While "I, Robot" may be more recognized as the source for Asimov's famous three laws of robotics, it's his series of books about the partnership betwe...moreWhile "I, Robot" may be more recognized as the source for Asimov's famous three laws of robotics, it's his series of books about the partnership between a human detective, Lije Bailey and his android partner, R. Danell Olivaw, that are the more compelling and fascinating.
"The Caves of Steel" is the first (and best of the four) entry in the series, introducing us to Bailey, Daneel and a future world in which humanity lives inside massive, interconnected steel domes. Humans rarely venture outside and Earth is slowly dying due to overpopulation. A group of aliens called Spacers are colonizing other worlds, using robotic help but have limited how and where humanity can colonize.
When a Spacer is killed, Bailey is called upon to solve the case. Bailey must overcome his prejudice toward Spacers and robots to work on the case and with the robotic partner. It's the conflict between Bailey's dislike and distrust of robots and Spacers that drives a lot of the novel and makes it an utterly compelling, character-driven, world-building effort by Issac Asimov.
If you've only read his "Foundation" novels, you've missed out on one of the biggest pleasures in all of science-fiction by overlooking the Robot stories. Yes, later in life Asimov did work to tie these books into the Foundation series, but the first three in the series can be enjoyed purely on their own merits.
Add to all that world-building, a fairly well done murder mystery and you may have one of the most perfect gems in not only science-fiction but also all of literature. Asimov said that he could create a mystery within a sci-fi story without having to resort to a deus ex machine type of resolution and he does here. He establishes the rules for the universe early in the novel and doesn't change them to fit the ending or solution he wants or needs.
A fascinating book and one of my favorites. Definitely worth reading or reading again. (less)
Before vampires were brooding, sparkly and sexy, Bram Stoker and Richard Matheson made them scary. They were creatures of the night, meant to be feare...moreBefore vampires were brooding, sparkly and sexy, Bram Stoker and Richard Matheson made them scary. They were creatures of the night, meant to be feared and avoided at all costs.
If it was Stoker that introduced us to the world of the undead blood suckers, it was Matheson who took the genre the next step forward, exploring how the tropes of vampire mythology could be true based on scientific principles of the time.
But to categorize "I Am Legend" as just as vampire story is a huge mistake. As with all of the best Matheson stories, the supernatural element is the gateway to exploring something deeper about human beings. In this case, it's an exploration of loneliness and the depths it can drive a person to.
Robert Neville is the last survivor of the vampire apocalypse, started when China and Russia unleashed germ warfare as part of a border war. The germ proved too effective, quickly spreading across the globe and wiping out large chunks of humanity. Neville is immune to the disease thanks to a vampire bat bite he got while serving in Central America years before. Neville faces not only the horror of being tormented each night by a hoard of vampires led by his old friend, Ben Cortman, but he also has to live with the guilt that he had to kill his wife and daughter when they were resurrected as vampires by the virus.
As the story begins, Neville is eking out a day to day existence in which his only concerns are ensuring his house is safe from the vampire hoards each night and trying to deal with the oppressive loneliness he feels every waking minute of the day. It's been a long time since Neville had any company of any kind and the hope of female companionship is just one of the lures the vampires try to use each evening to draw Neville out in a moment of weakness.
Neville's essential isolation is underlined by his attempts to connect to anything that could possibly be a link to a normal life. Neville feels hopes when he sees an uninfected dog roaming the neighborhood and spends weeks trying to get the animal to trust him. Later he sees what appears to be an unaffected woman and he chases her down like a madman, trying to keep her from fleeing. Of course, what Neville doesn't realize is that the vampires are evolving and creating their own society. And that to them, he's become the monster and stuff of nightmares--an unchanged human with no regard to the fact that there are two different types of vampires now--some who are mindless killing machines and others who are evolving into something more.
