One of the touchstone novels that seperates the true affectionado of science fiction from the more casual fan or the affectionado of pulp adventures w...moreOne of the touchstone novels that seperates the true affectionado of science fiction from the more casual fan or the affectionado of pulp adventures with fantastic tropes.
I like pulp adventurers with fantastic tropes, but that's hardly the sum of either science fiction or fantasy.
Alot of people report being rather stunned by this book, as they didn't think science fiction was this broad or this well written. This is one of the books I turn to when pretentious literary snobs challenge my taste in books. Being Silverburg, it's very readable and approachable and you won't find the book to be quite the hard slog you'll find trying to read other ambitious works of science fiction.
Silverburg is a soft science-fiction writer and that tends to make him seem to straddle the divide between fantasy science-fiction which raises the challenging (if perhaps unimportant) question of what makes something science-fiction and what makes something fantasy.
My own personal definition of the divide is that fantasy is the branch of speculative fiction that addresses the question, "What is the nature of good and evil?" by representing abstract concepts as tangible things. Whereas, science fiction is the branch of speculative fiction that addresses the question, "What does it mean to be human?" generally by imagining things that are not human and comparing and contrasting humanity with these inventions.
By this definition, Silverburg is rightly shelved in the science fiction section. As with almost all of Silverburg's works, the real theme of 'Dying Inside' is the nature of personal identity - how we define it, how shallow those definitions prove to be in a crisis, how a sense of self may be gained and how it may be lost.
I've been avoiding listing this one because there is a part of me that screams, "Why didn't you give this book 5 stars!?!?!" Certainly, that part of m...moreI've been avoiding listing this one because there is a part of me that screams, "Why didn't you give this book 5 stars!?!?!" Certainly, that part of me has a point. I've read this book more than any other book save two - the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. Generally, any book I find worth reading more than 4 or 5 times I also find worth giving 5 stars to. And, in terms of the power and sophistication of the stories contained within, the book is probably unmatched as a collection of short stories. Likewise, it offers an unparalleled glimse into the historical past. And, it has probably some of the most stirring passages in all of literature which provingly remain thrilling and moving when translated into any language. Additionally, it is a profoundly deep and philosophical book. Finally, it the core of who I choose to define myself as as a person.
So why just four stars? What compels me in all honesty to give it short marks?
To be fully honest, there are large passages particularly in the first testament - much of Jeremiah, portions of the larger prophetic works, and pretty much all of the minor prophets - that I just find boring and intractably obscure. Pushing through them is a chore, and I seldom find anything I can really chew on. I suspect that to really appreciate these passages I'd have to learn some Hebrew and put in alot more serious study than I have, but really that's not what I want from this book. When I open it, I'm not looking for lengthy vistas (though I'm happy when I find them), but a more pithy and accessible sort of knowledge - as one opening a mechanic's reference or soldier's battle handbook.
I've done a lot of odd jobs over the years. At one point, back before I got my degree and I was still working to put my wife through school, I worked...moreI've done a lot of odd jobs over the years. At one point, back before I got my degree and I was still working to put my wife through school, I worked as a delivery driver for a company that sold construction supplies - 50 lb boxes of powdered Kool-Aid, portable generators, hammers, safety harnesses, 2x4's, circular saws. It was one of those barely above minimum wage jobs generally populated by people who for whatever reason find themselves unable to get anything else and competing against a large number of similar people where the decisive advantage is often no more than you show up everyday.
My colleagues were an interesting mix: an ex-door gunner on a SOCOM gunship, a teenage kid dreaming of rapping his way off the street, the musician whose real job was Jazz and who’d played everywhere in N’awlins, a bow-kneed redneck that could still remember fondly when racism was acceptable but couldn’t manage to make his hatred stick because he didn’t really believe it, and the black racist ex-boxer would be preacher who once told me with an apologetic smile that white people couldn’t get into heaven because they had no souls. One of my colleagues was an aging chain smoking gray haired country boy missing half of his teeth and so learning disabled as to need my help with basic addition.
He probably knew more about literature than many of the professors I've had, or at the least he was more interesting to talk to and his opinions were less rote. I found this out after he came in one day aglow after seeing 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon'. He absolutely needed someone to talk about the experience with, and by that time I was unable to hide the fact that I was an "egghead" so I was probably the only person he knew that was qualified. Turns out, he'd lived a rather interesting life. He was fluent in Spanish and had spent his youth working construction on hotels up and down the Central and South American coasts. And, he'd read everything. As I came to realize that this redneck knew something about books, despite as best as I could tell never completing high school, I started inquiring into his tastes. What I found remarkable was not so much that he'd read everything I'd ever read and then some, but that on those things we'd both read he shared much of the same opinion. At some point in one of the conversations Arthur C. Clarke came up, and he said, "Well, I liked 2001, but I really think that 'Childhood's End' is his real masterwork."
