Category Archives: Sci-Fi & Fantasy

Wanting to be Darth Vader

I love this! This is Ryan Cartwright of the SyFy series Alphas. I was searching for interviews and stumbled upon this. And that’s the great thing about the Internet, you know – the things you find that you’re not looking for.

Possibly a little bit NSFW.

Why Pretend? Read!

Andrea has found a list of 10 Sci-Fi Novels People Pretend to Have Read. (I’m glad he said “sci-fi”. “SF” is so pretentious.) I do not pretend to have read books. First, I have actually read enough classic, highly acclaimed, really big books to impress almost anyone I might want to impress. Second, most of the people I run into in “real life” (i.e. not on the Internet) are impressed (or sometimes puzzled) that I read any books at all, especially science fiction. And third, I would hate to get caught pretending.

It seems like an odd list. Why these 10 books. I have read some of them and I want to read others but not all of them.

1. Cryptonomicon – Yes, I’ve read it. It was an interesting and fun book.

2. Dune – Yes! (I include the first three books in the series) I read these several times before the movie came out. There’s nothing like reading Dune for the first time. Really blew me away.

3. Gravity’s Rainbow – No. I might or might not read this someday. To be honest, I generally find WWII era Germans to be dull and tedious but curiosity will likely lead me to read it eventually.

4. Foundation – No. Don’t know if I’ll ever read it or not. I know this is practically heresy but I haven’t liked any of Asimov’s fiction that I’ve read so far.

5. Johnathon Strange & Mr. Norrell – No. Never heard of it before but I am somewhat interested. I’ll put this one in the “definitely maybe” category.

6. 1984 – Yes. I feel that a lot of people don’t really get this book but I won’t comment because I’m sure someone would think I don’t get it either.

7. First and Last Men and Star Maker – No. Never heard of these either but they sound sort of interesting and they’re old enough to be available for free on Project Gutenberg so I will definitely read them.

8. The Long Tomorrow – No. The title sounds slightly familiar. I doubt I’ll ever read this one. Doesn’t sound like my cup o’ tea.

9. Dhalgren – No. Another slightly familiar title. Although I’m not a huge fan of Samuel R. Delany this sounds just interesting enough that I might give it a try.

10. Infinite Jest – No. Another one that doesn’t sound like my cup o’ tea.

Identity Theft?

This week’s episode of Eureka was fun. They did the old body swapping thing, with the swapping happening randomly and at hilariously inconvenient moments.

This trope* has been around a long time. The earliest I remember is the famous Captain Kirk/Dr. Janice Lester switch in Star Trek: TOS but I’m sure that is not the earliest example. (*Beware of that link. If you’re not careful you could be trapped for hours upon hours.)

The thing I find interesting about body swapping or snatching is watching how well (or how poorly) the actors portray someone else. My favorite was in Fringe earlier this season (or was it last season) when Olivia (Anna Torv) was invaded by William Bell (Leonard Nimoy) It was downright uncanny! Of course it’s easier when the swap or snatch involves characters with really distinctive speech mannerisms but Torv is brilliant at this sort of thing. She also gets to play two subtly different versions of her character.

So anyway, let’s discuss this. Do you have any favorite examples of body swapping or snatching? Or do you just find the whole thing silly, lame, tiresome and done way too often?

Writing a Better Future

Neal Stephenson wants science fiction writers to stop being pessimistic. Apparently he’s just reading the wrong books. There is still a lot of positive, hopeful science fiction. What is needed is more optimistic sci-fi in the movies and on TV where more kids will see it and be inspired. And we need more gadget driven science fiction. Writers do not predict the future; they say to the young audience, “This is what we need you to invent when you grow up.” Right now practically everyone is telling kids that the future is going to be bad, bad, bad. What are kids going to grow up to be if they have nothing hopeful to fuel their dreams?

One thing I have a problem with is the “no hyperspace” rule. I don’t think science fiction necessarily needs to be 100 percent plausible. Was Star Trek 100 percent plausible? Hardly. But it inspired a generation to support space exploration and invent things like cell phones. FTL ships are vehicles for the imagination and it saddens me that many writers have abandoned them and consider themselves smarter for doing so. To me that’s just another brand of pessimism.

