Science Fiction Though the Decades

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Lazy Book Reviews of June 2016

#44: Out of My Mind (US) (1967) – John Brunner (3.5/5)
I believe I’m on my thirty-fourth Brunner book. Reading Out of My Mind was spurred by Joachim Boaz’s comment on Brunner short story “Nobody Axed You” (1965). He loved the story and it reminded me how versatile (…or unpredictable) a writer Brunner used to me. He had some obviously brilliant “wheat” but also had the inevitable “chaff” mixed among it all. Out of My Mind, thankfully, doesn’t contain any of the chaff; nor does it, however, show any great ambition or artistry that Brunner later exhibited along the lines of Stand on Zanzibar (1968) or The Sheep Look Up (1972). The stories have an aura of whim exuded by the author—many of them aren’t serious in nature, yet are cleverly based on the kernel of an idea that Brunner ran with. This doesn’t always translate well as it feels just like that: this is my seed of my idea (which may be good or bad, depending on the reader) and this is the roughly textured chaff that surrounds it (sometimes good, sometimes bad, too). “Round Trip” (1959), one of Brunner’s early stories, may be simple at first glance but has a few depths of thought: one of science, one of humanity, one of alternative worlds, one of whim, and another of romance. In between these two sides of the spectrum, Brunner pens some stories that either evoke nods, smiles, or the raise of one or both eyebrows.

#45: The Wild Shore (1984) – Kim Stanley Robinson (4/5)
The 1980s hosted a spat of post-apocalyptic novels: Ridley Walker (1980), War Day (1984), The Postman (1986), Pilgrimage to Hell (1986), The Sea and the Summer (1987), Swan Song (1987), The Last Ship (1988). Tucked among them is Robinson’s The Wild Shore, which is part of his Orange County non-sequential trilogy. This novel—and the trilogy, in fact—doesn’t receive much praise from SF fans as it precedes his much more famous Mars trilogy (1993-1996).

In 2047, decades after the Soviets detonated several thousand neutron bombs in America’s largest cities, cityscapes have been largely turned into centers of scavenging while the suburbs have become the nexus of small bands of struggling survivors. On the smallest scale, each village is independent; on a large scale, America is no longer a union, nor is it free to progress at its own rate; in between these scales, townships find it difficult to band together to either fight off invaders or to recreate another union. San Onofre is content with their isolation and occasional swap meets with the scavengers, but when a scout teams tracks down from San Diego, the resulting news quickly polarizes the town: Should they remain independent or should they join the revolution again the Japanese blockading their shore? Relationships soon spiral out of control as young angst causes frisson among the delicately balanced community. In the background, Tom is the elderly unelected leader who casts his knowledge of the old times upon the canvas of their modern day, regardless of whether they heed his advice; he’s wise and wizened, and sits upon the cusp of death as his village, too, sits upon the cusp of anarchy.

#46: The Gold Coast (1988) – Kim Stanley Robinson (3.5/5)
I read two of the Orange County books in 2007 but had trouble getting a hold of the middle of the three: The Gold Coast. I found a hardback copy of the novel at a local library book sale, so it’s remained on my shelves for a while. When I drew the book to be read, I decided to read the trilogy in chronological order. It provided some decent airport and airline reading.

Youthful angst and the need to be heard—in everyday physical acts and in occasional clandestine acts—bubbles up through the hormones. Much of California and America has given way to rampant capitalism and development: so-called progress in a mild dystopia. Outlets for the naïve angst begin to take on a more destructive note as Jim is drawn to the casual bombing of American’s military industrial machine. He’s conflicted, however, as his own father is a high-level engineer for one such company. As Jim faces a complicated series of alliances to friends, Jim’s father knows one thing: the feasibility and physics of his company’s projects. Detail-oriented, he can peer deeply in to any plausibility of laser systems or guidance packages, but his boss only wants results, contracts, and money; these very things, however, become difficult to procure as the government is at their own game of cat and mouse. Jim’s dad plays the mouse at both the company and government level, but he’s soon to be targeted on a personal level by his own son. Amid the crazy bureaucracy at the professional level and lavish, free-wheeling lifestyle of the youth, there’s the recurring character of Tom to embody the ambiance of his time. Tom sits in the psych ward forgotten by his family for the most part, rambling on with stories that digress.

