Review subtitle: There is so much more than meets the eye...
One reads this short-story and tells himself/herself: "I guessed the ending after readingReview subtitle: There is so much more than meets the eye...
One reads this short-story and tells himself/herself: "I guessed the ending after reading only seven pages." And "The Skull has a blunt anti-war message, but so have a thousand other short-stories."
True and true, but that's not the (ultimate) point of the story. Yes, there is strong criticism of ignorance, intolerance, sadism, and even macabre curiosity, which all encourage violence and ultimately war. Yes, the ending is obvious, but...
... I personally believe that the conclusion is so undisguised in order to point out to the main question of the story: What message would you have for the world should you know that very soon you will die?
What if he could see this, his own skull, yellow and eroded? Two centuries old. Would he still speak? [...] What would there be for him to say, to tell the people? What message could he bring? What action would not be futile, when a man could look upon his own aged, yellowed skull?
This was so good that it simply made my day! Because in the end that's a question all of us (should) ask......more
I kept pondering over and over how to write this review. What can you write about a book, when the author clearly states in the end that it has no morI kept pondering over and over how to write this review. What can you write about a book, when the author clearly states in the end that it has no moral? That "it does not say they were wrong [...]; it just tells what the consequences were." What can you write about a book that ends with the list of the 15 persons who inspired it, all dead, with permanent brain damage, permanent psychosis, or at the very best (if there is a "best" when talking about such aftermaths) permanent pancreatic damage (the author himself, who in an interview tells that he has "never ever" even taken hard drugs)? And A Scanner Darkly is autobiographical, there is not doubt about that.
I was in a position to see what hard drugs did to people, what drugs did to my friends. (Interviewer: There is terrible damage done.) Just incredible. I just couldn't believe it. I saw things that if I hadn't seen them with my own eyes I simply wouldn't have believed them. I know you've read A Scanner Darkly. Everything in A Scanner Darkly I actually saw. I mean I saw even worse things than I put in A Scanner Darkly.
Hence my dilemma: how can I summarize in half-a-page the essence of a blight that Philip K. Dick himself tries to summarize in 220 pages? It would be moot. Because this is what A Scanner Darkly really is: a survey into the world of Slow Death, a cognomen for all drugs since, as he points out, all drug users are slowly dying in spirit, turning into burned-out husks capable only of parroting and aping... They simply don't comprehend their own galloping extinction since they gradually lose the ability to understand anything at all.
To end, I just want to point out that A Scanner Darkly is autobiographical not only concerning the drug culture (which is quite obvious), but also regarding Bob Arctor's entire life: the broken marriage, the lost children (a daughter, in real life), the empty house subsequently filled with drug addicts, the unrequited love, the rehab program... everything is inspired by the author's life (more toward the end of this interview). Therefore, this novel becomes a testimony not only of one of the last century's plagues, but also a surreptitious look into the life of one of the biggest science-fiction authors. ...more
In spite of its several lacks, I mostly enjoyed By His Bootstraps, particularly because it condenses my personal theory about the quintessence of timeIn spite of its several lacks, I mostly enjoyed By His Bootstraps, particularly because it condenses my personal theory about the quintessence of time. ツ
Robert A. Heinlein imagines an applied example of "immovable history" (my home-brewed term), which postulates that an actor is not able to change any events (past and future) of his/her life: s/he can only fulfill the history. The fantasy genre (and not only!) makes great use of the concept in the form of prophecies, while science-fiction mostly uses the concept of time-travel to embody it.
What is notable about Heinlein's essay is that he touches on the aspect that makes most people shy away from this doctrine: the free-will. These people argue that if whatever is to happen will happen, then individuals are not responsible for their actions... In this regard Mr. Heinlein points out that, the actors in the middle of events are in no way constrained in their choices, and hence they always maintain their free-will.
"You are telling me that I did something because I was going to do something.” “Well, didn’t you? You were there.” “No, I didn’t—no... well, maybe I did, but it didn’t feel like it.” “Why should you expect it to? It was something totally new to your experience.”
I have my personal theory on this, but this is neither the time nor the place for it. As about the faults of the story, some of them gave me the nails-on-a-chalkboard nausea.
