Next SFF Author: Ben Aaronovitch

Author: Jesse Hudson


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Undertow: Mediocre

Undertow by Elizabeth Bear

Ursula Le Guin’s The Word for World is Forest (1976) is a (novella extended into a) novel that features an alien planet invaded by humanity and exploited for its resources, the natives forced into labor. An open allegory regarding the United States’ involvement in Vietnam, it is a compact novel that remains focused on three main points throughout: corporate/political greed, respect for traditional cultures, and the need to find reconciliation between the two. Elizabeth Bear’s 2007 Undertow is precisely the same story,


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The Sword of Rhiannon: Classic planetary romance

The Sword of Rhiannon by Leigh Brackett

Lightning-cracked time portals. Secret tombs. Slave ship mutiny. Snake men. Buried alive. Parlays with kings. These are just some of the adventurous elements of Leigh Brackett’s The Sword of Rhiannon. (Though initially published as Sea Kings of Mars, it quickly changed names, and in reprintings since has consistently been known as The Sword of Rhiannon.) Written in 1953, it was one of the last threads of the pulp era yet benefits from increased expectations regarding prose and characterization.


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The Water Knife: Bacigalupi’s formula is getting a little old

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

It’s official. I hereby dub Paolo Bacigalupi, Captain Grimdark of science fiction. Uncontent to swerve in and out of dystopia when telling his near-future stories of the Earth gone to hell, he rubs the reader’s face in the grime every step. Scenes of violence and human misery, both manipulative and informative, string along stories of good people stuck in bad times. Formula? Set in the near-future, mix in some stereotypical characters, use a few simple environmental destruction plot devices to build sympathy, make cutting,


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Osama: Ambitious pulp, indeed.

Osama by Lavie Tidhar

From pulp-minded cynics there is the impression that the literati like nothing more than a book which presents fractals of reality impressed upon social and cultural situations — the more politically and historically significant, the better. If you can somehow throw in the values of literature (meta or otherwise), well, that’s just ink for the Nobel. Post-modern the name of the game, numerous are the works of serious literature (no quotes needed) attempting to portray existence as ever deconstructing relativity for critical acclaim. Speculative fiction is not well known for its forays into this realm of literature,


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The Dispossessed: Not simply an anarchist utopia/capitalist dystopia

The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin

The Dispossessed is a perfectly achieved thought experiment, perhaps Ursula K. Le Guin’s greatest achievement, but there is little I can say that hasn’t been said more eloquently, forcefully, thoroughly, or knowledgeably by other reviewers. It transcends genre as a Novel of Ideas. It explores with great intelligence anarchism-socialism vs capitalism; freedom/slavery in terms of politics, economics, society, intellectual endeavor, and personal relationships; the struggle to perfect a scientific theory that unifies time and space; whether human nature inevitably corrupts all political ideals;


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The Squares of the City: Addresses racism with a chess metaphor

The Squares of the City by John Brunner

In 1892, Wilhelm Steinitz and Mikhail Chigorin squared off in the finals of the World Chess Championship in Havana, Cuba. One of the deciding matches, so original in gamesmanship and rife with strategically interesting play, it has become one of the more well-known matches in history. (The game can be replayed virtually here and with analysis here.) Picking up on its nuances and seeing the potential, John Brunner decided to use the match to structure a novel.


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The Traveler in Black: Short stories by Brunner

The Traveler in Black by John Brunner

Breaking into the business with Silver Age space opera but putting himself on the map by writing intelligent dystopia with a social conscience, for a brief moment John Brunner put aside science fiction and dabbled in fantasy. After the success of Stand on ZanzibarThe Jagged Orbit, and The Sheep Look Up, he wrote the four novelettes starring the other-wordly traveler in black. Unconventional to say the least,


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The Empire of Ice Cream: Dynamic range and dynamic prose

The Empire of Ice Cream by Jeffrey Ford

Emerging in the late morning of an overcast day (one novel in 1988 and a handful of short stories over the decade that followed), there was not much indication Jeffrey Ford would become as prolific as he has. In 1997 he produced THE WELL-BUILT CITY trilogy which did well critically, but was not a commercial success. A deluge of short fiction followed, however, and since 2000 he has produced more than ninety stories amidst a couple of novels.


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Labyrinths: Each selection takes the reader on a winding path of ideas

Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges

An appropriate title for any Jorge Luis Borges collection, Labyrinths is that selected by Penguin for their ‘best of’ printing of the author. Containing short stories, essays, and parables, each selection takes the reader on a winding path of ideas that seems to branch off infinitely into the wonder of reflective thought. Surreal in concept rather than imagery, it’s no surprise many of the most intelligent writers of fantasy and science fiction cite Borges as one of their significant influences. Erudition is on full display,


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The Saliva Tree: A tribute to H.G. Wells

The Saliva Tree by Brian W. Aldiss

In 1966, with the 100th anniversary of H.G. Wells’ birthday approaching, Brian W. Aldiss wrote a story in tribute of one of, if not, the genre’s grandfather. The resulting novella, The Saliva Tree, distills elements of The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds into a suspenseful horror story that has just the socio-political agenda ‘grandpa’ would have approved of.

Set in the late 19th century, 


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Next SFF Author: Ben Aaronovitch

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