Science Fiction Though the Decades

Monday, November 2, 2015

Lazy Book Reviews of October 2015

#64: Crystal Silence (1999, 2005/2012) – Shingo Fujisaki (3/5)
Of the Japanese SF collection I own, Crystal Silence takes the prize for being the largest tome of them all. Though only 344 pages, the book’s dimensions are mildly intimidating and the text is dense (comparable to Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space or Ian McDonald’s River of Gods). A transnational distrust has been brewing on Mars since its initial colonization, but now that an ancient and biological artifact has been discovered in the ice mines of the north pole, tensions are at an all-time high and distrust is running deep. Saya Askai is a bio-archeologist in Japan, who studies the Jomon period of ancient Japan, yet is recruited to Mars to study the ancient organism. The relation is vague but she accepts while leaving her beau Keren beyond on Earth. Little does she know, Keren is actually a pawn—yet becoming a greater threat like a rook, queen, or knight—in a bigger scheme dictated by Wild West, which is a weapons manufacture with an interest in keeping humans—on Earth and on Mars—in a perpetual state of warfare. When bombs burst and bullets fly, Saya is trapped on Mars at the same time mysterious forces begin to envelop the habitations of each nation. As the forces progress, so too do Keren’s awareness of his powers and Saya’s vulnerability.

#65: Guardian (2002) – Joe Haldeman (3/5)
This is the seventh Haldeman book I’ve read, including but not limited to his collection Infinite Dreams (1978) and his novels The Forever War (1975), Camouflage (2004), and Old Twentieth (2007). Some of his work is modern and penetrating while some of the others are tepid Golden Age ideas wrapped in the garb of modernism resulting in a fairly flaccid story—Camouflage and Guardian. Most of the story is a narration of the detailed life of Rosa Coleman, from her privileged life in South during the Civil War, through the turbulent years of her marriage and motherhood, on through her deserting her husband with their child to seek a better life westward. As a biography, the story would be interesting as it stirs together a rich history with a captivating narration, yet the disappointing twist in it all is the very point which drew the reader—the SF angle. This point is cursory and brief, very much like an after-thought and predictive blobs stuck in the text prior to the big revelation. As the conclusion states, “consider it fiction, or even delusion”; the reader should also consider another option: mediocrity.

#66: Point Ultimate (1955) – Jerry Sohl (3/5)
Jerry Sohl is a man of local fame—local meaning Midwest Illinois rather than central Thailand. Though entering and leaving the world in California, Sohl was a writer for the Panagraph newspaper in Normal, Illinois in the 1950s. At that same time, he wrote science fiction, mainly between 1952 and 1960 before turning his attention to writing for TV and movies; during that time, he wrote nine novels and ten short pieces of SF. In Point Ultimate, he even makes a coy reference to his time in Normal: “Now if we only had a place to wash up and a good meal, we’d be back to normal” (140). This is more obvious in the context of the novel, which takes place almost entirely in Midwest Illinois (a place I was born and raised). At a time when the Soviet Union had already ignited their own nuclear bomb, when China fell to communism, and Korea was lost in a stalemate, Sohl’s novel was published highlighting this fear of over-control by the Soviets. After the bombs fell on America, the Soviets moved in and took control from the population that couldn’t control themselves, thereby instituting rigid laws on marriage, births, and the derelict idea of “pursuit of happiness” while spreading a plague that forces all—well, almost all—to have monthly boosters. Emmett, however, is immune and seeks to rebel against the dictatorship. On his escape from home, he runs across all the right people and falls into all the right situations so that he can find the true source of underground rebellion. All in all, it’s a good glimpse at Cold War paranoia (as SFEncyclopedia has stated) but it’s it too forced and, thereby, predictable.

#67: Neanderthal Planet (1969) – Brian Aldiss (2/5)
I’ve read seven of Aldiss’s novels and have been quite happy with six of them (barring Finches of Mars). This is the fourth collection of his that I’ve read and, like the other three, there’s a mix of the good and bad, the satisfying and the bizarre. In Neanderthal Planet, there are only four stories but judging from the quality, it’s better that the collection isn’t any longer. Three of the stories feel half-cocked, like they were dead-ends to novel-length ideas that fizzled. Sometimes, the stories feel like a patchwork of stories sewed together with the thread of desperation. The only coherent story is “Intangibles, Inc.”, which is speculative in nature but not sci-fi. This is a heartwarming story (those words I use sparingly) of motivation. The rest of the stories… bleh. (full review)

#68: Artery of Fire (1972) – Thomas N. Scortia (3/5)
Secondhand bookshops are great for impulse buys. I don’t check databases or check reviews when browsing the shelves—I savor the surprise of whether the book will be good or bad… sometimes it’s both. I picked up Scortia’s Earthwreck (1974) and wasn’t exactly bowled over, but I was intrigued by one curious thing: gay innuendos. It’s like Top Gun: Once you’re aware of it, you’ll start seeing it everywhere. Scortia’s collection Caution! Inflammable! (1975) was equally as middling. And once again, this novel, Artery of Fire, is just as mediocre. It was his fist published novel after seventeen years of publishing shorter work. On the face of it, this novel is hard science fiction about a beam of manmade ionized elements that are shot to the moon from Pluto in order to solve Earth’s energy problems. When tachyons come into play, the past, the present, and the future begin to intertwine. Meanwhile, the creator of the beam has percolating conflicts with nearly everyone, including his ex-lover who has visited him on a tour of the facilities. Once castration was mentioned in the text (p.41), relating to ending the project, I knew what Scortia was driving at (p.189-190). And there are three mentions of pubic hair: pages 28, 45, and 151 (relevant).

#69: Future Makers (1968) – Peter Haining (editor) (3/5)
You know when collections highlight well-known authors on the cover to get people interested in the content, only to find that the best stories are by none of the popular authors? This collection is a little bit like that as ALL the stories are by popular authors: Leinster, Asimov, Sturgeon, Bradbury, Heinlein, Clarke, Sheckley, and Aldiss. The hitch? All stories are early examples of each author’s work and sometimes even the first published story. In the eyes of the reviewers from yesteryear, all these stories may have been great, but I feel that only half of them have aged well. Where Leinster’s story was reputed to be “one of the funniest stories to ever appear in Science Fiction” (11), I felt it was simple slapstick humor more than anything. It would have been an interesting collection if it were compiled solely of first publications, but it’s a bit scattered; even the lengths are uneven with Aldiss’s novella taking up half of the book. (full review)

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