Not only do I agree, but I lack the ability to give a better recommendation.
I don't recommend the works of Clarke in general, and certainly not to anyone who isn’t a fan of science fiction. His works - even the better ones - always suffer from seeming to be short stories turned into novels. He also displays a strange combination of fascination with but complete incuriosity towards religion and spirituality that can probably be infuriating at times to the religious and non-religious alike. But this work rises above its defects and is well worth your time.(less)
In addition to my own reading, I'm now doing service as a story reader for my two daughters.
I think I liked this one more than they did because its a...moreIn addition to my own reading, I'm now doing service as a story reader for my two daughters.
I think I liked this one more than they did because its a story that really requires an adult appreciation of art and history to fully get. The story is grows with its reader.
This is a story of colonial America, and the art mimics the colonial American style of folk art wonderfully. The story of the ox-cart man, his family, thier farm, and thier cyclic seasonal labors is told in simple almost poetic language which has a rhythm that seems to pace the passing days.
I love this stories themes of family, what used to be called the Yankee (or Protestant) work ethic, industry and simplicity. The ox-cart man achieves greatness in small things, and that is a very big thing indeed.(less)
'Rite of Passage' is one of science fiction's more overlooked and lesser known masterpeices.
Really, they did know what they were doing when they gave...more'Rite of Passage' is one of science fiction's more overlooked and lesser known masterpeices.
Really, they did know what they were doing when they gave this book a Nebula award.
I think one of the reasons it hasn't maintained the enduring audience of some of other classics from the golden era is that it is a book that suffers from having an uncomfortable relationship with any of its potential readers. On the one hand, adult readers may be put off by a book which appears at first in both its language and ambitions to be little more than reutine young adult fiction in an exotic setting. On the other hand, younger readers may find the book ultimately dark, disturbing, unsettling, and at times too graphic. (Adult readers who have finished the book are probably similarly unwilling to put the book in the hands of their children.)
For my part, I think pretty much everyone is rewarded for pushing through the difficulties. This is a great book that I find myself chewing over in my head time and time again, and repeatedly drawing on for insight. Having become a parent has only deepened my appreciation for the subtleties of the book.
To begin with, it is a great coming of age story. Refreshingly it has a young complex female protagonist - far different from the sort of simple boy-men that typically populate SF coming of age stories. Likewise, this a character that truly comes of age in every way that it is possible to come of age, which I find incredibly appealing compared to the typical 'how I learned calculus and 20 other ways to kill' of more boyish SF. Not that our heroine doesn't learn calculus or... but that might be giving too much away.
On that level alone, 'Rite of Passage' has much to recommend itself. But I'm also repeatedly struck by the insight Panshin shows into humanity and human social structure. Ultimately, this is book about the value of life, about the value of living well, and about what really makes an adult.
I highly recommend this novel. Especially in a time when adults are embrassing young adult fiction, its time to reexamine this little gem.(less)
In the 'The Sixth Sense', the character Malcolm tries to tell a story. Unfortunately, it's a bad story, which Cole immediately picks up on, and commen...moreIn the 'The Sixth Sense', the character Malcolm tries to tell a story. Unfortunately, it's a bad story, which Cole immediately picks up on, and comments, "You have to add some twists and stuff."
I tend to think that the essence of a well-crafted story is the unexpected. A good story has unexpected tragedies, unexpected joys, and unexpected crowning moments of awesome. Yet, there are a surprisingly few good writers that are also good story tellers. In fact, when it comes right down to it, I think I'd rather read a good story teller's work than a good writer's work. If you must do without something, do without beautiful prose and artsy metaphors and just tell a rip-roaring good yarn which people will sit around campfires and recount for as long as humans live under the stars. If you must dispense with something, dispense with meter and perfect Ciceronian structure and eloquence and tell a story even a caveman could appreciate. Forsake all else, but never ever dispense with having an entertaining story.
In the elite group of authors of speculative fiction that truly understand the power of story and are masters of it, we must include such names as J.K. Rawlings, Lois McMaster Bujold, and the incomparable Vernor Vinge.
'A Deepness in the Sky' is one of the novels that I wish was taught in every high school in America, as an example of great, compelling, and entertaining fiction that isn't caught up in the moment, isn't pretentious or self-serving or self-important, isn't relying on shock value that should have been tired since the days of Baudelaire, or lauded solely because of the insight white people think they get from it, or praised because of its supposed 'historical relevance'. This is the sort of novel that I'd want to teach from - that demands to be reread, that's perceptive, that's timeless, that's subtle, that looks both forward and back, and which above all has a story which brings "the twists and stuff".
