Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Island by Peter Watts

There is a struggle for survival both inside and outside the starship. Inside the ship the human crew contends with Chimp, the artificial intelligence that runs the ship. Outside, a vast alien "island" must negotiate for its own existence. Watts story is rigorous and bleak and easily one of the best science fiction novelettes of the year. It is a finalist for the upcoming Hugo awards.

Coincidentally, I was listening today to the Notes from Coode Street podcast, Episode 6: Live with Gary K. Wolfe, where Wolfe and Jonathan Strahan were discussing "The Island." They were drawing a distinction between the kinds of stories that work and don't work as good introductions to the genre for non-science fiction readers, and they both agreed that "The Island" was an example of a story that would not be easily understood by non-science fiction readers. I can see their point, to an extent. I think "The Island" asks a lot of a reader who is not familiar with standard tropes of science fiction. Still, this is exactly the challenging material that I would want a non-sf reader to engage with. This is science fiction at its best and its most rewarding.

"The Island" by Peter Watts first appeared in The New Space Opera 2 (Eos-HarperCollins, 2009) edited by Gardner Dozois and Strahan.

Related post: The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Four, table of contents

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