One of my all-time favorite short stories. And He Built a Crooked House is about a house built in the shape of a tesseract:
When the architect of the hOne of my all-time favorite short stories. And He Built a Crooked House is about a house built in the shape of a tesseract:
When the architect of the house, the owner of the house and his wife go to have a look around they find that an earthquake from the previous day has caused parts of the house to be folded into the fourth dimension; leaving only one room visible and accessible. Unwisely they enter the house and major dimensional weirdness ensues.
The warping of space and dimensions remind me of M. C. Escher’s drawings, “Relativity” in particular: The story is humorous in tone and quite mind blowing. I cannot tell you any more without spoiling the story; I can, however, make a link to an awesome demo of this crooked house.
If you would like to read this story online just google the title, I am not sure what the copyright status of this (1941) story is so I won’t put in a link....more
Ugh! I don't like the cover of this book (the one showing on this page). Don't get me wrong, I like Clive Owen, and the 2006 movie is not too shabby bUgh! I don't like the cover of this book (the one showing on this page). Don't get me wrong, I like Clive Owen, and the 2006 movie is not too shabby but it does not have much to do with the original text apart from the basic premise; and Theo the protagonist of the movie is the polar opposite of the novel’s character. The author P.D. James is best known for her crime fiction novels mostly featuring defective detective Adam Dalgliesh who is also a poet. I have only read a couple of these Dalgliesh books and never really cared for them. A “poet-detective” just seems too pretentious and unappealing to me. When I heard that they were filming Children of Men I was intrigued though, I did not expect Ms. James to write a science fiction book worth filming, I thought she was one of those mainstream authors who just want to take a stab at sci-fi without really understanding the genre. Anyway, I first read Children of Men in 2006 shortly before the movie was released because I prefer to read the original source material before watching the movie. I owe P.D. James an apology, she did a stupendous job. That said this book is more “speculative fiction” than sci-fi because there is very little science in it. It is more of a thought experiment where the author explores the social any individual implications of the basic premise, the sort of thing Ursula K. Le Guin excels in.
Children of Men can reasonably be labeled as a cozy apocalypse or even a cozy dystopia. It has a high concept premise where in the year 1995* women all over the world suddenly became infertile. As extinction events go this is a very polite one, but quite alarming when you consider the implication. Imagine the human race slowly winding down with a global aging and declining population. In the UK where the novel is set this leads to general despair and ennui in the middle aged and older age groups and uncontrollable wildness in the youngest generation. The year 1995 is called Omega, and the people born in 1995 are called “Omegas”. These Omegas are generally wild and literally allowed to get away with murder because they may be the last hope for mankind's continuation.
The event of the novel itself takes place in 2021, 26 years after the year of Omega. The protagonist is called Theo Faron, a disillusioned English gentleman who happens to be related to the Warden of England, a position of supreme power, far in excess of the office of Prime Minister or the President. He used to be a close adviser to the Warden until the day he up and left because he could not stomach the abuses of power. At the beginning of the novel he basically spends all his time just pottering around, not needing to do any work. One day he is approached by a girl called Julian who asks him to contact and petition the Warden about various woes of the British society and the outrageous abuses of power. The petition goes badly leading to the birth of a less than competent group of dissidents. Initially the Warden views these dissidents as something of a joke but soon something momentous happens which causes Theo, Julian and her dissident friends to go on the run.
The England P.D. James depicts in this book is a lonely, depressing place where suicide is common, and even encouraged and facilitated by the government. I won't reveal the plot beyond the basic outline already mentioned so far, I do find the book to be very nicely plotted, melancholy, eventually thrilling and the denouement is more than satisfactory. The prose is exquisitely written and makes me want to pick up some more of those Adam Dalgliesh novels just to read more of her beautifully crafted sentences. The main characters are very well drawn, particularly Theo who is very flawed, sympathetic and believable, someone you can really root for. He starts off as a kind of wishy-washy anti-hero:
“I don't want anyone to look to me, not for protection, not for happiness, not for love, not for anything.”
I like how his character gradually transforms by his circumstances as the story progresses. The character of Theo is the polar opposite of the character of the same name portrayed by Clive Owen in the movie version. P.D. James’ Theo is a very polite middle aged and middle class English gentleman, kicking ass and taking names is not in his purview, he is rather awkward and bumbling at times though when push comes to shove he does whatever he has to do.
The dialog is also praise worthy with characters getting burned left and right. The switches between the first person epistolary narrative format and the third person narrative seems a little pointless as the narrative point of view is always restricted to Theo and follows the same linear timeline. Still, I am sure James has her artistic reasons and these switches do not impede the readability of the book at all.
Children of Men is one of my favorite dystopian books alongside 1984, Brave New World, Make Room! Make Room! etc. This sub genre continues to be very popular today, though the modern dystopian novels tend to be teen adventures for some reason. Children of Men is the real McCoy. _________________
* In my PrintSF sci-fi discussion group I often see someone comment that they don’t want to read “old sci-fi” where the author got their prediction wrong and the future setting of the novel is now the past and these old books are not worth reading because the author was so far off the mark. Well, excuuuuuse me! It is not the job of sci-fi authors to predict the future, the whole point is to speculate and explore the implications. Children of Men is a case in point, P.D. James certainly was not anticipating global infertility to occur 1995 (the book was first published in 1992). This novel – like many great sf novels – is asking “what if”. I shouldn’t mind really, it’s their loss missing out on so many great books but it’s a bee in my bonnet you know....more
John Scalzi claims to be a gateway drug into science fiction literature, I suppose he may well be but I believe Charles Stross is almost the opposite John Scalzi claims to be a gateway drug into science fiction literature, I suppose he may well be but I believe Charles Stross is almost the opposite of that. Stross is deservedly one of the most popular active sci- fi authors today but readers not familiar with the genre may find him a little bewildering. His target readership seems to be those who are quite au fait with the common tropes of the genre and also some computer programming terms. Those “in the know” love the science he puts in books like Accelerando and The Atrocity Archives while the likes of me struggle. I certainly had problems understanding much of these two books but less so with Singularity Sky. It did occur to me that his fiction is probably not for me but I keep coming back to try again because I like his wit and imagination, plus he is a great guy and very approachable to readers in online forums and such. Today I am happy to say I have finally found a Stross novel that I absolutely love and works completely for me. It is Glasshouse.
This Hugo nominated novel is set in the 27th century when our 21st century is viewed as part of “The Dark Ages”, presumably pre-singularity (called “the acceleration” here). Most of the book takes place in a sealed experimental environment where participants sign up to reenact life in the 21st century for research purposes. The protagonist starts off as a man named Robin who has part of his memory deleted for reasons unknown, presumably to forget some traumatic experience that he wants to do without. After he signed up for the isolated social experiment he backs himself up and his backed up personality wakes up inside the experiment as a woman called Reeve who has no idea why she has chosen to change her gender. She soon settles down to a married life of a nuclear family as part of the experiment, but begins to feel that the “experiment” is not really an experiment and some very disturbing things are going on.
Io9 calls Glasshouse “One of Stross' most challenging books”, I have not read enough of his books to confirm or deny this but I do find it to be his most accessible book so far. Certainly some tech expositions still go over my head but they never impede the storytelling. Whenever I don’t feel inclined to Google the programming terms I was able to gloss over them and enjoy the story. I do hope many more Stross books are like this, and I intend to find out.
I don’t remember any of Stross’ characters from his other books that I have read but I doubt I will forget the main characters in this book. This is particularly true for Robin/Reeve whose experience and character growth is unlike anything I have read before. The book is surprisingly feministic in tone after Robin becomes Reeve. Stross seems to have a lot of empathy for the trials and tribulations of womanhood. The emotions, the interactions with other women, the social pressure etc. are all convincingly portrayed (I hesitate to say accurately portrayed as I am not of the gender). Interestingly once Robin’s backup is activated as Reeve we have no idea what becomes of the original Robin, but with all these backups and restores we don’t even know whether the original Robin ever appears in this book. As for Reeve, she has to be one of the most unreliable narrators ever (I won't tell you why though).
Of course regularly readers of Charles Stross are probably not exactly looking for books that deal with feminist issues, I imagine the cool tech to be his main attraction. Glasshouse is stuffed to the gills with cool sci-fi tech. The posthumanism reminds me of both Altered Carbon and Permutation City*, the memory editing is similar to PKD’s short story We Can Remember It for You Wholesale (filmed a couple of times as “Total Recall”). However, this is not a derivative novel, the sum of the different influences make for a very original book which is mind blowing, thought provoking and even poignant at times. The wilds ideas and amazing tech are underpinned by a surprisingly touching story of a loving relationship.
Glasshouse is definitely the best Charles Stross book I have read so far and I hope that even better ones are in store for me. __________________________
* Unlike the virtual world featured in Permutation City, the social experiment of Glasshouse takes place in an actual physical environment where the activated digitized personalities are stored in human bodies....more
When I first read this book as a teenager I hated it, I thought it was so dry and impenetrable. I loved the Kubrick movie for its weirdness though. ClWhen I first read this book as a teenager I hated it, I thought it was so dry and impenetrable. I loved the Kubrick movie for its weirdness though. Clearly I was not one of the brighter kids of my generation. Having said that while I like it very much on this reread I can see why I could not appreciate it in my teens. Clarke’s scientific expositions can be very detailed but I would not call them dry now because I find them quite fascinating. The fact that when you are on the moon Earth is the moon, the details about the composition of Saturn’s ring and the description of Jupiter and its moons are clearly explained, interesting and (gulp!) educational. They really facilitate visualization of these planets.
What I particularly love about Clarke’s writing now that I did not appreciate in my foolish teens is the wonderful minutiae of his descriptions of various aspects of the space faring life. For example the practical design of the toilet on a spaceship for zero gravity conditions (a badly design toilet would mean getting shit all over you). Also things like the thick sticky sauce on pork chops and salad with adhesive dressing to keep food from floating off the plate during dinner. After dinner the velcro slippers are great for walking around the ship without levitating.
I have only mentioned the minor details so far, the main plot is of course absolutely epic though it is so well known it is hardly worth describing. 2001: A Space Odyssey gets off to a rollicking start during 3 million years B.C. The first five chapters basically tells the story of how ape-men were “uplifted” (to use David Brin’s term) by dogooding aliens from silly primates to sentient “people”. Then the story jumps forward to the (cough) future of 2001 AD where a mysterious monolith is discovered on the moon. This main section of the book is entirely set in space so we don’t know if Clarke would have predicted iPads and Tumblr.
The middle section of the book where astronaut David Bowman is battling crazed and homicidal AI HAL 9000 (of “Daisy Daisy” fame) is my favorite. The short section of the narrative told from HAL’s point of view is particularly wondrous. After dealing with HAL with extreme prejudice Dave has a lonely and depressing “Major Tom” period marooned in space. Fortunately he soon embarks on his famous trippy trip through a stargate.
If you are puzzled by the Kubrick movie this book may help to clarify almost everything for you, except that according to Clarke Kubrick and himself had different idea of the story they wanted to tell and Clarke’s answers are not necessarily the correct one! I have no idea how much input Kubrick had on the novel, only that he helped to develop it. The book is – however – entirely written by Clarke. The last couple of chapters are less surreal and psychedelic than the film but relatively understandable yet quite mind blowing for all that.
