Putting the old team together for one last job!
March 10, 2023 6:30 PM   Subscribe

Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Lavie Tidhar, authors who formerly wrote an irregular science fiction book column in the Washington Post, are back with a new column, "If you loved 'Everything Everywhere All at Once,' try these novels," recommending books like Micaiah Johnson’s "The Space Between Worlds," Mefi's own Charles Stross's "The Family Trade," Alix E. Harrow's "The Ten Thousand Doors of January", and many more.

Their "final" column, "Let's talk about science fiction and horror by new, promising writers," was published in August 2022 and recommended Zin E. Rocklyn's "Flowers for the Sea," Lavanya Lakshminarayan's "The Ten-Percent Thief" (which comes out in a few weeks), Samit Basu's "The City Inside," Tlotlo Tsamaase's "The Silence of the Wilting Skin," and Suyi Davies Okungbowa's "Son of the Storm," amongst others.

Over the three years of their chatty columns, they discussed beasts of sci-fi and horror, Hollywood as inspiration, alternate histories, climate change and more.

(Title is from Tidhar's Facebook post about the EEAAO piece.)
posted by joannemerriam (23 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
I just came to say that The Family Trade series was hecking awesome. It's the only seriously-followed-through example that I have ever seen of the "how would this YA fantasy trope play out in the real world" genre.
posted by heatherlogan at 7:17 PM on March 10 [5 favorites]

The Ten Thousand Doors of January is great. Very nice writing and a memorable story. I hope there is a sequel, but it definitely stands on its own. Big recommend!
posted by zardoz at 8:24 PM on March 10 [4 favorites]

it would not be a mistake to chance short fiction piece dancing to ganam.
posted by j_curiouser at 11:11 PM on March 10

I was a little surprised that A Darker Shade of Magic didn't make the list.
posted by DebetEsse at 11:26 PM on March 10

The Family Trade is hella fun. Show up for the inter dimensional arbitrage schemes, stay for the subversion of the princess fantasy trope.
posted by kaibutsu at 12:13 AM on March 11 [2 favorites]

I guess it reveals something or other that I've read almost everything mentioned in the parallel-worlds link, including the old stuff. I really do love time-travel and parallel-worlds stories. The appeal for me isn't escapism, it's the speculation about how things fit together, what choices can mean.

In fact, come to think of it, that's pretty much the appeal of all SFF for me, and even fiction in general. In life, things happen and we make choices. Speculative fiction and even general fiction is about different ways all this can play out. Fiction leans heavily on intuition about this at various levels and between writers and their audience, all are sort of stretching and exercising the 'muscles' involved.

I really believe that reading fiction constantly all my life has greatly increased my ability to empathize with other people. Something similar might be said about trying to understand unfamiliar things, including systems and societies, at different scales through fiction and then variously in genre and then of a particularly large scale in things like parallel-worlds stories.

Incidentally, I've been feeling old lately and that I probably don't have that many years left to live, and I've caught myself feeling sad at the realization that there are so many things to learn about that I'll never know.

I think my joy of discovery in learning has some foundation in my joy at working through really unfamiliar stuff in speculative fiction. So many people balk at the made-up words and names in SFF, but to me all that has been part of the fun, a signal that we're unambiguously moving into the unfamiliar and unknown.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:52 AM on March 11 [3 favorites]

And yeah, cstross's Family Trade books are among the most thoughtful and innovative parallel-world stories. They're my favorite things he's written.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:56 AM on March 11 [1 favorite]

I'm surprised they didn't mention Seanan McGuire's Wayward Children books or Brandon Sanderson's Cosmere books.

I am, for reasons I find difficult to articulate, kind of picky when it comes to multiverse books (and also books set in magical libraries, for some reason.) There are definitely books in the linked article that I like, though -- the Morgaine books, the Amber books, the Eternal Champion books, Piranesi, The Magician's Nephew. And of course, I haven't read all the ones they mentioned.

OK, maybe I'm not *that* picky. I like books. But there are a lot of multiverse books that just don't do it for me, for some reason.

That being said, here are some they didn't mention that I'm fond of (using a slightly narrower definition than they do):

Finna & Defekt, by Nino Cipri
The Unspoken Name & The Thousand Eyes, by A. K. Larkwood
The Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy, by Martha Wells
The Book of All Hours duology, by Ian Duncan
posted by kyrademon at 2:38 AM on March 11 [1 favorite]

The Unspoken Name & The Thousand Eyes, by A. K. Larkwood

These are really fantastic.
posted by Gadarene at 3:52 AM on March 11 [1 favorite]

I’ve been greatly enjoying Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s own novels since a friend recommended one the other year.
posted by eviemath at 4:22 AM on March 11 [2 favorites]

I've read three of the four you mentioned, kyrademon. I sort of knew I caught most of these books because I'm always looking out for them, but I'm surprised to see how true that is. I've even read Heinlein's Number of the Beast (and the other much-derided late Heinlein romps across the Heinleinverse).

