Thursday, October 27, 2016

A Forgotten Ace Double: The Prism, by Emil Petaja/Crown of Infinity, by John M. Faucette

Ace Double Reviews, 98: The Prism, by Emil Petaja/Crown of Infinity, by John M. Faucette (#H-51, 1968, 60 cents)

a review by Rich Horton

(Cover by Kelly Freas)
The lure for me in this Ace Double is the first novel by John M. Faucette, a fairly little known writer these days, but one of a very small set of African American SF writers before, really, the 1980s, which is amazing and a bit embarrassing for the field. There are, of course, significant examples of "proto-SF" by black writers such as W. E. B. du Bois and Charles Chesnutt. But inside the genre the first black novelist was, as far as I can tell, Samuel R. Delany, still the greatest black writer of SF (but that's no shame -- he can make a case for being the greatest writer of SF period). The only other noticeable black SF novelists in the '60s were the excellent YA writer (and Newbery winner) Virginia Hamilton ... and John M. Faucette. Faucette published a few novels in the '60s and '70s, mostly SF but at least one mainstream book. His last short story ("Pets") appeared in Artemis in 2001, and I surely read it but can't remember it. He left several novels unpublished at his death (in 2003, aged only 59), and complained that editors and readers weren't ready for African American heroes in SF novels, which is not an implausible complaint, but, I have to say, perhaps not the only issue in his case.

I approached Crown of Infinity, Faucette's first published novel, with interest and a real desire to like it. The publisher's copy compares it to Doc Smith and Olaf Stapledon, and, oddly enough, that comparison makes a lot of sense. Unfortunately, the comparison ultimately is utterly to the disadvantage of Crown of Infinity. Indeed, I'd say this book reads as if written by a teenager completely in love with Doc Smith's work ... and with enough talent to imitate aspects of it effectively, but with no ability to structure a novel, nor enough originality to really make the novel "new".

It opens with a ship crewed by aliens looking for any trace of of the vanished "Star Kings" (echoes here of Edmond Hamilton, of course). No traces remain, but the commander begins to recall stories of their history, beginning with the destruction of Earth by the evil aliens called "Masters of the Universe". Only a few humans escape, but with a plan, involving genetic manipulation (each escaping ship is crewed by a single couple). Eventually, a superman is (tragically) produced, and manages to create a technological solution allowing humans to link with powerful computers and eventually defeat the Masters of the Universe.

The story leaps forward in time again and again, as the now ascendant evolved humans, called Star Kings, turn back a series of variously successful attempts by the Masters of the Universe to return to power. They also shepherd a new group of aliens and humanoids to what is called "Civilization", then disappear after a dastardly Masters of the Universe plot causes a foolish Star King to massacre an innocent planet. There is also conflict with beings from other universes. And there are some utterly silly interludes involving, for example, Star King couples acting like silly '50s suburbanites, to no obvious purpose.

Ultimately, Faucette's imagination fails him. The scope is Stapledonian, and some of the ideas recall Doc Smith. But nothing convinces. And the scope -- for all its vastness -- never seems plausible or thematically interesting. The ideas -- the aliens, the weapons, the battles -- only come off as faint echoes of Doc Smith. And the novel's structure is, well, all but nonexistent, with lots of repetition, and with several chapters seemingly just shoehorned in, maybe simply to pad the wordcount.

Alas, this is a really bad novel -- though, I thought, a clear indication of a writer who just loved the genre.

(Cover by Jack Gaughan)
Crown of Infinity is backed by Emil Petaja's The Prism. Petaja (1915-2000) was born in Montana, of Finnish descent, and lived in San Francisco for much of his life. He was a photographer as well as a writer, and worked in films. He was a friend of the great SF artist Hannes Bok. His best known novels were based on the Kalevala. He was a member of First Fandom, and wrote more than a dozen novels and some 150 short stories, but really never made all that much of an impact. I have read a couple of his works, without much pleasure.

The Prism is not one of his Kalevala books. It's expanded from a 1965 Worlds of Tomorrow story called "Worlds of the Spectrum". It opens with a stereotypical hero character, Kor, fighting battles with the various inimical species in his environment, and desperately wishing to reach the beautiful Princess Sena in her castle up on an unscalable cliff. We soon realize that Sena is in fact a spoiled young woman in a futuristic world who, along with others of her privileged Gold class, entertains herself with "livideo", a sort of virtual immersion in the lives of Kor and his fellows.

