Review of small press and independent books.
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We started talking about this in a thread extolling the virtues of the Strugatsky brothers' Roadside Picnic, and I thought it might be a good idea to take our conversation here in case it gets out of hand and we get into trouble for messing up the site.
One of the most fascinating aspects of old science fiction is the author's concept of the then-near-future - is the Cold War still going on, has World War Three occurred in the meantime, has the world succumbed to eco-catastrophe or, as appears to be the most recent fashion, are the Chinese running it?
Karel Capek's War with the Newts is a brilliant read as it stands, but it becomes disturbing and positively spooky when you know that it was written during the bit of the Third Reich that wasn't the Second World War (about 1936, at a guess, but I admit I haven't looked it up recently). The bit where the newts' works have cut Britain off from the European continent, and the British start digging up their cricket pitches and flower gardens to grow food, inspired by the example of the Prince of Wales who breaks the turf at Lords' with his own hands... ooeeooeeooee...
Ah, the future was so much better in the old days! These days it's always either abandoned earth boiling with toxic soup or heartless world run by clones or genetically engineered fascists or people with chips in.
Um, have you read The Night Land recently?
No, it's just that it was written in about 1912, and has quite the nastiest future of them all.
OK, I take that back: 'The Night Land' doesn't count, 'cos it's set millions of years in the future, when the sun's gone out. Anyway, E. M. Forster's 'The Machine Stops' is worse, and considering it was written in about 1919, it has a then-near-future that'll give you the creeps.