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BOOK REVIEW: Science Fiction

By 8:35 AM


For more than a decade, Obverse Books has focused on expanded universe and spinoff literature—largely works adjacent to and/or analytical of the world of Doctor Who. Recently, though, the indie publisher has been branching out even further into original fiction. There are, of course, plenty of things already out there, including Brenda and Effie collections (which I also highly recommend). But the latest stand-alone novel from Scott M. Liddell, simply (and appropriately) titled Science Fiction, could herald a new era for Obverse: one in which new stories are free to thrive alongside established IPs.

While there are many familiar pop culture references throughout Science Fiction, this novel does not hook itself to the actual canon or lore of any existing stories. It's not stealthily Doctor Who, not a quiet Faction Paradox tie-in: it is its own universe. And what a twisty, confusing universe it is.

Our hero, Jason (who prefers to go simply by J) lives in 2CV: a thriving post-apocalyptic civilization in which politics, capitalism, and religion have been pared away. Education is gained via simulations in which participants are immersed in great events from the history of 1CV (our civilization)—not just learning what happened, but how it felt to be there. And at some point, each human takes part in the Fiction: writing down their life's dream and, should everything check out, being whisked off to an alternate universe where they can live out their best possible life.

J has been rejected repeatedly, as his Fiction breaks one of the process's core rules: it cannot be "about" another person, and his is all about chasing down his crush, Leah. After multiple rejections and immersing himself in the world of ancient films, he has a run-in with a young woman named Caro. Her inventions enable him to skip universes without all the checks and balances, touching base with alternate Caros along the way and (he hopes) meeting his one true love. But as with any seemingly perfect world, especially one that's been so heavily legislated and Occam's Razored, things aren't as they seem.

Science Fiction peels back in layers: a spacetime-trekking love story morphing into hard sci-fi. There are dashes of Star Trek and Die Hard, but absolutely not in the way you're expecting. It's a deep and dense story, but not hard to follow. All the pieces are set up bit by bit as the reader watches, but how they're put together in the book's second and third act is a constantly surprise.

While each reader's mileage may vary on the book's philosophical leanings, none of that stands in the way of Science Fiction being an absolutely cracking read. And the seemingly simplistic title wraps up a plethora of themes: from the role of classic sci-fi in how may of us view ourselves and the world to the very real push-and-pull of human nature vs. technology. In a modern literary landscape where sci-fi is often a matter of jingling the keyring of nostalgia in front of its readers, Science Fiction asks us to interrogate why we like what we like—and, moreover, if we're actually paying attention.

Science Fiction is now available from Obverse Books. And while their tie-in and critical works will always be close to my heart (although I'm probably a bit biased on that front), if Science Fiction is any indication, there's a lot of promise for brand-new stand-alone novels in Obverse's future.

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