It soon turns out that Sena is really not quite so bad as it first appears. She's one of a small group who is trying to overturn the classist and unjust future society on Earth, which exploits not just the other "colors" on Earth, but the genetically created creatures, many of them human, on the planet inhabited by Kor. She ends up arranging for Kor, and eventually a number of his fellows, to be teleported to Earth to confront the evil ruler, His Goldness IX. Meantime she must both entice and fend off the advances of the ugly and fat Dorff, His Goldness' chief aide; while trying to convincingly fit into her milieu, obsessed with virtual entertainment and sex and drugs.

It's all very silly, with absurd touches such as the holy sign being the middle finger. None of the action really convinces, and the denouement is really flat. Kor himself, ultimately kind of a secondary character, is the most interesting -- which is not to say all that interesting. A few OK notions here, though none of them really original: in the end, a typical '60s books by a man in his 50s at the time.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Old Bestseller: The Visits of Elizabeth, by Elinor Glyn

Old Bestseller: The Visits of Elizabeth, by Elinor Glyn

a review by Rich Horton
Here’s a true Old Bestseller again. The Visits of Elizabeth was the 6th bestselling novel of 1901, according to Publishers’ Weekly. The writer, Elinor Glyn, had an interesting life. She was born on the island of Jersey in 1864 (making her a subject of the Queen but not precisely a citizen of the United Kingdom – indeed, as the Channel Islands were part of the Duchy of Normandy they like to refer to the Queen as their Duke, not their Queen), but she moved to her mother’s native Canada after her father died when she was an infant. They returned to Jersey when Elinor was 8. She married Clayton Glyn when she was 28, and had two daughters, but the marriage was soon in trouble, and Elinor had numerous affairs.

The Visits of Elizabeth was her first novel. With her later novels she developed a reputation for scandal: her novels often featured extramarital sex, and more erotic detail than common at that time, and her notorious personal life no doubt added some spice to her reputation as a writer. Given her husband’s spendthrift ways, their rocky marriage, and her own doubtless expensive tastes, she continued to write prolifically for the money. Three Weeks was perhaps her most famous book, about the romance of a Balkan Princess with a much younger man. She also wrote the story “It” (1927) – Clara Bow starred in the movie version and became known as “the It Girl”. During the 1920s Glyn moved to Hollywood and was a very prominent screenwriter. She returned to England in 1929 and died in London in 1943.

The Visits of Elizabeth, first published in 1900 (though some of the sections were previously published in The World, beginning I think in about 1898), is a bit more innocent on the surface than many of Glyn’s later books (though a lot is implied to be going on behind the scenes – but Elizabeth is innocent of all this intrigue, to comic effect). It is a novel in correspondence, comprising a series of letters from 17-year old Elizabeth to her mother as she visits a series of relatives in England and France. (There was a 1909 sequel, Elizabeth Visits America, in which the now married Elizabeth writes to her mother during a trip to the colonies.)

Elizabeth is well-born, wealthy though not titled, naturally somewhat snobbish but in an innocent fashion, and evidently very pretty. The book opens with her visiting Nazeby Hall, for a cricket party. One of the cricketers is the Marquis of Valmond, who takes to Elizabeth right away, even though his mistress, a Mrs. Smith, is also of the party. Elizabeth is offended and slaps him, and we can guess where that might lead eventually. The bulk of her letter is taken up with observations about her fellow guests that aren’t quite catty because of her lack of malice, her willingness to praise when due, and her funniness. She also remarks on some behavior that she regards naively but the reader knows is her fellow guests either engaging in sexual intrigue or making fools of themselves or both simultaneously.

This pattern is repeated throughout the book – she visits a relative or acquaintance, she remarks on how dull or pleasant the place is, she notices people sneaking around and remarks on their doings with innocence, men, some married, some not, fall in love with her, and try to steal kisses or set up trysts, and occasionally even propose marriage … It somehow avoids ever seeming too repetitive (though it is repetitive a bit) … the foibles of the various characters are generally different each to each.

