There are some knee-slapping couplets in Ian Doescher's Shakespearean adaptation of Star Wars: Episode Four. I want so much to quote a few here, but q...moreThere are some knee-slapping couplets in Ian Doescher's Shakespearean adaptation of Star Wars: Episode Four. I want so much to quote a few here, but quoting the best of them feels like a literary spoiler. This is no mere parody. Doescher turns A New Hope into a stageable play of the Elizabethan kind. I read it to myself, but this book cries out to be done as a table reading among friends.
It should come as no surprise that the melodramatic robot C-3PO translates easily and colorfully into the world of the Bard. More amusing is how well Han Solo's brusque dialogue adapts to the same poetic tone. But then, duh! Han is quite like Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing. Luke and Leia remain obnoxious and precocious. R2-D2 becomes a wonderful Shakespearean clown.
My chief gripe would be Doescher's indulgent use of asides. Perhaps it's my already knowing the subtext of Star Wars that makes this frequent actor-to-audience exposition seem unnecessary. Still I feel it is fair to say the author overuses this device. On the flip side, the author gives livelier voice to working class Storm Troopers. He also provides the principle characters with thoughtful, and original, soliloquies. Not all of it is brilliant, but it's certainly richer than the fanatically lean dialogue of cinema.
This fun adaptation is truly designed, and likely most enjoyable, for people who are equally fans of both Star Wars and Shakespeare. That may seem obvious, but a person who is only well-versed in Star Wars will miss any number of references to multiple Bard plays. Sure, there are obvious references to Hamlet, but many more exist. I'm sure I missed my share.
Without slowing up the plot, this play offers its share of commentary on the merits and weaknesses of Lucas's space opera. This includes obligatory foreshadowing of Luke and Leia's siblinghood and a nod to the Greedo-Han shooting controversy. Like the conspiring senators in Julius Caesar, the characters in this adaptation are fully aware they are playing out a classic tale.
... Oh yeah, and I totally noticed how the author shortened the serial number of the trash compactor by one digit to fit the iambic pentameter. *pats his nerdy self on the back*
Suffice it to say this book is no slapdash work of fan fiction. My hardcover edition came as a Christmas gift. Yet, had I bought it myself at list price, I would not have felt ripped off. Furthermore, if Doescher tries his hand at another episode, I'll buy a copy. This is the most satisfied I have been with a bookish Star Wars offering since Timothy Zahn's Thrawn Trilogy.(less)
This year, I needed a good read for the Christmas holiday—something entertaining, accessible, and not requiring much effort; something I could read wi...moreThis year, I needed a good read for the Christmas holiday—something entertaining, accessible, and not requiring much effort; something I could read with lots of distractions occurring around me. Jurassic Park proved to be a great book to digest while simultaneously participating in a bustling extended-family Christmas.
As a bonus to Jurassic Park’s considerable entertainment value—what’s not entertaining about a big island where dinosaurs stalk an ensemble of stock characters you either love or love to hate?—it also proves a thoughtful read. Indeed, thanks to preaching author Michael Crichton does at the outset, and copious preaching he does later through the prophetic mathematician Ian Malcolm, this book is vigorously thoughtful. It strikes a cautionary note on the risks inherent in scientific research and development. And in convincing fashion, Crichton shows how the underbelly of science is all the more troublesome thanks to capitalism and profit seeking. Plus there is no end to the big scary dinosaurs chasing people around.
If the owners of Jurassic Park were as effective at wrangling dinosaurs as Crichton is at overseeing character and theme development, this would be one boring novel. I was especially impressed with Crichton’s ability to call back motifs established earlier in the story. For example, he explores the notion that the young, human or other, have keener senses than adults. The effect is that children are catalytic elements in culture. They get things moving, they incite trends, and their behavior provides mandates for adults otherwise preoccupied with maintaining the status quo. Crichton employs this notion early on with the human children, and later comes back to it in a surprisingly touching way with the dinosaurs.
I said Crichton uses stock characters, which is not to say his characters are static. Of particular note, it is interesting to watch the degeneration of park mastermind John Hammond, specifically in his obsessive attitude toward children. A similar metamorphosis of attitude occurs as the dinosaurs become increasingly threatening. The humans begin to see the animals as ugly. Initial wonder degrades into bitterness and hatred. Crichton provides engrossing nuance like this without slowing down the story. Only in Ian Malcolm’s increasingly charismatic speechifying about chaos theory does Crichton’s storytelling begin to feel heavy-handed.
It has been many years since I visited the techno-thriller genre. Jurassic Park was a fantastic journey back into the realms of science gone awry and technology gone bad. As I said at the outset, it was a great read during the always frenzied holidays. Much of my reading was done with nieces and nephews scurrying past or during sporadic breaks from family activities. Crichton’s well-woven yarn was easy to jump in and out of without becoming superficial. Highly recommended!(less)
1. In Cloud Atlas, the character Robert Frobisher refers to an incomplete book he is reading as a half-finished love affair. This notion is one in a f...more1. In Cloud Atlas, the character Robert Frobisher refers to an incomplete book he is reading as a half-finished love affair. This notion is one in a flood of fantastic insights in the novel. However, my love-affair began with the recent film adaptation. To fall in love with Cloud Atlas is to fall in love with a half-dozen storylines separated by decades and centuries. It is to find kinship among an ensemble of characters living in distinct cultures and places. As Frobisher says in the film: “My life extends far beyond the limitations of me.”
