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 betweWhile "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. ...more
Billionaire computer software mogul Matthew Sobol has died and he wants to make sure he leaves behind a legacy. That legacy comes in the form of a daeBillionaire computer software mogul Matthew Sobol has died and he wants to make sure he leaves behind a legacy. That legacy comes in the form of a daemon, or a computer programing running in the background of every system that has installed his massively popular on-line, multi-player video game. When news of Sobol's death hits the Internet, the daemon becomes active, creating havoc across the world as it exploits vulnerabilities in computer networks and uses them for its own purposes.
Daniel Suarez's first novel "Daemon" is a fascinating, compelling and, at times, downright scary story of just how open to attack and manipulation many of our computer networks are. It may be one thing to think about hackers taking advantage gaps in the security to get free wi-fi Internet access, but it's entirely another to see a home security system run amok, intent on killing anyone who tries to approach Sobol's home and to disable it. Or seeing how easily the system can manipulate multiple networks to reduce the sentence of a hardened criminal from maximum security prison to a low-security facility and eventually set free in order to facilitate the next step in the daemon's plan.
The story of how Suarez's novel went from a self-published story to a major book contract and potential movie deal is one that will give hope to every aspiring writer out there. Suarez got his book into the hands of a target audience and created a buzz for himself that it was impossible for a conventional publisher to ignore. But the thing is--if "Daemon" weren't a good book, no one would be talking about it. And "Daemon" is that good.
This is not a book to pick up at bedtime and think you're going to read a few pages before you head to sleep. "Daemon" is the kind of book that you find yourself lulled into, thinking you're only reading a few pages and spending a few minutes caught up in this high-tech, scary and all to close to real world, only to find you've read half the book, its 2 a.m. and you've got to be at work in a few hours. And you still find yourself regretting having to put the book aside. "Daemon" is smart, fresh and reminded me a lot of the early intensity of Tom Clancy novels. Suarez clearly knows and understands his technology but is able to translate that into the story without it feeling like he's bringing the plotline to a halt for an infodump.
The only negative thing I can say about this book is that it was over too soon and left me wanting more. Suarez has promised a sequel and the book comes to a conclusion that effectively wraps up the story for this book but leaves open a lot of doors for a sequel. It's a sequel that I will be waiting impatiently for at my local bookstore.
**spoiler alert** One of the good things to come out of the success of last year's "I Am Legend" is that a lot of Richard Matheson's catalog has come**spoiler alert** One of the good things to come out of the success of last year's "I Am Legend" is that a lot of Richard Matheson's catalog has come back into print. This collection looks like two separate works put together--the short novel "The Incredible Shrinking Man" and a set of short stories by Matheson.
"The Incredible Shrinking Man" It's interesting to come to a Matheson novel after finishing the latest Stephen King short story collection. The cover blurb has King stating that Matheson was one of his greatest influences and reading works by both authors close together, the similaritites in style and storytelling are very apparent. Both King and Matheson excel in putting ordinary people in extraodinary situations and showing how they react.
In "Man," it's Scott Carey who is slowly shrinking at the rate of an inch per week. Interestingly, the story begins with Carey about an inch tall and slowly shrinking away to nothingness. Flashbacks then tell us how he got to this point.
On one level, "Man" is an adventure and survival story (and a rather thrilling one at that) about a man vs his environment. But, as with most Matheson I've read, the story works on an entirely deeper level. Matheson examines the nature of masculinity in the novel. As Scott shrinks, we slowly see his authority and masculinity shrink with him. In the novel, he's married with a young child (I believe the film version eliminates the daughter) and, at first, everything is fine. But as the novel progresses, Scott is slowly seen as less and less of a man as he shrinks. His wife's desire for him slowly diminishes and she begins to treat him like a child more and more. This leads Scott to lust for his daughter's babysitter, becoming almost like a teenager in his fixation on her and his desire to catch a glimpse of skin. It also leads to Scott's encounter with a female midgit. Scott has a one-night stand, demanding that his wife allow it because she can't or won't see him as a sexual being anymore and brought about by his desire to feel virile and manly again. However, Scott quickly realizes that he will keep shrinking and it's only a matter of time before Clarice, the midgit, begins to see him as his wife does.
Matheson also explores the nature of how children react to their parents. At first, Scott is able to be a parental figure to his young daughter, Beth. However, as the story progresses and he shrinks smaller and smaller, his authority is slowly lost up to the point that she treats him as little more than a doll. Scott is injured and could have been killed by his daughter and is forced to cut off all contact with her.
And Matheson also explores some other extremely "adult" themes in the novel. At one point, Scott is picked up a child predator (his car has a flat tire) and the horror of what is unfolding is well realized by Matheson. It's interesting that Scott doesn't pick up on the vibes of what's going on earlier but maybe it's the day and age we live in more than Scott himself. The fascinating part is how Matheson is able to present what's happening without making this section overly prurient. It's a good example of how less can be more in some storytelling.
