December 19th, 2002

The First Thursday Afternoon "Hangover" Review: Jed The Dead

Alan Dean Foster is a prime source of medium quality mind candy. He's not an author for the deep, philosophical SF I tend to prefer, but he's there for those moments when you fancy a good old dollop of SF Lite. As it's been a busy a few weeks recently, I've found myself pulling a couple of Foster's off the to-be-read bookcase, ready to read on the tube and the train.

Jed The Dead is typical recent Alan Dean Foster. A standalone novel, and not part of any of his long running series, it's a travelogue loosely disguised as an SF thriller. The story ranges across the South West United States and (in an obvious tax write off move for a holiday) the jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula.

While it may be a travelogue, that's not to say this isn't a fun story - for one thing Larry Niven's made a pretty good career out of travelogue SF. A Texas oil rigger, bar tending his way to the Pacific Ocean picks up the dead body of an alien, only to find himself hunted by UFO cultists, the military, and more other-worldly concerns... His journey results in him seeing a very different view of America than he originally intended, and giving us an enjoyable little light thriller from someone who obviously loves the places he's writing about. We get to see strange events, strange beings, and hear strange stories. We also get to learn something of what it means to be part of a civilisation that reveres words above all else.

This isn't great SF by any stretch of the imagination. Jed The Dead's aliens are straight out of Lucasfilm's casting central, and the main characters have walked out of any number of US sitcoms. What it is, though, is a pleasant means of passing a few hours when crammed into public transport during the rush hour.

And to be completely honest that isn't a bad thing at all.
  • Current Music
    Groove Armada - Vertigo - Your Song

The Second Thursday Afternoon "Hangover" Review: Stories Of Your Life

At a party this summer we found ourselves sat around a table, reading aloud from a book of short stories: Ted Chiang's short story collection Stories Of Your Life.

Like Mike Harrison's Light, Ted Chiang's short story collection is a book every serious reader of SF literature needs to read. Each story is a jeweller's masterwork, small intricate pieces gently teased together, unlikely shapes forming a consistent, coherent whole. These eight stories are delicate fantasies, fantasitical tales that take the intellectual rigor of the hardest hard SF stories, and apply it to religion and philosophy. They're also the sum total of 12 years work; beautiful and moving pieces of fiction, that are polished and perfected in Chiang's loving hands.

In those gentle hands we find ourselves in worlds where the tower of Babylon is about to break through the vault of Heaven,worlds where combinations 72 letters mean life, and worlds where angels are natural forces that wreak havoc as they draw pilgrims to them and the existences of God, Heaven and Hell are physical reality. Chiang takes the supernatural and makes it natural, even if we're dealing with the purely science fictional world of the title piece, "Story Of Your Life", where alien language means the abilitity to perceive the future and the past as a seemless whole.

Stories Of Your Life closes with an afterword that details Chiang's ideas and influences. This is an excellent walk through the mind of one of SF's unsung masters, a quiet man whose stories are a testament to the power fo his ideas and his writing.

Wonder, wonderful stories; wonderful, wonderful writing.

(There's a sample here at Infinity Plus)
  • Current Music
    Bjork - Telegram - Isobel