2. Unlike some, I did not find Cloud Atlas inaccessible, either on film or in print. What is cryptic about a sextet of storylines exploring the same themes: love, loss, captivity, and the quest for liberation from tyrants? As one storyline examines, what were the personal costs for past societies deeming slavery not only acceptable, but divinely sanctioned? How might analogous struggles play out today, or centuries from now? Author David Mitchell establishes explicit links between these stories, but avoids the trap of conveniently spelling everything out. It is a needy audience that requires everything to be tied off and explained. The rewards of Cloud Atlas come from realizing the tales’ unifying themes.
3. As the novel progresses, the independent storylines harmonize. A 19th century slave and a futuristic clone servant face similar perils and outright abuse, recognizing they are pawns of the rich and powerful. Other characters face analogous quandaries in their love lives and professions. Yielding sometimes happiness, sometimes tragedy, they harness philosophy and mythology while making desperate forays into intimacy. Time and again, our oh-so-human struggles are repeated and validated in bittersweet fashion. By halfway through the novel, the effect is choral.
4. We industrialized folk are not so different than those who came before. Style and slang evolve dramatically; however, the themes of humanity change little. Even as the impatient, 21st century reader in me craved stunning plot twists and clearly-defined action, my deeper self found inspiration by meandering through the appropriately convoluted chain of events. Within the multigenerational turmoil, the longings of various characters braided together and revealed their sublime universality.
5. Any of us could be characters in Cloud Atlas. For example, I may not be literally enslaved. But I live in a society where billions of dollars are wielded by a few to dictate the course of our entire culture. Any given casino owner, not especially more intelligent or ethical than me, has a far stronger say in the course of society. I declare the myth to be any belief that he sails at the top, and I float in the ignominious middle, because of some divine decree. The disparity of our stations ought naught be reduced to a single in-vogue ideology. As great storytellers know, the truth is murkier.
6. Reading the book helped me settle on a favorite character: troubled composer Robert Frobisher—a quintessential struggling artist driven on by golden opportunity, dubious choices, and prevailing circumstances. Of course, there were at least five other characters who could just as easily have become my favorite. Their stories are every bit as relevant. As Cloud Atlas depicts, there is a kinship among humans that persists across time and throughout generations. One can get lost in the nuts and bolts of this grand idea. And the novel or movie that does it justice is necessarily complex. Still, as Frobisher comes to realize in plotting his course to fulfillment: “If one will just be still, shut up, and listen—lo, behold, the world’ll sift through one’s ideas for one…” (less)
When I met Geoffrey Landis recently at NASA Glenn Research Center, I asked him about his inspiration as a writer of science fiction. His answer both f...moreWhen I met Geoffrey Landis recently at NASA Glenn Research Center, I asked him about his inspiration as a writer of science fiction. His answer both fascinated and disappointed me. In the thumbnail sketch Dr. Landis provided, there was no burning-bush moment that preceded his journey into the realm of sci-fi writing. Instead, he described his initial creative forays as almost a whim, just a perfectly reasonable outlet for the knowledge his graduate studies provided. Oh well. That works I guess.
Still, there is no missing the passion and affection Landis has for his subject. Not unlike the late Carl Sagan, Landis is first and foremost a dedicated scientist. His choice to write a novel, whatever deeper personal reasons might exist, comes as a remarkably practical endeavor—a means to popularize his academic knowledge for a wider audience than peer-reviewed journals afford. Such is Mars Crossing, Landis’s award-winning opus for the red planet.
Mars Crossing gets down to business with an exploration team landing on the surface. What needed back story there is Landis splices into the narrative along the way, interlude style. At first, this piecemeal delivery of exposition seems an obligatory choice to make the characters sympathetic. But over the course of the novel, a compelling order develops with each character getting the spotlight in turn, always at the right moment to add human drama to a particular story development. As it turns out, Landis is quite the narrative engineer.
Indeed, engineering is what the plot smacks of. Priority number one is showcasing as much of Mars as possible, from its sun-seared mid-latitudes to its icy polar expanse. Driven into the Martian wilderness by the failure of their return vehicle, the small ensemble must traverse major geologic features of the planet to reach a distant rescue vehicle left by a previous mission. Along the way they experience a range of hazards real explorers will likely face one day. They also rely on an impressive assortment of advanced technologies currently in development. At times they seem dragged along by Landis’s grand design.
Initially I was concerned the novel would prove a literary letdown. Not so. With each new test, the cast becomes more sympathetic. A climactic monologue by one of the characters strikes an especially poignant tone. At last, Mars becomes something more than a dry, impersonal place. It proves extraordinary and capable of resonating with the human spirit.
