Low Intensity – 1 – Jim Aikin

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The Wall at the Edge of the World, by Jim Aikin
The Wall at the Edge of the World, by Jim Aikin

This will be an occasional series about good writers who either haven’t produced very much book-length speculative fiction, or are, in my opinion, under-appreciated.

Jim Aikin is something of a mix of the two categories. These days, he blogs mostly about music and MIDI, and he’s writing books like Fruityloops: The Ultimate Electronic Virtual Music Studio. Some years ago, though, he wrote some terrific science fiction. He still hasn’t entirely given that up for music, and he produces the occasional blog post on writing (including tips for authors), such as this one, on writing effective dialogue.

In the science fiction and fantasy realm, Aikin published two (or perhaps two and a half) books. The first, Walk the Moon’s Road, was a science fiction piece about the interaction between humans and Vli – a tri-gendered race that requires an intermediary lilith between the ‘male’ and ‘female’. I don’t know that the book made much of an impact. I found it a compelling idea, but convoluted.

So, I’ve told you that Aikin writes about music, and had one okay SF book. Why are we here? Because of his second book, The Wall at the Edge of the World. I read this when it first came out in the early ’90s, and was bowled over by it. It’s another SF story, this time about a culture (a single city in the wasteland) of telepaths. Into that city, Danlo Ree is born a “null”, without telepathic skill. He eventually discovers that much of the society is based on a lie, and in the course of events, meets up with a group of wild humans living outside the city. Aikin does an exemplary job of bringing an all-too plausible culture to life with evocative writing and and well-developed characters.

People who know about this book have been highly impressed. Sadly, it’s not a huge group. The Wall at the Edge of the World is not available in electronic format, but you can buy physical copies at major online booksellers and used bookstores, and I strongly recommend that you do. It’s a great, well-told story that’s stuck with me for decades.

More recently, Aikin wrote the first book of a fantasy trilogy (The Leafstone Shield), and published it online for free download. It was a fun, young adult-oriented fantasy with clear ecological themes. The link is gone now, and I understand he’s considering revising and republishing the story. I hope so.

Happily, Aikin also has a set of short stories on his website, many previously published in F&SF and Asimov’s – some quite recently. While his books are hard to categorize, the short stories tend to be urban, with a mid-century, Jack Finney feel to them. If you can’t find Walk the Moon’s Road, or just want a taste of Aikin’s style, these are a good place to start. You never know – if enough people ask for more, maybe he’ll start writing SFF again.

Have you read Jim Aikin? Who’s your favorite low intensity author?

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