Posts Tagged ‘Science Fiction’

To your scattered bodies goOne day all humanity wakes up in a river, naked and hairless, remembering all their lives to the day of their death on Earth. Bound to each individual is a recipient nicknamed “grail”, in which food and other resources appear when the “grailstones”, stuctures in the riverbanks, are activated. Whenever someone dies is immediately resurrected somewhere else along the river. The length of the river is beyond imagination. The novel follows Richard Francis Burton, a Victorian adventurer who was mysteriously given some “backstage” view of the resurrection miracle. He attracts a small group of companions which include Kazz (a Neanderthal), Peter Frigate (a 21st century science fiction writer), Alice Liddell (yes, the Victorian lady who inspired Alice in Wonderland) and Monat Grrautut (an alien who disastrously contacted Earth on the 21st century). Burton also creates a nemesis to whom he seems to be attached to, Hermann Goring (leading member of the Nazi Party and founder of the Gestapo, among other delightful activities).

To your scattered bodies go2The exotic premise led to 2 movie adaptations, in 2003 and 2010. The novel, even if published in 1971, is surprisingly fresh. The characters are edgy and three-dimensional, showing incredibly complex personalities, each of them with bleak characteristics as well as very touching moments. The religious, cultural and ethical references are interestingly managed, keeping the reader as expectant as the characters themselves. During Burton’s journey through the Riverworld trying to solve the mystery behind the Resurrection Day, all hints of an answer originate a thousand more questions, a characteristic that usually generates love or hate in readers – similarly to the series “Lost”, I guess. Even though I found it satisfying as an isolated read, the end is left (widely) open.

This is the first book of the Riverworld series, won Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1972, and is followed by The Fabulous Riverboat.

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Global warming transformed England into a semitropical country. Advances in genetic engineering cured many diseases, however the human lifespan has been halved as a consequence of extinguishing cancer. Viruses are used to educate children by transferring knowledge. At the age of 10, children’s minds are read by “The Consensus” and their personality and moral values are corrected by viruses.

Milena is a young actress who has never been read and is immune to most viruses. She meets Rolfa, a half-polar bear woman who is also a musician, and falls in love with her. Homosexuality is rare, it is regarded as “bad grammar” and “corrected” with viruses.

Milena has to deal with her own unsocial problems while she attempts to stage a mega-production of an opera composed by Rolfa, based on Dante’s Divine Comedy, and keeps wondering why “The Consensus” seems to support her instead of eliminating her.

The Child Garden is a complex novel that deals with many subjects in a rich and poetic manner. Mainly, it deals with the transformation of human beings and human culture to an uniform society and the impact it has in the individual. And the story is entirely given in the point of view of an individual who is not well connected to the tissue of society – Milena.

The Child Garden deals with some of the problems and losses that arise from solving human problems by means that were once considered a problem. Decreasing the lifespan by curing cancer with the viruses was the crudest example given, but the same could be applied for what is lost when individuality is sacrificed to create a completely unified society.

One issue approached was the solitude that can be created in the unification of a group. When a society is an integrated group of individuals, might feel solitude as a lonely animal – which is nothing more than an integrated group of cells (that is believed to have evolved from a group of unicellular organisms).

It is also worth mentioning the rich way the story is told. There is much to tell in this aspect, but what especially caught my attention was:

  • The use of metaphors, which is luxurious and delicious: 1) especially as they come in colourful images and 2) even if morbid meanings are cruelly expressed through beautiful images (or the opposite).
  • The use of music references in the text, as music playing in certain situations or as characters singing their own words with classical music /opera music. This is particularly special as the music referred not only enriches the meaning of the text, but it may give it a second meaning, an ironic meaning or even alter its meaning completely. The music references are inserted in the text with Wagnerian precision, where not a single note is useless, maybe to give an image of how Rolfa’s music was written in the Divine Comedy to be read together with the text.

The Child Garden is no light reading. It is very dense and complex both in its form and content. After reading it I went back to some of its parts and I surely intend to read it again.

The Child Garden was first published in 1989 and won both the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award in 1990.

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Karl Glogauer, a time traveler from the 20th century, arrived to Palestine 28AD. The time machine was damaged and he was saved by a group of Essenes, whose leader was John the Baptist.

