The Spaced-OUT library

“Lots of books available, but who reads ‘em? We don’t really care.”

     What, who reads good sf and speculative fiction? There isn’t anything else worth reading but speculative fiction, is there? When they say there are countless books to read, they don’t mean that’s because the number is zero. We can read spaced-out books about what things are coming to if we want to keep up with the times. What coming to and where headed, much of it not positive in nature, such as the latest book now up for review at the Spaced Out Library. Our book for this third of the year is John Scalzi’s THE END OF ALL THINGS, which of course portrays a negative future to which more and more writers are being drawn in their considerations of what to write about.

     The end of all things? What, ALL of them? Even Surprising Stories? No, it’s not the end of Surprising Stories, unless the computer system crashes, which writers have been predicting. That reminds me of the principle that seems to be involved in the maxim that no one knows what they’re doing in this life, ultimately. That would include the “good” people, those supposed to be above war, but there is increasing evidence in our literature that such people do not exist; Surprising Stories would be an example of these nonexistent good people, who are doubtless finding out that it doesn’t pay to be good either.

     That’s the mood if not the theme of the book that lurks behind John Scalzi’s unequivocal title. To separate the novel from the world we have been used to, one of the crucial characters is a brain in a box, his aggressors having deprived him of a body, not a totally new idea; DONOVAN’S BRAIN and THE ALTERED EGO both go back to the fifties, and there is much talk of a brain in the work called FRANKENSTEIN. The brain is used to pilot an aggressive warship, but it outwits its captors by doing its own thing, throwing aside the b.s. promises it is being given about recovering its body as unrealistic. These aggressors have the technology necessary to preserve and make use of a detached brain, but they lack all other intelligence to the point of not even being very good war strategists except for knowing enough to kill everyone they get ahold of who can’t be used. Such adversaries exist also in the movies and on television; in Star Trek there’s the Klingons and the Borg, both races good at technology and possessing the warp drive necessary for interplanetary citizenship, but otherwise animals and monsters. In Andromeda there’s the Magog, apparently named after the warfare combo of Gog and Magog; they’re just things, in spite of the presence on the Andromeda of one of them, the Reverend Bem. In Battlestar Galactica there’s artificial intelligences who have surpassed man in their development of the very technology which created them, and are destroying man, with hints that they may have a superior morality found in the dialog and plot. SG-1 has a race of ancients resembling those found in Lovecraft’s works who are no good at all, to put it mildly. Man’s seen as no good at all, these ancients are worse than that. In Doctor Who there’s just about anything, none of it pleasant in the least, although its fans seem to get much pleasure out of the series.

      So Scalzi’s work and title pretty much sums up all of these things that have been dominating science fiction since the late sixties; the publication date of this book is 2015. It portrays absolutely unworkable super-governments spread across space whose political maneuverings resemble a cheap lottery or other gambling establishment. Mass death accompanies any move made to interfere with a society and no one is fit to come out on top; nothing proposed would constitute a tolerable progress. His work is described as “entertaining”, “appealing”, “commercial”, “funny” and “thoroughly believable”; his reviewers aren’t negative, but he might be wondering what exactly they like so well about it. Probably these reviewers have found that any other kind of review gets them a negative response.

     This isn’t problem-solving science fiction; this is more of the genre where there are no solutions, perhaps having NINETEEN EIGHTY FOUR in their background.

     In the next issue I will be reviewing THE LONG UTOPIA by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter.