Embassytown by China Miéville is a science fiction novel by the most imaginative writer writing today. In this recent novel, he portrays an alien world populated by intelligent aliens who speak with two mouths at the same time. Human ambassadors train in pairs for many years so that they can respond in kind and be understood by the aliens. Lying is unknown on the alien planet and when the human ambassadors are caught in a lie, pandemonium breaks out. At first, the aliens are entranced by lies because they are something new and alien to their thinking and culture. Eventually, the aliens react violently to lies and begin killing each other and ultimately the human ambassadors and their supporting staff. The Romney campaign reminded me of this book which I read shortly after it was published in May, 2011.
I like to collect coincidences. Most coincidences are random occurrences, but I still enjoy looking for causal connections and possible insights. The hunt adds interest to life. For example, when I worked as an aide in a hospital, I noted that most patients select a doctor whose last name is the same length, or nearly so, as their last name. Probably meaningless, but still fun to spot it. My own last name is five letters long and my current doctor’s last name is also five letters long.
I am reading Interface by Neal Stephenson written under the pen name of Stephen Bury. Stephenson is also one of my favorite writers of science fiction and I have read all of his books. Interface takes place in the near future and is set in Illinois and Denver, just as Dan Simmons has near future books set in both places. And both authors have last names beginning with “S” and ending in “on.”
Jack McDevitt is the author of comfortable science fiction. The first book I read is probably his best, Infinity Beach. It is set in the distant future and relates man’s first encounter with an alien race, who resemble tiny butterflies. I have read the book at least three times and I will read it again.
McDevitt writes individual books not part of a series, and he also writes two series, both set in the distant future. One series involves a woman spaceship captain, Priscilla Hutchins, and the other series involves a dealer in antiquities, Alex Benedict, and his assistant, Chase Kolpath. My second favorite book by McDevitt is Chindi, Navajo for wandering ghost, which is also an alien encounter with a hollow asteroid on auto-pilot that wanders the galaxy collecting specimens.
I have not read all of McDevitt’s books, but I can recommend all that I have read save for Time Travelers Never Die. It is about time travel and is a perfect example of why I avoid time travel books.
I have just finished reading his latest book, Firebird, in the Alex Benedict series, and I recommend it highly. It has two interlocking themes, finding ships lost in space due to a warping of space-time, and the possibility of consciousness in the artificial intelligences that serve humanity. I think that he developed both themes very well. For me as a limited french speaker, the only jarring note in the book was the claim that french was no longer spoken or understood in the distant future.
China Miéville is another of my favorite authors of science fiction. His science fiction combines elements of fantasy on an alternate earth in a city, New Crobuzon, which seems to be based on an alternate London. Miéville’s premier work is not an easy read. Perdido Street Station is a huge structure, a railroad terminal, a shopping hub and in a tower it is the seat of government. New Crobuzon is ruled by a mayor who is the dictator of that world’s largest city and surrounding territory. There are humans and many other species, some very exotic, living in relative harmony within the city. Punishment for crime often involves surgery, replacing natural body parts with man-made parts. Those persons are referred to as the “remade.” For example, a criminal might lose a natural limb and have it replaced with something grotesque. A heart might be replaced with a steam engine.
Once you have learned the lay of the land and how China’s mind works, his fiction is fascinating. I am looking forward to his next book, Railsea, scheduled for release on May 15, 2012. I have already pre-ordered it from Amazon. Among the books he has already written and I have read them all, my favorite is The Scar. It may be the easiest one to understand although nothing is as it seems. There are wheels within wheels within wheels. The Scar takes place mostly on a floating island composed of derelict ships lashed together and towed from place to place. Some of the derelict ships are recognizable from our world, including the Titanic. If you have not yet discovered China Miéville’s work, prepare to be challenged and delighted.
I have decided to part with my autographed trade paperback copy of The Scar for $40 US postpaid within the US. I am going to upgrade my collection to an autographed copy from Easton Press. If interested, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Beyond those two trilogies, I would recommend Antarctica in which the Mars-bound colonists undergo testing and evaluation to see if they will be able to make the trip to Mars. They must live and thrive in living quarters under the snow and ice of Antarctica. I consider The Years of Rice and Salt his best book. It is set in an alternate near future here on earth in which almost all Europeans have died from a plague virus. I have only read this book once, but it is on my short list to read again.