In his cover blurb, King says this is a horror story that he eagerly shares with readers and envies their discovering it for the first time. After reading it, I can see why he feels this way. The story is compelling, suspenseful and scary. Watching as every day things become objects of terror and horror for Scott is fascinating and Matheson conveys the frustration and terror Scott feels in the scenes with Scott trapped in his own basement. Scott's battle to find food, get water and fend off a spider that weeks before he could have easily crushed under his foot are compelling. The spider has seven legs and we find out in a flashback that ironically, Scott is the one who cost it that leg. Whether or not Scott "deserves" the fate of being terrorized by the spider, Matheson leaves up to the reader to decide.
Matheson wisely makes Scott not always a likeable character. He's not accepting of his fate and he alienates his family. He becomes extremely myopic in how he perceives the changes to himself and his family. And while we feel Scott's plight, it's not always easy to side with him, though his reactions are always believable.
In short (no pun intended), this short novel is something far more than just a simple story of a guy slowly getting smaller. It's a fascinating exploration of what it means to be masculine, adult and a a human being.
Short Stories: Billed as a selection of Matheson's short fiction, I'm not sure if these are intended as a "best of" or just simply to show what Matheson could do in short form fiction. There are some great stories, some good stories and one that I could see what he was trying to do but I didn't necessarily care for it as a whole.
Knowing that Matheson was a prolific writer for television in the 60's, it's fascinating to see two stories here that would later become the springboard for adaption for the screen. The first is the famous "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" which became the famous "Twilight Zone" episode of the same name. Reading the story, it's interesting to note differences between the story and the classic TV show. The same starting point is there, the same germ of an idea, but the Matheson story digs into the psychological aspects of the dilemma and is a bit more ambiguous on whether or not there is an actual gremlin on the wing. It's also odd to read the story today in our time of heightened plane security with our hero being able to openly take a handgun on the flight.
Then there's Matheson's story "Montage" which could be the basis for the Adam Sandler movie, "Click." A writer sees a movie and gets upset at the way the movie montages past the writing process. He wishes he could to his in real life and the wish is fulfilled. Large chunks of his life are gone in seconds and he misses out on actually living and enjoying life in the smaller moments. I am not sure if this was any influence on "Click," but it's fascinating to read how Matheson works with the same concept--and might I say, actually does it a lot better.
My favorite two stories in the collection are among the shorter. One is called "The Test" and presents a future (2003) in which citizens are given a test past a certain age to determine if they are still useful to society. If they fail, they are given a month to live and then killed. The story looks at the impact of this on a family, the stress and how the younger generation begins to see the value of older generations diminished. The story of a young son agonizing over the fact that he voted for the measure and that his father will fail the test is well done. To see how the son debates between having the father gone from his life and how he's a "burden" to the family really drives the story along. The ending is inevitable and heartbreaking. This could be my favorite story from the collection.
The other story is a model of economy. Clocking in at four pages, "By Appointment Only" tells the story of a barber who takes patients by appointment only. His one patient isn't feeling well, having just come from the doctor. There's a fascinating twist half way though and the story leaves you haunted. Basically, the barber has married a woman who practices voo-doo and is using hair and nail clippings to keep the customers sick and get kick backs from the doctor in question. It's four pages long, but it gets in, gets out and packs the punch it needs. The revelation of what's going on is nicely done, coming in one of the final paragraphs. But in just four pages, Matheson ably sets up a mystery and then solves in a satisfying manner that stuck with me long after I'd moved on to other stories in the book.
As for the story, I didn't like, it concerns a guy moving into the neighborhood and manipulating the neighbors into various acts. It's interesting and maybe I've read or seen other stories like it, so I kind of had an idea of what was going on early in the story. It's not a terrible story, but it's just not as good as the others in this collection.
In an attempt to win over a new generation of sci-fi readers, Cory Doctorow's "Little Brother" is marketed as a young adult book. However, adult readeIn an attempt to win over a new generation of sci-fi readers, Cory Doctorow's "Little Brother" is marketed as a young adult book. However, adult readers shouldn't worry that Doctorow's book will leave them behind or have them feeling juvenile for reading it.
"Little Brother" is a mature, contemporary novel that looks at the issue of security in a near-future that doesn't seem too far from today. When San Francisco is attacked by terrorists, seventeen-year-old hacker Marcus and his friends are out playing the latest mission of the most popular game of the day. Because of their proximity to the attack and their background as hackers, Marcus and his friends are detained and questioned by the Department of Homeland Security. Stripped of his rights, Marcus is eventually set free, but finds that new restrictions placed on the Internet and the world under the banner of making his country more safe are having the opposite effect. Marcus sets out to restore his true freedom and take out the oppressive regime of the Homeland Security Officers.
"Little Brother" doesn't shy away from the big questions. While this novel is set in a non-defined near future, Doctorow is clearly commenting on the ways and means used today to keep our country and world "safe" from the next attack. At one point does it go from keeping us safe to denying us our freedoms and is that tradeoff worth it in the long run? Doctorow's story of Marcus and his fight against the larger Big Brother is fascinating and terrifying all at the same time. As you read the story, you may realize just how much of our basic, assumed freedoms have been abridged all in the name of security and safety.
Doctorow also takes this opportunity to provide readers an education of security systems and computer programming. In what easily could have been some of the driest portions of the novel, Doctorow is able to give the reader some insight and knowledge, which may leave you curious to pursue more information on the inventors and security methods.