While he is a sci-fi legend to this day Clarke is often derided (along with Asimov) for his journeyman prose but I am always quite happy to defend Clarke’s style of writing. He used the right tools for the right job and his science expositions are accessible and a pleasure to read. He is also quite capable of some dry wit. Characterization is not Clarke's forte, he preferred to concentrate on the epic plot development instead, which is fine for me as he succeeded in his storytelling aim. Having said that both Dave Bowman and HAL 9000 are two of sci-fi's most memorable and enduring characters.
If you like the film adaptation of 2001: A Space Odyssey but have not read this book you should. Ditto if you have not seen the film. It is deservedly a classic.
When I started reading this book I immediately felt inclined to rate it five stars even before finishing the first sentence. Hardly fair or reasonableWhen I started reading this book I immediately felt inclined to rate it five stars even before finishing the first sentence. Hardly fair or reasonable I know, but that's love. I have loved Octavia Butler since reading Wild Seeds a couple of years ago, I went on to read Kindred and the Lilith's Brood trilogy which only solidified my love for this dear departed lady and all she stood for.
Having said that, I initially felt a little disappointed with the first chapter of Parable of the Sower because the setting is rather mundane, not fantastical like the other Butler novels that I have read. Butler had such an immense imagination that her sci-fi books are always full of a sense of wonder, but Parable of the Sower’s setting seems like a typical dystopian scenario, nothing very outlandish walk the Earth. However, once I settle into the book and became familiar with the characters I was swept away by the storytelling and it no longer matters what the setting is, what genre is, or even what the basic plotline is. I was there with the characters, the only thing that matters is what is happening to them on the current page.
Parable of the Sower is a dystopian novel set in what seems like a post-apocalypse America but there was never a single apocalyptic event, no nuclear war and blasted irradiated landscape. It seems that the world just went down the toilet of its own accord. If I can just steal this line from Octaviabutler.org: “When unattended environmental and economic crises lead to social chaos, not even gated communities are safe.” The central character is Lauren Olamina, an eighteen-year-old girl, at the beginning of the novel she lives a stable and relatively safe life with her family but one day her family and the entire community is destroyed by drug crazed pyromaniac raiders. Lauren – the smartest character in the book – anticipated such a disaster from the current state of affairs so she was able to grab a prepared emergency pack and hit the road (her family is all killed though). Lauren has a long-term ambition to found a community and a religion of sorts which will ensure the survival, recovery and even progress of mankind. A project she calls “Earthseed”. So after the destruction of her family the story is of her trek with across America – with a few friends she meets along the way – to find a place where they can settle in and start building a meaningful life.
Parable of the Sower is a very bleak yet optimistic novel. The story is driven by Lauren’s indomitable will and her grace under pressure.
“The weak can overcome the strong if the weak persist. Persisting isn’t always safe, but it’s often necessary.”
Lauren’s only weakness is her "hyperempathy", a condition that causes her to feel the pain of any person she perceives to be feeling pain (not by any kind of telepathy, it is more of a psychological condition from a birth defect). This makes fighting and self-defense very difficult, but she always does whatever she has to do to survive. The US depicted in this book is mostly in a state of anarchy, there is some kind of ineffective government in place and the police are mostly as bad – or worse – than the savages, robbers, rapists and cannibals roaming the land.
As I expected, the book is powerfully and beautifully written (in epistolary format). The characters are complex, vivid and entirely believable. If you are particularly squeamish some violent parts can be hard to read, though it is nothing compared to modern day “grimdark” fantasy like A Game of Thrones. Though the book’s title is taken from the New Testament Parable of the Sower is not a religious novel, much less a Christian one though Lauren’s Earthseed concept uses aspects of religion to inspire potential followers. More importantly it is a moving and thought provoking story about what makes living worthwhile. There is a sequel called Parable of the Talents which I will read fairly soon, I intend to read all her novels anyway, unfortunately, there are only a few left that I have not read.
To label The Great and Secret Show a horror novel would be to do it a disservice. "Arty horror" would be closer to the mark but that sounds silly andTo label The Great and Secret Show a horror novel would be to do it a disservice. "Arty horror" would be closer to the mark but that sounds silly and would still be inadequate. “Dark fantasy” sounds good to me though it deemphasizes the horror aspect of it a little too much, may be it is more phantasm than fantasy. Not that labels really matter, a good book is a good book regardless of whatever label you slap on it. I am only going on about it just to have some kind of intro!
To tell you what this book is about is a fairly complicated undertaking (best left to undertakers perhaps). It starts with one Randolph Jaffe’s quest for mastery of “The Art”, not just any old art but a craft or power that has the capability to tear a hole in the fabric of reality and create an opening to another dimension called Quiddity. Quiddity is a mystical dream sea, a sea of the mind that most people visit twice in their lives. “Once the first night you slept out of the womb. The second occasion the night you lay beside the person you loved.” That does not make much sense out of the context of the book so just imagine the weirdest goddamn sea you can and then pile on extra weirdness on top. The Quiddity sea changes you and is generally extremely bad for your complexion:
Jaffe’s pursuit of the Art leads to his eventually becoming something other than human and triggers a possible supernatural apocalypse that threatens all human lives. What starts out as a man’s quest for power becomes a titanic struggle between good and evil where the battles often takes surreal forms.
Randolph Jaffe (AKA The Jaff). Again credit Gabriel Rodríguez Pérez.
That little synopsis barely scratches the surface of the novel’s plot. The Great and Secret Show is a dark fantasy of epic proportions (though “epic fantasy” has an entire different connotation, usually associated with Tolkien’s or George R.R. Martin’s kind of fantasy). With this book is Clive Barker is at the peak of his creativity, here he has created a brand new mythos about the nature of dreams and reality that is mind blowing. The storyline is quite complex but clearly narrated so there is never any problem following it. Fans of bizarre critters should have a field day with this book which is populated by some very bizarre and often disgusting creatures. For example you know how low budget horror movies from the 80s often feature shitty monsters? This book literally has shitty monsters made from actual fecal matter! There are also various other bizarre creatures made from fear and others made from dreams that I can not even begin to describe.
The book is full of horrific moments, surreal dream-like moments and even comical moments and romantic bits. I would not recommend it to anyone who is easily offended though. If you avert your eyes at Game of Thrones’ most outrageous scenes then leave The Great and Secret Show on the shelf. Barker's prose style is hard to pin down, sometime he takes flight into lyricism, other times he dives into the language of the gutter (he certainly seems to use the “C word” a lot). The multiple protagonists are all well drawn. The most memorable one being the evil Randolph Jaffe (AKA The Jaff) and the kickass heroine Tesla. I am quite impressed by how quickly Barker can introduce and develop characters that are vivid and believable, in a few pages within a single chapter mostly through dialog.
At the end of the day I can whole heartedly recommend The Great and Secret Show to anyone looking for a fantastical – or perhaps phantasmagorical – read. You won’t be disappointed (if you are, you shouldn’t be!)....more
Amazon's e-book samples are too short, only about 18 pages in length, good luck applying that ol’ “50 pages rule” here. Fortunately The Speed of DarkAmazon's e-book samples are too short, only about 18 pages in length, good luck applying that ol’ “50 pages rule” here. Fortunately The Speed of Dark (2003 Nebula Award winner) is immediately intriguing and I was sold on it by the end of the short sample. I keep hearing good things about Elizabeth Moon and Elizabeth Bear in sci-fi websites and forums, I get them mixed up a lot as I have not read either one until now. Elizabeth Moon surpasses my expectations with this book, hopefully Elizabeth Bear can do likewise very soon.
The title The Speed of Dark has a very sci-fi ring to it, it is actually a phrase to contrast the speed of light. The idea is that there is always darkness before light, therefore darkness must somehow travel faster than light because it is always ahead. This is a metaphor the author is employing to represent knowledge illuminating ignorance, so it not some kind of crazy bad science.
The book is set in the near future, the protagonist Lou Arrendale is an autistic man working in a department of a company that exclusively employs autistic people for their superior concentration, greater pattern recognition or other cognitive abilities. Lou copes admirably with his autism and is generally happy – if not quite content – with his life, then one day he is informed that there is a cure for autism and his life immediately changes even without before the cure becomes available to him.
The Speed of Dark is often compared to the classic Flowers for Algernon as both books deal with improvement of the brain through neuroscience. Both books are also poignant, brimming with compassion and tug at the heartstrings. Don’t worry about having your heart broken by the author though, Elizabeth Moon is not Thomas Hardy. Prior to reading this book I knew next to nothing about autism, not having met any autistic person. I can not claim to know a lot about it now as this is a work of fiction but Ms. Moon’s son is autistic so I believe her depiction of autism to be realistic. In any case her portrayal of autistic characters has the feel of verisimilitude.
Most of the novel is told in the first person from Lou’s perspective (with the occasional switch to a few secondary characters where Lou is not privy to what is going on in his absence). This is the first book I have ever read that take me inside the head of an autistic person. The very clever first person narrative of Lou is fascinating in and of itself. Lou’s stilted use of language is very formal, polite and precise. Here is an example:
“ "Don can be a real heel," she says.
“Don is not a heel; he is a person. Normal people say things like this, changing the meaning of words without warning, and they understand it. I know, because someone told me years ago, that heel is a slang word for “bad person”. But he couldn’t tell me why, and I still wonder about it. If someone is a bad person and you want to say that he is a bad person, why not just say it? Why say “heel” or “jerk” or something? And adding “real” to it only makes it worse. If you say something is real, it should be real.”
More importantly Lou’s narration enables me to feel the gulf between himself and “normal” people. Social nuances or cues are entirely beyond his ken, as are voice intonations and most facial expressions. He is also hopeless with colloquial terms, idioms and metaphors. All the characters in this book are very believable, the autistic characters are particularly vivid and sympathetic. They all seem to have a pure heart, I don’t know if this is true for all “autists” in the real world but the selfish and prejudiced “normals” they come across raises the question of whether normality may be overrated. After all, only a “normal” person would consider hurting someone who has never done them any harm.
Most of the book reads more like contemporary mainstream fiction than science fiction, the sci-fi component of it only comes into play well into the second half of the book. This is not a sci-fi thriller, this is not a page turner, I did not want to turn the pages quickly to find out what happen next, I wanted absorb the story page by page and hope that Lou will be alright. From what I have heard Elizabeth Moon generally writes action packed military sci-fi or fantasy so I guess this book is atypical of her works. It appears to be a heartfelt story based on her own experiences with her son that she wants to share with us. I feel privileged to have read it, it is a beautiful book that I will never forget....more
I read the blockbusting The Lies of Locke Lamora in July 2014 and I just read this second volume of the Gentleman Bastard series today May 9, 2015, aI read the blockbusting The Lies of Locke Lamora in July 2014 and I just read this second volume of the Gentleman Bastard series today May 9, 2015, almost a year apart. I tend to do that with second volumes in most series I read for some reason. (I am only sharing this mind numbingly uninteresting fact with you because I have no idea what to write for the opening paragraph of this review!)
Red Seas Under Red Skies is a worthy follow up to The Lies of Locke Lamora which made Scott Lynch one of the elite fantasy authors working today. The story feels more like a “further adventure of Locke and Jean” than a direct continuation, making each of these two books almost standalones though I do not recommend reading them out of order, and there really is no need to as the first book is a great read.