Mars Crossing had one noteworthy disappointment for me. Landis misses opportunities to milk suspenseful moments. Granted, his storytelling is fueled by a wonderful candidness about everything from racial dynamics to microgravity sex. Yet often Landis’s prose displays a mission report dutifulness that wants for a bit more space-opera panache. In a plot where every new development displays a utilitarian quality, always serving the author’s scientific agenda, the prose sometimes exhibits a drama-sapping succinctness.
Then again Mars, not humanity, is the main character. And few people are as qualified as Landis to serve as tour guide. In person and on paper, he has taken me there twice, and both times I have come away satisfied. It’s also a credit to Landis, whose NASA research depends on public funding, that he doesn’t shy away from depicting the considerable risks inherent in a Martian voyage. As with his straightforward answer to me about the choice to write science fiction, Landis’s novel tackles directly the dangers of venturing to Mars. I thoroughly recommend Mars Crossing to readers interested in getting to know the red planet in a personal way. (less)
Disclaimer: Part of my difficulty getting into this novel was a bias toward the chapters set in space. That is an area of great interest for me; howev...moreDisclaimer: Part of my difficulty getting into this novel was a bias toward the chapters set in space. That is an area of great interest for me; however, I think author Lydia Netzer does a good job of thematically linking the sci-fi subplot to the main earthbound storyline. Robotic colonization of the Moon notwithstanding, this book is ultimately about exploring a woman’s haunted soul.
Shine Shine Shine is something of an interdisciplinary novel, which is what drew me to it (via the moon mission element). At times this multi-faceted approach enriches the story, at other times it causes the plot to lag and wander. Regardless, there are some great lines. From Chapter 5, here is one that masterfully sums up the protagonist’s journey: “Sunny sat like a rip in one of the landscape paintings on the wall, a little hub of disbelief in the center of a perfectly good hallucination.”
Netzer mines her share of prose gems by infusing housewife fretting with galactic conceit. Here is great example from Chapter 19: “But the wig sat on her head, doing its job, keeping the roof up, keeping the stars up, keeping the planets aligned.”
Still there are times when Shine Shine Shine feels stylistically overindulgent. There is something excessively rehearsed about the prose, like a magician waving a coin one too many times in front of your face before making it disappear already. I sometimes grow tired of intentional use of fragments, of ritual choppiness, of trending stream-of-consciousness so you can score big with otherwise pedestrian cadences. It’s almost as if the novel wants to be a prose poem.
Netzer plays incessantly with chronology as well and throws in a major spoiler or two in case you were thinking of losing interest. Would the novel seem as compelling if it ever took a chance on being straightforward? I don’t know. In any case it is a good novel, at times incredibly good.
As the portrait of a troubled woman and the planet-sized forces pulling at her family, Shine Shine Shine is a worthy piece of fiction. The characters are interesting and believable. The plot is an assortment of conventional developments artfully arranged to amplify effect. For me, the book’s greatest attribute is exploring real-life dynamics against the backdrop of a post-Einstein universe. Netzer displays a keen understanding of how physics and math can generate existential crises every bit as tormenting as the age-old question, “Why does God allow suffering?” (less)
Perhaps my favorite scene in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is the one where Palpatine entices Anakin toward the dark side by recounting t...morePerhaps my favorite scene in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is the one where Palpatine entices Anakin toward the dark side by recounting the story of Darth Plagueis—a Sith Lord who manipulates the Force in an effort to become immortal. I love the scene in part because it focuses on personal relationships as opposed to bureaucratic procedure. It also emanates with the most spiritual strains of Jedi and Sith lore. So when I saw a new Star Wars novel titled Darth Plagueis, I snatched it eagerly from my library’s New Release shelf.
Though there is plenty to compliment in veteran Star Wars author James Luceno’s novel, I came away deeply disappointed. This book is not what I expected, and frankly, this book is not what publisher Del Rey bills it as on the dust jacket. Darth Plagueis’s Frankensteinian excursions into the Force do not drive this story. After an engrossing opening, which ties off Darth Plagueis’s relationship to his master, the novel quickly sinks into the same sludgy bureaucratic opera that mired the plot of Episode One: The Phantom Menace. The bulk of this yarn plays about as mystically as a cop procedural. Law and Order: Sith Unit would have been a more honest title.
It could be argued that Darth Plagueis is not even the main character. Sith all-stars Palpatine, Dooku and young Darth Maul keep wresting the spotlight from him. While adequate back story is provided to explain Plagueis’s obsession with immortality, his macabre Force experiments remain on the periphery of a plot too invested in Republican politics and backroom business deals. The Sith Lords, herein billed as mystical zealots, come over largely as stoic crime bosses. What colorful personalities they sport at the outset are quickly steam cleaned away to conceal their powers from the Jedi. A justified storytelling choice? Yes. But not an especially interesting one.
