The Engines of God is a very good book. I recommend it for anyone who likes hard science fiction. McDevitt takes a different intermediate approach to...moreThe Engines of God is a very good book. I recommend it for anyone who likes hard science fiction. McDevitt takes a different intermediate approach to aliens by seeing them all as "pretty much human." That is, the SETI efforts will take us to the stars only to find more of ourselves in different shapes. I can't talk about the meaning of the title without a drastic spoiler, but I will say that the author connects a nasty form of destruction with Sodom and in so doing supports a religious motif that weaves throughout the book. In the face of enigma, loss, discovery, and the perennial conflict between those who want to observe and those who want to exploit we see the spiritual selves of the cast develop. they form connections, some of them close, and they ask big questions about the nature of the universe.
McDevitt could have done better at connecting his plot with the stories of the real earth. The academy, the business concern, the biblical reference to an ancient destroyed city is about it. By extracting from the terrestrial, McDevitt encases us in an authentic Space Opera which is, refreshingly, not about the military. However, beyond the newsbites that give us a glimpse of what's going on back home, we have very little way to answer the question: what has happened in the last few centuries? I like the fact that star travel, even with FTL still takes a long time and the author deals realistically with interstellar travel that becomes something akin to the sea voyages of past centuries, long and needing creativity to fill. The people involved become small societies of their own and actual connections have a chance to develop. There is even time for healing.
This is a departure from the BEM and LGM alien encounter, giving us a glimpse of life as we know it rather than a fantastic leap into the realm of The Other. Of course, it depends heavily on an evolutionary model and all religion is shunted to the shelves of mythology. It also grapples with the meaning of art, which in this case is reduced to a ... well, maybe I shouldn't say, but in my opinion, when the mystery is solved, the meaning of the art becomes less compelling. And that's sad, because in my experience, the more the mystery behind art is unpacked, the more beautiful and compelling it becomes.
Read The Engines for its unique take on alien life, for its touching human drama, for its vision of a galaxy that holds not just natural wonder, but imaginative wonder as well. I read it for an introduction to Hutch, and I will revisit her in another book to see what happens to a pilot who somehow escapes the cockiness usually reserved for fictional pilots. She is just one more way McDevitt breaks stereotypes. We'll see if it can hold up.(less)
The blurb on this books sings the accolades too loudly. It was worth reading if you enjoy the Foundation books, but not compelling in most regards. It...moreThe blurb on this books sings the accolades too loudly. It was worth reading if you enjoy the Foundation books, but not compelling in most regards. It felt like Asimov had to say Psychohistory at least three times on every page, as if the reader was going to forget what was important to Seldon and his clan. It needed either to ignore psychohistory a bit and focus on the actual substance of Seldon's relationships, or get into it a little more intensely and help us see how it went from being a questionable endeavor to a viable model of prediction. It didn't do either. Instead it focused on Seldon's fear that it would fail. As real as that kind of fear may be, it gets boring after a hundred pages. Asimov always enjoyed being clever. Sometimes he pulled it off and sometimes he didn't. This time he barely squeaked by. At least in Prelude Seldon had the quest motif to keep things interesting. It was as if IA was straining to pull everything together, and though he succeeds, he does not do so brilliantly. Asimov complained one time that readers and publishers would not let the series rest, and in this book it shows.
The book's good features are the development of Raych, Yugo and Wanda. These too could have been better, but they did carry more depth than the plot of the book. These could have become compelling characters, but at least they had some depth of feeling directed toward something besides the work. For the most part the extreme love for psychohistory, as if it were a character, was unconvincing. Read Forward the Foundation to complete your absorption of the mythos, but read it early on and definitely before you read Foundation. But don't let it's flatness discourage you from continuing on. Know that Asimov's earlier work in this series is still the better work.(less)
In an age when soldiers were the epitome of the American ideal, and the geek subculture had the additional heroes in scientists, enter Seaton who is a...moreIn an age when soldiers were the epitome of the American ideal, and the geek subculture had the additional heroes in scientists, enter Seaton who is a bit of both. Up the ante with a rich a sidekick with unlimited money. Finally add to the equation a talented and beautiful damsel and a further damsel in distress and finally a boldly evil bad guy and it's a recipe for naive fun. All's well as long as the heroes are on the job, nothing could possibly go wrong, and it doesn't. Or at least if it does, it gets promptly fixed. The Skylark, an impossible ship made to work with impossible tech just keeps getting better and saves the day even against lesser skylarks. In addition the goodness of the heroes unquestionably and inevitably triumph over the evil Duquesne.
