A Fisherman of the Inland Sea, Ursula K Le Guin

A Fisherman of the Inland Sea, Ursula K Le Guin (1994)
Review by Ian Sales

In a career stretching, so far, over five decades, Ursula K Le Guin has written several science fiction novels that are considered to be classics of the genre. She has also written a huge number of short stories – nine collections’ worth to date, in fact. A Fisherman of the Island Sea is her fifth collection, and contains eight stories originally published between 1990 and 1994, with one outlier from 1983, in a variety of genre magazines. Le Guin also provides a long introduction, in which she discusses science fiction, ‘On not reading science fiction’, and the stories contained in the collection, ‘On the stories in this book’. Of the eight stories in A Fisherman of the Island Sea, five are not linked. The final three, however, are set in the same universe and are predicated on the use of the same device, the “churten”.

Much of Le Guin’s science fiction is set in the Ekumen, a loose polity of planets colonised by humans. Earth, however, is not humanity’s home world, a world called Hain is. And travel between the planets is only possible at sub-light speeds, or NAFAL (Nearly As Fast As Light). Le Guin explains how, in a couple of early stories, she had inadvertently, and counter to the universe she had built, implied that some robotic ships could travel faster than light. She chose to explore this further:

“Which is it that keeps the manned ship from going faster than light – is it life, is it intelligence, is it intention? what if I invent a new technology that allows human beings to go faster than light? Then what?”
“As the new fake technology was as implausible as the ansible, and counter-intuitional as well, I didn’t spend a whole lot of time fake-explaining it. i just named it: churten theory.” (p 9)

The three churten novelettes are ‘The Shobies’ Story’, Dancing to Ganam’ and ‘Another Story’ (AKA ‘A Fisherman of the Inland Sea’). Le Guin’s decision to refuse to explain her churten theory unfortunately results in sentences like, “‘Because the field is to be conceived as the virtual field, in which the unreal interval becomes virtually effective through the mediary coherence – don’t you see?'” (p 85). Er, no, I don’t see. Sentences such as this don’t so much gloss over the unexplainable as they make understanding of it inaccessible. In truth, churten travel, as described in ‘The Shobies’ Story’ reminds me a great deal of FTL in Gwyneth Jones Spirit and Buonarotti stories. Which fits with its intended role – as outlined by Le Guin in her introduction – as a metaphor for narration. Each of the crew of the Shoby experiences something different on the first ever churten flight, and afterwards no two of them can agree on what actually happened. The ship’s instruments prove equally unreliable. In ‘Dancing to Ganam’, a second flight, organised to mitigate the effects encountered during the flight of the Shoby, arrives at an inhabited world, and each member of the crew finds themselves part of a different story in that same setting during their weeks-long stay there. I’m not entirely convinced that the churten metaphor is truly necessary, however, given that it’s a first contact whose plot is built on a profound misunderstanding of the culture being contacted. Linguistic confusion alone is sufficient to lead to the story’s unfortunate ending. ‘Another Story’, however, does not even mention the churten until halfway through. It begins, knowingly, with a line Le Guin has used before, “I shall make my report as if I told a story”, but ‘Another Story’ opens on the world of O, not Gethen. A young man travels NAFAL to Hain to study to be a Mobile for the Ekumen, but stays there to research churten theory. He visits O ten years after he departed home, but time dilation means his family are eighteen years older. So for his next visit home he travels by churten, but something goes wrong and he arrives on the day he first left for Hain…

Of the unconnected stories in A Fisherman of the Inland Sea… ‘The First Contact with the Gorgonids’ is a mildly amusing Americans-abroad-meeting-aliens story. ‘Newton’s Sleep’ is set aboard a large space station orbiting an Earth slowly destroying itself. Despite being originally published in 1991, it reads like something from several decades prior to that. ‘The Ascent of the North Face’ is presented as the journal of a climber, but the locations mentioned in it are all parts of a house. Both ‘The Rock That Changed Things’ and ‘The Kerastion’ are the sort of anthropological sf for which Le Guin has become best known. In the first, a rock of a particular colour causes a “nur” to question her world; the title of the second refers to an instrument played only at funerals, and the story tells whose funeral it is and why. Though short, both pack a considerable punch.