What is more, in the most egregious missed opportunity of the book, Plagueis’s greatest feat of Force manipulation gets mentioned only in hindsight. Ever notice how The Empire Strikes Back, a critical and fan favorite, is as much a lean ensemble play as it is a grand action film? Now imagine Luke’s training by Yoda not being depicted as it transpires. Instead, picture Luke all but dropped from the middle third of the film while Darth Vader and the Emperor have conference calls with coconspirators. What a disappointing Empire Strikes Back that would have been.
I picked up Darth Plagueis because I wanted—and was promised—a mystical fantasy. Instead I got a complicated and rather impersonal history of organized crime in a galaxy far, far away. Perhaps hardcore enthusiasts of Star Wars novels had a different experience than me. I freely admit to being a fair-weather fan of this sprawling subgenre. It is my impression that this novel was written solely for readers who devour every Star Wars novel published. That may be okay, but it strikes me as a franchise growing too insular and selling itself short.(less)
With the previous two collections of Little Green Men comics, I gave artist Jay P. Fosgitt four-out-of-five-star ratings to keep him honest (because i...moreWith the previous two collections of Little Green Men comics, I gave artist Jay P. Fosgitt four-out-of-five-star ratings to keep him honest (because if you don’t keep Jay honest, he stays honest all by himself). With Small Package, BIG Fun! I bestow my first five-star rating on his work. I do this not because I need a favor. I do…several in fact. Sadly, Fosgitt is one of those ethical artists who stays true to his vision and doesn’t appear on the verge of selling out to anyone. Oh, well.
No, with sincerity, I give this collection a five-star rating for the same basic reason the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave Return of the King the Best Picture award. Like ROTK, Small Package, BIG Fun! provided the full-circle effect. It helped me realize what an adventure this series has been, and just how much fun I’ve had along the way.
The premise, as a reminder, is a trio of stooge-esque aliens who set out to conquer Earth, but discover upon arrival that they are only three inches tall. It is a great comedic premise and Fosgitt executes it wonderfully yet again. This installment is at its best when the green guys are interacting with young children. Blending human innocence with alien naivety yields not only humor, but charm…butterscotch-like charm. Comedy with children also provides what may be the best turn-the-page-for-the-payoff moment in the whole series. I laughed out loud but can say no more without a spoiler.
The Little Green Men series, which also includes Go BIG or Go Home! and It’s a BIG World After All!, is geared for young readers. I maintain it is wonderful for adults too. The series reminds me, not coincidentally, of how much I enjoyed cartoons like Popeye as a kid. This is the art form that introduced so many of us to classical narratives and reading for enjoyment. Also by way of selling point, this edition comes with a nice pin-up by Little Green Men co-creator David Hedgecock (color by Tim Durning). Great job, Jay!
DISCLAIMER: Childe Jake, the writer of this review, personally knows and admires Jay Fosgitt and littered the above review with bias. Furthermore, he thanks Jay for this latest chance to hone his love-fest review style!(less)
What I find most enlivening about Life on Mars is how naturally and completely Tracy K. Smith erases the line between sci-fi, sci-reality, and contemp...moreWhat I find most enlivening about Life on Mars is how naturally and completely Tracy K. Smith erases the line between sci-fi, sci-reality, and contemporary poetry. This isn’t one genre impersonating another. Nor is it a medley that vacillates awkwardly between different idioms. This is a singular work with no confines other than the governing forces of the universe: space, time and gravity.
Ms. Smith doesn’t other the universe as so many of us do—compartmentalizing it into a distant and foreign place that some foolishly regard as irrelevant. All that existence is mingles on the page to produce a longing for emotional communion and intellectual understanding. For me, it is heartwarming to see another creative thinker who interacts with the cosmos on such a spiritually holistic, yet grounded humanistic plane.
I find Life on Mars very accessible, but not thin or superficial. Smith’s voice is confident and unapologetic, but also exudes tenderness. The poems give voice to a range of universal feelings: desire for intimacy; desire to transcend; and desire to renew. Life on Mars explores what it means to be human in the post-Einstein, post-Apollo, and soon to be post-Hubble universe.
Lastly, I had the delightful chance to share a couple of these poems with a niece and nephew over Thanksgiving weekend. They are teenagers. We were looking for things to do other than watch TV, so I exercised my avuncular gravitas and made them read poetry. I had them take turns reading a poem aloud. And I told them not to get hung up if it didn’t make sense right away.
Afterwards, we discussed what the poems got them thinking about. I won’t go into specifics but it was wonderful to see their intellects churning, coming up with ideas while mulling over initially cryptic phrases. We arrived at a place where we could talk candidly about what it means to be a human these days. My thanks to the author. Life on Mars is poetry that provokes rich discussion across generations. (less)
I was about to give up on this book when fortune struck. A minor character, neither hero nor villain, suffered a sudden and violent death. …well I did...moreI was about to give up on this book when fortune struck. A minor character, neither hero nor villain, suffered a sudden and violent death. …well I didn’t say good fortune struck.