As with the previous book Lynch likes to use the literary device of scrambling the timeline with flashbacks and flashforwards, probably to create tension or anticipation and – of course – to tease. I personally prefer a straight timeline but novels are works of art and authors generally know best how they should be presented. In any case Lynch is too skillful to make a mess of the narrative, there is never any confusion in reading the book.
I think the main appeal of Lynch’s writing is the vivid and lively characters he is able to create, be they heroes or villains. With Red Seas Under Red Skies he has outdone his accomplishment in the previous book. Locke Lamora is still the same lovable rogue we are already familiar with but his partner/BFF Jean Tannen is very well fleshed out in this book in spite of not having the story told from his point of view, we only see him through Locke’s eyes in this book. I tend to find that the secondary character in fantasy novels are more interesting and likeable than the protagonist, in the way that Ron Weasley is more interesting than Harry Potter or Samwise Gamgee is much more likeable and capable than Frodo. The same applies for this Gentleman Bastard series (so far) but the dynamic between Locke and Jean works very well where Locke is the brains of the operation and Jean is usually the brawn, not that Jean is unintelligent or even uneducated, he is just more honest and less devious. While I enjoyed the witty repartees of The Lies of Locke Lamora I did find it a little overdone in that every single character major and minor seem to always be ready with the quips, even incidental characters who only appear in the book for a few paragraphs. The dialog of Red Seas Under Red Skies is better, more balanced and more believable. Characters seem to have more distinctive voices this time around.
As the title suggests Red Seas Under Red Skies is mostly a nautical adventure as complicated circumstances lead our heroes find themselves joining a pirate ship. In this book we meet wonderful lady pirate captain Zamira Drakasha* and her equally badass Lieutenant Ezri Delmastro. Tough, fighting women in fiction seem to be based on Ellen Ripley (from Alien) most of the time but these two ladies show more feminine and even maternal sides in certain situations making them more believable and likeable.
The pacing of the book is a little slow to begin with while Lynch is setting up his pieces through pages of dialogues. Once we get to the high seas adventure part the narrative shifts to higher gear and become something of a romp. The book is densely plotted and our heroes and their allies seldom have a moment to unwind as the odds are stacked against them. The language is deliberately flowery at times as it is Locke’s stock in trade as a con artist. There is even a little romance and some lump-in-the-throat poignant moments. Magic is not much in evidence in this book and weird monstrosities are only glimpsed from time to time, though there is quite a lot of alchemy and numerous steampunk-ish clockwork devices. I much prefer this kind of “low fantasy” to the traditional ones with wizards conjuring entire houses or turning people into newts, my suspension of disbelief can only stretch so far.
If you like The Lies of Locke Lamora as most people seem to do you probably don’t need me to recommend this book to you. I already have the next volume The Republic of Thieves so I doubt I will wait almost a year before getting to it. ________________________________________ * A reader has foolishly taken Scott Lynch to task about this female pirate character, his reply is epic!...more
“The stranger looked between her and the spectrograph and seemed to come to a decision. He smiled suddenly and unexpectedly, with teeth like two rows“The stranger looked between her and the spectrograph and seemed to come to a decision. He smiled suddenly and unexpectedly, with teeth like two rows of great gleaming tombstones. ‘Hello, I’m the Doctor,’ he said, extending a hand.”
Dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum (etc.)… Ooo-ee-ooo OooEEooo… oooooEEooooo… OoooEoooo… oooeEoooo… Du Du Du Du… Du Du Du Du…
Sorry, I always get the urge to do that when I review a Doctor Who book (this is only my second one*, perhaps I can refrain from doing this by the third book). I imagine “teeth like two rows of great gleaming tombstones” is enough of a clue for most diehard Whovians to figure out which Doctor this book is about. I mean who can forget these pearly whites:
Shada is a novelization of Douglas Adams’s script for a six parts 1979 Doctor Who serial that was only partially filmed and never completed due to a writers strike at the time. The incompletely filmed script has been adapted several times for animated direct to video release, audio drama and whatnot (see Wikipedia’s Shada entry). The only adaptation that concerns is here is Gareth Roberts' novelization.
The basic plot of Shada concerns a psychopathic alien’s plot to find an ancient Gallifreyan book that will lead to his dominion of the universe (a minimal goal for most Who villains**). It is up to the toothy Fourth Doctor, cute Time Lady Romana II, and the wondrous tin dog K-9 to save the day; added by an elderly Time Lord and a couple of regular earthlings.
The Doctor, Romana II, and K-9, with these three names I already have no resistance to this book, if it was very bad I would probably still quite like it. Fortunately it is the polar opposite of very bad. The breezy, affable narrative tone through most of the narrative is reminiscent of Adams’ The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books, and a bit of Terry Pratchett. I have not read anything by Gareth Roberts before so I don't know if this is how he normally writes, though I am quite familiar with his works on NuWho episodes, namely "The Unicorn and the Wasp", "The Lodger", "Closing Time" etc. These episodes clearly indicate that he is no stranger to comedic writing. However, beside being very funny Shada is also a proper Doctor Who adventure. It is not wall to wall jocular silliness, the stakes are high, there is death and destruction, and even moments of pathos. The humorous tone of the narrative during the first half of the book recedes noticeably in the second half to make room for the sci-fi thriller aspect befitting any well balanced Who story, though it is still there in the background.
The characterization work in this book is top notched, The Fourth Doctor, Romana II, and K-9 are exactly as I remember them on TV. It is very easy to imagine Tom Baker and Lalla Ward acting out the story and dear old K-9 the tin dog has some dialog to die for. The supporting characters are all very well written, with the befuddled Time Lord Professor Chronotis being particularly memorable. The trusty TARDIS, the sonic screwdriver, and the wibbly space-time vortex are all present of course.
Shada really is a blast to read from beginning to end and should not be missed by Whovians and other Earthlings. It is even better with a bag of Jelly Babies.
Do read it, and don’t wander off! ___________________________________ * The other one is Alastair Reynolds' Doctor Who: Harvest of Time featuring the Third Doctor (Pertwee!). It is also brilliant, a ton of fun, but lighter in tone than Reynolds' legendary Revelation Space (non-Who) space opera series.
** The truly ambitious ones would seek to dominate all multiverses....more
At the time of writing, Terry Pratchett passed away about a week ago. Beside making me sad, the news also triggered a sudden urge to read a DiscworldAt the time of writing, Terry Pratchett passed away about a week ago. Beside making me sad, the news also triggered a sudden urge to read a Discworld book which needed to be satisfied immediately. I haven't read any Terry Pratchett books for years. I have always liked them but there are just so many books in the world and you know how it is, one thing led to another and somehow they didn't lead back to Sir Terry. In the meantime, I have been reading many inferior “flavor of the month” books like The Martian. I have been doing myself a disservice really.
Guards! Guards! is one of the most popular Discworld books and I have not read it, this makes it the ideal candidate for a reentry into this unique and wonderful series. Anyway it is nice to be back in Ankh-Morpork, the most chaotic city in fantasy fiction. At the most basic level Guards! Guards! is Pratchett’s take on the police procedural, but his imagination is too immense to constrain the book to just a single genre parody so there is much more to this book than just the City Watch, Ankh-Morpork’s feeble excuse for a police force. The Watch mean are happily doing a crappy job, which basically involve ringing bells at certain times of the night to announce that all is well in the city. It takes the arrival of an extremely honest and straight-laced human orphan raised by dwarves to remind the Watchmen what they are supposed to be; and a huge dragon summoned from another dimension burning up the citizens and half the city to spur them into action.
One reason I only read Terry Pratchett occasionally is that I personally prefer books where humour is a minor element of the story rather than placed at the front and centre. After reading Guards! Guards! I have to admit this is my misconception of what Pratchett was doing with the Discworld series (after the first few straightforward fantasy parody books). The humour takes centre stage but underneath – not even far underneath – Pratchett was using Discworld as a mirror to explore, lampoon and critique our world with its many ills and injustice. Certainly Guards! Guards! explores the theme of the policemen’s duty and honor against personal safety and interest, what makes a good cop and a bad cop so to speak. He also skewers the masses’ tendency to blindly accept whoever has the biggest gun (or fire breathing talent). These and other serious issues are explored without ever missing a humorous beat. The book is a laugh fest from beginning to end, I don’t think there is a single page that did not make me at least chuckle.
I actually laughed out loud several times, my favorite joke involves the phrase “Bjorn Stronginthearm is my uncle” which highlights the bizarreness of the British phrase “Bob’s your uncle”. Also the patrician’s questioning of dragons’ penchant for sleeping on a huge pile of gold instead of a comfy mattress is brilliant. Don’t worry I have not spoiled the book for you, I am barely scratching the surface of the many ingenious satires, jokes and witticisms to be found in this book.
The characterization of the protagonists and antagonists is also very strong. Captain Vimes is silly and funny yet flawed, sympathetic, honorable and extremely likable. I am not surprised he one of Pratchett’s most beloved characters. The formidable Patrician Vetinari is another extremely vivid and lively creation, in a TV adaptation of another Discworld book he is perfectly portrayed by Charles Dance so you can imagine the dry wit and suavity of the man. His method of escaping from captivity in a dungeon is pure evil genius.
Guards! Guards! is effortlessly a five-star book and if I may leave you with a quote from this book that works perfectly even out of context:
“The reason that clichés become clichés is that they are the hammers and screwdrivers in the toolbox of communication.”
The irony is that there is not one cliché in this book, unless you count the ones that Pratchett turned on their heads.
“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.”
This very effective opening sent“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.”
This very effective opening sentence entirely encapsulates everything I knew about this story prior to reading it. I remember as a teenager watching a few minutes of Steven Berkoff’s televised adaptation and shortly changing the channel for some greener posture. I remember there was this bloke contorting on the floor pretending to be an insect and I just did not want to know any more.
Before I read The Metamorphosis had no idea what to expect, I thought perhaps some PKD weirdness, something surreal, probably with some kind of message. The weirdness is definitely there (though not in PKD style) and Gregor’s cavalier reaction to his transformation is quite surreal. What I did not expect though was how sad, poignant and tragic this story is. In spite of being amply bizarre, the strangeness of the situation almost seems to be beside the point. After waking up to find that he has morphed into a horrible giant insect overnight Gregor seems to take it all in stride. Not one to waste any time WTF-ing Gregor rallies like a champ and simply gets on with his insectile life. He worries more about how his situation will affect his family’s welfare than how horrifying his predicament is. What a guy. Gregory lives in a shabby apartment with his parents and a younger sister. Initially they are all sympathetic of his condition, but as time goes by and their financial position deteriorates their patience and sympathy begin to evaporate.
