While there were many religious themes in C.S. Lewis's Out of the Silent Planet, in Perelandra what we have is a Garden of Eden on the planet Venus (PWhile there were many religious themes in C.S. Lewis's Out of the Silent Planet, in Perelandra what we have is a Garden of Eden on the planet Venus (Perelandra) on which Eve does not succumb to the tempter and who therefore is not cast out of Paradise.
Lewis's picture of Venus is as close to perfect a description I have ever seen of a Paradise. Elwin Ransom, the hero of Out of the Silent Planet interposes himself between the Eve character and his former physicist associate Weston, who has been taken over by Satan -- the "bent" theistic figure who is responsible for all the wars and sufferings on Earth (Thulcandra).
Not until the novel's coda does the language become too high-flown, as if Lewis were trying to out-Dante Dante in writing the Paradiso of The Divine Comedy. But, for 80% of its length, Perelandra represents a fascinating attempt to show how the principles of Christianity would play among alien worlds and alien races....more
Vulcan's Hammer is a curiously prophetic book about computers taking charge of humanity -- and this at a time before computers could realistically beVulcan's Hammer is a curiously prophetic book about computers taking charge of humanity -- and this at a time before computers could realistically be perceived as a threat. I've been working with computers since 1964, and in 1960, when the novel by Philip K. Dick was written, they were pretty rudimentary.
There are three centers of force in Vulcan's Hammer: the Unity organization, which serves the computer; the "Healers," who want to sabotage Unity; and the computer itself, Vulcan 3, which as the book goes on, becomes a force of and by itself.
This is not one of Dick's more popular novels, but it is still good. It was based on a short story of the same name that was published in Future Science Fiction #29 (1956) before being released four years later in an Ace double edition along with John Brunner's The Skynappers. ...more
It is interesting, and wholly fortuitous, that I read this book almost immediately after H.G. Wells's The First Men in the Moon. In that book, one ofIt is interesting, and wholly fortuitous, that I read this book almost immediately after H.G. Wells's The First Men in the Moon. In that book, one of the two characters on the expedition attempts to communicate with the Selenites, while is partner is little more than a 19th century conquistador.
In Out of the Silent Planet, author C.S. Lewis has one character -- Ransom -- kidnapped by Devine and Weston, who are interested primarily in exploiting the gold on Mars (called Malacandra in the book). Ransom escapes from them and falls in with one of the three intelligent species on the planet, the hrossa. During his stay on the planet, he alternates between fear and fascination.
There appears to be a planetary leader, called the Oyarsa, who has summoned Ransom to ask him questions about how men on earth have gotten "bent," i.e., gone wrong.
Lewis knows how to create a world that enthralls the reader. He did it in the Narnia series; he did it in Till We Have Faces. Even his autobiographical Surprised by Joy is like another world superimposed upon our own....more
Oh, for the good old days when men believed that the moon was inhabited by "Selenites" who lived in deep caves underground! H.G. Wells in his The FirsOh, for the good old days when men believed that the moon was inhabited by "Selenites" who lived in deep caves underground! H.G. Wells in his The First Men in the Moon takes two Englishmen, the eccentric inventor Cavor and the ne'er-do-well Bedford to the moon in a spherical spaceship using an antigravity substance called Cavorite.
Fortunately for these ill-prepared astronauts, the moon has plenty of oxygen, so they don't need a spacesuit with breathing apparatus. In no time at all, they get lost and are captured by the Selenites. They manage to get free, thanks to Bedford's savage murder of several of their captors. He manages to find their spaceship, but Cavor is recaptured. No matter, Bedford returns to earth alone with a hoard of lunar gold.
Not the violent conquistador like Bedford, Cavor stays behind on the moon and sends messages explaining his dealings with the Selenites. These are suddenly interrupted, leaving us precisely nowhere....more
It all begins as humor. Two British scientists come up with a substance that causes flora, fauna, and people to become giants. At first, there are giaIt all begins as humor. Two British scientists come up with a substance that causes flora, fauna, and people to become giants. At first, there are giant nettles, mushrooms -- but then it ramps up, with giant rats that can take down and eat horses and wasps so large one could hear them half a mile off. In the end it becomes a tragedy: several hundred children around the world had been given this "food of the gods" and grow to a height of around forty feet. And this is something that society cannot and will not take:
Don't you see the prospect before us clear as day? Everywhere the giants will increase and multiply; everywhere they will make and scatter the Food. The grass will grow gigantic in our fields, the weeds in our hedges, the vermin in the thickets, the rats in the drains. More and more and more. This is only a beginning. The insect world will rise on us, the plant world, the very fishes in the sea, will swamp and drown our ships. Tremendous growths will obscure and hide our houses, smother our churches, smash and destroy all the order of our cities, and we shall become no more than a feeble vermin under the heels of the new race. Mankind will be swamped and drowned in things of its own begetting! And all for nothing! Size! Mere size! Enlargement and da capo. Already we go picking our way among the first beginnings of the coming time.
An anti-Food of the Gods politician is elected, and war breaks out.
H.G. Wells in The Food Of The Gods has created an extraordinarily well thought out work of science fiction/fantasy. It is also an object lesson that from small beginnings giant problems grow. There is a particularly effective scene in the novel in which a prisoner who has been out of circulation for many years takes a train trip into the country with his brother and sees his world changed in strange ways.
