The Lowest Heaven, Memory Palace

by Andre

LH_PB_7Hari Kunzru MEMORY PALACE

We’re used to book tie-ins for films, TV shows and grasping celebrities but fiction inspired by an exhibition is a more engaging combination. Alongside Hari Kunzru’s dystopian Memory Palace, written as part of a new V&A exhibition, there’s The Lowest Heaven, a science fiction anthology to coincide with Visions of the Universe at the National Maritime Museum (until 15 September).

If you’re enraptured by photographs of nebulae and Martian landscapes, it’s well worth a trip to Greenwich. And the collection of stories, each themed around a body in the Solar System with an accompanying image from the Royal Observatory collection, is a rich assortment of contemporary SF set in our little corner of the universe. The Lowest Heaven ranges in style and subject from space colonising and voyaging to more psychological and fantastical treatments, taking in obvious planetary neighbours as well as dwarf planet Ceres (Saga’s Children by E.J. Swift), the Voyager 1 explorer (James Smythe’s The Grand Tour) and Jupiter’s moon Europa (imagined as the plaything of an oligarch obsessed with Roman antiquity in the epic escapism of Magnus Lucretius, by Mark Charan Newton).

Golden Apple by Sophia McDougall contains the majesty of the Sun within a devastating, domestic drama; Jon Courtenay Grimwood riffs on the paranoia of Philip K. Dick in The Jupiter Files; and Adam Roberts essays a proto-Wellsian lunar adventure of derring-do in the 18th century that demonstrates a facility for amusing, gentlemanly dialogue. Even the more ‘traditional’ SF spacefaring has a dizzying quality, from Alastair Reynolds’s cyborg artist colony on Mercury to WWBD by Simon Morden, a murky mission to Mars that’s haunted by the ghost of Ray Bradbury. It’s a story that makes you want to seek out more of Morden’s work; in fact, that’s an imperative that might apply to several authors in The Lowest Heaven (edited by Anne C. Perry and Jared Shurin). Only a few irritating typos intrude on the wonderment experienced on this absorbing literary journey through our Solar System.

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