I was happy to expand my literary horizons through these samples from a decidedly non-mainstream speculative series. “Good things come in small packages,” goes the old saying, and there’s no shortage of humongous talent here.
In effortlessly elegant and comic prose, The Plotinus probes the impulses and desires that bring joy to human life while, at the same time, upending literary conventions that contemporary readers may take as immutable truths. As though she were playing with us from the title, she signals an exploration of The Plot In Us.
Isle of Dogs is full of densely plotted, exciting political intrigue and violence. But Frankel is at best when writing about the intimacies of daily life which persevere in this new world–a meal made with food grown at a garden, a woman’s relief at putting a baby to a full breast, a man picking up his child before going to work.
His worlds are full of anomalies that draw on real-life quantum quirks, cosmic paradoxes and biological anomalies, and his aliens are both delightfully bizarre and yet somehow plausible. He is a writer who knows his sci-fi tropes well enough to twist them into a Möbius strip and take them to new places while still providing plenty of easter eggs to keen readers of the genre.
The book opens like a cracked mirror to our modern society, but it’s not quite a dystopia. The key twist in the book is so good I will resist the urge to signal it, but there are many twists in the book, moving across a terrain which takes on any number of possible futures displayed simultaneously, with humour, precision, and a poetic grace so smooth it’s easy to glide over its surface on a first reading.
Like the best sci fi writers, Bell doesn’t hesitate to draw out the parallels between her futuristic world and our own, using the imaginary to highlight the all-too-real. What is also obvious is that there are some aspects of life that are core to happiness, no matter the context: love, empathy, and care.
Paolini has successfully crossed-over into the sci fi realm and it’s obvious he’s done his physics homework, utilising existing science and scientific theories in a way that would make Arthur C Clark proud. The work displays a great deal of creative ingenuity, with well-developed and interesting aliens (who are neither like ET nor like super-humans), witty spacecraft banter, all sorts of fun technologies, a super fast-paced plot line that is deeply engaging—this is an easy-read— and description that is often poetic, charged by an obvious love of astronomy.
A Superior Spectre is deftly constructed piece of literature. It sits shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the greats. Thematically it is a worthy companion-piece to Angela Carter’s The Passion of New Eve. Structurally it folds like the origami of Italio Calvino’s If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler, and Jennifer Egan’s The Keep. Stylistically it employs some of the fuzzy voice of China Mieville’s This Census Taker, where the who and when of the narrator becomes blended and circular.
In Ivory, Goldstein has created a place that exists only on its own terms. There is no bridge or overlap; Ivy’s different lives exist side by side. She moves from one to the other with little effort because no effort is necessary. Ivy is able to deal with the chaos that comes with the talent attractive to a muse.
Callie’s character is very insightful and from her perspective in the book, she describes the world with similes and personifications, creating and painting beautiful or terrible images. It shows the world in all its beauty and horror through the words on a page, but seems so much more than that.