Doctorow is something of an Internet celebrity, having revolutionized the marketing of his novels through taking advantage of on-line distribution. He's grown as a writer since his debut in "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" and with "Little Brother," while he's writing for a young adult audience, he's found a new level of mature and assured writing that makes "Little Brother" one of the more remarkable and haunting books I've read this year. ...more
The year 2014 should have been a banner one for humanity with cures for the common cold and cancer hitting the market. But then something went terriblThe year 2014 should have been a banner one for humanity with cures for the common cold and cancer hitting the market. But then something went terribly wrong as the two cures worked together to create a virus that turns human beings into zombies, bringing on the zombie apocalypse.
Twenty years later, the world is still dealing with the fallout from the creation of the brain-eating dead and working within the new world order. Professional bloggers and adopted siblings Sean and Georgia Mason are chosen to follow the presidential campaign of a young, rising Senator who hopes to lead the nation and world in the wake of the zombie uprising. With fellow team member Buffy, they hit the campaign trail and slowly become drawn into a vast conspiracy to not only derail their candidates campaign but may also have some frightening implications for the future of the world and humanity.
At close to 600 pages, "Feed" feels like and is an epic first entry in a new zombie trilogy by writer Mira Grant. Unlike many other zombie stories, "Feed" begins twenty years past the zombie uprising, looking at the implications and ramifications the zombie apocalypse had as well as how humanity is coping with day to day life in the new world order. In some ways, "Feed" is reminiscent of "World War Z" by Max Brooks, though I'd argue that "Feed" has a more solid and thought-out world than "World War Z."
In the world of 2034, regular routine blood tests are a norm for those who have yet to exhibit signs of the zombie disease. The novel establishes early that the zombie virus lives dormant inside of everyone either waiting for death or another trigger to set it off and create the brain eating dead. The routines and scientific methods to screen for infection are intriguing and pervasive throughout the story. It could be argued that Grant spends too much time concentrating on the every day scans for zombie infection but since there's no cure for the disease, it's easy to see she does.
"Feed" earns its epic running length from a fascinating set of characters and well-explored universe and story. In a future in which the media has been given over to blogging and where the life of the new breed of journalist is driven by your web ranking, Georgia and Shaun Mason are compelling, driven and fascinating protagonists. The story is told from the first-person perspective of Georgia, a woman so driven by the need to find and tell the truth that she rarely has time for many interpersonal relationships beyond the friendship she shares with her adopted brother. When the zombie infection began occurring, it was bloggers who got out the news and helped humanity survived. And that's a responsibility that Georgia takes very seriously in her work to cover the campaign of the rising Senator.
Georgia isn't a superhero though. She has her weaknesses and strengths. One weakness is Retinal KA, a side affect of the zombie virus that has damaged her eye-sight requiring that she wear heavy sunglasses or thick contacts in most light sources to prevent migraines and other afflictions.
"Feed" is fascinating, compelling and while it runs for close to 600 pages, the novel never feels long or drawn out. Grant expertly sets up the world within the first 100 pages and then slowly begins to examine the implications of what we've learned about her universe over the rest of the novel. She keeps revelations coming at a nice pace to keep readers interesting but also spaced out enough to allow the implications of what we've learned to sink in with her characters and readers. And the book does what any good first entry should--leaves you satisfied with the first installment as a reading experience but still wanting to explore more about the characters and universe in the next book. ...more
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 bI'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. ...more
**spoiler alert** While William Campbell Powell's debut novel may be shelved in the young adult section of your local bookstore or library, Expiration**spoiler alert** While William Campbell Powell's debut novel may be shelved in the young adult section of your local bookstore or library, Expiration Day is one of those books that can and should get a wider audience from brave readers who are willing to overlook shelf placement in making their reading selections.
In the near future, humanity is on the brink of extinction. As the birth rate drops, couples desperate for a child are turning to androids that look and act like children. Couples can raise the android as their child until his or her eighteenth birthday (androids are sent in each year for an "upgrade" which is disguised in their memories as going on vacation) to help ensure the android doesn't become aware that he or she isn't a "real" human child.
As Expiration Day begins, Tania Deely believes she is the daughter of a small town minister and his wife. Journaling to future alien visitors to our planet, Tania relates details of her every day life and her struggles to become a normal teenager. She also discovers that she's not a human being as she originally thought, but that she is also an android as well.
This throws Tania for a loop because there's a catch to the androids. Each one has an Expiration Date on their eighteenth birthday. At that time, each android is returned to the robot corporation, its memory wiped and the body recycled as a lower model service droid. Androids develop emotionally and intellectually as a human teenage would though there are certain drives that are suppressed (for example, while androids enjoy kissing, they don't necessarily have any interest in becoming more physically intimate).
Tania's developing interest and talent for music as well as other factors begin to make her question whether or not the self-imposed expiration day is right, fair or if there is anything she can do about it. She has to keep her interest and questions on the downlow though -- the state closely monitors her Internet searches and certain searches bring swift, harsh consequences.
Expiration Day draws on the influences of other, sci-fi works including the robot novels of Issac Asimov and Logan's Run. But it's the voice of Tania and her relating of her life's events and her growing up that set this novel apart and make it something special. In most ways, Tania is a normal teenager -- questioning authority, having crushes and conflicting with her parents. She's just a teenager who has a date looming when she'll be turned off and lose all of what make up who she is.