I don't want to elaborate any more on the plot as it is a short story (novella). Throughout the story Gregor retains his goodness, even through the gradual loss of his humanity. The opposite seems to be the case for his family. His sense of alienation and isolation is very palpable (especially as I was reading the story in a very quiet environment). What befalls Gregor is so tragic Thomas Hardy probably wishes he had thought of it. Even the “happy ending” makes me sad. Of course the entire thing can be interpreted as an allegory, there is a school of thought that it is all in Gregor’s mind and he has simply gone completely cuckoo one fine morning (working in textile will do that to you). As a sci-fi nerd I reject this hypothesis and choose to believe that the poor fellow does metamorphose during the night. Probably due to a stray cosmic ray from another dimension, or just a demented Dalek having a laugh at his expense. In any event this is a story that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Note: Thanks to Glenn for recommending this book to me....more
If I was a billionaire who can afford to commission a novelist to write a custom made book just for me the desired end result would probably read someIf I was a billionaire who can afford to commission a novelist to write a custom made book just for me the desired end result would probably read something like a Lois McMaster Bujold book. Her prose style just clicks with me. Always very clear and accessible, yet graceful, passionate, witty and often humorous. Her writing is never clunky or clumsy, never a word out of place. Even before getting into the actual storyline of the book the narrative style in and of itself is already a pleasure to read.
The Vorkosigan Saga is one of the most beloved long running science fiction series of all time. Unlike classic sci-fi series like Dune or Foundation the individual Vorkosigan books are written as standalones and are therefore not numbered. In theory you can start reading the series with any random title and read other volumes in any order you want. However, for a richer reading experience you may prefer to read them in some kind of order, here is Ms. Bujold’s recommendation.
Mirror Dance tells the story of Mark Vorkosigan, the clone of the series’ main character Miles Vorkosigan. Originally raised to assassinate Mile’s father, Mark is now a free man and a crusader to liberate other clones from a fate worse than death. Well, not “worse than” exactly the clones are kept alive as replacement bodies to eventually have their brains removed and replaced with the original person’s brain. Similar to the theme explored in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go.
The book starts off fairly slowly as a lot of political wrangling, bluff and counter bluff take place. The lengthy dialogue in the early part of the book was in danger of becoming repetitious when Ms. Bujold suddenly shifts gear and all hell breaks loose. The sections of the story told from Mark’s point of view are almost equal to the sections told from Mile’s point of view, though the balance leans a little more toward Mark’s side of the story.
Any way, if you are already a fan of the series you will not be disappointed as Mark is just as damaged as Miles but in different ways. He is less physically damaged, not having suffered chemical poisoning at birth, but his conditioning as an assassin left a lot of psychological scars (and a “very particular set of skills” as Liam Neeson would say). Mirror Dance is a versatile novel that swings through quite a few different moods and narrative styles. Sometime it is romantic, sometime mysterious, funny, exciting, harrowing and even horrifying.
The universe of Vorkosigan series is not as epic as something like Reynolds’ Revelation Space or Peter F. Hamilton’s Commonwealth saga. There are no aliens to speak of and no A.I. overlords but it does depict a human galaxy spanning empire where planets are colonized through FTL travel via wormholes (nobody says hyperspace any more). The setting is more “near future” than these other series and science more believable (FTL travel notwithstanding).
Bujold will always have an advantage in the emotional components of her story telling. Her character development is second to none and she always manages to tackle serious issue without sacrificing the story telling aspect. You can not help but sympathize with the characters’ identity crisis and moral dilemma. The author is always very good at depicting romantic relationships but these are minor aspects of the book. If you prefer scenes of ass kicking to hugs and kisses you will not be disappointed. The details of biotechnology is also nicely worked out with an eye for details and dry wit:
“Patients don't come popping up out of cryo-stasis like a meal out of a microwave. It takes just as much healing as if the original injury hadn't killed them, and more. It will be a couple of days before I can even begin to evaluate his higher neural functions.”
The above passage is both humorous and informative. Bujold’s own particular set of skills.
Mirror Dance is a thrilling, riveting entertaining and even poignant read. No reason why someone can not start reading the series with this particular book, though the author recommends reading Brothers in Arms first. In any case I can foresee spending a lot more time reading from this series in future (this is my fourth)....more
Probably my favourite Philip K. Dick book, Goodreads' favourite too by the look of it. As you are probably aware the classic sci-fi movie Blade RunnerProbably my favourite Philip K. Dick book, Goodreads' favourite too by the look of it. As you are probably aware the classic sci-fi movie Blade Runner is based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. Great as the movie is when I first saw it I was very disappointed as it bears very little resemblance to this book. The filmmakers jettisoned most of what makes this book so special and focused only on the android hunting aspect though at least it does explore the moral issues involved. The movie’s visuals are certainly stunning, and the world of Blade Runner is beautifully designed. However, it not the world of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is set in a dystopian Earth much dilapidated after “World War Terminus”, most of the populace have already emigrated to the colony on Mars. This is not a post-apocalyptic setting, however, as government, the police, and businesses are still functioning though everything seems to be quite shabby. Radioactive dust has killed off most of the animals and the dust is still everywhere, not to mention the masses of “kipple”, basically rubbish that seem to grow by itself.
This coveting of animals is one very crucial aspect of the book not used in the film adaptation. Ownership of real animals (as opposed to electric ones) is a status symbol, much more so than fancy cars which nobody seems to be interested in. The protagonist Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter for the San Francisco Police Department whose job is to hunt down and exterminate androids that escaped their life of servitude on Mars to live among humans on Earth in the guise of humans. His dream is to own a large real animal, but at his salary, he has to settle for the eponymous electric sheep.
The questionable morality of hunting down androids is nicely explored here. They are machines but they are also living, thinking beings, they have souls, or in a more secular term, sentience. Human life on Earth is generally miserable but they do have some interesting ways of alleviating their mood. The most direct way is by the “Penfield mood organ” with a dial for adjusting moods to numerous settings, then there is the “empathy box” that let you live the life of a Messiah while you are plugged in; entertainment on TV is basically just one show “Buster Friendly and his Friendly Friends” somehow broadcasting live 24/7.
This is one of the most well written Philip K. Dick books, Dick’s writing style is often criticised as poor or clunky, and his dialogue is often said to be stilted. I think his critics are missing the charms of his minimalist prose style which is an ideal vehicle for the bizarre stories he had to tell. His admittedly stilted dialogue seems to be very fitting for the universe his often eccentric characters occupy. Also, now and then he suddenly slips in the odd poignant passages like “You will be required to do wrong no matter where you go. It is the basic condition of life, to be required to violate your own identity. At some time, every creature which lives must do so. It is the ultimate shadow, the defeat of creation; this is the curse at work, the curse that feeds on all life. Everywhere in the universe.”. He was quite capable of writing elegant prose when it suited him. However, the stories and the ideas were more important to him.
Some of the dialogue is also oddly hilarious: “I can't stand TV before breakfast.” “Dial 888,” Rick said as the set warmed. “The desire to watch TV, no matter what's on it.” “I don't feel like dialing anything at all now,” Iran said. “Then dial 3,” he said.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? has some of Dick’s best characterization. The characters are more vivid than most of his other books. Deckard and the “chickenhead” (brain damaged) J.R. Isidore are particularly believable and sympathetic. The androids are generally rather callous but quite pitiful all the same. There are also moments where reality seems to wobble wonderfully in the patented PKD style but this time without the aid of any hallucinogen.
I can not praise this book enough, it really is one of the all-time greats. It is a pity that Hollywood is now planning to make Blade Runner 2 instead of making - for the first time - a faithful adaptation of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?.
Note: Interestingly Dick foresaw an android model called "Nexus 6", but I bet he did not imagine they would look like this....more
I read a lot of Anne Rice in the 80s, both her Vampire Chronicles and her Mayfair Witches series. I always find her very readable and there is alwaysI read a lot of Anne Rice in the 80s, both her Vampire Chronicles and her Mayfair Witches series. I always find her very readable and there is always some dark beauty in her prose. However, like most series the quality tend to drop off after three or four volumes, the authors either begin to repeat themselves or try something radically different or experimental which does not work. As far as The Vampire Chronicles is concerned I think Ms. Rice has done a bit of both, and I lost interest after the fifth volume Memnoch the Devil.
Most readers of The Vampire Chronicles agree that the first three books of the series are the best. I would go as far as to say that these are the best vampire fiction I have ever read. Bram Stoker has nothing on Anne Rice as far as literary talent is concerned. Stephenie Meyer does not even deserve to be mentioned in the same breath.
OK, enough useless preamble. I reread The Queen of the Damned as part of my Halloween horror binge. I have long neglected the horror genre in favor of sci-fi, fantasy and even mainstream fiction. It never occurred to me to reread the first two Vampire Chronicles books Interview with the Vampire and The Vampire Lestat because I still remember the stories very well even decades after reading them (the Tom Cruise movie adaptation is even more fresh in my memory). The Queen of the Damned however, is only remembered in term of broad plot outline, and I the denouement totally escaped me. I think this is because there is so much in this book. It is more epic is scale and more complex in structure and characterization.
In the previous book The Vampire Lestat Lestat, the rebellious star of the Chronicles has become a rock star with hit albums (I think he made some kind of hair metal with weird lyrics). His vampiric brand of metal mayhem has the unfortunate effect of waking up Akasha the original vampire, with megalomaniac tendencies. Soon she is dispatching young (or crappy) vampires left and right with her mental powers and human males in general are on her (s)hit list. Who can stop the most powerful vampire ever? I won’t spoil it for you, but it is probably not whoever it is you are thinking of.
There are long flashback chapters where the narrative is set in ancient Egyptian time where the human queen Akasha is turned into the first vampire almost by accident. This part of the tale involves good and evil spirits, cannibalism and curses, it really is quite riveting. The sections set in the modern world is almost as exciting, Anne Rice’s world building and vampire mythos is some of the most vivid fantastical creation ever. I particularly like the Talamasca, the secret society for investigation of the paranormal where Fox Mulder would feel right at home.
Anne Rice’s prose always go down well with me, I particularly like her description of the elation and shame of vampire feeding:
“When they drank the blood they felt ecstasy. Never had they known such pleasure, not in their beds, not at the banquet table, not when drunk with beer or wine. That was the source of the shame. It hadn't been the killing; it had been the monstrous feeding. It had been the pleasure.”
Her descriptions of characters are always quite vivid:
“Her skin was white and hard and opaque as it had always been. Her cheek shone like pearl as she smiled, her dark eyes moist and enlivened as the flesh puckered ever so slightly around them. They positively glistered with vitality.”
The Queen of the Damned is definitely worth rereading if you have read it ages ago like I have, of course if you have not read it before it is even more of an imperative though I would recommend reading the previous two books in the chronicles first. This should not be much of a hardship as they are seriously gripping reads. That said if you were to read it as a standalone I think it would still be quite understandable.
Joe Hill, definitely “a chip off the old block”, the old block being mega-author Stephen King of course. From what I have read Hill tried his best toJoe Hill, definitely “a chip off the old block”, the old block being mega-author Stephen King of course. From what I have read Hill tried his best to keep his relationship with Stephen King a secret and forge his own career as an author. Happily he became a successful author before the identity of his Dad was publicly disclosed by Variety magazine. Heart-Shaped Box is his first novel, as of now I think he has four to his name, excluding comics and anthologies.
Basically Heart-Shaped Box is a story of a vengeful ghost, but there is a lot more to the story than that. The setup is quite original, the protagonist is a rock star who likes to collect weird macabre things, one day he buys a ghost off an eBay-like online shopping website. The ghost is bought in the form of an item that belongs to the dead man, in this case a suit that comes in a heart-shaped box; much grief ensues. It probably is not much of a spoiler to tell you that the suit is more important than the eponymous heart-shaped box, the box just becomes a creepy motif after it and similarly shaped boxes are mentioned a few times.
