It Doesn't Have To Be Right…

… it just has to sound plausible


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Books you must read: Omega, Christopher Evans

I’ve been a fan of Evans’ novels since reviewing his Aztec Century for Vector, the critical journal of the BSFA, back in 1993. His fiction is a literate, very British sort of sf, which doesn’t rely on flashy spectacle but on in-depth studies of their protagonists and their worlds. Omega, published in 2008 by PS Publishing and Evans’ first novel in more than a decade, is a case in point.

Owen Meredith is a maker of military history documentaries. One day while Christmas shopping with his wife and two daughters, a bomb explodes in Hamley’s. Meredith is outside and only injured in the blast, but his family are in the store and killed.

Major Owain Maredudd is an officer in an Allied army in a Britain that has been at war for over half a century. He had led a mission into enemy territory to test a new weapon, but something went wrong. Maredudd was the only survivor, and his memories of the mission are somewhat confused. As a result, he has been attached to his uncle’s staff. His uncle is the commander-in-chief of the allied forces in the UK and a member of the Joint Governing Council, the military junta that rules the Alliance. He is, in effect, the ruler of most of Europe.

When Meredith wakes in hospital after the bomb blast, he discovers first that at times he somehow inhabits Maredudd’s head, and so witnesses events in the major’s world. And secondly, Meredith’s memories of his life before the explosion don’t quite tally with the life he seems to now have. For a start, he is apparently in hospital because he was hit by a car while crossing the road. There was no bomb blast. And his wife left him several years before, taking the kids, and now lives in Australia.

As Meredith tries to figure out his life and pick up the pieces, so he comes to spend more time in Maredudd’s world. Maredudd himself is having his own problems as there seems to be something going on with his uncle to which he’s not privy but in which he is somehow involved. This is all to do with the secret weapon after which the book is titled. The Americans, once part of the Alliance, are apparently getting troublesome and the Omega weapon is intended to stop them.

Omega is not an easy book to do justice to. It’s an alternate history, inasmuch as part of the story is set in a world still embroiled in a world war. But it’s also much more than that. It’s a study of both Meredith and Maredudd, and their reactions to worlds they find it increasingly hard to fathom. While Meredith also has Maredudd’s world to explore, it’s implied that Maredudd is doing the same to Meredith. Certainly, there are periods when Meredith is strangely absent – though from others’ reactions it seems he continues to function as “normal”. The alternate UK is extremely well-drawn and very convincing, but it is the two protagonists who really carry the book. The writing is plain but elegant, the worlds of Meredith and Maredudd are portrayed with authority, and the novel is an engaging and surprisingly quick read.

I’m surprised Omega didn’t appear on any short-lists back in 2009. It’s certainly a better novel than the four that made it onto that year’s BSFA short-list – Aztec Century, incidentally, won the BSFA Award in 1994 – and it could have been a contender for the Clarke too. Recommended.


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Larry’s Year

2012 is the centenary of Lawrence Durrell’s birth and there are apparently a number of things happening to celebrate it, including a conference in June. In bloody London, of course. But never mind. Lawrence Durrell is my favourite writer – see here and here – and on a purely sentence-by-sentence level I believe there has been no finer writer in the English language. Since pootling along to events in London is not that easy for me, I shall have to mark the centenary in my own way.

And the obvious way to do that is to read his books.

So, sometime during 2012, I am going to reread The Alexandria Quartet. And then The Avignon Quintet. And then The Revolt of Aphrodite. But first I need to get hold of the omnibus editions, as they were “improved” slightly from the original individual editions. I shall also read Durrell’s poetry. And whatever other bits and pieces of his writing that catch my eye.

And I shall blog about it all, of course.

Due to ongoing projects, none of this is likely to start until after Easter. In the meantime, here’s a link to my review of Durrell’s first novel, Pied Piper of Lovers, from 1935. The novel is from 1935, that is; not my review. Enjoy.


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New Year, new books

It would have been nice if I could have made a New Year’s resolution to buy no books in 2012. But that was clearly impossible as there were a number of 2012 releases I wanted. I’ll just have to try and limit my purchases instead. Sadly, I’ve not been entirely successful in that regard – only one month into the year and look what’s been added to the bookshelves all ready…

Three new releases: Blue Remembered Earth, Alastair Reynolds, In the Mouth of the Whale, Paul McAuley, and Dark Eden, Chris Beckett.

Three for the collections: Homage to QWERTYUIOP, Anthony Burgess, which is signed; The Steel Albatross, an underwater thriller by Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter, which is also signed; and Selected Poems, Lawrence Durrell, from 1956, which is not signed.

Another of Jacques Tardi’s bande desinée: Like A Sniper Lining Up His Shot is an adaptation of a French thriller novel and pretty good. Mission to Mars is for the Spacebooks collection, and also for research for a short story.

A bunch of paperbacks from my father’s Penguin collection… Twilight in Italy is travel-writing, ‘À Propose of Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ and Other Essays is, er, non-fiction, and The Woman Who Rode Away is a short-story collection. I think I have quite a lot of Lawrence on the TBR now. JP Donleavy, on the other hand, I have never read before and know very little about – so I’ll give A Singular Man, The Destinies of Darcy Dancer, Gentleman, and The Onion Eaters a go. He doesn’t appear to be in print in this country anymore.

And more paperbacks from my father’s Penguin collection: another McCullers, The Mortgaged Heart, a collection, though I wasn’t that much taken with her The Member of the Wedding; a pair of Camuses (Cami? Camopodes?) Exile and the Kingdom and The Fall; and a collection of essays by Orwell, Decline of the English Murder. To the left is Sally Miller Gearhart’s The Wanderground, a Women’s Press sf paperback kindly donated to the SF Mistressworks collection by Una McCormack, for which much thanks.

And three non-fiction works from my father’s collection: The Fatal Englishman by Sebastian Faulks is biography, of a sort; Leavis’s The Great Tradition and The Common Pursuit are both literary criticism.

Two books for this year’s reading challenge – world fiction (see here): The Fat Years, Chan Koonchung, from China, and which you can see from the bookmark that I’m currently reading; and The Door, Magda Szabó, from Hungary. High-Rise joins the other nice 4th Estate paperback editions Ballards on my bookshelves.

Some science fiction… A pair of SF Masterworks: RUR & War with the Newts, Karel Capek, and Sirius, Olaf Stapledon. Colin Greenland’s Spiritfeather, one of the volumes from the four-book Dreamtime YA series published in 2000. There was a bit of a fad for Brit sf authors contributing to YA series at that time – not just Dreamtime, but also The Web, which boasted books by Stephen Baxter, Ken MacLeod, Peter F Hamilton, Eric Brown and Pat Cadigan. And, finally, Mission Child, Maureen McHugh, a charity shop find I plan to review for SF Mistressworks.

And here is The Monster Book for Girls, an anthology of dark fantasy and horror from theExaggeratedpress, which looks very nice indeed, but also…

… contains my story ‘Dancing the Skies’, which is the ATA/Spitfire story, which required much research on the Air Transport Auxiliary and WWII fighters and bombers.


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Films you must see: Red Psalm, directed by Miklós Janscó

I bunged Miklós Jancsó’s Red Psalm (1972) onto an order of Christmas presents at the beginning of December, though I can’t for the life of me remember why. I’d seen Janscó’s The Red And The White before – in June 2010, and wrote then that it was “definitely worth seeing” – but what possessed me to buy a Jancsó DVD is something of a mystery. Perhaps it was a review in Sight & Sound. No matter. I bought it. And now I’ve watched it.

