Tag: Tachyon

Pirate Utopia – Bruce Sterling

Bruce Sterling’s Pirate Utopia is a delightful and odd read. It is a fine work of alternate history focused on a particularly odd time in a little-known city in Europe after the Great War. Because the story of Fiume is so obscure (or, at least was completely unknown to me prior to reading Pirate Utopia), it reads more like historical fantasy than alternate history, and had me pausing regularly to look up people and places I’d never heard of before.

The Free State of Fiume (which is now Rijeka, in Croatia) was an incredible experiment, a strange city-state on the Adriatic run by artists and revolutionaries who were looking toward the future. From the ooze that was the meeting of minds and cultures, drugs and uncertainty, came ideas of socialism, fascism, and anarcho-syndicalism (wherein workers form syndicates in which they control their industrial manufactories; power of the collective in influencing economy and society, etc.). From the moment Fiume declared its independence, it was fought over by its denizens. The four-year experiment ended when Italy decided to annex Fiume in 1924, but the exiled government of Fiume rejected the exile and continued to function, despite the whole affair fizzling out, only to resurface briefly after WWII. Fiume is a fascinating piece of history, well worth examination if this kind of history is your cup of tea.

But I’m not here to talk about the actual history of Fiume. I’m here to talk about Pirate Utopia.

Sterling’s writing conjured an amalgam of Miyazaki (particularly because of Porco Rosso, which is set in the Adriatic) and The Triplets of Belleville, for its surreality and darkness. It’s a book driven not by plot but by character and setting, which have enough going for them to make it a riveting read. The cast have deeply held principles, they’re people of action, deep thinkers, artists, revolutionaries!

But they’re also absurd, in their own way. In a gratifying way. They’re almost caricatures, but I don’t think they’d be that far off from the real thing, given the immense shifts in technology and thought taking place in the twenties. What must it have been like, to be on tons of cocaine and working on radio-controlled weapons and casting down the archaic notions of the past, forging on to a future lit by the fires of industry and war? The thought is intoxicating to some of the characters, even more than the intoxicants themselves.

Pirate Utopia is strange fiction about a time and zeitgeist that may be stranger than the fiction itself. It made me want to discover other odd spandrels left by massive leaps and changes in the world. Was there ever a similar free state nestled in the Americas? In Eurasia? In Africa? Things like Cargo Cults in the pacific, the strange results of colliding culture and knowledge…that’s what Pirate Utopia piqued in my mind.

So, absolutely get this book. Then, maybe join me in a deep dive through Wikipedia to find more cool moments in history.

Pirate Utopia is available on Amazon and from Tachyon Publications.

Summerlong – Peter S. Beagle

Peter S. Beagle is best known for writing The Last Unicorn, which I haven’t read but heard of time and again as childhood-defining. For what it’s worth, I tried watching the animated feature but was vetoed by the other denizens of my household. I shall try another time, and crack open the copy of The Last Unicorn currently sitting on my shelf in due time.

Knowing only about Unicorn was insufficient preparation for reading Beagle’s recent novel, Summerlong, published by Tachyon Publications in September of last year. I made assumptions about what Summerlong would be based on nothing, and that is a huge disservice to what is an extraordinary novel.

Summerlong is on the outer fringes of fantasy, more a story of modern slipstream fiction like something by Haruki Murakami. It’s the kind of book where the boundaries of reality slowly erode and the characters’ realities unravel in consonance with the surreal.

In the case of Summerlong, a complicated-but-functional family on an island in the Puget Sound. A middle-aged couple, Abe and Joanna, have a straightforward life which is rocked by the arrival of Lioness Lazos, a mysterious young woman who enchants the couple completely.

With Lioness’s arrival, the unraveling begins on both macro and micro scales, from strange weather to bizarre animal appearances and children who can pull full-grown flowers from deep in the earth.

The story itself is excellent, full of emotion and tension, action and introspection, character and mystery. But the writing itself is so damn good that even if the plot was weak this would be a fantastic read. Beagle’s language is sophisticated but relatable, his characters bleeding through every word, every carefully placed comma, and the spaces between. Their pain and hope and love and confusion suffuse the text so completely that I achieved that sought-after state of readvana, wherein you look up from a book and you aren’t sure what life is, who you are, or what anything is.

I was enchanted by this book. I was transported, surprised, and amazed by it. If I had read a synopsis of it, I may have passed on it altogether, which would have been a terrible loss. It’s books like Summerlong that are defining points in a budding writer’s journey, where you read something and say “I want to be able to do that.”

Summerlong is available on Amazon and directly from Tachyon.