The less I elaborate about the plot the better I think, as the story takes many unexpected twists and turns and Hill’s conception of what a ghost can do is quite original and disturbing. I enjoy scary horror novels, but most such novels are like hamburgers, easily consumed with some pleasure but not very memorable. For a horror novel to be memorable it has to transcend just being scary, it has to have characters worth caring about. This is why Stephen King’s best books are head and shoulders above the majority of horror fiction, he writes characters the reader cares about. I imagine Hill learned this lesson well from his father. His protagonist Jude is a flawed individual with a lot of issues but is a good man underneath all the rock star callousness. His girlfriend and the secondary character is equally damaged in her own way (not to mention very potty mouthed) but when push comes to shove really rises to the occasion. I actually worry about these characters and that is the highest accolade I can give to a work of fiction. Even Jude’s dogs are endowed with personalities and heroic qualities. The author’s fondness for dogs is obvious and it is something I can really identify with. The sense of compassion in the book also makes it much more meaningful than the average horror novel.
Hill’s prose style in this book is straightforward and without frills or literary flourishes, what little humor that can be found within the book are mostly through the dialogue. The narrative moves at a breakneck pace and I gobbled then entire book up in just a few days, much more quickly than I normally read. Personally I am hoping to see more finesse in the prose style in his subsequent books but I have no doubt at all that I will be reading them; all of them. It is October 26 as I write and I can heartily recommend Heart-Shaped Box for your Halloween read. If you are reading this in February or whatever, I’d still recommend it for a few hours of excellent and creepy escapism....more
I have a bee in my bonnet that I would like to deal with first. I tend to feel annoyed (even though I shouldn’t) when people ask for sci-fi recommendaI have a bee in my bonnet that I would like to deal with first. I tend to feel annoyed (even though I shouldn’t) when people ask for sci-fi recommendations with the caveat that the book being recommended must not be more than 10 years old. The reason given for this clause is usually because the science is “wrong”, there is no internet or history did not turn out the way the author depicted in the book. WUT? I would like to reiterate that it is not a sci-fi author’s job to predict the future, the whole point is to speculate. Anybody who want to get into reading sci-fi but steadfastly refuse to read the classics from the 50s, 60s etc. is really doing themselves a disfavor and missing out on some of the greatest sf stories and ideas ever written in the history of mankind.
Which brings us to Alfred’s Bester’s The Demolished Man, first published in 1953. Read this or his other classic The Stars My Destination and you will understand why I insist sci-fi readers should never neglect older science fiction. These are two terrific stories that stand the test of time.
In The Stars My Destination Bester posits a strange future society where everybody can teleport using the power of their mind. In The Demolished Man not everybody is a telepath but they are quite commonplace and can be found in all kinds of profession. Boy, did he get the future “wrong”! In lesser hands, this conceit would never work but Alfred’s Bester was able to spin a great yarn from this fairly simple premise.
The Demolished Man is an “inverted detective story” in the reader is immediately told who the murderer is, but the difficulty for our hero is how to catch the devious bastard. The murderer Ben Reich is a “normal”, non-telepathic person, but he is extremely smart and is able to foil even mind reading policemen. For example to avoid his mind being read by telepathic police he goes to a commercial jingle writer to play him a jingle that lodges in his brain after just one listening and bounces around it in an incessant looping playback. The hero policeman Lincoln Powell can barely keep up with him even with all the telepathic power (and manpower) at his disposal. The climax of the book is wonderfully surreal and reminds me of Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven and PKD’s Flow My Tears the Policeman Said. A friend recently told me that I sometimes inadvertently put spoilers in my reviews so I’d better not elaborate any more on this point.
The awesome edition I had (lost it now!)
Bester’s writing style reminds me of noir detective fiction by the likes of Raymond Chandler, with the clipped dialogue and witty banter. The book is quite short so there is not a lot of room for character development, but the protagonist and antagonist are quite complex and believable characters.
All in all a gripping, entertaining and very readable sci-fi classic that should please all sci-fi fans....more
“Any real body must have extension in four directions: it must have Length, Breadth, Thickness, and—Duration. But through a natural infirmity of the
“Any real body must have extension in four directions: it must have Length, Breadth, Thickness, and—Duration. But through a natural infirmity of the flesh, which I will explain to you in a moment, we incline to overlook this fact. There are really four dimensions, three which we call the three planes of Space, and a fourth, Time. There is, however, a tendency to draw an unreal distinction between the former three dimensions and the latter, because it happens that our consciousness moves intermittently in one direction along the latter from the beginning to the end of our lives.”
Ah! The original wibbly wobbly timey wimey novel (well, Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court predates The Time Machine, and perhaps some other books as well, but never mind, you can put me right in the comments section if you want). Certainly it is the first one that I ever read as a wee lad. Last week I was looking for a short free audiobook for a bus journey and for some read on I thought of H.G. Wells and picked The Time Machine as it is my favorite.
The only problem I have with reading this book is that it is already “spoiled” long before I read the first paragraph. I remember all the major plot points very well, and what sci-fi fans have never heard of Elois and Morlocks? What I have no memory of is Wells’ prose style and his narrative talents. As the above quoted passage shows he was an eloquent writer with a rare ability to make scientific expositions sound elegant.
Wells was also an amazing story teller, the story may seem like old hat now but if you imagine that you have never heard of this story and never read anything like it before it is quite an astounding and riveting story. Consider the world building of his Dystopian far future with the two sub species of the human race. It is a beautiful piece of social satire and a thought provoking metaphor for social classes which are still prevalent today hundreds of years after the publication of this novel. There is not much in the way of characterization but that is perfectly fine for a book this short, besides the Elois are all hippy-ish airheads and the Morlocks are not interested in conversations. The protagonist does not even have a name.
The last couple of chapters may well be the most atmospheric. Wells’ depiction of an even further future beyond the Elois and Morlocks era is a little surreal and quite eerie. Those crab things seem like something out of H.P. Lovecraft. The conclusion of the novel is also nice and mysterious, mystical even. If you think H.G. Wells is old hat but never actually read any of his books I urge you to give him a try. Certainly I intend to reread The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man etc. before too long. Yes, they are all old hats but they are great hats! Classic headwears never go out of fashion.
Finally I would like to bookend this review with another favorite passage:
“You know of course that a mathematical line, a line of thickness nil, has no real existence. Neither has a mathematical plane. These things are mere abstractions. Nor, having only length, breadth, and thickness, can a cube have a real existence. So most people think. But wait a moment. Can an instantaneous cube exist? Can a cube that does not last for any time at all, have a real existence?
This is by far my favourite Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel (well, neck and neck with her novella The Word for World is Forest). Her most popular science fiThis is by far my favourite Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel (well, neck and neck with her novella The Word for World is Forest). Her most popular science fiction books (thus excluding the classic Earthsea fantasy series) tend to be The Left hand of Darkness or The Dispossessed, both of these are excellent books but The Lathe of Heaven is the most mind blowing. It is as if she was channeling Philip K. Dick, and according to Wikipedia it is actually her tribute to the late great author.
The Lathe of Heaven is the story of George Orr an insignificant little man who dreams big!. Whenever Orr has an “effective” dream, the dream becomes real (“effective” dream as opposed to normal dreams which he also has). Reality reshapes in accordance with his effective dreams and even changes retroactively to ensure consistency and avoid paradoxes. Orr gives a great example of this during a session with his dastardly psychiatrist William Haber: if he dreams “effectively” of a pink dog when he wakes up there will be a pink dog, but it would not surprise anybody as there will have always been pink dogs in the world, and one has wandered into the room. So it is not a case of a pink dog suddenly popping into existence.
When I read that I had to pause and imagine the implication and it really is one of the most intriguing sci-fi concepts ever. Unfortunately for George Orr and the rest of the world he is manipulated by Haber who turns out to be an egomaniac. With the aid of an “Augmentor” machine of his own invention he is able to indulge his God complex and alter reality the way he sees fit. From that point reality start warping and changing like taffy. It would be a crime for me to elaborate on the numerous changes wrought by Orr’s effective dreams, I really recommend that you find out for yourself.
Le Guin has one advantage over PKD in that she does write better prose, dialog and characterization. Personally I do not have any problems with PKD’s writing style but in term of literary merit I think Le Guin is in a different league. (PKD is the champion in the brilliantly wacky plots department I think). Here is an example:
“And since then Haber had at least been candid with Orr about his manipulations. Though candid was not the right word; Haber was much too complex a person for candor. Layer after layer might peel off the onion and yet nothing be revealed but more onion. That peeling off of one layer was the only real change”
Add her prose prowess to her massive imagination and her legendary status within the SF/F genres is not at all surprising. During the last few chapters Le Guin’s imagination goes into overdrive and I felt totally immersed in her dream like shifting reality. Her characters are always believable and suitably lovable or despicable as the plot requires. Beside Orr and Haber there is another central character called Heather Lelache who is both tough and sympathetic. There are some poignant scenes involving her that I find to be quite moving.
I could go on and on about this book and I will probably read it again one day (this is already a reread). It is one of the all-time greats and if you love science fiction it is not to be missed....more
One of those very popular titles that tend to show up in the "Best Fantasy Books" lists (here is one list I rely on). This could be the book that brinOne of those very popular titles that tend to show up in the "Best Fantasy Books" lists (here is one list I rely on). This could be the book that brings me back to reading more fantasy novels (as I tend to have a preference for sci-fi). The Lies of Locke Lamora hits the ground running from the lengthy prologue which is reminiscent of Dickens’ Oliver Twist but with the Artful Dodger as the protagonist rather than Oliver. There is even a Fagin-like character called Thiefmaker who teaches little orphans to “pick a pocket or two” among other things. The protagonist is of course the eponymous Locke Lamora, a boy with a tremendous instinct for trickery. Asking “Please sir, can I have some more?” is certainly not his style, instead he is always cooking up ingenious new schemes to get more without obtaining anybody’s permission. Being young, clever and reckless eventually gets him and his mentor into trouble and is sold to a gang leader called “Father Chains” who teaches him to refine his confidence tricks and become a “Gentleman Bastard”.
After the riveting prologue the novel switches back and forth between the present day where Locke is an adult super-thief and the flashbacks which tells of Locke’s training under Father Chains. Initially I was thinking how I would prefer a more linear structure but obviously Scott Lynch knows his business better than I do and the dual timelines begin to intertwine impressively, showing how the past directly impacts the present.
My favorite aspect of this book is how Lynch integrates tropes from other genres of fiction like the Dickensian bildungsroman, the gangster fiction of Mario Puzo and the “heist films” like Ocean’s Eleven and such. Archetypes are more interesting if they show up where they are not expected, as in this case; I never expected to see Don Vito Corleone in a fantasy setting.
I also love that there is no sign of a quest to save the world in this book and the fantastical aspect is very low key. When I was in my teens I enjoyed the Xanth series of fantasy books by Piers Anthony where magic is very common. As I grew older and more cynical such “high fantasy” begin to seem rather childish to me and I find that I much prefer science fiction where the fantastical element tend to be backed by actual science and more believable. Wizards conjuring chairs and things out of thin air, turning people into frogs etc. just get my cynical eyes rolling. With The Lies of Locke Lamora by the time magic shows up it seems to be very discreetly used, and besides, I was already deeply immersed in the story and quite happy to suspend my disbelief. I also like the mysterious references to a disappeared ancient race called “the Eldren” which remind me of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu and even Stephen Baxter’s Xeelee absentee aliens.
