i read this on the plane, and now i feel the need to lay off the sugar. Reader fatigue is real; we cant put off reading the classics until we’re older and wiser. There’s no more time for mass market genre novels! THE ABYSS meets THE SHINING the blurb says. The plot also brought to mind SOLARIS (conscious entity probes the characters’ ids and manifests people and things), Peter Watts’s STARFISH (spooky hijinks in deep underwater facility), John Carpenter’s THE THING (sentient blood and a little spider monster dude). It was…pretty okay?, ridden with cliches, none of the characters is all that compelling, but it is savagely bleak and hopeless — i admire any story that refuses to pull up from the nose dive.
The second rip of Burroughs’s Nova Trilogy has left my brain blown apart into discrete pieces before being pasted back together like the collage of consciousness presented in the book — which is to say i dont know where to begin. (The beginning of the book, in a slightly different version than my edition’s text, can be heard aloud from the author here.)
There might be at least three global catastrophes involving the mass combustion of the Earth, a Lovecraftian or Event Horizon-esque descent into violence and depravity and madness among the human population, and the swift destruction of all language leaving silence in its wake. There’s also a brief scene of a boiler explosion on a ship. There’s an odd Biological Court bureaucracy in which lawyers fold-in their reports with pages from Kafka. We learn a bit about the elusive Nova Mob, opposed by a righteous Nova Police Agency. A noir story in outer space is spliced in with newspaper articles, Shakespeare, THE GREAT GATSBY, Conrad, and Joyce’s DUBLINERS (typically the final words). Although NOVA EXPRESS is often listed as the third book, Oliver Harris’s introduction informs us that it is in fact the middle volume, although it’s also the third book of a trilogy including NAKED LUNCH and THE SOFT MACHINE, which is explicitly acknowledged in the text. Nothing’s ever straight with W S. B.
James Tiptree Jr.’s novelette “The Women Men Don’t See” has not gotten any less relevant or interesting since 1973 — at least that’s my impression.
Our narrator is some middle aged d00d who seems to work for the government. He has crashed with a Maya pilot and two plain women, mother and daughter. With the mother, Ruth Parson, he crosses the bay, a mangrove swamp, for freshwater. It’s a first-person present tense narration, even though he’s situated in the future recalling the narrative. It keeps the reader a little off-kilter, much like he is in this sweltering jungle, with an injury, and on painkillers. His descriptions of the plane, the weather, and the environment are precise — he understands everything around him except the women, naturally.
In Octavia Butler’s “Speech Sounds,” a pandemic virus has swept the globe, killing a huge amount of people and leaving survivors permanently brain-damaged. The language center is hit hardest — some people can no longer form speech, others are illiterate. Our protagonist Rye used to be a teacher but she can no longer read, and the sickness has wiped out her entire immediate family. She can speak, but it’s not safe to verbalize in this post-virus Los Angeles where appearing “superior” draws the violence of envious strangers.
It’s a rollicking story, entirely action-driven. And it’s an interesting take on the post-apocalypse — the collapse of civilization and the loss of all advanced technology determines the setting, but the focus of the story is the loss of less concrete things. We aren’t used to seeing money or language as technologies, but if these constructs go, we can see how everything else will go after it. How do you employ language to relate the events in such a world? Butler makes really cool decisions in narration and detail, and on the first reading i flew right past their cleverness.
[CN: transmisogyny, anti-black racism]
A while back i saw a tumblr post about how LORD OF THE FLIES cant testify to human nature since it was all boys, and that if a group of schoolgirls had crash landed on an island things would have worked out a lot better, and a response brought BEAUTY QUEENS to my attention. The point is actually directly addressed in the middle of the novel, and indeed things do go quite better than the one with the conch shell.
“Queers Destroy Science Fiction!” is a special issue of LIGHTSPEED featuring nothing but LGBTQ sf. At only 4 bucks for 500 pages and change of shorts, flash fics, interviews, and essays, im diving in. ive had great luck with queer sf. i especially have to recommend BENDING THE LANDSCAPE co-edited by Nicola Griffith, which has a piece called “Dance at the Edge” that was just beautifully written.
This post will journal the original print stories with links to the ones hosted online. An asterisk * denotes an extra good read.