New Scientist Column Update

If you're a New Scientist subscriber, you can read my latest SF column, in which I discuss Rivers Solomon's debut novel An Unkindness of Ghosts, and M. John Harrison's short story collection You Should Come With Me Now.  I'm sorry that the column has been paywalled, because these are both books that deserve more attention, so if you're not a subscriber I'll sum the column up by saying that you should seek both of them out.

The Solomon, in particular, is a book that I hope to see getting more attention in the coming months (I shouldn't make these kind of pronouncements since I've been so wrong in the past, but I'd be very surprised not to see it on next year's Tiptree list).  It's a book that works hard to wrongfoot its audience--a generation ship story in which not only has racial prejudice persisted into the future, but in which the social order on the spaceship Matilda takes the exact form of antebellum plantation slavery.  It very quickly becomes clear, however, that this puzzled reaction is what Solomon is reaching for.  She isn't aiming for verisimilitude (at one point I described the book to some friends as a counterpoint to Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora) but for discomfort, deliberately imagining a future in which not only have humans not moved past racial prejudice, they've moved backwards.  Into this setting she places a genuinely remarkable heroine--a hard-headed, neruoatypical, gender-nonconforming scientist, who is exactly the sort of person we'd expect to find in a science fiction story, except that she's also a slave.  One of the core accomplishments of An Unkindness of Ghosts is to take people, and a situation, that we're used to seeing purely through a historical lens and make it into a science fiction story, not only in order to make their predicament more immediate, but to remind us that even in situations of absolute degradation, people are capable of being bold, inventive, and curious about their world.

This is also my last column for The New Scientist, who have decided to shake up their SF coverage going into 2018.  I'm sorry to see this feature, which I've had a lot of fun with over the last year, come to an end, but I'm grateful for the magazine's interest and support, and hopeful that I'll continue to write for them in the future.


Adam Roberts said…
I agree with you the Solomon is a remarkable novel. It's no mean feat to take a form so overdetermined by genre history -- the generation-starship story -- *and* a topic, slavery, so prone to handwaving moral consensus, or notional consensus ("slavery was bad"), and out of them write a story that is, as you say, refuses to run along the grooves you might expect.

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