And in case you were wondering, where the new books were, here you have them:
As you can probably tell, I’m finally done with the covers!
Lately I’ve been going over some of my earlier posts about the books I am reading and I have come to realize that at times I come across as more than a little arrogant. Yes, the whole point of the exercise is supposed to be to explain what I like and what I don’t like about each of these books, how I see them and so on, but at the same time I am all too aware of what goes into writing a book and I am afraid that there may be some instances in which I wind up sounding both hypercritical and disrespectful. After all, one of the things all the authors I write about have in common is that they have done a lot better than I have… not to mention that all the books I write about are books that have moved me in one way or another (okay, I admit that there are a couple of them, such as Crash and The Land of Mist, that moved me in the sense that they really, really annoyed me, but those are the exception rather than the rule, and at least when it comes to Crash I freely admit that a good chunk of my problem with that one has to do with my personal preferences rather than with the book itself).
Anyway, I suspect that part of the problem is that most of the books that make it to my blog are not the ones that take my breath away and leave me saying ‘flawless’ (unfortunately there’s very little one can say after that unless one wants to tack a rather boring list of superlatives after that), but rather those that leave me saying ‘I love it but…’ and to make matters worse an inordinate amount of attention tends to be lavished on that ‘but’, so today I’m going to be doing something completely different, I am going to be sharing a list of a few of those books that left me saying ‘flawless’, keep in mind that this list is not extensive and the books are featured in no particular order. Continue reading Flawless
A few days ago I finished John Wyndham’s The Kraken Wakes. The book was written in 1953, so some elements come across as being rather dated, though for 1953, and for John Wyndham, the lead female character comes across as being surprisingly modern, especially considering that the book is set in the present rather than in a distant future. Over all I would describe it as an interesting book with a good build up but a rather disappointing ending. It is on the slow end of the spectrum, but that too feels like a deliberate choice. The story is similar to H.G. Wells The War of the Worlds, but seeing how the threat here comes from the deepest parts of the sea, the author is free to go for the old ‘the scariest monster is the one you can’t see’ trope. Anyway, the first two parts of the book, while well written enough, didn’t appeal to me all that much, however that changed when I reached the third and final one (even though this post is rather short, I’m inserting a break here because the rest of it contains spoilers). Continue reading And the monster is…
Today I finished Star Maker, by Olaf Stapledon, and the first thing that comes to my mind is that this isn’t a novel, it is more of a treatise or a manifesto, though seeing how this is supposed to be science fiction those labels don’t quite fit either. Well, whatever the correct noun happens to be, this thing is way too long and wordy for my liking.
Okay, as you may have guessed by now I would rate this book as a major disappointment, especially considering that Sirius has long been one of my favorite SF books of all times, but at the same time I think I understand where the author is coming from, after all, the book was published in 1937, when the world was still struggling to move past the horrors of World War I and even a blind man could see that World War II was right around the corner. Of course, the fact that I do understand doesn’t mean I have to like it. The problem, at least as far as I am concerned, is that somewhere along the line, and before he even sat down to write this thing, the author seems to have forgotten about the need for such trifles as characters and a plot. Yes, in its own kind of way the book does offer a glimpse at how that particular period was perceived by those living in it, but its attempts at allegorizing, if they can even be called that, come across as more than a little ham-handed, not to mention that as the book progresses it grows in both arrogance and pseudo-mysticism until it becomes almost unbearable.
So does this thing have any redeeming qualities at all? Oddly enough the answer to that question is yes, and those go back to what is missing, namely characters and a plot. What can I say, writing a 272 pages ’novel’ unencumbered by either of those things seems to me like a pretty remakable achievement (that, and the fact that I feel like I should probably give it some leeway because, as I mentioned above, I can see where it is that the author is coming from, and I realize that some of my objections may have more to do with my poor understanding of what it meant to be alive in that period than with anything else).