Told in journal entries, the novel allows the reader to really get to know and relate to Tania.
Simply put, this is one of the more enjoyable, thought provoking and compelling books I've read -- not only this year, but in a long time. Powell as a gem of a first novel and one that will linger with you long after you've read it.
Pick it up, give it a try. I think you'll love it. ...more
Twenty six influential stories from the early days of science-fiction are collected in this book. For years, friends of the genre would tell me that tTwenty six influential stories from the early days of science-fiction are collected in this book. For years, friends of the genre would tell me that this is the one collection I had to find and read. I haunted used book stores for it--and the other volumes in the set. Eventually I broke down and bought the newly published edition, only then to find a full set at my local used book store.
So, yes I have two copies now.
One to keep and one to loan out.
Simply put, this is a great collection of some great stories that chart the course of the sci-fi genre. Not every one is a winner in my book, but I can see why each one is as respected as it is. And the good thing about a short story collection is if one story isn't my cup of tea, I can skip to the next one or come back later to see if I'm more in the mood for a certain author or story.
I've written down a few thoughts on each story in the collection. I will warn you this is a long post since it looks at all the stories.
Martian Odyssey, by Stanley G. Weinbaum It's interesting to read this story close to a hundred years after its publication and in the light of NASA's landing the Curiosity rover on Mars. At first, I wasn't overly impressed with the story because it just seemed like a travelogue across the surface of Mars. However, a little bit of research and use of Google made me realize that while the story seems "old hat" now, it was absolutely revolutionary at the time it was published. Weinbaum's creation and use of Martian natives who weren't hellbent on destroying our world or openly hostile to humanity's arrival was revolutionary and influenced a lot of Martian stories from that point forward. For that alone, I can appreciate the story.
Twilight by John W. Campbell Another story that influenced everything that came after it but doesn't seem as revolutionary a hundred years later. A man from the future is attempting to time travel and overshoots the period he intended. He comes from a future in which humanity has become lazy and given up on pursuits because machines make life a bit too easy for everyone. In some ways, it reminds me of the society we saw in Wall-E. It also reminded me of the Futurama episode where time travel could only move one direction--forward--and our heroes had to keep following the rise and fall of Earth as they tried to get back to their original starting point (or at least close to it). I'll admit that I enjoyed this one a great deal more than the first one, but it went up a bit in my estimation once I did a bit more research on it and cast my mind back a bit to when it was originally published.
Helen O'Loy, by Lester del Rey An amusing little story in which two scientists set out to create the "perfect" woman. In this case, they do it by purchasing the ultimate female robot and making her self-aware. The first-person narrator is forced to go off-site for a couple of months and returns to find that his partner and the robot girl are now married. The story follows Helen over her lifespan with the scientist and ends on a bittersweet note when he died and Helen asks to be cremated to go along with him. Turns out our first-person narrator has been in love with Helen all along as well--he just missed out because of the extended leave required for his job. A lot more fun than the first two stories in the volume, this story sets the template for a lot of the sentient robots to come in popular culture and the genre. Echoes of Data are here. It was interesting to read this after seeing Ruby Sparks because both offer up some interesting questions about creating the ideal woman and the nature of love over the long term.
The Roads Must Roll, by Robert Heinlein It's no great secret that while I respect what Robert A. Heinlein brought to the genre, I'm not necessarily his biggest fan. I think a lot of what he did was good, but often times his novels seem to run out of gas long before we get to the final chapter. So I was hopeful that a short story might impress me a bit more. That wasn't necessarily the case. In many ways, The Roads Must Roll feels like a bit of a warm-up for The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. Not my favorite story of the collection, but still an entertaining (at times) one. You can see the early seeds of Heinlein political philosophy that would dominate his later works here.
Microcosmic God, by Theodore Sturgeon If you're like me, you're probably familiar with the name Theodore Sturgeon from the original Star Trek. Among the episodes he contributed was one of my favorite's "Amok Time." Like Heinlein, I probably brought some pre-conceived notions to the story though in the case of Sturgeon they were a bit more favorable. A fascinating premise and a well executed story that went by very quickly and let me curious to read more of Sturgeon's output.
Nightfall, by Isaac Asimov In the late 80's Asimov expanded this short story into a full length novel with help from his friend Robert Silverberg. I read the novel back in the day, but had never read the original short story. On a world with six suns, night only falls once every thousand or so years. The time of night is upon the world with the last sun slowly sinking below the horizon. The debate is on as to how humanity will react to the darkness--will it be paranoia and madness? Will there be light from other far away suns? Will society descend into chaos and be lost?
From my vague memories of the expanded novel, I'll have to say that the short story version is a lot better. While the novel had attempts at character development, that wasn't always Asimov's strongest suit. the short story shows Asimov at his best--bringing up unique ideas and examining if and and how the society in question will react to them. The revelation that the group has created candles to try and combat the coming darkness is nicely done, as is the fact that the story ends where it does. Asimov asks some questions, gives an indication as to how things could go and them wisely allows readers to decide for themselves what comes next.