I think I was expecting a paean to socialism when I put the DVD in the player. The title, and Jancsó’s politics, certainly suggest as much. Even the film’s original Hungarian title, Még kér a nép (The People Still Demand), fosters this impression. Except Red Psalm, while certainly a socialist film, is no paean. It is based upon a number of peasant uprisings in Hungary between 1890 and 1910, and melds these into a single extended dramatic piece – though it has no plot, no characters, and no dialogue per se.

There are the workers, represented by a group of young people in peasant costumes. And there are the authorities, represented variously by the rural police, a bailiff, the army, the local count, and a priest. Most of the cast have 1970s haircuts, which does make it look all a bit hippie. The film takes place at a rural farming community and the countryside surrounding it, though no effort is made to give the story any real sense of place.

The workers walk around, either singing folk songs (often with socialist lyrics) or making small speechlets about socialism. The soldiers and policemen also walk around (or ride around on horseback), trying to either intimidate or charm the workers. No one stands still, everyone moves. This “balletic” movement is a feature of Jancsó’s style. One soldier defects to the workers but is shot. Later, he reappears, as if resurrected. A worker is shot through the hand, but her wound becomes a red rosette. Later, all the workers wear such rosettes.

The local count attempts to explain the benefits of capitalism to the workers – though it is an unconvincing argument – but seems to die of a heart attack when his words fall on deaf ears. His wife subsequently attacks the workers with a whip. A priest exhorts the workers to obey the authorities, claiming it is the godly thing to do, but is forced back into his church, which is then set on fire.

Throughout Red Psalm, there is a sense of a story in continual evolution. Characters exchange roles, dialogue is declamatory or explanatory, but does not progress anything as bourgeois as a plot. At the end, the workers and soldiers come together to celebrate but, at a signal, the soldiers then separate, form a cordon about the workers… and massacre them. Tellingly, the cordon is in the shape of a heart.

But even that death is not final, as the workers later re-appear. And one takes a soldier’s gun, and then kills all the soldiers.

Red Psalm is an argument, framed in song, movement, political oratory and the interactions between opposing groups. If its young and good-looking cast make it appear more of a hippie film than a socialist one, it’s an illusion that is quickly dispelled. It’s perhaps not to everyone’s taste, but I thought it excellent and have even bought The Miklós Jancsó Collection box set. And I think more of Jancsó’s films should be released on DVD.


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Books you must read: The Bender, Paul Scott

There are comic novels and there are novels of wit. Some novels evince humour by describing ridiculous characters in ridiculous situations; others prefer to amuse through their use of language. Paul Scott’s The Bender (1963) is a novel of wit and its characters, while amusingly drawn, are not comic caricatures. There is also much in the novel that points to Scott’s Raj Quartet, a use of language, voice and narrative that presages The Jewel In The Crown and its sequels.

George Lisle-Spruce is a wastrel. A relative left him a legacy of £10,000, which he cannot touch. But it does provide him with an annual income of £400. Initially, this was more than enough to live on, but by the beginning of the 1960s, George is finding it increasingly hard to make ends meet on his monthly allowance. And now his brother, a successful accountant, wants repaying the £200 he lent George years before. George spent the War in Cairo, and was never in combat. Since then he’s never held down a proper job. He has some charm, but never really made the most of it. And this is despite the best efforts of his Aunt Clara – who is not really his aunt, but whose husband it was who left George his legacy.

The Bender is told from the points of view of George, Aunt Clara, a real aunt who is on her death-bed, brother Tim, and youngest brother Guy (an Angry Young Man, with a play that has been broadcast on television to critical acclaim). The repayment of Tim’s loan precipitates a crisis in George’s life – though it is exacerbated by Clara’s renewed meddling, Tim’s impending change of career, and Guy’s success.