'A Deepness in the Sky' is just about too good to be read just once. So much more of the story opens up when you get to the end of it and understand all the different things that have been going on all along right underneath your nose that unless you have eidetic memory you are practically obligated to make a return voyage to the On/Off star. There is too much to love here to touch on it all.
I cannot think of a villain in science-fiction that is more thoroughly hate-worthy than Tomas Nau. Though he chews up the scenery as a smiling one-dimensional comic book villain, his sociopathic philosophy is thoroughly rationalized that he never seems the least bit unreal. On the contrary, he is so very believable that rather than finding that reality causes us to question the narrative, the narrative causes us to question reality in chilling and uncomfortable ways. Could it be that there are a lot of Tomas Nau's in the world? What separates the Robert Mugabe's of this world from Tomas Nau, save that Nau's depredations will never leave the written page and Mugabes kills and destroys out in the unreal real world? Even worse, could it be that this rational calculation is rooted deeply in all of humanity, in our 'selfish genes' or our sinful condition?
While the earnestly deadly culture war is playing out above, down on the planet we are introduced to the arachnid-like 'Spiders', which have to rank amongst the greatest alien species in all of science fiction. The 'Spiders' are undergoing a scientific revolution with all the revolutionary cultural changes that come with it. I've had a great affection for creepy-crawlies since childhood - to the extent of once keeping a black widow spider as a pet - but even distancing myself from my own bias as best as I can, I personally think that the 'Spiders' are more lovable than Spielberg’s pet-like goofy E.T. and yet at the same time alien to extent that is rarely approached in sci-fi. I find myself yearning for the chapters about the 'Spiders' so that I can follow the adventures of Sherkaner Underhill, about which much could be said, but the less said the better, lest I spoil some of the story.
What a wonderful cast of characters! I could go on and on, but the point is you care what happens to these people - human or spider. You feel for them. You celebrate with them. You worry for them. And, as the story progresses, the character's seemingly separate stories become more and more tightly wound, before ending up in a perfect storm of thread tying up that would be worthy of a Victor Hugo novel.
If there is anything I could say against the novel, it is that Thomas Nau doesn't endure nearly a painful enough death. I'd be much happier if it lingered, and failing that am happy to reread the passage several times in a row just to get the necessary enjoyment from the scene. More seriously, the only thing that makes me limit my recommendation it is that it is a nerd's novel filled with nerdy references to 'Cavorite' and a surprising amount of hard science for such a far future setting. One of the central protagonists is a 'Programmer-At-Arms', and there is quite a bit in the novel about programming, systems design and 'software archeology' (a discipline I expect to come into being sooner or later) that probably will bore the non-nerd. The campfire retelling of the story would probably necessarily feature a lot less nerdy stuff, though I think we'll have to wait until Hollywood writers and producers finally evolve at least Neanderthal intelligence before they could suitably adapt a work like this.
But I'm a nerd, so it's all good as far as I'm concerned. (less)
I'm a huge fan of dangerous books for boys. I love classic boys literature, whether Dumas's 'Count of Monte Cristo', Kipling's 'Jungle Book', Burrough...moreI'm a huge fan of dangerous books for boys. I love classic boys literature, whether Dumas's 'Count of Monte Cristo', Kipling's 'Jungle Book', Burroughs 'A Princess of Mars', Tolkien's 'The Hobbit', or Heinlein's juvenile fiction. I love good stories that instruct boys in being adults. I love them for being persistently politically incorrect, not just now but then. I love them because they are stories by people who obviously know boys and know what they need. And, I love them for just being fun and exciting adventure stories. They abide, despite the distaste of limp wristed educators that would rather that little boys don't read them and are horrified when boys play with pretend weapons. I see that and I see someone that hates boys, and for that matter doesn't have a particularly high opinion of girls either. Far be it from me to be a child hater who insists that little boys and girls never be messy, smelly, or wild. You can't learn bravery or wisdom if you learn nothing about risk. You can't learn to be gentle if you aren't first strong.
But I don't have boys; I have two girls. That isn't to say that I don't intend to read to them all the great boy's literature, because I don't think that boys and girls are all so different as all of that. But, there just aren't a lot of dangerous books for girls. There aren't many daring books which feature female protagonists and address the question of growing up through a girl's eyes in ways that I approve of. Even Rowling's 'Harry Potter', features at its heart, a daring young man, not a daring young woman. And too much young adult literature for girls makes girls lives seem like they are all about boys and spend too little time on the other important things.
So of course, if you've read this book, you can imagine my joy at finding a story which is in the model of the best boy's literature but has as its protagonist - a girl. And what a girl! If you haven't read, 'The Wee Free Men', the protagonist is young Tiffany Aching, shepherd girl and cheese maker, who you'll fall in love with by the end of the first chapter. She's little, but she is doughty!
