Category Archives: Science Fiction

Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke

Childhood's End cover artChildhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke

A single brilliant star glowed in the center of the screen: no one could have told, from this distance, that the sun had ever possessed planets or that one of them had been lost.

p. 218 Ballantine Books 1991

In Childhood’s End, Clarke kills off the human race and wipes out Earth.

First, he has disappear all human individuality, he asserts that Man has no place in the stars, and he gives us up to an inevitable evolutionary leap in mental prowess.

Clarke makes some problematic leaps in telling the narrative of the last generation:  People will be corralled into a stagnation of peace. They will let go of all creativity. They will lose the will to live once their children are gone.

Secondly, Man will give up space exploration as an unnecessary science, because a far superior technology exists that we could never rival and because there is so much still to be discovered here on Earth after all. (This is particularly striking to me at this time considering that the US’s last manned space flight took off this week. What would Clarke think of that?) To compound this assertion, when one traveler stows away Jonah in the whale style to the world of the Overlords, he struggles to deal with a few months in the new environment and is cowed, also contending that Man could not deal with what he would find or the enormity of the universe.

The build-up of the novel is that mankind is ready to take the evolutionary leap to lose all self and merge suddenly psychic minds into the Overmind, like the essence of the universe and his answer to religiosity and the Armageddon. He mixes end-of-the-world myth with paranormal as a grand explanation. Let me note that I did like the gimmick of why mankind has a deep and lingering concept of the devil. (Not going to say more and ruin that one for you.)

For historical context, the feelings of post-WWII and the beginning of the Cold War weigh heavily on Clarke’s creation of a Utopia on Earth after the Overlords arrive, with lingerings on themes such as total war, and on the exercise of their power mostly through psychological maneuvering.

This is science fiction, but asking the reader to suspend their disbelief that the evolutionary leap to a mind power could happen in one generation and could be the same across life forms in the universe is preposterous. Individuality is overrated, as declared by his comments on the final punch, when the children lose their physical forms and go to join the Overmind.  He makes the comparison to the individual parts making the mass in a colony of bacteria, or organs operating in a body, which I actually ascribe to.  Imagine all the working parts on this Earth, interacting and living and making up the history of humanity.  But important in that, and a theme in many works, is the human element both of unpredictability and of ingenuity. One cannot minimize these in any telling of humans as a collective entity.

I find these three ways of killing off the Earth objectionable and annoying.

But check the inside cover.

The opinions expressed in this book are not those of the author.

Thanks Mr. Arthur C. Clarke, but even if it is all in satire, I would contend that it did not adequately convey that.  As a whole the novel is not focused enough to be gripping or compelling in theme. There is mismatched pacing; the first portion is inordinately long compared to all that could be developed around the last part, such as when Jan returns or when George and Jean start their new life on Athens.  If you want to read in my opinion a better example of what Clarke is capable of, pick up Against the Fall of Night or Rendezvous with Rama.

But I am glad that Clarke does not believe in his heart that Man has no place in the stars.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Verne

Jules Verne 1870

(Note: 1 league = 3.45 miles)

If you wanted to write a book about all the cool places in the ocean, and if you were a scientist who had studied the classifications of many hundreds of species, you would write this book. What better frame: a professor, curious about everything, who gets invited on a fantastic-al submarine voyage, where he studies both the enigma of Nemo and the enigma of the seas. With creative yet impressive or too-convenient inventions, the furtive Captain Nemo takes Prof. Aronnax from wonder to wonder circling the globe–and then some.

Prepare yourself for awe. Verne wrote this I feel to talk about the splendid places below the waves that he could share his visions with the people of the 1850s. But I said to prepare yourself because the moments of awe are sometimes tucked in long paragraphs of descriptions of fish and fauna. Jules Verne loves himself a fish. He also loves a startling vista, which he offers many even fathoms under the ocean, and he loves a scene of human interest. Continue reading

The Time Machine

1957 cover art, courtesy of monikalel42 on flickr

H.G. Wells 1895

Thanks Wishbone for exposing a young mind to another great story, this, The Time Machine by H.G. Wells.

