I am reading the books that have been shortlisted for the Arthur C Clarke Award. It’s a way of broadening the pool of authors I read whilst at the same time reassuring myself that my hard earned money isn’t going to be wasted.
I’ve read two of the six shortlisted books so far.
Greg Bears’ Hull Three Zero and Drew Magary’s The End Specialist.
So far I’m not that impressed. I’m not getting what I expected and I’m not getting what I think I should be getting from books that arguably the six best science fiction books published last year.
I’m looking for a good story well told. Interesting characters doing believable things leading to a satisfactory end with good structure and delicious language.
I’m looking for a tale of science that provokes thinking about the role of technology on lives as they are lived. A parable from the future that has been sent back in time. Something that makes me really think about how the future might be and what things are happening today that shape that future
I’m looking for a genre changing story. Something that changes the way science fiction works, the conventions, short hands and tropes.
Hull Three Zero is interesting for the manner of telling. The story is a fairly standard one. There is a problem on a Big Spaceship. Only our hero can solve the problem by reversing the polarity.
The unusual element is that our hero has no idea who he is for about three quarters of the book. Which in a first person narrative is disorientating and interesting.
There were some thoughts provoked on the nature of evolution as it is experienced by the subject and on the ethicality of certain forms of generation ship and of the colonisation of occupied systems. But these were a bit by the by.
So a fairly standard story with fairly standard ideas told in an interesting way which triggered some thinking on my part.
It’s the best of the two so far.
The End Specialist by Drew Magary ought to have been the more thought provoking of the two books read so far. It deals explicitly with the effect of a dramatic change in life expectancy. It ought to be a really interesting story about the impact of near immortality with an exploration of the resource constraints of increased population meeting
I just don’t think it deals with it very well. Faced with sudden mass immortality people continue to behave much as they did before. As the population rises resources become scarce. This drives up the price but it doesn’t seem to trigger any reduction in demand or technological innovation. In the face of rising prices no one seems to delay having children. There is a lemming like approach to the impending doom. As a warning I found it a little one dimensional.
I think it says something about the USian approach to consumption and climate change.
However, because the economics hasn’t been thought out clearly I found the story didn’t carry me into a future I thought lamentable but plausible. Paulo Bacigalup tackles this kind of dystopia better in Calorie Man and some of his other stories.
Nor was the main character interesting enough to carry a whole novel. He didn’t seem to change much internally.
I was waiting for a big ending which took me from the world of the narrator back to the world of the prologue. Instead the story just sort of slips away.
It would have been a better short story.
So, mindful of Christopher Priest’s views on the short list I’m moving on to Charles Stross’ Rule 34. Having read Halting State recently I’m not expecting to have my conceptions of the future or of the genre radically altered but I am looking forward to an enjoyable tale. I suspect that this series of Stross’ work will be more influential on the genre and my thinking about the future in aggregate.