Orthogonal, book #1
Generally I like my SF hard, even diamond hard. I don’t disdain fantasy; some of my favorite stories are fantastic. (As I’ve said often, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series is my #1, my proverbial desert island companion.) But I definitely lean towards harder SF.
Growing up it was, of course, the Holy Trinity, Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, but there was also Clement, Niven, and many others who stirred a large measure of science into their fiction. More recently the list of hard SF authors includes Forward, Steele, Stephenson, and a particular favorite of mine, Greg Egan.
I can safely say his Orthogonal series is as hard as science fiction gets.
Last Saturday, on Netflix, I watched Stowaway (2021) an engaging and compelling hard science fiction film by a new filmmaker, Joe Penna. The story, which has only four characters, is reminiscent of Gravity (2013) or Apollo 13 (1995), not only in how it involves a disaster aboard a small spacecraft, but in how it tries to respect physics as much as possible. (Apollo 13, of course, was a real story which made it a lot easier.)
It is, on both counts, also similar to The Martian (2015), in which it bears a third similarity — a connection to Mars. They differ, however, in that The Martian is about a guy trying to get away from Mars whereas Stowaway is about three people trying to get to Mars.
The disaster for them is the fourth person, the stowaway.
I feel like a jilted lover. Or a very disappointed one. I found what seemed a delightful bit of science fiction color in an otherwise increasingly grey and dismal world. I let myself get attached (despite a few alarm bells going off in my head). I thought I’d found something truly worthwhile — something to invest myself in.
And it seemed really good at first. There was all the excitement of exploring something new and interesting. But after that great start, there came a most unwelcome left turn into a stinking swamp I want no part of.
This isn’t a Sci-Fi Saturday post or a TV Tuesday post… this is a spleen vent.
Neal Stephenson, like Greg Egan, is a hard science fiction author who never fails to delight me with something new and tasty. Both Stephenson and Egan seem able to leave footprints in otherwise well-trodden ground. Stephenson, in particular, often makes me LOL.
That’s not an acronym I use very often, but it seems especially appropriate here given this post is about The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O., by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland. The book has so many tongue-in-cheek military acronyms (DODO, DTAP, DEDE, MUON, etc) that it has a glossary at the back.
The story concerns parallel worlds, wave-function collapse, and witches.
Yesterday, courtesy of Cloud Library, I finished Manifold: Time (1999), by Stephen Baxter. It’s my first exposure to Baxter, who has written 60 science fiction novels — none of which I’ve read. Per his Wiki bibliography, he’s written only a half-dozen short stories, also none of which I’ve read. (There are SF authors I’ve only met in short story collections. He isn’t one of them.)
Time is the first of the Manifold trilogy (which has a fourth book, Phase Space); the second and third books are Space (2000) and Origin (2001). Each of the books tells a separate story in a separate universe.
I enjoyed the first book, but I can’t say I was hugely whelmed.
I finished Fall: or, Dodge in Hell, the latest novel from Neal Stephenson, and I’m conflicted between parts I found fascinating and thoughtful and parts I found tedious and unsatisfying. This division almost exactly follows the division of the story itself into real and virtual worlds. I liked the former, but the latter not so much.
Unfortunately, at least the last third of the book involves a Medieval fantasy quest that takes place in the virtual reality. The early parts of the story in the VR are fairly interesting, but the quest really left me cold, and I found myself skimming pages.
I give it a positive rating, but it’s my least-liked Stephenson novel.
I’ve been a fan of Neal Stephenson since Snow Crash (1992), his third novel. I’ve read much of his work — the big exception being The Baroque Cycle, descriptions of which haven’t captured my interest yet. I like his writing enough that I’ll probably enjoy them if I ever take the plunge.
Stephenson writes pretty hard SF, which I love, and he explores such interesting ideas that I’m generally quite enthralled by what some see as fictionalized physics books. The thing is, I’d enjoy reading those physics books, so having it come coated in any kind of frosting is a win in my (pardon the pun) book.
I’ve just gotten started on his most recent novel, Fall; or, Dodge in Hell.
Science Fiction — or rather Speculative Fiction — has the general quality that it contains all other fiction genres. There is mystery and detective science fiction. There is romance (and sexual) science fiction. Action? Horror? Psychological thriller? Drama and pathos? Allegory? Westerns? Science fiction has them all and more.
In a sense, SF is just a property that fiction can have. I’ve tried to explain what I think that property is. I also took a stab at separating science fiction from fantasy. Now that thread resumes to explore the idea of SF hardness.
But first we return to and start with…