Robin Sloan, what's the last great thing you read?

I've been consciously trying to find and read older books. I'm not talking Moby Dick and Anna Karenina here. I'm talking weirder stuff: fantasy, science fiction. Thirty years old at least. Books that aren't called upon to perform very often... but when they are, wow, they still deliver.

My latest find, which I just finished reading on my Kindle, is The Stars My Destination, an awesome old science fiction novel by Alfred Bester. It takes place in a world in which people have learned to jaunte — that is, teleport instantly (within a radius of a few hundred miles) simply by closing their eyes and visualizing the place they want to go. Obviously this changes a lot of things, starting with the economy. Oh, P.S., in this world there are also spaceships and humans have spread across the solar system.

What's interesting is the way the Bester's treatment of jaunting almost prefigures cyberspace. In the book, villains hide behind maze-like jaunte-pads, designed specifically so that you won't be able to remember their location or visualize them — basically, encrypted environments. Isn't that super weird and smart for something written in 1956? I think it sounds like something out of Snow Crash or Ghost in the Shell.

But the reason I'm recommending The Stars is that besides being a weird idea well-explored, it's a rollicking adventure, full of space piracy, prison breaks, and hot-blooded revenge. The original title of the book — I don't know why they changed it — was Tiger! Tiger! and I think that tells you just about everything you need to know. What nerve, what brio, to call a book Tiger! Tiger! — how could you not want to know a little bit more about the mind behind that title?

In some ways, digging up old books and giving them a chance is a kind of prayer — an offering to the quiet gods of reading. My greatest hope is that fifty years from now, some writer for Last Great Thing's far-flung descendent (delivered via wallscreen or HD nerveline) will stumble upon Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore and say to her mutant peers: Hey, check this out. Give this a shot. There's something here.

Robin Sloan is a writer and media inventor. His first novel, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, is coming in October.
MAY 9, 2012  •  GREAT THING 8 OF 20

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