#47: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (2013/2014) – Haruki Murakami (4/5)
I like Murakami’s work, but I’m not a frequent reader. I read Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (1985/1991) in 2009 and later A Wild Sheep Chase (1982/1989) in 2011. Most often in Thailand, his books about 50% more expensive than other novels, so I was delighted to find a beautiful copy of one of his latest novels in a Florida secondhand bookshop for only $3. It’s not too heavy of a read, so I was able to read about 80% of it on a trans-Pacific flight.

In high school, a mere coincidence spawned a lasting friendship: Tsukuru Tazaki and four other volunteers clicked while on assignment and soon became inseparable; however, Tsukuru always felt a little excludes as the four others had colors in their surnames, thereby rendering him, in his own opinion, colorless. When he departed from Nagoya to attend university in Tokyo, Tsukuru still returned to frolic in the friendship that seemed eternal… until the day they banished him from the five-some without any explanation. He accepted this banishment, returned to Tokyo, and came close to suicide as he denied himself all good things. A small realization quickly turns his life around: he exercises, studies, graduates, and gets the job of his dreams—designed railway stations. Relationships still come and go, but the perfection of his once five-some still haunts him and he never received an explanation.

He meets Sara, whom he becomes increasingly attracted to in body and spirit, but it’s her mind that comes between them. In order for their relationship to progress, she suggests that he revisit his old friends in order to understand his banishment. Thus, he learns of lies and regret, but he shares this regret:

One heart is not connected through harmony alone. They are, instead, linked deeply through their wounds. Pain linked to pain, fragility to fragility. There is no silence without a cry of grief, no forgiveness without bloodshed, no acceptance without a passage through acute loss. That is what lies at the root of true harmony. (322)

This web of lies and regret also impinges upon his relationship with Sara, unknowingly to her. His pain folds upon itself, he sees himself as an island that can never know contact with another landmass. He was once bitten by the openness of his heart, and now he’s bitten again—does he whither again in suicidal thoughts or does he push ahead?

#48: Pacific Edge (1990) – Kim Stanley Robinson (3/5)
This was the first book in which I fell in love with one of the characters, was enchanted when the protagonist won her over… and I was genuinely heartbroken when they broke up. That relationship had always burned in my mind so brightly that I had completely forgotten the rest of the story. When I picked this novel up again, I was ready for the rollercoaster of love, so I could focus on the rest of the novel, which didn’t ring many bells nor win many points.

Kevin’s in his thirties. He’s uninvolved in love but very much involved in his renovation business, the softball league, and has recently become involved in his township’s political arena. While his business may continue its steady productive pace, the other three important aspects of his life are soon to change because of a girl and another boy: Ramona and Alfredo. The two long-time lovers have recently split and Kevin is quick to catch the rebound. He swims in all of her attention, he dances in the shower of shared time, he basks in her every word:

What do you talk about when you’re falling in love? It doesn’t matter. All questions are, Who are you? How do you think? Are you like me? Will you love me? And all answers are, I am this, like this. I am like you. I like you. (134)

At the same time, Alfredo—who is the acting mayor—tries to pass an item through a boring meeting, but Kevin is quick to call him out on its importance. Meanwhile, the softball season starts and Kevin is off to a great start by batting a thousand. His batting streak is his only charm as his other two affairs become entrenched with outside influences: Ramona, the once raven beauty and tinder of his heart, becomes distant with him; Alfredo keeps pushing his agenda while Kevin stands for the fight. All Kevin wants is a steady life for his community, but the future politics of California is deep in the business of water distribution and rights, a quagmire of legality that has him grasping at straws to outsmart his rival in politics and love.

Amid the turbulent life of Kevin, his grandfather Tom is late in his own life but also rides the choppy seas of what life has to offer. Love doesn’t grey like hair as Tom unexpectedly finds his spark in life, with which come options: stay to see out Kevin’s tribulations or set out into the world to see what comes.

#49: Ship of Strangers (1978) – Bob Shaw (2.5/5)
My seventh Shaw… and I have no idea what to make of it. It’s presented in chapters, so it’s a novel; yet there are five distinct stories, so it’s a stitch-up; yet not all of the stories had been individually published. The stories don’t interrelate, nor are they sequential. It’s not a novel, a stitch-up, or a collection…it’s poor editing and publishing, I think.