When war does break out between the giants and the "Pygmies," the former come up with a weapon (which I will not divulge) that guarantees that, whatever happens to themselves, their cause will not die. ...more
Written late in his career, The Chase of the Golden Meteor did not represent the optimism that Jules Verne felt earlier. Imagine a huge meteor made ofWritten late in his career, The Chase of the Golden Meteor did not represent the optimism that Jules Verne felt earlier. Imagine a huge meteor made of solid gold in earth's orbit. Two amateur astronomers in Whaston, Virginia discover the bolide at almost exactly the same moment -- and much of the plot of this somewhat disappointing novel relate to their almost cosmic pigheadedness.
At the same time, a French inventor named Zephyrin Xirdal finds a way to make the bolide come down to earth in a place which he buys and occupies so that HE can claim the gold.
What happens is an interesting surprise, which I do not wish to divulge, but which endeared the novel to me ... somewhat. Unfortuanately, long before you get to that point, you will have had a snootful of the amateur astronomers and their mutual antipathy....more
To understand this book, one needs a little background. The oprichniks were a semi-monastic brotherhood that acted as enforcers for Tsar Ivan the TerrTo understand this book, one needs a little background. The oprichniks were a semi-monastic brotherhood that acted as enforcers for Tsar Ivan the Terrible. What Vladimir Sorokin does in Day of the Oprichnik is to move the institution into the near future in a post-Putin society in which the West has been walled off and the Chinese are moving into Russian society.
The oprichniks of the future ride through the Moscow traffic in their red Mercedovs in special lanes, their cars emitting a loud snarl to make traffic move over for them. Each car is fitted with a dead dog's head as the hood ornament and a broom behind to show that they sweep Russia clean of the Tsar's enemies.
We follow one Andrei Danilovich Komiaga, one of the senior oprichniks, as he participates in the destruction of a wayward noble's estate. This consists of hanging the noble from the gate of his estate, gang-raping his wife and delivering her naked and wrapped in a fleece to her relatives, and sending the children to a state-run orphanage. There are several other tasks, including visiting a famous clairvoyant in Orenburg on behalf of the Tsarina and participating with his fellow oprichniki in a combined steam bath and homosexual drug orgy.
The author shows us aspects of the Russian character that are not usually known to outsiders, which makes this book endlessly fascinating. This is far more than an alternative history fantasy: It approaches the cross-over line into literature....more
Years ago, I was amazed by a novel of Stanislaw Lem's called The Futurological Congress. Both the Lem novel and Palmer Eldritch are about worlds that are so miserable, so unlivable, that only a highly sophisticated drug can keep you from ripping your heart out and eating it. I thought years ago that Lem's novel was the original, except that it was written nine years later than Dick's.
The temperature on earth is upwards of 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Those who can afford it vacation in Antarctica. The UN, which is pretty much in charge of Terra, wants to colonize Mars, but life on the Red Planet is so terrible that its residents have to take an illegal drug called Can-D which enables them to fantasize using miniatures that they were leading an acceptable life.
Enter Palmer Eldritch, who has returned from the stars with a competing drug called Chew-Z. At first, Chew-Z is legal; but those who take it notice that with the hallucinations produced by the drug comes Palmer Eldritch himself, with his three identifying "stigmata" -- steel teeth, artificial eyes, and a prosthetic arm -- is personally directing their "trips." Is Eldritch God? Is he the Devil? Is he a new synthesis of the two?
This is by far the best of Philip K. Dick's books that I have read. My mind is still whirring.......more
This collection by Harlan Ellison, the bad boy of science fiction, is a bit uneven at times. Still, Ellison at his best -- even if his spark plug fireThis collection by Harlan Ellison, the bad boy of science fiction, is a bit uneven at times. Still, Ellison at his best -- even if his spark plug fires only a fourth of the time -- is awesome. In particular, I loved "A Boy and His Dog," which had been made into a movie. Other stories I liked are the title story, "Along the Scenic Route," and "Santa Claus vs. S.P.I.D.E.R."
With his odd yellow cat's eyes, Falk appears suddenly -- naked and without any memory of his origins -- in the Eastern Forests of the planet called EaWith his odd yellow cat's eyes, Falk appears suddenly -- naked and without any memory of his origins -- in the Eastern Forests of the planet called Earth. He is brought up by kindly forest people, but decides to travel by himself to the "City of Liars," Es Toch, from which the Shing rule the planet. For most of City of Illusions, we follow Falk who is treated with welcome or with cruelty by the various peoples he meets on his way. Eventually, he hooks up with a woman named Estrel while they are imprisoned by a hunter/gatherer society on the prairies. She had already been to Es Toch and shows him the way.
I will not say what they encounter in Es Toch, because that would be giving away Ursula K. Le Guin's clever story line. I have always been partial to Le Guin's fantasy worlds because she is originally an ethnologist -- the daughter of Alfred Kroeber, the famed anthropologist -- and wonderfully strange in describing the many cultures her stories touch upon.
