Challenging assumptions in science fiction: 1. putting my foot in it

I’m probably going to get myself in trouble, writing this series.

Actually, I first began thinking subversive thoughts about the canon assumptions of sf decades ago.

But I wrote the basis-document for this series of posts last summer, while reading Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey (the pen name of co-authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck). It’s the first novel in The Expanse series, which is the basis for the SyFy series of the same name.

First of all, let me say I enjoyed the book, and I do recommend it, although if I go into why the ending disappointed me, it’ll involve spoilers–so I won’t. Go ahead and read the book. Maybe what bugged me about the ending won’t bother you.

In between the squees of delight and the nitpicks, however, I began to form a stronger and stronger opinion, the longer I read: I would absolutely hate living on Ceres. And I bet everyone else would, too.

Why? Because that is a massively dysfunctional, dog-eat-dog society. I’m looking at Ceres, as portrayed in LW, and seriously—that place is a hellhole no Chamber of Commerce PR campaign could pretty up! So why would anyone willingly choose to go there, see what a sorry excuse of a place it was, and then fail to either leave, or work to make it better?

This is not even close to being an exhaustive collection of all the corporations with their eyes on a profitable future in space.

That the cops are run by a corporate contractor is not a stretch, given that we already have corporations leading the way into spaceprivate contractors covering security for more and more corporate and government entities, and for-profit corporations such as CoreCivic run many of our country’s prisons, for well or ill.

GRS (Global Resource Solutions) provided security for the State Department in Benghazi; ACADEMI is better known by Blackwater, its former name; SOC works for the US Departments of State, Energy, and Defense, as well as corporations; Constellis is the parent company of the security firm Triple CanopyCoreCivic is a private prison management company you might remember better as Corrections Corporation of America.

But the clowns and cowboys who pass for law enforcement on Ceres have no concept of professional law enforcement best practices whatsoever. They make some of our more troubled contemporary police departments look like models of even-handed social justice. Even worse for the good people of Ceres, no one in a position of leadership seems interested in requiring them to step up.

Other outstanding reasons NOT to live on Ceres?

  • Human life is apparently cheap, and easily squandered with no penalty.
  • Freedom of speech is nonexistent, and so is freedom of the Fourth Estate.
  • The nutritional base is crap. Seriously? Fungi and fermentation was all they could come up with? Readers of this blog don’t need to guess what I think of this idea.
  • Misogyny is alive and well, but mental health care is not.
To paraphrase, Ceres ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids–at least not the version of it we see in Leviathan Wakes.

Now, I totally understand that sometimes in a story things have to get pretty dark before they get better. The principle of contrast for emphasis is important in most art forms. But I also have begun to get eternally weary of the same not-necessarily-well-founded assumptions being trotted out without all that much examination in novel after novel.

How could such an epic fail of a so-called society as the Ceres of Leviathan Wakes sustain itself? I mean, outside of the canon tropes of SF? Realistically, not too well, in my opinion.

I’ll get deeper into my reasons in upcoming posts. But people, please! We’re writing science fiction, here. Can’t we imagine anything outside of that same predictable rut?

IMAGES: Many thanks to Amazon, for the Leviathan Wakes cover art. 

I am indebted to the following for the logo images used in the Aerospace Logos montage: to Wikimedia Commons for the Spacex logo; to Stick PNG, for the Boeing logo; to LogoVaults for the Orbital Sciences Corporation logo; and to Space Foundation, for the Sierra Nevada Corporation logo. 

I am indebted to the following for the logo images used in the Security and Prisons Logos montage: to LinkedIn, for the GRS logo; to IDPA, the International Defense Pistol Association, for the ACADEMI logo; to SOC for its logo; and to Constellis for its logo. 

Finally, many thanks to Science Versus Hollywood, for the still image of Ceres Station from SyFy’s The Expanse. 

I appreciate you all!

Book Review: A Finer End by Deborah Crombie

Ancient Mystery and Contemporary Murder Mingle in Avalon Territory 

A Finer End, by Deborah Crombie
I don’t often read something published as a traditional mystery, thriller, and even police procedural that I think my friends who are into paranormal or urban fantasy might like, but this just might be the book to bridge that gap.

Set in contemporary Glastonbury (well, almost contemporary: it was published in 2002) at the foot of the fabled Tor, this is Book Seven in Crombie’s “Kincaid and James” series of British mysteries, but it most definitely will stand on its own. 

Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James are experiencing both personal and professional upheaval in this book. They move out of their roles as professional partners and explore their personal relationship–wherever it may be going–while Gemma faces a challenging new professional assignment and Duncan copes with the loss of his erstwhile sergeant (Gemma, who’s been promoted) and begins to learn how to parent Kit, the twelve-year-old son he only recently discovered he had.