This book harbors more than just the era-typical beginnings of sci-fi and drawing-room stories, topics of communism, social stratification and Darwin-ism murmur in its pages.  Furthermore, the cover portrays the most striking part of the book, the end where The Time Traveller witnesses the eclipsing of a very red, cold sun.  The rest of the tale revolves around H.G. Wells’ speculations on the direction humanity was headed, namely towards a complete stratification into two separate species in 800,000 years.  The “Haves” or Eloi live  in beautiful comfort but also ignorance, the “Have-nots” or Morlocks live below ground in darkness and savagery.  The future the inventor emerged into is humanity in decay.

His book is interesting and imaginative, although at times he speaks like the fluttering of a moth, the character tiring and resolving and worrying constantly.  I liked very much his imagined mechanics of time travel, with days blurring in and out to grey.  The Epilogue holds a gem not really explored in the book but great at an ending thought as a friend of the traveler reflects on what he has witnessed and his lost friend: “And I have by me, for my comfort, two strange white flowers–shrivelled now, and brown and flat and brittle–to witness that even when mind and strength had gone, gratitude and a mutual tenderness still lived on in the heart of man.”

And being a Doctor Who fan, I found this intriguing: “The Time Machine book appears in Doctor Who when the Doctor is reading the novel in the 1996 TV Movie. H.G. Wells’ story is the inspiration for many modern time travel science fiction, including Doctor Who.” ~ Monikalel42‘s flickr page

More on Richard Powers’ sci-fi cover art, or this fun selection of his images

The Robots of Dawn

Isaac Asimov 1983

Asimov completed this book much later than the first two in the series.  Knowing this, and curious to see if his writing style had changed, I would say that it is more descriptive (the book is indeed much longer) but altogether stays very much true to the voice of the other works.

This book is a triumphant tale for earthmen, the general progress of humanity, and productive compromise.  The murder mystery itself causes much consternation to both Elijah Baley and the reader, but it comes with many discoveries about the case that prevent throwing down the book in disgust.  Baley again delves into a foreign culture, this time with less encouragement and much more pressure, and finds that the Aurorans are not as perfect as they think suppose to be. Continue reading

The Naked Sun

Isaac Asimov 1956

Second installment of the Lije Baley, Daneel Olivaw detective cases.  Baley’s success with the murder case of Dr. Sarton from Aurora, mostly his success at working with the Spacers and navigating the cultures, has gotten him the attention of the Outer Worlds.  He is called to Solaria to help solve a murder case on a planet where there are no police–nor need of them, they thought.

Lije Baley’s trip to an Outer World, him being one of the only humans to do so in the past few hundred years, gives humanity a glimpse at their haughty rivals.  Lije has to not only solve a murder case under galactic scrutiny, but he has to do so in a culture completely opposite to his own.  On Solaria there are ten thousand robots for every human, and humans each have their own estate covering miles of the planet.  Personal contact is absolutely taboo and most interaction happens through “viewing,” advanced holograms.  This attitude towards space also means that Baley will have to confront the openness of outside.

As he frustratingly deals with the Solarians he discovers their greatest strengths are their weaknesses and that they aren’t as dissimilar from their earth-men beginnings as they’d like to believe: they still harbor jealousy, fear, and insecurity.  He also discovers strife between Solaria and Aurora and a hint at greater workings in the galaxy.

The scene where Baley is interviewing the sociologist felt like talking to Candide’s professor.  And can anyone tell me why the blue eyeshadow on earlobes?

The Caves of Steel

Isaac Asimov 1953

But now, Earthmen are so coddled, so enwombed in their imprisoning caves of steel, that they are caught forever.  Caves of Steel, Del Rey page 120

summary Mankind has continued to boom in population and has entrenched itself in highly efficient Cities, so efficient that the slightest imbalance or disaster would be fatal. Space travel did allow the colonization of 50 Outer Worlds, but that was hundreds of years ago.  The emigrants’ descendants, Spacers, are much different now and thoroughly disliked by Earthmen.  The Spacers are powerful, and the murder of one of their researchers calls for an investigation between Spacetown and the City, as well as investigators from both cultures.  Lije Baley must work with a Spacer robot (robots, a group hated even more than Spacers) to solve the case, with his job, his family’s status, and Earth’s relationship with Spacers depending on it.  Surprises are in store for Baley as he learns the truth about Earth and races to save his life and the future of humankind.