The prose is very readable and often humorous, the main characters are very well drawn and dialogue is sharp. However, I have one minor quibble about the writing, I find that most of the characters tend to sound the same when they talk. Practically everybody seems to be ready with sardonic or witty repartees of a similar style, even the uneducated characters seem to be similarly articulate. It is not a major problem and the frequent banters are quite entertaining, I just wish that the characters' voices are more distinguishable.
Clearly a lot of thought has gone into the plot twist and turns and I had no idea how things will eventually turn out except that Locke Lamora will survive as this is a multi-volumes series bearing his name. Over all I had an excellent time reading this book and my aforementioned minor quibble does not amount to anything. I am definitely on board for more of this Gentleman Bastard series....more
First published in 1982 almost 30 years after the last volume of the iconic original Foundation Trilogy, namely Second Foundation, I was skeptical thaFirst published in 1982 almost 30 years after the last volume of the iconic original Foundation Trilogy, namely Second Foundation, I was skeptical that Asimov would be able to maintain his mojo post the Golden Age of Science Fiction when he was publishing his most iconic sci-fi stories and novels. Of his 80s books I only read The Robots of Dawn which I thought was quite good but not in the same league as his 50s robot novels The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun. Still, I liked it enough to rekindle my interest in the Foundation series of which I have only read the original trilogy in my teens. For some reason I neglected the series from the 4th volume onwards and to catch up I did not want to simply dive into it as it was decades ago since I read the previous books and I have gotten most of the background details. So I reread the trilogy a couple of months ago and enjoyed it very much in spite of already knowing the major plot twists. The Foundation saga remains quite potent after all these years.
Foundation's Edge is the 4th volume I speak of. It is set 500 years after the establishment of the Foundation. The Seldon Plan is going swimmingly and the First Foundation is at the peak of its strength having dominated all the neighboring planets through its superior technology and military might. The people of the Foundation believe that the threat from the mind controlling Second Foundation has been eliminated and there is now only one Foundation, theirs. Alas someone always shows up to rock the boat otherwise we would not have much of a story. Enters one Golan Trevize, a Council member and an original thinker; a dangerous combination.
It occurs to Trevize that the Seldon Plan has been going too well of late and there is surely something wrong when things are just too right. It is unnatural for things to always go according to plan, some deviations must occur. Trevize believes this is an indication that the Foundation is being surreptitiously controlled by puppet masters from the dreaded Second Foundation who will ensure the Seldon Plan reaches fruition and then step in as lord and masters. Voicing such a controversial idea turns out to be unwise as he is summarily kicked off the planet Terminus (home of the Foundation) with a secret mission to locate the Second Foundation in order for the First to do away with them once and for all. Many surprises ensue.
In spite of not being action packed as such, I find Foundation's Edge to be a gripping page-turner. The plot tends to move through dialogue rather than narration. Every page seems to be stuffed with dialogue as characters are always discussing or arguing about something. The climax is also played through dialogue. This is a surprisingly effective method of storytelling as the book is never dull. Asimov writes reasonably good dialogue, but his characters do have a tendency to belabor their points at times.
Asimov’s major strengths are his epic ideas, world building and plot; these are the reason he is one of the most popular sci-fi authors of all time (possibly the most popular). His world building here is better than ever, I particularly love the telepathic society and culture of the Second Foundation on Trantor and the strange people of Gaia. It is also lovely to see the robots and their “Three Laws” worked into the Foundation universe, plus a clever explanation for the absence of aliens in the Foundation universe.
Asimov is often criticized for his utilitarian prose and thin characters (the same criticisms leveled toward most Golden Age authors). While he was no Dickens or Oscar Wilde in term of prose, characterization and dialogue I find these criticisms a little unfair. His prose is not extraordinary, but it is uncluttered and very readable, it is never clumsy or semi-literate; he never insults the readers’ intelligence. His dialogue is often full of amusing witty banter and sardonic remarks. As for his characters, while some of the supporting characters are indeed flat his central characters and protagonists are often memorable. After decades away from his books I still remember very well Hari Seldon, The Mule, Susan Calvin (from I Robot), Elijah Baley and R. Daneel Olivaw (from several robot novels). As for Foundation's Edge's characters, Golan Trevize, and several lead characters are quite vivid and memorable also. In contrast I can not remember a single character from Arthur C. Clarke’s books (except Hal 9000 and Dave Bowman); no disrespect to Sir Arthur though, he has his own brand of greatness.
The climax of Foundation's Edge is just wonderful and the epilogue leads nicely to the next book Foundation and Earth. Asimov always seems to enjoy telling his Foundation stories tremendously and his enjoyment is infectious. Can’t wait!...more
“Not one sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.” (Matthew 10:29) “But the sparrow still falls.”
I think the second sentence i
“Not one sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.” (Matthew 10:29) “But the sparrow still falls.”
I think the second sentence in the above quote (from page 401) basically says “shit happens”. It does encapsulate the major theme of the novel quite well I think.
The Sparrow is one of those books I hear people raving about and immediately put on my TBR list, but it won’t stay there quietly as I keep hearing about it almost on a weekly basis. So I have to capitulate or go mad and move it to the top of the pile.
In a nutshell The Sparrow is about a mission organized by the Jesuit order to a planet called Rakhat where a satellite received transmission of alien music from the vicinity of Alpha Centauri.
The novel has a dual timelines narrative structure. In the “present day” timeline at the beginning of the book it is revealed that the protagonist Father Emilio Sandoz is the only survivor of the mission. He is in very poor shaped with grossly mutilated hands and he is on trial for a couple of heinous crimes he allegedly committed on the alien planet. This leads to the flashback timeline where the details and mysteries of the mission gradually unfold.
As with most novels the shorter the synopsis the better I think (plus I hate writing them). Mary Doria Russell certainly plays her cards close to her chest. I was intrigued pretty much from beginning to end and while The Sparrow is not a fast paced novel it is something of a page turner. I had no idea the book has a dual timeline and initially I made the mistake of not paying any attention to the date indicated at beginning of the chapters and had to backtrack. So I would recommend paying close attention to begin with until you are hooked.
“The problem with atheism, I find, under these circumstances, is that I have no one to despise but myself. If, however, I choose to believe that God is vicious, then at least I have the solace of hating God.”
While it is certainly a science fiction novel the emphasis is not on the sci-fi-ness of first contact with aliens, it is more an exploration of faith. Not in a proselytizing sense, Ms. Russell is not badgering the reader to accept God, she is writing about what can happen if you do, what can you reasonably expect to get for your faith. Should you believe that He watches over you 24/7? (She describes this as the belief in God’s micromanagement). Without really spoiling the book I can tell you that some very awful things happen to very good people, including the pious ones.
In spite of the religious theme the First Contact with aliens aspect of the book is not neglected. The conditions of the planet Rakhat are clearly described and the alien native species is vividly imagined. They are very similar to humans in many ways but extremely alien in many others. The exposition of their biology, culture, cities etc is just the sort of thing most sci-fi readers would enjoy. It also leads to the secondary theme of the danger of First Contact, of interfering (even with the best of intentions) in a culture you don’t really understand but think you do because of a few similarities to your own.
The seriousness of the main themes is nicely balanced by the infusion of humour throughout the book. The author does have quite a flair for witty bantering dialogue and the prose style is nice and smooth. The characters are very well developed though I would caution you not to become too attached to any of them. My only complaint is the mention of “Van Halen’s arena rock masterpiece, 5150”. Please! That’s like Van-Hagar! (if you have no idea what I’m on about just ignore this complaint).
OK, I’m almost done, just a quick look at a quote from Wikipedia:
"Nancy Pearl, a reviewer at Library Journal, felt that this book was mistakenly categorized as science fiction, and that it is really "a philosophical novel about the nature of good and evil and what happens when a man tries to do the right thing, for the right reasons and ends up causing incalculable harm."
When a “literati” type finds a sci-fi book that they like they tend to immediately declassify it as “not sci-fi”; aliens, spaceships, futuristic techs etc. notwithstanding of course. The Sparrow is definitely sci-fi, it even says so on the tin. Very good sci-fi it is too (unless you dislike religious themes then this is not for you). The sequel Children of God is very near the top of my TBR.
Damn Amazon and their clever marketing, Farseer Trilogy #1 (Kindle edition) priced at $0.99, Farseer Trilogy #2 at $7.99! Of course they know you areDamn Amazon and their clever marketing, Farseer Trilogy #1 (Kindle edition) priced at $0.99, Farseer Trilogy #2 at $7.99! Of course they know you are going to be hooked on the series by the end of book #1, you’d have to be a philistine not to be (just kidding, if you truly dislike it just ignore me). I don’t even read a lot of fantasy these days, I used to read two sci-fi books for every fantasy title nowadays the ratio is more like 10:1. It’s just a personal preference, I prefer spaceships to dragons. Still, Assassin's Apprentice is a pattern buster for me, book #2 has already added to my TBR.
Assassin's Apprentice is a “bildungsroman”, such a funny little word that sounds like a German chewing gum. This is indeed a story of the protagonist’s growth from childhood to adulthood. There is even the obligatory frame narrative at the beginning and the end. All very tastefully done. This is the story of Fitz a young bastard son of a prince and a commoner of unknown background (she is basically not in this book). At the age of six Fitz is taken by his impoverished maternal granddad to an army base to be live with his royal relatives in the capital city of Buckkeep. Being a bastard he can hardly expect to live the high life, but the granddad just wants one less mouth to feed. He is immediately taken under the wings of Burrich a stableman, who teaches him to care for animals where he his discover a supernatural affinity to mentally communicate with them.
Fitz and Nighteyes performing Duran Duran's "Hungry Like The Wolf"
At Buckkeep he begins to make friends and enemies and goes to different classes to learn various skills, fighting, reading, writing, manners etc. The most remarkable skill that he learns through highly secretive private lessons taught by an enigmatic teacher in the middle of the nights is Assassination. As time goes by he gets involved in court intrigues political machinations and of course assassination.
This is quite an eventful novel and I don't want to describe all the plot twist and turns because I'd be here all day and spoil the book for you. Suffice it to say that this is a very well written and entertaining book with enough pathos to be emotionally invested in. Robin Hobbs is a pseudonym of Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogden, her writing style reminds me of her fellow American SF/F authoresses Lois McMaster Bujold, and Connie Willis; smooth and clear prose, good witty dialogue and very good characterization.
The colorful almost Dickensian cast of characters is a particular strength of this novel. Fitz the protagonist is likable and sympathetic, he is talented but makes a lot of mistakes (He may be a bastard but he is not a complete bastard!). Thankfully he is not unbelievably good at everything he tries, a tired archetype of many fantasy protagonists. The master assassin Chade is suitably mysterious, stern but with a good heart, the most interesting supporting character is the Fool who speaks in riddles and possesses some kind of preternatural foreknowledge.
The antagonists are individually less interesting but there is a major threat called the Red-ship Raiders who turn good people into emotionless evil weirdoes. The world building is carefully done with a nice sense of place, the places Fitz finds himself in are quite vividly described. The fantasy aspect of the book is fairly subtle, no wild incantations of magic spells and such. The magic in this book tends to be types of mental powers, telepathy, telekinesis, second sight and such.
