Confessions of a Casual Sci-Fi Fan

“The Anomaly” by Hervé Le Tellier Photo: Other Press / Other Press

Why did it take so long for Hervé the “The Anomaly” by Tellier, a novel published in France in the summer of 2020, to arrive in the United States? It may have taken some time to find a translator. The book is an editorial sensation in France, selling more copies the than any book since “L’Amant” by Marguerite Duras in 1984.

No wonder it’s fashionable. In a way, “The Anomaly” is the perfect pandemic book, challenging our very existence, albeit in a very entertaining way. But there is also a philosophical gravity in the questions he asks. This is by no means a book that I felt guilty for enjoying.

The premise, without spoilers, involves an Air France Paris-New York flight that appears out of nowhere. That’s all I’ll say, except to tell you that Le Tellier captures our interest by introducing us to the plane’s passengers, each with a compelling story.

I was surprised to like this book so much, because I’m not a big fan of science fiction. I find our real world with all its flawed characters interesting enough without introducing time travel or life on other planets. And because I have such a strained relationship with technology, I don’t get excited about speculation about how far it can go. I also understand that many top science fiction writers are, indeed, good writers; this genre, in this case, is not a reductive term.

I generally try not to reveal my lack of attraction to science fiction, However, afraid of being subjected to another lecture on the wonders of Ursula K. The Guinea. (I know she’s all of that, okay? But not to me.)

Charlie Jane Anders is the author of “All the Birds in the Sky”. Photo: Sarah Deragon

But there were a few speculative fiction books that I enjoyed, among them Charlie Jane Anders’ “All the Birds in the Sky.” the 2016 book tells the story of childhood friends, reunited after years of estrangement. One of them has magical powers; the other is a tech genius who invented a time machine who can send it two seconds into the future. A recipe for disaster, I thought.

Yet Anders has written a funny and moving novel that, despite climate change and raging epidemics, contains an element of hope. Add to that the protagonists who, when they find themselves, live in San Francisco, a tech-crazed future, an environment with which Anders, originally from San Francisco, has a lot of fun.

Author Emily St. John Mandel wrote “Station Eleven,” about a deadly flu pandemic, before the coronavirus hit. Photo: Sarah Shatz

“Station Eleven”, Emily St. John by Mandel A dystopian novel from 2014, opens with a production of “King Lear” in which the lead actor quickly succumbs to a heart attack. We are rapidly discovering a new, virulent flu strain that will to wipe over 99% of humanity. Note that this book was written long before COVID-19.

The book then focuses on the journey Symphony, a traveling group of actors and performers who travel to the primitive settlements built among the ruins of Canada and the northern United States, bringing Shakespeare to the survivors. Art is the panacea that helps what’s left of civilization survive, bringing beauty and compassion to the devastated landscape.

It’s a hugely appealing message, especially in light of how our cultural life has suffered since the pandemic hit. The few times I saw theater or went to a museum in the recent pastmy morale has improved considerably.

“Never Let Me Go” by British author Kazuo Ishiguro is set in England. Photo: Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images

Finally, there is “Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro, which is set in late 20th century England, where human beings are cloned and bred for the purpose of harvesting their organs once they reach adulthood.

Undeniably brutal, the novel manages to raise the great theme of what makes us human, while assuming the power of love and personal sacrifice. As with most of Ishiguro’s work, there always seems to be something slightly off about this book; Reading it keeps us spellbound.

Elisabeth Moss as Offred in “The Handmaid’s Tale”. Photo: George Kraychyk/Hulu

While I admired “The Handmaid’s Tale”, the 1985 novel by Margaret Atwood, which is set in a strongly patriarchal state where a group of “maids” are forced to produce children for the ruling class of men, I don’t I just didn’t have the stomach for it.

It was the same when I watched the faithful and extremely well-made TV series. The theme of subjugated women without agency in a male-ruled society was so close to home that it was unbearable.

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