An extended part of her travels are in France, where she manages to facilitate her plain cousin’s marriage, mainly by rejecting the suit of the man her Godmother intends to marry the cousin. There are plenty of observations about the differences between French and English mores. Finally Elizabeth returns to England, and, of course, eventually true love …

This isn’t a great book, by any means, but it’s fairly fun, often quite funny, and stays on the sweet side of satire. There is, by the by, some presumably fairly accurate depiction of the habits of life of the very rich, and about their physical environs. Elizabeth stays nice, and noticeably comes down (mostly) on the side of a social-climbing Jewish woman, as opposed to the snobbish but only too happy to sponge folks who make nasty and anti-Semitic remarks. Elizabeth’s naivete never seems stupidity, nor does it seem a put on. Not bad stuff at all.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Another not so old Non-Bestseller: The Living End, by Stanley Elkin

Another not so old Non-Bestseller: The Living End, by Stanley Elkin

a review by Rich Horton

Let's transition out of Anthology month with a sort of quasi-collection: a triptych of closely related stories that together make up a book, not quite of novel length. Stanley Elkin's The Living End comprises three stories, originally published in American Review, Antaeus, and TriQuarterly, as "The Conventional Wisdom", "The Bottom Line", and "The State of the Art". The titles themselves are sort of linked: they are quite conventional idiomatic phrases concerning something similar: an ordinary, quotidian, belief or situation. The stories are of a length, 10,000 words or a bit more, so the whole book is novella length, maybe 32,000 words. This also continues my habit of encountering a significant writer by reading a pretty short book.

I had some interest in Stanley Elkin because of some slight similarities in our biographies. Very slight, really. Elkin, though born in Brooklyn, grew up in Chicago, and I grew up in the Chicago suburbs. Elkin went to the University of Illinois, as I did, about a quarter-century later. And Elkin moved to St. Louis after school, and lived the rest of his life there, as a Professor at Washington University. I also moved to St. Louis after school, and have lived there ever since (though I'm not a Professor). He wrote ten novels and a few collections of stories and novellas, plus a number of essays. He suffered from multiple sclerosis. He was a very well-regarded writer critically, though he never sold all that well. He won two National Book Critics' Circle awards for Best Novel. He died in 1995, aged 65.

The Living End
opens with Ellerbee, the owner of a liquor store in Minneapolis, worrying about his two employees who have just been shot at his store. He vows to hlep their families, and indeed does so in exemplary fashion, against the wishes of his wife. He even fends off the offers of sex from the wife of one of the men. And he is resistant to his wife's belief that the criminals must be black men. He's quite the virtuous man -- in an uncynical fashion. And all this does him little good when the criminals (mobsters) return to his store and kill him. Somehow Ellerbee ends up in Hell (after a visit to Heaven which he finds underwhelming, more of a theme park.) Ellerbee's lot in Hell is, well, eternal suffering, but his will is unbowed, he continues to rebel against the capricious God who placed him there.

Ellerbee encounters some people he knows in Hell, particularly Ladlehaus, one of his murderers. The second section concerns first him, as he ends up by mistake returned to life, sort of: he goes back to his body, but his body is still buried. In this form he can do nothing but complain, and eventually torment one Quiz, the groundskeeper at a high school football stadium built over Ladlehaus' grave. Quiz becomes the focus, and his concerns about the boys who play in his bailiwick -- and then he dies as well, of an unexpected heart attack.

The final section, eventually, focusses on God himself, as well as his Son and frustated Joseph and the Virgin Mary and her motherly affection for one of Quiz' young boys, who himself unfairly ended up dead and in Heaven. The burden, in the end, is why God is who he is, and why he, not really so much on purpose, torments so many.

The novella is, as may be clear, fundamentally comic, if rather blackly so. And it's quite funny at times. It is not ever really convincing theologically -- Elkin's heart is clearly not in it in that sense. (Elkin was Jewish, and the God depicted here is mostly the Christian God (with nods to other traditions), and anyway he really just seems to be going through the motions in his satirical treatment of the deity.) What distinguishes this book is Elkin's prose, which is quite comically extravagant. I enjoyed reading it -- at some level, though, I confess I was more interested in Ellerbee's life story than in the concluding 2 and half sections set mostly in the afterlife -- though there was much of interest there, mostly, as I note, prosodically.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Old Anthology: Their Husband's Wives, edited by William Dean Howells and Henry Mills Alden

Old Bestseller: Their Husbands' Wives, edited by William Dean Howells and Henry Mills Alden

a review by Rich Horton

This is the book I originally planned on covering last week for "Anthology Week" at Friday's Forgotten Books, but my computer troubles intervened. I was able to get to the hard drive from the messed up computer (the problem seems to be the video card), and I resurrected this review, which I wrote several weeks ago.

