Books

Small Crush: Sleeping Giants (Sylvain Neuvel)

I have a confession to make: I am no giant robots girl. Robots are cool, sure. The Iron Giant is fine, too. But show me Transformers or Gundam style piloted vehicles, and I’m mostly out. So why on earth was I intrigued by a novel evolving around the idea of mankind stumbling upon giant robot parts buried deep in the earth for millennia?

I guess it was the premise to treat these unwieldy and, for me, inefficient huge heaps of metal as a real thing. In the beginning of Sylvain Neuvels debut novel Sleeping Giants, they are exactly what I imagine them to be: weird, giant metal pieces lying around, and nobody knows what to make of them and what to do with them. Nobody knows that they exist, to be exact, because giant body parts emerging from the earth all of a sudden are a top secret thing, of course. And this is the other feature to guarantee a fascinating read: You are let in on a secret. You’re allowed to snoop on the classified files of the giant robot dossier, and that’s what you get to read – interviews, surveillance data, secret reports, and so on. Sleeping Giants is not the first book to do this (World War Z comes to mind, among others), but as much as you have to fill in the blanks and put together the bits and pieces of information, Sleeping Giants has a narrator, kind of: the one who collects the files, a shadowy figure you know nothing about, who conducts interviews, controls and manipulates the events. He (or she?) stays completely opaque, so you’ll gobble up every little bit of (indirect) information about them.

Sleeping GiantsThis “narrator” gathers personnel (recruited from military and science) to study the giant robot parts. Their findings seem to defy everything we know about history and science. It’s the biggest top secret discovery on Earth. Yet people … are people. The protagonists are fascinating, flawed characters, real persons in the face of robot perfection. So real, in fact, that their drama seemed a little bit over the top to me in places, given the surroundings and events of the story. On the other hand, all those boiling emotions are able to close the distance created by the dossier style of Sleeping Giants. Simultaneously, global drama unfolds, and there’s still a whole bunch of questions about those robot pieces.

I don’t know if I like the direction the story is going in the end, but Sleeping Giants kept my eyes glued to the pages, that’s for sure, and Sylvain Neuvel knows a thing or two about the art of suspense and cliffhangers. And while I’m still no giant robots girl, I really liked all the giant robot(s) girls portrayed in this book.

Sunday Story Time: Love Is the Plan the Plan Is Death

Today I’m late, so you get something good – this is one of my favorite stories of all time (and probably my favorite by James Tiptree Jr.) Love Is the Plan the Plan Is Death first appeared in 1973, went on to win a Nebula Award, and is a classic today. Its point of view lost nothing of its strangeness and the narration will keep you on your toes, freak you out and get you thinking. Not an easy read, but one you’ll likely never forget.

You can read Love Is the Plan the Plan Is Death for free at Lightspeed Magazine’s webpage (it also appeared in their Women Destroy Science Fiction! anthology). And if you like audio books, do yourself a favor and listen to this story, read by the brilliant Stefan Rudnicki.

Small Crush: Senlin Ascends (Josiah Bancroft)

What if it’s too early to write a love letter (because I haven’t experienced the whole thing I’m smitten with yet or because I’m not sure if the crush will last)? I confide in you, of course: just some quick thoughts about stories that charmed me recently, about small crushes you might want to check out.

That said, Thomas Senlin, protagonist of Josiah Bancroft’s debut novel Senlin Ascends, is no charmer. He is as stiff as a poker and as cringeworthy as a deer on ice. You expect him to crash and drown any moment, and you’re not sure if you will miss him all that much, because he is incredibly prim and mostly unlikeable. Then, magic happens. Senlin loses his wife in the crowds on the first day of their honeymoon voyage to the famed Tower of Babel, a sprawling mass of people and vastly different levels called “Ringdoms”. And he stays determined to find her against all odds and learns to navigate the Tower, his only aid a tourist guidebook turning out to be a complete failure in the course of the events. It is not so much that Senlin changes (although he does, of course), but that you come to appreciate his stiff and prim qualities (and the flashes of sly humor underneath), because they make for a quirky and unique journey upwards, ever upwards.

Senlin AscendsDespite Senlin’s constant disillusionment and the grim observations about how the Tower wears down people and erodes even the last residues of morale, Senlin Ascends ends up to be a surprisingly upbeat tale. Maybe because it fails to be cynical, and it fails to be hopeless, although Senlin sure has reason for hopelessness at times.

At its heart, it is a tale of exploration, a journey into the unknown. The Tower is shrouded in mystery, and its inner workings are revealed only slowly, accompanied by some very clever twists and turns. Reading Senlin Ascends, I did realize I have a great fondness for stories showing me not one, but a series of worlds; a complete new society and environment at each level of the Tower in this case. (And I wonder, is there a name for this genre? Also found in Tad William’s Otherland, Gregory Frost’s Shadowbridge, or Philip José Farmer’s World of Tiers, among others.) But a series of worlds is nothing if you aren’t intrigued by the overarching connections, so let me tell you this: I can’t wait to read the next book!

And you, too, should enter the Tower of Babel in all its vastness and craziness and mysteriousness, and enjoy capable airship pirate ladies, a totally mad romp of a fight under the influence of drugs, and, equally thrilling, Bancroft’s beautiful prose and storytelling craftsmanship.