But there is hope in print out there. For example, Neal Asher. His Polity books are violent, bloody and often gross but they also have intelligent machines, cool gadgets, weird body modification, and fascinating aliens and as long as you stayed out of the central action in the stories it would be a great universe in which to live. And there’s Iain M. Banks’ Culture – an entire society living exclusively in space. Someone needs to make blockbuster movies of those or even TV series. Yes, I would rather everyone would just read the books but everyone is not going to. Seeing the impossible come to life on the screen is what is most likely to inspire people, especially the young.

Is the world today really more scary and gloomy than it was in the 60’s when we watched scenes from the Vietnam war and race riots on the news every night and we all feared that a nuclear war with the Soviet Union could happen at any time? And yet, in that environment we managed to find hope that the future would be better. That hope, as well as a few of the gadgets we actually use today, were inspired by a silly little TV show called Star Trek.

Reading

I finished Player of Games last night. (What I said about the three sexes… a little more detail was revealed later in the book so that’s no longer really a valid post.) This is the second Iain M. Banks novel that I’ve read and the second in the Culture series. I am hooked in a big way. It’s one of the more appealing fictional universes that I’ve encountered.

In Player of Games, Gurgeh, famous for his skill at all kinds of games, travels to the Empire of Azad to be the first person from the Culture to compete in the extremely complex game that everyone in the Empire is obsessed with and believes that no outsider can play well. I found this book highly unputdownable and I was both satisfied and sorry when I read the last page.

If there were three

I’m in the middle of Iain M. Banks’ Player of Games. I might post more about the book in general after I’ve finished it but there’s something in it that started me thinking and I wanted to go ahead and throw it out there for (hopefully) discussion.

There is a race of humanoids in this book that has three sexes. In every story I’ve read in which there is a three-sexed race one of the sexes is merely an incubator and makes no genetic contribution of their own. My question for science fiction fans: Have you noticed this and have you ever read (or seen) a science fiction story about a three-sexed race in which each of the three makes a genetic contribution? Also, either way, how scientifically plausible is this arrangement?

Reading

I finished reading China Mieville’s Embassytown yesterday. This one is science fiction but it’s only slightly less weird than his fantasy novels. It’s a very fascinating story that deals with the connection between language and thought. Embassytown is a human community inside a bubble of Earth-type atmosphere, surrounded by the natives’ city. The natives, the Ariekei, have two mouths and their language consists of pairs of sounds spoken simultaneously. And they are incapable of saying anything that is not the literal truth. They cannot even use metaphors. The only humans who can speak to them are pairs of linked clones. Things get really interesting when the human government sends an ambassador pair who are not clones and their imperfectly linked speech has a strange effect on the Ariekei.

I’m not telling this very well but, trust me, it’s a unique and fascinating story.

I have started Player of Games by Iain M. Banks. It’s starting out very good. I want to go live on an orbital. I also recently downloaded two Kindle books: The Giant Book of Poetry by William Roetzheim and Your Brain on Food: How Chemicals Control Your Thoughts and Feelings by Gary Wenk. I’ve already read some of the poetry. It starts with a poem from around 4000 BC! And I’m very interested in getting into Your Brain on Food. Brains are such fascinating things.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that China Mieville has a new book coming out this summer, titled Railsea. I might not be able to wait for the paperback.

More Reading

I’ve been downloading books and stories from Project Gutenberg (Which probably would disappoint Amazon because I know when they sold me my Kindle they were hoping to make a lot more money off of me than they have.) including some very old science fiction. The interesting thing you discover from reading old sci-fi is that, as with any other genre, a good story will always be a good story and will never really become out-dated.