The writing in The Bender is a delight. It’s witty, the voices are handled superbly – though, one, Guy’s hippie chick girlfriend, feels somewhat forced – and a section two-thirds of the way through astonishes with its seamless post-modern blending of narratives and voices. The novel is also a pitch-perfect evocation of time and place, and feels throughout like a 1960s British black and white film starring Dirk Bogarde. Aunt Clara is perhaps the most amusing character – a forceful and opinionated dowager, with old school views about class and ability, views she has a habit of setting forth on tape:

…the Grundig’s microphone in one hand and, in the other, one of the Floris chocolates for which her lunchtime liquid slimming diet always gave her an appetite…

The Raj Quartet are novels of consequence. While The Bender may be somewhat inconsequential, it reaffirms my admiration of Scott’s writing. Fortunately, I have many more of his books to read. Recommended.


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Women in sf reading challenge #10: City of Pearl, Karen Traviss

To be honest, I had not really expected to enjoy City of Pearl by Karen Traviss. From what I’d heard about the novel, it seemed the sort of science fiction I don’t especially like. And Traviss is known as an especially mercenary writer. No matter how talented she may be, such an attitude is unlikely to create works I would find appealing. Nonetheless, I picked the book as one of my dozen for my 2011 reading challenge, and though I may have slipped a little towards the end of last year, I had every intention of reading and blogging about the twelve listed novels.

And so I came to City of Pearl with, I admit, a few preconceptions. Some of them were indeed met, but I was surprised to find myself enjoying the novel more than I had expected.

Shan Frankland is a hard-as-nails police officer in a near-future in which corporations dominate ineffectual governments. All crops are genetically-engineered and trademark, such that no foodstuff can be grown without paying a license fee to a company. When Frankland is offered command of a mission to Earth’s only interstellar colony on Cavanagh’s Star’s second planet, she accepts the mission. But she doesn’t know exactly why, because whatever was told to her to persuade her to accept was part of a Suppressed Briefing, which only releases information into her memory in response to certain triggers.

The mission arrives at Cavanagh’s Star 2 and finds a situation it had not expected: a small low-tech human colony with an extremely small environmental footprint living under the aegis of an alien race, the wess’har. The aliens are actually native to Cavanagh’s Star 2′s twin planet, and are on Cavanagh’s Star 2 to protect that planet’s native squid-like aquatic race, the bezeri. Who had been almost polluted to extinction by a third alien race, the isenj, who had colonised the world. The wess’har wiped out the isenj colony, but now allow the humans to stay on sufferance. Aras is the wess’har responsible for the planet and its ecosystem, and he has been given this role because he has been infected by a native parasite, the c’naatat, which has made him immortal and almost impossible to kill.

Though Frankland tries to keep a tight leash on the scientific team she has brought to Cavanagh’s Star 2, they cavil at her restrictions and continually seek to subvert them. This makes tensions high within Frankland’s mission, a situation not helped by her high-handed and take-no-prisoners attitude. When a second starship from Earth turns up, having departed fifty years after the first, it seems Earth has formed an alliance with the idenj, who determined to take back Cavanagh’s Star 2. During a skirmish with the isenj, Frankland is mortally wounded, but Aras, who has come to value her, infects her with c’naatat. Now she can never return to Earth.

I liked Frankland, and the best parts of City of Pearl were the parts which focused on her. Unfortunately, the aliens are all single-note: the wess’har are literal and unbending, the bezeri are enigmatic, and the isenj are numerous. The scientists are all characterised as venal and selfish, and only the military characters appear to possess any redeeming virtues. The human colonists on Cavanagh’s Star 2 are treated like simple back-to-the-land peasants, and the novel makes little or no judgment on them or their way of life. A lot of City of Pearl is in Aras’ point of view, and he’s neither convincingly alien nor especially interesting.

There’s a fixity of views throughout City of Pearl which I found a little off-putting. The wess’har are very literal and do not compromise. Frankland is very much convinced her own opinion is always correct. The entire cast – with the exception of those Traviss villanises – are straight from the US mode of science fiction, with its Rational Competent Men. Though many in City of Pearl are actually women. Or alien. There’s no subtlety or complexity in the novel. The scientists are wrong, the isenj are wrong. And that’s it. I can see how such binary views might appeal to some readers, especially genre readers, since populist genre fiction seems incapable of psychological depth.

