Recently a writer friend (who it has to be said ranges widely across genres) remarked on how people wilfully discount huge swathes of literature because of an apparent antipathy to one particular genre. In this I count myself guilty since, pace John Wyndham in his pomp, I have pretty much avoided sci-fi all my life. And I doubt that this throwing down of the gauntlet would have stirred me to change my ways if three sci-fi books hadn't come my way this year, all by writers whose work I knew in other contexts and which I was eager to read. So how did I get on? Avoiding any arcane discussion of what constitutes sci-fi and its near relatives, these books were remarkably different in the style of the narrative and the worlds they created and so I think I picked a good sample for my tour of future worlds.
I found The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett (recently out in paperback) a gripping read, especially the opening in which heroine Jamie contemplates the possibility that in the wake of a deadly plague she might be the only person left in the universe. There's also a brilliant plot twist quite near the beginning which I loved because it changes the whole nature of her quest and I enjoyed the Starwarsy (?) feel of her journey to Earth with a motley band of survivors. There are thriller elements in the book but Jamie brings a thoughtful presence to the action and what it means for the future of humanity. It may not be for the sci-fi purist, but it has something for everyone else.
The book I've just finished reading is a very different proposition. More dystopian than sci-fi, Heather Child's Everything About You takes as its back-drop a near future in which data (which we hear about so much right now) is the driver for - well, everything. I found this entertainingly inventive - your toothbrush makes your dental appointment, your shower stops running when you're clean - as well as distinctly scary in the scenes where an entire personality as well as a personal history can be learned by and from the Cloud. (Go check those privacy settings!) But again this is a strongly personal story in which heroine Freya is both haunted by and hunting for the half-sister and role model Ruby who disappeared several years earlier but seems to inhabit Freya's new virtual assistant: think Alexa with some very special powers. Freya's quest takes her into the world of a Virtual Reality game she already has reason to fear, and although I struggled a bit with the concepts here, the tension is racked up convincingly. I'm not sure there was quite enough emphasis on plot for the label of thriller, but it is a thought-provoking page-turner with a distinctive edge.
Finally, an out-and-out scifi book I wouldn't have picked up if I hadn't already been a fan of Lania Knight's spare but poetic prose. Stylistically The Remnant more than lived up to this promise. The McCarthyesque bleakness of its dystopia is truly chilling and the world ruled by the dying life form of The Maitris is brilliantly constructed and evoked. Just a word of caution - this is not a book to read if you need cheering up! It also differs from my first two reads in not having a single hero(ine). Remnant (naming of characters and tribal groups is brilliant) is a girl destined to take on the life form of the evil Maitris and many individuals and factions have an interest in her fate, all of them reaching ultimately to exchange their barren landscape for a land, maybe not of milk and honey, but at least capable of sustaining life without scientific interventions (like synthetic food and even synthetic people.) I occasionally floundered amongst the many competing interests and characters but I did feel immersed in this highly imaginitive rendering of the future.
So, phew! - I'm back from the future. The question is, will I be going back? Well I don't think this will ever become my particular thing, but as an eclectic reader I'm not sure exactly what is. When faced with this kind of variety I do at least see it's rash to turn my back on a whole league of writers.
So what other genres should I be exploring? Chick lit, YA, any other takers?
Ali Bacon writes contemporary and historical fiction - no sci-fi just yet!
In the Blink of an Eye is available in e-book or paperback, also from Linen Press.