Neville is typical Matheson hero--the everyman facing extraordinary circumstances and trying not only to come to grips with them but to survive. Unlike many of the movie adaptations (when will Hollywood get this story right?!?), Neville doesn't start out as scientist but becomes one over the course of the story. Circumstances force him to begin a process of learning and studying to see if a cure is possible and why certain elements of the vampire lore might be true. Matheson's idea may or may not be scientifically credible in the real world, but they work within the confines of the story and make the entire novella that much richer for it.
One of the good things about "I Am Legend" is that the vampires in it are scary monsters, something to be feared and protected against. But Matheson also shows not only the evolution of Neville, but the evolution of the vampires as well. Early on, the vampires try to tempt Neville with the women pulling up their dresses and Cortland telling him to surrender and leave his safehouse. But as the novel goes along, the vampires become less aggressive in their attack, setting up a devious trap that eventually leads to Neville's downfall. It's a fascinating arc to consider and one has to wonder what the vampire society being created might be like once the final page of the story is turned.
"I Am Legend" is a great portal to exploring the literary world of Mattheson. Most editions of "Legend" will include a few short stories to give you a bit more of a taste of how good Matheson can be. In many ways, he's one of the most prolific and influential writers that most people haven't heard of. Stephen King often cites him as one of his biggest influences and the more you read of both, the more you'll see the connection.
"I Am Legend" is a classic of multiple genres and worthy of a read or even a re-read. I've read it several times now and enjoyed it each time. If you've not read it, put it on the to be read list. If you have read it, maybe it's time to visit it again and sit back in wonder of how good Matheson can be.
And Hollywood--it's about damn time you got the movie version of this book right.
I've been aware of Philip K. Dick as an author since I was 12 or 13 years old. That's not because I was reading novels by Dick at that age, but more b...moreI've been aware of Philip K. Dick as an author since I was 12 or 13 years old. That's not because I was reading novels by Dick at that age, but more because his novels were often placed close to the "Doctor Who" novelizations by Terrance Dicks in the sci-fi section of the bookstore and library.
It wasn't until I was a bit older and saw "Blade Runner" and "Total Recall" that I decided it might be time to sample a little bit of what PKD had to offer.
One of my first entries into the literary world of PKD was "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep." This is probably the case for a lot of people given how easily accessible it is--not only from a literary standpoint but because it's easy to find in multiple paperback editions at most new and used bookstores. "Androids" is very much an entry level PKD work and it's a good place to get your bearings and find out if you'd like to go deeper into PKD's world of questioning reality and paranoia.
Next up in my literary overview of PKD was his second most famous novel, "The Man in the High Castle." It was the selection of the month by a science-fiction book club I'd joined. I remember reading it at the time, feeling a bit perplexed by book and feeling like if there were an audio version of the book that George Takai should read it.
"The Man in the High Castle" is certainly a deeper PKD novel that "Androids" but it's one that I'd argue is just as accessible to readers. It's one of the first alternate histories published and it deals with what question of what would the world be like if the United States had lost the second World War. Interestingly, the novel doesn't really start off telling you what its premise is, but instead introduces this universe over the course of several chapters. There's no long infodump of how the universe ended up this way and where history took a different turn from the one we're used to. Instead, PDK fills in the details as needed throughout the story and even leaves it up to the readers to fill in some of the rest.
But make no mistake--while this is, on the surface, an alternate history story, many of the standard PKD themes are on full display here.
One is the question of what is real and what isn't. This is most evident in the story of Robert Childan, an owner of a shop that specializes in pre-War American "artifacts." Childan believes that his offerings are authentic antiques but finds out that some of what he's offering are cleverly forgeries. Childan than begins to question everything in his store and whether it's real or forged. Chidan has built a reputation on offering quality, authentic pieces and while he bears a great deal of ill-will to the totalitarian Japanese regime and people, he's still conflicted by his need to win their approval and possibly become part of their social structure. Several scenes with Childan trying to impress a young Japanese couple who has come into his store are intrigued as we watch his internal struggle to say the right thing and not offend them, all while wondering why he bothers because he also finds them inferior.
