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  • 20/05/2022 09:42 | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    • Best Novel: Adrian Tchaikovsky, Shards of Earth
    • Best Short Fiction: Aliette de Bodard, Fireheart Tiger
    • Best Fiction for Younger Readers: Xiran Jay Zhao, Iron Widow
    • Best Non Fiction: Francesca T. Barbini (ed), Worlds Apart: Worldbuilding in Fantasy and Science Fiction
    • Best Artwork: Iain Clarke, Glasgow Green Woman

    Congratulations to all the winners.

  • 21/03/2022 16:27 | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Birds of Paradise by Oliver K. Langmead

    (Titan Books, 2021)

    Reviewed by Jamie Mollart

    Adam, the first man, still walks the earth, having lived multiple lives and now he resides in a 21st century America that is oblivious to him. He’s a forgotten man, present at key moments in history, but pivotal in none. The animals of Eden have taken human form and Eve is nowhere to be seen. Parts of Eden are cropping up on Earth, and with the help of Magpie, Crow, Owl, Pig and Butterfly, he sets about retrieving them.

    I began reading with a real sense of excitement, this is an awesome concept, which will draw inevitable comparison to Neil Gaiman’s ‘American Gods’. It’s a big comparison to make and one only the very best of books will be able to live up to.

    So, does Birds of Paradise?

    Yes and no.

    It’s a strange book, effectively two novels in one. One half is gentle and contemplative, a dreamlike consideration on the place of humankind on the planet and our relationship with nature. It’s considered, clever and crafted with beautifully poetic language.

    The other half is a violent thriller as Adam and the animals make battle with a vicious millionaire for the lost Eden, and doesn’t work as well for me.

    In many ways it’s a shame it’s compared to American Gods as it doesn’t have the emotional depth and complexity of Gaiman’s masterwork. It’s an interesting concept which ultimately is not played out in a completely satisfying way because of the dual nature of the plot. Reading it I got the sense he wanted to write something considered and slow burn but brought elements of heist and thriller in to liven the pace up, leaving the feeling of a longer book trimmed down.

    Where it works it really works; the discussion on the human relationship with nature and our place in the world is wonderful, based as it is around ‘Genesis, 1:28: And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

    But the road trip to find the missing parts of Eden lacks tension and character motivations; the animals, while conceptually strong, are too one dimensional and feel like a missed opportunity. This is exacerbated by a lack of real danger or a tangible enemy threat. On paper Sinclair should be a worthy adversary - a malicious old man who believes he is entitled to Eden because of his wealth and position - but despite all of his money, troops and hunting dogs, you never get the sense he could actually hurt Adam or the animals.

    Where the novel really shines is in its ideas. There’s joyous invention at play here beyond the overall concept of the novel. Rook’s law firm called Corvid and Corvid; Magpie frittering away Rooks money; Butterly and Pig taking a barge holiday together; the greenhouse built by Sinclair, to house the stolen parts of Eden; the violence of Owl; the list could go on. This is a high concept novel bristling with ideas, and this is its strength.

    On the flip side I struggled with is how unlikeable Adam is. He’s nasty, brutish and simple, which given he was the beginning of our horrible race may well be the point, but it makes it difficult to care about him. Eve being present would probably have softened his persona somewhat, but she is overly conspicuous from the novel, giving it a hard centre which is difficult to sympathise with.

    Ultimately, I loved and was frustrated by this novel in equal measures. When I think back of it is with a sense of potentiality rather than actuality – in the same way Adam thinks of the race he sired.

    Review from BSFA Review 15 - Download your copy here.

  • 21/03/2022 16:17 | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Black Water Sister by Zen Cho

    (Pan Macmillan, 2021)

    Reviewed by Anne F. Wilson

    Jessamyn Teoh is a normal Malaysian Chinese American girl. Her parents don’t go on about spirits and ghosts (or “good brothers”). So it comes as a shock to her to find, on the eve of their departure for Penang, that she is being haunted by the ghost of her mother’s mother, Ah Ma.

