Tor.com content by

Erik Henriksen

Cory Doctorow’s Radicalized Examines Our Dark Present, and Our Possibly Slightly Less Dark Future

Sometimes things are broken, and sometimes the only way to fix them is to break them even more.

Furious, funny, and smart, Cory Doctorow’s Radicalized is a quick, cracking read, full of the brave ideas and humanistic optimism that have marked Doctorow as one of our best writers and activists. The four novellas in Radicalized grow from a fundamental truth: That things in 2019 America are horrifyingly broken. And the four novellas in Radicalized show that Doctorow wants to break them even further.

The only thing he might want to do more is fix them.

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Broken Stars Gives a Tantalizing Glimpse of All That Chinese Science Fiction Has to Offer

In 2016, I read Invisible Planets—a book that served, for English speakers and/or cultural philistines such as myself, as an introduction to contemporary Chinese speculative fiction. “China has a vibrant, diverse science fiction culture,” writes editor, author, and translator Ken Liu in that book’s introduction, “but few stories are translated into English, making it hard for non-Chinese readers to appreciate them.”

Once they were translated, though, many of Invisible Planets’ stories were easy to appreciate: Showcasing work from writers like Xia Jia and Liu Cixin, Invisible Planets opened up a whole new aspect of science fiction for me and plenty of other English-readers. I didn’t stop there: I raced through Liu Cixin’s “Remembrance of Earth’s Past” trilogy, and then Ball Lightning; I kept an eye out for the translated Chinese stories featured each month in the forward-looking genre magazine Clarkesworld; I tried, with meager success, to track down more work from Xia Jia. (I won’t have to wait much longer.)

Now, three years later, comes Liu’s newest anthology of contemporary Chinese science fiction: Broken Stars, which offers 16 more translated stories. It’s a collection that’s just as surprising, exciting, and engrossing as the first.

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Nightflyers Proves George R.R. Martin’s Best Stories Are Weird Sci-Fi

George R.R. Martin is famous for two things: First, for starting A Song of Ice and Fire, the fantasy series that became the basis for HBO’s Game of Thrones. Second, for not bothering to finish A Song of Ice and Fire, the fantasy series that has been left in the dust by HBO’s Game of Thrones.

Thanks to Thrones, Martin has become synonymous with drawn-out, hyper-detailed fantasy. But before anyone had heard of Arya or Tyrion, Martin was cranking out stories for the sci-fi pulps of the ’70s like Analog and Fantastic. In many ways, these old-school stories—short and sharp, weird and melancholy—couldn’t be more different from A Song of Ice and Fire. And in many ways, they’re Martin’s best work.

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Star Trek: The Art of John Eaves Offers a Look at a Better (and Cooler) Future

The future was supposed to look cooler than this, right?

It’s 2018, which means we’re 17 years overdue for the majestic space stations of 2001: A Space Odyssey. According to Akira and Blade Runner, we’re a year away from moping through their skyscraping dystopias. And even though Back to the Future Part II got depressingly close to predicting America in 2015, at least Biff Tannen’s campaign to make Hill Valley great again came with hoverboards. It’s 2018, and we still don’t have hoverboards.

So I’ve ended up having to look even further to find a future that’s cooler. (Uh, both figuratively and literally, I guess?) Like, all the way to the 23rd century. The new art book Star Trek: The Art of John Eaves arrived at just the right time.

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Science Pushes Open New Doors with Blood-Smeared Hands: Cixin Liu’s Ball Lightning

Yeah, yeah—you’ve already heard no shortage of praise for Chinese science-fiction writer Cixin Liu. But here’s the thing: He deserves all of it. Liu’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy—the remarkable, Hugo-winning series published in America as The Three Body Problem, The Dark Forest, and Death’s End—is just as mind-bending and breathtaking as its fans claim. (And, not for nothing, those fans include this guy.)

Until this week, the Remembrance trilogy and a scattering of short stories were all that English-speakers had of Liu’s unforgettable work. But with the American publication of Ball Lightning—a novel originally published in China in 2004, and now translated into English by Joel Martinsen, the translator of The Dark Forest—we finally have more Liu.

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Nightflyers Is Proof That George R.R. Martin’s Best Stories Are Weird-Ass Sci-Fi

George R.R. Martin is famous for two things: First, for starting A Song of Ice and Fire, the fantasy series that became the basis for HBO’s Game of Thrones. Second, for not bothering to finish A Song of Ice and Fire, the fantasy series that has been left in the dust by HBO’s Game of Thrones.

Thanks to Thrones, Martin has become synonymous with drawn-out, hyper-detailed fantasy. But before anyone had heard of Arya or Tyrion, Martin was cranking out stories for the sci-fi pulps of the ’70s like Analog and Fantastic. In many ways, these old-school stories—short and sharp, weird and melancholy—couldn’t be more different from A Song of Ice and Fire. And in many ways, they’re Martin’s best work.

[Read more]

Overgrown Empire: Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias S. Buckell’s The Tangled Lands

Not to be too much of a killjoy, but friendly reminder: Each of us makes the planet a little bit worse.

Every day, we make an uncountable number of decisions. Big decisions, like whether to have kids. Smaller decisions, like deciding to drive to work or get a new iPhone. And decisions so tiny they barely register: Ordering a cheeseburger. Drinking a bottle of water. In the grand scheme of things, each of those choices has an infinitesimal impact. It’s only later, when combined with others’ actions, that we see our choices’ consequences: Overpopulation. Climate change. Human rights abuses. Deforestation. Garbage patches in the Arctic.

Paolo Bacigalupi’s ecologically focused work is shelved as science fiction, but horror might be a better fit. In The Wind-Up Girl, he considered what life could look like when towering walls protect cities from rising seas, and where corporations’ genetically modified crops annihilate the food chain. In The Water Knife, his drought-cracked American Southwest is home to those who control dwindling supplies of fresh water—and thus who lives and dies. Bacigalupi’s visions are intoxicating and terrifying; these futures aren’t so much possible as they are probable.

With The Tangled Lands, Bacigalupi and Tobias S. Buckell create a shared fantasy world, with each contributing two novella-length stories. (Two of these stories were released in 2010 as an audiobook, The Alchemist and the Executioness; a year later, they were published as separate novellas.) Buckell and Bacigalupi imagine the melancholy remnants of a once-grand empire, where magic-using citizens once lived in comfort. They used magic to craft, to conquer, to heal. They used magic to keep hearth fires burning, and they used magic to build palaces that floated on clouds.

But each of those magics had a cost.

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