Last of the great, white men of sci-fi. Since I began reading skiffy again, courtesy a combination of China Miéville and Iain M. Banks, there has be an inexorable depletion of this genre of writers who I read. Neal Stephenson was I think the first to go, partially from the tedium of Anathem, and confirmed with Reamde which to me indicated the fatal Zero Dark Thirty-isation of mainstream science-fiction.
Contra that was the undeniable rise of phenomenally good writing from women, non-US, non-white authors who in the last ten years have remade sci-fi and fantasy. I want to read sci-fi and fantasy that looks not merely as the world in fact does, but imagines futures or worlds that are in some way worth aspiring to. This is what Iain Banks’ Culture rests on. This is what Anne Leckie’s Ancillary Justice does also, despite being a totalitarian empire. It’s how identity exists, how lives may be lived that I want to see in these genres, and quite simply, straight, white, male authors are in the majority in showing a fundamental lack of imagination in this, or simply not caring that the world does not and has never resembled their particular (and unfortunately dominant) genre.
The last I read of Gibson was Zero History, which put him on my list with Stephenson of “formerly enjoyed; moved on” authors. So why did I buy this? Ah, you know, Gibson. Neuromancer, Cayse … it’s like an old friend you can’t let go of, but feel embarrassed to be out drinking with. I’m going to try and enjoy it though.
There are five science-fiction writers — though this is a loose term, and none write in this genre exclusively — whom I will read whenever a new book arrives from them. William Gibson is the oldest of the lot; I’ve been reading him since some time around Neuromancer, though lately I’ve found him tired, his speculative fiction already out-of-date by the time it’s published.
Iain (M.) Banks I discovered next, and in truth, love the man. Some of his books don’t quite make it to the transcendental state I associate with him, but even the few I haven’t been so taken by, I’ve read at least twice. I don’t remember who came next, Charles Stross, China Miéville or Neal Stephenson, but the first two, though superficially different from each other and Iain Banks, I associate together. Certainly for their politics, which forms the core of their works.
Neal Stephenson is for me closer to Gibson: American, of a particular style and age, though equally not reducible to or interchangeable with. His Baroque Cycle was exactly that, the most colossal and ostentatious works of fiction I’ve read. It was very influential on me around the time I was first thinking about monadologie. Anathem I enjoyed not so much. Perhaps to say the colour of the work — if one could imagine the contents of the pages and their affect on my imagination being homogenised to an identifiable tone — was one I wouldn’t want a room painted in.
I was reading guest writer, Joan Slonczewski at Charles Stross’ blog, who has a new book out, and being quite taken by her ideas promptly went and ordered it. In the process of which, I discovered Neal Stephenson had a new bookshelf out, Reamde. I began it after class today. It’s uncomfortably large and will certainly cause anguish when it falls on my nose as I nod off. Still, if it’s anywhere within the universe of Cryptonomicon or The System of the World, I shall be quite distracted this weekend.