I opened this review by mentioning the introduction to A Fisherman of the Inland Sea, but I’ve chosen to save the argument it outlines until last. Le Guin suggests that people who do not read science fiction imagine that, as its name implies, it is dominated by science. Giving examples from her own fiction, she demonstrates that such an attitude is mistaken. There is some truth, I think, in what Le Guin writes – especially:

“People who don’t read science fiction, but who have at least given it a fair shot, often say they’ve found it inhuman, elitist, and escapist. Since its characters, they say, are both conventionalized and and extraordinary, all geniuses, space heroes, superhackers, androgynous aliens, it evades what ordinary people really have to deal with in life, and so fails an essential function of fiction.” (p 3)

While I think it still holds true twenty years later that most sf often “fails an essential function of fiction”, I would have blamed that on its prioritising of escapism. Le Guin points out the days of clunky prose, cardboard-cutout characters and blithe authorial hand-waving as a substitute for research are long gone, and argues that science fiction, “with its tremendous freedom of metaphor”, has made of the genre something more essentially functional than non-sf. I don’t completely buy her argument – for a start, she’s using her own oeuvre as typical of the genre, when it is far from that. Much sf is still escapist and populated by extraordinary people performing extraordinary deeds rather than, as it really ought to be, ordinary people in extraordinary situations (extraordinary, that is, to the reader). The bulk of the genre has yet to transcend its pulp origins.

“As for elitism, the problem may be scientism: technological edge mistaken for moral superiority. The imperialism of high technocracy equals the old racist imperialism in its arrogance; to the technophile, people who aren’t in the know/in the net, who don’t have the right artifacts, don’t count. They’re proles, masses, faceless entities.” (p 4)

Her argument here also seems a little shaky. Do people still believe all that “fans are slans” nonsense? I was under the impression it had died out fifty years ago. And science fiction has become noticeably less technophilic over the past four decades, never mind the last two. Le Guin may skate over the meaningless babble she uses to “explain” her churten (see earlier), but it’s a technique as old as the genre and one that has been used so often sf texts are now building on the technobabble of earlier genre works. There are, for example, sf novels by diverse hands which have made use of Le Guin’s own invention, the ansible. But in many sf stories, the technology is used as either an enabler or an equaliser, and it’s only in some less-frequented corners of the genre where technology-for-technology’s sake is a focus of the narrative. In fact, in recent years it seems disguising the technology in a story’s invented world has become a preferred technique.

Science fiction is a genre in which readers demand worlds to be navigated just as much as, if not more than, they want narratives to be followed. Le Guin’s fiction has always been notable for the clarity of her prose, but she is also a meticulous documenter of her worlds – the opening pages of ‘Another Story’ describes in depth the social arrangements on the world of O, for example. ‘The Kerastion’ too is for much of its length a description of the society, which explains why the situation alluded to in its opening paragraph has come about. At that node where exploration and narrative intersect – the churten stories notwithstanding – some of the best science fiction has been written. And it is a node Le Guin has managed throughout her career to hit with impressive frequency.

Fans of science fiction should not need to be told to read stories written by Ursula K Le Guin, they should know they ought to do it. And there is nothing in A Fisherman of the Inland Sea to suggest otherwise.

Extra(ordinary) People, Joanna Russ

Extra(ordinary) People, Joanna Russ (1984)
Review by Nic Clarke

I don’t think it’s controversial to say that Russ’ fiction is neither comfortable nor accessible reading. I recently started On Joanna Russ (2009), a volume of literary criticism edited by Farah Mendlesohn; three articles in, the word recurring most frequently seems to be ‘fierce’. Russ’ fiction is knotty, prickly, exhilarating, and it sometimes feels as if you need several brains just to take it all in. Every sentence is a challenge to your expectations as a reader. If these stories were striking (and they were) to a 1960s and 1970s audience unfamiliar with, and largely unprepared for, feminist narratives in their fantasy and science fiction, I find myself equally wrongfooted on encountering them in 2009 and 2010, albeit for different reasons. Rarely did these stories follow anything remotely like the course I thought they would.

