I was putting together a new list for the main site recently, on sf in translation, and I came to The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares, which reminded me, inevitably, of The Island of Dr Moreau by H.G. Wells, and all at once I was thinking about islands in sf. Islands have been a feature of science fiction for as long as there has been sf, More’s Utopia is an island, Bacon’s New Atlantis is an island. Space stations can be metaphorical islands, as in Islands in the Sky by Arthur C. Clarke. The most famous island book of all, Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, has given its name, “robinsonade”, to a whole strand of science fiction, and that strand is still going strong, after all, The Martian by Andy Weir is a robinsonade.
So these are 5 of my favourite island stories from the last 50 years:
Concrete Island by J.G. Ballard. This is one of the most extraordinary of all robinsonades, because the hero is shipwrecked on a concrete traffic island in a busy motorway intersection, and he finds a small community of other people trapped their, foraging for food and cast off from technological modern society.
The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks. This is one of the darkest and funniest of all island stories. The little island on a barren part of the Scottish coast is connected to the land by a footbridge, but with a gate part way along. Here lives Frank with his mad father, waiting for the arrival of his elder brother who has escaped from a mental hospital. On the island, Frank tortures small animals and kills several people, before discovering that he is really a girl.
The Scar by China Miéville. The setting for the second of Miéville’s Bas-Lag novels isn’t strictly an island, it’s a bunch of old ships all fastened together to form a floating city. But it functions as an island, being cut off from the rest of the world and thus able to operate by its own rules, granting a sort of freedom to those travellers who chance to wind up in the city.
The Islanders by Christopher Priest. Priest seems to have spent virtually his whole career writing about islands; there are islands or island-like settings in Indoctrinaire, Fugue for a Darkening Island, Inverted World and A Dream of Wessex, even before he started writing the Dream Archipelago stories that now constitute the majority of his work. The Islanders is presented as a gazetteer of the Dream Archipelago, island by island recounting their oddities, their horrors, their famous residents, and so forth. But gradually we begin to see links between the different entries; someone who was apparently dead at one point is seen to be alive elsewhere, and the accidental death of a performer at a theatre on one island starts to look increasingly like murder. There’s a lot going on, and you have to keep your wits about you to spot the linkages and cross-references, but it’s all worth while.
A Short Sharp Shock by Kim Stanley Robinson. It’s no accident that the other four authors are British; islands are surprisingly common in British sf and surprisingly rare in American sf. There are interesting islands in some of Steve Erickson’s work, notably Rubicon Beach, Tours of the Black Clock and a Los Angeles enislanded by fire in Amnesiascope, and on television there’s Lost, of course, but these are exceptions. But Kim Stanley Robinson’s short novel, which really isn’t typical of his work, is all set on a narrow spit of land that seems to stretch right around the globe, and that does serve as an island to isolate the protagonist.
I could go on, of course; there are just so many island stories. But what are your favourites?
From Nebula and Hugo Award–nominated Carolyn Ives Gilman comes Dark Orbit, a compelling novel featuring alien contact, mystery, and murder.
Reports of a strange, new habitable planet have reached the Twenty Planets of human civilization. When a team of scientists is assembled to investigate this world, exoethnologist Sara Callicot is recruited to keep an eye on an unstable crewmate.