Friday, May 30, 2008

Pump Six

by Paolo Bacigalupi
Paolo Bacigalupi (pronounced "Batchy-Galoopy") has a sick fascination with humankind's abuse of technology. Rather than blurting out, at some merry social gathering, the latest disturbing news about endocrine disruptors getting into the water supply, as I have been known to do (sorry, everyone), Bacigalupi spins it into a world, a future whose inhabitants can barely remember anything different. Dystopian visions are, of course, a staple of science fiction, but these stories feel fresh -- rather than imagining those picking up the pieces after humankind has nearly destroyed itself, Bacigalupi often asks what happens after we've "perfected" ourselves, solving food shortages, conquering aging. While advances in technology seem able to solve almost any problem (with, of course, the help of our glorious corporate overlords), we are still humans; long-term thinking has never been our forté.

Bacigalupi presents these short stories in the order in which he wrote them -- a courageous choice that allows us to see his writing evolve over time. The first couple stories, though well written, were not my favorites, and I'd encourage anyone picking up Pump Six to read on, deeper into these darker worlds.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Fall of Frost

by Brian Hall
Brian Hall has once again pulled off another high-wire feat of empathy. His meticulously-researched book taking us inside the minds of the Lewis & Clark expedition, I Should Be Extremely Happy In Your Company, remains one of my very favorites, and he returns to this form with Fall of Frost. This time he's primarily inside one man's head, though that head is old and white and tends to dart back and forth in time. Though we often travel back to Frost's youth or early adulthood, it sometimes seems as if we're still with Frost in his old age, traveling through his own history, making sense of his past while occasionally reshaping it into legend as needed. After all, in his later years he's a celebrity, often interviewed about the life that brought the world such beloved poetry. Frost's public doesn't necessarily want to hear the grimy truth, and neither does Frost want to talk about it. He is both a painfully solitary man and a constant cultivator of attention. There are countless detailed biographies about Robert Frost, but Hall lets us be there, with him, as he stops by woods one snowy evening. Beautiful.