The Weapons Shop, by A. E. van Vogt Before I started Shop, I had no familiarity wit A.E. van Vogt. After reading the story, I'm intrigued enough to pursue other works and see if they're as good. When a pre-fab weapons show appears in a future town, the residents are shocked but don't seem inclined to do much about it. Except for Fala, who takes action to try and get the shop to go back from whence it came. That is until the shop begins to ruin his business, his family, his reputation and almost his marriage. Going back to the shop to buy a guy to end his life, Fala finds out this is all part of a plot to reveal the true nature of the Empress of Isher and to recruit Fala as part of the resistance against her. The story zigs when you think it will zag and continually surprised me. In the running for the best story in this collection--which given how high the bar is set for this collection is saying a lot.
Mimsy were the Borogoves, by Lewis Padgett A million years in the future, a scientist invents a time machine and tests it by sending some of his children's discard toys back in time. The toys are discovered by Scott who takes them home and begins to play with them. The toys soon begin to alter Scott and, more significantly, his two-year old sister Emma. Scott's parents eventually catch wind of the toys and bring in a child psychologist to try and figure out what's going on. One of the most intriguing stories in the book, it all culminates with Emma evolving into something completely different under the training influence of the toys. It's a fascinating and chilling story that has stuck with me long after the final paragraphs.
Huddling Place, by Clifford Simak I've read a couple of stories by Simak and each time I come scratching my head. He's got some good ideas, but the execution is often lacking. That's the case here. In a world where cities are gone a rich man in a manor house contemplates existence after he buries his father in a family crypt. After the funeral his son announces that he has been awarded an important contract on Mars. Shortly before the son leaves a Martian named Juwan stops by the manor house and informs the man that his son is on the cusp of discovering something big. Atypical for Simak this is a very, very odd tale about the cost of loss of cities and over-identification with home. The man suffers from agoraphobia and is called out of the house when Juwan is struck sick. It is revealed that the house robots have been conditioning him to be afraid of leaving. The story doesn't really end, so much as just stop. I found that a bit frustrating.
Arena, by Fredric Brown In the near future, two vast and mostly evenly matched space fleets are headed for a huge showdown just outside the orbit of Pluto when a representative of each race is whisked away by a superior alien race to a blue sand world to fight to the death. The winner's race is allowed to live while the loser's race will be wiped from existence. Carson, the human, must fight against a representative of the alien race. Between the two of them is an invisible barrier through which some objects can pass but others cannot. The story served as the inspiration for the original Star Trek episode "Arena" though Brown's original version doesn't feature the more optimistic, Gene Roddenberry influenced ending. But it works within the context of this story just as the Trek ending works within the context of the overall universe there. In this version, Carson figures out that by knocking himself close to unconscious, he get across the barrier and kill his opponent. And that's exactly what he does.
First Contact, by Murray Leinster A first contact story in which both participants are hesitant to trust each other. Again, this is one of those stories that had I not seen or read derivations of it in countless other sources over the years, I think I might have enjoyed a lot more. I can see what it's doing and how it's influential, but it's not my favorite of this collection.
That Only a Mother, by Judith Merril Told in correspondence between an expecting couple, That Only A Mother is a story that addressed the nuclear fall-out fears of its time and yet, remains fascinating and chilling to this day. Told in the form of correspondence between a husband and wife during World War III about the birth of their first child, the story is an interesting one with one of those endings that stays with you long after you've moved on to the next story in the collection.
Scanners Live in Vain, by Cordwainer Smith I've not read a lot of Smith's output, but I'm told he's great. Based on this story about the creation of a new form of cyborg to deal with piloting ships through hyperspace, I'm feeling an urge to pick up and explore more of his work--and soon. Scanners are vitally important space-farers who have been altered to become cyborgs. Their job is to pilot ships through hyperspace to other worlds while normal humans sleep through the trip. Their job is so important because ordinary humans go completely insane while traveling faster than light. The scanners have been altered so that they have no sensory input save for sight, and no emotions or fears. Because of the importance of their positions scanners wield enormous political powers anytime off planet. In this story an emergency is called while Martel, a scanner, is "cranching" at home. Martel is married to a normal woman, and cranching is what it is called when a scanner allows other sensory input. While cranching Scanners are capable of talking, feeling, hearing and tasting. Martel is experiencing sensory stimulus such as food and music with his wife at home when the call came. It takes scanners some time to stop cranching, so Martel reports for duty while cranching, which is a serious social faux paus to other scanners. When he reports for duty he and the other scanners are told that a normal human has devised a way for ordinary humans to navigate hyperspace and avoid "the pain of space." The scanners, who are ordinarily a calm and rational bunch, try the scientist in absentia and sentence him to death the next time he sets foot off Earth. The story is about how that conflict is resolved.
Mars is Heaven, by Ray Bradbury One of Bradbury's short stories that later became part of The Martian Chronicles. I'd read it before as part of that collection and while it's good, it's not one of my favorite stories from that set.
The Little Black Bag, by C. M. Cornbluth Another story about something being sent back in time and its impact on the people who encounter it. In this case, it's a little black medical bag that happens to wind up in the hands of disgraced doctor and a woman looking to blackmail him for all he's worth. The bag helps the doctor regain his career and station in life, all while providing future medical techniques to his patients. The partner wants to use the bag to make money by offering greater cosmetic surgeries and things go awry. Unlike the other time travel story, the future is used as more than just a set-up for the events in the past in this one and I think this story works better for it.