Here's another anthology that might be considered a sort of "stealth" "Best of" collection from a single magazine, in this case Harper's. Indeed it is subtitled "Harper's Novelettes", though the stories are pretty short for what we'd consider "novelettes" these days. It's not a pure "Best of" collection, as it has a theme: Marriage, and marriage mostly focusing on women. It does feature stories mostly from a single year (1905, with three from the same issue). The book itself appeared in 1906. It seems actually to be part of a series of at least 8 books, all subtitled "Harper's Novelettes", on different themes (other titles include Quaint Courtships and Southern Lights and Shadows), all published in 1906/1907.

Henry Mills Alden (1836-1919) was Editor of Harper's for a remarkable 50 years, from 1869 until his death. William Dean Howells was his near exact contemporary, born a year later and died a year later. He was an editor with Harper's' rival (then and now), the Atlantic Monthly, and later with Harper's. He was better known, of course, as a novelist, indeed a doctrinaire realist novelist. Probably The Rise of Silas Lapham remains his best-known work. Howells is responsible for the very brief introduction.

The six stories are:

"Eve's Diary", by Mark Twain (5000 words) (Harper's, December 1905)
"Covered Embers", by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps (8900 words) (Harper's, August 1905)
"Life's Accolade", by Abby Meguire Roach (5100 words) (Harper's, September 1905)
"The Bond", by Emery Pottle (4300 words) (Harper's, July 1904)
"The Eyes of Affection", by George Hibbard (3600 words) (Harper's, August 1905)
"The Marriage Question", by Grace Ellery Channing (8900 words) (Harper's, August 1905)

Mark Twain's story is actually part of a diptych, along with "Extracts from Adam's Diary", which appeared in Harper's for April 1901. They have often since been published together, including once again in Harper's in 1999. It's an amusing, and sometimes touching, comic retelling of the beginning of Genesis from Eve's point of view, and makes much of the differences in attitude between Adam and Eve, and Adam's grumpiness, and Eve's innocence. Supposedly Twain based Eve on his wife Livy, and Adam on himself.

Elizabeth Stuart Phelps (1844-1911) was a significant early feminist, noted for advocating for financial independence for women, clothing reform (she advocating burning corsets), and for jobs outside the home. She was born Mary Gray Phelps, but asked to change her name to her mother's name after her mother's death when she was very young. I don't know if the name change became official, but she did use it as her pseudonym. She published a story as young as 13, and was very prolific in novels, short stories, and nonfiction throughout her life.

"Covered Embers" opens with a noted lawyer welcoming a new client: a countrified man (though somewhat prosperous) who wants a divorce. The lawyer wonders why? Has his wife been unfaithful? Has he? The man is shocked -- how can the lawyer insult his wife so! It turns out the problem is really that they just don't get along anymore, and the deeper problem is that their cherished daughter had died some years before. And now they -- mutually -- want a divorce, but divorces aren't so easy to obtain. Over the length of the story, as we expect, and with the lawyer's help (for some of his own personal reasons) they are subtly chivvied to rediscover their love. It's a rather nice story, really, funny in places, using dialect effectively, a bit sentimental of course, but effective.

Abby Meguire Roach was a Kentucky writer (her papers are at the University of Louisville). Her dates are given as 1884-1964 on the U of L page about her papers, but I found a reference in a book called Library of Southern Literature: Biography, published in 1907, that suggested she was born in 1876, and married in 1899. The earlier date seems plausible to me. Either way, she was quite long lived, and as late as 1957 published a short memoir of the "Authors Club of Louisville". I don't know of any novels by her -- the only book I can find is a short story collection called Some Successful Marriages (1906), which includes the story at hand.

"Life's Accolade" is a fairly simple romance, in which Frieda Channing, long cold to suitors, realizes she is in love with her friend Mr. Channing as they deal with a storm in a sailboat. After marriage and a child, however, things seem stale, and it takes a second, more difficult, pregnancy, and Channing's care for her, to bring her back to happiness. There's not much more to it than that: a fairly straightforward morality tale, about the propriety of married love and faithfulness, and working at it ... but it's nicely done, and makes its point well enough.

