DeFlip Side #201: Quarantine Reads

DeFlip Side #201: Quarantine Reads.mp3

Welcome everyone. I’m Christopher DeFilippis and this is DeFlip Side.

We’ve been holed up at home for weeks, and a lot of you are probably going a little nuts by now, maybe feeling lonely or alienated. So whats say we show those COVID blues who’s boss, by doubling down with two debut Science Fiction novels that revel in social upheaval, isolation and displacement?

Both books feature female protagonists who are also going a little nuts, as they find themselves adrift in unexpected worlds.

First up is Famous Men Who Never Lived by K. Chess.

Chess’s novel focuses on Helen Nash, a refugee from an alternate Earth, fleeing civil war and nuclear holocaust. Hel is one of thousands of Universally Displaced People — or UDPs — who have arrived in our New York via a transdimensional gate, striving to make a place in a strange parallel reality.

Among the few possessions Hel brought with her is the sole surviving copy of a novel called The Pyronauts by Ezra Sleight — a renowned Science Fiction author from her native Earth. Hel has become increasingly obsessed with Sleight, as she’s convinced that his death in 1909 marks the point where the timelines of the two Earths diverged. And when The Pyronauts goes missing, Hel becomes progressively unhinged, spiraling into paranoia as she pursues those who she thinks stole it.

It’s no coincidence that The Pyronauts follows wanderers in a post-apocalyptic world, and Chess uses the novel-within-the-novel to highlight the plight of Hel and her fellow UDPs. But for all its dark subject matter, Famous Men Who Never Lived has bright moments of human connection in its exploration of the transformative powers of art and memory.

Art and memory also play a central role in our second novel, The Seep by Chana Porter.

The Seep is about the softest of alien invasions, as humanity — and all life on Earth — becomes the unwitting symbionts of an alien life force dubbed the Seep. As people settle into a Seep-infused world, things like war, disease and poverty disappear. Life becomes a shared experiential journey as humans learn to use the Seep to transform their bodies and manipulate reality.

Enter Trina Fasthorse Goldberg-Onika, a trans woman living in San Francisco, a one-time artist turned doctor who finds herself increasingly alienated by what she sees as the laziness of Seep culture. Trina’s final break comes when her wife Deeba decides to be reborn — literally, as a baby — to experience the kind of childhood that she always felt she deserved.

Unable to cope with this loss, Trina wallows in anger and alcoholism — until she embarks on a quest to save a runaway boy who grew up in a human enclave that eschewed all Seep influence.

The Seep is a tragicomedy with a racing psychedelic heart.

Though Famous Men Who Never Lived and The Seep have vastly different SFnal premises, both books use big, world-transforming events to tell very personal stories. And the broader themes they tackle are tailor made for our uncertain times — love and loss, displacement and alienation and, most importantly, finding a way forward when the life that defined you has slipped away.