Born of Man and Woman, by Richard Matheson Matheson is one of my favorite authors and he's such a solid short story writer. That said, I'm not sure this is the best example of his work and how good he can really be.
Coming Attraction, by Fritz Leiber An intriguing noir genre story that feels like a product of its time. That's not a bad thing or marks against the story by any stretch of the imagination. It's also one of the shorter installments in the collection and one of the ones that's stayed with me long after I read it. In a post apocalyptic America a foreign dignitary is approached and asked for help getting a woman out of the country. The U.S. has become as religiously repressive as any country in the middle east. Women are chattel and are required to wear burkhas in public, but are sexually objectified and used only for release in private. A woman who has somehow managed to hold on to a little bit of wealth tries to use her sexuality to bribe the diplomat to help her, but ordinary male citizens, angered over any public contact between a man and a woman, intervene and take action again and again.
The Quest for Saint Aquin, by Anthony Boucher Another post apocalyptic story that finds the Pope dispatches a priest to search for the body of Saint Aquin, who is rumored to be "beyond corruption," or incapable of rotting. In this place and time Catholics are persecuted and killed on sight. The priest rides off on his "robass," or robotic donkey, which is AI. The two debate the reality of the post apocalyptic world as well as theology, and together quest through one peril after another. When the body of Saint Aquin is found, the priest comes to a startling realization about the nature and future of humanity. An interesting story, though again not my favorite from the collection.
Surface Tension, by James Blish It's always interesting to come across Blish because, to me, he's always the guy who novelized every episode of classic Trek and gave us the first original novel for the classic series. So, it's sometimes odd to come across a short story by him and not have Kirk and Spock show up. That bias aside, I will admit I loved this story about a team that has been sent to a very watery planet to terraform it crashes on the one island above water. They realize that they are going to die shortly as the ship is totally destroyed and their food stores are running out. In an odd attempt to survive, the humans design a microbial form of human, that is fully sentient and intelligent, and seed deep pools of water on the island with them.
The Nine Billion Names of God, by Arthur C. Clarke It's a deceptively simple story by Clarke and an intriguing one. It's also one of the most famous stories in the collection. A group of monks gets a computer to print out all the nine billion possible names for God. If they find the right one and there is a God, the universe ends. If not, they disprove the existence of God. I won't give away the ending, though odds are you probably already know it. Again, Clarke is one of those writers who can make it look easy, as he does here.
Its a Good Life by Jerome Bixby Odds are you've seen The Twilght Zone episode based on this one. A little boy who can read thoughts and has mental powers rules over a town with an iron fist. Easy to see why Rod Serling adapted it.
The Cold Equations, by Tom Godwin Girl steals away on starship with the good intention of seeing her brother on the colony. One small problem--the fuel is put on the ship for the exact weight of the cargo and crew. No more, no less. Her stowing away raises the ethical dilemma of the ship not arriving at the colony with much needed supplies and there's no way to fuel up in transit. A dark, disturbing little tale that's made even more interesting by the allegations that Godwin didn't write it himself but copied the idea from other sources.
Fondly Farenheit, by Alfred Bester I love anything by Bester and this is no exception. trust fund baby, Vanderleer, who has gone broke is fleeing the authorities with his sole asset, a highly complex and valuable android. The android has started killing people for no reason. Vanderleer does not want to give up the android, because he hires it out and lives off the income from it. After the latest murder he fled to a new planet and fell in with a nymphomaniac jeweler who learns his secret, just in time to be killed herself by the robot. Vanderleer again flees, and in his travels with the robot learns that the thing goes insane in high temperatures only. He resolves only to live on cold worlds, and as he plans their next move, the robot begins to project its consciousness into him.
The Country of the Kind, by Damon Knight Not really a huge fan of this story. It was short enough that I didn't feel the need to skim or skip it, but it never engaged my interest that much. Could be because I was curious to get to my re-read of Flowers.
Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes I read the longer novel a year ago and loved it. I was curious to see which I'd prefer--the novel or the short story. In the end, I have to say that both are equally effective ways of telling the same story. It still strikes me as a horror story on some level with Charlie being teased with what he could be and then slowly having it all taken away from him.
A Rose for Ecclesiastes, by Roger Zelazney A human linguist is allowed access to the Martian's sacred temple where he is taught the high form of their language. As he learns he uncovers the truth of their sad existence. Zelazney does a wonderful job with the linguistics issue. ...more
Years ago, I joined a science-fiction and fantasy discussion group to try and broaden my genre reading beyond media tie-in novels and the giants in thYears ago, I joined a science-fiction and fantasy discussion group to try and broaden my genre reading beyond media tie-in novels and the giants in the field. One of the books we read in the group was Iain M. Bank's "Excession," set in the Culture universe. The story was a dense, complex and fascinating one.
During the course of our discussion of the book, one particular group member kept saying that while "Excession" was good, "Use of Weapons" was better and that it was a damn shame the book had gone out of print in the United States. He kept hinting about the huge twist at the end of the story that took the entire novel to a whole new level.