Emery Pottle is an interesting case. His full name was Gilbert Emery Bensley Pottle (1975-1945). He was perhaps best known, later in his life, as an actor, stage name Gilbert Emery. His roles seem mostly to have been fairly minor. IMDB suggests his most famous movies were A Farewell to Arms (starring Gary Cooper), That Hamilton Woman (based on the affair of Lord Nelson and Emma Hamilton, starring Vivian Leigh and Laurence Olivier), and Dracula's Daughter (starring no one I'd heard of). Before becoming an actor in his 40s, he was a writer, of short fiction, poems, and novels, using the names Emery Pottle and Gilbert Emery. He wrote a play, "The Hero", about World War I (he fought with the AEF), in 1920, and that may have led to his acting career.

"The Bond" tells of the marriage of the beautiful and upper class Frances to Richard Keppel, who is well off but comes of more countrified stock. They are happy together until the question of Keppel's relatives comes up -- he remains devoted to his mother and sisters, but he seems afraid of Frances' reaction to them, and indeed she seems to be a bit put off by their cruder manners. Things come to a head when Keppel goes by himself to Thanksgiving at his old home, and his mother gives him wise advice -- his place is with his wife. Of course, his wife has done some thinking too ... A fairly simple story painting a fairly simple moral. Like "Life's Accolade", it doesn't do much new or surprising in its short space, but it does what is does well enough.

George Hibbard is the most obscure of these writers -- I can find nothing about him. There are perhaps four notable George Hibbards -- a St. Louis art collector, a Boston mayor, a Canadian businessman and politician, and a contemporary golf instructor. None of these seems to be our man. Further digging finds a reference (from The Writer, "A Monthly Magazine for Literary Workers", August 1911) to a Buffalo lawyer who also wrote "prettygirl-handsomeman" fiction -- I suspect that's this guy!

Hibbard's story, "The Eyes of Affection", is about Isabelle Halcomb, who has been happily enough married to Jack Halcomb for some years. An old flame, Dick Graham, ends up staying at a nearby house, and she runs into him again, of course, and starts to wonder -- what if she had married him instead? He seems a well made and successful man. Did she make a mistake? But even though she feels her life with Jack is a bit humdrum after all these years, she is brought to realize that what she has with him is real, and better than worrying over past flames.

Finally, Grace Ellery Channing is a pretty intriguing figure. She was born in Providence, RI, in 1862, but moved to Southern California in the 1880s for her health (successfully). She became an editor with The Land of Sunshine, a magazine that advocated life in Southern California, including such things as spending time in the sun, and a Mediterranean diet, and wine. Her grandfather was the founder of the American Unitarian Church and her father was an inventor. She was a lifelong friend, and occasional collaborator, with the writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and, curiously, married Gilman's husband, Charles Stetson, after he and Gilman divorced. (Wikipedia says Gilman and Channing, who remained friends, raised Gilman and Stetson's child -- I wonder if that's a typo?) Channing Stetson was a war correspondent in France during World War I. She died in 1937.

"'The Marriage Question'" is perhaps the most overtly feminist story here, and it's not very feminist in today's terms. Richard Satterlee is somehow a bit discontented with his wife, again named Isabel, and he starts to take an interest in his hard-working secretary. He fantasizes about asking her to dinner. Then his wife shows up, unexpectedly, at his office. She realizes that Miss Clarke has a relationship with her husband that she doesn't share (though she suspects no impropriety, and indeed Miss Clarke is guiltless) ... and she makes a plan. She suggests that Miss Clarke, who perhaps needs a rest anyway, take a few weeks off, with pay, and instead she'll do the secretarial work. What follows is a bit of a revelation to Isabel -- she has some learning to do -- but even more of one for Richard, who learns that there is more to his wife than he had credited. The end result is a renewed marriage, and a closer collaboration. (And Isabel will continue to be his secretary/partner ...)

In all, not a bad collection of stories, on a distinctly circumscribed theme: each story is about marriage, more specifically about women's roles in marriage, and each quite resoundingly supports the institution of marriage, and fairly traditional roles, but usually with a message for each partner: that they need to pay attention to their spouse's needs. Simplistic, I suppose, but sensible enough.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

a review by Rich Horton

The 2015 Hugos were famously corrupted by a slate of nominations sponsored primarily by Vox Day, called the Rabid Puppies. The eventual winner for Best Novel was a decent book, The Three Body Problem, by Cixin Liu; but it was clear to me there were better books out there. But what books might those be? To be honest, the extended nomination ballot wasn't tremendously inspiring. There were good books there: Ann Leckie's Ancillary Mercy (actually on the short list), Jo Walton's My Real Children, Charles Gannon's Trial By Fire, Andy Weir's The Martian, Jeff VanderMeer's Annihilation. And numerous books I haven't read. But in all honesty, while all these books are fine, none struck me as obvious no doubt about it Hugo winners.