At first Baley’s false guesses about the murderer, done in dramatic fashion, struck me as sudden, bordering on hasty, but they ultimately serve to divulge new clues that fit into the end solution.  It is also surprising how things work out between Baley and R. Daneel Olivaw.  The novel becomes less about the conflict between human labor and robot replacement than about the agendas of Spacers, Medievalists, politicians and romanticists.

Asimov creates a futuristic world (well-woven into storyline) with intriguing technologies and a very interesting look at how the human psyche may evolve and cope with a densely packed and controlled environment, but with much more brevity and positivity than a future such as Aldous Huxley envisioned.  For a murder mystery, I liked the ending; Baley on his toes, working off of evidence he suspects is there.  The cerebroanalytic analysis, however, is just too convenient.  And no error?  Quite an advanced robot.

Faerie Wars

by Herbie Brennan

Very good.  Poor Henry, but he handled the circumstances very well.  So did Pyrgus, I was impressed.

{From faeriewars.com: What’s Henry to do when his parent’s marriage starts to fall apart? What can he do except get on with his summer job of cleaning out Mr Fogarty’s shed. But there’s something in that shed that will turn Henry’s whole life inside out and take him into a whole different level of reality

What’s Pyrgus to do when the animals he loves come under threat? What can he do except rescue those he canand fall foul of those who threaten the entire Faerie Realm? Soon there’s only one thing for it and that’s to leave the realm completely

When Henry and Pyrgus get together, an entire world hangs in the balance and those they love face nightmare dangers.

Faerie Wars is an extraordinary, pageturning read full of tension, adventure and the kind of detail that ensures you‘ll be holding your breath as the story unfolds.}

Deep Secret

by Diana Wynne Jones

Good book.  It gets very involving and although it brushes over some details the ones we have are magnificent.  Jones has created a universe where we see multiple planets, where dynasties crumble, and where very strange things happen at Science Conventions.

{From the publisher, Torr: Rupert Venables is a Magid. It’s a Magid’s job to oversee what goes on in the vast Multiverse. Actually, Rupert is really only a junior Magid. But he’s got a king-sized problem. Rupert’s territory includes Earth and the Empire of Korfyros. When his mentor dies Rupert must find a replacement. But there are hundreds of candidates. How is he supposed to choose? And interviewing each one could take forever. Unless. What if he could round them all up in one place? Simple!}

I would recommend this to everyone, even though it’s probably more likable to 16+ (because of pacing, not language or mature topics, in fact it was marketed towards adults), British-lovers and fantasy/sci-fi enthusiasts.  The next book in the series is called The Merlin Conspiracy.

The Artemis Fowl Files

Eoin Colfer

First ‘extras’ or fan-targeted companion book I’ve read, and I felt like it was a nice read, offering a degree of satisfaction, and furthermore I think it’s good to have a format like this where the author can release short stories or snippets that they really like but do not fit into one of their novels.  This allows some just-for-fun stories with the characters you already love, and more great writing from the author you already love.

The short story about the blue diamond that Artemis enlists Mulch Diggums’ help to obtain is just as intriguing and witty as the rest of the series, but touching, and I loved the ending.  The short story about Holly Short joining the LEPrecon is also good to learn more about the feisty heroine.

The Hunger Games

by Suzanne Collins

Excellent!  I first heard of this book from The Bookshelf Collection, and knew I had to get my hands on it.

