Show Them What They Won, The Book of Strange New Things, The Sparrow
Show Them What They Won by Sean Boling
Ever wondered how many people have to die before gun-enthusiasts in the States start to question whether the easy availability and widespread ownership of fire-arms in their country might be part of the problem? Somehow though, the latest mass shooter incident always seems to get turned on its head, with the gun lobby managing to deflect blame by deploying absurd arguments about how the incident could’ve been prevented if only all the people that got shot had had guns themselves (so they could have fired back and taken out the bad guy – because clearly, in this Hollywood action movie view of the world, no one innocent would ever be killed in the crossfire or anything bad like that). But what if someone got so frustrated with this state of affairs that he decided to give the gun community a taste of their own medicine? And what if that someone were a retired police officer, so he knew not only how to handle guns but also how to cover his tracks?
This is what Sean Boling imagines in this gripping and highly provocative self-published novel. His protagonist, Hart, has retired early – but it’s difficult to feel 100% positive about enjoying your retirement when your daughter’s child was killed in a high school shooting and all the world can do is shake its head sadly (and then move swiftly on to the next news story). You can probably guess where this is leading – but the author makes Hart sufficiently sympathetic that you are rooting for him even when you know that morally, he has almost certainly taken a serious diversion from the path of righteousness. Another excellent and very thoughtful book from this author (see also my reviews of Abraham the Anchor Baby Terrorist and Pigs and Other Living Things). And what’s more, it’s currently free to download on Smashwords.
The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
This is (in the main) a literary novel about a Christian missionary sent to the planet Oasis to minister to the natives there. Much of the book consists of a rather anguished email correspondence (instantaneous face-to-face communication is not possible) with his beloved wife back on Earth, where various rather ill-defined crises appear to be causing civil society to fray at the edges. So the basic premise feels like a slightly weird genre mash-up, with a scenario and an epistolary format that would be more at home in a historical novel set in the 1700s or 1800s, but where both have been given a dystopian sci-fi makeover. I had high hopes for it at first and was intrigued by the religious aspect – but I don’t think sci-fi is Faber’s natural milieu and wasn’t convinced that the genre mash-up was entirely successful either. That said, it kept my interest sufficiently for me to read to the end (despite being overlong). But overall, I found it a curiously unsatisfying read. Given the sci-fi element, I had expected more in the way of “big ideas” or writing that makes you view things in a different way - but I didn’t feel that it ever really delivered on that front. And given the sheer length of it, I also felt a bit short-changed at being left with so many unanswered questions, both about Oasis and what was going on back on Earth (and why). It’s a pity because I enjoyed the other books I have read by this author (The Fire Gospel and Under the Skin, especially the former).
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
I hadn’t heard of this novel before but decided to take a look after it was referred to in a review on Amazon of the Michel Faber book above. That review suggested that The Sparrow was a more interesting exploration of the themes of religion and contact with aliens and having read it, I’m inclined to agree. The plot involves a Jesuit-led mission to investigate a mysterious radio signal from a planet orbiting Earth’s nearest star, Alpha Centauri – a signal that sounds very much like some form of extraterrestrial singing. Yes, I know, are we really expected to believe that as well as living in the woods, the Pope builds spaceships? But set aside whatever scepticism you might have about that because the author does a good job of constructing a reasonably plausible scenario for how the expedition comes about. It’s a long book but the author uses that length effectively to develop her human characters and their relationships to a degree that is unusual in sci-fi. Whilst the aliens are not as alien as say, the ones in a Stanislaw Lem novel (I am thinking of Fiasco, Solaris, Eden or The Invincible), they are a lot more interesting and original in conception than the Oasans (see review of Michel Faber novel above). And staying with Lem, the message – about the risks of imposing human expectations on alien races – certainly chimes with many of the former’s books (but this is quite a different treatment of that theme - and unlike Lem, whose books tend to be pretty male-dominated affairs, there are some strong female characters in the novel).
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You might also be interested in:
- Micro-reviews (May 2018) - "Theory of Bastards" by Audrey Schulman, "Munich" by Robert Harris and "The People's House" by David Pepper
- Micro-reviews (June 2018) - "Station Eleven" by Emily St John Mandel, "The 7th Function of Language" by Laurent Binet and "Night Heron" by Adam Brookes
- Micro-reviews (August 2018) - "The Speed of Sound" by Thomas Dolby, "The Bees" by Laline Paull and "The Three Body Problem" by Cixin Liu
- Free fiction review
- All my book reviews (categorised by genre)
Posted by Paul Samael. Posted In : Book reviews