Where to go? How about outside the traditional genre writers? Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven is a book I have just read, prompted by the praise of Mark Tiedemann, and by the fact it was selected for the book club Mark runs at Left Bank Books in the Central West End of St. Louis. Mandel (a Canadian who lives in New York) has written three other novels, which seem to be mysteries of some sort, with literary chops. Station Eleven was her breakout, and it's sure enough Science Fiction. It was also a National Book Award finalist, and a bestseller. And it's a heck of a novel.

It opens in Toronto, roughly the present day (maybe slightly in the future). King Lear is being performed, starring Arthur Leander, once a major movie star but now slightly on the decline. In the middle of Act IV he has a heart attack, and dies onstage. Jeevan Chaudhury, training to be a paramedic, leaps on stage to try to save him, with no effect. Kirsten Raymonde is an 8 year old girl playing Cordelia as a child, and Jeevan ends up trying to comfort her. And in the ensuing hours, it becomes clear that a terrible disease, called the Georgian Flu, has reached Toronto, and indeed the rest of the world, and some 99% of the human population will die in the next few weeks.

The rest of the novel is anchored twenty years in the future, when Kirsten is a member of an acting/musical troupe in Michigan called the Traveling Symphony. (For some reason I was reminded of John Barth's Floating Opera.) They traverse a circuit of villages in the post-apocalyptic society that has succeeded the plague, performing Shakespeare and classical music. Kirsten's motto, taken from an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, is "Survival is insufficient". It seems that the world, after a few years of scary chaos, has settled into a fairly peaceful subsistence economy, and that the Traveling Symphony is a welcome reminder of the glories of human achievement. Kirsten, who barely remembers her pre-plague life, treasures a few things from that time, mostly gossip magazines concerning Arthur Leander, and a privately printed comic book Arthur gave her, Station Eleven, written by someone signed only "M. C.".

The novel also focusses on the past: the life of Arthur and his three ex-wives prior to the Collapse. The most important of these women is Miranda Carroll, an art student who grew up on the same island as Arthur, Delano Island, off the coast of British Columbia. She was Arthur's first wife, and made a career as a shipping executive after they divorced, but her avocation was drawing the comic book Station Eleven. Arthur's second wife, the actress Elizabeth Colton, is important only in that she bore him his only son, Tyler. The other important person in Arthur's life is his best friend, Clark.

It becomes important (in a fairly coincidental fashion) that Kirsten, Tyler, Clark, and Jeevan are among the very few survivors of the Georgian Flu. When the Traveling Symphony comes to St. Deborah by the Water and finds it under the sway of a scary man called the Prophet, their existence is in danger, as the Prophet tries to claim one of them as his next wife (of several). They escape, but his people follow them. They make their way towards Severn City and its airport, which turns out to be where Clark fortuitously escaped to, while trying to go to Arthur's funeral. We can easily guess who the Prophet must be, and the main action of the story points toward a confrontation between the evil Prophet and the Traveling Symphony, which represents the hope of humaneness and art in this fraught future.

But that aspect, though important, isn't what gives this novel wings. The wings come from Station Eleven's affirmation of the importance of art, and of simple human goodness, in even a post-apocalyptic future. I have seen complaints that the novel is too optimistic -- surely, these critics seem to suggest, people are more evil than that. I admit to a certain disgust at such cynicism. Yes, there are plenty of bad people in the worlds -- the leaders of ISIS serve as an easy example, and I'm sure you can think of others -- but there are plenty of good people as well, and there is a lot of beauty. Some of this beauty, in this book, is represented in Miranda's comic book Station Eleven, and I first felt enraptured when the comic book was first described. There is enough darkness here to satisfy me, but in the end I was taken by the belief that if only a few of us survive, the bulk would form a hopeful society, and would fight to survive, and not only that, to find what might be "sufficient" beyond mere survival.

I think this is clearly the best SF novel I read from 2014. (Though William Gibson's The Peripheral is also very good!). It's worth noting that in SF terms it's not adventurous -- none of the ideas here would surprise a 1950s reader. The virtues here are not audacious SF ideation -- and I don't want to dismiss such virtues. But sometimes excellent writing, and characterization, and sound realization of a familiar idea, are entirely sufficient.