This week has been pretty stand-up incredible for my consumption of science fiction. I stopped writing reviews a while back, but two recent pieces have just taken ahold of me.
The long way to a small, angry planet
A road-trip novel by Becky Chambers, this is one of the best books I’ve read in recent years. It’s a romp, a family wagon driving through the cosmos. Each chapter is an independent experience, slowly giving form by describing the edges of a world. This is first and foremost a novel about people. Not humans, but people. But secondly, and just as importantly, it’s about people interacting with each other.
It is political. It is opinionated. But then all good sci-fi is. It shows the best and the worst of what life can achieve. It’s rare that I’ve properly laughed or cried or awed while reading something, but I did all three with this book.
I can’t wait to read the sequel.
I was all set to hate this. Hollywood doing sci-fi. The guy who directed Sicario. Exposition in a trailer. It had all the hallmarks of something amped up, ready to be a big mess. But I was wrong in the best way possible.
Arrival takes the essence of a sci-fi short story, that tiny heart which has none of the cruft, and beautifully polishes it into something worth watching. Barring the opening lines and a tiny bit of exposition in the middle, it gives no quarter. It knows what it is, the entire shape, before it even begins. And beyond the languages and the science? There’s a story about characters.
Arrival is unapologetic about itself. Many people will either hate it because they don’t get it, or hate it because they think it’s trying to be too smart for its own good. But for me, someone who loves the idea of language and first contact, this film ranks alongside Contact and Close Encounters.