You won’t only find good stories at Project Gutenberg. They do not judge. The collection includes not only great classics but also a lot of obscure, forgotten stuff that probably should remain forgotten. A prime example of such a work is A Journey in Other Worlds by John Jacob Astor. Yes, that John Jacob Astor. In this book three men, two scientists and a businessman if I remember correctly, decide to start a project to “correct” the Earth’s tilt, thinking that a world without seasons would be a much more pleasant and convenient place to live. After talking about this project a for a little bit they take off on a journey to Jupiter and Saturn. Jupiter is a warm, jungle planet full of huge, dinosaur-like beasts which the travelers shoot indiscriminately. In addition to the gleeful killing spree they talk a lot about exploiting the resources of Jupiter. Saturn is Heaven. Literally. It’s where our spirits go after we die and here the story goes into a lot of religious and emotional stuff. The story never does do anything with the “correcting the Earth’s tilt” thing and one wonders what was the point of even mentioning it in the first place. The writing style does not help the book any either. Much of it, especially in the first half, feels more like reading a report than a novel. Yes, I read the whole thing. I’m just stubborn that way.

After that I read Heart of Darkness, which I’ve already mentioned. More recently I read two short stories by Philip K. Dick (Did you know that the “K” is for Kindred?) The Variable Man and The Crystal Crypt, the first things I have ever read by Dick, and yes I will be reading more of his work. The Variable Man is about a man from the early 20th century who is accidentally brought into the future where he is a “variable” that the prediction computers of that era cannot calculate. The Crystal Crypt is about an incident on Mars. I love early Mars stories.

I just started The Picture of Dorian Gray a couple of days ago. It’s easy to see why Oscar Wilde is so often quoted. As I read I keep wanting to highlight and save quotables, but then, often, I will think, “Wait, I don’t even agree with that.” It makes one wonder – what is it about a sentence that makes it feel quotable?

There is also a non-fiction document that I’ve been reading off and on for months: Personal Memoirs of a Residence of Thirty Years With the Indian Tribes on the American Frontier by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft. It is quite long. I’m only 14 percent of the way into it. So far almost nothing has been said about the Indian tribes, which is disappointing, but it is still just a little bit interesting – sort of like reading a blog. The author touches on details of everyday life of the era while traveling, gives opinions and observations, and shares some of his correspondence. A lot of it is tedious but I’m curious enough to keep going back to it once in awhile.

Reading

Two books I read recently:

Consider Phlebas is the first of Iain M. Banks “Culture” novels. The story is told from the the point of view of an outsider – someone working for the enemies of the Culture. He is a “Changer”, what we more commonly call a “shape-shifter”. His mission is to find a missing AI or “Mind” before the Culture finds it and he has adventures with pirates and various other interesting characters along the way. I was delighted when I realized that Banks has borrowed Larry Niven’s grandest idea, the Ringworld. Banks’ “orbitals” are smaller than the Ringworld but still huge and I want to go on a nice long vacation on one.

It’s a very interesting book and I will definitely read more in this series. At first it’s tempting to try to find political parallels in the real world. You have a technological society in which freedom is very important versus a theocracy. But after reading the whole thing I feel that to look at it this way is to greatly reduce a broadly interesting fictional universe. Here is the author’s long essay about the Culture, which I confess I have not read in its entirety.

I finished Vernor Vinge’s The Witling this morning. I bought both of these books in paperback to facilitate sharing. I love my Kindle but real paper books are much easier to share with the other members of my family who are all science fiction fans. I was disappointed that The Witling is very short – only 220 pages – but for this story it is an appropriate length. It is a simple, old-fashioned planetary adventure/romance. The author could have drawn it out more, added more detail, and I would have enjoyed it at least as much but as it is it’s a quick very enjoyable read that is missing nothing.

Two people, an archeologist and a space pilot are stranded on Giri, a planet with a feudal society in which most people have the ability to teleport. Those few people who do not have this ability are called “witlings” and are considered seriously handicapped and are generally looked down upon. Pelio, the crown prince of one of the nations on Giri is a witling, an embarrassment to his family and his country. The pilot, Yoninne, is described as having a “squat, slab-like body” but to the short, thick Girians she is tall and exotic. Pelio falls in love with her and helps the two reach a distant telemetry station where they can call for help. Of course there are many complications to make things interesting, including enemies who want to kill them and food that is poisonous to the stranded pair.