There are apparently a further five Wess’har books, but I’ll not be bothering to read them. While City of Pearl managed an interesting meld of near-future sf and space opera, it was too much like military sf in tone to really appeal to me. Traviss’s prose is readable and well-paced, though to be honest I kept reading more because I liked the character of Frankland than anything else.

Oh, and the titular city is the wess’har capital on their world, and it makes perhaps a half dozen appearances in the novel. Frankland visits it toward the end in order to seek permission from the wess’har elders to stay with Aras. It’s a somewhat peripheral element of the story with which to title it.


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The Marching Morons

To all the people who read Liz Bourke’s review on Strange Horizons of Michael J Sullivan’s Theft Of Swords, and didn’t like the review because:

a) historians should not review epic fantasy
b) “intellectuals” should not review epic fantasy
c) women should not review epic fantasy
d) a negative review will upset the author
e) a negative review will negatively impact the author’s sales
f) popularity and quality are the same thing, as any fule kno
g) bad prose is better than good prose, as is demonstrated by any best-seller list
h) taking quotes from the novel “out of context” would make any author’s prose look bad
i) you read the book and enjoyed it so it can’t be bad
j) the book is meant to be “fun” and “light reading” so it can’t be bad
k) a negative review is obviously not objective since you disagree with it

Congratulations. You are officially stupid. If you want to know why genre fiction is not taken seriously, go and look in the mirror.


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How to write a good review

First, see this review of Michael J Sullivan’s Theft Of Swords on Strange Horizons. See its long comment thread. This post is not aimed at Liz Bourke, who has written an excellent review of what is plainly a bad book. This post is for some of the commenters on that thread, who clearly don’t understand what a review is for, or how a book is reviewed.

1 A dishonest review is a bad review.
2 Not all books are good.
3 It’s not just good books that deserve reviews.
4 If a book is a bad book, it’s dishonest not to say so.
5 If a book is not a good book, it’s dishonest to refuse to review it.
6 Books can be bad for a number of reasons; most of those reason are a result of failure of craft.
7 Reviews are not written for the author of the book being reviewed; their audience is potential readers of the book being reviewed.
8 A good review is not opinion because it will contain evidence supporting its assertions.
9 Whether or not a reviewer enjoyed a book is completely meaningless, since enjoyment is unrelated to quality and is entirely subjective.
10 A review does not have to meet the expectations of people who have read the book being reviewed.
11 A review is based on a critical read of a book; this means the reviewer has probably put a lot more thought into their reading of it than you have.
12 If you come across a negative review of a book you thought was good but you did not read the book in question critically, then you are not qualified to comment on the review’s findings.


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Meme! The Nobel Prize of Literature

A new meme. Cool. This one is the Nobel Prize for Literature winners meme. I took this list from Larry’s OF Blog of the Fallen. You know the rules: bold if you’ve read anything by the author, italicize if it’s on the TBR.

