20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne is, quite honestly, more of an adventure and revenge novel than science fiction. Admittedly Verne was spec 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne is, quite honestly, more of an adventure and revenge novel than science fiction. Admittedly Verne was speculating on the use of sciences that were in their infancy or just a glimmer in their inventor's eyes when he wrote, but there isn't much that's truly out-of-this-world and stretch-your-imagination here--particularly for someone reading it now.
Verne has given us the mysterious figure of Captain Nemo--a man whose nationality and origins are unknown. A man who harbors a deep distaste for his fellow man and who is a on a quest to avenge some private wrong. At the end of the story he says about a vessel that he is about to attack, "I am the oppressed, and there is the oppressor! Through him I have lost all that I loved, cherished, and venerated,--country, wife, children, father, and mother. I saw all perish! All that I hate is there! Say no more!" We are never told exactly what happened to make him so bitter.
But, I get ahead of myself....to backtrack. The story begins with Professor Aronnax, French naturalist who is a recognized expert on marine life and who is on his way home to France after an expedition. When he arrives in New York in preparation to sail back home, there are also preparations being made for the naval ship the Abraham Lincoln to set out in search of a "sea monster" which has been spotted by various ships and most recently has opened a large hole in the passenger ship the Scotia. The captain and crew of the Lincoln have vowed to hunt down whatever creature may have done the damage and Professor Aronnax is invited along as an expert in sea life. His devoted servant Conseil joins him on what may (and does) prove to be a dangerous journey. They make friends with the skilled harpooner Ned Land.
When the Lincoln finally locates the "creature" and engages it, the ship is damaged (the rudder rendered useless) and Aronnax, Conseil, and Land all find themselves adrift in the Atlantic. They wind up washed up on the hull of the "creature"--a man-made submarine shaped roughly like a cigar. The three are soon brought inside, but find themselves prisoners of a man who introduces himself as Captain Nemo. Nemo tells them that he means them no harm, but that he will never allow them to leave the vessel. They must resign themselves to a life aboard his ship.
The remainder of the book is a veritable travelogue of the voyage of the Nautilus (Nemo's vessel) through the oceans and seas of the world. We follow him through the Atlantic and Pacific, through the waters of the Antarctic to the pole itself. We see him journey through the Red Sea and a secret underground passage that takes him through the Mediterranean. We are treated to an encyclopedia's worth of marine life (literally--a catalog of underwater creatures, with commentary given to us in great detail by the Professor). And ends with the scene of revenge from which the quote above is taken.
There are some grand adventures here. There are some very nice descriptions. Nemo has the makings of a tremendous character study. I enjoyed the heart of the story very much--and could have loved this so much more than Moby Dick and Ahab's obsession*, but for two things. First--the obscenely long lists of marine life and the detailed descriptions of everything from their scales to their fins to their tentacles. And the fact that even Conseil, the servant, seems to have an encyclopedic knowledge of most of the life they encounter. He occasionally has to ask the Professor a question, but he seems to know more than most servants should about just about anything. Second, we never find out Nemo's back-story. He's one of the most interesting characters but we don't know why he hates men so much or what happened that took everything he had away from him. We're left to wonder. I would have enjoyed more about Nemo and less about the zillions of kinds of fish.
Overall, an enjoyable adventure. Three and a half stars....more
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?--well-known classic science fiction novel. Made into the cult-classic film Blade Runner. It's been on my scienceDo Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?--well-known classic science fiction novel. Made into the cult-classic film Blade Runner. It's been on my science fiction radar for years and I finally decided that this was the year to read Philip K. Dick's post-apocalyptic story of too-realistic androids run amok and bounty hunter who is hot on their trail. I've had a fuzzy idea of the plot line and was expecting a knock-out classic SF story.
What I got was some pretty decent ideas, a fair plot, and some general all-over the place storytelling. Human-like robots (too human-like)--yep, we got them. We also have an electric sheep and other electric animals. And Rick Deckard's obsessive need to own a real animal--either a sheep like he had or a horse or an owl or a goat. He's not picky. We also have his depressed wife. And the so-called sub-human "chickenhead" J. R. Isidore and his need for friends--even if those friends are androids. Sometimes following multiply storylines works really well for me. This time it felt messy.
