Joe M. Staff Picks
Well, I guess this list of recommendations is shaping up to be a lot of science fiction. I much prefer the weirder, wilder sci-fi stories (though I love elegant, understated works, too). I'll only recommend books that I've truly enjoyed AND think others (even non-sci-fi fans) will too.
This new collection of stories shows yet again why Ted Chiang is a modern Calvino or Borges. While ostensibly scifi tales, they're more sublime than that genre label might imply. As in his previous collection, some of these stories are fun explorations of "what if?" -- but others are almost modern parables that I could easily see being passed down amongst the generations, to warn and to teach. I'm rather surprised there's only one award winning film based on his works, so far.
Before reading this, I had known for a long time that this Czech play was the source of the word "robot". I also knew that it's referenced in Joss Whedon's Dollhouse TV show, but that's about all I knew. Now that I've read it, though, I notice it's influence all over the place, at least in the world of science fiction! And while the gender dynamics and portrayals are rather symptomatic of this play's 1920 origin, the "science" and the plot are surprisingly modern (or perhaps: timeless?). The story explores humanity and inhumanity (both biologically and philosophically) in ways that are instantly recognizable. I think this should be required reading for all sci-fi fans.
When a giant spaceship's artificial intelligence also controls its reanimated soldiers, the concept of 'self' can cover an individual, a group of individuals, a ship, and all of the above. This is one of the ideas expertly explored in this story, as we follow the last remaining "part" of one of these ancient, nearly-invincible ships as it unravels the mysteries surrounding its demise and fulfills its final mission.
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Have you ever wondered how a small group of humans might fare on a sunless planet that's still full of flora and fauna? Have you ever considered what it would take to populate a new world? Have you ever wondered how culture and language would evolve and devolve under such circumstances? I'm not sure that all of these have crossed my mind before, but I'm glad they're explored in this fun novel.
In the simplest terms, this is a noir-detective story... But the unique symbiosis of two separate cities (in two separate countries) that happen to occupy the same physical space adds a complexity (both practical and allegorical) that the hard-boiled gumshoes of yore could never manage.