Published January 20, 2013.
What would have happened if Neil Armstrong had aborted his lunar mission in the final stage leading the Russians to have the first man to walk on the Moon? Despite this “what-if-scenario”, this story goes beyond being mere alternate SF.
Is it possible to read mundane fiction as if it were SF?
As a SF devotee all my life, everything I do and read comes filtered through that particular lens. A lot of the mundane fiction I read, with no particular evident speculative content, makes me happy and satisfy me as a reader in the same way SF work will.
Even in the most run-of-the-mill SF, there is always something in the way the SFional elements interact with the style of the writer, and with the way the characters in the story deal with the world, that pulls me right in. Modernism reacts against the narrative conventions of classic fiction, while postmodernism fights against the formalism of modernism. On the other hand, the New Wave and Cyperpunk writers go against the narrative conventions of genre fiction. What about the so-called post-New-Wave and Cyperpunk writers? I think they need to reclaim those conventions. The “new” aesthetic in SF (for lack of a better name), is based less in a rejection of earlier forms than in the celebration of them. They tend to borrow tropes, language, popular culture, fable and folklore, as well as from alternate modes (film, music, graphic novels, etc), and integrate them into a “new” mode that quite resists labeling. That’s why I prefer to call this “new” narrative modes 21st stories. And that’s what Ian Sales writes.
This 2nd volume mixes an imaginary timeline with a real one, as well as places and science that finding where the story spins off from our own timeline is quite daunting.
How can a novella be so much better than some of the longer works I’ve been reading in the last few years? Easy. Because it gives off a scent of coming from a different space and time. The little hints (and acronyms) dropped here and there in the story gave me a feeling of Otherness instead of Alternateness (I don’t go much for alternate-SF; I think these kind of SF is only adequate for lazy readers and writers…).
In the 1st volume of the series, I noted the absence of quotes when the characters used direct speech. In this 2nd volume another “thing” popped up: the use of the present tense narrative, which also imparted a certain kind of distancing of the reader from the characters, but not in a bad way. What makes this story so early in the year one of my highlights is the overall structure the story uses that enabled me to put forth an answer on how SF sustains my interest in the face of the alternate/impossible, i.e., the moment we realize that the accepted rules of our “reality” are in some distinct way being contradicted. And the answer lies in the way Sales goes about in his approach to the feeling of the impossible that always kept me engaged in his world even after the marvels ceased to appear.
SF that successfully leads me all the way to this deeper engagement with the text/world/whatever are very rare. Also the relation between narrative and the non-fictional elements that allows the extrapolative method not to be bracketed off as supplementary, rather followed directly from the narrative, which is something I haven’t seen done so well in recent years.
And I must say I love the titles of the stories. They impart a sort of universal wonder in me. Apart from the sense they give me, they also work as a way to creating a connected milieu.
SF = Speculative Fiction