Russ continually remakes the ground beneath your feet: evoking genre frameworks to play with and comment on them, hitting surprising emotional and thematic notes while skipping over whole chunks of plot and characterisation that, accustomed to a particular set of narrative strategies, I expected to see. Had it come from the pen of almost any other writer of sf/fantasy, the pivotal moment in the Hugo Award-winning ‘Souls’ (originally published 1982, and collected in Extra(Ordinary) People) – in which Viking raiders come to an abbey headed by the remarkable Abbess Radegunde – would have been the sack of the abbey. And, indeed, this is the pivotal moment; but we are not shown it, because the narrator (recalling, years later, his time in the abbey as the nosy but fondly regarded ‘Boy News’) is protected, both physically and emotionally, by Radegunde. Before he has even registered the violence breaking out, she conceals him with her body such that he is “almost suffocated” – and sees nothing.

What he shares with us, instead, is the increasingly tense build-up to the sacking, in which Radegunde – having greeted news of the Vikings’ arrival with the terse observation “‘God protects our souls, not our bodies'” – does her best to avert violence, and the lengthy, difficult aftermath, in which victims and attackers alike struggle to come to terms with what has happened, and Radegunde takes her own particular revenge on the Vikings. Radegunde plays expertly on the raiders’ shared customs and individual weakness, running verbal rings around them in an effort to persuade them to accept loot offered freely, rather than taken as pillage:

“Heed my counsel. Why play butcher when you can have treasure poured into your laps like kings, without work? And after that there will be as much again, when I lead you to the hidden place. An earl’s mountain of treasure. Think of it! And to give all this up for slaves, half of whom will get sick and die before you get them home – and will need to be fed if they are to be any good. Shame on you for bad advice-takers! Imagine what you will say to your wives and families: Here are a few miserable bolts of cloth with blood spots that won’t come out, here are some pearls and jewels smashed to powder in the fighting, here is a torn piece of embroidery which was whole before someone stepped on it in the battle.”

The narrator evidently enjoys the memory of her speeches, even though they are (in the immediate term) ineffective. Even the war band’s leader/spokesman, Thorvald, can only marvel (“‘If I sold you in Constantinople,’ he says, ‘within a year you would become Queen of the place!'”).

One possible reading of the story is that this is a woman who talks too much, and whose cleverness disturbs and alienates the Vikings, so that they eventually lose patience and carry out their attack. But what the narrator cannot quite hide, I think, is that the attack is an inevitability; the raiders are thrown, for a brief while, by the tenacity and quick wits of Radegunde, but ultimately they have come for violence – and they have the weapons. Words are not enough to make them feel the consequences of what they do.

Or at any rate, not the amiable, twinkly-eyed, slightly mocking words of the first half of the story. In the aftermath, surrounded by women left crippled and maddened, Radegunde sheds her folksiness and becomes fierce – especially when one or two of the warriors show signs of wanting absolution. Initially, her anger is expressed in terms of the culture she is in:

“All that child wants is someone more powerful than your Odin god or your Thor god to pull him out of the next scrape he gets into. […] The Christ does not wipe out our sins only to have us commit them all over again and that is what he wants and what you all want, a God that gives and gives and gives, but God does not give; God takes and takes and takes. He takes away everything that is not God until there is nothing left but God, and none of you will understand that! There is no remission of sins; there is only change and Thorfinn must change before God will have him.”

Gradually, though, she sheds such references, too; and it becomes apparent that this isn’t the historical tale I thought it was, but something science fictional, and the whole meaning shifts. Because Radegunde isn’t the unlikely abbess she appeared to be, either – she has witnessed many, many more violent events than this one – and in her otherness she has an exquisite way of inflicting revenge. “‘I lent him my eyes, that is all'”, she tells the Boy News later: she inflicts upon Thorvald empathy, and thus makes him share her anger.

Of the other stories in the volume – which are (very) loosely linked by snippets of introductory dialogue that frame the stories as lessons presented to an unnamed child – I enjoyed the more lightweight ‘Everyday Depressions’ (original to this collection). It is framed as a series of scatter-brained and faintly unhinged letters from an author to her (surely long-suffering) editor, about a lesbian Gothic romance she is working on. It is, of course, all very meta – and (fiercely) funny – with commentary on structure, plotting, gender politics and sexual morality:

Lady M, having been the innocent instigator of the carnal behaviour, of course feels responsible for Miss B’s death. Sex, you see, is not only unspeakably evil in itself; it leads inevitably to SUICIDE.