The Sarafand was made to venture to the untouched planets of the ever-expanding Bubble of human exploration. Aboard are members of Cartographical Service crewmen who see the lucrative short-term job stint amid the perpetual boredom of visiting dead, arid planets for the sake of science. Dave Surgenor, however, is someone who actually made a career of the service and he has stories to tell, which is compiled is this novel/stitch-up/collection: (1) An alien mimics the shape of their six scouts ships and AESOP—the artificial intelligence aboard the mother ship—must figure a way to distinguish among the real scouts; (2) The men’s private nighttime fantasies spill into their own relationships as a trouble maker begins to share the tape around, with emotion, lust, connotation and all. (3) Mike Targett is a bit of a gambler who bases decisions on odds alone, but when he takes a chance to investigate some metallic cylinders on a new planet, he gets much more than he bargained for. (4) Mirages upon another deserted planer spur a full-blown military investigation, but a kidnapping of an alien woman turns into a single-exit escape from a jungle. (5) An error in a beta-space jump causes the ship to become stranded millions of light-years away in a system that seems to be collapsing upon itself, yet the crew to seem to be folded upon themselves under the added pressure of having of a woman aboard and having no way to return home.

These stories have the same whim at George O. Smith’s Venus Equilateral series of stories: There’s a group of men on an isolated post who encounter strange problems in a world of order yet try to outwit the ensuing chaos. As the book is dedicated to A.E. van Vogt, is also rings of the latter’s The Voyage of the Space Beagle novel/collection. But the parallelisms aren’t true enough or significant enough to begin to compare the two.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

1967: Out of My Mind (Brunner, John)

Hearty kernels of concept sheathed in occasional chaff (3.5/5)

I believe I’m on my thirty-fourth Brunner book. I’ve only kept 70% of those titles, so while I’m an avid reader of Brunner’s work, it doesn’t always resonate with me. Reading Out of My Mind was spurred by Joachim Boaz’s comment on Brunner short story “Nobody Axed You” (1965). He loved the story and it reminded me how versatile (…or unpredictable) a writer Brunner used to me. He had some obviously brilliant “wheat” but also had the inevitable “chaff” mixed among it all.

Out of My Mind, thankfully, doesn’t contain any of the chaff; nor does it, however, show any great ambition or artistry that Brunner later exhibited along the lines of Stand on Zanzibar (1968) or The Sheep Look Up (1972). The best stories in this collection, comparatively, soar far above such dreck as “No Other Gods But Me” (1966). At the same time, they have an aura of whim exuded by the author—many of them aren’t serious in nature, yet are cleverly based on the kernel of an idea that Brunner ran with. This doesn’t always translate well as it feels just like that: this is my seed of my idea (which may be good or bad, depending on the reader) and this is the roughly textured chaff that surrounds it (sometimes good, sometimes bad, too).

“Orpheus’s Brother” (1965) dips into Brunner’s knowledge of mythology, a subject of which rarely hits me as enlightening, thereby rending it, for me, the weakest of all the stories. In contrast, “Round Trip” (1959), one of Brunner’s early stories, may be simple at first glance but has a few depths of thought: one of science, one of humanity, one of alternative worlds, one of whim, and another of romance. In between these two sides of the spectrum, Brunner pens some stories that either evoke nods, smiles, or the raise of one or both eyebrows.


“Fair Warning” (1964, shortstory) – 3/5
Amid a fleet of naval ships in the middle of the tropical ocean, one island sits beneath the sun, but upon its surface, men are toiling over a structure, and within that structure is a device. Vliesser and Rogan have been charged with setting up the device prior to its test detonation. As they check parts and are about to toast to the first man-made carbon-nitrogen cycle fusion of the bomb, they are suddenly paralyzed as they witness an odd shifting in the air where something materializes. 8 pages

“The Nail in the Middle of the Hand” (1965, shortstory) – 3.5/5
Decius Asculus isn’t just an expert in his trade, but he’s widely known as the Expert, who’s admired by peers and loathed by his subjects. As he proudly prepares his nails in the courtyard, he thinks lecherous thoughts and displays his Herculean physique. His three subjects for the day shoulder their crosses to take to the hill where Decius takes to the stage to perform: nailing hands and feet to the cross. The first two fidget and scream, yet the last fellow looks placidly on Decius’s face. 8 pages

