World Building

May 8th, 2015

Describing Benjamin Percy’s the Dead Lands as a “grisly, inventive thriller” may suggest to some that it’s well worth reading (“Fresh Ink,” Arts & Culture, March/April). Anyone familiar with Stephen Jay Gould’s voluminous writings on allometry and related aspects of evolutionary biology should recognize immediately the ample errors and gross distortions present in Percy’s latest novel, errors that include some basic facts and laws of physics as well as biology.

Though Percy ’01 is a fine writer, his speculative fictional world-building and plotting pale in comparison with the literary output of fellow Brunonians Ted Chiang ’89 and Jeffrey Carver ’71, whose writings, especially Chiang’s, have earned ample praise from peers who have devoted entire careers writing speculative fiction of the highest literary quality. I recommend reading their work first, long before thinking of reading Percy’s. Whereas Chiang has earned Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards and was a recipient of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and Carver was a Nebula finalist for his novel Eternity’s End, Percy’s fiction, like that of fellow Brunonian Alena Graedon ’02, displays a fundamental lack of understanding of what William Gibson has dubbed “the tool kit of science fiction.”

John Kwok ’82
Brooklyn, N.Y.

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May/June 2015