Science fiction

Administrating Imaginary Empires: Ancillary Sword and The Goblin Emperor

Ancillary_Sword_Orbit_coverThis is not a ploy to review two books at once because I’m like a thousand books in review-debt. I swear.[1]

Instead, this is what happens when you read a super-sci-fi-y story about spaceships, aliens, and AI, then switch to a classically fantasy story with goblins and elves, and find out they’re actually fascinatingly similar books with a lot to say about power, empire, and administration.

Both of them delighted me. Both of them disappointed me. Both of them are worth reading. (more…)

Aliens, Africa, and Adventure

nnedi-okorafor-the-lagoonA lifetime of nerdy movie-watching has taught me that Africa and Africans are not appropriate subjects for science fiction hijinks. Sure, Africa is a fine place to dig up magical artifacts, invoke Egyptian curses, or perhaps test your white manliness by crossing an un-crossable desert in pursuit of gold. And Africans themselves make very suitable cannibals, witch doctors, evil dictators, or impoverished victims in need of rescue.  But, really, the continent in all its diversity and glory is just not suitable for the center-stage (Africa doesn’t even get a three-second shot in Armageddon, when they’re showing how the Fate of the World rests on Bruce Willis’s shoulders).  If aliens invade, they’ll intuitively understand that New York City, Los Angeles, London, and maybe Tokyo are the only cities worth blowing up.

Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon is roughly what would happen if invading aliens chose to spare America’s beloved monuments and instead focus their considerable technological and biological might on Lagos, Nigeria. And then semi-accidentally woke up a few slumbering West African deities. Which is to say: Lagoon is chaotic and a great deal of fun, and makes a little more elbow-room for Africa and Africans in science fiction. (more…)

Whose Golden Age? A Response to Toni Weisskopf

Look. The Golden Age of science fiction.

Look. The Golden Age of science fiction.

This is what Baen’s Toni Weisskopf thinks about the changing face of science fiction and the cultural divide in its fandom. John Scalzi has summarized and responded to it here, but it goes something like this: In the dawn of time, when noble philosopher-kings like Heinlein and Clarke ruled over science fiction, everything was great. But the rise of icky ideas like “social justice” and “diversity” and “feminism” and probably “the academic cultural turn of the 1980s” have made science fiction sad and dumb. Much like America.

When I read this piece, I wanted to write a series of semi-scholarly blog posts referencing social history from the 1950s to the present and explaining basic feminist and race theory and the surprisingly difficult-too-grasp concept of privilege (for those still struggling, here’s privilege explained via video game metaphors). I wanted to illustrate it all with emotional GIFs and ultimately leave a black, smoking crater in the internet where Weisskopf’s essay had once been. (more…)

Ancillary Justice and the Value of Hype

ancillaryHype is an untrustworthy thing, which has led me astray before. It either ratchets my hopes so high that they’re bound to be disappointed (see: A Song of Ice and Fire) or it leaves me snarking condescendingly about popular opinion and the “masses” and how no one really understands empire (see: The Hunger Games). But sometimes, hype operates like giant flashing arrows pointing me towards a book that I never would have otherwise discovered, and my entire faith in popular opinion and my fellow genre-readers is restored. That was my experience with Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie’s 2013 debut novel. From the back-cover blurb, I would never have bought it: On a remote, icy planet (oh look, Hoth) the soldier known as Breq (oh look, an ex-military alias) is drawing closer to completing her quest (gee, tell me more). But it was a riveting, smart, and brilliantly composed novel, which has convinced me that the space epic is still alive and well.   (more…)

Update: Amazing Stories Continues to be anti-Amazing

earthsea_cast_800

This is what white-washing looks like, just for reference.

Editor and head dude of Amazing Stories, Steve Davidson, has made a couple of really, really offensive comments on Savage’s article.  Silvia Moreno-Garcia has already responded thoroughly to one of them, but hey–when you’re combating unsubtle and pervasive racism, it’s the more the merrier, right? (more…)