Artificial intelligence has become one of the most common staples in science-fiction, the embodiment of human concerns with being replaced. Our collective worry about creating machines smarter and stronger than us crystallized into its own genre. Artificial intelligence, or A.I., is all over fiction, yet very difficult to get just right. For every successful A.I. story, there are piles of unsuccessful ones. Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, William Gibson’s Neuromancer, Alex Garland’s Ex Machina, and Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell all come to mind as stories about A.I. done right. Unfortunately, The God Game by Danny Tobey never quite reaches the heights its predecessors achieved.
Time travel is one of the best travelled staples of science-fiction, from books to television shows to movies, it is the ultimate form of exploration. The concept of time travel is almost as old as the history of writing, with the first known written example dating to around 400 BCE. In the Sanskrit epic, Mahabharata, King Raivata Kakudmi journeys to heaven to meet Brahma, the Hindu creator god. When he returns to the moral world, centuries have passed. Time travel in fiction, from this ancient epic to Stargate and Doctor Who, usually involves physically transporting one-self through time, bringing your body and memories with you. Threats include meeting your past self, or encountering the grandfather paradox, or making changes to the past which may affect the future. Very rarely do we get a novel in a similar vein to Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, where time travel is a person journey into your own memories.
This review marks the end of a full week of Wayward Pines reviews. Pines, Wayward, and finally The Last Town. The hallmark of a trilogy is one, complete story told over the course of three parts. There is a structure. Part one established the world, the tension, the characters, and sets up the main conflict which will percolate through the entirety. Part two ramps up the tension, answers some questions and leaving others for the finale, and ends in such a way as to set up the final part. When part three begins, it is non-stop. Everything that came before ends here, and most, if not all, questions must be answered. This is the final chance for the creator to show the story as they want it to be shown, to impress upon their audience what the story truly meant.
The second part of a trilogy has a few very specific jobs to accomplish. After the first part sets the stakes and shows the main characters achieving some measure of victory, the second part slows things down a little. It shows us the new normal after the first part and, over it’s course, ramps up the tension and stakes until ending on a cliffhanger to set up the third and final part. A good second part will answer questions you had leftover from the first part, while raising a few more, and leaving some you may have asked since the beginning unanswered until the very end of the trilogy. If the second part has done its job, the eventual cliffhanger will be something you did not expect, something which makes you excited, eagerly awaiting the finale to the story.
As you may have noticed, I tend to post one book review roughly every two weeks; more frequently if I burst through a novel. The Wayward Pines trilogy is one series that just seems to speed by. I finished Pines, the first novel, in four days. I finished reading Wayward, the second novel, today. It took another four days. At this rate, I’ll have finished The Last Town, the final novel in the trilogy by the end of the week.
This is going to be a busy week here on City on the Moon. Where Paradise is Home, my review of Pines, went up this morning. Expect a review of Wayward to go up tomorrow morning, and a review of The Last Town Friday morning.
The United States of America is a large country, with settlements ranging in size from cities like New York and Los Angeles, to towns with only one or two permanent residents. To the residents of these small towns, it is likely paradise. To an outsider, there are few things more frightening than finding yourself trapped there. Small town Americana has been a favorite setting of thrillers and horror films for decades, with good reason. In these small towns, everyone knows their neighbors and their neighbors’ business. Outsiders are immediately recognizable, and there is usually the sense that they will never fully integrate. The remoteness nature of these small towns breeds a fear of lawlessness for the outsider, the worry that they could simply disappear from the lives of their friends and family, never to be heard from again.
Detective fiction is one of those genres most readers believe to be a modern invention, beginning with the Victorian publication of Sherlock Holmes. And, while Mr. Holmes certainly deserves credit for taking the genre mainstream, it’s origins may be found in much older stories. Chinese detective fiction may be traced back to the thirteenth century, while another detective story may be found in One Thousand and One Arabian Nights. Solving a mystery, collecting the clues, and trying to guess the ending is an unending fascination. Today, detective fiction is more popular than ever. There is an innate desire to solve the mystery before anyone else in every reader on this planet.
Storytelling is not defined. Yes, we all know how to structure a sentence. When to use a comma instead of a period. The difference between quotation marks and apostrophes. We learn grammar in school classes, listening to someone stand at the front of the room and lecture about how important it is to know when to use “it’s” as opposed to “its.” All of those are components to storytelling, but they are not stories. You may have heard somewhere, half-remembered, that a story needs a beginning and a middle and an end. That holds true, until you read something non-linearly. Sometimes the best stories take all the rules, throw them out the window, and craft something truly special.
Review copy of Aaru provided by David Meredith
Death is a fact of life. We obsess over it. We avoid it. We embrace it. We have never stopped searching for ways to put it off, to stop it, to cure it. For as long as stories and fiction have been things in human culture, we have been dreaming up ways around death. Characters in some stories live unnaturally long lives. Some are cursed with undeath, the ability to die and die again and never stay dead. Since the advent of science-fiction, our tales have turned towards technology instead of magic for answers. Cyborgs, transcendent states of being, and complex virtual worlds dominate the fictional landscape.
Time is defined. We all know how long one second lasts, we know that sixty seconds equals a minute, sixty minutes make up an hour, twenty-four hours complete a day, and three hundred sixty-five days push us around the sun for one year. The length of a year may be relative depending on your home planet, but the rest is static. Agreed upon by all the word, this unification of time assures that all of humanity moves together. History, commerce, war, communication; without an agreement on time, none of those are possible, at least as we know it. Jeff Noon’s story may feature a private eye on an investigation, but it is primarily about what happens when time is not static. When everyone has their own personal timeline.