Review | 4 new science fiction books will take you to another dimension
The Kaiju Preservation Society
By John Scalzi
(Tor, $35.99, 264 pages)
When one of the frothiest SF writers going decides to write a self-described “pop song” of a novel that’s only “meant to be light and catchy” it’s hard not to hum along. “The Kaiju Preservation Society” is nothing more than an amusement-park ride, but if you’re looking for that kind of a diversion then grab your popcorn and climb aboard.
The fairground in this case is Jurassic Park. A dimensional doorway has opened between Earth and a parallel Earth where the apex predators are nuclear-powered kaiju (the Japanese name for giant monsters like Godzilla). By a series of coincidences Jamie Gray, a food delivery driver, gets a job at one of the extra-dimensional bases (in the steamy jungles of a parallel Labrador), which is where things start to go south in the best CGI-blockbuster style when an evil corporation tries to get into the kaiju business.
You’re not meant to take any of this seriously, or worry about the sketchy science. This is the fiction equivalent of ear candy. It’s hard to imagine a book as driven by dialogue, and the back-and-forth never lets up its relentless stream of snappy pop-culture references and fast-paced wisecracks. The big action scenes actually come as timeouts. But it’s all good fun.
By Arlene F. Marks
(Brain Lag, $21.99, 235 pages)
It’s always a treat to open a debut collection of short stories from an author who has been publishing them for years. That’s the case again here with “Imaginary Friends,” where the contents are a mix of old and new, and range from fantasy to horror to science fiction, and from quick sketches to a novella about pioneers on another planet.
Underlying all of it is Marks’s fascination with storytelling itself. Without becoming overly meta she presents characters who feel aware in different ways of the genre they find themselves performing in, conscious of being a part of stories that they both shape and are shaped by. Examples include a vampire, a neighbourhood witch, a superhero and even the devil himself, all transposed to new surroundings (Old Scratch is at a computer store looking to buy a new office networking system). The results take us on unexpected diversions into new fictional territory, but with some familiar characters as our guides.
Voices from the Radium Age
Ed. by Joshua Glenn
(MIT Press, $25.95, 193 pages)
Defining genres and literary periods can be a tricky business. As an example, in this new series from MIT Press, Joshua Glenn looks to brand the science fiction written between 1900 and 1935 as the Radium Age, which he sees as an interregnum between the scientific romances of the 19th century and the golden age of the American SF pulps that took off in the 1930s.
Whatever you think of the Radium Age as a label, this first volume is a great launch, containing a good mix of stories from some big names (E.M. Forster, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jack London, W.E.B. Du Bois) and a few that should be better known (Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain, William Hope Hodgson and Neil R. Jones). The nature of the Radium Age, and whether these works can or should be read as proto-SF or something else, is a matter fans can debate. But even if you’re just looking for old-school adventure mixed with still trenchant social allegory this is a lineup full of winners. The rest of the series promises to be a just as big a treat and, with cover designs by Guelph artist Seth, they’re nice to look at too.
The Sisters Sputnik
By Terri Favro
(ECW Press, $24.95, 416 pages)
It’s hard to know where to begin describing a book like “The Sisters Sputnik.”
The titular heroines are comic-book characters whose real lives are stranger than that of the comics they inspire. The original Sputnik Girl is Debbie Reynolds Biondi, who is one of those people who have come unstuck in time. The way this works is that beginning with the Trinity atomic test in New Mexico in 1945, a different alternate universe has been formed every time there’s been a nuclear explosion in what’s known as Earth Standard Time. Debbie now skips between these various realities, not always willingly. It’s a condition that’s more of a disease than a superpower, though it’s also what gives her a chance to save the world. Or worlds, as the case may be.
Summarizing the plot is impossible. There are many crazy adventures, mostly centred in alternate Torontos, and a host of weird characters with different names and shifting identities depending on the area code of the reality we’re in. Underlying it all is a message about the power of stories to mould reality in a variety of eccentric directions (cyborgs and AI are only a part of it). Evolution and historical change, especially when we attempt to direct it, can be a messy business indeed.
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