By today's standard this book is hopelessly cheesy and clean to the point of insanely predictable. It drives like a fairy tale and has a soft attraction, like a stuffed animal or a juggler: reliable, pleasant, and reminiscent of a simpler time.(less)
Heinlein is a master of short fiction. This collection is a little off the beaten Heinlein fan path in that it is not completely a Future History sequ...moreHeinlein is a master of short fiction. This collection is a little off the beaten Heinlein fan path in that it is not completely a Future History sequence collection. A large portion of these stories stray very far indeed and in the process reveal an empathy that is far beyond the technical correctness of some of his harder science fiction, or as RAH preferred, speculative fiction. I confess to loving the title story as well as a couple others. The Year of the Jackpot is wonderful, though it ends badly. Water is for Washing is brilliant in its depth.
The collection is best read slowly, one story at a time. Do not rush it, though definitely read each story in a single sitting. There is no other way to fully absorb their delightful ambiance. (less)
Heinlein got his start in the pulps, but he was not content to stay there. This collection represents his time of initial expansion, perhaps the heigh...moreHeinlein got his start in the pulps, but he was not content to stay there. This collection represents his time of initial expansion, perhaps the height of his power as a writer of short fiction. As such, these stories carry an extra level of sophisitication, breaking out from the techno-centered character of his earler work. He is no longer appealing only to the pre-war "geek" culture, but to the population at large. Heinlein, however, does not content himself with appealing to the lowest common denominator. Instead, he continues to reach for an audience educated in the softer sciences of antrhopology, economics, psychology, and sociology. By softening his dependence on physics and enginieering, he makes the point that science fiction is a genre for the masses, that anyone can enjoy.
To do this, he accesses his portrayal of the energetic and somewhat cynical salesman (as he did earlier in Life-line and in The Man Who Sold the Moon). He enters into a more domestic environment and even into the elements of folk-lore where not just the songs of the poets, but the identies of the poets themselves take on an idealized ring.
Read the Green Hills of Earth to revisit a more naive time, when women (it is said) idealized their men and the men they loved were capable of heroic strides. It was a time when people still believed in such things, and the stories that arose from that belief system were read through rose colored panes. (less)
It was probably the abridgement of this A-book, but I found it very confusing. I had a hard time keeping up with what was going on. Generally speaking...moreIt was probably the abridgement of this A-book, but I found it very confusing. I had a hard time keeping up with what was going on. Generally speaking, the adventure, the mystery was kind of fragmented and predictable. I'll probably read it again someday, just so I can try to follow it better. I'm sure it was very good, for a few reasons, but the only part of this book I really connected with was the epilogue.
Crighton is definitely got some opinions. His perspective on global warming is quite out of synch with popular doctrine, and he knows it. I'm not sure I agree with him, but I like to think he's right, but I've read enough science to have my own suspicions. I think if I read enough, I might be able to know more, but I'm not going to invest so much time into something that is so impersonal. His point about the political popularity of eugenics (in the U.S., not in Germany) is a great analogy of how wrong things can go when science is politicized. Unfortuneatly, I think part of the reason the book was hard to follow was that he was busy trying to push his agenda.
