Monday, January 02, 2006

Unbelievable SF Artistry

The first book I've read in the 2K6 is a science-fiction paperback, a used copy of Kristine Kathryn Rusch's 2002 novel The Disappeared. I first learned of Rusch's work in Famous Wisconsin Authors -- Rusch was born in Wisconsin. Now living in Oregon, Rusch once edited The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and ran Pulphouse Publishing. Previously, I'd read one of her fantasy novels, The White Mists of Power -- she works in multiple genres -- as well as the newest edition in her Retrieval Artist series, Buried Deep. And the latter was so good that I passed it onto a friend and began to track down its predecessors.

At 374 pages, the book is still an easy read -- I read it in three days. For the most part, it's a breeze because the writing pulls you through the text on its own accord. Equal parts mystery novel and science fiction story, reminding me somewhat of Isaac Asimov's The Robots of Dawn and his character Elijah Bailey, it's a fascinating book. Less fascinating, perhaps, than Buried Deep, which introduced me to the concept of the Retrieval Artist -- a gumshoe-like professional who tracks down the Disappeared (people who purposely drop out of society) -- as well as Rusch's approach to portraying alien races, but fascinating nonetheless.

That might be my favorite part of these books. Rusch's approach to incorporating non-humans in her work resonates with that of the inclusion of the Phneri in the Future Boston project. In Buried Deep, Rusch provides one of the most interesting and in-depth portrayal of an alien society -- without giving you much to go on in terms of describing what the aliens look like. That's most writers' first approach -- to differentiate aliens based on their physicality -- and she avoids it entirely.

The Disappeared isn't as mysterious in portraying its aliens -- the Rev and the Wygnin are much more detailed -- perhaps because the Disty have been adequately described in earlier works... yet their physical, cultural, and societal descriptions are rich and worth considering. Rusch's aliens are more alien than most, and that's welcome. In addition to combining two alien races, she weaves two related plotlines, which connect well in the end and propel the protagonists forward into future narratives.

The characters are excellently portrayed. Their personal stories are worth following. The situations and intrigues they find themselves involved in -- and are trying to get out of -- are awesome. And the Earth-Moon-Mars world that surrounds them is very, very cool. One of my favorite new discoveries in terms of authors -- and what might be one of the best science-fiction series I've encountered.

Make a new year's resolution: Read these books.

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