Sunday, October 28, 2012

Science/Speculative Fiction Review #15

I spend a great deal of my time every day reading speculative science fiction.  The rest of my time is spent asking the questions and questioning the answers that the science fiction I read creates. All of the stories I post contain elements of profound contemplation, varying philosophy, metaphysics, and theoretical pondering. The authors that create these stories are among my heroes in this reality, and I very much want to share them with you.   Although I read a great deal more than the stories I will post in these short reviews, I only want to share those pieces of text/audio that really stick with me and force my mind to ponder life, the universe, and everything. While I am delighted with nearly all that I read in this genre, I will make an attempt to only present the best of the best.

Writing - The quality of the writing.  I specifically rate the writing on how well it is able to convey to me the action, thoughts, emotions, etc. of the story. 

Creativity- Simply put, this rating is a measure of the degree of imagination that exists in the writing.  How unique and new was the story? Is it something I have seen done over and over again? I also factor into this rating category interesting literary techniques such as stylish ways to present chapters or different parts of the story.   

Intrigue- This rating represents the stories ability to keep me interested.  Did I get bored and have to fight my way through to the end?  Or did I lose myself and end up somewhere else entirely?

Overall- My general impression of the story. How much I enjoyed it from beginning to end, and/or how much it affected me.

Mail Order by Martin Ivision -flash story-

     Writing 4                     Creativity 3                      Intrigue 3.5 

Overall 3.5

Human colonists land on a world of mostly water. Their objective is to make contact with the intelligent alien species on the planet. After learning how to order products from the aliens with hacked credit, they lose track of their mission. 

"The Q’rai language is at its most poetic when describing the ocean, and I’m the only human being who can appreciate it. I savour the nuance between the water stirred by a surface current and the water stirred by a gust of circular wind. I know the words for the green water rich with brine jelly and for the red water during a sunfish bloom. I roll my tongue over the suffixes added for the differences in salination and the tonal variances for the sea in the seven seasons. As I’m falling asleep nights, I whisper to myself oulai’ma’oulai, the word for your share of the ocean you carry in your heart."

Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut -novel- 

   Writing 5+                     Creativity 5                      Intrigue 4.5 

Overall 5  

Cat's Cradle is one of Vonnegut's most well known works. It begins with the protagonist and narrator, John, describing the book he had planned to write. It would be a book about the fictional father of the atomic bomb, Felix Hoenikker. After contacting Hoenikker's three children, John is thrown for a tail spin on a bizarre adventure to a island country called San Lorenzo. In San Lorenzo, John meets the most beautiful woman alive, inadvertently converts to a strange new religion, a witnesses the greatest change in the world that has ever taken place. A dark, humorous satire that combines elements ranging from wild chemical discovery to anthropological insight.

""If I were a younger man, I would write a history of human stupidity; and I would climb to the top of Mount McCabe and lie down on my back with my history for a pillow; and I would take from the ground some of the blue-white poison that makes statues of men; and I would make a statue of myself, lying on my back, grinning horribly, and thumbing my nose at You Know Who.""

Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon -novel- 

Writing 5+                     Creativity 5+                      Intrigue 5 

Overall 5

One of the the most highly acclaimed science/speculative fiction works ever created.  Many of the biggest names in science fiction source this book as inspiration or simply heave accolades all over its awe filled rhetoric.  The book begins with a narrator inexplicably transported out of his body and able to explore the solar system and galaxy at large as a non-physical being. After experimenting with high speed cosmic flight he attempts to return to Earth but realizes it is like searching for a single grain of sand on a world composed entirely of grains of sand.  He eventually continues his journey, describing a multitude of aspects of different worlds and systems.  He begins with those intelligent species that are 'similar' to ours, and after merging with other bodiless beings goes onto describe stranger and altogether amazing beings and collectives of beings.  His near ineffably profound experience spans all of time, and outside of it, eventually meeting the Star Maker itself.  To read this story in its entirety is to become versed in one of the most pivotal and talked about pieces of speculative/philosophical text that has ever existed.   

“In every one of these "chrysalis" worlds thousands of millions of persons were flashing into existence, one after the other, to drift gropingly about for a few instants of cosmical time before they were extinguished. Most were capable, at least in some humble degree, of the intimate kind of community which is personal affection; but for nearly all of them a stranger was ever a thing to fear and hate. And even their intimate loving was inconstant and lacking in insight. Nearly always they were intent merely on seeking for themselves respite from fatigue or boredom, fear or hunger. Like my own race, they never fully awoke from the primeval sleep of the subman. Only a few here and there, now and then, were solaced, goaded, or tortured by moments of true wakefulness. Still fewer attained a clear and constant vision, even of some partial aspect of truth; and their half-truths they nearly always took to be absolute. Propagating their little partial truths, they bewildered and misdirected their fellow mortals as much as they helped them.”

2 B R 0 2 B by Kurt Vonnegut -short story-  

      Writing 5                     Creativity 3.5                      Intrigue 4.5 

Overall 4.5

The world has been cured or disease, war, poverty, insanity, and even old age.  The only problem left is that of population.  How do you sustain such a perfect world if more people are continuously born into it? For every being that comes in, someone else must go out.  When you are ready to die, or are asked to, to allow another being to enter existence the number you call is the title of the story.  It is pronounced 'to be or naught to be.' The protagonist of the story is about to have triplets.  Who will die so that they may live?

"Everything was perfectly swell.

There were no prisons, no slums, no insane asylums, no cripples, no poverty, no wars.

All diseases were conquered. So was old age.

Death, barring accidents, was an adventure for volunteers.

The population of the United States was stabilized at forty-million souls.

One bright morning in the Chicago Lying-in Hospital, a man named Edward K. Wehling, Jr., waited for his wife to give birth. He was the only man waiting. Not many people were born a day any more."

Elegy for a Young Elk by Hannu Rajaniemi -short story- 

Writing 4                     Creativity 4.5                      Intrigue 4 

Overall 4

A hunter and his friend, a large talking bear, live a solitary, peaceful life in the woods of a desolate world.  At some point every bit of matter, be it alive or inanimate, was ravaged by a strange disease that affects the skin and mind.  Humans created a 'heaven' above the world and transcended their mundane forms through advanced technology.  For the sake of preserving the rest of the world, cities are quarantined through the use of a 'fire wall' a sentient wall that obliterates anything that attempts to enter or leave the city without permission. Kosonnen is given the task by a physical manifestation of his ex-wife, now a god, to enter the city in order to find something the god's dropped.  Danger lurks in every corner of the city, even in the most unexpected places.  There is a ton of history to this story that isn't explicitly delved into.  I thought being thrown into such a strange yet somehow familiar world with only vague knowledge of the 'why' of what is happening really added to the intrigue of the piece.  Check this one out.  You won't be disappointed.  

"The city was a forest of metal and concrete and metal that breathed and hummed. The air smelled of ozone. The facades of the buildings around the railway station square looked almost like he remembered them, only subtly wrong. From the corner of his eye he could glimpse them moving, shifting in their sleep like stone-skinned animals. There were no signs of life, apart from a cluster of pigeons, hopping back and forth on the stairs, looking at him. They had sapphire eyes."

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