Wednesday, September 18, 2019

"The Return of the Incredible Exploding Man" by Dave Hutchinson

Dave Hutchinson is a weirdly good writer, and I don’t quite know how to characterize The Return of the Incredible Exploding Man precisely because of that skill. Absorbingly readable, it’s nonetheless doing some very odd things at the meta level, things that left me with a definitive feeling of “huh” when it was all over.

Alex Dolan is a recently out-of-work science writer, a Scot, who is offered a lucrative book deal by an eccentric American billionaire, Stan Clayton. Reluctantly signing on, Dolan makes his way to the still-developing Sioux Crossing Supercollider in Iowa, Clayton’s pet project. Lightly enmeshed in the lives and politics of the science team and native Iowans, Dolan is also roped into light espionage by the British government, and faces an escalating series of threats from an unknown antagonist. Finally, three-quarters through the novel, Dolan must deal with a bizarre accident at the supercollider, and its aftermath.

Sunday, September 8, 2019


In case you missed it, so you don't:Hey all, apologies for the quietness on Positron lately.  Lots going on offline for me. A couple SF/F things that have caught my eye, and then a grab-bag of Chicago events:
  • I'm very pleased to see that the 2020 SFRA conference will be in Bloomington, Indiana.
  • Wired had a great article, What Sci-Fi Can Teach Computer Science About Ethics, featuring some work done here in Chicago. Emanuelle Burton & Judy Goldsmith presented on some of this work back at the 2016 Worldcon, and it's rad to see it getting some attention.
  • Congrats to the 2019 Hugo Winners, including Chicago's Mary Robinette Kowal for The Calculating Stars.
  • Jeannette Ng's Campbell Awards speech, was brief and to the point, calling out Campbell as a fascist and highlighting what's going on in Hong Kong. This take on Campbell is accurate and not new, but I think the combination of lots of people reading Nevala-Lee's Astounding with the resurgence of fascism and white supremacy made it the perfect time for Ng to call it out.
  • In response to this speech and the conversation it sparked, the name for the award is being changed to "The Astounding Award for Best New Writer". Which is pretty rad.
  • In the wake of this, there were a lot of conversations going on around other problematic or potentially-problematic awards, including The Tiptree. That name is not being changed at this time, but Alexis Lothian has a great write-up from the Tiptree Motherboard on the topic.
Lots of good stuff going around Chicago lately:

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Review of Jo Walton's "Lent" @ the CHIRB

In case you missed it, my review of Jo Walton's Lent is up at the Chicago Review of Books.

This was a fun book to review, primarily because it's so weird generically: you'd definitely want to shelve it as fantasy, but it doesn't sit very exactly into any of the categories it draws on. Alternate history, time travel, and historical fiction are all in the mix. As with a lot of Walton's work, there's a unique but winning kind of character study that powers a lot of theological/philosophical exploration.

It was a real treat to write something for the CHIRB--they're a great publication in their own right, and I really dig how much they're functioning as a kind of amplifier/attractor for the Chicago literary scene. Hopefully will do some more for them soon!

Friday, May 3, 2019


In case you missed it, so you don't:

Two exciting events on Saturday, May 4th!
  • The DePaul Pop Culture Conference, A Celebration of Disney, runs all day at the DePaul loop campus (247 S. State). Academic panels, artist talks, screenings--these have been a treat every year.
  • It's the live recording of the first episode of Uncanny TV! The award-winning SFF magazine is coming to screens of all sizes. This looks like a phenomenal free event for SFF-lovers.
Also keep on your radar:
  • May 8th: Unabridged Books is hosting Julia Fine for the paperback release of What Should Be Wild.
  • May 9th: it's the next installment of Deep Dish, Chicago's premier SFF reading event!
  • May 24th-27th is Wiscon! Wiscon is seriously the best.
  • May 30th: head to Bucket O'Blood for a discussion of Headcheese with author Jess Hagemann.
In case you missed it on Positron:
And, as always, if you are looking to meet other speculative book-lovers, check out the calendar for tons of upcoming clubs!

Thursday, April 18, 2019

C2E2: The Future is Now

C2E2 2019 had some more prominent literary guests & paneling than usual, which is awesome, and I was able to attend a couple. Brief notes below; errors mine!

The Future is Now brought together SF/F authors to discuss various questions on how they create future worlds. Panelists:
  • Alison Wilgus: writer & comic artist; recently published Chronin.
  • Sue Burke: Chicago-based translator and SF author, recently of Semiosis.
  • Cory Doctorow: SF writer, journalist, and activist, recently published Radicalized.
  • Mary Robinette Kowal: Chicago-based SF writer, audiobook narrator, and puppeteer, recently published The Fated Sky & The Calculating Stars.
  • Mirah Bolender: SFF author, recently of City of Broken Magic.
  • Didn't catch the chair's name, alas.
Chair: Do you have literary heroes or events in the past that particularly affect how you create future worlds?
MRK: Yes! Cyclical nature of fashion, political issues. The issues faced by women astronauts in her fiction (set in an alternate past) are drawn from examples today.
AW: Has been working on her project so long it's like collaborating with a 12-years younger version of herself. Much more aware of queer aspects of the book, and how we've made lots of advances in queer rights but also they're under attack in a way they weren't.
CD: Super-skeptical of the whole enterprise of prediction. Tries with fiction not to project forward but to reflect back on what we're going through right now. Focused on human rights & digital technologies. When we create a terrible technology, we need to beta test it on people who can't complain, so it starts with prisoners/refugees/students before moving up to other sectors of society.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

"A Memory Called Empire" by Arkady Martine

Nuanced critiques of imperialism are having a bit of a moment in science fiction and fantasy. The simplistic, moustache-twirling villain is in no danger of extinction, but an increasing amount of speculative fiction is instead taking up more complex visions of empire: as systemic, as seductive, and as power structures with which even the most rebellious protagonists are complicit. How to reform—or destroy—something as large as imperialism itself is the core question in recent SF work like Leckie’s Ancillary Justice and Lee’s Ninefox Gambit, while novels like Dickinson’s The Traitor Baru Cormorant or Addison’s The Goblin Emperor use it to reconsider the conventions of epic fantasy.

Arkady Martine’s A Memory Called Empire takes up these questions at at personal and governmental levels. It’s a thoroughly diplomatic novel: there’s no separation between her enchanting characters and the taut political maneuvering that drive the plot. While it is a space opera—set against the background of the Teixcalaanli Empire, an expansionist interstellar power that has been at relative peace for almost a century—the novel focuses less on spaceships and aliens (both present) than it does on the bureaucratic and interpersonal intrigue that steers the empire’s course, and uses rich worldbuilding and personal detail to meditate on the effects, large and small, of cultural hegemony.