“Orpheus’s Brother” (1965, shortstory) – 2.5/5
In a moment of hysteria, hormones, or hell on earth, the superstar named Rock Careless was mobbed and torn apart by his fans. Rock’s brother knows one more person was involved in the murder—Rock’s own manger—who Laurie has come to confront. Mr. Wise, as he’s known, welcomes him but keeps him at an arm’s-length while he logically states the situation of the so-called murder, and the situation that Rock Careless was actually in. Laurie is unimpressed by the talk and wants some action. 10 pages

“Prerogative” (1960, shortstory) – 4/5
Dr. Welby was found dead in his room after a brief scream. His charred limbs indicate either electrocution or a lightning strike, both of which seeming highly improbable—borderline impossible. As his scientific team gives testimony in court regarding Dr. Welby’s unusual and unnatural death, they hit upon the nature of his investigations, a line of inquiry that fans the flames of the spectators’ anger. All he was trying to do was to create reproductive life in primordial earth-like conditions. 13 pages

“Such Stuff” (1962, shortstory) – 3.5/5
Everyone dreams, but the benefits of dreaming and the  drawbacks of its lack were always murky, so Harry and Daventry began a study to observe the effect on people who are able to sleep yet forbidden from dreaming. All the test subjects, save one, voluntarily quit before two weeks, each citing anger, stress, and borderline insanity; that one man, however, has gone through it for six months: Mr. Starling, “the malleable thing that filled the hole available to it, the thing without will of its own which made the best of what there was” (61)—an aberration. 18 pages

“The Totally Rich” (1963, novelette) – 3/5
Derek Cooper is just a man who has ideas, conversations, ambition, and a libido. He’s also a man with a fantastic original idea: “to deduce the individual from the traces he makes” (82). His kernel of an idea comes to fruition when a magnificently wealthy woman hires him to develop the machine for her own benefit, but she’s one step ahead of him: she also wants the machine to reproduce the same person it had deduced. With her life rich yet empty, Derek holds the power over her with a simple affirmation. 28 pages

“See What I Mean” (1964, shortstory) – 3.5/5
Four delegates had arrived to the Foreign Ministers’ Conference on the Resolution of Outstanding International Differences and Disarmament: the US allied with the UK, and Russia allied with China. The future of the world hung in the balance by their whims and tact yet the beautiful Genevan setting can’t compel them to agree, even after the conference’s ninety-third day. Progress is only made when the Chinese delegate has a car crash with Dr. Gerhard Hirnmann. The next day, the American delegate also has a fender-bender with the same doctor. 8 pages

“The Fourth Power” (1960, novelette) – 3.5/5
A curious but worthless and inapplicable effect from an experiment with silver wire has garnered the interest of a renowned Sythesist whose occupation revolved around combining seemingly unrelated areas of science. Smith synthesizes this scientific trial with a neurological one in which he himself is the experiment. Already an autodidactic polymath, Smith sees this experiment as a way to tap the multitudinous synopses of the human brain. The observers, however, weren’t expecting the seeming simultaneous activities at a such a rate of learning, which is only becoming more ludicrous. 29 pages

“The Last Lonely Man” (1964, shortstory) – 4/5
In this day and age, everyone has a Contact. Most have a few Contacts, such a friends, a spouse, or a sibling, but almost no one goes without a Contact—that’d instill a sense of mortality in the person, a surety that death is inevitable. A contact, however, is insurance that the imprint of your persona will live on through someone else when transferred. Hale takes pity on a man who had just lost his only Contact, so he also takes him aboard as a Contact, only later to receive news that the man is a budding burden. 18 pages

“Single-Minded” (1963, shortstory) – 3.5/5
In the remote mountains of the moon, Don Bywater crashlands his ship and holds little hope for rescue until a Soviet moon-walker comes into view aiming for his ship. His rescuer is an enthusiastic Russian woman bent on conversation and showing him around the vehicle that any American bureaucrat would love to get their hands on. Back at the Soviet base, Don understands that the scores of people there have been infected with a resonating virus that enables telepathy, expect for the “cured” woman. Don reflects that he has so much to steal. 21 pages

