Review: Suan Ming by Seb Doubinsky


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Doubinsky’s latest foray into a Dystopian mythos reads as if the audience is supposed to observing the pedals of a flower without picking those pedals—and each flower pedal has the name of a chapter and it must not be plucked. Suan Ming unfolds like an epic poem, with a narrative backdrop that is quietly philosophical with a Phillip K. Dick narrative sequence.

A military professional is called upon from the safe confines of his domestic life to undertake a mysterious mission. Our protagonist is sometimes reluctant, sometimes thankful, for the opportunity, and it is this reconciliation of the past and present that pushes the plot forward.

Doubinsky is not going to escape comparisons to Phillip K. Dick; both authors have work that straddles the line between high-concept philosophy with easily-digestible science fiction stories. Dick and Soubinsky never seem to completely LEAVE our world, ensuring that themes are contextually relevant and characters are believable and intimately relatable. Suan Ming achieves an interesting balance of poetics—careful repetition and subtle narrative shifts—with narrative cohesion that meshes domestic life with military loyalties (the mortal awareness of family vs. the invincibility of youth). There must be a sort of reconciliation or co-existence between the military career and domestic goals, which in turn becomes a reconciliation of those things we want from our past and the things we believe we need in the present.

Dickensian themes that revolve around memory and identity are here, and handled with a keen eye toward the entire piece, as if each page is built upon the important of each individual word.

A good science fiction writer can fuse technological advances and political events in a fictitious world with advances in the real world; readers will constantly ask questions about the technology and its purpose as they progress through Suan Ming, but Doubinsky rewards the audience with a plot that unravels itself. An analysis or review of Suan Ming could easily ruin the experience by discussing the parallels and the various philosophical elements in play, but part of Suan Ming’s core is the idea that our current drone/cyber warfare exploits are replaced by a near-invincible, ghost-like projection of the self that would invariably cost far less money that the manufacture of machines. As modern armies rely less on “boots on the ground”, Doubinsky employs the subconscious as the ultimate weapon against a foe that seems obvious.

With masterful narrative structure, Doubinsky achieves with an economy of words what some authors need hundreds of pages to explain. Less is more in Doubinsky’s world, which enables readers to simply enjoy the book or explore its themes on a deeper, interpretative level. A book like Suan Ming is rare; despite the fact that it has the ability to provoke conversation or infuriate readers who want everything handed to them, it never comes across as pretentious or unnecessary, because Doubinsky seemingly believes that readers should be able to connect to his stories—Doubinsky does, in fact, give away everything, and allows you to decide if there is anything more. Instead of going through entire chapters that use several different images to repeat/hammer motifs into the reader, Doubinsky can do it with a handful of words—an artist’s touch. Suan Ming is the flower that can be rotated in any direction, the petals picked apart or left alone. The flower, or the memory of its existence, will remain. Such is true of Suan Ming.  Spiritual depth, excellent characterization, and memorable images mark another literary achievement for science fiction through the lens of Doubinsky’s Dystopian reflections.


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