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
The second in Isaac Asimov's robot series is just as fascinating as "Caves of Steel" but doesn't quite live up to its predecessor.
Earth detective LijeThe second in Isaac Asimov's robot series is just as fascinating as "Caves of Steel" but doesn't quite live up to its predecessor.
Earth detective Lije Bailey is called on for a special mission to the planet Solaria. He's been requested to look into a murder on that world of a prominent Solarian who was either killed by his robots (which would violate the rules of robotics) or his wife. But Bailey has a secondary assignment--a sociological survey of the planet and its people.
Teamed again with R. Daneel Olivaw, Bailey arrives on the planet to find that there are only 20,000 inhabitants on the world. Each person is tended by multiple robots and there is rarely any in-person contact. Contact takes place by holographic interface (think "Star Trek"'s holodeck) which really narrows down the list of potential suspects. It also serves as an impediment to the investigation since the Solaran taboos on personal contact mean that a lot of the evidence in the case was destroyed before Bailey arrived.
The mystery isn't necessarily the most complex one in the universe, but it serves as the starting point for the novel. Asimov takes time to really develop Bailey in this story and we see some growth in him over the course of the novel.
What keeps this from being a five star review like its predecessor is that at times, it's not nearly as much fun to read as the first. The society of Solara is interesting, but no where near as compelling as the future Earth we see in "Caves of Steel." Interestingly, Asimov will later combine the two worlds in the next novel in the series, which had some mixed results.
However, that shouldn't go to say the novel is a bad one. It's still a great read and a lot of fun. ...more
**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.
**spoiler alert** At an unspecificied time in the future everyone turning sixteen is given surgery to become "pretty." Tally Youngblood is young woman**spoiler alert** At an unspecificied time in the future everyone turning sixteen is given surgery to become "pretty." Tally Youngblood is young woman, counting down the days to the procdure which despite being extremely intensive is considered worth it for a life of luxury and decadence among her peers. She's waiting to be reunited with her best friend and enjoy the life of being pretty together.
That is until she meets Shay. The two bond over having lost all their friends to the surgery and waiting to join them. They sneak out of the city to the wasteland and Tally discovers that not only does Shay not consider herself "ugly" but she has no intention of having the surgerys. Instead she wants to run off with a mysterious boy named David to a secret group of insurgents who refuse to have the surgery. She invites Tally to come with her, but Tally refuses.
Shay runs away, leaving details on how Tally can find the group if she desires. On the day of her surgery, Tally is taken aside by Special Circumstances and told unless she finds Shay and betrays her to them, she (Tally) will be ugly for life. Tally agrees and sets out on her quest to find the rebels.
If that were all the story was, it might just be merely interesting. And though the story does follow a fairly predictable character arc for Tally (she finds the group, fits in better than Shay and decides to stay), the secret behind the surgery that Scott Westerfield reveals mid-way through the novel is far more fascinating. And it also goes a long way to explaining some of the behavoir by post-surgery characters in the novel.
Tally finds out that the surgery creates a specific kind of brain damage among all receipients. This twist explains why certain characters are so vapid and hedonistic in the story. Not only are the people being made to all be the same externally, they're being made to think the same way, to no longer question anything and to live only for the pleasure of the moment. The process is reversible (theoretically) and all of these various storylines lead to one massive cliffhanger that had me curious to see where things go next. ...more
I should preface this by saying I've never read the original novel that Fuzzy Nation pays homage to, butLeave it to John Scalzi to do a reboot right.
I should preface this by saying I've never read the original novel that Fuzzy Nation pays homage to, but after reading/listening to Fuzzy Nation the book will probably make its way onto my to-be-read pile in the near future.
Jack Holloway is a disbarred lawyer, working as a prospector on the distant planet Zarathustra. While surveying a local mountain with his companion Carl, a dog who can set off explosives, Jack discovers a rich vein of sunstones, the most valuable gem in the universe. Suddenly Jack is going to be rich beyond his wildest dreams, as will ZaraCorp, who own the mining rights to the planet.
That is until Jack comes home to find a new creature has broken into his jungle dwellings. Dubbed a "fuzzy" by Jack, the creature is highly intelligent and adaptive, which could be a huge problem for ZaraCorp. If the creatures are proved to be sentient, then ZaraCorp must give up all rights to exploit the new found mineral wealth of the planet and pack up shop.
Jack turns to his ex-girlfriend and ZaraCorp biologist, Isabel to help him look into the matter and to determine if the fuzzies are sentient.
Written in the vein of Scalzi's The Androids Dream, Fuzzy Nation is a masterpiece by one of the genre's best working authors. If you're only familiar with Scalzi from his military SF "Old Man's War" series, leave those expectations at the door. Fuzzy features the same kind of addictive, compelling writing but there's a lot of humor, fun and serious thought-provoking stuff at work here. In fact, I may even go so far as to declare this my favorite work by Scalzi to date.
The audio version is a delight as well. Read by Wil Wheaton, the story comes alive though Wheaton's delivery. In his introduction, Scalzi says he can think of no one better than Wheaton to read the audio version of his book. And having heard it, I heartily agree.
If you're looking for a thought-provoking, stand-alone sci-fi novel that shows the genre can still be fun, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Fuzzy Nation. ...more
Created specifically for audio book, "Pest Control" is an entertaining little story that encapsulates everything that's right and wrong about the modeCreated specifically for audio book, "Pest Control" is an entertaining little story that encapsulates everything that's right and wrong about the modern Doctor Who.