“A Better Mousetrap” (1963, shortstory) – 3.5/5
Colossal chunks of precious metals and rare gems—the chunks called busters—seem to appear instantaneously in the galaxy. The human crews who find the treasure troves don’t ask questions like, “Where did it come from?” or “What are they for?”; rather, they just rake in the money. Professor Aylward has been thinking about those questions, however. He strings together the dates and ships that find the busters with the same of the disappeared ships and reaches the conclusion that the busters are nothing more than bait. 20 pages

“Eye of the Beholder” (1957, shortstory) – 4/5
With two arms and two legs, Painter thinks himself an average being whose profession is also his name. As a hermit, he paints landscapes of a desolate planet. Nearby, a spaceship crashes and out come a few humans, who happen to also be bipedal. Wanting to help out, Painter begins to walk their way. Meanwhile, the humans discover a trove of painting in a shack and are amazed by the sheer depth that the paintings bring out of the otherwise boring planet. Painter sees their appreciation and approaches with pride. 15 pages

“Round Trip” (1959, shortstory) – 4.5/5
Darak bez Hamath pens a letter to his loving wife explaining his circumstances: He commands a large scientific fleet sent to study the center of all things—the source-point of the Big Bang. When the fleet arrives, they discover a huge reflective orb that oddly has no gravity. As they ponder upon the fate of the universe—ending in a Big Freeze or a Big Crunch—they also consider the object’s usefulness, its makers, and its origin in time. All this gets more complex when they enter under a “Welcome” sign. 11 pages

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Lazy Book Reviews of May 2016

#35: Simulacron-3 (1964) – Daniel F. Galouye (4/5)
 Everyone, including myself, knows Galouye for this one novel. But prior to reading it, I’ve read two of his other, lesser known novels: Lords of Psychon (1963) and The Infinite Man (1973); neither garnered any praise from me being 2-star and 3-star reads, respectively.

I was definitely eager to start Simulacron-3 as its central plot point was fascinating: Researchers create a total environment simulator in which they inhabit with sentient, digital-equivalent people. Douglas Hall was part of this project and has been promoted to due to his superior’s disappearance, of which Hall was direct witness no and is all the odder because another people linked with the project died under strange circumstances. Hall struggles with so-called pseudoparanoia as he finds his reality faulty—either that or his memory or perceptions. Soon, though, he comes closer to the truth: his reality is a simulation, too.

This much, to the reader, is obvious, but the layer and layer of intrigue and deceit, real and fabricated personas, and the overarching reason for it all is terribly spellbinding at times—it really sucks you in. However, two flaws detract from the could-be greatness: (1) the rather clichéd technology of the autorbar, moving walkways, air cars, and laser guns and (2) the whole “Oh, darling” and “I’ll never leave you” bits. Galouye had a great thing going but tainted it with 1950s pulp content of technology and the wooed woman.

#36: Star Guard (1955) – Andre Norton (1/5)
This my first Norton book, one that has received admirable praise from Amazon reviews—all 4- and 5-star reviews. But damn my gullibility, I should have known not to trust Amazon ratings, even for a book from 1955. I believe nostalgia favors some of these ratings, like with Cordwainer Smith’s Norstrilia (1975). I understand that Star Guard or Norstrilia could capture your imagination when young, but, in my opinion, the books are just so bad. Where Norstrilia was just a parade of detailed silliness with its irksome floats of poetry and song, Star Guard is simply a school play: swordsmen in space… really? This is a thing? This is certainly the niche genre that I’ve been trying to avoid for so long—I once started Saberhagen’s The Broken Lands (1968) but quit after the second paragraph: “Ekuman’s two wizards, Elslood and Zarf, were adepts as able as any that Satrap had ever encountered west of the Black Mountains”. I should have stopped reading Star Guard at the title of the first chapter: “Swordsman, Third Class”. I was admittedly duped by the Amazon reviews ringing of nostalgia, the pretty cover, and the vague, non-sword-wielding description on the back cover. If this is your thing, keep it; don’t share this dreck with me.