    Jess is nineteen and has lived for the whole of her life in the United States. A Harvard graduate, after seven months she still doesn’t have a job. Jess’s father is in remission from cancer and their finances are precarious, so they are going home to the relatives in Malaysia, where Jess’s father’s brother-in-law has arranged a job for him.  Faute de mieux, Jess is going with them. 

    Jess, however, is resilient and she has plans. Her girlfriend, Sharanya, is preparing to study for a PhD in Singapore and all Jess has to do is find a job and follow her there. Unfortunately, Ah Ma also has plans, and they involve Jess.

    In life, Ah Ma had been the medium of a Goddess, the eponymous Black Water Sister. Now the Goddess’s temple is being threatened by development and Jess is landed with the task of stopping this. Worse, the developer, Dato’Ng Chee Hin, the fifth richest man in Malaysia, is a samseng or gangster. Having made his billions, he is now acting like an honest businessman and has government connections, but he still has underworld resources to call on, gangs of thugs with parangs and guns.

    The story bounces along as Jess tries to deal with her dead grandmother and the goddess whose medium she is. In Ah Ma the author has created an authentic character through use of her voice in Jess’s head – tough, disillusioned, bossy, with a smoker’s rasp. From Ah Ma Jess finds out about her family history and learns how to negotiate with gods and ghosts. Unfortunately, she finds herself unable to tell Sharanya about what is going on, which cripples their long-distance relationship. Ah Ma also discovers that Jess is gay, a thing that she has not been able to bring herself to tell her parents. 

    The charm of the novel lies in its Malaysian setting. The author was born and raised in Malaysia, and she translates the environment for the reader with energy and affection. She deftly uses dialect to draw the reader into the story. Jess’s aunt lives in a two-storey “bungalow” with marble floors and teak furniture. In the course of the novel Jess visits shophouses and food stalls, gentrified coffee shops, airconditioned high rise office buildings and (of course) temples as she tries to exorcise her spirits. Through Ah Ma’s memories we also see glimpses of the jungle and the rubber plantation where she scraped a living.

    Jess’s relatives are entirely believable: curious, kind, voluble in Manglish (Malaysian English; Jess’s Hokkien is merely adequate, except when she is taken over by Ah Ma) and paying attention when it suits them. Manglish is an addictively economical language – after reading I found myself asking my husband “What time you want eat?”   Family members are referred to by their relationships rather than their names – Kor Kor is father’s sister, her husband is Kor Tiao, Ah Ma is grandmother, Ah Ku is mother’s brother. 

    While this is delightful and charming, Cho also describes frightening violence, both when humans interact with gods and spirits, but also when Jess comes face to face with Dato’Ng’s thugs. The scene where she and Ah Ma confront him in his office is gripping and is followed by truly believable and frightening violence. With her own courage and self-reliance, Jess manages to find a satisfying resolution to her ghostly problems. Now all she has to do is sort out her personal life.

    In case it was not obvious from the review, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and can highly recommend it.

    Review from BSFA Review 15 - Download your copy here.

  • 21/03/2022 16:02 | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Future Crimes: Mysteries and Detection Through Time and Space Edited by Mike Ashley

    (British Library Publishing, 2021)

    Reviewed by L.J. Hurst

    Future Crimes is editor Mike Ashley’s tenth collection in the Science Fiction Classics series, following others on Mars, space monsters and catastrophes. Half of the authors here were American, and the rest British, though the British had mostly to find American outlets for their work.

    The volume is subtitled “Mysteries and Detection through Time and Space”, with the paradoxes of time-travel opening and closing the volume. It begins with Anthony Boucher’s “Elsewhen” (1943) and closes with Miriam Allen deFord’s “The Absolutely Perfect Murder” (1965). Both owe a lot to other genres, particularly stories of suspense. We know that a murder is going to take place, even though the probable murderer seems a crackpot with his claim to have invented a time machine, and his consequent obvious attempts at manipulating an alibi based on a known time. Boucher and deFord’s professionalism, of course, comes from their ability to let the biter be bit in very different ways.

