Wesley Chu’s debut is a pedestrian SF thriller about centuries-old aliens fighting a war through human bodies. Not only is it utterly uninterested in engaging with the philosophical ramifications of its premise, it’s got weird gender politics, a creepy romance and aliens claiming all of humanity’s greatest achievements. Avoid.
(Content warning for loss of personal autonomy.)
Space Opera, Catherynne M. Valente
A new Valente novel, and the second Hitchhiker riff I’ve read this year: humanity’s singing for its life in the galactic version of Eurovision. A meditation on what counts as sentience and the transcendent power of pop music. Fun and fabulous, but a little…slight for Valente.
Sisyphean, Dempow Torishima, trans. Daniel Huddleston
A series of decidedly organic short stories, all set in the same far-future transhumanist world, told in prose riddled with neologisms and portmanteaux; like The Quantum Thief except ultimately more schematic and less playful. It’s all founded on grim ideas about capitalist and institutional exploitation of natural (including human) resources.
Ninefox Gambit, Yoon Ha Lee
In Ninefox Gambit, a tyrannous far-future regime maintains control of reality-bending weapons by enforcing a consensus reality through torture and murder. Captain Kel Cheris is sent to put down a nascent democracy. It’s space opera that doesn’t infodump – and that doesn’t let you forget the humanity of its casualties.
Life Isn’t All Ha Ha Hee Hee, Meera Syal
Life Isn’t All Ha Ha Hee Hee follows four Indian women in London, tracing their friendships and their romantic entanglements over a year. It’s a novel about culture clash and the weight of parental expectation. Like life, Syal’s writing is lyrical, lush, with the sting of realism in its tail.
The Dark Tower, dir. Nikolaj Arcel
Nikolaj Arcel’s adaptation of Stephen King’s epic Dark Tower series is delightful for fans, but also objectively not very good. Casting Idris Elba as the white-coded Roland is a genuinely interesting choice, but unlike the series the film’s derivative and poorly characterised, and cuts all of King’s complex female characters.
Word count: 50
The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin
The Dispossessed is all world-building. It’s about an anarchist society on a near-desert planet – think Utopia but without the kyriarchy. It’s as much a thought experiment as (e.g.) Asimov’s short stories are, but Le Guin’s writing and her characterisation are lovelier than his. The last line is perfect.
Master and Commander, Patrick O’Brian
Set during the Napoleonic Wars, Master and Commander follows hot-headed Captain Aubrey as he hunts enemy ships. A meticulously-researched comedy of manners, the novel’s interested in the social structures of the time. Published in 1969, it’s essentially conservative, centring a white man, but does feature a gay man and POCs.
Word count: 50
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N.K. Jemisin
Epic fantasy featuring a WOC protagonist caught up in the court intrigues of colonialist overlords. There’s also a polyamorous incestuous pantheon and a matriarchy: this is epic fantasy reimagined, and I liked it! Jemisin looks at oppressive structures of power and how few choices everyone has under them.
I’ll be doing these all through November, because NaNoWriMo.
High-Rise, J.G. Ballard
High-Rise is about a super-high-rise tower, designed as a self-sufficient vertical city, whose inhabitants all go a bit Lord of the Flies. A seminal text for thinking about the social effects of architecture and city planning, but content notes for gender essentialism, sexual violence, animal cruelty and general gore.
Word count: 49