Simon Bisson (sbisson) wrote,
Simon Bisson

I sing the body posthuman

I've just finished reading a couple of Sean Williams' recent novels, Geodesica: Descent (written with Shane Dix) and the first part of his new Astropolis trilogy Saturn Returns. Both of the books were, as always from Williams, excellent reads. There's an interesting underlying theme to Williams' SF, which I can only describe as an investigation into the post-human condition, wrapped up in the shape of convincing, intelligent post-human space opera. That's a rare thing in SF, where a strand of small "c" conservative humanism often delivers is to static distant futures where nothing is truly different from today (Jack McDevitt's Seeker is a prime example of this - an excellent book and a powerful story of misguided idealism that could easily be set here and now, not thousands of years in the future).

Take the Geodesica books as an example. Most of the viewpoint characters are significantly modified from the human norm - even to the point of being completely alien. They respond to situations in ways we wouldn't, and make choices that we would never consider. As the story evolves a key baseline human (if you can call her that) makes choices to change herself, and ends up becoming something very much of the other. Meanwhile, an engineered guardian discovers how to manipulate hardcoded drives to his own advantage, while another posthuman explores the reasons for his choice in stepping away from the baseline. There's a Darwinian drive to the next in Williams' universes that pushes both the story and the world to change and grow. His worlds may be empty of the alien, but the diversity of his human cultures gives us much that is peculiar.

Astropolis is an ambitious work. Put aside the character who speaks in Numan lyrics, and you find yourself in a far future, millenia down the line. This is an old future that's run down and torn apart, where the transcendent post humans that guided a galaxy-spanning humanity (in all its modified forms) have been murdered. A near-baseline human main character is resurrected on the edge of the galaxy, and heads inward to find out just why he was killed and why. In a mix of space opera and Japanese samurai film he meets up with old compatriots only to discover that a different version of himself has betrayed them all, in different ways - and may be involved with the event that killed the transcendents. Williams has also thrown away the convenience of FTL, leaving us with a universe where events take millenia to unfold, and characters can dial their subjective clock rates up and down. Overclocking, modding - this is a crisply gothic world where the LAN party culture would be at home...

Both novels are excellent reads, that take the wide screen baroque of space opera and give us something that is unique and different, worlds that explore what it means to be human while looking through the eyes of our unfamiliar children.
Tags: books, reading, reviews, science fiction
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