    The stories by the three best-known authors come from a later period than most of the others: Isaac Asimov’s “Mirror Image” (1972), P D James’ “Murder, 1986” (1970), and Anne McCaffrey’s “Apple” (1969). “Mirror Image” is a late robot story (Asimov’s second robot detective novel The Naked Sun had appeared as long before as 1956), which revolves around academic jealousy, and does not require a robot for its solution at all. It does, though, tie in with Asimov’s only straight detective novel, A Whiff of Death (1958), which gives a grim portrait of American universities of the time.

    “Puzzle for Spacemen” (1955) by John Brunner, “Death of a Telepath” (1959) by George Chailey, and “Nonentity” (1955) by E.C. Tubb all feature deaths in the depths of space which have to be investigated as potential murder, and then in identifying a potential murderer. Though two were published before and the third after the launch of Sputnik one can feel the greyness of the ‘50s even while the authors imagined spacecraft crossing – or marooned in – vast interstellar distances. There is no sense of the optimism of the alleged new Elizabethan era in these stories. Ted Tubb’s “Nonentity” shares some themes with the classic “Cold Equations” by Tom Godwin, while Mike Ashley compares “Death of a Telepath” to Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man. Oddly, the solution of John Brunner’s puzzle could be found in a pre-WW1 Dr Thorndyke detective story (both depend on analysing the constituents of dust particles). Reference to pre-war brings us to Jacques Futrelle’s “The Flying Eye”, first published in 1912, months after he had died on the Titanic. Futrelle is best known for his Professor SFX “Thinking Machine” Van Dusen stories, which are frequently reprinted in Rivals of Sherlock Holmes volumes, but Mike Ashley has discovered one of a new series begun by Futrelle, featuring Paul Darraq, who investigates physical anomalies. The story – which begins with an apparently near-invisible sky octopus dragging people into the ether – is resolved with a technical explanation of aerial invisibility (which the USAAF is likely still working on, though Futrelle credits his hosts at the British Admiralty) combined with an equally likely degree of military incompetence. Eric Frank Russell’s “Legwork” (1956) reworks Dragnet and other police procedurals of the period to hunt for an alien visitor casing the Earth for future exploitation.

    Mike Ashley recommends The Measure of Malice, a Crime Classic anthology, as a partner to this volume, as it contains “scientific detective stories which have not dated”. There is always going to be an overlap between the development of science, as in these stories, and the development of logic which occurred in detective stories: I think he is right.  With an interesting Introduction, and author details, and bibliography, Future Crimes shows that editor Ashley has done his legwork.

    Review from BSFA Review 15 - Download your copy here.

  • 20/01/2022 12:56 | Anonymous

    Amalgam (2021) by Alessio Zanelli.

    Reviewed by Allen Ashley.

    Prolific poet Alessio Zanelli will be familiar to many of you from the pages of Focus, BFS Horizons, Here Comes Everyone, etc. This new pamphlet collects together pieces from a wide variety of publications and has something of a sunrise to sunset flow. Opener “Kuramathi Dawn” transcends its travelogue feel with its arresting opening line: “The morning comes in shouting like a desert.” If it’s the job of the poet to disrupt or make one reconsider assumptions, that simile certainly does the trick. Equally thought-provoking is Zanelli’s closer “Cosmic Nemesis”, which depicts “a micro black hole” gradually swallowing “all the planets” as well as Sol itself, before proceeding “on its endless path / to where it all began”. Hence: a final sunset. One might quibble with the astrophysics at play here – the orbiting planets would not be neatly lined up like snooker balls – but the poem makes for a memorable if deterministic closer.