‘The Mystery of the Young Gentleman’ (1982), meanwhile, tackles gender even more strongly, focusing on two people – who, like Radegunde in ‘Souls’, seem to be either not human, or post-human – crossing the Atlantic in the late 19th century aboard the SS President Hayes. One (whose diary entries provide the narration) appears to be an adult male, the other a young girl, but from the exchanges between them it becomes apparent that both their ages and their genders are shaped to fit the environment in which they’re travelling, rather than a fixed or fundamental state for them. When a fellow passenger, a doctor, takes a shine to the narrator, farce ensues – but not without a note of sadness, for the limitations that the doctor’s society places on his experience of the world, by making him see only gender binaries, and everything else as a harmful deviation.

This review originally appeared on Eve’s Alexandria.

Left To His Own Devices, Mary Gentle

Left To His Own Devices, Mary Gentle (1994)
Review by Ian Sales

Readers were first introduced to the characters Valentine ‘White Crow’ and Baltazar Casaubon in the short stories ‘Beggars in Satin’ and ‘The Knot Garden’, both of which were original to Gentle’s first collection Scholars & Soldiers (1989). But the two characters are better-known from a pair of fantasy novels, Rats and Gargoyles (1990) and The Architecture of Desire (1991). Left To His Own Devices is the third book in this loose trilogy, but it is science fiction and it is set in the near-future (of its time of writing).

The Scholar-Soldier Valentine is now Valentine Branwen, and still a scholar and a soldier – but in this case, ex-military, an Elizabethan re-enactment sword-fighter, and programmer of games and hacker. Casaubon, on the other hand, is a “link-architect”. He is a computer scientist of sorts, but specialises in “the architecture of information space; that is, a database cross-indexed to within an inch of its life” (p 46). Casaubon has also invented Direct Neural Interface, a means of accessing data directly from a brain and downloading it. Valentine has already used the technique to create a Virtual Reality, SHAKESPEAREWORLD, in a matter of hours. And Valentine has solved the Travelling Salesman problem and created an algorithm which transforms Non-P problems into P problems.

Casaubon and Valentine decide that their inventions are too dangerous to be left in the hands of any one nation-state, so they arrange a demonstration before the press and release all the code on the Internet. The guineau pig for the demo is Miles Godric, an ex-boyfriend of Valentine’s and a freelancer for Hypershift! news channel. Valentine secretly includes her algorithm in the download of Godric’s brain – but this has unforeseen consequences…

… which only become apparent when Godric looks through the data downloaded from his brain. He’d chosen Marlowe as his topic for the demonstration, but the information trawled from his memory appears to include a play, A Spy at Londinium, written by Marlowe in 1610, seventeen years after the playwright was stabbed to death in a tavern brawl. The contents of the play also seem to strangely reflect the events of the plot of Left To His Own Devices, with characters who are clearly Valentine, Casaubon, Godric, and Valentine’s mother, Johanna Branwen, the PanEuropean Minister of Defence.

The demo, it transpires, has created an “Artificial Unconscious”. It’s not an Artificial Intelligence, or any kind of Oracle, but what it has done is crack every secure network on the planet and corrupt the data within them. Banks and governments are beginning to fail. All information is now completely accessible to all, and the world must change to accommodate that. Johanna Branwen, obviously, is somewhat resistant to this idea.

Left To His Own Devices is set in the near-future of 1994, but it’s plainly not the 1994 that we remember. There are still Confederate States, and much of Europe has been decimated by war. The UK, part of France and part of Spain have formed a PanEuropean Government, which appears to be British in all but name. London has also been “closed”, although it’s never entirely clear what prompted this or what exactly it means. There are references to refugees living on the streets, abandoned properties and some sort of government permission required to live within the city.

The worldbuilding, however, is secondary to the various manifestations of the Artificial Unconscious and the swathes of invented Marlovian dialogue that it quotes. There is also the relationship between Valentine and Casaubon, which echoes their relationship in the earlier White Crow novels. At times, both characters seem a little too good to be true, a Mary Sue and a Gary Stu, and the prose focuses on them with far too admiring an eye. It’s as if they – and the author – see only each other, and everyone else is peripheral to their existence. But as the story moves into its second half, with the creation of the Artificial Unconscious a fait accompli, and some sort of accommodation needed with the world it is creating, so the narrative allows the rest of the cast to move closer to centre stage.

The writing throughout is very good, and Gentle does that trick of hers where she mixes past and present tense, which is very effective.