From discussion on Nerdfighters: “The whole concept of a Hunger Games is exciting. Absolutely terrible and awful but I love it… the beginning was powerful, it drew a dark scene and brought out a heroine we could all love… the beginning was powerful, it drew a dark scene and brought out a heroine we could all love… lolcat blurb: Im in ur gamez messin wit ur kapital”

{Summary from Scholastic, where you can hear an excerpt read by Suzanne Collins herself!:  In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Each year, the districts are forced by the Capitol to send one boy and one girl to participate in the Hunger Games, a brutal and terrifying fight to the death – televised for all of Panem to see.

Survival is second nature for sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who struggles to feed her mother and younger sister by secretly hunting and gathering beyond the fences of District 12. When Katniss steps in to take the place of her sister in the Hunger Games, she knows it may be her death sentence. If she is to survive, she must weigh survival against humanity and life against love.}

Continue reading

Brave New World

by Alduous Huxley

A vision of our future world from Huxley’s view in the 1930’s when the helicopter was a striking new invention and Ford was changing the world with his mass production lines.  After a big disaster the world has been condensed and formed into nine World States, each with a supreme leader.  People are no longer born but are grown in conveyor-belt style, and specially engineered to fill their regimented social roles.

The reader follows some characters on the top of the scale, the Alphas, Bernard and Hutch.  One struggles to fit into his social role and the other fits easily but longs for forbidden poetry.  They both push the limits of their society and get entangled with a savage from one of the wild tribes left in southwestern America.  Their struggles carry them to the top of society and end in disappointing, exhilarating, and utterly devastating ways.

Good book to read, just to be aware of it, and for it’s good points about society and good descriptive scenes.  Some things are ludicrous, like the fact that this world structure would work, and the parts where John the Savage can argue eloquently and fully understand the depths of Shakespeare from seeing the book some while he was a child.

This book was among the ranks of Wuthering Heights, Frankenstein, Hamlet, Macbeth, and Gulliver’s Travels that we covered in AP English my senior year.   Personally, I wanted to cover more books.   What about Slaughterhouse FiveMiddlemarchIn Cold BloodGrapes of WrathInvisible ManCatch-22The Things They CarriedOf Mice and Men Heart of DarknessDavid Copperfield?  Come on, let’s read people!

I did enjoy Wuthering Heights and Hamlet, but I think Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland would be a better substitute for Gulliver’s Travels.  I’ve heard Brave New World and 1984 compared a lot, as Orual said in a conversation about AP books on College Confidential: “I recommend Brave New World over 1984, but it depends on whether you’d prefer to read about how things we like destroy us or about how things we hate destroy us.”

Ender’s Game

Ender's Game cover

by Orson Scott Card

Good book!  I’ve been on a sci-fi run lately, and they all surprise me with their ideas and points of view.  So thought-provoking, so intense.  I really enjoyed the Game and its intricacies, I couldn’t wait for their next match or to see how Ender would develop his leadership skills.  Although I did find the ages unrealistic.  Card writes that Ender is 6 when he is taken to battle school; the situation would be more feasible if he were 15.

I really like Card’s way of using omniscient voices.  In some stories such conventions leave me very confused and distracted, but in Ender’s Game, this extra tidbits have just the right effect.  It is well done indeed. Continue reading

Abhorsen

Abhorsen cover

by Garth Nix

A very good ending to the trilogy, this book was heavy and sad and yet emerged triumphantly and hopefully at the end.

I fell in love with the Disreputable Dog.  She was such a great soul and a great character.  Not knowing her past and her mysterious actions almost made me wonder if she was on the bad side, but thankfully for our heroes she was not.  She was an angel.

One thing; why didn’t Sam and Lirael realize that Sabriel and Touchstone were still alive because Sabriel’s flutes were still working when they crossed the wall?  Oh well.