#37: We (1924/1993) – Yevgeny Zamyatin (5/5)
When I first began heavily reading (science fiction mainly, but a bit of fiction, too) from 2007-2010, I rated 22.3% of my books as 5-star reads. In comparison, for the last three years, I’ve only rated 8.6% books at 5 stars. The lesson: with time comes experience; with experience comes discretion. Among those books in 2007 was Yevgeny’s Zamyatin’s We. I picked it up on a whim at a now-closed secondhand bookstore in Bangkok (Skoob at Penny’s Balcony in Thonglor, if you’re wondering). Like 22% of those books that I read in 2007, I loved it. Fast-forward ten years to 2016: Now that I’m reading translated Soviet/Russian speculative fiction, I thought I should re-read it, but I naturally faced reservations based on my rating from my inexperience in 2007. I cringed a bit while the shadow of my naïve self loomed over me; thankfully, the younger and older of my selves agree for once: this is a masterpiece.

D-503 is a mathematician, as if he ever had the choice; regardless, he becomes his occupation, he becomes his goal, he becomes the ideal of his shared society. He (as if a singular pronoun could be attributed to “him”) is a fixed puzzle piece to a fixed jigsaw puzzle—he fits where he’s needed and that’s all that matters.

#38: Chronocules (1970) – D.G. Compton (3/5)
Of the three Compton novels I’ve already read, Synthajoy is my favorite, closely followed by The Steel Crocodile and Farewell, Earth’s Bliss. When picking up Chronocules, I felt the expectation of sinking myself into a warm blanket. Here, Compton’s aim is noble yet the follow-thru is errant; the frame is right, but the painting is wrong. Oh, what could have been… The introduction sets a curious tone: a technologically unexplainable book appears to the simpleton named Roses Varco. The highlighted words of NAKEDNESS revolt him, but as he’s unable to tear, burn, or hack it to destruction, he simply chucks it into the sea… which is where story begin. A nameless man finds the book and strives to understand its futuristic message, but, by his own un-artistic tastes, he finds that many portions are unreadable or poorly constructed for its unseen, unknown reader. For the benefit of his own readers, he writes a kind of abridgement or transcription of the dynamic, detailed text. As his discretion, he begins the story where it had begun and continues through the events as the narrator sees them—Roses—, as the text implies—author unknown—, and as the transcriber interprets—the nameless man. Given that the narrator is a dullard and a nominated village idiot, every aspect of the story is unreliable.

#39: Atomised (1999/2000) – Michel Houellebecq (3.5/5)
I can’t recall the reason I bought the book. Perhaps it was SF-esque and French? Regardless, I bought the novel along with its reputation; that reputation is, of course, sex and sexuality (let’s be clear that there is a difference here). Speaking of sex, in the literary sense, I’ve read Charles Bukowski and John Updike; in the genre of science fiction, I’ve also read Peter F. Hamilton and Robert Silverberg. Only Silverberg has gotten under my skin, but Atomised should also have annoyed me if I hadn’t been analyzing the book rather than just reading it for pleasure. There’s quite a choice list of words included. Perhaps I approached the novel in a similar manner as the book is framed in its conclusion—objectively. Though the two threads of the story—Bruno, the extrovert sensualist, and Michel, the introvert intellect—occasionally interweave, what’s clear is that Bruno led a life that reflected the times and benefited only his ego; in contrast, Michel led a quiet, secluded life for he ultimate benefit of humanity. From the perspective of Bruno, the sex is copious to the point of distraction if you were reading this book for “pleasure”. It’s all a bit to much just so that you can reach the conclusion to grasp the frame of the book, but even that saving grace doesn’t do much for the overall readability and legitimization of the story.

#40: Tomorrow Lies in Ambush (1973) – Bob Shaw (2.5/5)
I surprise myself by saying that I’ve actually read quite a bit of Shaw, totally 5 novels, two of which I liked (Ground Zero Man [1971] and One Million Tomorrows [1971]). The last time I read Shaw was back in 2013, so it’s been a while since I’ve picked up one of his books, but I’ll quote myself from December, 2013: “His [Shaw’s] ‘best’ novel [Other Days, Other Eyes] I would attempt with hesitation... a collection of his I would be eager to try!” Ah the words from 2013 haunt me. Shaw has had sixty-three short stories published, about 40% of them before the 1973 publication of this collection. When the book’s back cover declares its contents as “of the best”, yet only delivers one story above a 3.5-star rating, you could say I’m a bit disappointed. Shaw’s style of delivery harks back to the Golden Age where juvenile wit trumps philosophy and where a novel gadget overshadows characterization. In addition, similar to Orbitsville, his portrayal of women is quite negative: they’re emotional, submissive, and borderline superfluous. Quite forgettable. [full synopses]