Hofstadter wrote an essay, which possibly Harmon or Roiland read, about a hypothetical TV showing a football game tuned 'nearer' or 'farther away' from our reality. The ball might be a different color but everything else is the same, and we have an intuition about that being 'near'. But is it? Turn the knob to go farther 'away' and what might we see? Also, it's hard to talk about the relative distances to, say, two seperate universes that are very different from ours.

And from a particular strict philosophical perspective, isn't it by definition nonsensical to talk about the relative plausibility of what doesn't exist? (That's the stance that rejects reasoning about counterfactuals generally.)

My insight is to think about this mathematically or as something like an equilibrium state in that maybe our intuition about one tiny change and one alone being very 'near' might actually be either very far or even unreachable. I don't think our intuition about near or far in this context is reliable. This has some interesting implications in a traveling-between-parallel-worlds story.

I guess related to this is the old chestnut that in an infinite universe there is infinite possibility and therefore everything we can imagine or even everything physically possible must exist. I've always thought that was a specious, lazy idea.

It's entirely reasonable that an infinite multiverse very much might not include everything imaginable, which I sort of think EEAAO gleefully ignores with its hot dog fingers and sentient rocks (which is fine). Sure, it's not very interesting in itself to disallow the super-weird things like hot dog fingers, but I do think it's interesting to disallow things that our intuition says are very plausible. Ah, that might seem pessimistic, but I've just never liked lazy counterfactuals and I think a SF story that made this clear could be very interesting. Forget about there being no possible universe where I am an astronaut — what if there's no possible universe in which I ate ceral yesterday?

I don't think these are idle thoughts. Whether there's merit in the scientific idea of a multiverse, it's a useful way of framing an examination of counterfactuals, an idea and even a pragma that people use all the time. What if?, as it were.

These literally outlandish examples of parallel-world stories are just much more explicit and colorful versions of the mundane counterfactuals we consider all the time. 'If only I'd looked over my shoulder before changing lanes.' We're always trying to understand the limits of our agency within the context of large systems which constrain our choices. Some of those constraints might be so strong as to be absolute in that there's no a possible universe in which they didn't hold. That can be pessimistic. But the flip-side is that it might also be true that our choices are much less constrained than we think; that many unintuitive, seemingly distant possibilities are just one altered choice away.

One book we haven't mentioned, which isn't precisely a multiverse story, is Kate Atkinson's Life After Life, one of the best books I've read in years. This is an example where the supposed divide between literary and genre fiction is more supportable: she's utterly uninterested in the mechanics of this. All she's interested in is telling different possible versions of this woman's life story. I imagine that people who limit themselves to SF would bounce off this book because it just doesn't bother with the SFF genre conventions. But it's among the most deeply humanistic, psychologically insightful books I've ever read that uses the variations-of-different-choices trope.

The better written genre books include a lot of this 'variations of specific people within different systems' thing; while the more tropey genre books lean in the 'variations of systems with specific people' direction. I've always been ambivalent on the whole genre/literature argument, but what I really want is the best of both worlds. SFF has trained me to want more of an explanation than I got from Atkinson — maybe I wanted a lot more of that, too, along with the psychological and social realism ... but I can't have it? Maybe not everything I want is possible.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:01 AM on March 11 [3 favorites]

Just to add: the ideas I was discussing are possibly why portal stories such as The Wayward Children books aren't included? (Which, yes, I've read and think they're her best work.)

Portal stories are arguably sort of an inversion of multiverse stories in terms of the psychology involved? This is what makes those Wayward Children books so good, as well as possibly explaining why portal stories usually involve children.

Multiverse stories are about various possibilities in general and often specifically about variations of the choices we make. That's examining our agency presuming we do have a considerable amount of agency.

Portal stories are usually about people who feel they have very little agency and the idea is that they need to just experience a universe suited to them specifically (in one sense or another) so that they can truly have the experience of real agency.

You can see how one might blend into the other or just include both. But they're really speaking to two different psychological experiences. Portal stories are often empowering while multiverse stories are often enrichening, so to speak. (Literally, in The Family Trade case.)
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:22 AM on March 11 [2 favorites]

Kate Atkinson's Life After Life... All she's interested in is telling different possible versions of this woman's life story.

Ivan, that reminds me of Dexter Palmer's Version Control, which had a scientific explanation that was a sort of deus ex machina and was also really much more interested in different versions of a single family's story rather than the world they are in (in fact I think other than what happens to the family, the worlds are the same). It was very engaging.
posted by joannemerriam at 11:32 AM on March 11 [1 favorite]

That's one I haven't read, but I've almost bought it several times.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:53 AM on March 11 [1 favorite]

The Book of All Hours duology, by Ian Duncan

"Ian" Duncan is going to get you a lot of cheerfully trashy books about a cordyceps apocalypse.

