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Posts Tagged ‘Sci-fi

Clerks, Cretins and Other Worlds

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When I was a teenager I read a lot of sci-fi and fantasy. A heck of a lot. Favourite authors included J R R Tolkein, Ursula Le Guin, Andre Norton, Isaac Asimov, Philip K Dick, and Alan Garner. I haven’t read much sci-fi for a while, although I sometimes dip into Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings and Le Guin’s Earthsea trilogy. But when I read a Times review of Paul McAuley’s The Quiet War, I knew that I had to order this new sci-fi novel.

Described by the Times as a “rich and rewardingly complex novel”, The Quiet War

“is set two centuries in the future, after global warming and the death of billions. Humanity is divided into two camps: those who live on Earth, worship Gaia, and are dedicated to restoring the planet, and the Outers, who’ve created independent city-states and habitats in the hostile environments of the moons of Saturn and Jupiter.

To the militaristic, ruling families of Earth, the independent Outers, now looking to colonise more of the Solar System, genetically altering their children to cope with new ecosystems, are a threat. A “quiet war” of espionage, politics and diplomatic skirmishing is heading towards open, total war to decide the future of humankind.”

Sci-fi and fantasy is often derided as infantile and escapist. Witness, for instance, the English literati’s hostile reaction to Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings and its continued success.

Whatever. Like travel, or living in a foreign country, good sci-fi and fantasy expands the mind and its sense of possibilities. Fantasy and sci-fi can used to examine ethical questions (often in unconventional ways), sound out new ideas and ways of thinking, imagine the impact of revolutionary change, and explore possible futures and alternative worlds. Some of the best sci-fi and fantasy I’ve read – from Norton’s novels about the galactic free traders to Le Guin’s mages of Earthsea – are situated at the fissures and crossing points between civilizations, cultures and worlds. They grapple with the thorny question of whether individuals from different cultures and species can ever understand each other, let alone get along.

And sci-fi and fantasy is just good fun. Any decent novel is escapist – that’s the point of fiction. If you work as a clerk in an airless office with a cretin for a boss, the last thing you want to read is a novel about a clerk in an airless office with a cretin for a boss. That is unless the cubicle is actually a portal to parallel worlds, and the cretinous boss gets torn to pieces by ravenous aliens.

Cross-posted at Kotare: The Strategist.

Written by kotare1718

November 16, 2008 at 7:19 am

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