BOOK REVIEW: Beyond the Rift by Peter Watts

REVIEW SUMMARY: A strong collection of short fiction that shows the author’s versatility and range at shorter lengths. (”The Things“ opens a strong selection of the best of an underrated writer.)

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A collection of fourteen stories written by Peter Watts.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Excellent stories that highlight the author’s versatility and strengths in writing science fiction.
CONS: Story order might have been rejiggered to better impact.
BOTTOM LINE: A chance to delve into Watts’ work and find out what the fuss is all about.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: This week’s Short Fiction Friday features two selections of science fiction with a sinister vibe, the opening story from Peter Watts’ forthcoming collection, Beyond the Rift, and a story from the recently released anthology In Space No One Can Hear You Scream.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SUMMARY: Parasitic extraterrestrials feature in both of this week’s stories; one visits Earth and finds it a hostile place while the other chooses a pet from among Earth’s population only to discover that a pre-teen girl may not have been the wisest choice.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Strong prose in the Watts’ story; engaging young character in Daniel’s tale; fun takes on the alien-as-parasite trope.

CONS: Final line in one story is potentially offensive and may color what is an otherwise good story.

BOTTOM LINE: An alternate viewpoint of John Carpenter’s The Thing makes for a page-turning read and Tony Daniel’s story, chosen at random, provides a nice comparison as each story examines the idea of aliens assimilating mankind for their own reasons.  One story looks at things from the alien point of view while the other shows the tenacity of a young lady to remain fully human.  Both were enjoyable and worth checking out as further examples of science fiction with a frightful edge.

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Peter Watts is a science fiction writer and a marine-mammal biologist. He is the author of the Rifters trilogy (Starfish, Maelstrom, and Behemoth) as well as Blindsight, The Island and Other Stories, and Ten Monkeys, Ten Minutes. He has received the Aurora, Hugo, and Shirley Jackson Awards. Watts lives Toronto.

BEYOND THE RIFT is Peter’s newest collection of stories, and he was kind enough to answer a few of my questions!

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Tachyon has has posted the cover art and synopsis of the story collection Beyond the Rift by Peter Watts, coming November 1, 2013.

Here’s the synopsis:
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MIND MELD: Is SF Still The “Big Idea” Genre?

[This week's question was submitted by an SF Signal reader. Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

Recently Neal Stephenson wrote an article for the World Policy Journal titled “Innovation Starvation“. In the article he discussed the serious lack of innovation in science today. Later in the article, he discusses a presentation that he made at the Future Tense conference where he said that good science fiction supplied “a plausible, fully thought-out picture of an alternate reality in which some sort of compelling innovation has taken place.” One scientist that he talked to complained that SF writers are slacking off, saying that SF writers need “to start supplying big visions that make sense.” With Planetary Resources announcing their plan to mine the asteroids, it seems that reality may be encroaching on science fiction’s “big idea” territory.

We asked this week’s panelists:

Q: Are SF writers “slacking off” or is science fiction still the genre of “big ideas”? If so, what authors are supplying these ideas for the next generation of scientists and engineers?

Here’s what they said…

Alexis Glynn Latner
Alexis Glynn Latner‘s science fiction novel Hurricane Moon was published by Pyr in 2007. Twenty-three of her novelettes and short stories have been or will be published in science fiction magazines, especially Analog, and horror and mystery anthologies. She also does editing, teaches and coaches creative writing, and works in the Rice University Library.

Possibly neither. The arc of big, epochal, scientific ideas may have run its course in science fiction – having flowed on into nonfiction and reality. In addition to asteroid mining, think about Google as an example. Bruce Sterling remarked at a convention that despite a unitary artificial superintelligence being a big idea in SF, there hasn’t been one invented, but there’s such an amazing, unanticipated thing as the distributed intelligence of Google searching and all.

I don’t think SF writers are slacking – although many on the advice of editors and agents have been writing fantasy because it sells better. Some are creating alloys of SF and fantasy. In the century we’re in now, for a big idea to catch fire with the upcoming scientists and engineers it may have to be not just an an overweening head trip, but a profound heart trip as well.
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MIND MELD: Current Politics In SF/F

[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

2012 is an election year in the United States and you can bet we’ll be inundated with all things political. Our question is –

Q: How should SF writers respond to the politics of their time, if at all?

Here’s what they said…

Heather Massey
Heather Massey is a lifelong fan of science fiction romance. She searches for sci-fi romance adventures aboard her blog, The Galaxy Express. She’s also an author: Her latest sci-fi romance is Queenie’s Brigade from Red Sage Publishing. To learn more about her published work, visit www.heathermassey.com.

For me, it’s very, very simple: I love a good wish-fulfillment fantasy. One of my favorites is the idea of a female President in a futuristic setting. Battlestar Galactica’s President Laura Roslin ranks right up there at number one.

The concept of a female President defies expectations, invites readers/viewers to question their assumptions about women, and serves up an empowering character.

It’s disheartening to think that in my lifetime, the only place I can experience a female President is in fiction. But I’m grateful that authors and filmmakers have dared to dream and have pushed those characters into the spotlight.
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Swarming across the Internets is news of Peter Watts’ recent horrifying experience of being beaten and arrested at the border between the U.S. and Canada.

From Peter’s own account of what happened:

If you buy into the Many Worlds Intepretation of quantum physics, there must be a parallel universe in which I crossed the US/Canada border without incident last Tuesday. In some other dimension, I was not waved over by a cluster of border guards who swarmed my car like army ants for no apparent reason; or perhaps they did, and I simply kept my eyes downcast and refrained from asking questions.

Along some other timeline, I did not get out of the car to ask what was going on. I did not repeat that question when refused an answer and told to get back into the vehicle. In that other timeline I was not punched in the face, pepper-sprayed, shit-kicked, handcuffed, thrown wet and half-naked into a holding cell for three fucking hours, thrown into an even colder jail cell overnight, arraigned, and charged with assaulting a federal officer, all without access to legal representation (although they did try to get me to waive my Miranda rights. Twice.). Nor was I finally dumped across the border in shirtsleeves: computer seized, flash drive confiscated, even my fucking paper notepad withheld until they could find someone among their number literate enough to distinguish between handwritten notes on story ideas and, I suppose, nefarious terrorist plots. I was not left without my jacket in the face of Ontario’s first winter storm, after all buses and intercity shuttles had shut down for the night.

In some other universe I am warm and content and not looking at spending two years in jail for the crime of having been punched in the face.

But that is not this universe.

If you ask me, Peter is handling this amazingly well. He was invited to participate in next week’s Mind Meld interview and emailed me this morning. He had this to say:

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SF Tidbits for 8/19/09

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