19 April 2008

Under a blood red sky

I don't read that much fiction, certainly not as much as I did when I was younger. I tend to be in the middle of three books at once, something about Globalisation, something pop-sciencey and a random anti-Bush/Iraq-quagmire/Republicans-as-the-devil tome for relaxation. I have the attention span of a seven year old on KoolAid, and so tend to read a chapter or two of one book, put it down for a day or so, and read a chapter or two of something else in between. For example I currently have Raj Patel's 'Stuffed and Starved' which looks at the true cost of the global food trade, Neil Shubin's evolutionary examination 'Your Inner Fish', and John Gorenfeld's 'Bad Moon Rising' charting the links between the Moonies and the neo-conservative wing of the Republican party, all sitting comfortably on my bed-side table slowly being digested.

However man cannot live on facts alone, and so I broke down and picked up a few non-non-fiction books and am reading once again for pure pleasure, rather than to stoke my righteous indignation and feelings of smug superiority.

Sort of.

As a teenager my book shelves were full with what today one might kindly refer to as 'Speculative Fiction', but in my day we just called 'Science Fiction'. Heinlein, inherited from my father, gave me a love of Space Opera that persists to this day. While I have on occasion returned to the books of my youth (not the actual books, mind you, most of those were sold during college to pay for such necessities as beer and, well, more beer) the sad truth is that I find much of sci-fi uncomfortable reading today for its overt mysoginsim, blatant right-wing libertarianism or glorification of militarism. I've always been aware of this trend, for example reading Ayn Rand in my early twenties purely because of the influence she had on Heinlein, but after forcing my way through a recent Peter F. Hamilton I felt so uncomfortable (not to mention appalled at such poor writing) that I swore off genre fiction and went through a phase of Ukranian tractors, dogs in the night, tigers on boats with Indians and other such populist light reads.

The only notable exception to this had been Ken McLeod, an unrepentant Scottish socialist who just happens to write amazing Space Opera. His blog is also pretty interesting, regularly updated and containing an incredibly diverse range of interests. Recent posts have covered political events, his own book tour and a pretty amazing critique of Intelligent Design. However after working my way through his back catalogue I was in need of something new, and so came to Charles Stross, mainly because he's a friend of McLeod's.

The importance of personal recommendations in an artistic environment are nothing new. Walking through the galleries of Europe with the Very Understanding Girlfriend you notice how many times Renoir had painted Monet's family, how many paintings Monet had given to Manet and so on. Their families were very close and although their styles were similar many ways, it was more the ideas that they were exploring and trying to express that brought them together. If you were to go to Monet's house you would see the walls covered with works by Renoir and Manet, and I'm sure if any of them wrote a book the others would oblige with a dust cover quote, "a real page turner, I couldn't put it down". The Blog Roll is the latest incarnation of this system.

I don't actually place any faith in dust covers, or dust-cover quotes, but McLeod writes a fair bit about Stross, including an introduction to some of his books, so I gave him a go and was pleasantly surprised. While Stross cannot be accused of imbuing his pages with the same level of political thought as McLeod, the absence of excessive machismo, gratuitous sex scenes and other pubescent staples of mainstream sci-fi is refreshing. The ideas are original and well developed, and on occasion genuinely thought provoking. The books are also fun, a perfect antidote to Republican skullduggery and the literary explorations of our world's current merry voyage to Hades in a rather ragged hand-basket that normally occupy my time.

It is sad, however, when even my flights of fancy are ideologically sound.

I need to get out more.

Ken McLeod, Charlie Stross
Your Inner FishStuffed and StarvedBad Moon Rising


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