    In between, there are many strong evocations of voyaging, particularly on the sea. The beautifully titled “Evernauts” cross the globe “constantly a league / ahead of the terminator”. The sea itself is in constant motion in “Seaclock”, its sound gorgeously described as a “wombal gurgle.” The longest piece on offer is “Seafarer” and cleverly conflates intellectual voyaging – “devouring books by London, Verne and Clarke” – along with cutting-edge physics and sub-atomics – “elusive bosons, steadfast fermions, strings”. At base, though, the equation is between the sea voyages of the European Age of Exploration and the potential space journeys of our outward-bound future. I was pleasantly reminded of that old Star Trek episode where Captain Kirk quotes John Masefield’s “Sea Fever” (“And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by”). Zanelli’s poem reaffirms this connection and makes of the reader, the writer and all would-be spacefarers someone who is exploring “Just like Columbus did”; if one can focus on Columbus’s thirst for knowledge and not his cultural legacy.

    Historical figures are present also in “Apparitions At 5 Pennine View”: the cast list includes Edgar Allan Poe, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Neil Armstrong, and Jon Lord – the late keyboard player from the band Deep Purple. More contemporary references are made in the closing line of “Kyoto” as Zanelli alliteratively notes, “The timer’s ticking. Treaties. Thunberg. Trump.”

    There’s a certain snobbishness in some poetry circles against shaped poetry. In this book, however, Zanelli deploys the technique to good effect. “Sinkhole” begins with an enlarged, centred full stop and expands pyramid-shaped like a chasm opening out beneath one’s feet. “Land And Sea Breeze” is zigzagged like the approaching and receding tide. Most subtle of all, though, is the constriction on line width that the poet imposes on his pandemic reflecting “Quarantined”.

    In contrast to that more recent concern, “The Flickering” takes those of us old enough to remember back to the three-day week of the industrial disputes of the 1970s, along with the resultant power cuts – “Quite a usual occurrence in those days”. Mortality is also a concern for the poet as he suggests that “Maybe memories move through me... both ways” (“The Arrow Of Time”), and at the close of the imagistic “Autumn”, finds himself (tongue in cheek) to be left  with “Cracked flakes of staling bran. / Dried drops of bottled brine. / Loose scraps of withered brain.”

    There are a couple of slight misfires amongst these twenty-four poems – the political pieces “About Colors” and “Haters” feel just a little didactic – and given Zanelli’s track record, one might have wished for more poems with overt genre content. But this trim volume comes with a lovely abstract cover by Andrea Schiavetta... and also comes “Recommended” by yours truly.

    Review from BSFA Review 15 - Download your copy here.

  • 28/12/2021 23:49 | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Earlier this year the BSFA jointly organised an online mini-convention, ConSpire, with the Science Fiction Foundation, to coincide with our AGMs. Here are some videos from the event.







  • 31/10/2021 11:43 | Anonymous

    All the Tides of Fate by Adalyn Grace

    (Titan Books, 2021)

    Reviewed by Estelle Roberts

    All the Tides of Fate is the sequel to the New York Times bestseller All the Stars and Teeth, but can be easily followed even if you haven’t read the previous novel. Visidia is a realm consisting of separate, and reasonably independent islands, which are under the ultimate rule of the monarchs of Arida. Differing types of magic are utilised throughout the land, generally each island specialises in a type, but individuals are prevented by the threat of extreme punishment and societal belief from practising more than one kind.

    As the story begins, the main protagonist, Queen Amora, is on board ship returning to Arida after yet another attempt to break the curse placed on her during a previous climactic battle, which also saw her witness the death of her father. This curse has split her soul, which she now shares with Bastian, a pirate-like ship’s captain and a man to whom she was already attracted, and negated her magic. This is obviously something of a problem when you are the ruler of a magically inclined kingdom.

    The novel then follows Amora as she tries to come to terms with her father’s death, and shows her initial attempts to govern the kingdom, which are not a success. This is probably not helped by the fact that, by her own admission, she would much rather be at sea. It is suggested that she might increase her popularity, and also make the kingdom more stable, if she were prepared to take a husband and produce an heir. She agrees to her mother’s suggestion of a tour of the islands to meet suitable potential partners, but only because this is a perfect cover for her real plan, which is to find an artefact which can, apparently, break the curse and restore her magic to her.

