Feb. 3rd, 2016

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Gypsy is one of the latest additions to PM Press's remarkable Outspoken Authors series. As with previous volumes in the series, Gypsy contains several collected works a single author. This collection features selections from the works of eclectic writer Carter Sholtz, including the novella Gypsy, two bitingly funny satirical short stories, an essay on the ease with which the US and its corporations violate national and international law, and an interview conducted with Sholtz by Terry Bisson.

The novella Gypsy takes place in an unsettlingly familiar dystopic future - climate change, corporate greed, resource depletion, war and the collapse of civil society. It's gotten bad enough that an underground network of dissidents have managed, in secret, to cobble together a space ship that will be able - if everything goes right - to transport a small number of people to the Alpha Centauri system in the hopes of finding a livable planet. It's a desperate shot in the dark.... but letting the situation on earth continue without some attempt to create another place for humans to survive seems unthinkable.

This is not a happy story. It is unrealistic to expect that that everything would go right in such an endeavour, and this is, given the opening situation, a very realistic, hard sf story. But it is also a powerful story, and a thought-provoking one.

In addition to the novella, the other pieces in the collection are well worth reading. I particularly enjoyed "Bad Pennies," a wicked satire on the American penchant for meddling in other countries' business and for doing business at whatever cost.

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Bao Shu's speculative novella What Has Passed Shall in Kinder Light Appear seems at first to be a straight-forward non-genre story about a young boy in modern-day China - excerpt of course, for that thing about him being born on the day the world was supposed to end, but obviously it didn't. You read on, thinking that's going to become the sfnal bit, but it isn't really mentioned again, and the boy just keeps growing older and having perfectly normal boychild experiences.

Then things get a bit confusing, and you start wondering just when he is supposed to have bern born - you try to remember in what year the Beijing Olympics took place, and when the Arab Spring happened in relation to that, and you wonder if maybe your memory has faded or if maybe the author got something a bit wrong. Then you decide that no, your memory of current events can't be that bad, and that no author is going to screw up that many references, so you decide that this is some kind of alternate history story, in which things happened in a different way than in our own world.

And then you notice the pattern. And you remember that Xie Baosheng was four when the Olympics were in Beijing, and that there was a four-year gap between those Olympics and the day the Mayan Long Cycle calendar ran out in in 2012. And that's when it hits you.

What Has Passed Shall in Kinder Light Appear isn't just a moving story about a man, the woman he loves all his life, and how he is shaped and his life is directed by the times he lives in. It's also a meditation on time and history - how we perceive then, how we understand them, how we try to create meaning and causality out of the passing of time and events. It is profoundly human, and profoundly philosophical, all at once.

And kudos as well to Ken Liu, whose translation of this and other Chinese works of science fiction is making the global conversation of ideas wider and richer.

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