I absolutely understand what Dick was trying to do. By having pseudo-humans and pseudo-animals, he wants us to think about what makes us human; what gives us life and makes us "real." There is irony in the "mood organs" which make the "real" people feel the way they are supposed to feel in any given situation. Because, you know, the ultimate test of whether you're dealing with a real person or an "andy" is emotional...persons in question are given an empathy test to determine whether they are reacting emotionally as a human should. But how valid is that if the "real" people are fed their emotions on a daily basis?
One really extraordinary thing that this book did for me was to lead to a really interesting conversation with my son last night in the car. He watched Blade Runner when he was in high school and when I told him I was reading the book that the film was based on we were off and running discussing differences and themes....and, man, do I wish I'd had a recording device on me. The discussion was awesome--you're going to have to trust me on that.
Three stars for a solid science fiction read. I was hoping to be handing out more.
I love Harlan Ellison. Every-in-your-face, cocky, let's turn what you think upside-down and inside-out word of him. The man can write. He can write soI love Harlan Ellison. Every-in-your-face, cocky, let's turn what you think upside-down and inside-out word of him. The man can write. He can write so darn well that he can tell you about his bypass surgery and make you think it's freakin' awesome. He can spin a tale about living through an earthquake on a mountain top and make you wish you had been there. And that's just in the introduction, folks. Haven't even made it to the "real" short stories yet.
I've said it before (back when I read his collection of stories in Shatterday)--Harlan Ellison is not for everybody. He can run the entire gamut of fiction from dark comedy to ghost story to time travel to gangster occult to straight science fiction to the nightmare tales that you thought nobody knew but you. He's a manic, multi-personality storyteller who switches gears faster than you can turn the page. Not everyone's cup of tea. But he's fantastic in every genre he tries.
In Slippage, he seems to switch up his genres even more than usual--following the theme of tectonic shift that springs from the shifts in his life--from learning he's not immortal (thanks to the bypass surgery) to having his home dismantled by mother nature's own destruction team (a la earthquake). We find ourselves facing long-forgotten gods and killers we thought buried in the legends of time. We are given three stories where criminals are given their just desserts--but we have to question the justice of the third. We learn the power of thought and the power of love. We are reminded how dependent we've become on technology and just how much of our life's energy those electronic beasts may be draining away. And he introduces us to the opposite of Santa Claus and teaches us to be careful what we imagine....because it just might come true.
These are cautionary tales...no matter how fantastic the story, Ellison is doing what he does best--writing about human nature in all of its terrible baseness and horrible possibility. But he also gives us humanity with all its hope and incredible glory. Just shy of the quality of Shatterday--I give it 4 1/2 stars.
My favorites: "Darkness Upon the Face of the Deep" "The Lingering Scent of Woodsmoke" "Go Toward the Light" "Sensible City"
This is not my favorite H. G. Wells novel. I really enjoyed The Island of Dr. Moreau last fall--it won the creepy contest sponsored by Softdrink &This is not my favorite H. G. Wells novel. I really enjoyed The Island of Dr. Moreau last fall--it won the creepy contest sponsored by Softdrink & Heather in their annual Dueling Monsters challenge. And The Invisible Man garnered 4 stars this year. But The First Men in the Moon is one of Wells' lesser known novels--and I think deservedly so.
It is the story of two men who find a way to journey to the moon (back at the turn of the last century). There is the brilliant scientific theorist who comes up with the method and the failed business man (and current attempted playwright) who prods the theorist into putting his ideas into practice. The business man, of course, has visions of what they might discover on the moon and bring back to Earth for a profit. He might actually make something of himself...