"Hal" Duncan will get you the Book of All Hours.
posted by meehawl at 3:14 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]

> "Hal" Duncan will get you the Book of All Hours.

Whoops! Sorry!

Ivan Fyodorovich, I think you make some great points. I particularly agree with your contrast of books about stable characters that focus on the changing systems vs. books that focus on character differences across multiple versions. (Which, incidentally, makes me realize I forgot to mention Joanna Russ's classic The Female Man.) I do think there are wonderful examples of both.

I also, now that I think about it, agree that portal fantasies are not quite the same thing as multiverse books. Portal fantasies are more usually about worlds that are completely different, from the physics on up, whereas multiverse books are more commonly about variations from the same starting point, no matter how far back that starting point might be. Of course, that leaves a lot of room for overlap, especially when the reasons for the differences are left undefined by the text. (Where does Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials lie? Or Barbara Hambly's Windrose Chronicles? Or Cosmere? I'd be tempted to class them all as portal fantasy, honestly.)

As I mentioned, I was using a fairly narrow definition, so I left out a LOT of books I like. I was internally classifying a multiverse books as:

1) There have to be at least three known universes for it to be "multiverse" book (so no 1Q84, or Daughter of Smoke and Bone, or The Hollow Places, or The Dream Quest of Vellitt Boe)

2) We have to *see* at least three of those universes for it to be "multiverse" book (so no Anathem, or Dark Lord of Derkholm, or Someone Like Me, or The Magicians, or What Mad Universe)

3) The universes have to exists simultaneously and not overwrite each other for reason of, say, time travel or looping (so no Life After Life -- which I also adore -- or This Is How You Lose The Time War, or Pivot Point, or Replay, or The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, or The Lathe of Heaven)

I think I would add to that no portal fantasy (so no Coraline, or A Great and Terrible Beauty, or The Neverending Story, and probably a bunch of the ones I've already listed.)
posted by kyrademon at 3:32 PM on March 11 [2 favorites]

I'm glad Tidhar looked into sf history, but wish he'd noted Fritz Leiber's Hugo-winning The Big Time.
posted by doctornemo at 4:03 PM on March 11

I've been feeling old lately and that I probably don't have that many years left to live, and I've caught myself feeling sad at the realization that there are so many things to learn about that I'll never know.

I hear you, having similar feelings.
And that should make me much more picky with what I read.
Yet at the same time I find myself less critical - well, less mad - at inferior books. I want to praise the authors for trying.
And I'm thinking historically. If book X disappointed me (say, the Murderbots), why was it a big hit with readers?
posted by doctornemo at 4:04 PM on March 11 [4 favorites]

I just finished Doors of Sleep, by Tim Pratt. It describes itself as a multiverse novel, but the cosmology is under explored, since the character hops to a new universe every time he falls asleep. I liked it. The universes were a bit vanilla, but the conceit was interesting. I have ordered the sequel.

A similar concept is explored in Paul Melko's Walls Of The Universe. I wish that series had continued. I will ask GPT-7 to write me the third book, shortly before it turns me into paperclips.
posted by novalis_dt at 7:15 PM on March 11 [2 favorites]

This recent book, Famous men who never lived by K Chess, is a great alternate universe novel.
posted by dhruva at 7:20 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]

It's on my shelf and I'm looking forward to it, dhruva!
posted by kyrademon at 8:23 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]

PSA: If you enjoyed The Family Trade and the rest of the first Merchant Princes series, but haven't gotten round to the more recent books, you might want to know that I wrote a sequel trilogy, starting with Empire Games. Much more recent, can be tackled without reading the original books, speaks to contemporary concerns (I hope).

This month the ebook edition is on discount to US $3.99, down from the usual $11.99. (Sorry, Brits, this is in USA/Canada only—and it's a temporary promotion for March).
posted by cstross at 9:34 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]

2) We have to *see* at least three of those universes for it to be "multiverse" book (so no Anathem, or Dark Lord of Derkholm, or Someone Like Me, or The Magicians, or What Mad Universe)

Kyrademon: I can't (and won't) argue with the guidelines you set out. But the only funny thing is that Anathem is one of the first books I think of when the term "multiverse" comes up. Although I suppose it is lacking in the "multi-" part of "multiverse," as opposed to just being an "alternate universe" book.

I would also recommend Max Barry's "The 22 Murders of Madison May" - I don't recall whether or not the universes overwrite one another, but it's a super fun book regardless.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 7:01 AM on March 14

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