Last week I read Stephen Baxter’s Anti-ice… and at times I felt like it was Professor Challenger redone (if you’ve read my previous posts on the subject of those books you are probably aware that, as far as I am concerned, that is most definitely not a good thing). Yes, the science was a little better, and –annoying as they were at times– the characters themselves were more or less consistent with what we find in the literature of the period. That was not the problem. That boiled down to the fact that there were a number of elements I just found to be unnecessary, grating and poorly handled, like the leading character’s infatuation with a mysterious woman. Over all the book felt like a concept in search of a plot. That is, at times it seemed to me like the author had had an interesting idea –what would have happened if, in the XIX century the British had come into possession of a powerful technology that would have enabled them to make a technological leap of close to a century?– but then he either didn’t know just what he was supposed to do with it, or he decided to try to force it into a pattern that didn’t quite fit.
I had been warned that this was one of Stephen Baxter’s weakest works (unfortunately I got that warning when I was reading the first chapter, and seeing how I don’t like to abandon a book once I’ve started it, I soldiered on), though in a way the fact that I wasn’t expecting much may have served to lessen the disappointment.
In short, if you are a die-hard Baxter fan, this one may be worth it (and chances are that you have already read it, so this post is likely to be redundant). If you are not, you may want to steer clear of it. No, it’s not dreadful, and it certainly doesn’t plummet to the level of The Land of Mist, but that is not much comfort.
I just finished Stephen Baxter’s The Time Ships (1995). This semi-official sequel to H.G. Wells The Time Machine (it was authorized by Wells’s estate) makes for an interesting read, but unfortunately it also feels something like a doughnut. It begins well enough, but even though I liked the seventh –and final– book as well as the epilogue, books five and six felt somewhat tedious, out of place and out of character. And before we go any further, a fair warning: while I usually try to avoid spoilers in these reviews, in this particular instance it won’t be entirely possible for me to do that. No, I won’t be giving away the ending of the book, but I am going to be commenting on some of the specifics regarding both the characters and the events it depicts.
Now, as a sequel to a book that was written a hundred years prior, the author had the not insignificant challenge of trying to merge two styles and two moral codes into his work: Wells’s and his own. This is something that, at least for the first four books, he mostly manages to accomplish. The one place where I feel he gets into trouble is when it comes to the Morlocks. Continue reading Holy Morlocks!
Okay, so in these past few days I have been spending too much time reading and too little time blogging about it. In fact since my last post I finished The Long Earth (a Pratchett/Baxter collaboration) and The Homeward Bounders (by Diana Wynne Jones). Both books are worth reading and, against all odds, they make for an interesting combination since, in spite of their rather obvious differences, they do share a number of common elements, starting with the fact that both deal with the subject of parallel worlds. Sure, one deals mostly with what the sudden availability of a countless number of Earths would mean for human society as a whole while the other is a fantasy novel that deals with the adventures of a group of kids who become pawns in a sort of cosmic game that spans a multitude of worlds, but at least there is a common element that can serve as a connecting point, while painting two completely different pictures.
The problem is that while these two books do make a good ‘double feature’ analyzing them together isn’t easy. Continue reading A Stroll Across the Multiverse
A couple of days ago I finished Michael Crichton’s The Lost World. In a way I enjoyed it more than I enjoyed Jurassic Park, though I have to say that the explanation for Ian Malcom’s miraculous survival was far from convincing.
Anyway, setting aside that particular inconsistency, I liked the way in which the author took the time to update the paleontology and correct some of the mistakes that had made it into the first book, like the T-rex’s inability to see someone standing still… in fact I would say that over all the T-rexs’ behavior felt more coherent here than it did in the first book. Other than that, while Ian still had a tendency to be annoyingly right at times, it was a little less pronounced here than it was in Jurassic Park. Finally there was also the fact that the kids were way less obnoxious. Continue reading Revisiting the Past
Yesterday I finished Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. I have to admit that I had seen the movie, but I hadn’t really bothered with the book up until now. Over all it was an enjoyable read, though somehow it seems to fall short. Yes, it is apparent that the author did his homework in an effort to lend authenticity to the scientific side of his story, and the fact that some of his depictions of the dinosaurs now seem somewhat dated is certainly not his fault, but rather a reminder of how far paleontology has come in the past couple of decades, spurred in part by the success of the movie that was based on this particular book.
