Via the Serendipity Express, two science-fiction novels have recently crossed my panoply of reading. Or perhaps have trudged should I say they have come across my literary desert, in search of a shared oasis? Or flew in from the internet of (paper) things? In any event, by divergent routes, these two books ended up on my reading list, back-to-back. Or perhaps cover to cover. Whatever.
I attended a reading by J.A. Knight of Gone Viral at the Book Ends bookshop in Winchester, Massachusetts, and bought a copy. It’s just barely science-fiction, and perhaps was not intended as such when it was written. What the author envisioned and wrote about, prior to its publication in 2018, has now, by and large, come true. To my mind, that’s how sci-fi works.
Ms. Knight’s premise is revenge: a supremely talented programmer isn’t chosen for a plum job with a big tech company and lets loose a virus that – and here’s the sci-fi trope – creates an algorithm which in turn creates an influencer app that wreaks havoc across the social media ether. It’s really quite prescient and is tinged with a large dose of irony, which IMO is most appropriate. Knight is careful not to venture too deeply into the technology, using broad, understandable brushstrokes to evoke believable scenarios.
As technology is wont to do, this algorithm/influence app goes quite haywire. Deaths result, and high-tech businesses quiver and quaver in fear. The characters are off-the-shelf, not the software, but they play their parts well and the story ends with a credible message to which we all ought to be paying attention: technology is not our friend. It, and the people in its business, are not to be trusted with our personal information or our credit card numbers. Wait. I think someone just rang my doorbell . . . .
Derelict by L. J. Cohen steps up to the plate for our second novel, revealing the fact that this is an all-star, all-female double-header review. I purchased this book at the Independent Publishers of New England booth at Bookstock, a pre-COVID summer lawn book fair, in Woodstock, Vermont, when it was published in 2014.
What was proven in the intervening six years was that the book and the reader often need to be in the same headspace for a reading to occur.
Ms. Cohen seems to be really onto something, for she has spun out another four volumes to follow this first of the Halcyone Space series. Halcyone is the name of the formerly derelict ship. a diminutive version of the Star Trek Enterprise. Halcyone’s central computer system, coldly and irreverently referred to simply as “the AI,”is as fussy as a 1980s computer trying to run Windows 3.0.
The novel is richly peopled, yet by a somewhat smaller and younger crew than the Enterprise. In truth, we don’t really know the ages of its characters, but may fairly surmise they are one and all late teens or early two-zeros. They’re fearsome in their attitude toward convention and parents, and heedless, if not reckless, with their fate.
Individually, they form a motley crew: a deeply angry and resentful female (with some big Daddy issues); a lad rendered inert by a head-bump for most of the action; his brother, who applies his medical bent to caring for his bro; and a fourth boy (and also with some Dad issues) who wears his hair in dreadlocks and creates music that soothes the savage AI. Although they seem to lack any clue what they’re all doing on the nearly comotose Halcyone, they manage to stir up a fair amount of trouble on several levels.
I would be derelict myself were I not to tell you that Cohen’s novel is just over 400 hundred pages in length and, in characterizing interpersonal relationships (including those with “the AI”) often did not leave me wondering “what happens next.” What happened instead was (a) a self-generated curiosity about why these four seemed to behave the way they did, and (b) my reading turning into a lullaby. So I made it to the end, when just about everything is tidied up except for a few plot lines which, of course, prepared the way to the sequels.
Both have their mystery subplots, but only tentatively so. It seems like authors really can’t write any form of fiction without a mystery or thriller component anymore. I guess James Patterson’s books have taught us authors this a little too well.
Next week on My Brain on Grape-Nuts: Hopefully the review of IPNE’s 9th Annual Publishing Conference, promised earlier but delayed due to technical details.
December 12 on The Saturday Review: The Best of Brevity, Twenty Groundbreaking Years of Flash Nonfiction