City of Illusions is the third of Le Guin's Hainish novels, about the race of men thousands of years after they had scattered among the stars. All three novels, this as well as Rocannon's World and Planet of Exile, are wealth worth reading for the endless surprises that the author is capable of delivering....more
This certainly is not Jules Verne's best book. Take a group of characters involved in ballooning (called aerostats in the book) and a strange CaptainThis certainly is not Jules Verne's best book. Take a group of characters involved in ballooning (called aerostats in the book) and a strange Captain Nemo look-alike called Robur who has a heavier than air ship called the Albatross, which is an "aeronef," very like a sort of an elaborate helicopter.
When Philadelphia's Weldon Institute, headed up by Uncle Prudent (I kid you not) and Phil Evans have a meeting preparatory to launching a giant balloon called the "Go-Ahead," the meeting is interrupted by a strange character who mocks them all for being so old fashioned. After the meeting, Prudent and Evans are kidnapped by the self-same strange character, who is none other than Robur the Conqueror. He takes the two, along with Frycollin, Prudent's black valet, who is treated by Verne with condescension approaching (and surpassing) racism.
The odd thing is that I can understand the motives of none of the characters. Why does Robur bother with a couple of old poofters who are wedded to an outdated technology? And why are Prudent and Evans so idiotic that they do not recognize that their moment in the history of science is past? I only one I understand is Frycollin, who is terrified and just wants to survive.
Verne makes a few major goofs in Robur the Conqueror, such as locating the Badlands in Nebraska rather than South Dakota, making San Francisco the capital of California, and misnaming Punta Arenas in Chile "Puerto Arena."
Robur the Conqueror was later followed by a sequel, which is someone better known: The Master of the World. I'll probably take a look at it in the upcoming months....more
One of the nice things about growing older is that one can rediscover authors and works that meant a lot to myself long ago, and see how things have cOne of the nice things about growing older is that one can rediscover authors and works that meant a lot to myself long ago, and see how things have changed over the years. Ursula K. Le Guin was one of my favorite writers of what I call "recreational literature." Rocannon's World was her very first novel, published in 1966, the year I came to live in Southern California.
What I have always like about Le Guin, is everything that her middle initial implies: It was Kroeber, after her father, Alfred L. Kroeber, an ethnologist who studied under the famous Franz Boas, and who was partly the subject of his wife Theodora's book Ishi in Two Worlds, about the last Yahi Indian. With all those anthropological genes running in her veins, Ursula has managed to add a unique twist to her writing.
Rocannon's World is full of many many peoples and cultures. The ethnologist hero Gaverel Rocannon is the only survivor of an attack on his party by an interplanetary rebellion and must make use of these different peoples to find a way to bring help to them. With all these cultures rubbing up against one another, Ursula's writing is like a rich tapestry:
The little Name-Eaters, the Kiemhrir, these are in old songs we sing from mind to mind, but not the Winged Ones. The friends, but not the enemies. The sunlight, not the dark. And I am companion of Olhor [the Wanderer, nickname for Rocannon] who goes southward into the legends, bearing no sword. I ride with Olhor, who seeks to hear his enemy's voice, who has traveled through the great dark, who has seen the World hang like a blue jewel in the darkness. I am only a half-person. I cannot go farther than the hills. I cannot go into the high places with you, Olhor!
This book is a strange mixture of fantasy and science fiction, but always with its foot on the ground. As one reads it, one gets a sense of place crowded with many cultures. Some of the characters may be a little stereotyped, but it was, after all, her first novel.
As such, it was good enough to decide me on reading the other two novels in the so-called Hainish trilogy of which Rocannon's World is the first volume.
I am relatively new to the sci-fi/fantasy works of H. G. Wells, but now that I've got started, I can see myself continuing until I've read more of theI am relatively new to the sci-fi/fantasy works of H. G. Wells, but now that I've got started, I can see myself continuing until I've read more of them. Back in his day, Wells was something of a guru, and his book The Outline of History was re-printed and read until I was in my teens (some time during the Cretaceous era).
The Time Machine is so far on a par with The War of the Worlds, which I read with great enjoyment not too long ago. The unnamed Time Traveler ends up on the Thames in the year 800,000 (and then some) A.D., at a time when the area was inhabited by a small, pleasure-loving people who seemed to have deficient survival skills. The Traveler seems to fall in love with a young lass whose life he saves named Weena.
These people who live on the surface of the earth are called Eloi. But they do not live alone: Under the earth, approachable by frequently-spaced wells with handholds and footholds for climbing are the pale, apelike Morlocks. In his very British way, the Traveler takes an instant dislike to them and makes no effort to communicate with them. It appears that the Morlocks use the Eloi as protein for their diet.
Eventually, the Traveler returns to the present, where he finds his friends do not believe him. ...more
Even when he is not at his very best, as with The Crack in Space, Philip K. Dick is eminently worth reading. Somehow, half a century ago, he anticipatEven when he is not at his very best, as with The Crack in Space, Philip K. Dick is eminently worth reading. Somehow, half a century ago, he anticipated several key facets of life in our time, starting with a black president and a racist society. Over 100 million Cols (Coloreds?) have volunteered to be frozen until the socioeconomic situation for them has improved -- so many, in fact, that the number of BiBs ("Bottled in Bond") is threatening the national budget.