Unless, of course, you remember the last line of the book.(less)
I have not read enough King to be a viable critic of his work per se, but this was excellent stuff. The tapastry was rich and textured, the characters...moreI have not read enough King to be a viable critic of his work per se, but this was excellent stuff. The tapastry was rich and textured, the characters were multidimensional, the plot, though a little predictable, was not cliche'd but came across as archetypal. It is a post-modern imaginative odyssey of the highest order. We see the gunslinger in both his every man and his super man guises. We also see him with all the self absorption and betrayal of which men are capable. And yet it was not sordid but conflicted. The reader is left understanding and yet hating Roland as much as we understand and hate ourselves.
This book deserves a place alongside The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and A Princess of Mars as a distinctively American fantasy. This story could not have been written anywhere else. In fact, it could not have been written by a person of any other generation, for all its spaghetti western influence and post-apocalyptic barrenness. And yet drawing as it does on Robert Browning and remaining faithful to that poetic vision makes it a global work as well.
It is a story for adults with its sexual content and yet it does not come across as titilating, at least not to me. Instead it demonstrates how people are sometimes bound by, even enslaved by their own sexual impulses. How sex is used as a game of power and manipulation instead of intimacy and beauty. But beyond the sexual facet of the book darker emotions galvanize the story into a thing of nightmares. I would not like to see the betrayal of Jake emplanted in the mind of a child.
Having recently read The Time Machine, I am once again taken with how we are haunted by our Morlock or Slow Mutant potential. Humans dread the possibility of descending into a beastial savagery, and yet are comforted by the idea that such a state is still subject to our higher nature, able to be overcome, escaped from if not defeated.
Read the Gun Slinger if you enjoy fantasy. If you don't there's no point. Those who appreciate King's more macabre side will probably be disappointed. I have my doubts that this book could serve as gateway fantasy for lovers of westerns. However, if you don't love fantasy, and you do love profound literature, you may just stand a chance of enjoying this novel.(less)
I have picked up over the years an idea that I think I originally got from Asimov, but later found it to be generally true. Fans and publishers mess w...moreI have picked up over the years an idea that I think I originally got from Asimov, but later found it to be generally true. Fans and publishers mess with authors in ways the authors would prefer to be left alone. Namely, if an author writes something fans like, publishers (responding to pressure from fans) pressure authors to do it again. That is, many of the sequel books out there arose not because the author had new angles on his old ideas, but was basically strongarmed by the publisher into doing it again.
This is the bottom line of the last two books in Douglas Adams five book trilogy. The original Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy has all the fun and charm it ever had. Reading it again is just as much a roller coaster ride, if only a little ... um ... dented ... ahem ... by the fact that you already know all the jokes. If you want more Douglas Adams, it might be better to look into Dirk Gently than to bother with the last two books. they don't ring, or rather they ring like a cracked bell that's been struck too many times.
So, I enjoy the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy because it has the character of great comedy to slip important ideas into a laugh. We are so taken with Arthur Dent and his crew laughing at Marvin and Zaphod and shaking our head at poor Trillian that we miss the observations about displacement, the futility of life, and the importance of small things. The unwary reader will also miss the snide ideas about God and the place of faith in our lives. This particular idea is not so great, but the other ideas are great to contemplate. Adams sometimes echos Solomon in Ecclesiastes. It doesn't matter if you have a brain the size of a planet or if you're just some schmo waiting for his house to be knocked down, oblivious of all the teaming activity in the galaxy … you both wind up in the same place in pain and fading fast reading a cosmic apology or experiencing the destruction of your planet.