Is the mysterious Glastonbury Abbey monk Edmund for real?

When Duncan’s cousin Jack Montfort asks him to come to Glastonbury for a weekend to help with a rather unusual matter, Duncan and Gemma hope spend some pleasant, relaxing time with him and each other. 

But when Jack’s “unusual matter” turns out to be mysterious automatic writing from a twelfth-century monk named Edmund of Glastonbury, in far more literate Latin than Jack could manufacture on his own, the weekend takes a decidedly unusual turn. 

And that’s before the murder of artisan tile-maker and former midwife Garnet Todd upends everything. What was Garnet’s odd obsession with the runaway pregnant teenager Faith Wills, and why is Faith seemingly compelled to climb the Tor, despite her delicate condition? Did someone also try to kill Jack’s girlfriend, the local vicar Winnie Catesby

Why does the pregnant teenager, Faith, keep trying to climb the Tor?

Ancient violence, contemporary murder, and intertwining mysteries reveal themselves through the eyes of many viewpoint characters, and spin into a gripping climax and resolution that you will not see coming.

I’ve been following Deborah Crombie’s work for several years (fairness disclaimer: she’s also a valued friend), and in 2015 I made it a project to read all 16-and-counting titles in her “Kincaid and James” series of mysteries set in Great Britain (a rewarding experience for me, both as a reader and as a writer). 

This book in particular is a master-class in juggling more than the usual number of POV characters while keeping all of them distinct and interesting, and weaving past and present, myth and police procedure, analytical logic and mysticism into a fascinating, multi-dimensional tapestry of story.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Amazon, for the book cover image; unfortunately, A Finer End is out of print, but Amazon still has copies available. The beautiful photo of the Glastonbury Abbey ruins is from TripAdvisorUK, and the evocative photo of Glastonbury Tor is by the AP photographer Peter Morrison, via Fairyroom.

Recommended Reading: The Chet and Bernie Mysteries by Spencer Quinn

Because I am writing an sf novel with a canine protagonist that involves a mystery, I like to keep up with what else is being written in this general category (you might be amazed how many there are). And sometimes I find wonderful things!

Case in point: the “Chet and Bernie Mysteries” of Spencer Quinn. The first two novels in this deservedly-bestselling series, which has now stretched to 8 novels and several e-shorts, are:

Dog On It (2009)
Told entirely from the viewpoint of Chet, the 100-lb. K9-training “reject” with one black ear and one white ear, this entertaining, fast-paced story grabbed me from the very first line. 

Chet lives with his human partner, PI Bernie Little (of the Little Detective Agency). Their home is in an unnamed southwestern state, in a place Chet only knows as The Valley. 

In their first adventure, they’re on the trail of Madison, a teenager who may or may not have been kidnapped, and is the focus of a dispute between her divorced parents. 

Mom Cynthia Chambliss is convinced her daughter has been kidnapped, and hires Chet and Bernie to find her. Dad Damon Keefer (who smells suspiciously of cat) tells Bernie she’s probably run away, but demands details of the investigation. 

Turns out Mom is right, but when Madison briefly turns up again, it almost looks as if the case will come to nothing . . . until she disappears again. Good thing Chet is on the job! He follows her trail–and ends up in deep trouble, himself. 

Will Chet and Bernie unravel the clues in time? Who is the mysterious Russian? Was Madison really in Las Vegas the whole time, after all? And how does the knife in the parking lot fit in? Enjoy the suspenseful fun as you read the book to find out.

Thereby Hangs a Tail (2010)
Chet and Bernie return for a second adventure, this time on a mission to investigate threats made against a show dog named Princess. Her owner, the wealthy Adelina Borghese, is worried.

The partners need the money, so they take what seems at first to be a silly job as bodyguards to a pampered puffball. But when both Princess and Adelina disappear, things get serious very quickly. 

What are the secrets of the ghost town where Chet finds Princess? Who is the sniper? Will Princess and Chet survive their trek across the desert? Where has Bernie’s on-again, off-again girlfriend, Suzie Sanchez, disappeared to? Read and find out! You’ll be glad you did.

Chet spins his tales well, yet remains very convincingly a dog. it’s one of the things I love most about him. He could only have been written by a man who intimately understands dogs. Quinn (actually the thriller-writer Peter Abrahams) clearly has a long and close relationship with the species. (His current canine family members are Audrey and Pearl. They live with him and his wife on Cape Cod).

While the “Chet and Bernie Mysteries” are not at all like what I’m writing, they have been a delicious discovery. I hope you’ll enjoy them, too!

IMAGES: The cover images for Dog On It and Thereby Hangs aTail are both courtesy of Simon & Schuster. Many thanks for both!