This book is fun and satisfying. If you’ve ever complained that “they don’t write ‘em like they used to,” you need to read it.

Reading

A few weeks ago Jaquandor recommended to me (via email) Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey. It’s space opera so I immediately decided to give it a try.

I often find scientifically plausible science fiction tiresome. I want warp drive, artificial gravity and all that other cool, made-up stuff. Come on people, it’s fiction. But Leviathan Wakes, which takes place entirely within our solar system, mostly in the asteroid belt, is a great story that doesn’t make an issue of the science or lecture the reader on scientific concepts.

The story is told from the viewpoints of two very different men. One is young, idealistic and righteous. The other is older, perhaps wiser in some ways but also something of a loser. He is given the mission of finding the missing daughter of a wealthy couple but soon learns that some people do not want her found and he was only given the assignment because his superiors thought he would not be able to do it.

The younger man is the leader of four survivors of a space ship disaster. This odd pair team up to try to find out who or what is destroying spacecraft and what happened to the missing girl and why nobody wants her found. This is a mystery and a war story with just a bit of romance.

“James S. A. Corey” is the pseudonym of two collaborating authors. This bothers me a bit. I don’t have a problem with either pseudonyms or collaborations but if there are two authors I expect to see two names on the cover.

Living in the ‘verse

Jaquandor of Byzantium’s Shores asks for reader questions a couple of times a year and this time I asked two science fiction questions. As soon as I submitted the second one I thought, “Hey! That would have been fun to discuss over here.” So I’ve been waiting patiently (okay a bit impatiently) for Jaquandor’s answers before I brought it up but now, I’ve just gotta do this.

The question was, “If you could live on any of the Firefly worlds for the rest of your life, which would you choose? Wikipedia has a list of Firefly planets and moons. Only a few of these were featured in Firefly’s tragically short run and a few others were mentioned. So there’s not much to go on for making the important decision of where one wants to spend the rest of one’s life. Good thing this is only a game.

I have to admit, Alliance or no, I like civilization. That is, I like living in a rural area but I want real civilization not too far away. For some reason I am attracted to Persephone. Maybe it’s the name. Or this poster, which I have hanging over my computer desk. The “heavily stratified societal structure” bothers me a bit though. Ariel does seem like it might be a nice place to live – museums, restaurants, a bioluminescent lake, excellent medical facilities. (only not boring like she made it sound) We don’t know much about Londinium but according to the Wikipedia list it is “inhabited primarily by colonists from the western continents of Earth-that-was” which interests me because that’s where I’m from (the western continents of Earth, that is) and its the location of Parliament which could be a good thing or a bad thing. So I don’t know… At my age I guess I’d better pick Ariel.

What about you, Firefly fans? Where in the ‘verse do you want to live?

Reading

Last week I finished reading Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. It’s not the sort of thing I usually go for but it was a lot of fun. It’s set in an alternate America in which there are no laws and the Federal government is relatively powerless – it merely exists, without any apparent purpose – and corporations, churches, neighborhoods and other organizations operate as separate nations. It’s tempting to try to find some kind of political statement in this, and perhaps there is one, but, in my opinion, the silliness of the name of the main character, Hiro Protagonist, should serve as a clue that none of this should be taken too seriously.

Hiro and friends are trying to chase down the person or persons responsible for Snow Crash, which is both a drug and a computer virus. Like other Stephenson novels that I have read, there’s so much going on in this book I almost forget that there is a story. It sometimes seems like just a lot of characters doing wild and crazy stuff, like riding skateboards in traffic and slicing each other up with swords in the “Metaverse” and working with the Mafia which, in this book, is as legal as any corporation. But it all does come together in the end and leaves the reader both satisfied and wanting more.

Snow Crash was originally published in 1992. This is apparent only by the curious lack of cell phones. At one point one of the characters has to look for a phone both. How times have changed in 20 years!

