SCIENCE FICTION: ALEX GOOD
Last Year By Robert Charles Wilson (Tor, $38.99, 352 pages)
If the past is a foreign country, it’s also a heck of a tourist destination.
That’s what has happened in Robert Charles Wilson’s latest, as a time-travel machine known as the Mirror allows citizens of the 21st century to visit yesteryear — specifically an access point in the 1870s, built on the plains of Illinois where the deer and the antelope still play and where a freshly built City of Futurity serves as an intertemporal transportation hub. Wilson is less interested in how the Mirror operates than he is in the ways now and then interact. This is dramatized in the relationship between two security officers: one a 19th-century native with a checkered past and the other a hard-nosed 21st-century single mom. Running beneath the action-filled plot there are some provocative questions raised about progress and continuity.
The Liberation By Ian Tregillis (Orbit, $22.49, 453 pages)
“The Liberation” brings to a violent, triumphant conclusion Ian Tregillis’s epic Alchemy Wars Trilogy: one of the most entertaining, original, and thought-provoking series of recent years. With the rising of the liberated Clakkers (mechanical beings made to provide automated slave labour), the world is now torn by conflict among three power bases: the technologically advanced Dutch with their alchemical wizardry, a decaying French ancien régime, and the newly class-conscious Clakkers. Tregillis uses alternative history brilliantly to explore concerns we still have over new technologies and their potential effect, for good and ill, on our freedom.
A Perfect Machine By Brett Savory (Angry Robot, $10.99, 313 pages)
“A Perfect Machine” is a speculative novel set in a particular type of alternative universe you may be f amiliar with: the city as lab experiment. The setting is a generic urban landscape that’s set up as a maze for people to run through like rats. In this particular city a select group of people, known as runners, seek to avoid another group, the hunters, in a game dubbed the Inferne Cutis. Runners are shot and killed by the hunters and then brought back to life, with their memories partially wiped and their bodies filled with lead. Brett Savory may be addressing our anxiety that technology, is experimenting with us, and forcing us to adapt and evolve into something new and very different. Meanwhile, the final wedding of human and machine is not a consummation devoutly to be wished, as there’s no telling what we might lose when we take that next step. In the future, will we even remember what we were?
NK3 By Michael Tolkin (Atlantic Monthly Press, $36.50, 320 pages)
Loss of memory plays a key role in “NK3.” The title comes from the name given to a virus originating in North Korea that has the effect of erasing people’s memories to varying degrees. In a burnt-over Los Angeles, a new social hierarchy has developed: the Verified, those retaining some vestigial sense of their past, live inside a giant security Fence, while Drifters and Shamblers wander outside. The plot matches up well, being complex without any single focus, skipping among dozens of different players who aren’t even sure who they are much less what they are doing. It’s even difficult to pin down a consistent tone, as the story is by turns mystical, comic, philosophical and political. The resulting chaos may frustrate readers looking for something conventional, but for those preferring abrupt, discontinuous, cinematic forms of narrative, “NK3” will be just the ticket.