Locus Award nominee
A lot has been made about the politics of various Sad Puppies, probably to the point where many folks are wondering how any sane person could have signed on to their slate. Thing is, one of the many things that they’ve been talking about this whole time is how science fiction and fantasy has become watered down. According to them, our genre has lost its gee whiz-bang eyeball kicks and sense of adventure.
And you know, what? They are not necessarily entirely wrong about that.
There were a couple of books this year that I read that where I wondered: where’s the science fiction/fantasy?
Walton’s My Real Children is told from the point of view a woman who is suffering from Alzheimer’s, whose “confusion” revolves partly around remembering two separate lives—she lives in a bifurcated multiverse, a split off a singular momentous decision. In one, she says “yes” to marriage; in the other she says “no.”
But, really, the book reads like an alternate universe memoir, or rather a set of memoirs. It’s clear from the snippets of “real world” politics that neither of these universes is our current one. It seems, too, that our heroine’s choice is either personal happiness or a better world.
Walton is a really good writer. She’s one of those people who could make a grocery list interesting reading. I actually read this book very fast and enjoyed it tremendously. It was, despite this, a real page-turner for me.
That being said: there’s not a lot of science in this fiction.
Memory Garden was very similar in that it’s a book about growing old and about past sins. The main character is ostensibly a young girl who, at birth, was abandoned on the doorstep of a witch’s house. She can see ghosts and there is subtle, Wiccan-esque magic throughout the novel that’s real enough. But, really, most of the story is about the witch’s tangled history, old guilts, and how much it sucks growing old.
I liked this book a lot as well, partly because it felt like a really good Practical Magic fan fic, where someone said, “you know who’s really cool in that movie? It’s not Sandra Bullock’s character, it’s those two old ladies and that awesome house and its herb gardens; I’m going to write a while book about that.”
Maybe I’m jaded, because, again, I felt like, as far as the fantasy elements went, there wasn’t much there there. Ghosts and herbal remedies qualify, certainly, as do bifurcated universes, but neither of these are gee whiz-bang spec fic tropes, you know?
Both of these books are up for awards, one even won one. I don’t disagree in the least that they’re worthy—in terms of their prose and quality of storytelling, in general—but their spec fic game is weak.
I think, in some ways, what this means is that spec fic has matured beyond explosions, but I will grant the Puppies the possibility that we’ve lost something, too.