1) There is a manifest chauvinistic feel in the narrative: a woman's "right attitude" is serving food to her man on her knees... No further comment. ☹ 2) Probably even worse than the misogyny is the author's opinion that the lack of what he calls "will-to-power" is a negative aspect of society. Maybe it's just me, but shouldn't we all aspire to a world in which no one has power over another human being, not the other way around? ☹☹ 3) Regarding the story itself, the entire plot would not have been possible if Wilson had not shown distinct signs of obtuseness. Some of the situations can be explained by intoxication, but the rest... And he is supposed to be a math student which doesn't bode well for the future of this science. ツ
So blaming the above issues (#1 and #2) on the social norms of a past culture, I will go ahead and highly recommend this story to science-fiction lovers and/or those interested in the theories of the spacetime continuum....more
I got this audiobook as a promotional freebie from Audible (as I write this review, they still offer it for free). Let me mention that I am not familiI got this audiobook as a promotional freebie from Audible (as I write this review, they still offer it for free). Let me mention that I am not familiar with the Galactic Center Saga Series and hence starting with book #5.5 might not be the best way of getting acquainted with a series.
So, for those readers in the same boat with me, here are some of the author's notes related to this series:
The series comprises six novels, composed over a twenty-five-year span. The events stretch from the early 2000s to A.D. 37518, an immense scope imposed because its central focus, our galactic center, is 28,000 light-years away, and characters had to get there to take part in the galaxy's larger games.[...]
The themes of the series resolve in favor of humanity as unique and worth saving, even in as hostile a galaxy as I envisioned. But I suspect that if natural life is as foolish and vulnerable as we seem to be, quite possibly machines may inherit the galaxy, and thus sit bemused, watching us with cool indifference from afar.
This added story deals with an essential question asked of humans at the beginning of their decline, about A.D. 36000. It also reveals several aspects of the dreaded Mantis I never found room for in the novels." (Gregory Benford)
The question Mr. Benford talks about (or so I understood from bits and scraps of conversations) is why the Mantis, a superior machine or mech, harvests humans. And the answer is a rather unexpected: it sees humanity as an endangered species and tries to chronicle its existence through "art." What the mech understands by "art" is something each reader has to find for himself/herself.
What I think it's interesting about A Hunger for the Infinite is the fact that humans have nearly forgotten the concept of artistry, while the machine dwells in the "happiness" of creating statues. Hence Mr. Benford points our to a direct correlation between the development of a civilization and the existence art.
The story itself is rather episodic (it spans about 100 years in 50-or-so pages/2 hours of narration). I understand that this technique was intentional, as the author tried "to convey the huge scales of both time and distance that a galaxy implies" (Gregory Benford). Yet, at times it felt scattered, in spite of the rich, effusive writing.
Maybe it's our jaded senses cause by the continuously bombardment by the television with death, gore, and violence... Maybe it's Wyndham's rather detaMaybe it's our jaded senses cause by the continuously bombardment by the television with death, gore, and violence... Maybe it's Wyndham's rather detached, impersonal, deadpan depiction of pain and sorrow... Or maybe (and this is I believe much of the cause) it is the author's deliberately attempted to portray a beginning rather than an end. Either way, while reading The Day of the Triffids I never felt daunted or shocked, let alone horrified of this version of apocalypse.
While he could have focused, like in José Saramago's Blindness, on the crumbling of a civilization, John Wyndham chooses instead to write about building of a new world. He is at times melancholic about the loss of the old world, but covertly he seems to consider the disaster a fortuity meant to give humanity a fresh new start: All the old problems, the stale ones, both personal and general, had been solved by one mighty slash. The entire story is imbued with hints that what happened might be for the best because it gives society a chance to redesign itself: "We have not simply to start building again; we have to start thinking again."
Because of course in the end, it wasn't a comet that destroyed the civilization as we knew it, it was humanity itself by hoarding mass-destruction weapons. There is more or less subtle criticism of the militaristic trend across the entire novel, but in the end it become quite overt:
“Do you think we could—do you think we should be justified in starting a myth to help them (Note: the children)? A story of a world that was wonderfully clever, but so wicked that it had to be destroyed—or destroyed itself by accident? Something like the Flood, again? [...]
“Yes...” I said, considering it. “Yes. It’s often a good idea to tell children the truth. Kind of makes things easier for them later on—only why pretend it’s a myth?”
Yet, nowhere John Wyndham stops proffering his conviction that humankind deserves and can be saved. The Day of the Triffids is an great novel, hinting at humanity's need to change its ways before it's too late....more
This is such a positive short story, and although I realize that sailing in search of the Unknown Island is just a metaphor for self-discovery, it madThis is such a positive short story, and although I realize that sailing in search of the Unknown Island is just a metaphor for self-discovery, it made me want to go sailing too.
There are about 1500 reviews that summarize the plot and, since The Tale of the Unknown Island is anyways an allegory, I'll simply skip to the meaning. What is great about José Saramago is that he never lets the reader wonder what he intended to say: "I want to find the unknown island, I want to find out who I am when I'm there on that island, Don't you know, If you don't step outside yourself, you'll never discover who you are."