Glogauer suffered from many neuroses and chronic psychological problems related with childhood traumas, his strong Christian education, the rupture with Christianity in later years, and his messed up views upon sexuality. Although he felt no longer a Christian, he volunteered to test the time machine built by a friend. And so he decided to go to Palestine and witness the crucification of Christ, a decisive event in human History and in his own life.

However, when he arrived (one year before the death of Jesus) John the Baptist’s group never heard about Jesus and they were still waiting for their Savior.  Glogauer was stuck in the past, the “greatest moment” was approaching, and things were not happening as they should… someone had to do something for the sake History!

Behold the Man is a novella with a plot that becomes interesting by the way it is told. The story starts by Glogauer’s arrival in Palestine, and the events before the time travel (London, 20th century) are given by flashbacks and memoirs that come parallel with the events in Palestine. Also, some passages from the Bible are placed in the proper places to offer the alternative description of the events, and to give the final touch to the dark humor of the tale.

Even the main character, Glogauer, becomes interesting by its frailty, as he is the opposite of what is expected in a hero: he is weak, depressed and neurotic, with a personality crushed by the society that, after all, was his own creation.

Behold the Man won the Nebula Award for best novella in 1967.

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New York. Future (undetermined).

The world population has decreased to an extremely low number and no children have been produced in the last years. People are educated to live in a constantly drugged state, caring just for their individual pleasure, and to interrupt someone’s inwardness is a crime. The teaching of reading is forbidden, as it is a way of someone’s thoughts invade other people’s minds. Decaying robots care for (and control) the humans.

By chance, Paul Bentley learns how to read by himself through old children’s books. He is employed by the dean of the NYU, Robert Spofforth, a Make Nine robot. Make Nine robots were the most perfect super-intelligent robots, but all of them committed suicide, except for Sporfforth, that wished it, but was programmed not to. While in New York, Bentley meets Mary Lou, a woman who had a very high IQ and escaped the educational program. These three characters are the only intelligent beings left in the world…

Mockingbird is the story of three very different characters that, together, hold the key of humanity in their hands and don’t know how to deal with each other. This book is built in a very interesting concept: humans created technology to help them; humans relied on technology for all their problems and lost all technological knowledge; humans got controlled by technology; without supervising, technology started decaying and dragging humanity with it. The main storyline becomes rather ordinary, especially towards the end, but the book is brilliant for its intelligent writing and awareness of the social problems that started to be felt in the 80’s, when it was first published, and became worse nowadays.

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The story of The Dispossessed is set in the twin worlds of Tau Ceti: Urras and its moon Anarres (or Anarres and its moon Urras, it depends on the point of view).

Two hundred years before the events in The Dispossessed, a Revolution occurred in Urras and the revolutionaries were allowed to settle in the desert world of Anarres, living according to the political rules established by the philosopher Odo. Since then people in Anarres lived in an organized Anarchy, with no government or coercive structures, no social stratification, and no property (everything belonged to everyone, people just had to take it and use it). The land in Urras was divided in several States, although two rival States dominated the others: A-Io, with extreme capitalist politics, and Thu, with an authoritarian system claiming to rule in the name of the proletariat.

Shevek, an Anarresti scientist, was developing the General Temporal Theory, a complex theory incorporating physics, mathematics, and also philosophy and ethics. During his research in Anarres he met several obstacles, and when an opportunity comes he manages to travel to Urras – which is not legally forbidden (there is no law), but is forbidden nonetheless in the Anarresti way. The story starts when Shevek is leaving Anarres and is organized in two plotlines: one from the moment Shevek leaves Anarres to his return; the other from Shevek’s youth to the moment he leaves Anarres.

The Dispossessed has a strong influence by Karl Marx’s theories and is clearly marked by the time it was written (1970’s). Marx argued that capitalism, like previous socioeconomic systems, would inevitably produce internal tensions which would lead to its destruction. And so socialism would replace capitalism, and lead to a stateless, classless society called pure communism. This would emerge after a transitional period called the “dictatorship of the proletariat”. Marx died in 1988. In The Dispossessed are present augmented projections of these three political systems in the 1970’s, when the failures were already visible: capitalism (USA/Urras), socialism (USSR/Thu), pure communism (Anarres/the step that all communist countries failed).

