Nova Express v4, #4

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

Nova Express v4, #4 continues this fanzine's pattern of thoughtful criticism of science fiction. It opens with an interview of Stephen Baxter, author of the Xeelee sequence, the Saddle Point stories (appearing in SF Age) and the only authorized sequel to H.G. Wells' The Time Machines. It's particularly interesting to look at his discussion of his earlier book Anti-Ice, which reveals a lot about his particularly English take on the role of the United States in world affairs -- through the lens of an alternate Victorian England with the equivalent of nuclear power. The interview is followed by David Langford's reviews of Baxter's two most recent books.

The next part is the Post/Cyberpunk Symposium. The first part is editor Lawrence Person's "Notes Toward a Postcyberpunk Manifesto," in which he comments on the passing of the alienated cyberpunk hero in favor of a hero who is more socially integrated and optimistic. This is followed by a number of reactions and several related articles and reviews.

In his editorial, Lawrence Person talks primarily about Worldcon and the Hugo voting. He also takes the opportunity to comment upon some people's rather narrow ideas of what a fanzine ought to be, and why they don't feel that Nova Express qualifies.

This is followed by Justina Robson's article on Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars triptych as America taken into space. I would take issue with one of her statements. She claims that the storyline about the conquest of death through scientific advancement is a reflection of an American desire to avoid dealing with death. However, I see it as a part of the essential doctrine of scientism as a belief system -- that the golden age lies in the future, not the lost past, and can be gained through proper application of the scientific method. Almost every traditional belief system, from primitive ones to complex theologies like Christianity, posit that in the lost Golden Age of perfection, humans were not subject to death. Then humans transgressed some taboo, whether it be a mother retrieving her shed skin so her frightened children could recognize her or the first humans eating the forbidden fruit, and as a result all humans became mortal. If the central thesis of scientism is that the Golden Age lies not in the past but in the future, then freedom from mortality must be a goal to be striven for through careful application of the scientific method.

This is followed by the letter column and Lawrence Person's reviews of a number of short-story collections. Most of these appear to be single-author collections rather than anthologies. Hank Wagner then reviews Richard Calder's Dead trilogy, a horror novel about a world transformed by a nanotech virus which destroys its victims' humanity. In "Ten Pounds of Clute" Lawrence Person reviews John Clute's massive encyclopedias of sf and fantasy.

Justina Robson also reviews Storm Constantine's Grigory Trilogy. In "Bad Novel, No Biscuit," Lawrence Person shreds Robert J. Sawyer's Starplex on multiple egregious scientific and technical errors. I particularly enjoyed the comment about the unrealistic times given for various repairs and modifications in the course of the novel, and LP's suspicion that Sawyer has never done basic real-life repairs like changing oil or swapping out a hard drive. Suddenly the ability to do one's own repairs takes on a whole new level of significance for a writer -- not only does it save money, but it also gives perspective on what one is writing.

The issue is rounded out by a collection of short reviews of various new novels by a number of reviewers. As always, all reviews are signed, which means these critics are willing to stand by their judgement.

Review posted January 1, 1999

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