In this excerpt from Dan Simmons’ Hyperion, the Jesuit priest Paul Duré has tracked down the Bikura, a mysterious tribe living in the wilds of the planet Hyperion. Tiny, docile, and unintelligent, they seem to be the degenerate remnant of the original settlers, calling themselves “the Three Score and Ten” and “worshipping” in an immense, ancient cathedral at the base of a canyon. They make Duré one of their own by implanting a cruciform — one of the cross-shaped parasites they each bear — into his chest.
James Blish, Black Easter (1968) and The Day After Judgement (1971)
So it’s a Cold War Earth pretty much like our own once was, except magic (in the grimoire tradition) is totally real and this one guy hires a sorcerer to loose a whole bunch of demons into the world for one night, just to see what happens. (I’m getting the sense that believable motivations are not James Blish’s strong point.) Naturally, it backfires and brings about the end of the world. In the second book, this guy and his buddies take a road trip to Hell, and shit gets cosmic. This may have already become one of my favourite books. More substantial post later, hopefully.
Iain M. Banks, The Player of Games (1988)
Yes! I finally started reading the Culture novels! In this one, our gamer hero (a totally cis straight guy, an anomaly in the Culture) goes to a barbaric brutal empire to play the Ultimate Game. It feels like a good entry point into the series, as the Empire of Azad is relatively Earthlike and so Gurgeh’s outsider viewpoint allows for indirect exposition about the Culture. However, I’m looking forward to reading novels that take place wholly in the Culture to see how Banks does compelling stories in a post-scarcity, post-all-those-plot-generating-bad-things society.
Brent Hayward, The Fecund’s Melancholy Daughter (2011)
It’s science fiction in a fantasy mode full of unsympathetic characters and machine intelligences and stuff! It’s like Gormenghast crossed with a classic generation ship story! Theoretically I should have loved this, and while I think Hayward did some truly masterful world-building, flitting through a dizzying variety of viewpoints and cultures while creating a very distinct cohesive feel, said world, for me, wasn’t all that fun to spend time in. It’s so unrelentingly dirty and grotesque and downtrodden that I feel like I should take a shower afterwards and read something fluffy and shiny. Perhaps his debut Filaria will be more to my taste.
It would make a pretty kick-ass videogame, though.
A Case of Conscience is a weird little book from the 50’s. It’s aged badly. It holds together well in the sense that when I began imagining what would have to be changed for the story to make sense, I had to give it up because the end product would have been unrecognizable.
If you’d like a synopsis, see Wikipedia; for an insightful review of A Case of Conscience I refer you to Jo Walton’s review. If you’d like to read my disjointed, pop-culture-saturated ramblings, click through.
“[The Prophet Tarrant’s vision] was threefold,” he said at last. “One: To unify man’s faith, so that millions of souls might impress the fae with the same image in unison. Two: To alter man’s perception of the fae—to distance him from that power—thus weakening the link which permitted it to respond to him so easily. This meant a god who wouldn’t make appearances on demand, nor provide easy miracles. It meant hardship and it meant sacrifice. But he believed that in the end it would save us, and permit us to regain our technological heritage. Three: To safeguard man’s spirit while all this was taking place, so that when at last we cast off the shackles of this planet and rejoined our kin among the stars, we wouldn’t discover that in the process we had become something other than human. Something less than we would want to be.” […]
“So what happened?” she pressed.
“Humankind learned the lesson too well. Because if man could create a true God in his own image, why couldn’t he create an obliging godling with even less effort? What you worship shall come to exist, the Prophet wrote. The power of your faith will give your dreams substance. And so it was. A thousand selfish men designed their own prayers and their own psalms and gave birth to a thousand godlings, each feeding on man while serving his earthly desires. Even as the Church grew in strength, this trend continued, until there were over a hundred tiny states with their own pet deities, their own claim to power. So we went to war: man’s final recourse when diplomacy fails him. It was a disaster. Oh, if it had been a clean and glorious conflict, filled with images of faith and capped by a clear-cut victory, it might have stirred men’s hearts and won them to our side. It wasn’t. It was a bloody mess that spanned three centuries, and it ended only when we bit off more than we could chew and tried to do battle with the fae itself—or rather, with the evil the fae had spawned. Our power base destroyed, our precious image sullied, we crept back to our churches and our pews to lick our wounds in private.”
“We do what we can, Hesseth. We still serve the same dream, but defeat has taught us patience. We no longer see the Prophet’s vision as the end of a neat progression that’ll be consummated in our lifetimes, but an ideal state that may not be realized for centuries yet. For tens of centuries. Except here,” he whispered, and he glanced towards Toshida’s ship. “Isolated, unified, devout…they may have accomplished what the west failed to do. By establishing a state free of pagan influence, by raising their children in unquestioning faith…what power, Hesseth! It could alter the world. It may already have begun to.”
He stiffened at the sound of the name. “Cast out by his own creation,” he said sharply. “The Church knew that it would never alter the fae’s response to man until it had done away with private sorcery…and he couldn’t give that up. Not even to save his own soul.” He drew in a deep breath of cool night air, exhaled it slowly. “He tried to do away with Hell, you know. Excess philosophical baggage, he called it. Detrimental to our cause. He erased it from all the text, expunged it from the liturgy. They put it back. The habits of Earth were too deeply ingrained, the image of divine judgment too comforting for the righteous. In the end he lost that battle.” And so much more…
—C. S. Friedman, When True Night Falls (chapter 4)
X. recommended Friedman’s Coldfire Trilogy to me and I’m very glad I took her up on it. It’s an impressively thought through blend of science fiction and fantasy, and one of the most ambitious treatments of religion I’ve read in a while. Can’t wait to read the final volume to see if she’s really going to do what I think she’s doing.
I am not a beautiful Asian. I am not beautiful. There is a difference between petite and short; one is more attractive than the other. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bitter about my lack of physical beauty. My beauty lies beneath a tough surface, like a pomegranate, my Okasan is fond of telling me. Slither thinks all I need is a good orthodontist, a professional makeover, and a haircut done without a pair of toenail scissors. Maybe she’s right, but I refuse to succumb.
I am not beautiful, but I am a collector of abandoned shopping arts who has the most expansive collection of pajamas in the western hemisphere.
Clothing does not fit me. My big-boned arms, my daikon legs, my beta-beta feet, and splaying toes. My bratwurst fingers and nonexistent neck. And my head. My poor colossal head, too huge even to dream of a ten-gallon hat. It was excruciating torture when what clothes I’d finally found started threading into tatters. I held out as long as I could until the state of my unraveling would lead to public nudity. Then, I’d sigh, turn my money socks inside out and pick out linted coins to roll into dollar bills.
I spent years cursing the racks in the malls of despair. Jeans designed for long-legged hips. Slacks with no slack. […] Clothing either squeezed material across my square body, exposed my neck-gaping lack of chest, or confounded me with pant hems traling like a bridal train. I buttoned, squeezed, choked, sweated years snarling at lovely salesclerks, crying in the changing rooms. Until I stumbled across a pajama store closing down on its opening day, because no one was interested…
—Hiromi Goto, The Kappa Child (p. 51)