Friday, September 20, 2013

Fiction Friday (21)

It's time for another installment of Fiction Friday. This week I'm sharing two reviews of books I read quite some time ago. Both are science-fiction, but they represent completely different elements of the genre. I think they illustrate the diverse nature of the genre, which is probably far too broad a term to encompass all that falls under its umbrella. One is science fiction in the traditional sense of space travel and aliens, while the other is literature that simply takes liberty with science. As a genre, I feel science fiction is one of the labels where most readers have preconceived notions, but as with all genres, there is a rich diversity to be found within it. Enjoy.

Sugar in the Air by E.C. Large

A fascinating read in many ways and for many different reasons. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this novel is the fact that it was written in 1937, because it seems so current. While the idea of manufacturing a synthetic sugar from various particles around you would seem like impossible science fiction in the period this book was written, to modern readers, it won't seem very far fetched at all. We don't have to suspend our disbelief anywhere near to the degree of the book's contemporary readership, allowing us to focus on the real theme of the novel; a satirical critique of the workings of corporate capitalism.

The story follows a young man named Pry in a time of economic turmoil, which is one of the immediate ways in which the book connects to our present day. Pry is lucky enough to land a job, at a decent pay, with a company that has invested in an idea that sounds great, but seems to have little chance of succeeding. Pry eventually, through a series of brilliant innovations and blind luck, is able to turn that idea into a success, only to have this potentially new industry sabotaged by petty personal backstabbing and the ignorance of board members who don't necessarily care to know anything about the business they run. There are many parallels that can be drawn to our own corporate run world and how greed can so easily destroy innovation.

However, the heart of the story lies within Pry's personal struggle to keep a dream going in the face of so much stubborn and ill-informed opposition. Any one who has ever worked in a large company, or even for a boss who refuses to listen, can identify with Pry's frustration at how office politics can get in the way of productivity.

This book is certainly not for everyone. To be honest, it wasn't what I'd expected at all. Unlike the descriptions I'd read, it certainly does not feel like science fiction, and certainly has none of the outrageousness of a "mash-up." If you go into it with those expectations, you may be disappointed.

Babel-17/ Empire Star by Samuel R. Delany

In my experience, Science-Fiction as a genre tends to emphasize plot and concept over character, which is one reason I don't read as much of it as I would like. I love the concepts, but as a reader and a writer, I'm drawn to character. Thankfully, Samuel R. Delany doesn't follow that mold. Babel-17, though heavy on concept, never loses track of the need for a intriguing character to be the heart of his story. Rydra Wong is a great protagonist, trying to solve the mystery of herself as intensely as the mystery of this new language Babel-17. In fact the two are interconnected in a wonderful way. The result is a fascinating book about the idea of how the language running through our internal monologues shapes our perception of the universe. Though certainly Sci-Fi in its tone, the book is just as much a profile in psychology. 

The inclusion of the brief novel Empire Star, though very loosely connected to Babel-17, did very little for me. Though it began with an interesting character, it soon felt rushed. Character growth leaped from chapter to chapter without earning it. And what may have been an interesting concept of applying a leveled structure to the perception of the universe simply became repetitive and inconsistent. The other large concept concerning time was lazily constructed. In my opinion, Empire Star reads like the first draft of what could become a really good novel.

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