As a result of an accident to a Jiffi-scuttler, a link as opened to an alternative earth inhabited solely by Peking Man. At first, before these natives are discovered, it is decided to move a large number of BiBs to this planet. And that's when the problems begin. It appears the "Pekes" have their own technology which is different and perhaps in some ways superior.
And, to make matters worse, the dual entity known as George Walt (two humans sharing a single head) -- formerly owners of the Golden Door Moments of Bliss satellite serving as a giant brothel in earth's orbit -- has snuck across and been worshiped by the Pekes as their wind god.
Somehow, it all works out in the end, but not without a glacial beginning. Sometimes, Philip K. Dick is so darned inventive that too much plot machinery is required to keep the story in motion. Still, like all PKD stories, it's worth a look....more
I read the Kindle version of this superb collection by Bybliotech. As one who has read about a dozen of Philip K. Dick's full length novels, but noneI read the Kindle version of this superb collection by Bybliotech. As one who has read about a dozen of Philip K. Dick's full length novels, but none of his short stories, I was amazed by the range of inventiveness displayed in this anthology, which ranged from Space fiction to horror. At one point in "The Defenders," in which all life above ground is destroyed by nuclear weapons, a robot says:
We found that human cultures pass through phases, each culture in its own time. As the culture ages and begins o lose its objectives, conflict arises within it between those who wish to cast it off and set up a new culture-pattern, and those who wish to retain the old with as little change as possible.
And this is from a story published in Galaxy Science Fiction magazine in January 1953!
One characteristic of just about all of the stories in The Philip K. Dick Anthology: 18 Classic Science Fiction Stories(except perhaps "The Variable Man") is that we are on the losing side. You just can't win in the Philip K. Dick Universe. The Terrans are going to lose to Proxima Centauri. The Wub is not all that helpless. The Gun will continue to bring down ships that land on their planet. An assassin goes back in time to discover that he himself is the victim. Again and again, Dick prevents any optimism: Rather, his paranoia always seems to win out.
Paranoia, perhaps, but also an incredible vitality. The last two stories, "Upon the Dull Earth" and "Of Withered Apples," belong in horror anthologies alongside the stories of Poe, Algernon Blackwood, M. R. James, Lovecraft, and Machen. "Tony and the Beetles" seems to be a story written for children, but it's about the momentum beginning to change in a long war between Earth and a buglike extraterrestrial enemy. (At the same time, it could just as well be about racism in America.) "Second Variety" is about another endless planetary war involving robots who, starting as weapons, become a force on their own -- and about the danger of not being paranoid enough....more
Philip K. Dick is a mobius artichoke. You peel off the outer layers, and then find inner layers. Peel off enough inner layers, and you come up with --Philip K. Dick is a mobius artichoke. You peel off the outer layers, and then find inner layers. Peel off enough inner layers, and you come up with -- if not the ultimate reality -- more outer layers. That artichoke heart is elusive, and perhaps cannot be found at all.
I have loved reading Dick's work for decades. This is the first time I ever tried to read a book about him. Douglas A Mackey in his survey of the author and his work, suitably entitled Philip K Dick, tries to come to terms with his subject, and does a creditable job at it. At one point, he quotes an unpublished work by the author:
At one time my heme was the search for reality, which I posed as: What is real? What isn't? But I think really my theme, What is human? What isn't? is more vital and was there all the time underlying the other. After all, the subdivision of reality most important to our ability to make something we can treasure out of our life is the reality of other humans. To define what is real is to define what is human, if you care about humans.
That last phrase I find most illuminating. There are people among us so wrapped in their pets, their TV-fed fantasies, and their craziness that they may very well not care about humans. Not when they can pick up a military assault rifle and shoot up a kindergarten.
Fortunately, Dick does care about humans. He does encounter some problems, however, dealing with his female characters. Males care about humans in general in a very different way that males care about women. The result is that it is difficult (but not impossible) for male authors to create convincing women and vice versa. It is a small failing in Dick, who was married five times and couldn't really sort out his problems with women during an incredibly creative lifetime.
Dick in his endless search for reality has produced at least a dozen works that easily cross over from science fiction to literature. It is no accident that three volumes (comprising thirteen novels) of the prestigious Library of America have been devoted to his work....more
Having long been familiar with George Pal and Byron Haskin's 1953 screen version, I decided to read the novel upon which The War of the Worlds was basHaving long been familiar with George Pal and Byron Haskin's 1953 screen version, I decided to read the novel upon which The War of the Worlds was based. We never discover the name of the first-person narrator, nor of his brother, whose story occupies several chapters in the first part.
Instead of character, we are drawn to observing the invading Martians and their works, almost with a kind of horrified detachment. From the very start, H.G. Wells grabs our interest:
Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.
Slowly, the invaders start landing their ships, one at a time, and leisurely getting their invasion plans together. Suddenly, it all erupts in heat-rays, a kind of lethal black smoke, and ultimately baskets for capturing live humans whose blood could be drained at leisure.
Just when it seems that man is doomed, something unforeseen attacks the Martians:
And scattered about it, some in their overturned war-machines, some in the now rigid handling-machines, and a dozen of them stark and silent and laid in a row, were the Martians--dead!--slain by the putrefactive and disease bacteria against which their systems were unprepared; slain as the red weed was being slain; slain, after all man's devices had failed, by the humblest things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon this earth.
For so it had come about, as indeed I and many men might have foreseen had not terror and disaster blinded our minds. These germs of disease have taken toll of humanity since the beginning of things--taken toll of our prehuman ancestors since life began here. But by virtue of this natural selection of our kind we have developed resisting power; to no germs do we succumb without a struggle, and to many--those that cause putrefaction in dead matter, for instance--our living frames are altogether immune. But there are no bacteria in Mars, and directly these invaders arrived, directly they drank and fed, our microscopic allies began to work their overthrow. Already when I watched them they were irrevocably doomed, dying and rotting even as they went to and fro. It was inevitable. By the toll of a billion deaths man has bought his birthright of the earth, and it is his against all comers; it would still be his were the Martians ten times as mighty as they are. For neither do men live nor die in vain.
I don't mind divulging this here, because even if you haven't seen the movie, you are probably aware of what happens.
For some reason, I had not read many of Wells' books to date. That will soon change....more
This classic sci-fi novelette from the 1950s is fully as savage as Jonathan Swif's "A Modest Proposal" -- in which he recommends, tongue in cheek, thaThis classic sci-fi novelette from the 1950s is fully as savage as Jonathan Swif's "A Modest Proposal" -- in which he recommends, tongue in cheek, that the Irish population problem could be solved by eating Irish babies. C M Kornbluth in The Marching Morons sees the whole world as inhabited by billions of retards in control of a few million people of normal or better intelligence.
Honest John Barlow is a creature from the past who was anesthetized for a dental operation using an experimental drug that essentially mummified him without killing him. When a man from the future comes upon his body, he knows exactly what to do to resuscitate him. Barlow is taken to the city, where he comes up with an idea to make the moronic population thinking they are going to the planet Venus. Actually, they are being disposed of according to principles laid down by Nazi death camps.
This is not a nice book. Kornbluth was no doubt thinking dark thoughts about his fellow Americans, but he cannot help being grimly humorous at times. This is a quick read and something of a classic....more
This is the fourth time I have read Empire of the Atom -- not because it is any good, but because it so impressed me when I was a teenager that I findThis is the fourth time I have read Empire of the Atom -- not because it is any good, but because it so impressed me when I was a teenager that I find it to be a window into my own past. In fact, I wrote a blog about my experience.
This is a strange book in which a post nuclear war society simultaneously has access to the power of the atom (which it worships as gods) and spaceships, yet uses bows, arrows, spears, and swords as its prime weapons.
Also to be noted is that the first 60% or so of the book is plagiarized from Robert Graves's I, Claudius. There is a one-to-one correspondence between A.E. van Vogt's Earthmen and Graves's Romans: Clane is Claudius; the Lord Leader, Augustus; Creg, Germanicus; Tews, Tiberius; and Lydia, Augustus's wife Livia. Fortunately, he doesn't try to throw Caligula into the mix. ...more
In 1965, two Soviet brothers wrote The Final Circle of Paradise, a book about a space traveler who, far some unexplained reason, visits an idyllic resIn 1965, two Soviet brothers wrote The Final Circle of Paradise, a book about a space traveler who, far some unexplained reason, visits an idyllic resort city and proceeds to find out what makes it tick. In many ways Strugatsky, Arkady and Boris are writing about the West, a land where cheap wish fulfillment rules, where a cheap and readily available drug called "slug" sends people into paroxysms of enjoyable dreams, such that they could and frequently do die of nervous exhaustion.
Don't mind the Russian title: That's all that Goodreads gave me to work with.
The Strugatsky brothers' hero, Ivan Zhilin turns out to be a special investigator for the Security Council who reports his findings, but is disbelieved by his colleagues. We never find out the name of the resort city, but it seems to be in Southern Europe, perhaps on the Mediterranean.
Zhilin's musings in the book are priceless:
And as for progress -- it will come to an end only for the real society, only for the real progress. But each separate man will lose nothing, he will only gain, since his world will become infinitely brighter, his ties with nature, illusory though they may be, will become more multifaceted; and ties with society, also illusory but not so known to him, will become more powerful and fruitful. And you don\'t have to mourn the end of progress. You do know that everything comes to an end. So now comes the end of progress in the objective world.
Those are fighting words to a card-carrying Communist, and an interesting indictment where two Communist brothers thought the West was headed.
It's a pity that this book appears to be out of print. The Strugatsky brothers always make one think.......more
If you are thinking of the 1962 film, forget about it. It is only very loosely based on John Wyndham's novel The Day of the Triffids, which is a darkeIf you are thinking of the 1962 film, forget about it. It is only very loosely based on John Wyndham's novel The Day of the Triffids, which is a darker tale that does not present any easy solutions. Earth is invaded by spores (from a meteor? as a human-created weapon gone awry?) that grow into plants that attack and kill humans. At the same time, thousands of Britons die of a mysterious plague. The novel follows a man and a woman who try to rebuild society in the face of an onslaught that threatens to overwhelm them....more
The book brings back to me the 1950s. Names like Eldred Crang and Hari Seldon (this from Isaac Asimov's Foundation series), Intergalactic wars. HighlyThe book brings back to me the 1950s. Names like Eldred Crang and Hari Seldon (this from Isaac Asimov's Foundation series), Intergalactic wars. Highly advanced devices with tubes like an old Emerson TV set. Planets in our solar system that could sustain life. Take, for instance, this description of Venus:
Gosseyn said, "Doctor, what is Venus like -- the cities, I mean?"