I like the original trilogy and the mad dash for nowhere. I like the twisted way Adams sees life. I like the snide way he sees even the most serious problems. Everyone needs a good laugh and I think it's possible that the ages to come will place it alongside the Canterbury Tales as a classic journey of farce and parody.(less)
I confess, I did not finish it. I am finding that navigating Norton's efforts at exotic to be tedious. I'm sure that if I had read it earlier in my li...moreI confess, I did not finish it. I am finding that navigating Norton's efforts at exotic to be tedious. I'm sure that if I had read it earlier in my life I would have enjoyed it more, but I don't have a tolerance for fantasy that does not explain itself a little. I'm a quarter way through the book, a short book, and I'm still being introduced to new characters that could be likable, but I just don't know where it will stop. I'm comparing her to Moorecock or Howard who use just such unreal exotic devices, but in a much briefer format. You are neither expected to understand these locations or connect with these characters. With Norton it is different. She clearly wants her reader to engage the story on a significant level, but even as the last location I read was blown to smithereens, I still didn't know the characters or care that they had died. I was still trying to figure out the relationship between the doomed place and the home of the main characters. I Couldn't weed through it. I'll set this aside and perhaps pick it up again someday, but not while I have reading I know I'd rather do.(less)
Space opera is one of my more nagging literary lovers. It is hard to justify my liking it, except that I am a sucker for Odyssey based stories, and Sp...moreSpace opera is one of my more nagging literary lovers. It is hard to justify my liking it, except that I am a sucker for Odyssey based stories, and Space Opera tries to capture the archetype with a powerful sense of imagination, something missing from many quest stories. In most, the author tries so hard to be relevant, he forgets that he should also be engaging.
Black Jack Geary is an apt Ulysses lost in time and space. Constantly trying to shake off his own reputation like a persistent spiderweb, he walks with power through the story, even if Campbell keeps telling us he's not confident. It's easy to get wrapped up in the hero rather than the protagonist.
Geary is awakened after a century long cold sleep and unceremoniously thrust into command of a fleet made inept by long bad leadership. The loss of the fleet's other command officers creates a power vacuum other captains would like to have filled. But Jack is from another, more civilized and more tactically minded era. He successfully (perhaps too successfully) leads his fleet to safety where he whips them into a rudimentary fighting trim.
The unfortunate question often raised by Space Opera sits in the plot like a hyena waiting for sunset. Aliens are the fairies of the space age, the ghosts of the self-acclaimed rationally minded. But it's an unavoidable question and I guess Campbell is duty bound to acknowledge it. We'll see.
I will likely read the next book in the series, hoping that it gets better as it goes. Not that Dauntless was bad, no it was a fun read. However, the time investment in a series this long should hold out the promise of a bigger payoff than adventurous mind candy. The civilized sentiments of the book are not quite enough to carry it forever, but if the story grows in the telling, it will be worth continuing.(less)
This story is truly a product of its times, and I suspect Asimov, though most authors would never admit this, was somewhat embarrassed by it. I've not...moreThis story is truly a product of its times, and I suspect Asimov, though most authors would never admit this, was somewhat embarrassed by it. I've not seen why he used a pseudonym for this series, but I could guess. It, like Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and Tom Corbett behaves like a serial children's novel. It is part SF, part mystery, and part superhero story. Since the superhero element is so close to the crisis of the story, I won't reveal it, but suffice it to say that it is a gimmick that might work for children (not young adults) but most grown ups will shake their heads and, if they are the indulgent type, smile.
David Starr is the kind of clean-cut hero parents of the 1950s wanted to see their kids reading. The closest we get to a female character is a disembodied voice. The story is almost as if men spontaneously generated from the thin Martian dust. On the other hand, Starr is too smart for his adult manipulators. The Council of Science leaders try to manipulate him, but he is on to them and does what they want anyway, confident that he can carry off the program and still maintain secrecy. Likewise, the Council Rep on Mars is uncertain of this young man he has been ordered to trust, and is confused every step of the way, till Starr saves the day. Finally, his origins in a tragic loss of his parents and an extended time in space being bombarded by cosmic rays gives him the feel of a proto-Fantastic Four character, cum messiah. Who is this young man, where did he come from, and how did he become such a prodigy?
In the edition I read, Asimov entered a preface not quite apologizing for the outdated Mars science. By now, anyone reading a Mars story written before the 1970s knows they are reading a mythology more than science. In those days, with inadequate instrumentation, scientists were interpreting the planets as best they could using equal parts science and wishful thinking. Nobody expects Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars from a 50s Asimov or an ERB. These storys do not, though they should, serve to humble our trust in science. Scientists thought they were giving answers when all they were really doing was their best under the circumstances. That's all they're still doing.