So it all boils down to this: in a world in which most people take delight in believing that there is nothing left to be discovered, the greatest mystery and exploration of all is ourselves.
Just a great read, even if Mr. Saramago's writing style is not for everyone....more
Quick and dirty reading notes and (i)relevant thoughts In an alternate steampunk reality, Seattle is ridden with zombies created inadvertently by thQuick and dirty reading notes and (i)relevant thoughts ✐ In an alternate steampunk reality, Seattle is ridden with zombies created inadvertently by the release of a toxic gas. A sprinkling of people still leave underground, but most of the population migrated elsewhere. When the 15-year-old son of the man who caused the havoc runs back to Seattle, his mother has no choice but try to save him from a world where zombies are not the most dangerous creatures. And since a boy is a boy, he has to make every possible wrong decision, making his mother attempt's nearly futile.
✐ I have serious troubles trying to figure out who is the intended audience of this novel. The language is overly simplistic, very similar to a YA story, but the main character is 35 and "she did not look a minute younger," which is not your typical YA heroine. Also, the society is implicitly matriarchal, with older but wise women being in the center of everything that is accomplished. My best guess is that the novel was intended for the increasingly numerous adults (women, in this case) reading YA novels. (I admit occasionally I read them too, if not for the sometimes deficient language and limited depth, at least for their more optimistic feeling that unfortunately lacks in most adult novels. There is so much dread, destruction, and gore one can read without getting totally depressed.)
✐ This being said, Boneshaker is an action-driven novel, a page turner by all means. There are battles and chases and fights and traps and all of them are well narrated. In fact the book is a collection of them, with almost no respite. The alternate reality is interesting and quite believable: a mix of steampunk and the current state, with a lot of electricity involved.
✐ And yet I wish there was something more: introspection and a view into the local "politics." This is in fact the reason for the 4-star rating - Boneshaker is almost completely devoid of character development. The bad are bad and they exploit the good who are good. None of them seems to evolve throughout the story, with the notable exception of Briar becoming more open toward her son.
✐ I think this is a good story and the seemingly incongruous elements are made to fit well with each other. But I was hoping for a little bit more....more
Who saw the movie and, in spite of the great cast, found it too gory, dehumanized, obsessive, and (shReview subtitle: Don't Judge a Book by its Movie!
Who saw the movie and, in spite of the great cast, found it too gory, dehumanized, obsessive, and (should I say it) psychotic? Raise your hands! (Count me in... ☝) I'm happy to say that the original novel was a different story. All the elements that bothered me in the movie adaptation are there, yet there is always a (relatively) sane motivation for even the worse decisions.
The synopsis is simple: using a couple of diaries, the descendants of two stage magicians try to unravel the mystery of their feud, which more than a hundred years later, still continues to claim victims in both camps. Alfred Borden, a genuine talent, almost a prodigy in the field, sees Rupert Angier as a fraud, a worse than mediocre magician... and so the conflict is born. Over the years, both men try successively to mend the gap and unfortunately they always fail. In my opinion, this is the essence of the novel: not the obsession (which is the apparent theme), but the tragedy of two people unable to break free from a vicious cycle.
One of the reviewers said that the characters are not likeable, but I disagree. They both make dreadful choices, but in the end what I felt for them was an infinite sadness for never being on the same page. If only they could have put their anger aside, they would have seen (before it was too late) their similarities and end the enmity. And how similar they are! They both "kill" a part of themselves in order to prove to the other that they are better.
What I found extremely interesting about this novel is that the story is circular: the end is a "karmic" reflection of the beginning and both protagonists have to pay for their pseudo-suicides. (view spoiler)[Rupert Angier who started by faking a communication with the spirits turns into a "ghost" and the Borden-twins, who always pretended to be one person, remain one after being separated by death. (hide spoiler)]
Although not your typical SF story, this is altogether an excellent read!["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Quick and dirty reading notes and (i)relevant thoughts (A Nobel Prize winner not for the faint of heart.)
This was not a quick read, in spite of theQuick and dirty reading notes and (i)relevant thoughts (A Nobel Prize winner not for the faint of heart.)
✐ This was not a quick read, in spite of the nearly conversational language and only 266 pages. A textbook parable, this novel is so loaded with symbols, allegories, metaphors, etc, that in average I read 40 pages a day... after which I had to put it aside and ponder about what I just read.
✐ It is because of the heavy symbolism that I don't think it's right to pen a lengthy review about all the ideas and meanings I found in it. After all, I believe that's the whole point of the novel: to make each reader unravel the "mystery" of the blindness and think for himself/herself of it's cause and consequences on the human nature. Nor do I think that I can write an objective review, since Blindness is the kind of book that would leave a very subjective impression on each reader.