Today is 2010. Time passed and the brilliance of The Dispossessed shines more than ever. As the society in Anarres started to stratify, leaving its pure communist form, the socialist societies in Earth, 20th century, started to stratify and disrupt even before reaching pure communism. The theory was flawless, except for one intrinsic biological characteristic of human beings as social animals: egoism. We live in a capitalist society with striking resemblance to the caricature presented as A-Io, a system doomed to destruct itself and to which no better alternative was yet presented.

The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia is a 1974 utopian science fiction novel by Ursula K. Le Guin, set in the Hainish Cycle. The book won the Nebula Award in 1974, both the Hugo and Locus Awards in 1975, and received a nomination for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award in 1975.

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The city of New Crobuzon was home to human and human-like communities (half human, half insect/eagle/cactus/…). Apart from this diversity, some people were also “remade”, had some body parts added or exchanged with other species.  These groups were not blended in a melting pot, but lived in ghettos, with their culture and laws, which came from a long forgotten time and place.

Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin was a human scientist who had a socially disapproved relationship with Lin, a Khepri artist (woman body and the head of an insect, with insect legs and insect wings). Isaac was commissioned to restore the wings to Yagharek, a garuda (human-eagle hybrid) who lost his wings as punishment for a crime he committed in his homeland, while Lin was engaged to create a sculpture of Mr. Motley, leader of New Crobuzon’s mafia.

Isaac started collecting winged animals for his project and, among his specimens, he got an attractive unknown larva. The larva was obtained by illicit means and had a strange behavior. When it metamorphosed, it became a slake-moth, a monstrous butterfly who fed on human souls.  The monster endangered the lives of all thinking beings of new Crobuzon, but its release had deeper repercussions, as it had obscure connections to New Crobuzon’s politics and the mafia.

Miéville once described this book as “basically a secondary world fantasy with Victorian era technology. So rather than being a feudal world, it’s an early industrial capitalist world of a fairly grubby, police statey kind!”.

Perdido Street Station is a mix of fantasy, science fiction and horror with many industrial age elements. Actually, Perdido Street Station, the central station of New Crobuzon which gave the title to the novel, reminded me of what Charing Cross Station might have been in Victorian London. The environment prevailing in the whole book could be called simply as “nightmarish”.

The first part is mainly dedicated to the description of New Crobuzon, its inhabitants and the city environment. Although it has not much action, the writing is delightful and the use of the English vocabulary is astonishing. When the story finally “kicks in” it evolves like a nightmare, taking strange turns, introducing and changing characters. These changes follow a somehow logic line, but twist in loose, random way as it usually happens in dreams/nightmares. The twists are not used as easy solutions to “save” characters or situations, and nothing is spared by them.

Perdido Street Station has the potential to become a classic, for its oneiric environment, the creative evolution of the storyline, and the magnificent use of the English Language to accomplish it.

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…Yellow Dog is the codename of a female spy working for a vast Mongol-dominated galactic empire. When she learns of anomalous events happening on the edge of civilized space – phantom ships appearing in the faster-than-light transit system which binds the empire together – Yellow Dog puts herself forward for the most hazardous assignment of her career. In deep cover, she must penetrate the autonomous zone where the anomalies are most frequent, and determine whether the empire is really under attack, and if so by who or what. Yellow Dog’s problems, however, are only just beginning. For the autonomous zone is under the heel of Qilian, a thuggish local tyrant with no love for central government and a reputation for extreme brutality.

This novella presents lots of good ideas. The heroine finds herself in a place where the several parallel dimensions cross each other, letting a spaceship jump from one to another. Each dimension is dominated by different party who ever struggled for the dominance of the Earth/Space: Mongols, Christians, Islamics, Lemurs (who competed with humans in the course of Natural History), and Reptiles (who competed with mammals). This novella shows the arrogance and aggressiveness of a long-winning party towards the ones it considers its inferiors, and the clash when many of these self-centered parties come face to face with one another.

The only problem of The Six Directions of Space shows up in the end: we want it to continue. The novella seems to be the prelude of a promising story.

The Six Directions of Space had an edition by itself and also shows up in the compilation The Mammoth Book of the Best New SF 22, edited by Gardner Dozois, which I started reading after the praise by a great friend of mine who is one of the Portuguese most credited experts in SciFi/Fantasy literature. Check her Portuguese blog Rascunhos.

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