Appreciating Asimov

A commenter on the book list post recommended I, Robot. I’ve been a huge fan of Isaac Asimov’s non-fiction books and I always enjoyed seeing him on talk shows. My first encounter with Asimov was Adding a Dimension, a sort of idiot’s guide to difficult science. Asimov had a way of explaining science so as to make it easily understandable and fun. So, of course I expected that I would love his fiction as well but what little I’ve read was not to my liking at all.

I loved the rather beautiful, nearly plotless movie, based on Asimov’s story, Nightfall but when I read the book I was highly disappointed. And I’m sure I’ve read one other of his books but I can’t remember what it was so maybe I only started reading it but I do remember being disappointed that this author whose non-fiction I already liked a lot did nothing for me in the fiction area. I did see the movie I, Robot and liked it and thought I really should read the book but based on past experiences I expect to be disappointed again so I’ve put it off.

Here’s a long list of Asimov quotes for your enlightenment and entertainment.

Top 100 Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books

Jaquandor posted the Top 100 Science Fiction Books, according to an NPR poll, and bolded the ones he’s read, italicized the ones he wants to read and commented on some of them. I don’t usually take the time to do these lists but I’m interested in this one. I’m just going to bold the ones I’ve read. Of the rest, while I am more interested in some than in others, I don’t really want to distinguish between “want to read” and “not interested.”

*1. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien – I haven’t read the entire trilogy, only the first book. I didn’t care for it. Too much walking through the woods being mysterious and mystical.

*2. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams – I’ve read at least part of it but I can’t remember if I finished it.

3. Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card – It seems everyone has a strong opinion about this book. Either it’s one of the greatest classics of science fiction or the author is too despicable to even consider reading one of his books. I read it and found it fairly interesting but nothing special.

4. The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert – The original trilogy was fantastic beyond words but the later books were a waste of time.

5. A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin

6. 1984, by George Orwell

7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

8. The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov

9. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

10. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman – Okay but not really my cup of tea.

11. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman

*12. The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan – Only the first book. It was okay but very slow moving. I don’t know if I’ll try to slog through any more or not.

13. Animal Farm, by George Orwell

14. Neuromancer, by William Gibson – Didn’t care for it at all.

15. Watchmen, by Alan Moore

16. I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov

*17. Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein – Can’t remember if this is one I’ve read or not. Most of the few Heinlein novels I’ve read seem all alike to me.

18. The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss

19. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut

20. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

21. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick

22. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

23. The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King

24. 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke

*25. The Stand, by Stephen King – Not sure. I think I did read this one. There was one SK novel I read that I didn’t care for but I can’t remember the title for certain.

*26. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson – not yet, but soon

27. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury

28. Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut

29. The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman

30. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess

31. Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein

32. Watership Down, by Richard Adams – It surprises me a bit to see this on a sci-fi list but I suppose it is fantasy of a sort. Anyway, I liked it.

33. Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey – Some of my favorite books ever! I’ve read the original trilogy and the Harper Hall Trilogy at least a dozen times. The later books in the series are not nearly as good and I’ve sort of lost interest in McCaffrey in general in the last decade.

34. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein – The only Heinlein book I’ve ever liked.

35. A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller

36. The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells

37. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne

38. Flowers For Algernon, by Daniel Keys – Excellent.

39. The War Of The Worlds, by H.G. Wells

40. The Chronicles Of Amber, by Roger Zelazny

41. The Belgariad, by David Eddings

42. The Mists Of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley

43. The Mistborn Series, by Brandon Sanderson

44. Ringworld, by Larry Niven – Mixed on this one. I like the idea of a ringworld much better than I like the story and characters.

45. The Left Hand Of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin – Interesting idea; dull story.

46. The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien

47. The Once And Future King, by T.H. White

48. Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman

49. Childhood’s End, by Arthur C. Clarke – Not one of my top favorites but definitely very original and thought provoking.

50. Contact, by Carl Sagan

51. The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons

52. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman

53. Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson – I didn’t think of this one as science fiction but it was very entertaining. I enjoyed it a lot.