Falling in Love with Hominids – Nalo Hopkinson

tumblr_inline_o1d3hgmGfs1s0669x_1280I’ve been fortunate, over the last year or so, to have had my horizons expanded as a reader. For a while, my bread and butter were long-form fantasy epics, or space operas dealing with political games and good-versus-evil as a central theme. Don’t get me wrong; I love those books still, and they can get plenty “deep” to satisfy any curious soul. But the more I read short fiction and speculative fiction like Nalo Hopkinson’s Falling in Love with Hominids (published by Tachyon), the more convinced I feel of the power of science fiction and fantasy to tell deeply human stories with the capacity to elicit change.

The term “visionary fiction,” introduced by the editors of Octavia’s Brood, has stuck with me, and it’s appropriate that I followed up that collection with the spectacular fiction of Nalo Hopkinson. It shares many of the visionary qualities of the stories in Octavia’s Brood, and Hopkinson’s writing is outstanding.

The title of Falling in Love with Hominids is a nod to Cordwainer Smith, a sci-fi author from the Golden Age of Bradbury whose works were an inspiration to Hopkinson and many other authors. The title is also personal to Hopkinson, which she outlines in her introduction to the collection. As a child, she was not the biggest fan of humanity—a sentiment many of us share when we’re confronted by the tremendous darkness and evil our species is capable of—but as she grew older, she began to appreciate (and even love) humans for our boundless creativity and capacity for good.

As such, the stories in Hominids occupy varied spaces on the spectrum of human goodness and darkness. There’s the pain and alienation of the transition into adolescence, the odd biology of beginning relationships as told by orchids, the magic of belief, the desire to fly away from bullies. They’re beautifully written, and as different from each other as can be—which makes sense, since all but one of the stories was published over the last decade-or-so. It’s a testament to Hopkinson’s raw skill with words; a few of the stories, in particular one dealing with “The Elephant in the Room” (you’ll get the joke when you read it, which you absolutely should), were sparked by a challenge, the desire to take a reader by surprise, or to not allow them the time to recover from an oddity too outrageous to believe.

Falling in Love With Hominids is yet another extraordinary collection of short stories that is well worth your time and rapt attention. The writing is beautiful, the message important, and its delivery is page-turning. Not only that, but as with all short fiction collections, it’s perfect for those of you who are only able to read a bit here and there. Do yourself a favor and pick up Falling in Love with Hominids. You won’t regret it.

Falling in Love is Hominids is available from Tachyon and Amazon. (Using the Amazon link helps support the Warbler!)

Central Station – Lavie Tidhar

central-stationI thought it would be difficult to find a book at good as Hannu Rajaniemi’s Collected Fiction this year, but Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station, also published by Tachyon, has overtaken it for the top spot in my list this year. By a tiny margin.

For me, Central Station was more than a good—or even great—book. It was an important book, for several reasons. The first is that it is some advanced science fiction that breaks through a number of barriers in the genre, which I’ll dig into below. The second is that it was written by an Israeli author and takes place in Tel Aviv.

Representation in speculative fiction has been a hot topic for the last few years, and I’ve been rather appalled by the backlash in some areas of the community at the idea of  diversity in sci-fi and fantasy. I love reading fiction precisely because of the extraordinary opportunity it provides to ride behind the eyes of an Other, to have fleeting moments where the world falls away and I experience the impossible, or at least the highly improbable. The things I cannot experience in this reality. To expand my emotional vocabulary.

But I hadn’t thought much about how the issue of personal representation in genre fiction affected me until reading the synopsis of Central Station. Science fiction often features religion, entirely fabricated or otherwise, but Jews are often underrepresented, or misrepresented when they do appear. From the new testament to Shylock to Dune’s Jews, it suffices to say that we have had a rough go of it inside and outside the collective imagination for the last couple thousand years. It was the status quo, and unlikely to change.

But opening Central Station and reading about the ethnically, religiously, philosophically, technologically different citizens of the Tel Aviv of the future was deeply cathartic for me. When was the last time a character in a sci-fi novel was named Baruch? Yossi? Ibrahim? More importantly, these were people, with all of the rich complications, flaws, beauty, curiosity, hope, and sadness left intact. People with names like mine. Like the people I grew up with. With a shared vocabulary. Shared ancestry. It was a powerful thing to read.

Then there was the setting. Tel Aviv, Israel’s megalopolis, is one of my favorite cities in the world, if not my absolute favorite. My brother lived there when I was young, and I remember driving down from our small village in the north, to visit him in the Big City, and being blown away by its vibrancy, is vivacity, and its vitality. I’ve had reason to visit many times since, and every time I go back to Tel Aviv I catch myself thinking, “this is home. I could stay here forever.”

Lavie Tidhar, an Israeli, imbued the Tel Aviv of the future, the one beneath central station, blinking under the lights of interplanetary vessels coming and going, filled with so many people of different backgrounds, the truest melting pot in the cradle of western religious civilization, with that life. That bright, beautiful, buoyant life. I smelled the smells of Tel Aviv in the first paragraph of the introduction, meat cooking and sweat and sand and Mediterranean air. I saw the city squares, flowing with life and laughter and languages. I felt like I had come home.