Of course, this being a PKD book, the question of what's real doesn't just extend to trinkets like a gun from the old West or a Mickey Mouse watch. (Both are pivotal to the story). The book ingeniously creates an alternate history within the alternate history in the form of the novel, "The Grasshopper Lies Heavy." The novel speculates on how the world would be if the Allies won World War II. And while it gets the broad strokes right, it still misses a few things. The book is banned in the Nazi dominated sections of the world and the Nazis have a plan to assignate the author.
Several of the characters read the book and are aware of it during the course of the story. The story within the story shows how some of the characters are deeply aware of how their version of history may not be the proper one, but they're trapped within it, unable to escape. This storyline is one that questions the essential nature of reality and is one that is prevalent in a lot of other PDK novels and short stories.
If there's one complaint that I can lodge with "Man in the High Castle" it's that the story isn't necessarily the most linear. PKD introduces a lot of characters, many of whom know each other but many of whom don't. The connections that come to exist between some of them is intriguing. The novel has a beginning and an end, but it's not necessarily following the conventional rules of story and structure we all learned in high school English classes. And yet, I'd say the book is stronger for that. It read less like a drug-induced ranting that many of PKD's later books become and it also is one that assumes the reader is intelligent enough to follow the threads and put pieces together. It's certainly a challenging novel, not only to read but also in its implications.
And that's what makes it a classic for me and one of my favorites books. It's also a story that rewards reading it again every couple of years. (less)
“Planet of the Apes” is one of those books that’s hard to approach without bringing along the baggage of the original 60s film adaptation or the less-...more“Planet of the Apes” is one of those books that’s hard to approach without bringing along the baggage of the original 60s film adaptation or the less-than-successful remake a few years ago. The original film is such a part of our pop-culture concsiousness that it’s almost impossible to separate it from what we have here.
This is one of those books that is what it is–no more, no less.
I could spend several paragraphs detailing the differences between the movie and the book, but that would be kind of pointless and wouldn’t tell you much about the book as a whole. That said, Boulle’s original novel is a social satire, as advertises and it’s one of what I’d classify as a fairly light, “bubble-gum” sci-fi read. It has just enough in there to make you think while reading it, but it’s not going to stay with you long after you’ve finished the final pages.
The thing is that not a lot of the characters have much depth. They’re all in here to be part of the satire of modern life and humanity’s relationship with each other and animals. For a satire that wants to point out how drawing distinctions based on external apperances isn’t a great thing, you’d think it would have a bit more depth to the characters. Add to that that the central narrator has a tendency to become a bit pompous in his relation of events and you’ve got a story that works, quite frankly, better as a movie than it does as a novel. I’d even go so far as to say that without the series of movies, this is one novel that would have faded in memory long ago, remembered by some who read it for a few of the twists in the final pages but not much more.
It’s not to say I hated this novel. But it’s not to say I loved it or found it nearly as compelling as some of the mid-range works by Issac Asimov or Orson Scott Card. (less)
If your only exposure to Starship Troopers is the movie of the same name, you really owe it to yourself to pick up and read the original. While the mo...moreIf your only exposure to Starship Troopers is the movie of the same name, you really owe it to yourself to pick up and read the original. While the movie and book share some similarities, know that the script for the movie was written and then the rights to the book were optioned. Which means the producers took the familar name, some elements and added them to an existing script, all the while discarding much of what makes the novel so respected among sci-fi fans.
The cover advertises this one as a “controversial” classic, though having read it twice, I disagree with that. Heinlein give us his views on military service, child reearing and what it takes to win a war, but there’s not much in here that I found overly controversial—at least not in the same way as Stranger in a Strange Land or Friday. Instead, you get a few scenes of military combat woven between long lectures on Heinlein’s philosophy.
If anything, this is a melding of the two Heinlein writing styles—the philosophical debate tomes of his later years and his early young adult books. (less)