Assassin's Apprentice reminds me a little of Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. This book actually predates both of them and has its own unique appeals. It is also not a children or YA book, the plot takes some very dark and violent turns. The theme of honestly, integrity, loyalty and courage is evident, and the author’s kindness and humanity shine through out the book; as is her love of dogs which are lovingly and believably portrayed here.
If you like fantasy and have not read this book then the recommendation is a no brainer. At $0.99 it is practically a giveaway; you can’t even get a decent hot dog for that....more
“He was always late on principle, his principle being that punctuality is the thief of time.”
"We praise the banker that we may overdraw our account,
“He was always late on principle, his principle being that punctuality is the thief of time.”
"We praise the banker that we may overdraw our account, and find good qualities in the highwayman in the hope that he may spare our pockets. I mean everything that I have said. I have the greatest contempt for optimism. As for a spoiled life, no life is spoiled but one whose growth is arrested. If you want to mar a nature, you have merely to reform it."
Words to live by. LOL! This is surely the most quotable book I have ever read. I only chose the above quotes for a good giggle, there are many more pithy or profound ones in this novel. Besides being the most quotable book it is also one of the most misrepresented by pop culture. The movie adaptations tend to focus on the horror aspect of the book as if Wilde was a precursor to Lovecraft or something. The Picture of Dorian Gray is a more cerebral and allegorical than Hollywood would have you believe.
As with most classics I picked an audiobook version and where possible I opt for the free Librivox version over the commercial Audible one. I only require that the books are reasonably well read; this happens to be one of the good ones which I can recommend with a couple of minor reservations (more on that later). What I did not realize though is that Oscar Wilde wrote two editions of this book. The original was first published in 1890, and the considerably longer (and less overtly “gay”) 1891 edition followed in response to less than enthusiastic critics’ reviews. Any way, this Librivox version is of the original edition consisting of a mere 13 chapters instead of 20.
From the first few pages I was bowled over by the barrage of witticisms from Lord Henry Wotton who seems to have outrageous views on just about everything, and he can talk the hind legs off a donkey. Every “willful paradox” that comes out of his mouth is a gem. The first chapter alone is worth the price of the book (it’s free in Guttenberg e-book format any way). Oscar Wilde is famous for his wit and this book provides ample evidence, he did not so much write as orchestrated the language to create a work of art. The initial hilarity at the beginning of the book soon gives way to a much darker story and eventually culminates in a horrifying climax.
Not so much "before" and "after" as "this, and also this".
The central characters, like everything else in this book, are very well written. The artist Basil Hallward is decent, honest and kind (not to mention probably gay), the eponymous Dorian starts off as a naïve young gentleman and fairly quickly morphs into an infamous cad. As for the amazing Lord Henry, unfortunately for Dorian he is the sort of man who likes to talk people into committing all kinds of debauchery but never does it himself, as poor Basil points out early in the book.
I first read this book many years ago I remember liking the first few chapters very well but somehow when I first signed up to Goodreads I rated it at 3 stars as I was adding books to my bookshelf for the first time. For life of me I could not remember what the problem was. Well, I do now that I have just reread it. In spite of being extremely witty and hilarious at times this is not an entirely easy read; not because of the descent in tone into grimness, I don’t mind that at all. As it turned out the issue is only one chapter. If not for this very odd chapter the novel is actually quite easy to read.
I am talking about the lengthy Chapter 9 (1890 edition) which is Chapter 11 in the second edition (1891). This chapter takes place after Dorian has decided to adopt a hedonistic life style and reinvents himself as a very bad boy (but oh so elegant and well coiffed) under the wicked influence of Lord Henry. Almost the entire chapter is tangential to the story and consists of Wilde’s rumination on jewelry, embroidery, art and beauty etc. I dozed off a bit during this chapter (50 minutes narration, I am not sure what the page count is, 30 at least). I think Wilde should have placed it as an appendix, in fact after finishing the book I went back to read this particular chapter just to make sure I didn’t miss anything. There is a little plot in there somewhere but you have to stay awake the entire time not to miss it.
This audiobook version I just reviewed is read very nicely by John Gonzalez. My only reservations are that the book is set in England and all the characters are English while Mr. Gonzalez is an American, still, better a book well read in American accent than badly read by an Englishman. My other reservation is that there is a little bit of hiss in the background.
In any case, this is a fantastic book and I will have to read the second edition before too long.
For a hilariously unconventional review, I recommend taking a gander at this Thug Notes review on Youtube. "My man Wilde had to rewrite the book coz them publishers weren't chillin' on the bro on bro action!". (Paraphrased from memory)...more
“Was his controlled mind so concerned with obedience as to lose initiative? He felt a thickening despondency drive him down into a strange lassitude
“Was his controlled mind so concerned with obedience as to lose initiative? He felt a thickening despondency drive him down into a strange lassitude.”
Poor Captain Han Pritcher. Mind control is a common sci-fi trope but the feelings or thoughts of the person under control are rarely explored. This is what makes Part 1 of Second Foundation so special. As I mentioned in my review of Foundation and Empire The Mule is a terrific villain, clever and ruthless but no exactly evil and a little pitiful. This part of the book is entirely concerned with The Mule’s battle of wits against the eponymous Second Foundation. Where the First Foundation that we have come to know from the previous two books is made up of scientists the eponymous Second Foundation is made up of psychohistorians (or psychologists-cum-mathematicians). Their study and development of psychology over hundreds of years make the best of them the equals of the Mule in term of mental power. The showdown between a Second Foundation leader (“first Speaker”) and the Mule consist of moves and counter-moves almost entirely through dialog. This being Asimov the kickass climax does not actually involve feet coming into contact with posteriors; be that as it may the scene is very tautly written and has stayed with me for decades since I first read it.
Part 2 of Second Foundation is mainly concerned with the First Foundation’s search for the Second with the intent of destroying it. This turn of event surprises me a bit, suddenly the Second Foundation is cast in the role of antagonists (“ubiquitous menace”) in spite of having saved the First’s bacon in the preceding part. This makes the First Foundation seems like terrible ingrates. On the other hand, nobody likes to have their minds tampered with so their hostility is somewhat understandable. Mixed into the main story arc of the search for the Second Foundation is a subplot concerning the First Foundation’s war with Kalgan. I personally find this warfare section a little dull compared to the much more interesting major plot; I am not at all surprised that I remember nothing of this aspect of the book from my previous reading.
The world building in this third volume is the best of in the trilogy, I particularly enjoy Asimov’s description of the Second Foundation’s culture. They do not communicate by telepathy but conduct whole conversations in micro-gestures (actually much more interesting this way). The denouement at the end of the book is particularly ingenious. Asimov does seem to enjoy pulling the rug from under the readers’ feet, and his enjoyment is infectious.
So that’s it, the entire legendary trilogy read in just one week due to the total page count being under 700 pages. My main reason for the reread is to go on to Foundation's Edge and subsequent Foundation novels, published around 30 years after the original trilogy which I have never read before. Really looking forward to that!...more
Continuing from my review of Foundation (book 1) just a few days ago, this is my take on volume 2 of the iconic original trilogy. The title FoundationContinuing from my review of Foundation (book 1) just a few days ago, this is my take on volume 2 of the iconic original trilogy. The title Foundation and Empire is something of a misnomer as the Galactic Empire has already faded in this book and its function is more like a prop than a player. When I first looked at the titles of the books in this trilogy in my teens I was also a little confused that Second Foundation is actually the third book! Still, at least I didn't make the mistake of reading Second Foundation before Foundation and Empire; that would have sucked.
Unlike Foundation (#1) Foundation and Empire is not a fix-up novel of several connected stories but it does consist of two novellas, “The General” and “The Mule ”. “The General” (Part 1 of the book) is indeed about “Foundation and Empire” where the Foundation comes under attack by the last remnant of the Galactic Empire led by the formidable General Bel Riose. The rather lame hero of the Foundation on this occasion is one Lathan Devers who does not actually outwit the Empire here but won because according to Hari Seldon’s arcane psychohistory algorithm it is statistically impossible for the Foundation to lose, almost like a preordainment.
It's interesting that I remember nothing about this shorter Part 1 of Foundation and Empire from my previous read decades ago. “The General” is a likable novella but it lacks compelling characters and, unlike previous Foundation stories, does not feature cunning heroics. It passes the time pleasantly enough but is basically just a warm up for the monumental Part 2 “The Mule”.
“The Mule” is kind of like The Foundation meets X-Men, well, may be not as we are only talking about one villainous insidious mutant with mental powers. I remember very well what happen in this part of the book in spite of having read it decades ago. I do have memory like a sieve so kudos to prof Asimov for writing something so unforgettable. “The Mule” is a fantastic villain, insidious and devious yet oddly sympathetic and pitiful. Anybody who says Asimov writes flat characters should have The Mule change his mind for him.
The less I say about this part of the book the netter I think. As this is a reread of a story I remember quite well the element of surprise is not there for me at the book’s denouement. In any case even for new readers Asimov did hint fairly strongly about the Mule’s identity in previous chapters. I envy you if you have not read Foundation and Empire before or if you have read but possess an even worse memory than mine (well, may be the latter not so much).
Yes, I have read Foundation before, chances are you have too! However, for some reason I missed out on the later Foundation books from Foundation's EdYes, I have read Foundation before, chances are you have too! However, for some reason I missed out on the later Foundation books from Foundation's Edge, I can barely remember who Hari Seldon is or why “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent”. So reread the series from the beginning it is then; no great hardship really, a fun time is already guaranteed, and the three volumes combined are shorter than a single book by Peter F. Hamilton.
The very first Foundation story was published in 1942, around the time poor Anne Frank was writing her diary. I first read the trilogy in an omnibus volume in the early 80s, before Foundation's Edge came out. I did, of course, gobble up all three books up at once, and I did love it, in fact I have never met anyone who does not like the Foundation Trilogy (and I don’t want to, I suspect they are all churls).
The trilogy is auspiciously my first sci-fi series, I have since read many others, though I don’t think I have read a better one (yes, I prefer it to the Dune trilogy). This first Foundation book is a fix-up novel of connected short stories, unlike some fix-up novels I have read these stories join up beautifully into one cohesive novel. In this volume we meet the legendary Hari Seldon, the founder of the Foundation and ultra-brilliant “psychohistorian”, who is able to predict the future through mathematical algorithms combined with history, sociology and goodness knows what else. Such prediction is necessarily based on aggregate behavioral trends of vast numbers of people (billions). Seldon predicts the fall of the Galactic Empire and makes it his life’s mission to reduce the span of the dark ages which will inevitably follow. To this end the Foundation is established on a remote planet called Terminus ostensibly to compile a mega Encyclopedia Galactica but in truth to save mankind as a whole from an extended period of dark ages, and eventually to set up a Second Empire.
Seldon is not the only protagonist of Foundation, as the book spans hundreds of years and several generations three other heroes (no anti-heroes here) follow him: Salvor Hardin, Linmar Ponyets, and Hober Mallow. The first is a politician and the other two are traders. What they have in common is a can-do attitude, a disdain of violence, and the instinctive wiliness to outwit just about anybody they come across. In fact this series is a fine example of “The Triumph of Intellect and Romance Over Brute Force and Cynicism” (thank you Craig Ferguson). The showdown between these heroes and their antagonists are all battles of wit, no ass kicking is ever implemented.
