Science Fiction Though the Decades

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Lazy Book Reviews of June 2015

#32: All Fools' Day (1966) – Edmund Cooper (4/5)
I hadn’t heard of the author prior to buying the novel for $2, but being a post-disaster novel from 1966, it pretty much sold itself. Mysterious sunspots appear and suicides are on the rise, which continue to climb as Britain depopulates. All the so-called normal people have offed themselves, leaving a broken and scattered society of Transnormals. Now everyone lives on the fringe from the fear of murder, rape, and slavery. The protagonist Greville is one such Transnormal, but assumes the identity all too readily while his woman—a perpetual victim of the former crimes—assumes her role all too easily, too. Regardless, the story is unusually bleak and graphic for 1966, a jarring perspective into a world run by the self-exiled.

#33: Rollerball (1973) – William Harrison (3/5)
So, you like the movie Rollerball, huh? Then you find out it’s actually a short story by William Harrison and you think to yourself Hey, I’d like to read that, so you go and buy the collection pictures to the right, which has the blurb “[O]ne of thirteen tightly written, provocative and, ultimately, unforgettable stories of the past, the present, and the horrifying future”. Pretty cool, right? Yea, not so much; it’s hook, line, and sinker. “Roller Ball Murder” is the story you come for, but there are a few non-genre stories that are OK, but the entire collection is very much specific to the author, as he indulges his own interests in his own characters, which seems a bit shallow because it doesn’t convey any relevance to the reader. (full review)

#34: The Seed of Earth (1962) – Robert Silverberg (3/5)
Silverberg is an author who has yet to entice/impress me with any of his work. After six of his novels or collections, I had yet to be impressed. Every time I pick up one of his works, I prepare myself for disappointment. When I read the first half The Seed of Earth, I loved it: Earth holds a lottery for colonization and the plot follows the unlucky selection of the few with their personal histories, conflicts, and expectations. It was a great absorbing read that was ripe for a second half where they would delve into the planet they were going to colonize. However, the novel is a tale of two parts, the two halves disjointed, glued together from seemingly separate stories. What follows is a tit-for-tat fuzz within a cave between four of the colonists. The ending is… I can’t think of any other adjectives other than stupid because it just doesn’t mesh with anything found anywhere else in the novel. Tear the book in two; keep the first half.

#35: The Library (2002) – Zoran Živković (5/5)
The author was brought to my attention by Kurodahan Press in Japan… even though he’s Serbian. I guess Kurodahan just does excellent translated literature (this is my fourth read from the same publisher and this statement still stands as T-R-U-E). The premise of this collection made the hair on my arms plucky: “A cycle of six thematically linked stories, droll renditions of the nightmares ensuing upon misplaced, or (of course) excessive, bibliophilia”. I, an avid reader and collector—borderline archivist—,found a bit of myself in every story about a man and his relationship with books. Could any topic be simpler yet written with sure depth and accuracy?!?! These stories are Kafkaesque and Borgesian… a delightful and addictive combination for a fellow book whore bibliophile. (full review)

#36: Survival Margin (1962) – Charles Eric Maine (4/5)
Another new author, another unheard-of novel… this time with a worldwide plague, millions dying, and a schism rupturing between the government and its people. Reports vaguely detail a terrible disease ravaging China, which crosses into Japan where Pauline Brant serves an international team investigating the disease’s danger. As she returns to England for rest, another peril meets her: Clive, her emotionally and physically remote husband, wants a divorce because it’d be better for the both of them. Both Pauline and Clive find themselves free of the deadly plague and casually enamored with convenient member of the opposite sex, both of whom offer security of one time or another. As the schism between the population and its government deepens, both find themselves in precarious circumstances on the battleground that was once society. Again, a good novel is tainted by the stupid, serendipitous, and/or spurious actions of the characters.

#37: Seveneves (2015) – Neal Stephenson (3/5)
Of Stephenson's work, I've only ever read Snowcrash (1992), The Diamond Age (1995), and Anathem (2008); the former was quirky and futuristic, the middle was rather trite, and the latter was a giant novel full of humor and inventiveness. The rest of his bibliography doesn't interest me much, but I was intrigued by the synopsis of Seveneves. Sadly, much of the novel is laden with burdensome hard science... like several pages of detailed information on a spacesuit, a configuration for orbiting capsules, and an inflatable glider. The weight of detail is, in fact, a key factor in its tedious progress. The last third of the novel jumps ahead in time and feels like an afterthought, a lazy and obvious tag onto the novel. Prepare to suspend belief and prepare to be disappointed with a predictable and sentimental conclusion.

#38: Donovan's Brain (1942) – Curt Siodmak (4/5)
This had been on my to-buy list for a while due to its elements of horror and science fiction. It’s rare to come across a decent combination of the two, and I was skeptical that a novel from, 1942 could nail it; thankfully, the novel comes across strongly on both fronts—psychology, medicine, and fringe science; body horror, loss of volition, and murder. Dr. Patrick Cory steals the mind of a notably wealthy mind after an air crash. A photographer knows both of his secrets: the taking of the mind and his gruesome experiment. In his remote lab, Cory keeps the mind alive and feeds it heartily so as to amplify its electrical signals. Soon, the mind is able to penetrate his own, make its desires known, and direct Cory toward California with a veiled purpose. The more the brain feeds, the stronger it becomes. Cory revels in his success while succumbing to its power and will, costing him his health, relationships, and mental stability. While the plot plays out very well, each and every character is a mere two-dimensional paper doll in an otherwise well-constructed and well-furnished three-dimensional doll house.

#39: Monsieur (1986/1991) – Jean-Philippe Toussaint (4/5)
A translated non-genre French novella about a man of whim who, once he injures his wrist in a fall and self-prescribes some time off his work—which is leisurely, at best—, follows errantly from one mini-disaster to another in his personal life. Boring yet eccentric, Monsieur is his own mystery groping his way through life the only way he knows how—leisurely, at best (people, really).

No comments:

Post a Comment