Tag Archives: science fiction

Dune

I am officially caught up on Doctor Who now! (The reboot starting with 2005, at least. I try not to think about how much old DW I have to catch up on, not to mention Torchwood and the other spin-offs.) This means that I can actually read again! I did somehow find the time to read Dune though, which was made easier simply by the fact that it’s an amazing novel!

Dune is about the House Atreides struggling to survive on the desert planet Arrakis that the Emperor has assigned to them as a dukedom. It’s the harshest, most desolate place to live, but controlling this planet means controlling melange, the spice that not only allows for space travel, but gives life, energy, and a heightened consciousness. There’s treachery involved, and a witch-like order of women, and a prophesied messiah, and giant sandworms, and a lot of hope and despair. It’s a really wonderful read, and I promise it reads quickly.

I started watching the movie on Netflix and I think it’s fun! Horrible graphics, but then again it was 1984. I do love that Patrick Stewart is in it – so young! and Sting! And Trey from Sex & the City! On second thought it’s kind of a terrible movie, but amusing nonetheless. I don’t think it’d make much sense to someone who hasn’t read the book, and even then it’s a bit confusing. All the more reason to read the book!

Starship Troopers

What a great read! I completely disagree with critics who say that this book glorifies war – I think, rather, that it glorifies the soldiers and acknowledges what they suffer through for the sake of country. Now, I haven’t seen the movie, which as I understand interpreted the novel quite differently from the way Heinlein supposedly intended… but the book is really great. I get the impression that if you liked the book, you may not like the movie.

A few things stood out for me:

  • The banality of war: Several times I noticed that Heinlein’s tone shows how desensitized Rico becomes to violence. Very scary!
  • Whoa, he’s Filipino? Kevin & I were talking once about how it’s wonderful that nationality could be just an afterthought – so often race is the most important identifier in literature and I just don’t buy it sometimes. Also, I wonder what he said in Tagalog…?
  • I was very interested in the idea of gaining full citizenship only through volunteering for military service. (I mean interested in the idea, not interested in actually having it implemented in our society!) Although I do wonder how it might work in a place like the United States. Very intriguing concept though.

The Dispossessed

Next in the Educate Myself in Classic SciFi series, I read The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin, at the recommendation of Themba. I was really impressed! It’s about a physicist, Shevek, who comes from the satellite planet Anarres and goes to main planet Urras. Anarres is supposed to be a world of imposed anarchy, or at least a society with no central power. Despite all intentions to keep any group from gaining power over another (or perhaps because of this), society still somehow starts to develop a sort of power imbalance. On Urras, however, Shevek is quite literally imprisoned by the overly capitalist society.

I was particularly interested in the linguistic relativity elements (I guess because I’m a language person), especially the idea that language on Anarres wouldn’t have a possessive form at all because that whole concept isn’t part of the collective mindset. It reminds me of Anthem, of course, and how their language exists exclusively in the collective tense.

However, I can’t help but feel that the book may not mean quite as much to later generations (say, people born in the 1990s onward) because (a) they didn’t grow up with the Soviet Union and there is a very clear parallel to the US-Soviet Union tension on Urras, and (b) the ansible probably doesn’t sound all that amazing to people for whom texting and videochatting are the norm. Just a thought.

Anyway, very highly recommended. If you liked Anthem and/or Stranger in a Strange Land, you’ll like The Dispossessed. Especially you libertarians.

Between Planets

This was a quick, fun read.  It’s a children’s scifi novel by Heinlein about a boy whose citizenship comes into question because his parents are from different planets and he was born in outer space.  When the planets declare war against each other, he is suddenly unwanted either way and furthermore is hunted by authorities everywhere.

While it was fun and easy to read, I was a little annoyed by how political it got so fast.  And obviously Heinlein is well-known for his political doctrines but this seemed a little excessive, especially for a young adult novel.

The Year of the Flood

So I was VERY excited to hear that Margaret Atwood was coming out with a new novel.  She is one of my favourite contemporary novelists and I’ve loved almost everything I’ve ever read by her.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve read more of her works than anyone else’s (except maybe Shakespeare).

Anyway, as I said in my last post (over a month ago, yikes!) The Year of the Flood overlaps somewhat with Oryx & Crake. It’s the same scenario but goes back a bit to reveal some of the characters that are marginally important in Oryx & Crake.  I especially liked Brenda’s role, which is expanded beyond the briefest of mentions in O&K.

And like O&K, I think The Year of the Flood is brilliant. Atwood simply is a master of language and she can really weave a tale.  I think I actually liked Oryx & Crake better, but I liked learning about God’s Gardeners in depth and seeing what they were like.  And of course I liked how everything ties in to some of the plot line of O&K.

Really masterful.

Oryx and Crake

To be perfectly honest, I love Margaret Atwood but had no intentions of reading Oryx and Crake until I found out her new book is somewhat related to it. I thought, “What a strange name for a book. I shan’t read it!” (Except I probably don’t use the word shan’t in my subconscious. Or outer conscious.) But I’m glad I did. The Handmaid’s Tale had always been one of my favourite books of all time, and this was even more grand. There’s something about a good post-apocalyptic science fiction that just gets me.

Oryx and Crake is about a man, Snowman, who lives as a hermit after the initially unexplained destruction of civilization. He lives among (and yet quite separate from) genetically altered docile, human-like creatures, as well as vicious gene-spliced animals which run rampant through the remains of the city. Through a series of flashbacks we begin to learn more about what exactly happened, and about Snowman’s own involvement in the destruction of mankind.

Bottom line: it’s absolutely fabulous. Atwood is so gifted and sometimes really freakin’ scary. She really explores what we’re capable of doing and pushes the boundaries to the extremes – and yet it’s even scarier because her scenarios are never quite too extreme to be impossible. That’s the thing – she calls it speculative fiction because we’re already technically capable of doing a lot of what she depicts, or at least on the direction of it. She just imagines what would happen if we did follow this exact trajectory, and if we allowed ourselves to continue on this path of unhindered consumerism and technological advancements. Basically, Snowman’s world is really our world if we don’t continually ask ourselves if what we’re doing is ethical.

Definitely read this book! I just started The Year of the Flood, which takes place in the same time frame as Oryx and Crake.

Time traveling

Kevin sent me this great article in which a physicist analyzes the time travel element in The Time Traveler’s Wife.

I think time travel is one of the most intriguing and most confusing concepts in literature and film. Thinking about the grandfather paradox makes my mind all a-whirl with so many questions.  I suppose that’s why it’s been a regular topic spanning virtually all genres over several centuries.  This writer explains why time travel actually seems quite plausible in Time Traveler’s Wife, of all works – certainly not what one would call traditional “science fiction”.  It’s really very interesting.

I highly recommend the book as well.  Don’t forget: the movie comes out today, starring Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana!