Tag Archives: science fiction

And Another Thing… by Eoin Colfer

And Another Thing… by Eoin Colfer (unabridged audiobook read by Simon Jones; 10.5 hrs on 9 discs): As a longtime fan of the series, I approached this book with some trepidation. After all, I had pretty lukewarm feelings about Colfer’s Artemis Fowl books. I am pleased to report that I was not disappointed. This book is hilarious. And, in a lot of ways, it makes up for the rather disappointing end to Mostly Harmless. All your favorite characters are here: Trillian, Zaphod, Arthur, and assorted other characters. No Marvin, but I’m pretty sure something final happened to him in a previous book. The Guide notes are marvelous and I did quite a lot of laughing throughout the story. The ending wraps up more or less satisfactorily while still left wide open for any future installments. To be honest, I did not expect to recommend this book to fans of the series, but I definitely do. It’s a pile of fun.

A note on the audio: Simon Jones played Arthur Dent in the original incarnations of the Hitchhiker’s Guide, and indeed I read somewhere that he was Adams’s inspiration for the character, so it was pretty durn nifty to have him read this book. He also has joined Prebble and Vance on my list of beloved audiobook narrators named Simon.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells

The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells: The set-up to this story is somewhat unusual, as it begins with a stranger wrapped in bandages arriving at an inn on a snowy night. Everyone assumes he’s horribly disfigured, and the text goes on a bit as if that is indeed the case, but given the title we the reader are well aware that he is in fact invisible. That said, I did very much enjoy this story. It’s more of a horror story than I expected, with the titular character unquestionably playing the part of the villain (as opposed to a mostly well-meaning scientist cursed by his own hubris, as with Frankenstein or Dr. Jekyll). The pitfalls of invisibility (such as being able to see through one’s own eyelids, for example) added a certain spark to the narrative, and parts were surprisingly suspenseful. The Invisible Man’s motivations were sort of vague and unsatisfying, but in general I recommend this book.

Reader by Erec Stebbens

Reader by Erec Stebbens: Ambra Dawn has a brain tumor, but instead of removing it, “doctors” take her away from her parents to become a Reader for alien overlords most people don’t even know exist. After multiple surgeries to expand her cranium to make room for this tumor that provides her with such a powerful sixth sense, Ambra is taken to become a navigator for spaceships using the “Orbs” – a network of hyperspace jump locations. Human beings as a species are largely seen as only useful for their large percentage of Readers. This all sounds terribly complicated (and it is), but it’s not too confusing since we the audience are learning about this universe as Ambra does. Ultimately, Ambra learns to harness her power to the point where she can spearhead a revolution against these galactic oppressors. It’s an interesting piece of science fiction, part Ender’s Game, part something quite new. I liked the very non-human aliens and the attention to small details, like aliens having little understanding of what would be an acceptable atmosphere for human beings. I was less impressed by the “audience involvement” aspect of things near the end, but I am curious to see where the series goes. It is certainly unlike most other science fiction I have read, so if you’re looking for something different from much of the rest of the genre, give this a try.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Pacific Rim

So I saw Pacific Rim, and it was boatloads of fun. You can’t really “spoil” this movie, since it’s basically giant robots versus giant monsters and you know in the end the giant robots have to win because that’s what side the humans are on. It’s Gundam versus Godzilla, if you will. Unlike Transformers and many other modern films of its ilk, both the robots and the monsters move in proportion to their bulk: that is, slowly. Also unlike most modern action films, the camera work is such that you can actually follow what’s happening during each battle.

I went into this thinking I hadn’t heard of anybody in the cast, but that’s not entirely true. It stars Idris Elba, whom I’d forgotten I’d seen in both Thor and Prometheus. I was also pleased to see Ron Perlman (Hellboy, etc.) and Burn Gorman (Owen from Torchwood). Most of the rest of the cast were people known for their roles in popular television shows I’ve never seen: Jax from Sons of Anarchy/Nathan from Queer as Folk, Charlie from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia/Michael from Third Watch, Ben from True Blood/Sean from EastEnders.

The multicultural casting was interesting. The Japanese woman was played by a Japanese woman, but otherwise it was a strange blend. The Australians were played by an American and a Englishman; the American brothers were played by a Canadian and a Englishman; the German scientist was played by an American-born Englishman. (Actually, I’m not sure if he was supposed to be really German or just English with a German name.) But you still had all the tropes: the asshole in need of redemption, the has-been and the rookie both trying to prove themselves, the veteran with dark secrets, the over-enthusiastic scientist who gets reckless, the stuffy scientist convinced of his own infallibility, the tough guy businessman only in it for the money, and so on. But you know what? It works.

This film does not pretend to be anything more than a popcorn flick, and that’s a large part of its charm. I thought the need for two mentally linked pilots to share the neural load required to control the giant robot was a nice touch.  The monsters were interesting to look at and reasonably realistic.  I also liked how most of the cool parts from the trailer were actually from the first ten minutes of the movie (the monster trampling the Golden Gate Bridge, for example, was from the prologue), so I didn’t feel like I’d seen the movie before seeing the movie.

In short: if you’re looking for something deep and thought-provoking, this movie is not for you. If, on the other hand, you’d like to see a giant robot hit a giant monster with a boat, then you’re in for a treat.

Seahorse in the Sky by Edmund Cooper

Seahorse in the Sky by Edmund Cooper: Russell Graham is a member of Parliament on a flight from Stockholm to London when things get interrupted and he awakens in a strange green coffin in a fake town containing only a store and a hotel. The road goes nowhere and the cars on it have no engines. He and a handful of his fellow passengers are stranded and must figure out what’s going on. I really enjoyed this one, especially the journey through the story, slowly discovering the truth along with the characters. I can honestly say I did not predict the Big Reveal, and that made it even better. Definitely unlike any science fiction I’ve read recently – refreshingly so. I’m a little surprised I’d never heard of it.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

The Futurological Congress by Stanislaw Lem

The Futurological Congress by Stanislaw Lem: Ijon Tichy is attempting to attend a conference of futurists when his hotel is attacked by terrorists with mind-altering gas. Through a series of absurd events, Tichy finds himself resurrected several decades in the future, when everyone relies on chemical supplements to provide them with all knowledge and emotion, perception-altering drugs that hide a distressing reality. This all sounds terribly dystopian and horrifying, and in some ways it is, but it is also pretty hilarious satire. It’s one of those sorts of books where you just have to go with it, and pay special attention to the made-up words and random asides, many of which are the funniest parts of the book. I hadn’t expected to so enjoy this book – I’d sort of expected it to be a bit of a slog, a book about an idea only tenuously strung together with plot – but this was quite a romp. The humor is dark, to be sure, but still quite entertaining.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin: The cover of my copy of this book claims to be the most influential science fiction novel of the 20th century. I’m not convinced that’s the case, unless it influenced Orwell and Huxley and Bradbury and claims vicarious influence through them, because let’s face it: most people haven’t even heard of this book. It is indeed a dystopia, where people have willingly sacrificed their freedom and individuality in the name of happiness. Everyone has a letter and number instead of a name. Everyone’s actions are completely synchronized, down to each bite of food. All walls are transparent except during sex, which is restricted to certain hours of the day and only with a pre-approved coupon from your partner. When our protagonist, D503, meets the alluringly subversive I330, his world is turned upside-down. Unfortunately, the writing is kind of terrible. A good portion of the sentences end in ellipses, leading me to wonder if anybody in this world is capable of finishing a sentence. It leaves a whole bunch of stuff to inference. Maybe I’m just dense, but I had a lot of trouble figuring out what was going on. And then, after all that confusion, the ending still manages to be trite and predictable. There’s a reason why 1984 and Brave New World are more famous than this one: their plots and philosophies, at least, are possible to follow. If you read only one dystopian novel this year, choose something else.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Every Day by David Levithan