What I did not appreciate in my teens is what a good writer and story teller Asimov is. He is not great prose stylist (witness the ample use of exclamation marks in the narrative), nor did he need to be for the type of stories he wanted to tell. However, there is a sincere and infectious enthusiasm in his story telling and a clarity that render the narrative very readable and entertaining; not to mention the witty and sardonic humour in much of the dialog. The scene where the Foundation citizens are waiting outside a vault for a hologram of Seldon to appear after 50 years is really quite thrilling.
The futuristic tech and world building are a lot of fun of course, though you will have to allow for some dated tech ideas or anachronisms such as messages printed on tapes, the use of microfilms and lack of AI (computers are not mentioned).
As good as this first Foundation volume is I find it to be the least exciting of the trilogy. I distinctly remember some edge of the seat developments in the two follow-up volumes; more on them very soon.
I first read The Forever War a couple years ago in audiobook format, I quite liked it but to be honest it did not leave much of a lasting impression.I first read The Forever War a couple years ago in audiobook format, I quite liked it but to be honest it did not leave much of a lasting impression. I suspect the audiobook format is not suitable for this particular book, I don’t remember there being anything wrong with the narration, I just could not retain much of the details after finishing it, just a vague feeling that it is quite good. I love audiobooks, but I am beginning to think that short sci-fi books are not really the ideal for this format. Which brings me to the reread in print format, The Forever War often crops up in “favorite sf books” discussions and I feel as if I haven’t really read it and this won’t do.
As you might expect The Forever war belongs to the subgenre of “military science fiction”, a subgenre I normally avoid unless the author has interesting points to make about war or military life. Books that focus on the action or thrills of military campaigns are anathemas to me. This book is more of an exploration of the nature and principles of warfare than about details of battles (though there is some of that also); basically it is an anti-war novel.
The book I finished reading just before starting this reread of The Forever War is Brave New World, it is interesting to compare the two as sci-fi books. To me the Aldous Huxley book is not really sci-fi as the emphasis is on the social satire and the futuristic setting and sci-fi tropes are tools for the author to communicate his cautionary message. The Forever War is unabashedly sci-fi, certainly it is an allegory of the Vietnam War which the author Joe Haldeman served in. However, Haldeman’s knowledge of physics and engineering is clearly evident in the hard science parts, and the futuristic tech is clearly aimed at sci-fi readers. The only soft or handwavium sci-fi element is the FTL spaceflight through “collapsar jumps”; and this plot device is very cleverly and logically used to explore the implications of time dilation.
The book is very well written and the (first person) narrative tone gradually changes from a sardonic tone in the early chapters to a more matter of fact tone and then a melancholic tone towards the end. The book is too short and densely plotted or all the characters to be fully developed but the protagonist William Mandella and narrator is very sympathetic and believable. I also love the way the book suddenly switch from the war setting to a dystopian near future Earth, then back to the war and then a far future setting for the novel’s conclusion. The middle section set on Earth is really my favorite part of the book, with the drastically changed culture and social mores. If I have one complaint it is the overlong section which tells the story of the final battles with the aliens Taurans, personally I always find scenes of military engagements very dull, though you may feel differently. Fortunately when that is over we arrive at a wonderful twist and denouement, I do not find the eventual fate of Mandella and his girlfriend quite believable but it is by no means unsatisfactory.
While I was reading about the final battles in the later chapters I was speculating whether to rate this book at 4 stars because I found those battle scenes a little tedious, but after finishing it I feel a 5 stars rating is a more accurate representation of my esteem. ____________________________
“Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the overcompensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn't nearly so spectacu
“Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the overcompensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn't nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand.”
When in doubt always start reviews with a quote I always say, the above quote encapsulates the essence of Brave New World quite well I think. This is one of those very widely read books that needs no introduction (or a review really). It is surely a granddaddy of dystopian science fiction, along with Orwell’s 1984, who would have thought grim novels like these two would pave the way for today’s block busting lovey dovey adventure time dystopian fiction books.
Brave New World is included in most “all-time great” sci-fi books lists, usually in the top 10. While it uses the sci-fi tropes of a futuristic setting, genetic engineering, cloning and so forth the book reads more like a satire of society at the time (first published in 1932) than a straight sci-fi novel. As such it works very well, it is beautifully written, funny, shocking, tragic and of course thought provoking.
The future world (well, the UK) posited by this book is one in which the populace are all created in hatcheries and divided into castes from birth through the process of genetic engineering and conditioning (brain washing) from infancy. Members of the working class ,“Gamma”, “Delta” and “Epsilon”, are all clones with minimum intelligence designed for working in dull repetitive jobs, at the other end of the social spectrum are the “Alpha” and “Beta” class of intelligent and more naturally developed people for jobs in administration, science and art; though they are also heavily conditioned (brainwashed). A state approved and distributed drug called Soma is freely available for all.
Entering into this state controlled society is John “The Savage”, a man accidentally born in a reservation outside civilization by natural birth. John finds himself fish out of water everywhere he goes, inside and outside of civilization. It is through John’s eyes that we witness the inhumanity of this “World State” society. His main antagonist is the highly intelligent Mustapha Mond, the Controller for Western Europe. Mond is very similar to O'Brien from 1984, he is very articulate, his arguments tend to be intelligent and persuasive until you think about the deeper moral implication and the inhumanity underlying his philosophy. The “showdown” of this book is a lengthy philosophical debate between Mond and John that is fascinating and well worth repeated reading.
The novel goes through several tonal shifts from satirical and humorous to alarming, melodramatic and tragic. It is written with consummate skills and wit. I particularly like the new spins Huxley has given to words like “viviparous” and “pneumatic”. There are some experimental passages in Chapter 3 where the narrative intercuts back and forth between three different scenes occurring simultaneously, that took me by surprise a bit, I thought it was a printing error in the book until I looked up some information about this chapter online (plenty of online sources for analysis of this book).
Brave New World is an amazing book which should appeal to fans of "trending" dystopian fiction (in spite of the absence of teenagers falling in love), you have read the rest, now read the best. More importantly it makes you think about the moral and ethical issues implicit in the book. It also makes me want to reread 1984 which is a more grim and badass book....more
Mission of Gravity is, I believe, the granddaddy of hard science fiction. It is often mentioned when discussions of hard sf come up. For some reason tMission of Gravity is, I believe, the granddaddy of hard science fiction. It is often mentioned when discussions of hard sf come up. For some reason the label hard sf usually lead me to expect serious moody novels. For no good reason I tend to equate serious science with serious stories, imagine my surprise when Mission of Gravity turns out to be something of a romp, a good one too. Another point worth mentioning is that while the book was first published in 1953 it still holds up well today because the real world science Clement employs is still valid today.
The main attraction of the book for hard sf fans is probably the world building. The planet Mesklin is an “oblate spheroid” in shape resulting in different gravity levels from the poles to equator. The minimum gravity there is still three times that of earth (3g) and the max is all of 700g. The native intelligent race of this planet, the “Mesklinites”, is consequently centipede like in shape to stay close to the ground where a small drop of a foot in a high gravity area can be fatal. Building on this great scenario Hal Clement creates a culture where the concept of flying and throwing is unheard of and all the natives are afraid of height. The science makes all these details very plausible without sacrificing the sense of wonder, enhancing it even.
Another great gimmick of this novel is that the narrative is mostly told from an alien point of view, one specific alien protagonist named Barlennan. A rather roguish, cunning, and likable captain of a raft called The Bree. character. The Mesklinites remind me a little of the primitive aliens in Le Guin’s The Word for World Is Forest and Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper. Fortunately they are gifted linguists and adaptable to new concepts and experiences so they are able to work with and learn from the humans. I really love this kind of good natured sf story where species learn to work together for mutual benefits. Stories where hideous aliens are blasted to smithereens by super weapons are fun but a change is as good as a rest.
The plot mainly concerns a mission to retrieve a stranded manmade rocket containing valuable information which accidentally landed on one of the planet’s poles. Barlennan and his crew undertake to retrieve this rocket in exchange for knowledge for the advancement of their people. A lot of exploration and adventure ensues and while the ending is not exactly unpredictable I find it quite pleasing.
Mission of Gravity is a short novel of less than 200 pages in length. The book by itself is out of print but as part of the Heavy Planet The Classic Mesklin Stories omnibus volume which contains a sequel called Star Light, some short stories and an essay; all for the price of one book. An offer you can’t refuse I think. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the volume soon. Great fun and educational, what’s not to like?...more
For some reason I always find Larry Niven much better with Jerry Pournelle than without; Inferno, Lucifer's Hammer and Footfall are all winners (theyFor some reason I always find Larry Niven much better with Jerry Pournelle than without; Inferno, Lucifer's Hammer and Footfall are all winners (they have collaborated on quite a few other titles, but I have not read them yet). The Mote in God's Eyeis generally considered to be their partnership’s best book (have a look at Larry Niven’s Goodreads page).
I believe the blurb by Robert A. Heinlein that appears on many editions of the book’s cover* has been around since its first publication in 1974; and it has undoubtedly helped to shift thousands of copies (mine included). I guess it is a little like if you were a guitarist and Jimmi Hendrix tells people you can shred like a demented mofo. Who can resist that kind of recommendation? Is it just hyperbole though? Is The Mote in God's Eye worthy of the accolade?
Yes, it is.
This is a first contact story rendered very believable and engrossing by the authors’ skills and attention to details. The “Moties” are one of the most well conceived alien races I have ever come across. They are very alien, very strange yet they have enough human character traits to be understandable. Of course, completely inscrutable aliens are fun but the more understandable aliens can be more emotionally invested in.
As the novel was written in the 70s its age inevitably shows in places. There are terms like “hyperspace” and “pocket computer” that we do not see in modern sci-fi. Today’s authors tend to invent new words for “hyperspace” and “pocket computer” sounds very quaint as they are now commonplace in the form of smartphones and tablets. These few terms notwithstanding I would argue that The Mote in God's Eye stands the test of time very well. The alien’s design and their extreme specialization are just as wonderfully “SF-nal” on this reread as it was when I first read about it decades ago.
I have no idea who write what in the Niven / Pournelle partnership but they clearly work very well together, there is a unified voice in their highly readable prose style. The characters are better than just flat plot devices, though the book is clearly more about the plot than the characters. Both authors are excel at writing hard science fiction and the science details make the story that much more vivid and believable without ever bogging the book down with excessive infodumping. The “dramatis personae” at the beginning of the book kindly provided by the authors to help the readers keep track of a fairly large cast of characters is an interesting feature. However, the book is written so well that I never found it necessary to refer to it at any time.
The central and very human theme of this book seems to be how difficult it is for different races to coexist peacefully when there is a conflict of interest and when negotiations are hampered by deceptions. The issue is not entirely resolved in this book but leaves a lot of room for the readers to speculate and draw their own conclusions. There is a less well received sequel called The Gripping Hand which I am not sure I will read as I am more than satisfied with this book’s ending.
One of the all-time greats IMO.
* Heinlein’s blurb reads “possibly the finest science fiction novel I have ever read”....more