The doctor rolled his head sideways to look at Gosseyn, but did not move his body.
"Oh, much like earth cities, but suited to the perpetually mild climate. Because of the high clouds, it never gets too hot. And it never rains except in the mountains. But every night on the great verdant plains, there's a heavy dew. And UI mean heavy enough to look after all the luxuriant growth...."
One of the side-effects of space exploration is the death of dreams of life on the Moon, on Mars, and on Venus.
As a teeneager, I loved A E Van Vogt, and I loved novels like The World of Null-A, Slan, The Empire of the Atom, and The War Against the Rull. I do plan to re-read more of him, because I could see the young me at every turn, following the story with rapt attention and belief.
Now the belief is gone, but what remains is a well written and conceived story. The fact that I could never quite believe, however, does remove a star or two from my rating.
No matter. I am rediscovering myself and rather enjoy the experience. ...more
Jules Verne's novels are by no means credible, but they are interesting. One keeps wondering what is going to happen next. The very idea of a journeyJules Verne's novels are by no means credible, but they are interesting. One keeps wondering what is going to happen next. The very idea of a journey to the earth's center is preposterous, but that doesn't stop Verne from making it happen.
And what do you suppose lies a hundred or so miles beneath the earth's surface, but a massive, seemingly endless ocean with its own diffuse light source, its own clouds, weather, sea monsters, etc. Our questing heroes even find mastodons and a primitive man, but they wisely sneak away. Then ... but I can't say how they get back. That would be cheating!
How I first came to learn about David Lindsay's A Voyage to Arcturus was in a strange cookbook I saw in the early 1970s written by a hippie who decideHow I first came to learn about David Lindsay's A Voyage to Arcturus was in a strange cookbook I saw in the early 1970s written by a hippie who decided to use as the heading of each page a recommended book title. One of the books was this one, but it took me over forty years to get around to reading it. I remember liking many of the cookbook author's recommendations, and my library is full of them; and yet I cannot remember the name of the cookbook or its author. (Does anyone reading this review know of this odd cookbook?)
It is particularly apt that A Voyage to Arcturus is as strange as the way I first came to learn of the book. What I thought at first was a science fiction novel (based solely on its title) turned out to be a spiritual quest that is just happens to be set on a distant planet named Tormance that circles Arcturus, which in the book is a double star consisting of Branchspell and Alppain. With two companions, Krag and Nightspore, the hero Maskull takes a voyage to the distant star, where he is deposited in the middle of a red desert with no one else in sight.
For the remainder of the book, Maskull travels from south to north on Tormance, going through several lands, and having strange encounters with a wide variety of natives, who all seem to live in isolated pockets spread across the different lands. On his quest, which takes five days, Maskull finds love, murder, adventure, religion, and death:
He was a naked stranger in a huge, foreign, mystical world, and whichever way he turned, unknown and threatening forces were glaring at him. The gigantic, white, withering Branchspell, the awful, body-changing Alppain, the beautiful, deadly, treacherous sea, the dark and eerie Swaylone's Island, the spirit-crushing forest out of which he had just escaped -- to all these mighty powers, surrounding him on every side, what resources had he, a feeble, ignorant traveller from a tiny planet on the other side of space, to oppose, to avoid being totally destroyed? ... Then he smiled to himself, "I've already been here two days, and still I survive. I have luck -- and with that one can balance the universe.
In the end, the experience of reading Arcturus is as different from the sci fi genre as Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha or The Glass Bead Game.
I wonder whether my appraisal of this book will change over time, as it has for Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist, which I now feel like downgrading. A book like this one leaves a powerful aura behind it which sometimes lasts, and sometimes doesn't. I rather suspect that the aura of Lindsay's book will last, if for no other reason that it is such an original. It is a book that reflects its Scottish author's feelings about the recently concluded horrors of the First World War. The book starts in Victorian London and quickly moves to outer space, but the adventures of Maskull could take place anywhere in a world that has come loose from its moorings. ...more
I read The Space Merchants in the Library of America's newly released American Science Fiction: Four Classic Novels, 1953-1956. While I liked Pohl andI read The Space Merchants in the Library of America's newly released American Science Fiction: Four Classic Novels, 1953-1956. While I liked Pohl and Kornbluth's story, I felt it suffered from a kind of super-breeziness of plotting and dialogue that is sadly typical of so much American sci-fi of the period.
What did impress me was the authors' vision: The world being run by corporations linked to two giant ad agencies (Fowler Scocken and B. J. Taunton) that not only submerge the U.S. government, but also conduct operations against each other. Mitchell Courtenay is placed by Fowler Schocken in charge of a project to colonize Venus. In the course of tracking down a suspected inhouse saboteur in Antarctica of all places, he is kidnapped, has his identity changed to one George Groby, and sent to work in Costa Rica in contract slavery to a company that manufacturers a quasi-meat product called "Chicken Little" out of miscellaneous organic (but only in the sense of being carbon-based) junk. He manages to escape by allying himself with the "Consies," a worldwide conservation ring that fights against the corporations.