Every Day by David Levithan (unabridged audiobook read by Alex McKenna; 8.5 hrs on 7 discs): I have very mixed feelings about this book. It says some very good things about acceptance, sexuality, and gender identity. It also says some very bad things about how to pursue a love interest. Every morning, A wakes up in the body of a different person, able to access their memories but not their emotions or consciousness. (Note: though A has no gender and inhabits both male and female bodies with equal ease, I will use male pronouns to make typing less cumbersome.) The body is always roughly his same age, and he lives in it only until midnight before moving on. (Though the switch happens at midnight, A always wakes up the next morning, implying that these kids never stay up past midnight or something.) He has no control over these switches, and mostly acts in order to make as little impact on the body’s life as possible – until one day when he inhabits the body of Justin, boyfriend of Rhiannon. A falls in love with Rhiannon, becomes convinced that she loves him too, and turns the lives of his subsequent hosts upside-down in his attempts to win her over, pretty much stalking her until she gives in. A few times I wanted to shout at A, “Just leave her alone already!” It was like A was completely incapable of having a conversation with Rhiannon that didn’t focus on his love for her and how Justin wasn’t good enough for her and blah blah blah. Yes, I know that teenagers are obsessive like that, but it got kind of tiresome. I wish the story had done more with Nathan and the Reverend, exploring the science fiction side of A’s existence as a wandering soul, but its narrow focus on the complicated romance rarely wavered. On the bright side, the writing was superb, and A’s experiences in so many different kinds of lives (from drug addict to immigrant house cleaner to transgendered person) were compelling, believable, and memorable. I also did really appreciate A’s views of gender identity and unconditional love, and Rhiannon’s reactions were quite realistic. Yes, there are people out there who could fall in love with someone who looked completely different every single day, but could you? The ending was dissatisfying, though I suppose it was good that A finally appeared to mature a little bit, even if he still couldn’t seem to muster any respect for his host bodies. I kind of hope there’s a sequel, if only to explore the premise a bit more and lay off the teen romance a tad.

A note on the audio: McKenna’s raspy voice took some getting used to, but ultimately it really worked.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

The Dark Lady by Mike Resnick

The Dark Lady by Mike Resnick: I have long declared Mike Resnick to be my very favorite author, not because his are the best books I’ve ever read, but because they are the most consistently good. There are plenty of novels that are better than anything he’s written, but I know that when I sit down to read a Resnick novel, I am in for a really good time. This book is no exception. Leonardo, an alien working at a human art gallery through an exchange program, is hired by a wealthy old man to help him track down portraits of The Dark Lady, a woman whose likeness has appeared across the galaxy for millennia. He is joined in his search by an art thief interested in monetary gain and a man hoping to track down the Lady herself, in the flesh. One thing I’ve always found fascinating in Resnick books is his depiction of aliens. They are not human and do not act human. Leonardo’s narration is often a little frustrating, as he is so completely tied down by the traditions of his species, but it stays believable. I admit I’m only about 98% sure of what happened at the end and why the plasma painter was so special, but I can live with that. Though his books take place in the far future, what Resnick is writing are legends: exciting, memorable, and a touch grandiose. And that’s what I love about them.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (original BBC radio broadcast)

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Original BBC Radio Broadcast): Before the movie, before the television series, and even before the book, there was the radio play. Of course, all versions and adaptations were written by Douglas Adams, so it’s hard to call any of them the Real Version, but they all follow more or less the same story. Either way, this was the First Version.

As you know if you’re at all familiar with HHGTTG, the story begins with hapless human Arthur Dent and his alien pal Ford Prefect escaping the Earth moments before it is destroyed to create an interstellar bypass. Shortly thereafter they meet up with multi-headed alien Zaphod Beeblebrox, his female companion Trillian, and depressed robot Marvin. The whole thing is absolutely ridiculous and utterly marvelous. I would suggest reading the book first as a sort of warm-up, because the radio show is even more random, if you can believe it. Things just sort of happen and you have to just go with it. There are plenty of wonderfully quotable lines and if you’re already a fan of the books, this is a fun walk down memory lane. The voice actors are marvelous, though I confess there were times when I wasn’t sure whether it was Ford or Arthur speaking. Not that it mattered much. All in all, it’s a great time, and well worth it for any fan of absurdity.

Note on my version: A friend taped this off the radio when it was originally broadcast back in the late 1970s and recently digitized it. There’s a fair bit of tape hiss but I had almost no problem hearing and understanding everyone. One thing he noted, however, is that the version that was offered commercially had different sound effects and music due to copyright issues. Evidently the interstitial music played on the radio version was fair game, but all sorts of rights needed to be purchased in order to sell the recording. I have not listened to the commercial version, so I cannot comment on those differences. I linked to the remastered CD because the version I have, rather by definition, is not available for purchase.

P.S. – Happy birthday to my sweetie!

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