Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Father of Beloved Flyleaf Employee Holds Dual Reading

ISBN-10: 0765306115 ISBN-13: 9780765306111 Published: Tor Books, 05/07/2013 Pages: 304 Language: English
As a teaser for our dual reading on June 28 with science fiction authors Jamil Nasir--full disclosure: well, it's in the title-- and Alex Wilson, I thought I would discuss Nasir's most recent book, Tunnel Out of Death. Nasir's work falls into the genre of "hard" science fiction, a nebulous distinction that usually indicates a high level of scientific rigor went into the book's fantastical imaginings, but I prefer my own surprisingly inclusive definition: a science fiction book that, when summarized, will always sound like complete and utter nonsense. Just to be clear, this is not a knock against the sub-genre-- I consider myself a fan-- but an acknowledgment that its authors intentionally present a certain barrier of entry to be overcome, hopefully, by the use of one's respective noodle. 

Bewilderment is a sought-after effect rather than a flaw in this sub-genre, and Nasir thankfully avoids all forms of authorly hand-holding. His prose is spare and the exposition is practically non-existent, while his ideas are vast and ambitious. What it really feels like is William Gibson's brutal efficiency married to Philip K. Dick's LSD-fueled surrealism. It's a heady combination, so prepare to read passages over and over again to decipher gnomic phrases-- for example, one chapter begins "While it was slightly unusual to be wearing anonymizing gear in a neighborhood zoned to exclude infopush..."

 The payoff is worth it, though. Nasir is concerned less with plot-driven mysteries than existential ones, and the entire back half of the book is a meditation on mortality. If you think spirituality is no-go territory in science fiction, Tunnel Out of Death will convince you otherwise. Instead of mutants with guns, Nasir's protagonist is threatened by paranoia, ennui, and the conflict between his mind and the needy meat-sacks that happen to carry it around. Also, there are mutants with guns. It's stuff you can seriously ponder, without being seriously ponderous (if I end up leaving this sentence in, you will know I have no shame). This book is kind of like what I imagine Jim Morrison thought of drugs: hallucinatory, mind-opening, and damn good stuff.

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