Friday, 2 March 2012

Remembrance of Things Past

By Kevlin Henney

After reading and reviewing Afterglow several months ago I was delighted when Kevlin Henney asked me to review Remembrance of Things Past. Kevlin writes a lot of what I think is referred to generally as flash fiction and although the links to it always catch my eye on twitter I am sorry to say that I don't always make the time to read it. Being asked directly certainly helped!

My dad introduced me to science fiction. We used to listen to the original radio series of the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy and Charles Chiltern's Space Force and Journey into Space on long car journeys. I still listen to them now in bed at night. I have very clear memories of certain parts of Dr Who and Blakes 7 from my childhood. I grew up with the repeats of Star Trek the original series and, of course, The Next Generation and other spin offs in my teens and twenties. I remember watching and loving 2010 and Dune and then going on to read the books. I got bored with Frank Herbert at the start of Children of Dune, but went on to read most of what Arthur C. Clark wrote. Looking for other things I read Asimov's foundation series. Asimov started to give me an idea of what real science fiction was. Clarke mostly wrote about the science. In fact his best stories were written with other writers, the Rama series for example. It wasn't until the science fiction explosion, that the screening of the X Files prompted, that I really understood what science fiction was. I'm not saying the X Files is real science fiction, it was the other films and series that were promoted at the time that helped me understand. We read science fiction at school in the form of A Rag, a Bone and a Hank of Hair. It wasn't science fiction to me then. There were no space ships, no aliens, no heroes. I understood it even more when I read 1984. Kevlin Henney writes real science fiction.

I've wanted to write a blog post about science fiction for some time. Until now it has just seemed self-indulgent. Before I describe what I thought of Kevlin's latest piece and compare it to the authors I read and love today, it would be remiss of me not mention how I discovered “intelligent sci-fi”. While I was at university I got introduced to Babylon 5. This was the first sci-fi TV show that didn't put everything back to status quo at the end of each episode. The story ran right through all five series and you had to watch all of them several times to understand what was going on. Then came Farscape and more recently the remake of Battlestar Galactica. All intelligent sci-fi. In contrast Afterglow and Remembrance of Things Past are short, standalone stories that merely imply that other events have taken place. They're no less intelligent though.

One of my favorite authors, Richard Morgan, often writes as if you already know the background of the characters and events in the story. These events and characters are then explored and expanded as the story goes along. As a technical writer, who expects first things to come first, this both frustrates me and encourages me to read on to understand. Understanding is very important to me. Remembrance of Things Past starts in just the same way. Drawing me in and building the anxiety of not knowing exactly what's going on.

The timings of described events are very clear, but don't quite fit, just like the thirteenth chime of the clock described in the opening lines of 1984. Immediately you know something isn't as it should be and want to read more to find out. In Remembrance of Things Past it's the science fiction that allows this, although the science fiction in the story isn't evident until later on. When I started the story I found myself, childlike again, wondering where the science fiction was.

As Kevlin sets the scene for the story I found myself remembering the opening to Absolution Gap, the final book of the Revelation Space trilogy, by my all time favorite author Alistair Reynolds. Sometimes Reynolds’ imagination just runs away with him and you can’t work out why something is happening. This is not the case with Remembrance of Things Past though.

Next Kevlin describes some of the characters in his story. It occurred to me that I read far too much serious, even gothic, science fiction where children rarely feature, let alone two happy girls on a beach and one wearing purple star sunglasses. It gives the story a more realistic feel that brings the reader out of the otherwise all inclusive dream feel.

It would be unfair to say much more about the story in case too much is given away to those reading this review before reading the story. However it must be said that the overriding sense which comes from Remembrance of Things Past is the same as that which came from Afterglow: loss.

Just in case it isn’t clear, I like and enjoyed this story. It would make an ideal opener for something far deeper and darker. I’m told a novel and even a novella is a long way off. That’s a shame.

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