Pohl and Kornbluth's New York is riddled with skyscrapers on which the corporate offices are on the upper floors while, between the hours of dusk and dawn, the bottom 70 or so stairways are occupied by "consumers," who are little better than hoboes.
This set me to thinking: In what other sci-fi novel was the world completely different than envisioned by the people at the top. Instantly, Stanislaw Lem's The Futurological Congress (1971) sprang to mind. While Pohl and Kornbluth are resolutely downmarket, writing in the Galaxy and Analog traditions of sheer pulp, the Lem novel is crisper, more brilliant, and evenly respectably intellectual. And since I am an i-n-t-e-l-l-e-c-t-u-a-l of sorts, I owe my allegiance to the later work, even if it was partly inspired by The Space Merchants.
It's worth reading Pohl and Kornbluth, but I like something that engages my mind a little more. ...more
César Aira is the Roomba of literature. Like the little robotic vacuum cleaner that goes off in all directions, he keeps going straight forward untilCésar Aira is the Roomba of literature. Like the little robotic vacuum cleaner that goes off in all directions, he keeps going straight forward until he bumps against an obstruction, then that straight line becomes a series of Ptolemaic epicycles that delight in their wild divagations.
As the result of pure chance, the narrator -- also called César -- discovers a pirate treasure that makes him fabulously rich. As a combination playwright and mad scientist, he decides to clone the Mexican author Carlos Fuentes (who was still alive in 1996 when The Literary Conference was first written). He does this by using a nano-wasp of his own devising, which he uses to extract one of the Mexican author's cells while he is attending a literary conference in Venezuela. Atop a mountain, he sets his cloning machine into action while he attends the literary conference himself, where an early play of his about Adam and Eve is being performed.
I will not say at this point exactly how the cloning experiment goes awry, but it does so, in a most apocalyptic way.
Midway through the book, Aira, tongue-in-cheek, talks about his writing style:
But my mania -- to be constantly adding things, episodes, paragraphs, to be constantly veering off course, branching out -- is fatal. It must be due to insecurity, fear that the basics are not enough, so I have to keep adding more and more adornment until I achieve a kind of surrealistic rococo, which exasperates me more than it does anybody else.
Far from seeing this as "fatal" or "exasperating," it is to be an endless source of delight. This is the fourth Aira I have read so far, and I cannot seem to stop. As Roberto Bolano once said, "Once you start reading Aira, you don't want to stop."
Too true, and so Aira's Rococo Roomba rolls over the literary landscape, I find myself in a new world where anything can happen. And does!
The Wanderers traveled all over the galaxy, and -- who knows? -- perhaps beyond. All this happened some thousands of years ago. After all this time, nThe Wanderers traveled all over the galaxy, and -- who knows? -- perhaps beyond. All this happened some thousands of years ago. After all this time, no one knows what the Wanderers look like, even whether they were humanoid or not. Arkady and Boris Strugatsky wrote about what they referred to as the Noon Universe, as described below by the Wikipedia article about the brothers:
The main characteristics of the Noon Universe are: a very high level of social, scientific, and technological development; the creativity of the general population; and the very significant level of societal maturity compared to the modern world. For instance, this world knows no monetary stimulation (indeed, money does not exist), and every person is engaged in a profession that interests him or her. The Earth of the Noon Universe is governed by a global meritocratic council composed of the world's leading scientists and philosophers. That Noon World has been clearly named as "World of Communism" in their novels, which was handy for publishing their novels in the USSR where the Communist Party decided whether a book would be printed, and approved for mass circulation.
The Universe was described by the authors as the world in which they would like to live and work. It became highly influential for at least a generation of Soviet people, e.g. a person could quote the Strugatsky books and be sure of being understood. At first the authors thought that the Noon Universe would become reality "by itself", but then they realized that the only way to achieve it is by inventing the High Theory of Upbringing, making the upbringing of each person a unique deed.
One of the important story arcs of those books is how the advanced human civilization covertly steers the development of those considered less advanced. Agents of humans are known as Progressors. At the same time, some humans suspect that a very advanced spacefaring race called Wanderers exists and is 'progressing' humanity itself.
In Beetle in the Anthill, we are presented with a relentless search for one Lev Albakin, one of the Progressors described above, who has killed an associate and traveled to earth without permission.
For me, however, the very best parts of the book are excerpted from a journal by Lev in which he and a doglike extraterrestrial named Schokn, who seems attached to Lev but who thinks little of the human race: "Humans. How can there be any doubt? Naturally, it was humans. Iron and fire, rubble, it's always the same." As in their great Roadside Picnic, there are wonderful outland scenes in which inexplicable things, things that can only be described as eldritch. They wandered across a ruined landscape, where strange objects and threats materialize seemingly from nowhere, and they are treated with suspicion by the surviving human population, who are affected by a plague that makes them age prematurely.
The Strugatsky brothers are not for your typical sci-fi fan: Beetle in the Anthill is a mystery wrapped within an enigma, and the tale unfolds slowly in a series of fragments, mostly from the point of view of Maxim Kammerer, who is seeking the Progressor Albakin. Nonetheless, the conclusion is a shocker with profound implications about the Wanderers and the peoples they visited these many millennia ago. ...more
It has been many years since I last read one of the Strugatsky brothers' sci-fi novels. Although they have gotten to be hard to find, I will make theIt has been many years since I last read one of the Strugatsky brothers' sci-fi novels. Although they have gotten to be hard to find, I will make the effort, because I have just finished reading one of the best books I have undertaken during this dying year: Roadside Picnic is deceptively short and simple, but eerie traps lie in wait for the reader; and he will be lucky to escape with his beliefs intact.
