16 November 2017

Global Warming Made Good: A Review of New York 2140, Kim Stanley Robinson

Trundling down the street, ineffectively bundled for the sharp Arctic wind that has stolen my city's breath, I am returning a book. Kim Stanley Robinson's ecologically new future behemoth, New York 2140 made a satisfying boom as I dropped it at the library counter. Nary an eyebrow rose, even though the thunk reverberated through the quiet space, ending an intense reading relationship that had enclosed me for nearly two full weeks. Surely a bookmark was in order, some small acknowledgement of my commitment to lugging this beast to the play park, the bath, and the karate dojo. Nothing though, not even a hi-five, it was all so anti-climatic that my time spent felt somewhat lost, never wasted but definitely ill defined.

Global Warming has fulfilled its ultimate destiny, ice caps have melted, and sea levels have risen resulting in two confirmed pulses of global mass destruction. Every species is in crisis - humans ever adaptable have created new waterproofing technology to hold the waters at bay, for now. New York has been baptized Super Venice - an island, existence precariously determinant upon the tides. Lower Manhattan has sunk, streets and avenues now canals with Upper Manhattan home to the ultra-rich, safe behind newly constructed towers that rise ever higher. The 1% continues to flourish all the while the globe strains to find placement in this flooded world.  

Is this science fiction, near future dystopian or a love-letter to New York? New York 2140 is Kim Stanley Robinson's first truly character driven novel. A world-builder, Robinson weaves words to assimilate an atmosphere that few in science fiction properly master. An image from his 2312 novel of Mercury's expansive city, Terminator revolving on tracks around the planet, keeping just shy of the coming deadly sunrise, lives deep in my imagination. The best of generational space odyssey has Aurora top of my list. 

I have always loved Robinson's plot lines, hated his characters. Red Mars, the book that brought SF infamy to his door, sits forlornly on a side-table because my annoyance for the protagonist cannot surpass my general curiosity. Can world building sustain a novel or novels as with Kim Stanley Robinson's catalogue of work? 

New York 2140 worked as an entertaining read because the city became the star. Without the highly developed backdrop, the human elements of the story would lie flat, despite me liking everyone. It is more a question of time relevance. In recent years, the Canadian city I call home experience stretches of snowless winter months, cool summers, and unseasonably hot autumns. Global warming is not my future it is my present. Reading a novel so close to my reality unsettled my complicity. Good science fiction should be unnerving, a talisman of the times, even a beacon for what may come. I internally debate whether New York 2140 is simply an okay book wrapped in glitzy gift wrap or something greater, something ever more complex. 

I am a Kim Stanley Robinson fan, convoluted, but none the less, a fan. His books are remembered years later, a metric that many a book I read fails to accomplish. New York 2140 is easily readable, and undeniably relatable whether you like it, is something I am curious to discover. 

28 October 2017

Nothing Like A Good Zombie Book - A Review of World War Z, Max Brooks

In less than forty minutes, my house will be engulfed with the sounds of banging, snarling and foundational shifting bumps that could easily be the zombie apocalypse we all have been waiting for, or a pre-arranged little boys' playdate. 

Motherless, smoking gleefully as I taught English deep in the heart of rural Japan, I would sneer fabulously at the state of child rearing. Playdate I would exclaim, are for parents without lives, attempting to pander to the fear of the unknown, the proverbial bogeyman that haunted the bushes. This was the early 2000’s; I had soaked up enough X-File conspiracies to slightly jade my naivety as I boarded a plane for a job that I was completely unqualified for. The life of an overseas English language teacher is a complex pattern of terrorized moments of grammatical uncertainties, couched in a westernized, idolized bravado. I had no business teaching. Every child under the age of 6 who walked through my classroom door was adeptly aware of this fact, taking full advantage of the language barrier to barrage me with insults. It was a wonderful time. 


And so, as the mindless horde of an afternoon playdate begins to unfold around me, I reconcile with my younger self. Arranged play is completely deranged. Gathering like-minded maniacs into an enclosed space leads to tears, drinking and silent swearing. The solemn nod of the parental collective grieves with me, as I circumnavigate my dilemma. Short-sighted decisions that align child whims to adult time-lines will only breed the zombie armies. 

It's true; World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks has seeped into my mundane perspective. I walk autumnal streets, unhinged with ghoulish daydreams of macabre fingers snatching at my ankles while I skip through the fallen leaves. A composite diary of the human condition, World War Z documents a global war for survival. Imagine, a zombie shuffling down your street, now blossom this slightly horrific image to millions of infected, animated undead, relentless in their individualized search for flesh. 

With zombies dragging through my dreams, I wake speculating if humanity's drive for modernity has unhinged our global future. Heady stuff for a zombie book I admit, but any true dystopian story-line should fester our fantasies, spawning layers of unease. War Z effectuates all that we fear. 

World War Z: An Oral History Of The Zombie War lives up to this girl's idea of a zombie book. 

16 October 2017

Forever Books: A Review of Summerlong, Peter S. Beagle

Eighty-nine dollars of credit at the local science fiction bookstore, and this girl has no idea what to buy. Heart-wrenchingly annoying, my inability to commit to book-buying has brought me to this rather frazzled day. A library soul, the concept of a forever-book seems a tad sinful. What if I bring home something I hate, or worse, never read again. That 'never to be read again' tagline beats deep down in my reading-heart, sighing for every sentence lost in time, and memory. 

My home library has some duds - annoying hard-covers that have bullied themselves onto the shelves, smugly gathering dust, showcasing lack of purpose. I stare them down monthly, ready to trek them all off to the second-hand bookstore to retract, overwhelmed with ownership guilt. And so they sit, as do I, contemplating readable-worthy book purchasing while the sun slowly glints through the fall foliage and the winds gather momentum.   

I am longing for Summerlong by Peter S Beagle. This is a book I had no intention of walking home with, but having surmised that the clerk may indeed be someone of merit, I bought it based on her recommendations. The walk home from the bookstore was grey. Spring had yet to bud, and my reading inclinations swayed to more science fiction hearty fair than Summerlong's fantastical promises. And yet I brought this little bound beauty home, to be promptly forgotten until this September. 

Situated on small island outside of Seattle, Abe and Joanna live their quiet lives, happily unmarried, weathering life's problems together. Until that day, walking into their favourite restaurant they meet Lioness and waltz into a fairy-tale. As with fairy-tales there is the light and the dark - what we hold dear, can be lost and from that loss, creation. 

Peter S. Beagle wrote the most acclaimed fantasy novel of our times, The Last Unicorn in 1968. Not a fantasy reader, my curiosity had me summoning the book through the library system to sit down one afternoon, to be thoroughly stunned. There are few first chapters written that attain a level of wonder found in The Last Unicorn. But this is my ode to Summerlong, a book forgotten, that brought me great joy as the Toronto September temperatures soared, and my summer seemed to last forever.  

Summerlong, Beagle's most recent and more accessible novel is perfection. Every word has purpose, each tangled detail sculpts the characters into being, each chapter reflects the complexity of life. There are few authors who can properly assimilate the world of myth and gods into present day fiction without the story becoming overwhelmingly supernatural. The unimaginative becomes real - that what modern civilization has lost is summoned forth in Summerlong. 

A gem, something to be cherished, re-read and shared, Peter S. Beagle's Summerlong proudly sits on my book-shelf.