About Me

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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Currently reading - Traveling in Space

I've been reading Steven Paul Leiva's new novel, Traveling in Space - a book that I'm enjoying a lot. In form, it's a science fiction narrative, but not one that presents space-opera-style battles or one that aims at verisimilitude in the manner of hard sf.

Instead, we're given a satirical story in the tradition of books such as Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, with which it shares something of a common sensibility, or even Gulliver's Travels. Look for elements of Menippean satire, such as a fragmented narrative, philosophical debates, and pervasive mockery of both sacred and "commonsense" ideas.

Traveling in Space is sufficiently sprawling and complicated to require a list of dramatis personae to help sort out its characters: see here, on Steve Leiva's blog, where you can find out quite a bit more about the book and its author. It doesn't seem to be available on Amazon at this stage, so I don't know whether it has yet been formally published (I was sent an advance reading copy), but presumably it will be very soon.

The book's satirical force is generated by contact between two mutually-baffled intelligent species: a bunch of extraterrestrial aliens traveling in space far from their home world; and human beings here on Earth, whom they encounter and try to understand. This opens up all sorts of possibilities. The aliens are not bug-eyed monsters, but humanlike beings from a vastly older, technologically superior civilisation. They immediately strike Earth men and women as physically gorgeous and fascinating. For their own part, they find us equally fascinating ... though physically repulsive.

Many of the aliens' encounters with human beings are downright funny. They see the idiocy of many of our institutions and practices, whether it be religion, war, or prudishness about the body. As the narrative continues, however, and they are confronted by the facts of race hate and genocide, the satire takes on a different tone. The aliens still struggle to understand what they're seeing, but the denunciation grows more bitter (even when the horrors are filtered through the perceptions of the aliens, who examine human conduct in a rather clinical way).

All of this is familiar, of course - many authors have used contact with earthly or extraterrestrial aliens to satirise the ways of human beings - but Traveling in Space takes on an extra layer of complexity as the aliens themselves change, in one way or another, in response to their interactions with us ... and as some aspects of their civilisation are also shown to be corrupt, unjust, and unsavoury. If, as readers, we started out thinking that the aliens were a noble, uncorrupted people who make humans seem like yahoos by comparison, we soon learn that the situation is not at all so simple.

Both species have something to learn from contact with each other, as it turns out, and the most important learning takes place on the aliens' side. Complications such as these give us much to think about, and I'm sure that Traveling in Space will play on my mind for some time to come.


Lee said...


Just got it yesterday, already hooked!


Steven Paul Leiva said...

Russell -- many thanks for this wonderful review. I'm pleased you're enjoying the book, and more than pleased with your incisive understanding of what I had always hoped would be it strengths. What a lovely Sunday your words have made for me.

On the Amazon issue -- we have unfortunate timing here. There was a glitch (not of Amazon's making) that caused Amazon to suddenly list the book as out-0f print. My publisher in onto the problem, working with Amazon, and the problem should be cleared up within 48 hours. Ugh! I love the 21st Century, but on occasion... In any case, soon, yes, the book will be available as a trade paperback on Amazon, and is available right now as a pdf e-book at http://bluroof.us/downloads/. And the Kindle version is coming soon!

ivo said...

Sounds just like the kind of sf I enjoy!
Just downloaded the pdf

Steven Paul Leiva said...

Thanks Lee and Ivo. I appreciate it! Love to hear what you think. My email address in in the back of the book.

Best to you both.