Review of “勢孤取和 (Influence Isolated, Make Peace)” by John Chu

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55327_girl-writing_md RSR rating: hard SF, 3 stars, published in Lightspeed.

Jake is one of a group of cyborgs, suddenly of questionable use since the war is over. They’re being held in a barracks within a prison compound, and a treaty says they have to be destroyed. The cyborgs have a plan to escape and pass as human.

This one is clearly hard SF, as the cyborgs will pass as clanking hardware. RSR has pointed out some disbelief issues where the author trots in imaginary science and slides over likely repercussions for human guards. The eventual escape plan also seems a bit over-contrived, when I really would have enjoyed more action.

I like the story. John Chu has got style. He also creates a great tension. We’re not sure whether we’re going to get sex here or a fight-to-the-death finish. As it happens, neither pans out for us, but at the end we’re still hanging on, sure one or the other is going to happen.

Drawbacks: For some reason, I had a hard time getting into the narrative here. Story structure maybe? There’s not much of a hook, and also, the story rambles along, just two guys doing things and getting to know each other, without the narrative having any sharply rising action. When we get down to the climax, still not much happens. I spite of this, I really like the humor and the flow of the story.
I’ll give it 4 stars.

The problem of vision

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From the days of Jules Verne, science fiction has always been an inspiration for people looking for a direction in science and technology. In order for advances to happen, someone, somewhere, has to imagine it. In this way, the Hugo Awards could turn out to be an important method of rating popular ideas and directions in science imagination.

I’ve just listed the background of some important writers that have set us on the current path. Checking in Wikipedia, here’s a rundown of educational background for recent Hugo winners.

• Cixin Liu – Computer Science?
• Thomas Olde Heuvelt – English Language and American Literature
• Ann Leckie – BA Music
• Charles Stross – BS Pharmacy/Computer Science
• Mary Robinette Kowal – BA Art Education/Theater
• John Chu – Microelectronics?
• John Scalzi – BA Philosophy
• Brandon Sanderson – MFA Creative Writing
• Pat Cadigan – BA Theater
• Ken Liu – AB English, JD Law
• Jo Walton – BA Classics/Ancient History
• Kij Johnson – MFA Creative Writing
• Charlie Jane Anders – ?

Who would have thought Ken Liu was a tax lawyer?

Clearly the field has broadened. The really hard, theoretical sciences like physics and math have given way to more practical applications like computer science. Now men are also using the arts degree as an avenue into SF writing the same way women did in the early years. The humanities dominate in the background of these authors, not the sciences. The literary quality of SF has improved, as pointed out by the recent squabble over the Hugo Awards, but is the science still there?

Although these new, more literary entrants into the field are great writers, they just don’t have the theoretical science background that gave the Golden Age writers a vision of the future that’s still playing out in space exploration and colonization today. The loss of theoretical imagination in hard SF has implications for how our future might go. Without vision, how can we agree on a direction?

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