Lately, I’ve been craving good science fiction. This isn’t an impulse born from discontent or dissatisfaction: I’ve also been reading a lot of good science fiction. Maybe it’s due to having heard Warren Ellis speak last week; Ellis’s work often inspires me to seek out interesting speculative fiction and reminds me of the ways that our world can evoke the uncanny.
Nalo Hopkinson‘s Report from Planet Midnight ably satisfies both needs: the short stories in here are challenging and impressive, and the title piece, a lecture on race, genre, and community, is the kind of literary critique that functions as essential reading. (Its title references an edition of her novel Midnight Robbe, in which the Afro-Caribbean society in which the novel was set was represented by blue-skinned people.) The story “Message in a Bottle,” about an artist and a series of surreal encounters he has with a strange child, is equally impressive. It’s the kind of mysterious narrative that reminds me of why I started reading science fiction, and the ending is quietly devastating.
Though there is an ending in Jeff VanderMeer‘s Authority, there are certain complications that arise from it. This is the middle of his Southern Reach trilogy, in which a region of the U.S., now called Area X, has been overtaken by something….I’d say “alien,” but I think “fundamentally unknowable” might be more precise. While this novel’s hallucinatory predecessor, Annihilation, focused on an expedition into the unknown; as generally happens with these things, the exploration does not go according to plan. Authority is set outside Area X; if Annihilation was psychedelic science fiction with just a hint of Lovecraft (think “In the Mountains of Madness”), Authority is in full-on paranoid thriller mode, with hints of body horror and irrationality. The fact that VanderMeer has followed the first volume of his trilogy with something so stylistically different has me deeply curious to read the third volume; it’s a hell of a way to up the stakes.
Speaking of worlds on the cusp of the irrational, let’s talk about Ed Brubaker and Warren Pleece‘s comic Deadenders. It begins as the story of a group of young adults living in a rough neighborhood in a dystopian society, but quickly becomes stranger: that dystopia is, in part, the result of an event known as “the cataclysm,” the true nature of which is unclear. Though it’s left environmental devastation in its wake, it’s clear from a few issues in that something more surreal is at work; ultimately, the story of how this large-scale shift affects the world, and how it dovetails with the series’s amoral, scooter-riding protagonist Beezer, clicks pretty seamlessly.