    One fine day, therefore, she sets sail with her crew, which includes Bastian, from whom she cannot be parted because of the aforementioned curse, and a beautiful mermaid. We are now treated to some rather pleasant worldbuilding, as several of the numerous islands are visited in quick succession, giving Grace the opportunity to describe differing cultures, economies and religions, which she does rather well. Despite the seemingly large number of willing marriage candidates, the plot thickens with more than one attempt on the queen’s life, and several swift departures at dead of night in attempt to outrun danger.

    The story is more than just a fantasy adventure. It is a coming-of-age tale, as a woman learns to accept the responsibilities thrust upon her at a young age and determines that the kingdom she now rules will advance and modernise. It is also about grief, coming to terms with the death of a parent, who sacrificed themselves for you, but at the same time having to accept that they were very far from perfect. She does have a cathartic dream like experience which is very well rendered and allows her to move forward in the grieving process. This is combined with the new knowledge that her family’s rule is historically based on the use of very dark soul magic and the deliberate holding back of magical and other developments across the islands. It is, of course, also partly about love, and the problems involved when you cannot wholly tell if your feelings are genuine or merely the result of magical skulduggery.

    The novel is well paced and a fast read. Amora is a sympathetic protagonist, and you do feel her pain. Her crew are also well drawn and individual, and their relationships well explored. The elements of drama, adventure, grief, love, and the feeling that nothing, however good, lasts forever are mixed to enjoyable effect. It could be argued that it is essentially escapist, but, particularly at the moment, there is probably nothing wrong with that. So, if you are in the mood for a well written, enjoyable and reasonably intelligent magical fantasy, then this novel comes recommended.

    Review from BSFA Review 14 - Download your copy here.

  • 28/10/2021 13:17 | Anonymous

    Winterkeep by Kristin Cashore

    (Gollancz, 2021)

    Reviewed by Anne F. Wilson

    Queen Bitterblue of Monsea sets off on a diplomatic voyage to the far country of Winterkeep, where some of her people have disappeared. By the time her ship reaches port, she has vanished. This throws both the Monseans and their hosts into disarray. Does somebody, somewhere, know what has happened? Winterkeep is the fourth in the author’s young adult Graceling series. Each is a stand-alone, but characters recur, and it helps to have read the previous books. I had read these, but so long ago that I didn’t remember a lot about them, and the chapters dealing with the backstory of Monsea are a bit info-dumpy and stuffed with names that I kept having to look up in the character list.

    However, the chapters dealing with the situation on Winterkeep and introducing an entirely new set of characters, were lively and entertaining, and as soon as the two sets of characters get together and start interacting the book really takes off. I say characters rather than people, because one of the great charms of the book is the set of non-human characters, from the grumpy monster at the bottom of the sea who is (definitely not!) the legendary Keeper, to the telepathic blue foxes who may adopt and communicate with a human if they really like them.

    Monsea is part of the Royal Continent, where the realms have suffered under absolute monarchs for many years, and some of which, after revolutions, are developing new forms of government. Bitterblue herself and her court have suffered dreadfully through her father’s reign. But Winterkeep is a long-standing democracy. Surely everything here must be fair and above-board?

    Lovisa Cavenda is a student at Winterkeep Academy. Her parents each represent one of the two main parties in Parliament, which is currently deadlocked over one issue. The Scholars want to keep Winterkeep free of industrial pollution (whilst selling polluting minerals to their neighbours). The Industrialists want the advantages of using the minerals themselves. This isn’t entirely logical, but then neither are the politics of energy and conservation in our world.

    Lovisa is not an endearing character, being a sneak and a liar, but we come to appreciate how her character has been formed by her family’s disastrous dynamics, and that she is trying to do her best in very difficult circumstances. Gradually she realises that her family are not only dysfunctional, but involved in something dark and dangerous. What should she do? What, indeed, can she do?

    Lovisa watches the people around her and their interactions and learns from them. She is starting to realise that people who are nice to you aren’t always your friends, and people who aren’t may be so for good reason. She watches and tries to keep the people that she cares for safe. But when it comes to the crunch, will she be able to act to change things?

