporated Man by the Kollins Brothers. I immediately fell in love with the concept: after 300 years, a man is revived only to discover that our entire economic system has crumbled and that people subsist by incorporating themselves, with their “shareholders” determining the course of their life (depending on how much of you they own). It started out strong as well. The first few chapters concern themselves heavily with the practical implications of self-ownership and how resurrection is handled in a society where death and illness are inconveniences rather than a show-stoppers. Then the Kollins boys pulled a bait and switch on me. While the characters negotiated a deal at a pawn shop, they morphed into talking heads and delivered a little back and forth lesson on theoretical economics. At that point, I realized I was reading a book far different from the one I signed up for. Sadly, the pattern kept repeating as they went to Firenze and had pizza, and then again, and again, and again. Finally I put it down, realizing that I’d blundered into, not a work of hard science fiction, but an Economic Theory textbook with sci-fi trappings. Granted, my MBA friend couldn’t put it down; but then he’s already a special kind of crazy, so I’d expect him to lurv it.
So is there hope? Was there anything at the end of the summer to redeem my five-book strike out? Oh, there was. There was indeed. But you’ll just have to wait for a bit to find out what.