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Thursday 23rd
posted by Morning Star in Arts

Science fiction round-up with Mat Coward

IT’S amazing what you can get away with in science fiction.

As the US tumbles into fascism, one of its leading novelists has written an undisguised assault on austerity and neoliberalism, explaining in detail why a continuation of vampiric capitalism must lead to the death of human civilisation.

His proposed remedies are blatantly socialist or, at the very least, left-social democrat. And he enthusiastically endorses revolution as the one solution.

New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit, £16.99) is also, as those familiar with its author will expect, a 600-page, multi-strand epic full of perilous adventure, love stories, cinematic set pieces and detailing reminiscent of Dickens or Gorky.

It follows the varied inhabitants of a Lower Manhattan skyscraper in a 22nd-century New York which, following surging sea levels, is a city of canals not streets.

Ordinary people living in the intertidal areas have survived by turning to more co-operative methods of organising.

But, by stabilising their communities, they have once again made them attractive to capital in its endless search for investment opportunities.

As Robinson notes more than once, whenever there is a commons, enclosure follows.

Faced with the privatisation of their co-op-owned homes, the residents learn that the only way they can save their world is by changing it in its entirety — progress is necessarily systemic, not individual.

So much of science fiction’s collective imagination is wasted on the bourgeois, self-indulgent dead end of dystopia.

How exhilarating it is to see the genre doing instead what it alone can do, recording the history of revolutions before they’ve started.

This may well be Robinson’s masterpiece and is surely the most important piece of sf in years. S Jae-Jones’s charming debut Wintersong (Titan, £7.99) is a romantic fairy tale set in late 18th-century Bavaria, where an inn-keeper’s daughter is tricked into becoming betrothed to the Goblin King.

Her sister Liesl, who ventures into his underground realm to rescue her, has lived her life in the shadow of her beautiful sister and violin virtuoso brother but she too has music inside her.

Does she have the strength to surrender everything for the sake of her sister?

And is selflessness, in any case, always the right option?

Wintersong’s simple, traditional structure supports sophisticated themes of choice, love and creativity and the way awkward teenagers can feel themselves to be so invisible that any attention, however dangerous, becomes welcome.

Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds (Gollancz, £12.99) is a 180- page novella by a modern master of space opera.

A long and bitter intercolonial war, spread across solar systems, is at last approaching a negotiated end.

But for the former antagonists who awake from hibernation on a crippled prison ship, impossibly far from home in both space and time, the first task is to avoid reigniting the conflict which would wipe them all out.

The second is to find a purpose, in what seems to have become a purposeless universe.

It’s a compelling adventure story about people trying to make something worthwhile, after lives spent only on destruction.