4 sci-fi novels to savor and ponder

Venomous lumpsucker

By Ned Beauman

(Soho, 336 pages, $32.99)

It’s the little things that often set the best sci-fi novels apart from the rest of the field. A big part of world-building, the term used for creating believable futuristic or alien worlds, is filling in the details. It’s something Ned Beauman does a great job of in « Venomous Lumpsucker, » a near-future novel that takes its title from an endangered, and possibly extinct, species of fish.

The plot has an awkward pair investigating the lumpsucker’s alleged disappearance. Karin is an environmental avenger and Mark is sold to a large mining company that dredges the lumpsucker’s natural habitat. Together they embark on a darkly comical adventure that brilliantly sketches out an all-too-plausible extinction economy with unexpected winners and losers.

Beauman is a lively writer with a knack for sharp descriptive language: nervous guts start to simmer or someone with a voice that sounds like a hug that’s gone on too long. But it’s the passing observations that futurists will really appreciate, like drugs to kill the pleasure of eating or facial recognition software to track the spread of rinderpest. It’s got a good story with some likable albeit damaged main characters, but it’s those little things that make « Venomous Lumpsucker » particularly enjoyable.

The sad truth

By Ira Nayman

(Elsewhen Press, 322 pages, $25.99)

« The Ugly Truth » marks the end of Toronto author Ira Nayman’s « Multiverse Refugees » trilogy, set in his Transdimensional Authority universe. Some knowledge of what’s already happened can be helpful, but given the chaotic madness of Nayman’s work (think lots of daring interobangs), it’s probably not essential.

The mouth of madness opens after the evacuation to Earth of a band of blue-skinned vaudevillians dressed in exquisite three-piece suits whose universe is about to implode. These immigrants, constantly doing stand-up and slapstick for their god the Audi Enz, have various adventures that are chronicled in a multitude of forms, including news reports, pop songs, and diary entries. Rodney Pendleton and Daveen Rasmalai return, while new characters include a superhero named Mistah Charisma (generated by the Heronator machine) and a refugee candidate for Parliament.

Nayman again delivers a maniacal farce with more groaning puns and bad jokes than you can fit into a multi-dimensional suitcase, and ends the trilogy well with a wholesome message for us all…and a wink.

Drunk on all your strange new words

By Eddie Robson

(Tor, 275 pages, $35.99)

The title deserves some explanation. When the Logi aliens arrive on Earth, they need human translators to express their language of thought into words, a process that makes the translators feel and act drunk.

Lydia Southwell is one of these specially trained translators assigned to Ambassador Logi Fitz. But when Fitz ends up murdered, Lydia finds herself in the middle of an intergalactic murder mystery in which she will need the help of the deceased ambassador, whose voice is still ringing in her head.

There’s a lot going on in « Drunk on All Your Strange New Words » and most of it is really good. The mystery of the locked room is handled well while social media in the form of tweets and news feeds (classified for their « truth ») are deftly intertwined with a classic conspiracy thriller plot. The result offers something fresh and engaging for fans of many genres.


By Sandra Newmann

(Grove Press, 263 pages, $36.95)

In her acknowledgments at the end of « The Men, » Sandra Newman thanks feminist SF writers who had previously imagined all-female societies, mentioning Joanna Russ, Alice Sheldon, and Sherri Tepper. The list could have been extended a bit, however, to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ‘Herland’ and Begum Rokeya’s ‘Ladyland’, or even medieval or classical models. It is a permanent fantasy.

The story here is that every male in the world (defined as carriers of a Y chromosome) instantly disappears one day. It leaves Jane Pearson struggling in a manless California, pondering various social justice issues and whether this sexist version of Rapture is a good thing.

Although there are many feminist ancestors, the real presiding spirit is Stephen King, who created many apocalyptic landscapes. The men’s fate also resembles that of a king, as they appear to have been uploaded into some kind of digital purgatory where they are tormented by demons. What all this adds up to, however, remains a bit unclear.

A timely parable and not always in a good way, « Les Hommes » has already generated its share of controversy. One suspects readers are likely to find it too political or not political enough.

Alex Good is a writer and editor in Guelph, Ontario.


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