How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe
Pantheon Books, 2010
“When it happens, this is what happens: I shoot myself.
Not, you know, my self self. I shoot my future self. He steps out of a time machine, introduces himself as Charles Yu. What am I supposed to do? I kill him. I kill my own future.”
Time-travel technician Charles Yu has found himself stuck in the very kind of predicament he is employed to help others extricate themselves from: Yu is trapped in a time loop, initiated by shooting his own future self. With only TAMMY, his time machine’s overly apologetic operation system, and Ed, his “nonexistent but ontologically valid dog,” for company, Yu sets out to unravel the mystery of his present difficulties, the key to which seems to be a book he received from his future self.
Continue reading Review: How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe
The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate
Subterranean Press, 2007
A frame narrative in the tradition of One Thousand and One Nights, Ted Chiang’s Hugo and Nebula Award winning novelette The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate is narrated by the prosperous fabric merchant Fuwaad ibn Abbas, who, while searching through the markets of Baghdad for a gift for a business associate, stumbles upon a shop of curious instruments and ingenious mechanical devices.
The shop is owned by the alchemist Bashaarat, who introduces Fuwaad to his most prized invention: a great gate of polished black metal that allows an individual to step twenty years into the future. The bulk of Chiang’s novelette is a series of stories told by the alchemist concerning past clients who have used the gate to visit their own future selves. Eventually, the narrative reveals that the alchemist owns a second gate in Cairo that allows one to journey not only into the future, but also twenty years into the past. The novelette’s final tale concerns Fuwaad’s own journey through the gate in an attempt to correct a past mistake.
Continue reading Review: The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate
The Alchemy of Stone
Prime Books, 2008
Mattie, the protagonist of Ekaterina Sedia’s The Alchemy of Stone, is a sentient automaton and a student of alchemy. Her creator, however, is a Mechanic, and as the rivalry between the Alchemist and Mechanic factions begins to grow into overt conflict, Mattie finds herself having to navigate the political complexities of a city on the brink of civil war, even as she struggles to understand her own place as a mechanical being in a very human world.
Although Mattie is nominally emancipated, liberated from the drudgery of her non-sentient mechanical counterparts, she is far from truly free: her mechanical heart requires winding and her creator alone holds the key. Only by obtaining the key for herself can Mattie truly achieve independence. Her quest to obtain the key, however, uncovers unexpected secrets and simmering conflicts, and ultimately reveals Mattie’s own central part in their resolution.
Continue reading Review: The Alchemy of Stone