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Charles Stross
"Missile Gap"
© Subterranean Press, 2006
--novella : 2007 Locus Award
--/ third place time sf novel
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award: Cold War exploration in an infinite world.
--/ awesome scale

There is a deep primal fear in all of us - of a totalitarian state, waging perpetual inhuman war. We've seen other great treatments of this theme, such as the third part "Cannon Fodder" of the "Memories" anime masterpiece, various dark dystopias of brothers Arkady & Boris Strugatski, and Cold War paranoias of Phillip K. Dick. It has become a marketable fictional environment, almost a sub-genre. Make our skin crawl with subliminal intimations of a "low-flying heavy bomber" kind, or invoke our deeply-ingrained dread of totalitarian shabby lifestyle - and we are hooked to consume another slice of commercialized paranoia. In this case, though, the writer is Stross (in his cool-hat mode), so we are bound to expect some surprises. And we are not disappointed. Stross goes beyond simple Cold War extrapolation into a deep, dark and cosmologically mysterious territory.

(one of the concept drawings for "Cannon Fodder")

Even though I classified "Missile Gap" as a "time-themed" novella, technically it's not about time-travel, or alternate histories. The concept is significantly more twisted, almost as wild as "The Inverted World" by Christopher Priest - a bizarre piece of world-building that cries out to be animated by Hayao Miyazaki. The story is far from complete, however, and the novella is just too short to give justice to Stross' brave world-building: it reads like a rough script, a promotional piece for some movie producer, it lacks depth, emotional and character muscle, perhaps it even lacks SOUL. As such, it might've been relegated to the comic or manga pile, but still... still... the idea of that story speaks to me on so many levels that all other shortcomings are forgotten. Besides, as someone noted in the comments on Stross' site: "No! No sequels! A sequel implies a future, and a future implies hope, and hope is not consistent with the Missile Gap message."

"It's 1976 again. Abba are on the charts, the Cold War is in full swing — and the Earth is flat. It’s been flat ever since the eve of the Cuban war of 1962; and the constellations overhead are all wrong. Beyond the Boreal ocean, strange new continents loom above tropical seas, offering a new start to colonists like newly-weds Maddy and Bob, and the hope of further glory to explorers like ex-cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin: but nobody knows why they exist, and outside the circle of exploration the universe is inexplicably warped."

I am surprised that this mind-trip did not win any major awards the moment critics sunk their teeth into it. It's somehow unthinkable that any work of Stross or Gibson would languish without awards. I mean they must mint these awards in advance with "Charles Stross" already engraved on them. (OK, it's just wishful thinking, the Universe can not be that spontaneously cool, yet). Get that book just for the pleasure of reading how the first cosmonaut Yury Gagarin sets to explore the infinite ocean (every planet in the Universe turned flat, you see) inside a giant "ekranoplan" ground-effect vehicle. (a larger version of this)

review: 15-Jan-08 (read in 2007)
Read more reviews for this writer

You can also read the whole novella online here


(left image: art copyright: John Berkey)

Alastair Reynolds

(Revelation Space series)
© Galactic North, 2006
--/ third place space sf story
>--/ adventure award
--/ wonder award

This is as straight-forward story as you can get: a simple space piracy potboiler, with classic set pieces and predictable special effects. None of the above constitutes a bad thing, though. Space piracy stories historically have been frowned upon by all kinds of critics, dismissed en masse as juvenile and unoriginal. Well, what can we say? other than: pirates are supposed to have a bad rap, unless they are of the kind that "don't do anything".

More often, though, pirates and their lifestyle represent the most romantic environment that a writer can possibly come up with. Problem is, NONE of the great space piracy stories were properly reprinted, or marketed, and so they are virtually unknown as a result. Have you read (or even heard about) Edwin K. Sloat's "Beyond the Planetoids" (1932)? Or Edmond Hamilton's "The Three Planeteers"? I bet you have not... but now you can at least read this little "potboiler" to get a good taste of what "piracy of the spaceways" adventure is all about.

A perfectly simple storyline is all that is needed here: bravery, thrilling battles, testing of the corsair's wits and space engines, with an added exotic (though not really romantic) interest and a geeky fascination with huge unfathomable space drives - all very straight-forward and cute. Very pleasurable narrative from a writer who's not afraid to enter forbidden (even if deemed to be "cheesy") territories and to bring out cool cinematic adventures.
(review by Avi Abrams)


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