Read by David Tennant, the story finds the Doctor and Donna arriving on a planet torn apart by war. Each side has secrets and there's another evil lurking out there.
Not exactly ground-breaking Who, but it's still enjoyable enough for a quick listen. ...more
Before vampires were brooding, sparkly and sexy, Bram Stoker and Richard Matheson made them scary. They were creatures of the night, meant to be feareBefore 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 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
"It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine..."
That line from the old REM song pretty much sums up Nevil Shute's "On the Beach." The worl"It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine..."
That line from the old REM song pretty much sums up Nevil Shute's "On the Beach." The world has ended and everyone's pretty much OK with it.
Written in the late 50's and set in the near future of the early 60's, "On the Beach" finds World War III has come and gone. The final battle was set off by a misunderstanding with the bigger nuclear powers shooting first and asking questions later. The result is the northern hemisphere is gone, nuked to oblivion and the southern hemisphere is waiting for the radiation to slowly spread across the entire planet and kills the survivors.
It's these survivors that we meet in Australia. And they're all taking it pretty well. There's no chaos here. Everything is running fairly normally, except for the fact that we're all going to die in about six months. And not a pretty death, but a slow, painful one.
The big problem with this book is the quiet acceptance every character has of this. Yes, there are some characters deep in denial and some are planning for a world beyond six months from now, but never is there any sense of panic or desparation by anyone. The most panicked we get is they move up an auto race a few months becuase the time it's scheduled to take place will be after the radiation hits.
There are some moments of hope in the story that someone might be alive in the northern hemisphere or that the coming end might not come. But these are quickly dashed and then everyone accepts it with quiet resignation.
I'm sure when it was written, this book was strangely scary and virtually prophetic. But reading it now, it's a story that seems dated, with characters who fail to spark much interest for the reader. I haven't read a book since "Lucifer's Hammer" where I actively rooted for the apocolyptic event to happen already just to kill off some of the characters in the story and maybe get things moving. And that's the biggest flaw in "On the Beach"--nothing happens. We don't get to see the end of the world and nothing seems to make any impact on the characters. It's a hard book to read, not because of the subject matter but because virtually nothing happens and none of the characters are interesting enough to make the investment of time worth it in the end. ...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-“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. ...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.
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
Scott Sigler is one of those new fangled podcast novelists who is revolutionizing the publishing industry. Sigler offered audiences his first couple oScott Sigler is one of those new fangled podcast novelists who is revolutionizing the publishing industry. Sigler offered audiences his first couple of novels free to the whoever wanted to download them. Through hard work and shameless self-promotion, Sigler got his name out there, drew in audiences and created a network of 30,000 plus rabid fans who couldn’t wait for the next insallment or novel.
Eventually, the publishing industry took notice and signed Sigler to a contract to put his stories in the old-fashioned brick and mortar stores. And unlike some first-time authors of this kind, Sigler wasn’t going out in paperback or a trade paperback. He was going hardcover with a full-on marketing push and blitz.
The first major label publication is Sigler’s popular story “Infected.” Not only because it’s one of his better books, but also becuase it’s creating the universe that Sigler plays in other novels. Hopefully the blitz and the publication will create new fans for Sigler as they realize what many of his podcast fans have known for years–the man can write one hell of a novel.
“Infected” is an alien invasion story, of sorts. Every-man Perry Dawson’s body has been invaded by some kind of alien virus. It starts out as a rash, but slowly evolves into something worse, to the point that the virus can communicate telepathically with Perry. The organisms are slowly turning into something, something sinister. But what they are and where they came from aren’t exactly know to Perry.
Meanwhile, a government team is trying to find a connection between a set of seemingly well-adjusted people who suddenly go mad and on a killing spree. One connection is the crazy person become suicidal and their bodies decay quickly after death.
These plot threads slowly and inevitably come on a collision course.
The first thing to warn readers is that “Infected” is not for the faint of heart. Perry’s attempts to get the sores out of his body become more and more intense as the story goes along. This is not a book to be read while eating or even if you’ve eaten lately or if you’re thinking of eating later. It is, however, a great book to lose weight by reading. Sigler finds the perfect balance between giving enough information on what’s unfolding and allowing our imaginations to fill in the rest.
The portions of the story with March are the most compelling of the book. Sigler seems to channel Stephen King or Richard Matheson in finding the everyman who is in some bizarre circumstance and trying to figure out how to react to it. March’s descent into madness works because Sigler lays out the journey and the decisions that eventually lead to his actions. That said, you’ll never look at chicken scissors in quite the same way again.
Where the story does drag a bit is in the governmental pursuit of the virus. While March’s story has a definite beginning, middle and end, the story of what the virus is and the pursuit of it feels more like the opening salvo of a larger storyline. If you’re looking for a lot of answers on that front, you’re going to come away being disappointed. “Infected” clearly leaves itself open for a sequel and I just hope sales justify the next installment of this series.
Of course, I guess even if they don’t the good news is that Sigler would still deliver the novel via podcast.
But why not pick up the book and encourage them to give us more? At times, “Infected” is a white-knuckle thriller that will keep the pages turning and there are certain scenes that will huant you long after the final page is turned. It’s a bloody, dark, violent gruesome affair and one of the best “first novels” I’ve read in a long time. Some day we may all look back and say, “Oh yeah, I read Sigler back when….”
Get on board the train now. You won’t regret it. ...more