Of Time and Third Avenue, Alfred Bester: 3/5 The short-story format has always been important and held in high regard in sciMini-reviews of each story:
Of Time and Third Avenue, Alfred Bester: 3/5 The short-story format has always been important and held in high regard in science fiction. This classic twist-in-time mystery story is a good example of why. The short format allows a simple idea and plot twist to be explored without the need to build elaborate sets, plot, and side characters. Bester serves us with an enjoyable, if straightforward and somewhat predictable story, effectively setting a scene and executing a plot twist around one central idea in a few pages.
All Summer in a Day, Ray Bradbury: 2/5 What would it be like to live on a planet where the climate was one of constant rain, where a glimpse of the sun is as rare and remarkable an event as a solar eclipse is to us? The premise for Bradbury's story is an interesting one, especially in light of all the science fiction that assumes living on another planet is essentially like living on earth, either because planets are assumed to have the same general climate characteristics, or because of terraforming. However, while the setting is interesting, the story rather isn't. What we get is a very predictable little sob story, that is ultimately forgettable.
Despite an insufferable Mary Sue protagonist and several other shortcomings an enjoyable easy read. It is the slightly self-aggrandising someday-they'Despite an insufferable Mary Sue protagonist and several other shortcomings an enjoyable easy read. It is the slightly self-aggrandising someday-they'll-see-my-worth daydream of anyone who was ever the "smart kid" in their middle-school class. There is some merit to to this. While one may justifiably argue that Card somewhat, in some sense, overestimates children, that is a much lesser sin than underestimating them. If Ender's Game is a children's/YA rewrite of Starship Troopers (which one can certainly argue that it is), it is not so much a dumbed-down version as a shortened one....more
Mini review: Michael Moorcock is said to have stated that "I think of myself as a bad writer with big ideas, but I would rather be that than a big wriMini review: Michael Moorcock is said to have stated that "I think of myself as a bad writer with big ideas, but I would rather be that than a big writer with bad ideas." Something similar could be said for Alastair Reynolds in Revelation Space. This book is exactly what you would think you would get from a tech-geeky astrophysicist with a vivid imagination who has grown up on science fiction staples and now wants to try his wings. Unfortunately, no matter how big the ideas, a badly written book remains badly written. However, a writer with ideas can become a better writer....more
Mini-review: Ted Chiang is probably one of, if not the, most interesting writers in contemporary speculative fiction. Yes, speculative fiction. That iMini-review: Ted Chiang is probably one of, if not the, most interesting writers in contemporary speculative fiction. Yes, speculative fiction. That is really the only term that does any justice to Chiang's stories, which take cues from, but ultimately transcend both science fiction and fantasy. He is anything but prolific, but he replaces quantity with an astonishing quality. His stories are carefully crafted in all respects: each story revolves around a well though-out philosophical idea, which Chiang presents with characters, plots and use of language crafted to the purpose. There are many writers who can piece together an engaging story, some who can present an interesting idea, and a few who can turn language into art and shape it to their purpose, but there are very few indeed who consistently succeed in doing all three at once. Ted Chiang is one of them....more
I am late to the game. See, I never did read Asimov's Foundation series as a teenager, as many of my fellow geeks did. Considering that in the small tI am late to the game. See, I never did read Asimov's Foundation series as a teenager, as many of my fellow geeks did. Considering that in the small town where I grew up, these were not only the canonical science fiction books, but also very nearly what science fiction there was to be had, it seems strange that I never picked them up. Maybe if I had read them at that time, I would have lauded them the same way my high-school class mates did.
But I did not read them then. I read Foundation now, as an adult a decade into the 21st century, half a century after its first publication, and after having read considerably more. And so, reading what is undoubtedly a milestone of science fiction, I find myself distinctly underwhelmed.
Quite possibly, Asimov's sketched and patched-together future history of a crumbling galactic empire and the foundation set up to replace it -- all based on the notion that through a mathematisation of psychology and social science, the future can be predicted by statistical calculation hundreds and even thousands of years into the future -- held some intellectual merit. Or else, maybe writing about "atomic power" and galaxy-encompassing empires held enough literary novelty to capture the imagination of the post-war generation.
However, some sixty years later, Foundation falls sadly short on both accounts. Its central premise -- which, by the way, is found in many forms through the science fiction of the 1950s, 60s and 70s -- seems outright ludicrous, and I find myself struggling to maintain my willing suspension of disbelief every time the subject comes up. And as for imagination and sense of wonder, well, Asimov's galactic empire and atomic gadgets do not quite cut it.
True, it would seem, to style and time, Asimov invests little to no effort in his characters. Not one character in the book is given any, well, character. They are all place holders with names, entirely interchangeable and devoid of personal characteristics or even psychology. Only in the character of Hober Mallow takes on a shape of his own, and that not so much by personal traits as by the fact that only through him does Asimov express any kind of interesting thoughts.
And the plot? Which plot? Foundation does not so much have a plot as it has a charter of predicted history. It is not evident that the disjoint events of the short stories that were put together into this novel have a cohesive story to tell, except as to allow Asimov to show us how history is proceeding according to plan. When the book finishes, we are left not so much with an ending as with simply a full stop in the recounting of a particular century of history.
However, the book is not entirely bad. It is a few hours amusement, and it is worth reading for its historical value....more