2011 Tomas Tranströmer
2010 Mario Vargas Llosa
2009 Herta Müller
2008 Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio
2007 Doris Lessing
2006 Orhan Pamuk
2005 Harold Pinter
2004 Elfriede Jelinek
2003 John M Coetzee
2002 Imre Kertész
2001 Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul
2000 Gao Xingjian
1999 Günter Grass
1998 José Saramago
1997 Dario Fo
1996 Wislawa Szymborska
1995 Seamus Heaney
1994 Kenzaburo Oe
1993 Toni Morrison
1992 Derek Walcott
1991 Nadine Gordimer
1990 Octavio Paz
1989 Camilo José Cela
1988 Naguib Mahfouz
1987 Joseph Brodsky
1986 Wole Soyinka
1985 Claude Simon
1984 Jaroslav Seifert
1983 William Golding
1982 Gabriel García Márquez
1981 Elias Canetti
1980 Czeslaw Milosz
1979 Odysseus Elytis
1978 Isaac Bashevis Singer
1977 Vicente Aleixandre
1976 Saul Bellow
1975 Eugenio Montale
1974 Eyvind Johnson, Harry Martinson
1973 Patrick White
1972 Heinrich Böll
1971 Pablo Neruda
1970 Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn
1969 Samuel Beckett
1968 Yasunari Kawabata
1967 Miguel Angel Asturias
1966 Shmuel Yosef Agnon, Nelly Sachs
1965 Mikhail Aleksandrovich Sholokhov
1964 Jean-Paul Sartre
1963 Giorgos Seferis
1962 John Steinbeck
1961 Ivo Andric
1960 Saint-John Perse
1959 Salvatore Quasimodo
1958 Boris Leonidovich Pasternak
1957 Albert Camus
1956 Juan Ramón Jiménez
1955 Halldór Kiljan Laxness
1954 Ernest Hemingway
1953 Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill
1952 François Mauriac
1951 Pär Fabian Lagerkvist
1950 Earl (Bertrand Arthur William) Russell
1949 William Faulkner
1948 Thomas Stearns Eliot
1947 André Paul Guillaume Gide
1946 Hermann Hesse
1945 Gabriela Mistral
1944 Johannes Vilhelm Jensen
1943 No Nobel Prize was awarded this year.
1942 No Nobel Prize was awarded this year.
1941 No Nobel Prize was awarded this year.
1940 No Nobel Prize was awarded this year.
1939 Frans Eemil Sillanpää
1938 Pearl Buck
1937 Roger Martin du Gard
1936 Eugene Gladstone O’Neill
1935 No Nobel Prize was awarded this year.
1934 Luigi Pirandello
1933 Ivan Alekseyevich Bunin
1932 John Galsworthy
1931 Erik Axel Karlfeldt
1930 Sinclair Lewis
1929 Thomas Mann
1928 Sigrid Undset
1927 Henri Bergson
1926 Grazia Deledda
1925 George Bernard Shaw
1924 Wladyslaw Stanislaw Reymont
1923 William Butler Yeats
1922 Jacinto Benavente
1921 Anatole France
1920 Knut Pedersen Hamsun
1919 Carl Friedrich Georg Spitteler
1918 No Nobel Prize was awarded this year.
1917 Karl Adolph Gjellerup, Henrik Pontoppidan
1916 Carl Gustaf Verner von Heidenstam
1915 Romain Rolland
1914 No Nobel Prize was awarded this year.
1913 Rabindranath Tagore
1912 Gerhart Johann Robert Hauptmann
1911 Count Maurice (Mooris) Polidore Marie Bernhard Maeterlinck
1910 Paul Johann Ludwig Heyse
1909 Selma Ottilia Lovisa Lagerlöf
1908 Rudolf Christoph Eucken
1907 Rudyard Kipling
1906 Giosuè Carducci
1905 Henryk Sienkiewicz
1904 Frédéric Mistral, José Echegaray y Eizaguirre
1903 Bjørnstjerne Martinus Bjørnson
1902 Christian Matthias Theodor Mommsen
1901 Sully Prudhomme

Not a very good showing, I’m afraid. Only half a dozen read; though I have more sitting on the TBR – and in several cases, multiple books by those authors.


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Your world will not be my world

I think it was Orson Scott Card who wrote in an essay in Asimov’s back in the 1990s that any future of consequence would be American. That assertion was debatable then – if not offensively arrogant – but the world has changed a great deal in the past twenty years, making’s Card’s boast even less likely. And yet still I see contemporary sf novels in which Planet Earth seems to be either monoculturally US-ian, or contains worlds extrapolated from present US society.

Science fiction is chiefly a white, male, middle-class genre and is dominated by the USA, and so its sensibilities and concerns are typically those which confirm the prejudices of that demographic. But not always, of course – back in 1991, William Barton and Michael Capobianco’s Fellow Traveler was set in a future Soviet space programme; in 2012, Alastair Reynolds’ Blue Remembered Earth opens in a future where “Africa is the dominant technological and economic power” and follows the fortunes of an African family. (There is no mention in the blurb, however, of which African nation the family are from – Africa is, after all, as monocultural as Europe: ie, not at all; and since we’d say French or German or Polish or Swedish, we shouldn’t be saying “African”.)

Photo taken by Columbia Space Shuttle

In reference to the near-future, sf has maintained some degree – though it could be greatly improved – of diversity of setting and cast. But anything set further hence usually devolves to the white, Western, Anglophone, vaguely US, vaguely right-wing default world carried over from the genre’s early beginnings. There’s no good reason for this. True, the US still performs much of the tentpole science, but not exclusively. The LHC is in Switzerland; the Soviets had a space station before the Americans; the Chinese may well be the first to set foot on Mars. Many nations have space agencies – indeed, out of the twenty-two past and present ESA astronauts, only one speaks English as a first language.

Even looking at the cyclical nature of empires suggests that US hegemony will no longer exist in any recognisable form by the middle of this century. Then there’s everyday technology and its uses. Such as surveillance. The US provides no good model for any future society in this regard. If anything, looking at the UK would be more useful. Twenty-five percent of the world’s CCTV cameras are in the UK. It is the most-surveillanced nation on the planet. Yet we don’t especially much care about the fact we’re always being watched. US ideas of privacy exist only in the US, and the US attitude to video surveillance does not map onto British sensibilities. It is likely that, as surveillance becomes more pervasive and ubiquitous, it is the UK attitude to it which will prevail.

Europe is also, of course, defiantly not monocultural. Its twenty-seven member states speak twenty-three official languages. Back in the day, Harry Harrison may have thought Earth, and hence any subsequent interstellar polity, might uniformly adopt an artificial language, but even the language he chose, Esperanto, has never been used routinely by more than an estimated one million people. India, a single nation, has no national language but recognises twenty-two regional languages (although the SIL Ethnologue lists 415 spoken throughout the country). History has shown that languages come to dominate areas as a result of conquest, religion, trade, or cultural imperialism; and often from a combination of all four. But that, obviously, does not mean that their dominance remains eternal: Arabic is no longer spoken in Spain, for example.

All of which suggests that science fiction has changed very little from the days of Amazing Stories, especially in regards to its in-built attitudes and sensibilities. The tropes it has developed over the generations have become shortcuts and defaults. It’s not just those galactic empires of whitebread worlds, but the technology and science and their uses. Can’t be bothered to figure out how spaceflight really works? Bung in some “thrusters” and “inertial compensators”. Can’t be bothered to design a plausible future? Just make it like the US, but with neat toys. It’s authorial laziness. Writing stories that not only cater to the prejudices of a perceived market but actively reinforce those prejudices is not something a genre which boasts of its inventiveness and transgressive achievements should be doing.

Mundane SF was seen by many genre fans as throwing the baby out with the bathwater – it’s the wildly improbably stuff like aliens and time travel which can be the most fun. But at least Mundane SF required its adherents to focus on the basics. You couldn’t just make shit up, you couldn’t just slot in those neat ideas from Tropes  R Us, you couldn’t just pretend that interstellar travel was like air travel of today or sea travel of earlier decades. You had to think about the world of your story, not just pin a few baubles on the default setting. Sadly, Mundane SF is little more than a Wikipedia entry these days, but let’s hope it had some effect on the genre.

And let’s hope that Blue Remembered Earth, the first of a trilogy, is the start of a new movement in science fiction to break away from white middle-class Anglophone futures, a move towards more plausible and more representative world-building. Let’s hope Alastair Reynold’s new novel helps pave the way to a more adult and thoughtful genre. After all, if we want to take be taken seriously by non-genre writers, we shouldn’t bitch and moan about being ill-treated, we should show them that we can be as good as they are. We’ll only ever be taken seriously if we up our game.

And we need to start doing that right now.

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