Hearing only the sound of blades, she missed a metallic groan. The iron fire-escape creaked.
She feels the disparate weights of a blade a yard and a half long, three quarters of an inch wide, in one hand, a blade fifteen inches long in the other. Her dagger foot is advanced, her dagger hand forward; her rear hand and rapier raised, point steadily aimed at her opponent’s eye–
“–Do not mess about with swords!” (p 5)

The prose is also very detailed, with an almost Delany-esque attention to light and odour:

A faint air, already warm, slid into the room; smelling of dust, vinegar, and dog-shit. A less perceptible, more metaphysical scent impinged itself on his instincts. (p 20)

The technology discussed throughout Left To His Own Devices is a mix and match of early 1990s and invented near-future, which gives it an odd, and often dated, feel. Valentine, for instance, writes code on an Apple Mac, but has a flat-screen covering one entire wall of her studio. As a database professional, the central conceit of the novel, and Casaubon’s “link-architecture”, did strike me as nonsense. Databases use relational theory and relational algebra, and there are a number of sophisticated mathematical tools available whose existence render Casaubon’s profession meaningless.

There’s a sense throughout Left To His Own Devices that the two main characters have wandered in from another story and are not entirely at home in the plot. Given the references to hermeticism, the Art of Memory and other themes present in Rats and Gargoyles and The Architecture of Desire, this is likely deliberate. But it does give the prose an odd feel. Left To His Own Devices is ostensibly a near-future pseudo-cyberpunk story about the inadvertent creation of an AI (of sorts), but it is wrapped about with the plays of Marlowe, Elizabethan and Renaissance sword-fighting, and references to topics more suited to the two fantasies of which it is a loose sequel.

However, this does not mean that Left To His Own Devices is a bad novel. On the contrary, it is very good. I suspect, however, that reading it cold, without having read Rats and Gargoyles or The Architecture of Desire, would be doing it a disservice as familiarity with those two novels not only enrichens Left To His Own Devices but also makes more sense of it.

Left To His Own Devices was published in a book with three short stories. ‘Black Motley’ and ‘What God Abandoned’ are fantasy, but ‘The Road To Jerusalem’ is alternate history – and perhaps one of the best alternate history short stories ever written; it is certainly a personal favourite of mine.

Doomsday Morning, CL Moore

Doomsday Morning, CL Moore (1957)
Review by Admiral Ironbombs

“Something’s eating you,” I said. “Anybody can see that. Maybe I should have started off with, ‘Tell me, good Brutus, can you see your face?’ It’s obvious.”

He rubbed a hand over his face and looked at it vacantly, as if he hoped the expression would have come off so he could inspect it on his palm, like dirt.

Catherine Lucille Moore was the first major female author writing speculative fiction in the 1930s; her career blossomed through the 1940s and 1950s, until she stopped writing in 1957, the year before her husband (and fellow SF writer) Henry Kuttner passed away. While they each wrote on their own, collaborations became the norm after their marriage; together, wrote a huge body of stories for Astounding Science Fiction during the war years, carrying the magazine while other authors were doing government work. Her second husband forbade her from writing genre fiction; a damn shame; a crime even. It makes me wonder just how many great novels Kuttner and Moore never got to write.

This book, Doomsday Morning, was her last solo outing, back in 1957. It’s unique, standing out in her bibliography one of the few true science fiction works she wrote, and not a Burroughs-style science fantasy or a Lovecraft-inspired weird tale. And it’s a dystopian novel with themes revolving around theater and state control. Not your ordinary science fiction novel.

Following the Five-Day-War near the end of the 20th Century, the United States finds itself under the watchful eyes of Comus (short for COMmunications US) and its benevolent dictator, President Raleigh. Not only does Comus control the communications network, it’s also the Orwellian authoritarian state which makes the trains run on time and ensures each laborer is provided with daily food and provisions… at the cost of those various personal freedoms. After several decades, memory of life without Comus’ eternal oversight is nonexistent, though President Raleigh is growing quite old – and people fear the succeeding dictator won’t be as benevolent.

Howard Rohan (no relation) used to work for Comus (no relation), as a brilliant actor, director, and screenwriter. Co-starring with his wife Miranda, their films became quite popular, and the couple gained wealth and prestige. Miranda’s death haunted Rohan, who (like most male protagonists in this situation) blamed himself for her death, assuming his inattentiveness was the reason for her demise. As Doomsday Morning begins, Rohan’s a Cropper, a futuristic version of Steinbeck’s migrant worker Oakies from The Grapes of Wrath, an angry, depressive drunk hiding from his past at the bottom of a barrel.