I hate to say it, (goodness knows, I like books too much to be a negative reviewer) but Asimov will probably not last. Certainly David starr will not. Our culture has moved on to a more dynamic and a darker serial protagonist. Kids are not so naive as to think the Space Ranger can come through. However, if they're young enough, they might enjoy it, if they can get through the tech. So, perhaps reading Starr aloud to your elementary kids is about where we can expect this book to find a niche. I might read two more because I bought them, or I might just sell the whole pack to a used book store. (less)
Dated? no doubt. Corny? well yes. But Tom Corbett rings the same childhood bells as Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, only for space geeks. Yeah, sure, M...moreDated? no doubt. Corny? well yes. But Tom Corbett rings the same childhood bells as Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, only for space geeks. Yeah, sure, Mars has no water and you can't walk the surface of the planet without a pressure suit, but really, for entertainment purposes, who cares? If I'm reading for depth, it might make a difference, but you don't read Tom Corbett for that, you read it for the childhood values of fairness, comaraderie, achievement and wonder. Here are three young men in all the spit and polish of the post WW II image of the American G I, unsullied by the realities of crudeness and natural falibility that our jaded age insists upon. It's hard to imagine a military person saying "golly" with all seriousness. So, treat it like a fairy-tale fantasy and a morality play, a fable of what space travel would be like if we were on a course of optimism: where cadets are stary-eyed and great things can be accomplished if only you are idealistic enough.(less)
The broad style prefigures Robinson's method used in the Mars books, following an individual character, thoroughly exploring an idea from their perspe...moreThe broad style prefigures Robinson's method used in the Mars books, following an individual character, thoroughly exploring an idea from their perspective and then moving on to another. Emma Weil is very much about self awareness and the difficulty of knowing and being known, of the significance of words and actions. Her frustration with the lack of understanding her friends have for her is such a common feeling that the reader jumps right in and feels her frustration with her. I personally don't have as much problem seeing myself as an individual who needs to communicate as I have seeing others that way.
Someone has noticed the theme of memory and advanced centenary ages. How, what and why do we remember? What sticks with us and why do we forget? If this were the actual theme, the story would be more psychological and theoretical. However, I think it is more epistomological. What do we know and how do we know it? In some cases, even our own pasts are the subjects of our research. At all times, our experience informs our interpretation of facts: Emma's friendships, Nederland's childhood trauma of the invasion of Houston, Doya's father's impressions of Nederland. Our desire to know is clean enough, but our understanding is tainted by our experience more than helped. Even Doya's father's experience with Nederland is tainted. What he interpreted as rudeness was merely anxiety and awkwardness.
SF is a literature of ideas more than a literature of characters, but Robinson's characters belie that generalization. They are deeply identifiable and deeply flawed ... and so they are real. If the writer has a problem it is in his own lack of objectivity about the characters ... they deserve some evaluation. It happens through the eyes of other characters from time to time ... but only if we can trust their perspective.
The grief we feel at forgetting, the warp we experience in knowing and separating what we know from what we want are all clear ideas in this book. Robinson is often profound, and perhaps even occasionally wise. But his writing is so addicted to perspective that the reader is forced to evaluate what is true from what is the perspective of the character. Sometimes they are far from the same thing, and sympathy for the character can obscure that fact. It's brilliant and forces the reader to retain his own perspective throughout or lose the sense of objectivity to which he is entitled as a disinterested observer. Read Robinson for his insight into human character and human foibles. But also read him for the nuggets of truth that surface, if you can distinguish them from the merely powerful.(less)
Bester explores the development of human self-actualization. Foyle, who begins as an unremarkable drone, is driven by personal crisis to a life meanin...moreBester explores the development of human self-actualization. Foyle, who begins as an unremarkable drone, is driven by personal crisis to a life meaning shaped by revenge. When he sees that this too is empty, leading, as it does, back to his own doorstep and everything he loves, he is taken by the confines of personal responsibility, humanity, and the burden of free will.
