Science Fiction Though the Decades

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Lazy Book Reviews of November 2015

#70: Pastwatch (1996) – Orson Scott Card (3/5)
This book was given to me by one of my graduate professors. I’m hesitant to the extreme to accept a SF book recommendation (from anyone, really), but he was the professor who most inspired me, so I took his recommendation to heart. Unfortunately, admiration for my professor aside, I just didn’t enjoy the premise of Pastwatch. So, in the far-future, scientists have developed a machine capable of peering into the past. Historians use this to peep into the personal lives, weather patterns, and state of nature in the far past. They gather loads of data, but later an improvement is created with improved resolution. When historians return to previous sites (e.g. Columbus’s plight near Portugal), they see more than they could have ever dreamed. When they know that tampering with the past is possible, they set it upon themselves to undo their own history. It’s not a bad story, but the slant is a bit much: (1) the history of the world hinged on Columbus’s discovery and treatment of the New World and (2) Christianity becomes the driving force for all the is good with the New New World.

#71: Down to Earth (1967) – Louis Charbonneau (2/5)
Intriguing by Joachim’s damning review of Down to Earth, I went against Joachim’s advice and picked up two of Chabonneau’s novels. I read The Sentinel Stars earlier this year, but it was a predictable romp through familiar territory. The premise of Down to Earth sounds pretty enticing, but the follow-through is mediocre, just like The Sentinel Stars. In an isolated planetary base where a couple and their two children live, things mysteriously begin to go awry. Soon, they discover that only an outside force must be making the base of funny and the occasional glances of the perpetrator point the finger at the woman’s ex-husband, who is now a deranged stalker. The circumstances of his maniacal behavior are veiled, yet the horror is always realistic to the family. There are a number of wrenches thrown into the plot: the boy’s self-identity, the palliative effects of the base to those away from Earth, and the maniac’s motivations. In the end, however, a predictable series of events occur and culminate in an equally as predictable ending. Dark though it may be at times, the pride of having a nuclear family wins out in this trope on obvious hero versus obvious villain.

#72: Earth’s Other Shadow (1973) – Robert Silverberg (3/5)
After disliking, to some degree, all of the Silverberg novels I’ve read, I errantly decided to stick to his short fiction, which I haven’t received very warmly either –I’ve only enjoyed two stories: “Good News from the Vatican” (1971) and “Flies” (1967), the latter included in this collection. From this collection, four of the nine stories are either amusing (“Ishmael in Love”), poignant (“Flies”), amusing and poignant (“To See the Invisible Man”), or relevant (“The Song the Zombie Sang”). The remaining five stories feel like half-efforts (“How It Was When the Past Went Away”) or whims (“Something Loose is Wild” and “Hidden Talent”). The least striking of the nine stories are “To the Dark Star” that features a pointlessly bickering pair of humans and “The Fangs of the Trees” that compares a fifteen-year-old to being a ripe fruit ready to be picked and even compares her breasts to apples twice… she’s the fruit in the family tree. [full review]

#73: Secret Visitors (1957) – James White (1/5)
This was James White’s first novel and it read like an amateurish attempt at pulp SF. He had been writing short SF for four years, some of which was pretty good (“In Loving Memory” [1956] and “The Conspirators” [1954] among the best). Of course, James White wouldn’t be James White without the medical slant, and this novel also includes that: A human doctor is mixed up in a case of, what seems like, alien espionage. And here is where the dominoes of pulp begin to fall: humanoid aliens, espionage, space ships, the secret to eternal life, a bizarre alien species, a pretty girl, a space battle, and the nail in the coffin—the final paragraph: “He [the doctor] was thinking about Kelly [the cute humanoid], and wondering what the marriage ceremony was like on Harla” (155). It has everything but a damned robot or lasers. This is the worst novel of James White that I’ve read, but then again I haven’t had the opportunity to read Galactic Gourmet (1996).

#74: The Wasp Factory (1984) – Iain Banks (4/5)
Iain Banks is the author I’ve re-read the most: Walking on Glass (1985), Consider Phlebas (1987), The State of the Art (1989), The Algebraist (2004)... and now The Wasp Factory (1984). I’ve read the entirety of his SF collection but I must say I much prefer his non-SF work more. I now own all of this work (even Poems [2015]). The Wasp Factory was Banks’ first novel and much of his later themes can be found throughout: bridges, islands, worship, gender with characters including a mentally unfit man, an emotionally repressed man, and the down-to-earth sidekick. The novel entails a history of disturbing memories of an isolated childhood where very little supervision or guidance was lent, resulting a seventeen-year-boy/man who indulges in his own creation of religion, or how he deals with the world he lives in: fortunetelling with a wasp-killing factory, communion with a dog’s skull, and protectionism with driven stakes topped by decapitated animal heads. Though he had murdered three relatives when he was very young, murder is no longer part of his growth as an adult.

#75: Survival World (1971) – Frank Belknap Long (0/5)
This book must have been written in three days and passed by an editor who had never written their own name. It’s such a blocky, unnecessary mess of garbage that the author’s whims were put onto the page to please a 9-year-old boy with Tourette’s and ADD. From an attempted assassination, to a time machine, a trident-like weapon, a ship blowing up, a time jump to a lush jungle, a snake bite, some fire, a big gun, and some uncivilized people; there’s absolutely no direction, no reason… no reason for the thing that happened to have happened and no reason to pen such a trope-laden piece of garbage. I mean, 10% of the book is about speculating the possible consequences of fucking snakebite, which passes quickly enough and onto the next meaningless sequence of so-called events. Even the writing is bad as the author makes terrible analogies, similes, and heavily overuses the annoying comparative phrase “not unlike”. A primary school yearbook is more interesting that this novel, but so it the back of a tube of toothpaste, the instructions for using a voltage converter, and reading a menu printed in hieroglyphics.

#76: Marîd Audran 1: When Gravity Fails (1987) – George Alec Effinger (4/5)
My first reading of When Gravity Fails was back in 2009. The general plot has always remained with me even though I only gave the book a 3-star rating. Now six years later, I became curious why it had stuck so clearly in my head and why I didn’t push it to a 4-star rating. I hate the feeling that I had missed something. With a 10-day holiday looming, I decided to pick up When Gravity Fails and its sequels—A Fire in the Sun (1989) and The Exile Kiss (1991)—in order to immerse myself in the “wry, black and savage” underworld of the Budyaeen. Much like my initial reading, I felt the mind-altering mods and daddies, mood-altering blue triangles and sunshines, and body-altering sex changes a tad overused, so it became repetitive. But the general debauchery of the city gives way to a more savage nature through Audran’s unwilling sacrifice of his own fears. Far-flung espionage, brutal cyberpunk, and the nitty-gritty of urban life are among the reasons to sink yourself into Effinger’s trilogy.

No comments:

Post a Comment