The earth has been visited by extraterrestrials. They had landed in a number of evenly spaced "Visitation Zones" in which all human and animal life suddenly disappeared. Then, as quickly as they had come, they suddenly decamped, leaving behind strange, unaccountable things that were dangerous and at the same time promising. The areas around these Zones developed scientific industries which analyzed the things that "stalkers" who had illegally gone into the Zone brought back with them. .
We see one such stalker, Redrick Schuhart, over an eight-year period. He is one of the principal stalkers, one who had gone into the Zone many times and managed to come back alive. As with other stalkers, his child is a mutant girl who resembles Chewbacca the Wookie and is growing ever more distant from humanity.
The chief characteristic of the Zone is its danger, and its opportunity. Schuhart describes one such reaction thus:
And then it him him.
He had never experienced anything like this before outside the Zone. And it had happened in the Zone only two or three times. It was as though he were in a different world. Amillion odors cascaded in on him at once—sharp, sweet, metallic, gentle, dangerous ones, as crude as cobblestones, as delicate and complex as watch mechanisms, as huge as a house and as tiny as a dust particle. The air became hard, it developed edges, surfaces, and corners, like space was filled with huge, stiff balloons, slippery pyramids, gigantic prickly crystals, and he had to push his way through it all, making his way in a dream through a junk store stuffed with ancient ugly furniture.... It lasted a second. He opened his eyes, and everything was gone. It hadn't been a different world—it was this world turning a new, unknown side to him. This side was revealed for a second and then disappeared, before he had time to figure it out.
The world of the Zone—with all its “mosquito manges,” “meat-grinders,” “so-so's,” “empties,” and other features that were increasingly becoming a part of the world outside the Zone. Strange things were happening: some undead zombie-like people were walking the earth; the daughter of one stalker was beautiful but not born of man or woman; and in general, things were getting stranger:
It [the office building] reeked of everything, of the lousy fungus that was growing on the Zone, drinking on the Zone, eating, exploiting, and growing fat on the Zone and that didn't give a damn about any of it, especially about what would happen later, when it had eaten its full and gotten power, and when everything that was once in the Zone was outside the Zone.
As their lives are changed by the detritus of the Visitation, the scientists and engineers examining what the stalkers bring back cannot help but wonder what the nature of the Visitation was. One physicist speculates that the extra-terrestrials were, in effect, having a roadside picnic; and what they left behind was like the condoms, candy wrappers, cigarette butts, and dirty napkins left behind by human picnickers.
Just as one cannot go heedlessly into the Zone without being assailed by nameless dangers, one cannot read Roadside Picnic without developing a cold sweat. The Strugatsky brothers were gifted with an incredible imagination which comes more to the fore in this book than in any of the others I read. (But now, I want to re-read those. Were my instincts off when I read them 20-30 years ago?)...more
Whenever I read Philip K. Dick, I react in exactly the same way. The first few pages, I tell myself that, after all, he isn't very good. And then theWhenever I read Philip K. Dick, I react in exactly the same way. The first few pages, I tell myself that, after all, he isn't very good. And then the jagged paranoiac genius of the man kicks in, takes hold, and carries me along. And what a ride it is! Some 200 years in the future, the earth is under the control of Willis Gram, a telepath who sits around all day in pajamas, robe, and slippers while his "New Men," geniuses with bloated heads, give him advice. If one is not an "Unusual" (telepath) or New Man, one is an Old Man who is effectively prevented from joining the Civil Service and participating in the reins of power.
The hero is one Nick Appleton who runs into an underage girl named Charlie, who is 98 pounds of ferocious energy. They spend much of their time trying to escape the pissers (or PSS, the police), who are trying to nail them for various infractions.
In the meantime, hurtling toward the Earth is Thors Provoni, who had escaped in a souped-up spaceship and encountered an alien from Frolix 8 who returns with him. Gram and his minions attempt first to shoot him out of the sky, and then to aim giant lasers to kill him, but his friend from Frolix 8 absorbs all their attempts and even thrives on them.
No way am I going to divulge what happens. It's a fairly interesting story, even though this is not one of Dick's better-known efforts. (That's probably why I read it: I needed something to keep me from thinking too much. It worked.)
Think of Dick as a hyperdrive from outer space that can take you faster and farther than you ever imagined, and leave you off somewhere where you can feel the dew on the grass with your bare toes.
Brave New World may be somewhat clunkier than Orwell's 1984, but in many ways it rings more true. Rather than an externally imposed dictatorship, AldoBrave New World may be somewhat clunkier than Orwell's 1984, but in many ways it rings more true. Rather than an externally imposed dictatorship, Aldous Huxley imagines a world in which people are just not interested in being free because they are, in essence, distracted half to death.
I felt that the references to Henry Ford were a bit dated, especially inasmuch as society has moved well beyond the automaker and his contributions to automation.
Still, this is a good read and makes one think....more