The scientist, one Mr. Cavor by name, has come up with a substance (dubbed Cavorite) that will block the force of gravity. Coat a spherical ship with the stuff and manipulate it just right and off you go to the moon! It's just that easy. And so they do. They arrive on the moon to find that, miracle of miracles, they can breathe the air. It's a bit thin, but workable. And when they get lost and can't find their ship, why they can eat the moon-vegetation as well. The only ill-effect is drunkenness. Well, that, and they come out of their stupor to find that they have been captured by the natives of the moon. Their captors take them down inside the moon.
Bedford, the businessman, fears what the Selenites (that's what the moon-people are called) might do to them and a grand escape and chase and action-hero fighting take place. It looks like our two protagonists will make a clean get-away. But then they are silly enough to separate. Bedford finds the sphere and Cavor is re-captured. Bedford has an idea that he might head back to Earth and bring back reinforcements, but things don't go exactly as planned. The book ends with communications that are received from Cavor and a bit of Wells' usual philosophizing on the war-like nature of man.
You'd think with the action, this would be an interesting book. But it just didn't pull me in the way the chase across Moreau's island did. And I didn't really care for either of the main characters. Cavor is a bit endearing as the one-track-minded scientist who can't really see the practical side of things--but not enough to win me over. Two stars....more
Once upon a time I seemed to be involved in a regular Golden Age science fiction orgy. Bradbury, Asimov, Arthur C Clarke, Theodore Sturgeon, Robert SiOnce upon a time I seemed to be involved in a regular Golden Age science fiction orgy. Bradbury, Asimov, Arthur C Clarke, Theodore Sturgeon, Robert Silverberg....the lot. That took me from pre-teens all the way through college. I still read SF, but not in the quantities that I did. It's a shame, really, I had forgotten how much I really loved Ray Bradbury. Digging into this short story collection for my Birth Year Challenge was absolutely delightful. I got to enjoy the title story all over again (I'd read it many moons ago). I love Bradbury's use of language and his way of using SF situations to describe the emotions of now. Whether that "now" be when the stories were actually written or the now of 2010. He absolutely captures the human condition whether he's showing the future humans on Earth or humans on Mars or humans in space. Four and 1/2 stars out Five.
How could I not love the writing of a man who gives us this?
"What is Love? perhaps we may find that love is the ability of someone to give us back to us. Maybe love is someone seeing and remembering handing us back to ourselves just a trifle better than we dared to hope or dream..." (from the title story)
Or, less philosophical, but entirely delightful:
"Out of the ditch, we unloaded ourselves into a great Buck-a-Night Bungalow Court in a murderers' ambush behind a wood and on the rim of a deep rock-quarry where our bodies might be found years later at the bottom of a lost and sourceless lake, and spent the night counting the rain that leaked through the shingle-sieve roof and fighting over who had the most covers on the wrong side of the bed. (from "The Inspired Chicken Motel")
I'm glad the Challenge gave me the chance to read Bradbury again. I won't wait so long to do it again.
Fredric Brown was a master of the science fiction short story form...and even more so of the short short form. Angels and Spaceships is a fantastic coFredric Brown was a master of the science fiction short story form...and even more so of the short short form. Angels and Spaceships is a fantastic collection of stories--over half of which were published in Astounding & Unknown between 1941 and 1949. The book starts out with an absolute stunner--a work of supreme science fiction irony that does its magic in a page and a half. Brown does more with that page and a half than a lot of writers could do with an entire novel. He goes on to tell us about the linotype machine (a printing line casting machine used until the 60s/70s) that comes alive and makes a slave of the printer. And how the earth was surrounded by aliens that fed off of electricity and forced everyone to go back to the horse and buggy and steam-powered engines. And the little boy who defeated Satan with a water pistol--and some very special water. And the spaceman who kills an alien and finds that the death sentence isn't quite as bad as he first thought. Oh...and the heavenly typesetter who missed a typo or two and made things difficult for Charlie Wills. All this and more in one place!
The stories range from screwball fantasy to hardball science fiction and everything in between. Brown's writing is delightfully straightforward until the clever curve ball that he manages to throw at the end of every story. A fun and intriguing collection. Four stars.