I’ve been reading a fair amount of space opera and political science fiction recently: The Expanse, Old Mans War, A Memory Called Empire, Too Like the Lightning. I’ve enjoyed them, but am a bit tired of reading books–and news–about wealthy, powerful people. I want to read stories about folks who aren’t high and mighty or on their way to being such. After all, most of us have no power over the wider direction of society, only over our immediate sphere.
China Mountain Zhang was well done in this regard. These small stories from everyday lives may not be the most dramatic or world historical in significance, but they are nonetheless critically important for those who live them.
Ursula K. LeGuin, writing in her foreword to the 2012 edition of Boris and Arkady Strugatsky’s Roadside Picnic (1972) 📚, remarks
This use of ordinary people as the principal characters was fairly rare in science fiction when the book came out, and even now the genre slips easily into elitism–superbrilliant minds, extraordinary talents, officers not crew, the corridors of power not the working-class kitchen. Those who want the genre to remain specialized–“hard”–tend to prefer the elitist style. Those who see science fiction simply as a way of writing novels welcome the more Tolstoyan approach, in which a war is described not only from the generals’ point of view but also through the eyes of housewives, prisoners, and boys of sixteen, or an alien visitation is described not only by knowledgeable scientists but also by its effects on commonplace people.
I’m looking forward to this picnic.