Beyond its significance to me for personal reasons, Central Station is an excellent book that pushes at the boundaries of science fiction, while maintaining a deliberately sci-fi core. It was not a story of adventure, or of love, or of horror, though at points it had elements of of all of these. It is a human story. It offers glimpses into the lives of people living their lives, and shows us that no matter how sophisticated our technology becomes or how the world may change, to be human is to struggle, to connect, to love, to fear, to believe and disbelieve. It is absolutely science fiction, and it is also a literary exploration of the human condition through the lenses of family, death, evolution, technology, and religion.

Central Station is told almost in vignettes, which makes sense given that Tidhar wrote and published each chapter separately over the course of several years before compiling them into a book with Tachyon. The cast sometimes feel disconnected from each other, but then you realize their connection is their home. Tel Aviv. Central Station. The writing is superb, sometimes eschewing superficial imagery for abstraction, but always returns to a place of clarity. It flows beautifully throughout the read, and though it is short, it is full.

Central Station blew me away. I hope it will do the same for you. You can pick it up on Amazon.

Collected Fiction – Hannu Rajaniemi

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There’s just something about Scandinavia, I guess.

Tachyon published a collection Finnish Author Hannu Rajaniemi’s short stories last year, and while (I believe) it is sold out everywhere, it’s well worth finding a used copy so that you can experience what it might’ve been like if Knausgaard wrote science fiction.

While Rajaniemi isn’t quite as good as Knausgaard (is anyone?) he is extraordinarily good, and often employs similar style in his short fiction.

Most of the pieces in the collection approach scifi from dystopian angles, and while they are occasionally superficial in a way—the end-game effects of data-hungry social media, for instance-they are nonetheless effective. Raja noemi builds worlds both believable and un-, equally compelling in their frightening proximity to things as they are now and in their far-flung and wild postulations.

Rajaniemi has a way of describing even the most spectacular visions with eloquent simplicity, such that his fantasies begin to seem concrete and plausible. A daughter of a death-god trapping a man in his vacation home after a rousing bit of fun in a sauna? Why not! A conscious city, filled with sapphire-eyed pigeons that communicate with the buildings, all of which have been assimilated by a single, powerful consciousness? Sure!

Rajaniemi makes it all digestible and necessary, because what owns the core of the reading experience is emotion and character. That daughter of death is a vehicle for the character to feel, and the sapient city turns out to be the son of the protagonist, who had given up technology to live in the wilds and write poetry.

They are stories of love, of learning, of challenge. Ultimately, they are stories of the human condition, set against a backdrop of extremes.

The stories are all magnificently written, and you should absolutely seek out a copy for yourself. You won’t regret it.

Slow Bullets – Alastair Reynolds

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When he was a graduate student in astronomy, Welsh writer Alastair Reynolds published four short stories that marked the beginning of his career as an author. While working at the European Space Agency, he began work on what was to be his debut novel, Revelation Space. He’s been a published writer for almost 30 years, with over forty published short stories and twelve novels.

But I hadn’t heard of Alastair Reynolds until I saw the cover of Slow Bullets in Tachyon’s catalogue. The cover intrigued me—a spaceship seemingly in good repair that, when examined closely, exhibits signs of decay, over a planet covered in swirling storm clouds that shows no sign of advanced life: no lights twinkling from cities on the night side. No speckling of settlements on the light side.

The description of the novella hooked me as well, with one line in particular: “Their memories, embedded in bullets, are the only links to a world which is no longer recognizable.”

I cracked open the book the minute it arrived at my house, even though it was a few lines down in my “priority” reading list, because something about it called to me. I wanted to hold it; to raise its intriguing cover closer to my eyes and see if there was more to be learned from it. To read its first page.

And on the first page alone, I was sold. It’s been a long while since I felt so strongly about an opening page. In fact, I can’t remember the last book I read whose first page affected me the same way.

So much character and world was built in to those few lines. So much that pulled me in and invested me in the protagonist, who had already lost so much, and would obviously lose more as the story unfolded. So much about a galaxy at war, wherein expression was forbidden.

So I turned the page. Then another. And another. And before long I was sunk deep in Scur’s plight, horrified and enraged for her and the other soldiers subjected to the tortuous slow bullets that shackled them to their duty. And when she was taken prisoner, I shared her terror and was inspired by her bravery.

Then, darkness. And reawakening. And with that awakening, an entirely new set of problems. A villain on the loose, and an unfamiliar universe outside the hull of a dying ship.

The story that Slow Bullets became had me enthralled—it is full of tension, confusion, fear, horror, and loss. It fascinated and inspired me. Most of all, I really, really enjoyed it. With Slow Bullets, I’ve become a fan of Alastair Reynolds. If science fiction, mystery, and political thrillers intrigue you, I highly recommend Slow Bullets-. It’ll sate your hunger as it did mine.