Close Your Eyes is a hallucinatory space opera, well, a nominal space opera at least. It reprints the 2009 novella Open Your Eyes and adds a continuation on to it as the misfit salvage crew find themselves in an alien world.
In this book language is a virus, but you likely heard that one before. What might be news is love is a virus too. It consumes and destroys as efficiently as any microbe-borne fever could.
A woman impregnated by a supernova, a man obsessed with an imaginary woman, a woman held captive by her love for her abuser, and another woman trying to resurrect her dead lover. These individuals compose the ship’s love-doomed crew as they scavenge across the stars and ultimately encounter an apocalyptic brain-melting alien language virus.
Things happen. Events spiral into chaos. Dooms are averted or not to catastrophic results.
One trope of space opera is that there are galaxy spanning hegemonies or polities, Federations, Empires, Cultures, and what not. In Close Your Eyes there’s none of that. There’s no there there. The galaxy is so big and the populations so distant that it’s like no one lives there at all. The technology too is at once familiar and incomprehensible. Characters walk the ship’s eiga armed with betadurs while their patueks back-up their brains in case of emergencies. None of these get described, but a lever on the wall does.
It’s jarring, but it also might be the point.
When setting is more atmosphere and mood than concrete details, the reader’s invited to take an active part in the story’s creation and fill in the gaps. But this also means the reader might make some leaps the author wouldn’t intend. The world depicted in Close Your Eyes is a world where predation abounds. The big fish always eats the little fish. And this applies to AI computer systems, alien language viruses, as well as simple interpersonal relationships.
And while all this is recognizable as space opera, the latter portions of Close Your Mouth are straight from Lewis Carroll. Just when you think you’ve figured out the rules, the novel pulls the rug out from under you and changes the rules, and we the reader emerge from one hallucinatory setting to another with suddenly different rules and different relationships. Where before you were on an awful space ship now you’re in a malevolent wonderland where the predation continues but events remain just as incomprehensible.
Is that a problem? I don’t know. Maybe for some, but others might find the weird, jarring imagistic stuff refreshing. I did. You might too.
Close Your Eyes is available from Apex Books and your usual monolithic internet retailers.
Hey chingoos, summer time’s here.
Hopefully you have your beach reading sorted by now.
The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle: My third or fourth read, but my first in a decade or so. No lie, I love this book. The older I get the more I enjoy it. Schmendrick and Molly Grue are fantastic. And I love the meta weird anachronistic bits.
The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard: A Watson and Holmes style space opera detective story with a damaged sentient spaceship taking the Watson role. The ship’s hired by an eccentric if brilliant scientist who wants to observe the effects of a space anomaly on corpses, but of course the two uncover a murder. A very fun read in a neat setting. One of these days I might use this as part of a longer post about world building.
Gun Machine by Warren Ellis: Imagine if the first season of True Detective riffed more on William Gibson than Thomas Ligotti. A cop thriller set in modern New York City, but one for people who know what a data broker is and spell magic with a “k”.
The Sorceress and the Cygnet by Patricia McKillip: Early 80s/90s science fantasy novel that explains nothing about its setting or how its magic works, but which I enjoyed all the same, because I don’t mind incomprehensible if it’s plotty and short.
Close Your Eyes by Paul Jessup: Hallucinatory space opera. I liked it and will be posting a longer review of it later this week.