    A major theme of the book is abuse. How to survive it, and how, having survived, not to be deformed by it but to become a fully-developed human being (or fox, or undersea monster). Bitterblue is a survivor, but in Winterkeep she is forced back into a situation where she has no control. Will she be able to stay strong?

    I really enjoyed this book. It has tremendous narrative drive, and a plot that kept me guessing. It is also cheering to read about societies where there is no obvious sexism, and where people’s sexuality depends on their own inclinations. Effective contraception is freely available, and there’s no societal prohibition on young people exploring sex. People are not classified based on their skin colour, though there are other prejudices, and poor people are always at the bottom of the pile. Cashore tries to portray people working towards a better society, and, if she has a message, it’s that people can change, if they choose to, and work at it.

    Review from BSFA Review 14 - Download your copy here.

  • 27/10/2021 12:09 | Anonymous

    Purgatory Mount by Adam Roberts

    (Gollancz, 2021)

    Reviewed by Duncan Lawie

    With Purgatory Mount, Adam Roberts has written a rather peculiar novel. This should not surprise anyone paying attention to Roberts’ SF career. Regular readers of his oeuvre may be bemused to discover that he has come up with yet another way to bamboozle and delight.

    The book opens with a post-human space crew arriving at a peculiar alien artefact. The eponymous object extends far above the atmosphere of a planet with no other signs of habitation. The narrator makes a point of the distance in time and culture when the text says that using referents such as Pan, Apollo and Hades to name the crew are inevitably imprecise ‘cultural translations’. They have the delightful capability of changing their perceptions of time, dialling up or down at will. This allows the tedium of an interstellar journey to pass in weeks or months; or to speed up perception for active maintenance as required. Surely there is enough here to unpack into a novel, as the puzzle is investigated. Instead, we switch to the perspective of the pygs, part of the ship’s livestock, on whom four of the five crew feasted to celebrate arrival. Then we discover pyg is short for pygmy and that this is a belittling term describing their incredibly limited lifespan – mere decades. The pygs, hunting and farming, recall the decayed civilisation of Aldiss’s Non-Stop (1958), living out generations on a starship’s journey. Yet they also refer to the system running the ship as “hal” and worship the crew, who barely move in a pyg’s lifetime, as gods.

    Enough yet? Apparently not, as the book abruptly switches to the “United States of Amnesia” which fills three quarters of the pages. Now we are presented with a teenager in near future America, shot at whilst scavenging copper wire.

    Otty and her friends are a kind of Famous Five. They have a private internet, to escape surveillance; but there is something in this network which The State and its opponents want for themselves. As they are pursued or arrested, the country falls apart in armed uprisings. There is bleak comedy and dulled tragedy as Otty is subjected to the casual horrors of a system prepared to misuse rules meant to protect the citizenry. Her incarceration slides into bureaucratic incompetence as her country collapses. Roberts’ sharp observations of the nature of our twenty-first century are always present. An example of this is the amnesia itself – the result of neonicotinoids. These pesticides are well known to cause honeybees to forget where their hives are. Weaponised against humans, they cause soldiers to forget. In Roberts’s 2010 novel New Model Army, connected technology augments citizen soldiers, creating a superorganism. Here, similar technology is needed just to enable much of the population to have any sense of self. Disconnected from their devices, they become thoughtless, mindless.

    Enough? No! As this story reaches its denouement, revealing what is actually in the private network, we are whiplashed back to the starship at Planet Dante. This story takes an unexpected turn, if one which follows a thread established in the opening pages. Roberts provides one line to connect the ends to the middle but the protagonists of these sections have almost no cognisance of Otty’s world. There is a temptation to close the book in bafflement and let it fade into slipstreamy feelings.

    And then there is the afterword. Here is a key to unlock the book, which claims not to be such a key. Roberts (or perhaps Dante’s Matilda, or even Beatrice) delivers a reward for the reader who has climbed to the top of Purgatory Mount. This note on the book’s construction suggests that it is only with the passing of time that we can have ‘story’; that purgatory is as much about ‘putting up with’ as persisting. By this reckoning, ‘story’ exists in sin, between the fear of damnation and the hope of redemption.

