Thursday, February 21, 2013

What if?

Last week’s meteor explosion over Chelyabinsk reminded me that good science fiction often begins with a question: “What if?  What if suddenly, and without warning, the earth’s rotation began to slow for no apparent reason? What if each time night fell, it lasted a little longer?  What if each new dawn heralded a longer day? These are the questions Karen Thompson Walker poses in her debut novel, The Age of Miracles, named one of the Best Books of 2012 by People, O: The Oprah Magazine, Financial Times, Kansas City Star, BookPage, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist.  “The slowing,” as it is comes to be called, not only wreaks havoc on crops, commerce, and circadian rhythms, but also pitches Julia, the novel’s thirteen-year-old narrator, into an altered world of shifting alliances. 

Tom Perrotta starts with a different hypothetical question in The Leftovers.  What if millions of people from all races and religions were to disappear miraculously in a “Rapture-like phenomenon”?  The Boston Globe says this about The Leftovers:  “In his provocative new novel Tom Perrotta dives straight into our unease…it’s a gentle, Perrotta-esque go at sci-fi, without any mangled bodies or bombed-out buildings; it’s a realistic novel built on a supernatural foundation.”

 Last, but not least, for the sci-fi inclined, I highly recommend Margaret Atwood’s In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination. This collection of essays (which includes both previously published and unpublished material) will appeal not only to readers interested in the evolution of speculative fiction, but also to those looking for insight into Atwood’s creative process. Who would have guessed that the author of the acclaimed The Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake, and The Year of the Flood began her literary career writing about two superhero rabbits named Blue Bunny and White Bunny?   It's funny, insightful, and well worth reading.

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