Posted on | December 31, 2015 | No Comments
I inadvertently lied a couple of posts back. I said no book from 2015 really blew my mind, and right after hitting “Publish” I started reading Adam Roberts’ The Thing Itself. The result? Mind: blown. Well, that may be a bit of hyperbole right there, but it is by far the best science fiction novel I read that was published this year, taking the concept of alien otherness a couple of steps further than is usual within the genre, to the point where Roberts plays around with Kant’s concept of the titular ding am sich, essentially reflecting on the fact that no matter how impartial and objective we believe we are when trying to imagine aliens, we are stuck within our human-centric worldview to the point of crippling inability to, perhaps, look beyond terms we believe are fundamental to reality – space, time, matter, energy. This kind of thinking links beautifully into a couple of sci-pop books I recently enjoyed, touching on questions that bother me when the lights are out and the brain won’t shut down. The fact that it is all wrapped into a man-on-the-run action-scifi story just makes it all that much more enjoyable. Oh, and the implied link to Carpenter’s The Thing? It’s just a marketing gimmick, the book is “two guys stuck in an Antarctic research station” only for the first chapter, it then branches out both in number of characters, as well as time and space, jumping back and forth through centuries to provide brief snapshots of humanity facing Kant’s thing in itself in a number of intriguing ways.
You may have noticed that I was very careful to say that Roberts’ was the best book from 2015. This is because the best book I’ve read in 2015 was actually published in 2014. I’ve already written about Brent Hayward, who is fast becoming one of my favourite authors. His Head Full of Mountains does not disappoint in the least. Among the many “forgotten generation ship” stories that I’ve read (and I have a thing for that sub-genre, so I’ve read quite a few), this one really stands out as a shining example of how to write bold, beautiful prose that doesn’t patronize its reader with pages and pages of exposition, that thrusts you headlong into an alien, confusing, truly future world and lets you swim with the current, trying to discover by yourself what is happening and how things work, through the experiences of the protagonist. The story is, up to a point, in a similar vein as Greg Bear’s Hull Zero Three or the movie Pandorum, but the difference is that Hayward, thankfully, does not throw us the tired “woke up with amnesia” trope, the journey of discovery is predicated on the protagonist’s limited worldview, and secondly, that this is a truly forgotten generation ship, the last refuge of mankind in a future that functions as incomprehensibly to us as our modern society would to a caveman. Yet, in all this otherworldly strangeness, Hayward masterfully manages to retain the reader’s interest, in both characters and plot. To be clear, this is not a book I recommend to everyone. To read it, you need a very solid, if not above-average grip on SF tropes and the history of the genre, as well as some exposure to modern post-human works like, for example, Accelerando. Even then, the read is not an easy one, but if you are looking for challenging, poetic, and above all different fare, you will enjoy it immensely.
The third book that goes into the top-tier is one I’ve read and re-read just about a thousand times this year, one that was a veritable life-saver on numerous occasions, a book that never leaves the go-bag: Michael Teitelbaum’s The Very Hungry Zombie. Among all the board-books we have, this parody of The Very Hungry Caterpillar proved to be the most interesting, fascinating, attention-grabbing one for our tiny offspring, and the quality finish means that no matter how hard she gnawed on it or poked the holes in the heads of the victims, following the shambling footsteps of the titular zombie, it remains in one solid, sturdy piece after an entire year of rough, saliva-and-budding-teeth handling. Oh, and the looks on other parents’ faces when they see what the child is paging through with rapt attention? That alone is worth a dozen times the price of admission.