Category Archives: Reading as a Writer

Red, Green and Blue

About a month ago I decided to take a small break from the classics and tackle Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy instead. Over all it was an interesting experience. I enjoyed the hard approach to science fiction, and the fact that the science part of the equation is pretty much up to date was a nice change of pace from the ’50s take on the future I had been dealing with lately (the books were published between 1993 and 1996). As many have said before me, reading this series comes as close to going to Mars as most of us are likely to get, in fact at times it is a little too detailed for my liking.

The books chronicle the colonization and terraforming of Mars (Red refers to the original surface, Green refers to the appearance of plants and Blue to the presence of liquid water on the planet’s surface) as viewed by the original colonists and some of their descendants, and to say that the author has done his homework in that regard would be putting it mildly. I thoroughly enjoyed the first two books, though I have some problems with the third one. So what went wrong? Continue reading Red, Green and Blue

Crash and Burn

Yesterday I finished reading J.G. Ballard’s Crash. This is technically transgressive fiction, so the fact that the author goes out of his way to shock, disgust and horrify doesn’t really come as much of a shock. The problem is that I wasn’t so much shocked, disgusted and horrified as I was bored.

Yes, I realize that the book is almost thirty years old by now (it was first published in 1973), and the amount of violence and gore we are exposed to on a daily basis has increased to such an extent since then that it may well have served to lessen its effectiveness, but as far as I am concerned that is not the real problem. No, that problem goes back to something far simpler than that: call me old-fashioned, but there are some things I expect of a novel in terms of plot and character development, and it is in that regard that this book fails to deliver.

Does this mean that the idea lacks merit? Nowhere near it. In fact I realize that within its style –one I freely admit is not my favorite– the book is well written. My problem has to do with its length. As far as I am concerned, the idea is an interesting one, and Crash could have been a truly fascinating short story, twenty or maybe even fifty pages long… only it isn’t. It is a 224 pages novel that seems to drag on forever.

I spent one and a half afternoons reading this thing, and as far as I am concerned I would like a refund for one of them, the other half I would consider well spent.

Let’s tell the future

While in the midst of a classic SF binge the other day I wound up reading Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End.

Without giving too much of the plot away, the book deals, among other things, with the impact on Earth of the arrival of a protective alien species, known simply as ‘the Overlords’, that essentially reshapes human society.

As is the case with most visions of the future dating back more than fifty years (the book was first published in 1953) this one obviously gets quite a few things wrong… but I was amazed by how many details it actually gets right. Things like the advent of effective contraception and DNA testing, the ease of modern surveillance and the impact of our media saturated culture on our lives (to say nothing of our waistlines)… only we have managed to do it ourselves, no alien Overlords required at all. Continue reading Let’s tell the future