Saturday, September 22, 2007

I just finished Singularity Sky, the first novel by Charles Stross.

I've read a few books by Stross but this one is by far my favourite. I can finally see why he is so popular and considered one of the rising stars in SF writing. Like a few of his contemporaries, Alastair Reynolds and Ken MacLeod, Stross is one of the a new age of British SF authors that like to mix some hard science in with space opera and the current fascination with the Singularity. The result is usually convoluted and plot heavy books but they also have a decent hand with characters.

Another trait he seems to share with a lot of his British peers is a soft spot for socialism in one form or another. It is one of the most retro things about them. Back in the 40s, 50s and 60s, during SF's golden age, a common assumption was that the future belonged to socialism or some form of technocratic central planning. Eventually, the field has drifted away from this idea as the actual evidence of the 20th century proved central planning to be nightmare and more and more serious economists demonstrated that central planning was not only flawed based on the evidence but couldn't even work theoretically. If a political model was evident in most SF from the 70s through the end of the millenium, the assumption was more often than not that a capitalist system had survived. Of course, it was usually some kind of dystopian capitalist system where multinationals had replaced governments and abused everyone in sight, but the assumption was still there.

But it seems a lot of British writers have been raised with a soft spot for socialism and the idea of the end of scarcity due to nanotechnology or some post-Singularity event has given them the inspiration to revive the Glorious Socialist Future, but usually of an anarcho-socialist or syndicalist variant rather than the standard communist/fascist axis that dominated the 20th century.

Sadly, even though their political ideas are so silly, they tend to write good novels! Why is it that socialist writers are mostly better writers than capitalists? Is it because the capitalists have better things to do with their time?

Amazon Link: Singularity Sky

Monday, September 17, 2007

Last night I finished From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne, one of the earliest works of science fiction.

It's a short read, with only a minimal plot and minor characterization work. As others have pointed out, it is surprising how much Verne gets right about what it would actually take to send a person to the moon. His canon is not realistic, but the launch site, transit times and other considerations are not far off what was used for the actual Apollo launches.

It also has a surprising, and fairly abrupt, ending.

Amazon Link: From the Earth to the Moon