Sunday, November 11, 2012

Science/Speculative Fiction Review #16

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.

Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky -novel-

      Writing 5+                     Creativity 4.5                      Intrigue 5+ 

   Overall 5+

Aliens visit Earth very briefly and then leave.  The areas where they landed are known as 'zones' and are quarantined due to intensely strange and usually deadly phenomena that occur within them.  These phenomena do not spread but remain intact within the zone.  There are also various artifacts the visitors leave behind.  Human scavengers known as 'stalkers' venture into the the zones and collect these artifacts, pawning them off to the highest bidder.  Due to the unexpected and otherworldly nature of the zone it is the most stressful and deadly job that exists.  One such stalker is the protagonist in the story and through his eyes the reader is introduced to the effects on the world at large that the visitation has, and also the zone itself.  This is instantly one of the best pieces of text I have ever read.  Dynamic characterization, profound ideas, and a fluid plot filled with hope, thrill, doom and puzzled anticipation.

""A picnic. Picture a forest, a country road, a meadow. Cars drive off the country road into the meadow, a group of young people get out carrying bottles, baskets of food, transistor radios, and cameras. They light fires, pitch tents, turn on the music. In the morning they leave. The animals, birds, and insects that watched in horror through the long night creep out from their hiding places. And what do they see? Old spark plugs and old filters strewn around... Rags, burnt-out bulbs, and a monkey wrench left behind... And of course, the usual mess—apple cores, candy wrappers, charred remains of the campfire, cans, bottles, somebody’s handkerchief, somebody’s penknife, torn newspapers, coins, faded flowers picked in another meadow." The nervous animals in this analogy are the humans who venture forth after the Visitors left, discovering items and anomalies which are ordinary to those who discarded them, but incomprehensible or deadly to those who find them."

Non-Stop by Brian Aldiss -novel-

  Writing 5                       Creativity 4                        Intrigue 4 

Overall 4.5

This is the first novel Brian Aldiss ever wrote. It begins with the protagonist, a simple hunter who lives in a small tribe.  The poor and solitary tribe's culture punishes free thinking and discourages individuality.  After leaving his brutish home and exploring 'the ship' with a group of other men, he discovers that the world he lives in is much larger and yet infinitely smaller than he thought. The discoveries he and his companions make change the reality of everyone living in their world forever.

The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester -novel-

Writing 5+                       Creativity 4.5                    Intrigue 5+ 

 Overall 5

The Demolished Man was the winner of the very first Hugo award in 1953, the most prestigious book award in science fiction.  Set in the 24th century, the world is made up of espers and non-espers, or people that can read thoughts and those that can't.  Espers are ranked into 3 categories and differ by their ability to view deeper levels of a person's subconscious mind.  Due to a vast amount of people being able to read minds, thoughts, memories, and whatever else the brain records, murder and most other crimes have altogether disappeared.  A non-esper named Ben Reich, a highly charming and powerful business tycoon, changes that. One of my favorite parts of the story was the way Bester showed how espers have telepathic conversations.  In order to keep the conversation coherent and organized they mentally organize their words with each other into geometrical patterns.  It was a thrilling and interesting read.

""I'll think about it," Reich muttered and turned to go. As he opened the door, Breen called: "By the way... `We Transport You Into Transports' is the slogan of the D'Courtney Cartel. How does that tie in with the alteration of `bort' to `dort'? Think it over."

"The Man With No Face!"

Without staggering, Reich slammed the door across the path from his mind to Breen and then lurched down the corridor toward his own suite. A wave of savage hatred burst over him. "He's right. It's D'Courtney who's giving me the screams. Not because I'm afraid of him. I'm afraid of myself. Known all along. Known it deep down inside. Known that once I faced it I'd have to kill that D'Courtney bastard. It's no face because it's the face of murder.""

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin Abbott              -novella-

       Writing 5+                     Creativity 4.5                      Intrigue 4.5 

                                                                           Overall 4.5

At the time this novel was written, in 1884, I'm sure this review would have awarded a 5+ for all categories.  The story may be over one hundred years old, but it is still highly relevant and continues to expand the reader's imagination.  The protagonist of the story is a square who lives in a two-dimensional world.  In the first part of the story, the square explains to the reader how his two-dimensional peers live.  He describes their culture, their forms, their ideologies, even the basics, like getting around and recognizing one being form another (in a two dimensional world everyone just looks like a line from your perspective).  He then goes on to describe a dream he has where he views a one dimensional world of points and lines that live on a single line.  As the story progresses, he is introduced to third dimensional world via a preaching sphere.  The story goes onto describe and imagine worlds with more than three dimensions, and also a world with a single inhabitant consisting of no dimensions.  It's a quick and exceptional read that any true sci fi/math fan should not pass up.  

"Awestruck at the sight of the mysteries of the earth, thus unveiled before my unworthy eye, I said to my Companion, "Behold, I am become as a God. For the wise men in our country say that to see all things, or as they express it, omnividence, is the attribute of God alone." There was something of scorn in the voice of my Teacher as he made answer: "is it so indeed? Then the very pick-pockets and cut-throats of my country are to be worshiped by your wise men as being Gods: for there is not one of them that does not see as much as you see now. But trust me, your wise men are wrong.""

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

Writing 5+                     Creativity 5                      Intrigue 5+ 

                                                                         Overall 5+

After World War Terminus, a nuclear war to end all wars, the world lives in a crumbling heap of filth.  Many people have moved to Mars where they are given a free android as a  servant as incentive to make the move.  Most people remain on Earth in a permanent shadow of the once beautiful planet. Peoples' moods are controlled through the use of emotion specific pills ranging from 'accepting' to 'complacent' to 'depressed'.'  People around the world also find solace through a global emotional connection known as Mercerism where they are able to connect with each other empathically in order to escape the lonely planet. Every so often an android of group of androids kills its master and makes an escape to Earth.  It is Deckard's job to retire the androids.  A dangerous and ethically complex profession.  With the advent of the Nexus 6, a new, more intelligent, more real model of android, Deckard's ability to kill with such cold disregard becomes to dissolve.  He is left with a harsh reality, and himself.  This is one of the most famous, most influential pieces of sci fi ever written.  It is highly philosophical, action packed, filled with characters you can't get enough of, and oozing with jaw dropping intrigue.  If you are a fan of literature in general, you won't be able to put this one down.

"You will be required to do wrong no matter where you go. It is the basic condition of life, to be required to violate your own identity."

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