As a fan of the Star Wars movies, I shy away from the novels with the wariness of Yoda sitting outside that mystical cave on Degobah. But the cover for Death Star looked cool and struck a nostalgic chord with me. Plus the authors’ bios made them sound legit and capable. Sadly, the first third of this novel falls into some traps of its own making.
The first act of Death Star is mired in exposition. It is further hampered by multiple plotlines that take way too long to start intertwining. Whole chapters overflow with plot-stopping asides to explain cultural mores and neato gadgets. At times, this book feels less like a novel and more like a compilation of back issues from Better Garrisons and Cantinas Magazine. Perhaps this is why I was perversely entranced when the authors finally killed someone in a personal way.
In addition to the above death, other compelling developments occur. The ensemble cast, who’ve been zealously minding their own business, finally start butting heads and/or flirting. Yes, there is even some good romance…hastily contrived in the finest traditions of space opera. Some of the best passages are brief scenes interpolated from Episode 4. While providing compelling subtext for Darth Vadar and Grand Moff Tarkin’s behavior in the film, the authors continue building tension for their original characters (who I finally, after 150+ pages, have begun to care about).
With a backlog of books I want to read, I came within sentences of giving up on Death Star. Balancing exposition with a forward-moving plot is a difficult thing to do artfully, but I believe the authors could have done a better job of it than they did. Still, they certainly succeed in making the Death Star a richer setting than the movie’s universally gray station run by soulless automatons.
Bottom line: If you are a fan of other Star Wars novels, I recommend trying Death Star. For anyone else, this story fails to stand alone. I don’t recommend it as the first place to dock with the Star Wars universe. (less)
First off, this compilation contains the adventures of three finger-sized aliens trying to conquer Earth. There is simply no way for this premise to b...moreFirst off, this compilation contains the adventures of three finger-sized aliens trying to conquer Earth. There is simply no way for this premise to be less than amusing. Unless you are a complete sourpuss, Little Green Men comics do not allow for utter disappointment. That said, when delivered through the mind and pen of artist Jay P. Fosgitt, this story becomes rich entertainment for readers of all ages.
My reading of this compilation was skewed toward the nostalgic because of the context in which I got my copy. A few months ago, I preordered it online from Borders and requested in-store pickup. In a poignant coincidence, my copy arrived in the store on the same day Borders began its going-out-of-business sale. Little Green Men: It’s a Big World After All is the last new release I will ever buy from what was my favorite bookstore.
Needful to say, I was in the market for light humor and goofy action, especially action suffused with a charming affection for pop-culture. Happily, Mr. Fosgitt delivered again. He is now three for three with me as a reader. After plopping down in my reading chair, I was treated to a plot that seamlessly mixes slapstick-laden sci-fi, precision parody and cotton candy-flavored Americana. Fosgitt’s Little Green Men is entertainment for folks who love banana splits.
For me there was a particularly magical moment late in the book. One of the aliens sneaks off alone. He rockets through the mail slot of an arcade with the firm intent of going one-on-one with a pinball machine. Keep in mind he’s three inches tall. What follows is a scene of wonderful hijinks and physical comedy. However, it’s the buildup I want to praise. I loved the vitality Fosgitt achieved via a low-angle image of the little fellow striding boldly towards his nemesis. For me it held all the magic of an early Spielberg film--a pure, even tender reminder that I am still in love with my childhood, and so too is Fosgitt.
Bottom line:Little Green Men is extremely fun. I highly recommend it to all carbon-based life forms. To try the series out for free, stop by Apecmx.com.(less)
“Soon I shall be meeting an old friend for the first time.”
So ends Arthur C. Clarke’s introduction to The Odyssey File, a compilation of primitive "el...more“Soon I shall be meeting an old friend for the first time.”
So ends Arthur C. Clarke’s introduction to The Odyssey File, a compilation of primitive "electronic correspondence" that passed between Clarke and filmmaker Peter Hyams beginning in late-1983. Hyams was in preproduction for the film adaptation of Clarke’s novel 2010. I bought this literary pastry on eBay to celebrate the non-fiction decadal 2010 (the year we didn’t make contact, again, and it continues not to be Clarke’s fault).
Here’s the essential background. Mr. Hyams adapted Mr. Clarke’s novel without ever meeting him in person. The endeavor was nevertheless highly collaborative, and the resulting screenplay and film received much direct input from Clarke. This was possible thanks to their extensive e-mail correspondence using analogue modems and landlines.
I believe this book is only of value to two groups: 1) Hardcore fans of Arthur C. Clarke; 2) Internet historians. Frankly, and with no disrespect intended, any other persons attempting to read this book would find themselves lost and uninitiated. In a nutshell, The Odyssey File is tailor-made for serious fans of the movie. But I stress again that it also has real value as a piece of early Internet history.
I was delighted with The Odyssey File. It took a single Sunday afternoon to read. And it was a joy, sometimes to the point of laughing out loud, to read as Hyams and Clarke bantered back and forth about the film, about life, about parents and friends. There is a lot of good-natured ribbing that goes back and forth.