54. World War Z, by Max Brooks

55. The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle

56. The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman

57. Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett

*58. The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson – I read two (or maybe only one and half) of these books and found them dreary, dull and annoying.

59. The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold

60. Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett

61. The Mote In God’s Eye, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle – I liked this fairly well. I always like Niven and Pournelle better than Niven alone.

62. The Sword Of Truth, by Terry Goodkind

63. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

64. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke

65. I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson

66. The Riftwar Saga, by Raymond E. Feist

67. The Shannara Trilogy, by Terry Brooks

*68. The Conan The Barbarian Series, by R.E. Howard – I read a couple of these a long time ago. Liked it fairly well.

69. The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb

70. The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger

71. The Way Of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson

72. A Journey To The Center Of The Earth, by Jules Verne – I was disappointed in this, probably as a result of having seen too many “Journey to the Center of the Earth” cartoons as a kid. When I finally got around to reading the book I thought, “Huh. That’s all there is to it?”

73. The Legend Of Drizzt Series, by R.A. Salvatore

74. Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi

75. The Diamond Age, by Neil Stephenson

76. Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke – Very interesting.

77. The Kushiel’s Legacy Series, by Jacqueline Carey

78. The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin – Strangely, this was fairly interesting in spite of the fact that I did not care for any of the characters. I think I probably did not get out of it what the author was hoping readers would get out of it.

79. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury

80. Wicked, by Gregory Maguire

81. The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series, by Steven Erikson

82. The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde

83. The Culture Series, by Iain M. Banks

84. The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart

85. Anathem, by Neal Stephenson – Interesting and fun. For the most part I liked it.

86. The Codex Alera Series, by Jim Butcher

87. The Book Of The New Sun, by Gene Wolfe

88. The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn

89. The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldan

90. The Elric Saga, by Michael Moorcock

91. The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury

92. Sunshine, by Robin McKinley

93. A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge – Awesome! Very original.

94. The Caves Of Steel, by Isaac Asimov

95. The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson – Pretty interesting. Parts of it were too political/soap opera for my taste.

96. Lucifer’s Hammer, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle – one of the most interesting from this team

97. Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis

98. Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville – Extremely weird. Loved it and immediately became a Mieville fan for life.

99. The Xanth Series, by Piers Anthony

100. The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis

Movie Night

We saw Cowboys and Aliens last night. It was a fun movie, as we expected. Take a traditional western with all the usual western cliches and add scary aliens. How could that not be fun? If I were to complain about anything it would be that the aliens were inconsistently hard to kill. Sometimes they would be shot over and over and still keep coming and other times a single shot or a stab with a knife would kill one of them instantly. But that’s just being nit-picky.

The whole thing was pretty well done I think. Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford were excellent. It was a different kind of role for Ford. It still seems funny seeing him playing old man roles especially when I see the famous lopsided nervous grin on his now grizzled face.

I have long thought that westerns and science fiction (at least, space opera) are not as far apart as most people think. In both the viewer or reader is taken to a world that we can never experience in reality and there are heroes, bad guys and action. Putting the two together can work very well.

Old Sci-Fi

A while back I downloaded several science fiction stories and books from Project Gutenberg. Here are some thoughts on a couple of them that I read recently.

City of Endless Night by Milo M. Hastings was actually pretty interesting in spite of being outdated. It was written shortly after the end of World War I and it has WWII not happening until the 1980’s. The story takes place many years after that. It is easy enough to read it as an alternate time-line story and you can almost forget how old it is.

The world is united under a single government, except for Berlin, which is enclosed in a single armored structure with no windows. An American manages to sneak into this city and takes the identity of a dead scientist. He is accepted without suspicion because no one even imagines that it is possible for an outsider to get in. The government of this alternate Berlin is totalitarian and the society is very structured and rigid. The people have been bred to be perfect for their jobs. A laborer is born to be a laborer and can’t imagine doing anything else. A scientist is born to be a scientist and so on. Our American hero makes friends with a group of people who are not happy with the way things are but, aside from sharing a few banned books, have not tried to rebel because they felt that it would be impossible.

