Science fiction summer: dipping your toes in a pool of hypermercury while basking in the golden daytime aurora, and watching two ringed planets collide into each other like a pair of cymbals.
Here are some books to read on days like this.
The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. is brilliant, fast-paced, and will give you sore wrists because it’s a thick, heavy book, but you will not want to put it down.
An expert in ancient languages is hired by a mysterious government agency to translate some documents that suggest that magic actually once existed in the world. But the advance of science caused magic to disappear in 1851. However, the existence of a two-hundred-year-old witch and some fancy technology allow a limited amount of magic to occur in this world, and soon the language expert and others are being sent back in time to repair history. And, if they’re lucky, bring magic back to the world. Continue reading
The alternate history Never Let Me Go follows the lives of several children who grew up in a strange, special school. It’s very well written (the author is the guy who wrote The Remains of the Day and won the Nobel Prize for Literature), but the real focus of the book is not really about the characters, but about the slow reveal of why the school and the children were special. Continue reading
“One-hit wonder” has an insult buried in the compliment, but it’s hard enough to write a good science fiction novel, much less get it published and then have it become popular and enduring. So even having a one-hit wonder is an impressive achievement, and the books on this list should be appreciated for their merits, instead of their authors being lightly mocked for not doing more.
My kid is learning to play the piano, and part of that is using dynamics: playing some parts of the song quiet, and some parts loud. Dynamics add contrast and make a song more interesting. Unfortunately, Jonathan Lethem’s book Girl in Landscape, while being extremely well-written, lacks dynamics. It’s heavy, and stays heavy throughout.
Fantasy author Terry Pratchett is famous for his Discworld series, comprised of over forty books taking place on a round, flat world perched on the back of four giant elephants who stand on the shell of a enormous space-faring sea turtle.
But before fantasy-trope-skewering Discworld, Pratchett wrote Strata, a science fiction book that explored the idea of how a flat, round world would actually work. Many of the ideas in Strata appear in the Discworld books.
Dieselpunk is science fiction that occurs between the two world wars, or takes place in a world where the 1940s never really ended. It’s often written deliberately pulpy and noirish, leaving character development in the dust of a wildly galloping plot. And fantasy elements are always welcome. For example, a gas-powered android could team up with a junkie psychic and a depressed vampire to solve the mystery of who’s sending all those severed limbs to the local police station.
Like steampunk, dieselpunk is often fan fiction for a specific era. It also tends to focuses on white Europeans and North Americans. Fortunately, there are small but growing movements called steamfunk and dieselfunk, which, in addition to having cool names, focus on non-whites actually having a place in the future and alternate histories.
For the world’s most thoughtful look at dieselpunk, check out Aja Romano’s Dieselpunk for Beginners.
Apparently, one of the biggest problems a lunar colony will have to face (in addition to air and food and water and temperature and cosmic radiation and not enough personal space and getting there and getting back home) is lunar dust, which is so fine that it gets everywhere, is really clingy, and can muck up equipment. Lunar dust feels like soft snow, but at the same time abrasive. It also smells like spent gunpowder.
And as far as moons go, ours is huge. It’s bigger than Pluto, which means that we’re actually orbited by a dwarf planet. But it’s a greedy satellite, sucking up our rotational energy, so that in about 45 billion years, the Earth and the Moon will be tidally locked (the moon will be in the same spot in the sky always) and the Earth day will be about 45 hours long.