Falling In Love Again With Science Fiction Novels

Illustration for article titled Falling In Love Again With Science Fiction Novels

Ken MacLeod's writing taught me to love science fiction again. I had pushed the genre out of my reading life for many years, but I could not ignore his novel Newton's Wake.

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Though I was a fierce reader of scifi novels as a teenager, wolfing down John Varley, Ursula LeGuin, Robert Silverberg, Clifford D. Simak and many others, I gave it up when I went to college. I think I had some misguided idea that scifi was for kids, and as a grownup English Ph.D. student I should be devoting myself to Dylan Thomas and post-structuralist theory. I strayed from literature occasionally, reading some Octavia Butler and a Star Trek novel, telling myself I was doing it merely to understand pop culture. It's not that I loved it – I just studied the stuff.

I became a professor, but drifted away from academia to become an alternative journalist. As the editor of the book review section of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, hundreds of books crossed my desk, their gray covers stamped "advance copy" and "uncorrected proof." That was how I found Newton's Wake, which was prominently billed as a space opera.

It had been a long time since I'd read scifi in a way you might call serious, rather than studying it as some kind of social symptom. I picked up the book, read the first page, and was intrigued enough to keep it through two apartments and two jobs – and finally read it after I'd returned from a year-long fellowship at MIT where I'd immersed myself in science self-education.

I don't think it's an exaggeration to say MacLeod gave me pleasure in reading scifi again. Partly that's because his ideas were so meaty – debates over separatist nationalism were deeply embedded in a crazed adventure story about "rapture fuckers" with nano brains and combat archaeologists teleporting through a series of heists across the galaxy. I was in love. In short order, I read every single MacLeod book I could get my hands on, then replunged into scifi lit with what could only be described as a burning need.

I had missed it for so long! Now the shelves in my office bulge with science fiction novels. They're ongoing testimony to my love, reawakened by a novel about Scottish pirates on another planet.

DISCUSSION

purple-dave-old
Purple Dave

Macleod has an interesting way of producing characters that are very interesting, but not at all endearing. Particularly in Newton's Wake, there does not seem to be anyone who even hints at being the Hero of the story. Every character has their own very human motivations, none of which seems to involve the Common Good. It's not at all what I'd call light-hearted fare, nor is it deeply philosophical, but you'll probably find yourself eager to find out how it all ends without being tainted by any feelings of how you think it _should_ end. I enjoy his work, but I don't think I could handle more than one author of this type.