Intrigued, I set out on a quest to find a copy of the book. I haunted used books stores for weeks and months (this was in the days before the Amazon marketplace and E-Bay was in its infancy), so when I finally found a copy of the book, I'll admit I was overjoyed. I immediately dropped the other books I was reading and began to devour "Use of Weapons."
And I'll admit, early on, I kept wondering why my fellow book discussion participant was so ga-ga over. Don't get me wrong--the book was good, but it wasn't great. But knowing there was something brewing in the novel's final pages, I kept on going. And I'll admit it--I got to the end, read the twist and was pretty much blown away by it. So much so that the novel jumped into my list of favorite books and one that I recommended to people when they wanted something more from their typical genre reading.
Fast forward to today and once again I'm in a reading group devoted to sci-fi and fantasy. I kept pushing for us to give "Use of Weapons" a chance, saying it was a major novel from a science fiction writer we'd neglected until now. I tried to keep my lips sealed that there a) was a twist and b)what it was in the hopes of my uninitiated friends finding out for themselves.
Reading "Weapons" again, I'm surprised at how well it holds up. It's not a novel that I'd call easy to read simply because it has the story unfolding backwards and forwards. Banks asks his reader to pay attention to things and doesn't spoon-feed the readers on what's going on within the story. And I think the novel is a stronger one for that.
In many ways, the Culture comes off a warped version of the Federation from "Star Trek" here but instead of non-interference, they definitely do interfere in things--for their own gain. The morality and implications of this are explored a bit, but during the course of the story Banks doesn't necessarily endorse whether pushing certain cultures in a certain direction is a good or a bad thing. As is the case in the real world, a case can be made for both sides of the equation.
Reading the novel again and recalling the twist in the final pages, it was fascinating to see how Banks sets up the final twist. It also shows how this story could only effectively work in the way Banks chooses to tell it.
It you're curious about the Culture series, this may or may not be the best place to start. The novels are fairly self-contained, meaning you can start at any point. But I'll be honest--this novel sets a pretty high bar for the series and if you start here, you may be disappointed by other entries in the series. ...more
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 moIf 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. ...more
Takes a fairly forgettable and padded Pertwee six-parter and turns it into something special. Malcolm Hulke embellishes some things, fudges some contiTakes a fairly forgettable and padded Pertwee six-parter and turns it into something special. Malcolm Hulke embellishes some things, fudges some continuity and delivers a story that works better as a novelization than it does on-screen.
Most of the time when Stephen King cites a book as an influence or recommends it, I'll give it a whirl. Over the years, I'd say I've enjoyed at leastMost of the time when Stephen King cites a book as an influence or recommends it, I'll give it a whirl. Over the years, I'd say I've enjoyed at least 90% of what King recommends -- either on the pages of Entertainment Weekly or in the forwards or afterwards of his various novels.
One of those recommended reads is Earth Abides which King cites as an influence for one of my favorite works by him, The Stand. And so it was that I scoured a couple of used book stores to find a copy of George R. Stewart's influential, post-apocalyptic novel. And then, it sat on the to be read pile for a while, collecting dust. For a while I just wasn't in the mood for the end of the world as we know it and rebuilding humanity again. But finally, I got into a place where I wanted to read about the world ending and so I finally got around to reading the story of Isherwood Williams (Ish), who survives a mutated strain of the measles thanks to a rattlesnake bite. Isolated in a cabin in the woods (but not the one used in the Joss Whedon movie, mind you), Ish rides out the poison and the disease to find he's one of the last surviving human beings on the planet. He also finds a hammer, which will become pretty important in the days to come -- not only to break into various establishments to gain supplies, but also as a symbol to the community that Ish helps establish.
At first, Ish takes the news that he's one of the last men on Earth fairly well. In fact, I'd have to say that Ish takes it in stride. He takes a cross country tour of America to see the full impact of the disease and if anyone has survived, before returning to the Bay Area. Here he meets a woman named Em, they settle down, get married and start building a new community. Thanks to much of the technology of the time being powered by water falls, things like electricity and running water are around for a lot longer than you'd expect.
The story is told over the course of several years, with long sections focusing on the current situation and then short chapters that fill in what happened in between. It helps keep the novel moving and doesn't dwell too much on the ins and outs of daily life in the post-disease world. And that may be a good thing, though at times the sections that detail the between years end up feeling more like a genealogy than anything else. As the years go along, Ish realizes that his little group has to being to establish things like farming if humanity is going to survive. Ish is also driven to make sure humanity's knowledge and culture aren't forgotten, setting up a school for the younger generation and attempting to preserve the library so the great works of literature and much of humanity's history and knowledge won't be forgotten.
I suppose if I'd read this when it were first published or before I'd read a lot of other end of the world, doomsday novels, it might have had a greater impact on me. As it stands, Earth Abides is a good novel, but it didn't really stand out from the rest of the pack. Stewart creates some vivid, interesting and memorable moments over the course of the novel, but isolated moments don't make up for a lack of overall drive to the plot or any significantly interest characters beyond the central character of Ish. For surviving the end of the world, the characters here have it fairly easy for much of the novel since running water is still around and there is very little, if any, external threat from predators -- either human or animal.
