The Just City

I went on holiday last week, and spent most of my time reading while hiding from the sun. My favourite of the week’s books was Jo Walton’s The Just City, in which Athena helps a gaggle of Plato-nerds drawn from across time to build Plato’s Republic on Atlantis. They plan to train a swarm of Greek slave children (and Apollo, who’s experiencing childhood as a mortal in the hope of understanding consent and equal significance) as guardians, producers, and philosopher kings. This plan goes about as well as you might expect. Continue reading

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The right to bear arms… in space!

Science fiction is almost never about the future. Science fiction is about now: where we are, and where we are or should be heading. That SF sometimes seems prescient is down to the fact that mainstream literary fiction (and indeed much mainstream journalism) is too often about yesterday, or indeed last week. Continue reading

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What is human?

As you know, Bob, Philip K. Dick was obsessed with two questions, the exploration of which drives the vast majority of his stories: “What is reality?” and “What is human?”

We don’t take as much LSD nowadays, so reality seems a bit less fluid than it used to back in the sixties and seventies, and I suppose we’re increasingly blasé about the idea of living in a great big simulation. Simulated coffee still smells pretty good, and the hypothetical off-switch would hurt a darn sight less than death-by-asteroid.

The question of the nature of humanity, on the other hand, still causes creative juices to bubble and fingers to fly in the workrooms of SF writers throughout the English-speaking world. More than three decades after Dick’s death, we can glance at the year’s Hugo nominations and see that all three of the SF novels on the shortlist return to his question, albeit in dramatically different (and slightly silly) ways. Continue reading

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Snoozing among the merdroids

“You haven’t read any Stross? You must!”
“You’ll love Stross!”
“Start with the Laundry novels. They’re great fun!”

Thus my friends have chorused for several years, which is why Stross’ The Atrocity Archives has lurked in the middle of my teetering to-read stack for longer than I care to admit. I’ll get round to it eventually. It has, however, been leapfrogged by Neptune’s Brood, the subject of this diatribe, on account of the latter’s Hugo nomination. Continue reading

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Welcome to my library

Oh, hello there! Be careful with those stairs, and mind the thesaurus – he doesn’t like strangers. I don’t think he’s ever quite got over the way in which those young authors abused him at his previous home. Now wait there just a minute while I light a few more lamps. Ah, there we go. I can see you properly now. So, what was it that you wanted to know? What? Why am I here? Isn’t that a bit metaphysical? Oh, you mean right now, in this library, in the middle of the night. Well, I suppose the answer to that is straightforward enough. Have you heard of the Hugo Gernsback? Continue reading

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