Obsession with work, the economy and plain old love take center stage in this month’s science fiction and fantasy selections.
While preparing for a documentary about his life in The Atlantis Code, linguist Thomas Lourds is shown a strange artifact featuring a language that even he, the foremost authority on ancient languages, cannot identify. Almost immediately, he is attacked and were it not for the fact that Leslie, the producer of the documentary, is a crack shot, Lourds’ life might have reached its untimely conclusion. Now, the race is on! Lourds and Leslie must outrace and outwit the psychopathic mercenaries hired by one Cardinal Murani, a member of a secret society dedicated to preserving the true history of Eden and Atlantis as well as resurrecting the power of the papacy. The characters rarely move beyond stereotypes—impossibly attractive, impossibly gifted at their chosen vocations, impossibly good or evil—and the scenes often feel reminiscent of other novels and movies; but the linguistics aspect of the novel is new and well-researched and has the potential to do for the field what Indiana Jones did for archeology. A captivating and fun read with a plethora of literary and cinematic antecedents, The Atlantis Code is best read with a big bowl of popcorn and enormous soda close at hand.
The price of success
The embers of the U.S. economy, the evils of giant corporations and the absurd notion of a fat-curing pill are just three of the targets in Cory Doctorow’s Makers. Oddballs Perry and Lester are two down-and-out, on-the-edge and off-the-grid inventors/hackers who create novel products, such as a robotic car driven by Tickle Me Elmos, as well as revolutionary economic systems such as the “New Work.” Slavishly following its basic tenets of capitalism, the New Work explodes, only to implode much as the dot-com bubble did. Rather than admitting defeat, Lester and Perry exploit the New Work bust by developing user-altered theme park rides (built in abandoned Wal-Marts) that revel in the boom of the New Work. But when the rides infringe on trademark law, lawsuits abound and things spiral woefully out of control (including Lester’s weight). Makers is the essence of good science fiction: extrapolating from today to tomorrow, though there is an inherent awareness in the book of the fragility of predicting the future, as evidenced by Disney’s Tomorrowland, which is laughably dated. That said, Makers is a wild ride through capitalism and American obsessions. Even if its praise of individual productivity and creativity while simultaneously condemning corporate America appears contradictory, the book does offer a possible, if not probable, escape from this dilemma. This is Cory Doctorow and science fiction at its purest and its best.
Fantasy pick of the month
In a field known for padding, A.M. Dellamonica’s debut novel Indigo Springs features exceptionally tight and evocative prose, without a wasted word or scene. It is a demanding novel, expecting readers to extrapolate important information regarding the past merely from textual clues, but it is well worth the effort. Like the reader, Dellamonica’s heroine, Astrid, cannot recall the past and must assemble it from the present. Returning home after her father’s death, she realizes that her father had discovered magic and was enchanting items for those most in need. Naturally, Astrid also has this ability. Her best friend Sahara wants to use the power for greater purposes despite the inherent risks, and this desire ultimately leads to a dark future for the young women. With rare subtlety, Indigo Springs explores gender and sexuality and power; Astrid is bisexual and in love with Sahara, while Sahara uses sexuality (and later magic) as a means of achieving power and control. Astrid’s mother’s sexual identity is perhaps the clearest indicator of the novel’s strengths, for it is only through careful reading that her identity becomes clear, and while not critical to the story, it is a playful take on the standard reader’s guide question of ‘Who do you identify with and why?’ This is a gentle and sharp novel for any serious, thoughtful reader.
In alphabetical order, Sean Melican is a chemist, father, husband and writer.