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Book Reviews Science fiction reviews: January 29, 2024

MAT COWARD looks at the present from a new angle in order to imagine the future

EVEN gods work for the corporation, in Shigidi And The Brass Head Of Obalufon by Wole Talabi (Gollancz, £20).

For Shigidi this means scraping a living as a nightmare god on behalf of the Orisha Spirit Company, a pantheon with its roots in the Yoruba people.

His place in the company hierarchy is a miserable one, and in any case dwindling belief among the mortals means that earnings are down across the board. So when he meets Nneoma, who is a succubus among other things, he is receptive to her crazy idea of turning freelance.

Nobody leaves the firm without the firm’s say so, which is never given. But if the pair can pull of one impossible heist — liberating a stolen Nigerian artefact from the British Museum — their boss promises he’ll let them go.

Imaginative and funny, full of action and ideas, this is divine fun.

Kurdistan + 100 (Comma Press, £9.99), edited by Mustafa Gundogdu and Orsola Casagrande, is a brilliant idea for an anthology: 13 Kurdish authors supply stories set in 2046, 100 years after the rise and fall of the last independent Kurdish state.

Futurism is one of SF’s most important tools, allowing — even compelling — writers and readers to look at the present from a new angle in order to imagine the future.

These stories are diverse in style and subject, and some of the author biographies at the back are eye-opening. One writer is facing a sentence of 183 years as a political prisoner in Turkey, for instance, while another awaits trial, her piece in this book to be used as evidence against her.

While you’re ordering this one, you might fancy picking up a copy of the same publisher’s 2019 volume: Palestine + 100.

The Mountain In The Sea by Ray Nayler (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £9.99) won last year’s Locus Award for first novel, having been shortlisted for just about everything else, and from the first chapter onwards it’s obvious why.

This bracingly original book is an ecothriller, and a first contact novel. It’s also an ethical and scientific exploration of what philosophers call “the hard problem of consciousness,” which succeeds remarkably well in giving readers a general grasp of one of the most difficult areas in modern thought.

Most of all, though, it’s a story you can’t put down.

It centres on the work of a marine biologist known for her belief that when we first meet an alien society it won’t be in outer space: rather, “the first aliens we encounter will rise to greet us from the sea.”

That’s how Dr Ha Nguyen ends up on an island carefully isolated from the world by a mega-corp, with no way off, and her life dependent on two exiles - a mercenary security expert and the world’s first android.

She’s there to study a population of octopuses who seem to be capable of symbolic communication. There are two problems with that.

For one thing, several powerful and ruthless groups are also interested. And secondly — while she’s studying the octopuses, they’re studying her.


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