Michael Hartford

writer, photographer, programmer, dad

Tag: science fiction

The Void

A police officer finds a blood-covered man crawling along the side of the road, and rushes him to the hospital. Soon after he arrives, something starts to transform the patients and staff into monstrous and blood-thirsty creatures. When the survivors venture into the hospital’s mysterious sub-basement, they find that much is amiss.

This movie has some great body horror effects going on, and some impressive gore. It teeters between horror and science fiction, with some Satanic cult action tossed in, and that gets to be a bit much, but it delivers some good scares and cringes.

Undertow by Elizabeth Bear

Against a backdrop of corporate and political intrigue, environmental and cultural pillaging, and the unraveling of the very fabric of reality, an assassin, a knowledge broker, and a “conjure man” betray, bedevil, and bewilder each other and the powers behind the far-flung, watery outpost of Greene’s World.

There’s a lot going on in “Undertow,” and sometimes a bit too much. The book is rich with ideas about space travel, the interactions between humans and other species, the implications of ubiquitous cybernetics, and the manipulation of chance. Add in some fast-paced adventure, an intriguing setting on a watery world, and layered political manipulation, and it can be a lot to keep track of. It does pull together in the end, though, and the final chapter is riveting.

I especially liked that the aliens were truly alien, and not just people in funny costumes. Based on the biology of Earth amphibians, their drives, culture, and behavior are understandable, but clearly not human, and the failure of humans to understand them, and their very different sense of community and history, propels much of the action.

Join by Steve Toutonghi

In a near future ravaged by environmental disasters, people are able to join their consciousness with others into new, multi-bodied selves, with their previously individual bodies as mortal avatars, or “drives,” through which the theoretically-immortal “join” can act upon the world. The technology that allows this is not well-understood, though, and the implications for humankind are fraught.

“Join” is full of fascinating ideas about personhood, mortality, conscience, and morality, hung on a fast-paced plot framework that at times reminded me of noir fiction in the tradition of Jim Thompson and James M. Cain. The denouement felt a little rushed–having set up a powerful philosophical conundrum in the first 200 pages, the story is brought to a close with two sharp and violent scenes in the last twenty pages–but the density of the ideas presented make up for the abrupt conclusion.

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