To give anything away about the plot would be unfair to the reader. The story is set on Pratchett's Discworld, but the connections are very loose and the reader gives up only a few easter eggs by not having read anything else in the series. There is no more need to read 'Lords and Ladies' or have an existing relationship with Granny Weatherwax than there is a need to read the Silmarillion before reading 'The Lord of the Rings'. So go ahead and open this story up, be you young or old, boy or girl, fan of fantasy or no; this is a treasure.
I love reading to my girls, but I sometimes get anxious for the probably all too quickly coming days when I can read something to them with more meat: something which is nearer and dearer to my heart. If I could only read them two fiction books, I'd read them Tolkien's 'The Hobbit' and Pratchett's 'The Wee Free Men'. It's of that stature.
Some of my readers - being who they are, or knowing who I am - may wonder that I'd so recommend this tale of 'witchcraft'. Well, for one thing, there isn't a lot of actual 'witchcraft' in the craft that Pratchett teaches. The problem with the word ‘witch’ is that it means so many different things to so many different people, that it really means nothing unless you know what it is pointing to. In Pratchett's case, the word 'witch' might as well mean 'nerd', because they are essentially pointing to the same idea. But, for people that don't know that words are merely pointers, and have no meaning until they are addressed and dereferenced, or who are uncomfortable with that, let me add this addition: I'm my children's parent, not a book. There isn't anything made by man which doesn't have a something in it which isn't fully edifying. I can round off the rough corners of my children's developing understanding fairly easily. I can talk with them about what they read. I would have to do that no matter what they read, for there is nothing written in the tongues of men that can't be misunderstood. What I can't do so easily is inspire children. I can't so easily make them care and make them excited so that they know something not just in their heads but also in their hearts. For that, I need the help of stories, and this is a good one filled with many things that are virtuous and true. I'm not going to let any minor confusion get in the way of that. (less)
I find the works of H.G. Wells to be remarkable in several ways. Although stories that bear the marks of the modern science fiction genera include She...moreI find the works of H.G. Wells to be remarkable in several ways. Although stories that bear the marks of the modern science fiction genera include Shelley's Frankenstein and the imaginative works of Jules Verne, its HG Wells that really set the stage for modern science fiction. Additionally, Wells is one of the first modern wargamers, and his publication of 'Floor Games' and 'Little Wars' sparked the wargaming movement that would eventually set the stage for both Role Playing Games and video games. So, in many ways, H.G. Wells is the 'Father of Modern Geekdom'.
The majority of the popular fiction of H.G. Wells for which he is usually remembered dates from a single 6 year period at the very cusp of the 20th century. From this period we get such well known classics as 'The Time Machine' (1895), 'The Island of Dr Moreau' (1896), 'The Invisible Man' (1897), 'The War of the Worlds' (1898), and 'The First Men on the Moon' (1901).
Slightly past the end of the prolific period is a much more obscure work - 'The Food of the Gods' (1904) - which is today best known for its inspiration of some very bad B-rate horror movies. The work, along with the similarly obscure 'In the Days of the Comet' (1906) marks an important transition point in Well's fiction, from the successful scientific romances of his early career to the much less readable and less well known political science fiction of his latter career.
In the esteem of readers and critics, 'The Food of the Gods' is generally lumped in with Wells later works, which in my opinion is a shame because this is I think Wells at his most powerful. 'The Food of the Gods' combines Wells best talents as a writer of adventure stories which he has honed over the course of several previous novellas, with his highest ambitions and seriousness of his later years in a way that I think is superior to either what comes before or what comes after. No other book by Wells covers quite the range of emotions as this book, from wry humor, to terrible pathos, horror, and elation. This is in my opinion the first great science fiction novel, and one that wasn't equalled until the post-WWII crop of giants created what's now called the Golden Age of Science Fiction.
The basic plot of the story follows a pair of eccentric scientists who, with the best of intentions, set out to create a treatment which will promote a healthy giantism in living things so as to create a world without scarcity or poverty. The niavity of the scientists and the fervor with which they pursue their work is alternately funny and terrifying.
I love just about everything about this novel: the easily readable early adventures against giant monsters grown from household animals before the book takes a decidedly dark turn, the pitiable character of Caddles, the episode of the man released from prison, and the soaring vision of the sons of Cossar and Redwood. The book touches on alot: debates about nurture vs. nature, feelings of isolation and technological alienation, invidual freedom vs. community safety, terrorism, politics, transhumanism, and pretty much anything that will come up later in science fiction. After reading the story you'll see echos of it in just about all modern science fiction - from the 'ecology strikes back' disaster movies of the 70's to mutant conflict in the X-Men to the 'future shock' style dystopian novels.(less)