And while Earth Abides was never adapted as a feature film, it was adapted for radio. Escape adapted the novel over two episodes in the 1950's and it's certainly worth a listen. The first part is fairly faithful to the source material, but part two diverges quite a bit. It's still worth a listen, though. You can find both halves of the adaptation HERE.. And if you're worried that by downloading it, the FBI might show up at your door, don't. A majority of OTR shows are public domain these days, so you're free to download, listen and share with family and friends. ...more
Being a bibliophile (aka literary snob), I generally like to read the book (or short story as the case may be) before I see the movie. But in the caseBeing a bibliophile (aka literary snob), I generally like to read the book (or short story as the case may be) before I see the movie. But in the case of Fantastic Voyage, it isn't necessarily that simple. The novel is a tie-in into the movie and it's likely the book wouldn't exist without the movie. But a quick clicks of the keyboard quickly helped me discover that Issac Asimov's adaptation of the 20th Century Fox blockbuster hit the shelves a few weeks before the movie opened, so I felt comfortable in my decision to read the book first and then see the movie.
And I think it all worked out for the best.
My research leads me to believe that Asimov had to be talked into adapting the movie's script for the printed page and that he agreed to do it if he could be allowed to at least bring some put some science in the science fiction of the plot and premise.
And you can certain see Asimov trying to put some credible science into the concept of miniaturizing a top-secret, top-of-the-line submarine with five people inside down to the point where they can be injected into the body of an injured man. The man in question is a high ranking scientist who is defecting and could help keep the balance of power in check for both sides during the Cold War. The Enemy (they are always capitalized by Asimov) try to take him out on the way to the top-secret installation where he will reveal his secrets to our side and help us either keep up with our Enemy and maintain the balance of mutually assured destruction.
Just as the film spends the first half hour or so setting up the situation and the characters, so does the book spend its first third or so setting up the background. As I said before, it's interesting to watch as Asimov attempts to reconcile the fantastic premise with real-world science of the day and to speculate on if this could or would happen in the future. The concept of shrinking down people to go inside a person and help break up a clot in a near inoperable place is a fascinating and intriguing and it was apparently very influential. Most genre shows worth their salt will feature a story with character shrunk down a bit -- in fact, Doctor Who did it at least twice that I can think of during the classic series run.
Interestingly, Asimov's book inserts a bit more drama to the situation by emphasizing that this is a race against time -- not only to help break up the clot and help reduce any permanent damage to said scientist but also because there is a limit to how long the sub and crew can be miniaturized before the process wears off and they began to revert back to normal size. There's also the intriguing idea that the passage of time will FEEL different to our heroes in their miniaturized form as opposed to how time is really passing for all of the normal sized people on the outside. The movie does give a nod or two to this, but it doesn't feel quite as pressing and weighing on everyone as much as it does in the novel.
There's also the angle of a saboteur being on board the ship and wondering who it might be. Again, the movie brings this up, but it's not quite as pervasive as Asimov makes it out to be in the novel. Of course, it could be that reading the novel takes a bit longer than watching the film and that allows time for these ideas and turns of events to sink on the reader, rather than just being another obstacle to overcome on-screen.
And while the mission is fairly straight-forward on the outside, once inside the body of the scientist, things go a bit awry. Both the movie and the novel have to come up with a crisis point every few minutes or pages to keep our heroes on their toes. And it's probably a good thing because it would be rather dull if they just zipped right to the clot, broke it up and got out again without any complications. It'd also make for a shorter book and movie.
Honestly, I have to say that I enjoyed the novel more than the film. The film is good and I can respect and admire how ground-breaking and spectacular the effects were for the time. But there are large parts of the film that feel like stretches of Star Trek: The Motion Picture -- we're supposed to sit back in awe and wonder of what's unfolding because holy cow, this is fantastic and amazing. And while I'm all for stunning visuals, I still think there should be a plot driving these visuals.
It's also interesting to see that Asimov expands the ending a bit more -- he gets out two love-crossed heroes together (sort of) and we get confirmation the mission was a successful one. Watching the movie, I guess we can figure that it worked because our heroes remove the clot and escape before they revert back to regular size, but the movie doesn't confirm this for us. Instead, everyone is shaking hands and congratulating our heroes on a job well done and ignoring the fact that we left one guy behind for dead and the sub breaking up inside the scientst. After putting so much emphasis on why we had to get out in time, the movie seems to say -- well, it's OK cause those white blood cells took care of it all. Asimov at least attempts to explain why it's OK in his version of events.
One thing I find interesting is that outside of Asimov's Foundation trilogy, this is probably his best known work. And while part of me wishes that his Robot novels were better known, I still can't help but think this book is a good entry point for readers who want try some Asimov but not necessarily feel like they want to take on his Foundation series just yet. It's a good entry point book. And the fact that you can go out and see the movie after you're done reading is probably another good selling point.
Is this great Asimov? Probably not.
Is it good Asimov? Absolutely.
It also intrigued me enough to make me want to pick up Asimov's Fantastic Voyage 2: Destination Brain and read it. I've read that it's less a sequel to this on but instead more of a re-telling with Asimov trying to put better science into the science fiction. ...more