Friday, July 6, 2012

The future, two (totally different) ways


I read two brand new science fiction novels recently. They were so completely different from each other that it’s amazing they’re both members of the same genre of fiction. They were both good, too.

The first was After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall, the newest book by award-winner Nancy Kress. The novel presents look at a post-catastrophe near-future, in which most humans have been wiped off the earth. The few people who remain are genetically damaged, and they live imprisoned in a sort of zoo enclosure. (Who runs the zoo? Good question.)

Alternate chapters describe the world as the cataclysm approaches, in the story of a young mother watching helpless to do anything but observe. With pitiless symmetry, the two plot streams - future and present - come together.

For a very different look at the future of humankind, see John Scalzi’s Redshirts, an unabashedly goofy comedy about low-ranking crewmen on a spaceship, who wonder why they and their friends keep getting killed in such stupid ways. The answer to that question will lead them into an exploration of science fiction cliche, a strange realm indeed.

Redshirts explores some interesting themes, like how to live a meaningful life when death is obviously random, unknowable, and inevitable - but it never strays far from absurdity. It’s science fiction engineered to make you laugh - how many authors are writing that, these days?

I don’t know of any other genre that embraces such wide variety - the bleakness of After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall’s onrushing holocaust, and the cheerful irreverence of Redshirts’ metafictional entertainment. I recommend them both, for different moods.

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