The Ninth was strong
and fought with might,
But lone Orannis
was put out of the light,
Broken in two
and buried under hill,
Forever to lie there,
wishing us ill.
So says the song. But Orannis, the Destroyer, is no longer buried under hill. It has been freed from its subterranean prison and now seeks to escape the silver hemispheres, the final barrier to the unleashing of its terrible powers.
Only Lirael, newly come into her inheritance as the Abhorsen-in-Waiting, has any chance of stopping the Destroyer. She and her companions — Sam, the Disreputable Dog, and Mogget — have to take that chance. For the Destroyer is the enemy of all Life, and it must be stopped, though Lirael does not know how.
To make matters worse, Sam’s best friend, Nick, is helping the Destroyer, as are the necromancer Hedge and the Greater Dead Chlorr, and there has been no word from the Abhorsen Sabriel or King Touchstone.
Everything depends upon Lirael. A heavy, perhaps even impossible burden for a young woman who just days ago was merely a Second Assistant Librarian. With only a vision from the Clayr to guide her, and the rather mixed help of her companions, Lirael must search in both Life and Death for some means to defeat the Destroyer.
Before it is too late. . .

{From http://www.abhorsentrilogy.com:

Orannis, the Destroyer, is no longer buried under hill. It has been freed from its subterranean prison and now seeks to escape the silver hemispheres, the final barrier to the unleashing of its terrible powers.

Only Lirael, newly come into her inheritance as the Abhorsen-in-Waiting, has any chance of stopping the Destroyer. She and her companions — Sam, the Disreputable Dog, and Mogget — have to take that chance. For the Destroyer is the enemy of all Life, and it must be stopped, though Lirael does not know how.

To make matters worse, Sam’s best friend, Nick, is unwittingly helping the Destroyer, as are the necromancer Hedge and the Greater Dead Chlorr, and there has been no word from the Abhorsen Sabriel or King Touchstone.

Everything depends upon Lirael. A heavy, perhaps even impossible burden for a young woman who just days ago was merely a Second Assistant Librarian. With only a vision from the Clayr to guide her, and the rather mixed help of her companions, Lirael must search in both Life and Death for some means to defeat the Destroyer.}

The Mysterious Benedict Society

by Trenton Lee Stewart

Young Adult books are gaining esteem for their quality and contribution to great literature.  Juvenile fiction can also be an enriching genre not to be overlooked by those over the age of 15.  (Need I mention Harry Potter?)  The Mysterious Benedict Society is one of the juvenile classification that any adult can still appreciate.

Good read.  The intriguing cover is a good representation of what you’ll find inside.  This book can be separated into two parts, the test/finding of amazing kids, and the battle against the evil mastermind.  I enjoyed both; the first part was so interesting, and will excite anyone who likes puzzles.  The second part was full of interesting twists and turns and makes the reader think.  Stewart has a lot of fresh ideas.

Excellent book.

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Douglas Adams

Oh, I love this book, I was cracking up with every new page!  The sarcastic tone is so awesome, even if the subject matter is irrevocably silly and plot jumps outnumber characters.  Even better is the audio version (for this was first meant to be a radio broadcast).  I feel a compulsion to read the 4 sequels.  It turns out that there were supposed to be 6 books, but Adams died in 2001 at age 46 and never got to write it.  His widow sanctioned a project that will pick up the story again, and she requested Artemis Fowl author Eoin Colfer to write the next books.

“Eoin Colfer to write sixth Hitchhiker’s Guide book

Comic fantasy children’s author describes being given the opportunity to continue Douglas Adams’s legendary series as ‘like suddenly being offered the superpower of your choice'”

~ guardian.co.uk, September 17, 2008 <http://www.guardian.co.uk/books /2008/sep/17/douglasadams>

I love Eoin Colfer and am excited that he will continue the quirky journey.  I have no more to say but:  So long, and thanks for all the fish!

oh, and…

42!!

Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox

by Eoin Colfer

Wow.  I loved it!  Colfer is almost certainly my favorite author of all time.  (Philip Pullman is a close second, James Herriot and J.K. Rowling vie for third!)

The danger and excitement aren’t over for Artemis and Holly.  Surprisingly this book sees them re-entering the time stream to go eight years in the past.  Here Colfer explores some interesting aspects of the ‘time paradox’ from which the sixth book gets its name.