I also learned how some of the key elements of one of my favorite movies came together. Among these, it was a treat to read a few anecdotes involving one of my favorite actors, the late Roy Scheider, who came to play the lead role of Heywood Floyd. This book also provides valuable glimpses into how Clarke collaborates. He’s quite hands off, but you can feel the weight of his authority when he gives input to the younger writer.
Lastly, this book contains a well-worded summation of the key differences between the novel 2010 and the film adaptation. This is written by Steven Jongeward, who served as a joint-assistant to Clarke and Hyams as they communicated via their ancient Kaypro-II computers…and by ancient I mean now 27 years old). (less)
If Project Solar Sail had been conceived today, it would be a website complete with hip-styled bloggers from NASA and also the science fiction communi...moreIf Project Solar Sail had been conceived today, it would be a website complete with hip-styled bloggers from NASA and also the science fiction community. There would be Twitter updates whenever the slightest new development occurred. And all of this content would be religiously linked to Facebook for the benefit of people who think that high-end media should come to them for free. However, in 1990 it still made sense to generate grassroots support by printing and selling a pocket book collection of fiction, poetry and essays by leading scientific writers.
Nevertheless, though Project Solar Sail is literarily a blast from the past, its content is even more relevant today. In the last year both NASA and JAXA (Japan’s space agency) have successfully deployed solar sail technology in space. And the Planetary Society, of which yours truly is a member, is in the build phase for a solar sail that could launch within the next year. Solar sailing as a means to traverse outer space is becoming a reality. So I would love to see this book catch on again.
In literary terms, this is not a classic from cover to cover. Some of the contributions are ordinary. Others are outstanding reads. In particular, I loved these two richly detailed and heartfelt entries: “To Sail Beyond the Sun”, a meditative poem by Ray Bradbury and Jonathan V. Post; also “Goodnight, Children”, a delightful and heartwarming yuletide tale with a galactic twist by Joe Clifford Faust. If you love Christmas, you’ll love this story even if you aren’t into science fiction.
Included essays about the political and economic ramifications for solar sailing are informative and worthy of review. But with fresh material available at NASA’s NanoSail-D webpage and the above mentioned Planetary Society, this book is no longer the best starting point for educating yourself about solar sails. I still think it’s worthy of a reprint or e-book edition. Somebody with publishing clout and venture capital get on this.
For space enthusiasts, there is a lot in this book to get excited about. I highly recommend seeking it out through used book dealers. However, if you are just considering getting into the sci-fi genre, I wouldn’t start here. Try an established classic like Carl Sagan’s Contact or Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. But then quickly get back to this book.
DISCLAIMER: This is not a full-length work by Arthur C. Clarke. He functioned as Editor and also as a headliner by contributing three pieces of his own. (less)
The Prologue to Arthur C. Clarke's Against the Fall of Night is so mesmerizing I thought I might have another Childhood's End on my hands. The first...moreThe Prologue to Arthur C. Clarke's Against the Fall of Night is so mesmerizing I thought I might have another Childhood's End on my hands. The first page or two encapsulates all that is most poignant in the book: a child looks to the heavens and wonders if all that is best about his world has already past, lost forever in a desert of myth and apostasy.
However thought-provoking this novel may be, as an early outing by Clarke it seems underdeveloped. The grand technology-driven themes, the operatic flavor with which Clarke embues time and space, the profound puniness of humankind--all these are present and vibrant. Yet the novel as a whole feels shy of richness.
The premise is engrossing, if a bit conventional. A promising young man living in a stagnant society of the distant future finds evidence that Earth was once much greater...and may yet be again. The protagonist becomes something of a chosen one--a John the Baptist type, driven by a considerable ego to search for lost knowledge and a scientifically plausible messiah. It's quite intriguing.
As Clarke's hero delves deeper into Earth's mysterious past--read our present and near future--he develops a deepening conviction that a new age is about to begin--fueled by his discovery of highly convenient and hastily explained advanced technologies. The themes and notions which Clarke explores with such elegance in Childhood's End and 2001: A Space Odyssey resonate well here too. However, the plot languishes in a literal desert. Too much time is spent on diplomatic conversation, and also on summary explanation rather than action. It's pretty good storytelling, but not masterful.
So much of this novel works. There is an intriguing subplot about rival societies with profoundly different value systems. That may be the most relevant part of the book for contemporary American readers. The sometimes helpful, sometimes destructive, nature of ego plays out intriguingly through the protagonist. Will he do himself in like humanity once did? There are also wonderfully bittersweet explorations of knowledge being lost and/or suppressed--usually as a means to consolidate power and control the young.
My ultimate gripe gets back to that notion of richness. Against the Fall of Night is a thin volume filled with lots of summary. It depicts a young man's quest for the truth. Along the way, the author drops increasingly big hints about a dramatic history and the promise of a grand future. The end result for me was disappointment. As I realized in the final pages, I had read about the search for a great story, rather than reading the great story itself.(less)
Unexpectedly romantic are the words that describe Imperial Earth. For many years I have known this novel only by its title. Based on that title, I had...moreUnexpectedly romantic are the words that describe Imperial Earth. For many years I have known this novel only by its title. Based on that title, I had assumed the novel would feel bold and grandiose in every respect. So I was not prepared for how unexpectedly intimate and introspective it is.