Then, Rohan’s life undergoes irrevocable changes. Comus wants his theatrical expertise to help them out of a bind. Something’s stirring in California, where Comus has receded for some reason, and Rohan’s old acquaintances want him to bring Comus back into this barren land as part of a roving theater troupe. Things aren’t adding up to Rohan; why him, why now? How bad are things in California? And more pressing, why are references and predictions from one foggy dream coming true? – probably, Mr Rohan, because that was no dream. Thrust between Comus and open rebellion, Rohan is put in the role of leading man in a new Comus-authored play, and that of a wary spy in the real world.

I’m always interested to see how things like governance, freedoms, and social control operates within dystopic/utopic fiction, and Doomsday Morning is a gold mine. Given its place in time – post-McCarthyism, and just before the launch of Sputnik – the novel has clear allusions to Soviet Communism and the Axis dictatorships. It’s also worth noting World War II was the last gasp of one-man rule in Europe; monarchies were on the way out, and fascism had lost any of the charm it might have had in the 1930s. Meanwhile, the West was working overtime to prop up dictators such as Batista, Trujillo, and the Shah of Iran to fend off Communism, so not all dictators were portrayed as Bad Men. Thus the novel is a lot more complex than a simple allegory for Stalinism; at one point, someone notes that President Raleigh doesn’t want to die knowing he was the man who’d turned America into a dictatorship.

And we never get a clear picture of this new America, of day-to-day life under the dictatorship. We see a bus taking impoverished Croppers into Indiana – sounds like more of a critique of robber-baron capitalism to me, with laborers trapped into the life of servitude to large corporations – and a burnt-out, shattered California, mangled not by rebels but by looters – former Comus men, disillusioned rebels, and escaped prisoners. I would have liked a larger picture of this world, and to have known more about the Five Days’ War and the birth of an American dictatorship, but I’m also glad Moore kept this information secret. That’s not the point of the story; Rohan and his decisions are, since he ends up with the potential to alter the world.

One of the general complaints about CL Moore’s writing is that more often then not, things happen to her protagonists, instead of the protagonists moving things forward. That’s been true for what I’ve read, the Northwest John Smith and Jirel of Joiry stories. And while there’s a bit of that in Doomsday Morning, Rohan is more assertive, driving the action forward and interacting with the setting. Although, much of the novel takes place in Rohan’s head. It’s introspective and psychological, with Rohan pondering everything, always drawn back to the memory of his lost wife. Rohan’s personal complexities enhance this heavily internalized first-person PoV, though some of his choices felt unnatural – the third act starts with Rohan coming to grips with his wife’s death, and this becomes incentive to choose a side in the conflict, which didn’t feel like a logical choice.

Between that slow introspection and a more science fiction-y focus than Moore’s standard fare, Doomsday Morning is different from her earlier works. There are some intense action sequences that manage to intrude upon a novel about governance and theater, without feeling unnatural or rushed, and they’re damn good action sequences to read. The prose in, say, her Northwest Smith stories was lush and lurid, dripping with exotic scenery and visceral imagery. Doomsday Morning has beautiful prose, though it’s comparatively subdued, depicting the great Redwood forests of California instead of a Mars that never was. It has more of a pastoral Americana feel – similar to Simak’s City, or Brackett’s The Long Tomorrow – while retaining her beautiful imagery and smooth, compelling prose. If you’re not put off by heavy introspection – I wasn’t – the book makes for smooth and pleasant reading.

I ended up liking Doomsday Morning despite its eccentricities: the pacing is subdued, introspective, and sluggish; the setting isn’t as well defined as it could be; many of the protagonist’s decisions didn’t make sense – some parts of the plot just happen. But you know what? It was a good book and a great read. Rohan’s a complex protagonist in the process of developing, three-dimensional and sympathetic, which makes his musings enjoyable. What we see of the setting is amazing, a glimpse into an alien America. The action scenes are tense and well-depicted; the introspection fluid and fascinating when it’s most relevant. The plot meanders across the tranquility of pastoral Americana before heading into an unexpected finale bristling with excitement. And Moore’s smooth and compelling prose made up for the sluggishness. Not a perfect book, but I’ll still recommend it to any science fiction fan.

This review originally appeared on Battered, Tattered, Yellowed, & Creased.