A Trip to Venus by John Munro was first published in 1897. It is not only scientifically outdated, it seems extremely naive by today’s standards but it is a charming and delightful tale if you are able to put yourself in the right frame of mind. Three men and a young woman, the daughter of one the men, build a spaceship and travel in it to Venus where they find a tropical paradise populated by humans who are as too good to be true as the planet. In a modern story you would expect the dark side of these saintly people to come out but this is the 1890’s so they are genuinely as good as they seem – the perfect example of what humanity should be.

For chapter after chapter the book mostly goes on and on about the wonders and beauty of Venus and its people. I can’t resist an excerpt:

Most of the highest peaks and ridges, as well as the deepest valleys and
ravines, were covered with the embowering forest; but here and there a
huge boss of granite or porphyry reared its bare scalp out of the
verdure like the head and shoulders of some antediluvian monster. The
gigantic palms and foliage trees, all tufted with air-plants or
strangled with climbers, were literally buried in flowers of every hue,
and the crown of the forest rolled under us like a sea of blossoms.
Every moment one enchanting prospect after another opened to our
wondering eyes. Now it was a waterfall, gleaming like a vein of silver
on the brow of a lofty precipice, and descending into a lakelet bordered
with red, blue, and yellow lilies. Again it was a natural bridge,
spanning a deep chasm or tunnel in the rock, through which a river
boiled and roared in a series of cascades and rapids. Ever and anon we
passed over glades and prairies, carpeted with orchids, and dotted with
clumps of shrubbery, a mass of golden bloom, or tremendous blocks of
basalt hung with crimson creepers. Butterflies with azure wings of a
surprising spread and lustre, alighted on the flowers, and great birds
of resplendent plumage flashed from grove to grove. A sun, twice the
diameter of ours, blazed in the northern sky, but the intensity of his
rays was tempered by a thin veil of cloud. The atmosphere although warm
and moist, was not oppressive like that of a forcing-house, and the
breeze was balmy with delicious perfume.

There’s little in the way of adventure until near the end when a mechanical failure threatens to strand the travellers. And there is a bit of romance of course – sweet, old-fashioned romance. It’s the Victorian era you know.

I fear that most readers would quickly become impatient with all this beauty and sweetness but I enjoyed it. It’s a “happy place” kind of book – the perfect escape from the stressful real world and I think it’s a bit sad that so few people are able to let themselves enjoy this sort of thing. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you know I like violent adventures and weirdness but there’s room for sweetness and light too.

This ‘n’ That

7 Obscure Children’s Books by Authors of Grown-up Literature – I had seen the one by Mark Twain somewhere else but before I got around to mentioning it I found this. Of course I feel deprived for not having any of these as a child and I want them even though I’m “too old” for them.

I found The Adventures of Roberta X linked somewhere but I forget where it was. I haven’t taken much time to read it yet but it looks like a very nice, literate, all-around blog. And she reads science fiction! She also has another blog, Retrotechnologist, which I’ve just barely looked at because I just now found it but the title alone is enough to almost give me goosebumps. Two keepers I think.

Img to CSS – Hmmmm… I might try that sometime.

I found this June 21 post at Dustbury in my bookmarks which means I meant to link to it and say something about it but I can’t remember ever mentioning it. And how could I have forgotten?! Christina Hendricks as Wonder Woman? Yes! Please please please please make it so!

Sketchy-G’s Photostream – great architectural drawings, including many of buildings and structures in Oklahoma.

Awesome Firefly poster. By the way, I bought these. I mainly wanted the Miranda and Persephone posters but you have to buy the entire set of five. I need to get frames for them and two frames might end up costing more than all five posters since they didn’t have any the right size at Wal-mart. Today or tomorrow I think I’ll go to Hobby Lobby and see what they have. I’m procrastinating because, as you might have noticed, it’s fracking* HOT out there. The highways are buckling it’s so hot! I’m not usually one to complain about the heat – I like summer – but this summer it’s making me lazy and frying my brain.

* Yes, I know, I’m mixing universes.