✐ The whole story revolves around a population stricken by blindness and how people (don't) cope with the situation. It seems straightforward to say that the blindness is a metaphor for lack of understanding/penetration/apprehension, but as I interpreted it, the meaning runs deeper: "I went blind when I was looking at my blind eye." And just because Mr. Saramago wants to make sure that the reader pays attention to the above statement, he underlines it: "It sounds like an allegory." It is because of this statement and that from the last page ("I don't think we did go blind, I think we are blind, Blind but seeing, Blind people who can see, but do not see.") that I believe the blindness is not a metaphor for lack of comprehension, but one for the awareness of this inability to understand.
✐ As about the unexplained cause of blindness, I don't think that it as arcane as some readers seem to believe. In fact as always Mr. Saramago spells it out for us (thought one has to read carefully to find his cues - hence the 40 pages a day). "Fear struck us blind, fear will keep us blind." It's not humanity that makes the doctor's wife keep her sight - it's her courage. In a world in which mothers abandon their kids in order to try to save themselves (see the young boy who keeps asking for his mother who never is to come), the doctor's wife is the only one utterly unafraid. And in the end, when broken down by the burden of responsibility and the horrors she witnessed, she loses her courage, she turns blind as well: "It is my turn, she thought. Fear made her quickly lower her eyes."
✐ So it all comes down to this axiom: it is the fear that keeps us from understanding ourselves and the world around us and, as long as we don't conquer our fear, we won't be able to "see."
✐ I could go on about why the language is so objective and why the characters have no names, and why for 4-5 pages in a row there is no new paragraph, but that would defeat the purpose of this novel: no one can see in your place. Seeing is a profoundly personal act....more
I just finished reading your Zodiac adventures and how I loved them. At first I was a bit confused since I was expecting a science-fictionDear S.T. -
I just finished reading your Zodiac adventures and how I loved them. At first I was a bit confused since I was expecting a science-fiction novel. I know, I know, you did start your memoirs clearly stating that this is an eco-thriller, but I was misled by the GoodReads shelving. Have you seen it? Oof! "Science Fiction," "Horror," even "Fantasy." Although "Cyberpunk" has be the best one given that your colleagues refuse to work in an office with a computer and you use yours only for printing and text-editing. Maybe it's because some guy named Neal-something wrote a bunch of SF novels, although I still didn't figure out the connection.
But enough of that. I don't think I've ever read such a fun thriller. Usually, this kind of tomes relinquish any kind of conviviality in order to accentuate their nerve-clenching aspect. But you look at life with the eyes of a big child tough dude, enjoying (almost) every moment. Did I tell you that I laughed out loud reading the car-chase description from Niagara and the subsequent shopping spree with the bad-guys' credit card? And your Macgyverian moments from the first half of the story were priceless. I did feel that maybe you started a bit late to get into the pith of the matter (around page 120 from 307) but that wasn't much of a problem.
However, S.T., I wasn't thrilled about you falling back to drugs every time when you're stressed. LSD, mushrooms, speed, and what else... For a "near-genius" chemist, one would think that you'd know better that kind of stuff permanently and irrevocably messes up your grey-matter. It made me a bit sad since a chemist would be the first one to understand how dangerous those drugs are. Watch out...
I have to finish here since I'm sure you have lots of fan-mail to read. Till next time, so long!...more
Quick and dirty reading notes and (i)relevant thoughts This was such a beautifully written short story, if a bit sad in the end. I think everyone woQuick and dirty reading notes and (i)relevant thoughts ✐ This was such a beautifully written short story, if a bit sad in the end. I think everyone would agree that the descriptions are simply breathtaking.
✐ It is about a scientific expedition which comes to backwater planet Wraithworld to investigate the existence of wraiths. These mythological "beings" are said to have caused a series of deaths since the discovery of the planet, and ever since they attracted tourists fascinated by their mystery. The head of the expedition is convinced that the wraiths are a fancy of imagination and fails to understand the essence of this place. On the other hand, the journalist who covers the story falls in love with the lush scenery and the natural mystery of the planet.
✐ In the end, this is a story about the inability of the science to see beyond numbers and experiments and its destructive effects. Definitely a recommended read (listen)....more
Quick and dirty reading notes and (i)relevant thoughts It's quite amusing that not earlier than yesterday, I wrote a "review" for First Meetings inQuick and dirty reading notes and (i)relevant thoughts ✐ It's quite amusing that not earlier than yesterday, I wrote a "review" for First Meetings in Ender's Universe, a collection of short stories that addresses the exact opposite topic from 2BR02B (link to review). In there, Orson Scott Card advocates people's right to have as many children as they desire, while in 2BR02B, for a newborn to be allowed to live, one of the existing people has to die. And of course, as any extreme, none of them is good and/or just.
