Friday, March 02, 2007

Reading: The Locus Awards: 30 years of Science Fiction

I picked this book up from the Bukit Batok Library two weeks back. I'm a real sucker for science-fiction, especially the short-fiction to novella length. I suspect one reason is that I do not like the space-opera kind of science-fiction, where basically the story is some long drama series which just happens to have laser guns and spaceships instead of swords, magic, and dragons.

Instead, I prefer thoughtful pieces - stories which comment in some way about society through the use of science. Short stories lend themselves more naturally to this format, because they have so little space to work with. Rather than trying to build up your identification with the protagonist, the author has to beef up the central idea of the story and communicate it in about 20 pages or so. Of course, there's good science-fiction and bad science-fiction, and at least with short stories you don't waste too much time on the bad ones. Plus, I normally pick up Gardner Dozois' yearly picks of the best sci-fi of the year - lazy me! So this book is a good fit for me.

(Disclaimer: I don't dislike all sci-fi novels or series - for instance, I'm reading a novel now which I will review soon, and I do love novels like Starship Troopers or books like the Ender series - but more on that another time).

The Locus Awards collection is edited by Charles N Brown and Jonathan Strahan, both editors linked with the Locus magazine. It contains 18 stories from 18 different authors, organized by decade - and naturally they're all good! However, as mentioned before, these are not space-opera type stories - don't expect to see swashbuckling heroes chopping their way through aliens! Most of them, in fact, are stories about the human condition - using the imagined technologies and crises of the future to comment about our frailties and strengths.

I'm going to highlight a passage from Buffalo, by John Kessel, which was particularly impactful. It may not be actually the most impactful in the book, as I'd perviously read and enjoyed some of the other stories included - I heartily recommend the stories Bears Discover Fire (Terry Bisson), Maneki Neko (Bruce Sterling), and Hell is the Absence of God (Ted Chiang), which have taken offbeat, humorous approaches to serious topics. Nevertheless, Buffalo is particularly relevant to all of us dreamers who love sci-fi.

"Through the music speaks a a truth about life that Kessel, sixteen years before my birth, doesn't understand, but that I hope to: that life constrained is not life wasted. That despite unfulfilled dreams, peace is possible."

Why do we love science-fiction? Because it speaks to us of our dreams of the future, unconstrained by the limitations of technology now. Yet forty years later, most of us would not be living in the worlds of our fiction. We're far more likely to be living mundane lives with family and children, not the stars of the story of our youth, but mere background fodder. But living a good life is itself reason for living a good life, and even if our lives remain constrained by the times, they are nonetheless purposeful ones - lives lived in the moment, for the good of those around us, with no greater result than to make life infinitesmally better for those around us.

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