In the end, the voice of reason is a radioactively damaged robot, moving out of it's programming to assess humanity and society and to dictate obligation: to live, to choose, to participate.
Bester's assessment of the race says that we must be responsible, choose responsibility or suffer the whims and abuse of those who will. When we do, barriers are demolished, frontiers expanded and new avenues of perception and enlightenment opened.(less)
This has been my third time through The Time Machine. I forget too much of it each time. Some of the dumb stuff Hollywood has done to foul it up has l...moreThis has been my third time through The Time Machine. I forget too much of it each time. Some of the dumb stuff Hollywood has done to foul it up has leaked into my memories of the actual book, so I get confused. However, this book has much more to offer than it's premise indicates. A device that has become a trope in modern SF was, at the time deeply innovative. Thanks to Einstein, we now nearly dismiss the whole idea as absurd. And that would be all fine and good if that's what Wells was about, but it wasn't.
Wells was deeply interested, as a student of Thomas Huxley (Darwin's Bulldog), in considering the future fate of man as he evolves. He was also a socialist embroiled in a world where communism was on the rise, a philosophy he vehemently disagreed with (a reminder to us all that the terms are not synonymous). So when his nameless "everyman" arrives in the future to find the dark symbiosis of the Eloi and the Moorlocks, it is to bring back a cautionary tale.
His initial foray among the Eloi is understandably superficial. They are a beautiful, simple people given to pleasure. It is only on further reflection that the Time Traveller realizes that they must have an industry of some sort or their material culture would be nonexistant. With the dissappearance of his time machine, he explores and discovers the darkness that lurks beneath.
He has stumbled (literally) into a world where the decadence of humanity is causing it to devour itself with its own unreconciled duality. Its beauty is past its prime, shallow and meaningless. It's industry is hideous, creeping and cannibalistic. There is nothing of the light hearted "what if" tale in The Time Machine. It is rather a warning that humankind must draw together or suffer the consequences.
I am not an evolutionist, but I am a firm believer in the laws of consequence. If the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, sooner or later the poor will no longer tolerate the divide. If the intellectual and the artistic insist on an elitist disconnect, the practical man will sooner or later allow him to wander into his own illusory dreamworld. In a world like that, uninformed power becomes a thing to be feared.
There is nothing of Marxist dialectic in Wells either. He does not suggest that the Moorlocks and the Eloi should try to get along or reintegrate, drawing the best from each other. There is no best. The Eloi are empty and the Moorlocks are savage. Both are beyond hope. The Time Traveler is drawn to the Eloi as all of us are drawn to sunlight rather than shadow, ease rather than work, sight rather than blindness. This suggestion that a point of no return can be reached without realization is the loudest warning of all. If we don't pay attention now, while something can be done, we are swept into the wild fire that kills both humanity's sensitivity and brutality. And the wild fire is lit by a lack of forethought, by reason misused.
In the 1986 Tor edition additional material by James Gunn (an expert writer in his own right) explores Wells' life and influence as well as his ideas about the future that so influenced The Time Machine. It is a beautifully useful devise that helps the reader move beyond the novelty of the story and to pay attention to the Time Traveller's asides reading them as the voice of Wells himself. Even his self-contradictory childhood contributes to his own familiarity with the Eloi, Moorlock contradiction.
The Time Machine is such a pillar in the SF cannon that it is beyond recommendation by any individual, but I recommend it anyway. As Mark Twain observed a "classic" is "A book which people praise and don't read." This book is in danger of falling into disfavor for its naivette' and its linguistic obsolescence. Even its victorian masculine perspective is a threat. Never the less, it's profundity is in its cautionary word, its philosophy more than its specific speculation. It's short. Read it and relive the wonder.(less)