If novels like 2001 and Rendezvous with Rama are operas, Imperial Earth is more of a play. And I love a good play. Get me musing about deep aspects of humanity and science, and I will pardon the absence of a climactic spectacle. That is not to say that Imperial Earth lacks adventure. The first third of the novel, depicting life on Titan and a voyage to Earth in 2276 (think Quincentennial) is enthralling.
The ideas and themes of Imperial Earth are similar to 2001 and Rendezvous with Rama. But those novels portray actual ‘first contact’ scenarios. Imperial Earth explores why we haven’t had first contact and might never. Hence, the novel delivers a generally bittersweet portrait of humanity as a species who is as likely to fizzle out as blow itself to smithereens. However, I am not saying the novel is a universal downer.
As a serious Arthur C. Clarke fan, I relished how he explores the potential of radio technology along with the continued relevance of the oceans to humanity’s potential. Clarke masterfully weaves them together to develop the plot and leave readers pondering. The result is a surprisingly poetic lesson about how the frontiers of the past can become the decadent cesspools of the present.
This is also one of the more prophetic of Clarke’s novels. Written in the 70s, Clarke is already able to anticipate the long-term decline in pioneering that will--and did--follow the Apollo space program. And though he lacks the vernacular of “smart phones”, Clarke tellingly depicts an Earth culture that has developed a fetish-level dependence on communications technology.
I can’t say that I felt this novel was a masterpiece, but neither would I dare regard it as one of Clarke’s lesser works. Imperial Earth is high-quality science fiction. Clarke grapples with humankind’s potential by depicting the external and internal stumbling blocks we must overcome to succeed as a species…or rather, to continue succeeding.
Bottom line: If you are a Clarke fan, don’t miss this one. It might not wind up your favorite, but Imperial Earth is Arthur C. Clarke in his prime—both as a novelist and a thinker. (less)
It pains me to give this novel two stars. I wasn’t expecting a masterpiece, but I was hoping for more than I got. I had greater difficulty getting int...moreIt pains me to give this novel two stars. I wasn’t expecting a masterpiece, but I was hoping for more than I got. I had greater difficulty getting into The Ghost from the Grand Banks than any other stand-alone Arthur C. Clarke novel I’ve read. There is a certain dryness to all of Clarke’s books. However, as I scribbled in the margin, this is “a chronically dry novel steeped in anticlimax.”
This book has several good moments, a couple of great ones; however, I can’t think of any character, subplot, or theme that is fully developed or satisfying. Whenever a twist or revelation occurs, it is hastily tied off so the next underdeveloped subplot can take center stage. The slightness of this novel is most apparent in how little direct attention or exploration is given to the R.M.S. Titanic. Too much of the story is spent at the surface dreaming, scheming and bantering about hypothetical technologies. Only in the last few pages does the story begin to feel meaty.
I do recommend this novel to diehard Arthur C. Clarke fans, if only because even average novels bring you closer to your favorite author. I especially enjoyed the Sources and Acknowledgments section at the back of the book. Clarke’s wry wit and galactic sense of irony come out crisp and clear when he doesn’t have to filter his ideas through characters. Below is one of several great lines where Clarke the storyteller reckons with reality.
“I would prefer not to know too much about the events of that distant summer, so that I am not handicapped by mere facts.” (less)
My only gripe with this delightful comic adventure is its indistinctive title: Little Green Men. Used so often in pop culture as to be belabored, “lit...moreMy only gripe with this delightful comic adventure is its indistinctive title: Little Green Men. Used so often in pop culture as to be belabored, “little green men” doesn't strike me in the way great titles do. This is a minor concern though, because it is a wonderful read. I give Little Green Men a very enthusiastic four stars and highly recommend it.
This is emerging talent Jay Fosgitt's second full-length offering. It is actually a compilation of several mini-adventures originally published online through Ape Entertainment. I also recommend Fosgitt's first outing: Dead Duck. Little Green Men is a different story with different characters. It is also lighter fare and offers a faster paced and generally livelier plotline (pun intended).
Working with characters created by Brent Erwin and David Hedgecock, Mr. Fosgitt takes this alien trio on an adventure titled “Go Big or Go Home.” This grand tour of Earth's exotic culture as scene from an alien perspective is at once a charming tale, a goofy excursion, and a witty lampoon of pop culture. One of the biggest strengths of Little Green Men is how distinct the three little aliens are from each other. Each serves as a hilarious foil for the other two. They are also joined by a fourth colorful character, their rather sassy spaceship.