Both Artemis and Holly have to contend with aspects of their past; Artemis gets a good look at his younger self and Holly is reminded of her mother’s death.  Plus they meet up with an old nemesis that I had an inkling readers would be seeing more of.  And still more of, because something goes wrong in the future too…

One of my favorite parts about book six is how great a person Artemis is turning into.  He is forced to be honest, he admits a betrayal, he concedes his physical ineptitude and insignificance in the universe, he has feelings, and this is the first time that he does something for someone else for no profit whatsoever.  Very nice.

One of my favorite scenes is where Holly gets to talk to Julius Root through hologram.  It was wonderful for her to get that second chance and to hear from Root how much pride and hope he felt for both Holly and Commander Trouble Kelp.  I’m glad Holly forgave Artemis.

“Arty”s little twin brothers are adorable.  They will be very interesting in future books.  The ending was awesome.

One part I still don’t get, when Holly and Artemis go back in time and Butler is behind them and thus easily subdues them, why did it happen that way?  Was Artemis’ memory wrong on that part?  Was it something the younger Artemis remembered?  Maybe I’ll find it on a fan site or an author interview or something.

In reading around I’ve seen the opinion that this book is different from the earlier books in the series.  I agree, it feels a little different.  I don’t know which is my favorite.

But thank you Colfer for another wonderful book!

Fahrenheit 451

Ray Bradbury

This book is ripe for discussion. So many intricate ideas bursting from the pages.  The image of the mechanical Hound was quite frightening to me and well-played by the author.  The aspects of the story that suggest a nihilistic existence, such as nothing to do but watch TV, Montag wandering around with a group of bums, etc., gave me a depressed feeling similar to the futility in other dystopian future books (1984, Brave New World).

I liked this book more after I had read the author’s note.  Ray Bradbury sounds so interesting on a personal level!  Did you know he wrote this story intending to show his great love for books and libraries?  As I read these 50’s and other early books I sometimes struggle to get into the story, they seem fundamentally different somehow.

An interesting historical note from GradeSaver.com:

Developed in the years following World War II, Fahrenheit 451condemns not only the anti-intellectualism of the defeated Nazi party in Germany, but more immediately the intellectually oppressive political climate of the early 1950’s – the heyday of McCarthyism. That such influential fictional social criticisms such as Orwell’s Animal Farm 1984 and Skinner’s Walden Two were published just a few short years prior to Fahrenheit 451 is not coincidental. These works reveal a very real apprehension of the danger of the US evolving into an oppressive, authoritarian society in the post-WWII period.

Stemming from a similar basis of a future literature-less society, The Last Book in the Universe, YA and written in 2000, is another good book to read.

The Host

Stephenie Meyer

Eeep! Just finished it; the ending is like being hurled from a giant catapult, a crazily spinning carousel with the colors brightening each moment. Awesome. Basically, this book is a display of Stephenie Meyer’s love of the Arizona desert. Within this overarching love, the meat of the book is full of the character interactions that readers loved from the Twilight series.

My only, tiny, inconsequential, and petty qualms from the story: First, I liked Melanie’s body better.  Sorry, I can’t help it. I don’t think Meyer was totally enthused about it either; she pointed out quite a bit of difficulties.  But it wasn’t what I imagined in my head for the wonderful Wanderer.  Still, I find that character description intriguing. A small, very small 17-year-old with a silver-ish pallor to her skin, golden specks or freckles, and long golden hair? and I quote Meyer (should be doing this more often) page 603: “The skin on the face had the same silver undertone — silver like moonlight — as the hand did, with another handful of the golden freckles across the bridge of the nose. Wide gray eyes, the silver of the soul shimmering faintly behind the soft color, framed by tangled golden lashes.  Pale behind them.  A dimple in the chin.  And everywhere, everywhere, golden, waving hair that stood away from my face in a bright halo and fell below where the mirror showed.” also page 603, “this half-child with her moonlight face and sunlight hair.”

Some good reviews and other info can be seen on Stephenie’s site:
http://www.stepheniemeyer.com/thehost.html

Discussion of a sequel:
http://albanypubliclibrary.wordpress.com/2008/06/30/a-sequel-to-the-host/