Anyway, getting back to the subject at hand, there were three things that annoyed me (okay, there were more than three, but these are the big ones): Continue reading Jurassic Park
This one is about some books I read a few weeks ago, when I decided to take a closer look at the works of Clifford D. Simak. It was an interesting experience, especially because while today he is nowhere near as well-known as either Bradbury or Asimov, there was a time when he was considered to be in the same league with them, or almost (in fact he won the Grand Master Award in 1977, long before either of the others did). I can understand the appeal, and I can also see some of the problems with his works. In a way I would say that he is more spiritual than some of his contemporaries, and his stories tend to take place in more rural settings, but the thing that caught my attention is how irregular his books seem to be. In fact that was something I found quite frustrating at times. For instance in Time Is the Simplest Thing (1961) I loved the premise and how he finished his tale, but at times the story itself seemed to drag on, whereas in Why Call Them Back from Heaven? (1967) I loved the premise and some of the things he hinted at, but the ending was a major disappointment… that and the fact that he tried to pack a few too many subplots into that one for my liking.
So what are these books about? Continue reading A Case of Might-Have-Been
Yay, I am finally done with the Professor Challenger stories. I have to say that, with the exception of The Disintegration Machine, they were something of a challenge. For the most part they come across as incredibly dated, the arrogance they reflect is, more often than not, downright annoying (for instance, the whole premise of When the World Screamed is that the Earth is a sentient being and Professor Challenger’s great achievement in that one is to injure that being, thus getting it to acknowledge his existence)… and don’t get me started on The Land of Mist.
Well, that’s done now, and I’ve moved on to Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park and The Lost World, which so far seem to be enjoyable enough.
One of the things I have been dealing with in these past few days as I make my way through some very early works of what would eventually come to be known as science fiction is… whether or not they can be counted as science fiction at all. Yes, Twenty Thousand Leagues holds together remarkably well, The Scarlet Plague is a post-apocalyptic scenario and as such it falls into what has since become a well-defined sub-genre, and even The Star Rover seems to fit the bill somehow, though there really isn’t that much science in it at all. It is oddly enough with the Professor Challenger stories that this becomes more of an issue.
These works are, at best, very soft SF… or at least The Lost World is. The question is whether or not that label can be expanded to include the rest of the series. What is ironic is that what first got me thinking about this was precisely a line in The Poison Belt that deals with the way in which our perception of what ’science’ happens to be tends to change as our knowledge evolves: Continue reading A Line in the Sand
So I’m done with Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. As I said in a previous post, I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. One of the first things I realized, however, was that this book was not really written with a young adult audience in mind. It is too heavy on the science aspect of things for that, and in a really twisted kind of way that is probably what led to the popularity of Mr. Mecier’s dreadful translation: it was not just a dreadful translation, it was also a deliberate dumbing down of the book in an attempt to suit someone’s idea of who the book’s target audience was supposed to be. I guess in a way this is similar to the way in which animated features usually get –or rather used to get– an almost automatic G or PG rating. Continue reading Looking forward, looking back
For the past few days I have been busy reading Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (first published in 1870), and I am not done with it yet. Over all I have to say that I am enjoying it more than I thought I would, but one thing that has become clear is that, even though the S part of SF comes across as being more than a little dated, the approach itself is as hard as can be. In fact at times it is a little too hard, as thousands of words are devoted to a careful analysis of the classification of marine life. Seeing how I am no marine biologist, I can’t really vouch for the book’s accuracy (or lack thereof). As is the case with a lot of nineteenth century literature, however, there are times in which I find it hard to leave my twenty-first century sensibilities behind. The book is not politically correct, nowhere near it, and there is no reason it should be… but in this particular instance it isn’t so much the characters’ attitudes towards their fellow man as their attitudes towards the natural world that I am having a hard time trying to come to terms with. Continue reading Diving into the sea of the past