Posted on | August 15, 2014 | 13 Comments
— by Wombat-socho
This week we have something old (but repackaged) something new (but also repackaged) and something else new that isn’t repackaged, all from the shelves of the Fairfax County Library. Let’s start with the oldest of the three, A.E. van Vogt’s Transgalactic, which is interesting for a number of reasons. First, van Vogt himself was one of the premier authors of SF’s Golden Age, with classics such as Slan, The World of Null-A, and The Weapon Shops of Isher. Many of these were “fix-up” novels, cobbled together from short stories originally published in Astounding, and Transgalactic inverts that in an interesting way by reprinting the stories that made up Empire of the Atom and The Wizard of Linn as the separate short stories they once were. Harshly criticized by Damon Knight, Empire of the Atom and its sequel are of course riffs on Robert Graves’ classic I, Claudius, except that Clane Linn’s world is a post-apocalyptic “Rome” where atomic science has become a religion, examples of lost technology are everywhere, and the barbaricum is on Mars and Venus. In my opinion, this is the best part of the book; the other two parts – two short novels about men and the extremely lethal ezwal of Carson’s World, and three more from The Mixed Men weren’t nearly as interesting. Still, if you enjoy old-fashioned SF where the Big Idea tends to drown out the plot and the characters now and again, you could do a lot worse than pick up Transgalactic.
Hugh Howey has become one of the authors on the front lines in the current kerfluffle between Amazon and legacy publisher Hachette, and his novel Wool is one of the reasons. Originally rejected by major publishers, Howey published Wool with a small press and then on Kindle Direct Publishing, which is where it took off, selling so well that Simon & Schuster eventually offered him a contract to publish Wool – which he took, but wisely retained the e-publishing rights. The book itself is a fascinating dystopic tale of a city built in what sounds very much like a scaled-up missile silo, with tight controls on behavior and breeding and the ultimate punishment being assigned to “cleaning” – going out into the uninhabitable outer world and cleaning the lenses that give the silo its view of the outside. The wheels start coming off when several people discover that IT has been sabotaging the cleaners’ suits and faking the views of the outside. The first two citizens to find out that IT’s been faking the view -the silo’s Sheriff and his wife – are sentenced to cleaning and die, but the third one, a new Sheriff appointed from the ranks of the maintenance technicians, figures out the sabotage and manages to get a suit prepared that doesn’t break down…and not only refuses to do the cleaning, but manages to make her way to another silo that seems to be abandoned – or wrecked by rebellion. It’s a compelling story, and although Howey paid attention to his readers’ reactions as he was writing, the book definitely doesn’t seem written by committee. I enjoyed it, and I expect you probably will too.
Finally we come to Mark Van Name’s One Jump Ahead. I wasn’t sure what to expect, since my only previous exposure to Van Name’s work had been “A Clear Signal” in the anthology Foreign Legions, and that hadn’t moved me much one way or the other. Still, David Drake seems to think highly of him, so I figured I’d give it a try. It’s about a man (Jon) with the ability to create and coexist with nanobots in his body (something the science in this book holds to be impossible) who comes into possession of a light cybertank with spaceflight capability (Lobo) after taking care of a kidnapping for a corporate exec. While trying get the parts to bring Lobo up to 100%, Jon becomes aware that a bounty’s been placed on his head, and he spends the rest of the novel -in contrast to the title – one jump behind, saved on several occasions by his cybernetic partner and a former comrade he’s hired for the job of snatching the exec he thinks is trying to have him killed. It was an okay novel, definitely passable brain candy, but it didn’t make me want to run right out and grab the sequel.
And if science fiction doesn’t interest you, there’s always this. 😉