✐ In 2BR02B, the world has reached to a level where people don't age, don't sicken, and naturally die only from accidents. So what's to be done when a child is born? Someone has to volunteer to die. And here comes the Federal Bureau of Termination, the official organization for assisted suicide.
✐ The point Mr. Vonnegut makes is the impossibility of humans' boundless desires, the fact that we always want more than is good/correct/sustainable. "The painter pondered the mournful puzzle of life demanding to be born and, once born, demanding to be fruitful... to multiply and to live as long as possible—to do all that on a very small planet that would have to last forever."...more
Quick and dirty reading notes and (i)relevant thoughts (For my first "review" under this logo, there are going to be fewer reading notes and more thoQuick and dirty reading notes and (i)relevant thoughts (For my first "review" under this logo, there are going to be fewer reading notes and more thoughts, since I found something very vexing about this collection of short stories.)
✐ Although this is listed as the first book in the series, I'm glad I read it only after Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead. The stories range from 40 years before to 300 after the events from Ender's Game and they would be utterly confusing to a new reader.
✐ The first two stories bring into focus Ender's father and relate his first encounter with the military authorities, then his first meeting with his future wife. Both of them have a very pervasive religious flavor (I'll come back to this issue). The third story depicts the first meeting between Ender and the AI entity Jane and it is very light and amusing.
✐ I said before that two of the stories are over-the-top religious and here it is the message that I found disturbing: in today's world, it is OK/normal/religiously desirable to have 9 children (12, if we think that in Speaker for the Dead, by the time she is 34-35, Novinha has already 6 children and she plans to have 6 more with Ender! ☹.) I can't even count on how many levels I disagree with this message!
......◊ I'm not even going to mention that at just under 7 billion people we are at the very least 10 times more numerous than what a healthy ecosystem can support.
......◊ Yet, this novel seems to advocate that a quadruple increase in population every 20 years (9 children to 2 parents means in fact a 4.5 increase) is fine and should not be avoided. So assuming that a person leaves 80 years, during her life, she will see an increase of 410 times in the number of people (4.5 to the 4). That means that given today's population, in 80 years there will be roughly 2870 billion people. Who is going to feed all those people and where are they going to live?
......◊ Of course, Mr. Card would say that it's people's right to have as many kids as they want, and I agree with that as a general principle. But you can't ask 4 non-christian couples to forgo their choice of having children only that a christian couple could have 9 of them.
......◊ Further it is implied that the folks who don't want children are in denial. Having known over the time a large number of folks who found no innate need to procreate, I can testify that their motivations range from socioeconomic & ecologic responsibility to simple lack of any putative joy coming from "creating life" -- with all shades of gray in between. To allude that they don't know what they want is a bit... presumptuous in my opinion....more
Quick and dirty reading notes and (i)relevant thoughts This Hugo-nominated short story brings up a very sensitive subject: what is the right decisioQuick and dirty reading notes and (i)relevant thoughts ✐ This Hugo-nominated short story brings up a very sensitive subject: what is the right decision in extending the life of the elderly? And is the right decision (i.e., what is good for the patient) the same one with the "ethical" decision?
✐ It's year 2200 and the medicine got so advanced that humans live at least to be 150. Yes, it is true that by the time they are 100-120, most of them are completely senile, have their organs replaced, can no longer get out of bed - in one word, they are vegetables. This is a terrible term to use, but in this story, there is always a parallel between the main character's charges (his patients) and his wife's flowers.
✐ When our character is faced with a new patient, Mr. Goldmeier who, in spite of being 153, maintains a sharp mind, he is totally shocked. Not only that Mr. Goldmeier is not grateful for being kept alive; in fact his resentment goes so deep that it borders hatred. He describes the medical facilities as places "where men begged for death, and slowly went mad when it didn't come."
✐ A highly dystopic read that makes one think how useful living wills are....more
This is the story of a twelve-year-old boy who, on October 20, 1962, encounters in the back of his house a visitor from the future. The date is importThis is the story of a twelve-year-old boy who, on October 20, 1962, encounters in the back of his house a visitor from the future. The date is important, since the visitor seems particularly interested in President Kennedy's authorization of the naval quarantine of Cuba.
10 to the 16 to 1 is a well written short story with attention to character analysis, but... I was expecting something more....more