My favorite outing involves the aliens happening upon a Renaissance Festival and mistakenly assuming they've gone back in time. Not only is the ensuing battle hilarious, it's exciting, swashbuckling action on a par with established superhero comics. If you are a comic book fan, you should definitely give Jay Fosgitt's work a try. Regardless, Little Green Men is a story anyone can enjoy. I say get Little Green Men...before they get us. (less)
Like some other readers, I had a harder time getting into this book than Time’s Eye and Sunstorm. I'll admit that one reason was my inability to f...moreLike some other readers, I had a harder time getting into this book than Time’s Eye and Sunstorm. I'll admit that one reason was my inability to fully grasp the scientific concepts involved. However, I also think that Stephen Baxter uses so much ink developing the technological and theoretical concepts that character development gets neglected.
Nevertheless, I loved the last 70 pages or so. Once Mr. Baxter gets past the predictable fate of the Q-bomb, the story opens up into a fascinating exploration of the farthest reaches of time, space and mind. Only the general pessimism of the final chapters lessened my enjoyment a bit.
I very much liked the ending. No, it's not a firm Shakespearean resolution where everyone winds up married or dead. Yes it's an ending that begs for a fourth installment to be written. So much the better. Clarke's themes are worthy of future treatments. Another 30 years down the road, I hope some strong sci-fi talent with real scientific expertise takes up the odyssey again. In the meantime, the openness of Firstborn's ending encourages my imagination to resume running free--something I've always loved about Sir Arthur C. Clarke's “endings.”
Firstborn isn't a classic in our time, though it may yet be if it proves sufficiently prophetic. Still, if you love Clarke's space odysseys, and you want to seriously explore what it might mean for humanity to grow up and truly become advanced, I recommend the entire Time Odyssey trilogy. (less)
I worried this novel might fail to set itself apart from so many similar disaster movies. Happily, this fear proved unfounded. Sunstorm is the thinkin...moreI worried this novel might fail to set itself apart from so many similar disaster movies. Happily, this fear proved unfounded. Sunstorm is the thinking audience’s answer to popcorn disaster flicks. It trades fast-paced action and thin plot for a more compelling and engrossing science-based drama. This is not to say the book lacks entertainment value. It has plenty.
After a mellow start, Sunstorm steadily builds in pace and scope until a grand climax. As with part one of the trilogy, Time’s Eye, I was struck by a certain richness in Stephen Baxter’s narrative style. (I’m assuming Baxter did the majority of the writing). The richness comes from his ability to blend ample doses of technical material with a well-constructed plot. His writing is more technical than Arthur C. Clarke’s. Still, for my literary taste, Baxter’s narration oscillates at a pleasing rate between the technological and the emotional.
Sunstorm exhibits a great deal of humanity as the characters deal with the very real challenges of extended space flight. Yes, they are a fairly generic ensemble, but genuine nonetheless. I found several moments of the book haunting as an army of astronauts braced for the coming sun storm.
Alas, I can’t say this novel was especially fresh or innovating relative to its native genre: sci-fi. Still, as a big fan of Clarke’s space odysseys, I enjoyed this reimagining. Reimaging allows Baxter to update the science while staying true to the core themes and philosophy Clarke established in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Here are a couple of my favorite lines from the book as teasers:
“…this was a deep-rooted place, where the bones of the dead lay crowded a hundred generations deep in the ground.” (pg 336)
“The crazies are the ones who think they understand it all.” (pg 104) (less)
It is not an accident that I am only now getting to this trilogy. Though I enjoyed The Light of Other Days, that collaboration felt primarily like a...moreIt is not an accident that I am only now getting to this trilogy. Though I enjoyed The Light of Other Days, that collaboration felt primarily like a sexed up re-exploration of themes Arthur C. Clarke explored more poignantly in his masterpiece Childhood’s End. Then I recently enjoyed a short story Baxter authored using Clarke's ideas. Realizing I liked Baxter’s writing style on its own merits, I decided to give the Time Odyssey trilogy a go.
The mixing of different historical periods is fascinating. Mystery builds as the ensemble hypothesizes about the possible reasons why space and time have been rearranged in Rubik’s Cube fashion. Also, there is a richness to this book’s narrative that I grant is often lacking in Clarke’s writing. However, Baxter’s copious insertion of historical research periodically bogs down the story. And here I think this novel could have benefited from some of the leanness of Clarke’s style.
Easily making up for the above criticism is the authors’ clever exploration of how ancient cultures might view modern people and technology. I’ll simply say that when Russian cosmonauts come in contact with Genghis Kahn’s Mongol warriors, the latter are not universally wowed by space-age technology. In general, I enjoy Mr. Baxter’s ability to take Arthur C. Clarke’s decades-old scientific notions and revamp them via the best and most tantalizing research of the early 21st century. This is not a parasitic spin-off (as I feared it might be).
Lastly, I enjoyed many instances of homage to 2001 A Space Odyssey, especially late in the book. For me, there is a sense of home in Clarke’s far-reaching themes regarding time, space and mind. These themes are at once both sobering and inspiring. While Time's Eye seems unquestionably Baxter’s work, and it is very good, his greatest accomplishment is adeptly weaving his style with the core ideas and values of Clarke’s Space Odyssey series. I am looking forward to continuing on to part two of this trilogy. (less)