#41: Kingdom Come (2006) – J.G. Ballard (4/5)
Just last month (book #30), I read Ballard’s collection The Impossible Man (1966) and found it very enticing, as with everything else of Ballard’s that I’ve read. Kingdom Come was Ballard’s last novel pushes aside mythology and that ever-so popularly coined term “mystical realism” in favor of something relevant to all: the pandemic of consumerism and all it could entail. Along with mythology, Ballard chucks aside beaches and gems in order to become enveloped in what consumerism could find as its end-game: fascism.

When Richard’s father is errantly gunned down in a suburban mall, he visits the sprawling travesty of product worship only to find that the locals have resorted to hooliganism and nightly anarchy. Richard begins to delve in to background of his long-lost father and that of the increasingly hateful masses that roam the street in the guise of sport fans. Everything is linked back to the Metro-Centre (that synagogue of purchasing power) and an unlikely group of antagonists or possibly protagonists. Regardless of the who and why, Richard definitely sees something queer developing in this suburb. More to appease his professional whims and analytical mind, Richard conjures a plan to raise the fever of consumerism to its most extreme heights.

So many parts of the novel echo back to popular opinion of our consumer society, so the foundation of the novel will sound familiar. After that, there’s a distinct British tone with hooliganism, so if you’re not in tune with that, it may seem a tad too foreign. This hooliganism goes on for a bit too long, too; it feels drawn out, where a more succinct few chapters could have encapsulated the idea better. Regardless, the eventual build-up is impressive and the lengthy conclusion satisfies your cynicism for consumerism.

#42: Worlds of the Wall (1969) – C.C. MacApp (0.5/5)
I’ve always thought that the respective elements of science fiction (SF) and fantasy (F) could swing the opposite way—SF could become F if a unicorn is used instead of a spaceship, or F could become SF if laser cannon is used instead of a wand… stuff like that. When SF and F are mixed, it always brings tears to my eyes from the pain, the agony. The first five pages of Worlds of the Wall are science fiction: Zeke takes his ship through Null on an experimental trip and sees an odd half-planet, to which he descends. There on, for 211 pages, it’s all fantasy with magic and spells. Dear god. This is like adventure fantasy with a protagonist that has to background or characterization to speak of, he’s just caught in the cogs of the fantasy world. As the plot thickens—I use this cliché very lightly here—his band of merry men face higher and higher levels of magic and evil, but not all that evil… more like naughty or knavish, perhaps. There are dwarf-equivalents, dragon-equivalents (one of which happens to be Zeke’s sidekick), and other fantasy-equivalent stuff that never enticed me. This example of sub-genre was painful to read, but it was also just such amateurish writing—eighth grade composition at best.

#43: Welcome, Chaos (1983) – Kate Wilhelm (3.5/5)
I’ve been reading Wilhelm for eight year now, this only being the sixth book that I’ve gotten my hands on. She’s shown her skill by touching on so many different topics and tropes that it’s hard to nail down a pattern to call her own. This is beneficial to her as she’s a shifting chameleon rather than stationary gecko. Portions of Welcome, Chaos echo Where Late the Sweet Birds Sing (1976) in that society is dealing with a catastrophe—in the former, this catastrophe is pending while in the latter the catastrophe has passed.

This pending social dilemma—the cusp of morality and mortality—hinges on the long-time secret of Saul Werther and his small yet intelligent band of colluders: the serum of immortality. They know no one is ready for it: not governments, not militaries, not anyone. As they bide their time waiting to perfect it, the US government and one lone wolf is trying to track them down, albeit, they don’t know exactly what they’re tracking. Amid the espionage and altruism, Lyle Taney finds herself mixed up with both sides at the start and at the end of the dilemma. When it’s found that Russia shares the secret and has been exploiting its effect for sometime, Saul realizes that the all-too-important cusp draws near: the fate of humanity is held in two hands, each equally as deadly.

Wilhelm covers some decent territory on the philosophy front for immortality, but the spy circuit is too overplayed and it feels like Ocean’s Seven in one thorough part. There’s some stuff about eagle’s too, which I understand the symbolism of, but that too is overplayed.