The past two months have brought some fucking fantastic science fiction into my life. Today I’ve brought you flash reviews of three of my recent favorites. Ever read any of them? Do it now. Your brain will thank you.
Embassytown by China Miéville
While Embassytown isn’t a particularly fast-paced book—the focus in the middle third on big-picture politics drags—it is full of ideas you could put on a plate and eat. All language geeks please report to Embassytown immediately.
On a planet at the edge of the known universe people live alongside beings (Hosts) who use two voices simultaneously to speak, and who cannot lie. Words are the things. Without the things, and thus the words, they cannot even conceive of certain concepts. For example, the concept that one-voiced humans are people or can speak. I loved the philosophical questions of this book, and after a sweet, exciting, and ultimately uplifting ending, I forgave its middle for being a drag. Too bad Miéville isn’t the type to write 15-part space operas because I want more, more of the side stories casually mentioned, more of the past, more of the future.
Bellwether by Connie Willis
Sandra Foster is trying to find the source of the Bob (the haircut, not the person). A statistician specializing in fads, she works at corporate science’s equivalent of Initek. Dr. O’Reilly, a man apparently immune to fads, is trying to find the source of the Nile. In the name of chaos theory. Or was. Now he’s at HiTek, struggling alongside Sandra in a battle against 68-page forms, management acronyms, sensitivity training, and a department assistant determined to do anything but her job. When O’Reilly loses his funding thanks to a botched copying job, he and Sandra combine their projects with a flock of sheep. Don’t ask. It will only make sense if you read the book, which I recommend that you do.
It’s satire! It’s fun! There are interesting facts about fads in history littered throughout the book! I laughed a bunch! Sheep are dumb! So are fads! Hahaha! Go Connie Willis!
Flip, the aforementioned assistant, felt like a straw man at first: a flat, annoying character added in the name of comic relief, in the way of Doomsday Book‘s Mrs. Gaddson. But Flip—and just about everything else Willis mentions in the text—turns out to be a more meaningful player in this tight, funny, sweetly romantic (Dr O’Reilly and Dr. Foster, sitting in a tree?) story. The only reason that I didn’t give it ALL the Goodreads stars (in case you’re following me there) was because I was uncertain if the humor would hold up to repeat re-reading. Otherwise, a light but thoughtful gem.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
I loved this book almost as much as I loved Bellwether, which is to say, a lot. The style and the narrator were so easy to fall into, and the few times it made me laugh I laughed hard and not because of an obvious joke, but a hilariously dry observation. (My favorite kind.) I loved the characters, the twists, the tangents (a lost wooden puppet comes to mind), the tone, and the conclusions.
The science in We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is a mix of psychology and primate research, while the fiction is a story about a fucked up family and the subjectivity of memory. I went into this knowing it had received a lot of praise, but not knowing a lot about the story, and I think that might be the best way. Don’t read any fucking articles about it because a lot of them like to give away one of the early, but delightful twists.
Completely unexpected and surprisingly well-handled were the novel’s depicted of ALF (Animal Liberation Front), an animal rights group with a humane mission but whose brand of direct action tends to get pressed as terrorism. That this book would have something to say about the ethics of animal testing, and that it would say it in a way that didn’t make my eyes roll, was a pleasant and welcome surprise.