    Review from BSFA Review 14 - Download your copy here.

  • 26/10/2021 07:10 | Anonymous

    My Brother the Messiah by Martin Vopenka

    (Barbican Press, 2021)

    Reviewed by Matt Colborn

    This subtle, satirical book by Czech author Martin Vopenka examines the consequences of a new Messiah, named Eli, in the twilight era of a failing near-future global civilisation. The story is told through the eyes of Eli’s brother, Marek.

    The narrative moves between ‘New Vinohrady,’ a New Slav colony in Northern Greece in 2168 and early 22nd century Prague-Holesovice. In 2168, Marek the old man contemplates the life of his brother Eli, who was assassinated in Dubrovnik almost forty years previously. He lives with a sect of followers of the dead Messiah.

    Marek and Eli were the sons of a bodyguard of Lifelong, the dictator. When they were children, the nations of the world put a diffraction grille in orbit to ‘diffuse some of the solar radiation’ falling on Earth. The aim was to gradually cool the atmosphere. Instead, it fosters a new ice age.

    In the late 22nd century portion of the novel, a young woman moves in with Marek, causing dissent in the sect. Marek is pressured to reject her, but hungry for companionship, resists. The community sees Marek as the keeper of Eli’s words and theoretically above such basic human needs.

    In the outside world, the birthrate has dropped catastrophically, as people struggle to conceive. No-one knows why. The followers of Eli seem exempt from this curse. Medical scientists are keen to perform medical tests on the followers, but Marek rejects this, recalling Eli’s claim that ‘the reign of humans is over.’

    The style and tone of this novel contrasts significantly with some dominant voices in English-language SF. It’s instructive comparing Vopenka’s style with recent US utopian novels like Kim Stanley Robinson’s Ministry of the Future (2020) and Cory Doctorow’s Walkaway (2017). The moral universe of the US novels seems broadly far less ambiguous than the one presented in My Brother the Messiah.

    Both Robinson and Doctorow take the benefits of technology and scien fic materialism for granted. In Ministry, Robinson advocates geoengineering, whilst in Vopenka’s novel this sort of global, cooperative technocratic adventure has led to disaster. Technological utopianism, a key theme of Robinson’s and especially Doctorow’s works, is savaged by Vopenka and perhaps with good reason. In Eastern Europe technocratic, utopian impulses have historically had disastrous outcomes. Instead Vopenka foregrounds technological hubris.

    Religion, too, is handled differently in My Brother the Messiah. Although Vopenka’s work is satirical, his approach to religion remains subtle and nuanced. This differs from the mechanistic, reductionist take in Robinson’s novel, where one character claims that ‘huge parts of the brain’ are devoted to religious emo on and that religious sensations are ‘explicable’ as activations of the temporal lobe.

    By contrast, Vopenka is alive to the multi -layered complexity of religious movements, as well as the emotional interplay between belief and doubt that forms a key part of religious experience. Vopenka’s novel also concerns the sociological pull that religious or spiritual groups hold in nominally secular, technocratic societies. This is as often due to the failures and shortcomings of secular rationalism as it is to a need for transcendent belief. In Vopenka’s future, people understandably feel that science and technology has failed them. This sentiment is expressed several times in the novel. Eli states that ‘what we’ve created is evil,’ stating that ‘…science is to blame’ for the current situation. Eli also says that ‘…science will not save us. It’s too late for that.’

    But in the end, religion proves as unreliable as technology. ‘Miracles’ remain elusive, or at least questionable. In Dejvice, Eli curses cars, which stop working. In New Vinohrady, a young woman has a vision of Eli, recalling Marian visions at Lourdes or Fatima. But according to Eli human immortality is not, it seems, an option. A wryly humorous, disturbing novel that refuses the pitfalls of either lazy rationalism or unthinking faith.

    Review from BSFA Review 14 - Download your copy here.

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