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Topic: What are you reading, September 2010?

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Subject: What are you reading, September 2010?
Date Posted: 9/6/2010 12:57 PM ET
Member Since: 3/25/2006
Posts: 723
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The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula Leguin, 1969

My 6th read of this, because it was being discussed on this forum.

It's still one of the masterpieces of science fiction.  The title comes from the Handdara, from the religion of Karhide:
"Light is the left hand of darkness
and darkness the right hand of light.
Two are one, life and death, lying
together like lovers in kemmer,
like hands joined together,
like the end and the way."

On the other hand, in the book of the Yomesh Canon, from the religion of Orgoreyn:
"Darkness is only in the mortal eye, that thinks it sees, but sees not."

It makes me want to re-read all the other Hainish universe novels as well.

Brasyl, by Ian McDonald, 2008

I read this for overachiever category 50. British Science Fiction Association Award Winner, on the sf challenge on this forum.

This winner of the British Science Fiction Association Award for 2008, has three storylines, each set in a different era of Brazil's history. In 2006, the plot is centered on an aggressive producer of a reality tv show from Rio. Marcelina pursues her idea of a show that would focus on whether to forgive a disgraced, and now aged World Cup star. In 2033, the plot is centered on a young man Edson risen from the slums, and now playing the quasi-legal underworld of future Sao Paulo. In 1732, Father Luis Quinn is a Jesuit admonitory sent into the Amazon to investigate and prosecute some strange goings-on concerning an earlier missionary that have been reported from the far frontier.

I had some trouble with the dense use of Portuguese language and Brazilian cultural references in this book, on top of which this is a multiverse universe with subtle yet far-reaching connections between the three story worlds. Only in the last two chapters did I discover a glossary at the end of the book. But I am proud to say I had eventually understood most of it from context. I recommend the book, but do make use of the glossary from the beginning!

Inherit the Stars, by James P. Hogan, 1977

My 2nd read of this, because it's the book of the month for the goodreads.com hardsf group.

One of the difficulties of the Hard SF subgenre of science fiction, is that as it holds the line on scientific accuracy, it runs the risk of becoming dated as science changes and technology advances. On that count, the book doesn't do too badly. However, if found today, Charlie would immediately be the subject of some DNA tests, and his evolutionary relationship to modern humans established quickly and easily, rather than a lot of rationalizations regarding evolutionary theory and chemical analysis. But that is not the only scientific mystery of the book, and the tests/resolutions were very interesting to me.

For a while I was afraid Hogan was going to repeat his laughable misunderstanding of magnetic resonance imaging, which he demonstrated over and over in hisThe Genesis Machine. But here he just used an imaging machine named a "Trimagniscope", which is somewhat magical. Really, though, no science is better than bad science.

Additionally, the socio-political events predicted in this book seem more like an alternate history than a future. The book was written 33 years ago, and set 50 years in the future at that time. Hogan's optimistic view that improvements in education and technology would lead to a world with diminished nationalism and rooted in international humanism in the early 21st century, turned out pretty wrong. In fact, that perspective itself has become discredited, as much as I really would like it to be true.

All in all, I did enjoy the unraveling of the science mysteries of the book, and didn't realize there was a series of four sequels. I'll definitely be looking forThe Gentle Giants of Ganymede now. 

Subject: Sept reading
Date Posted: 9/7/2010 10:23 PM ET
Member Since: 7/26/2006
Posts: 385
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What I remember about Inherit the Stars is that it was dry and a touch boring.  But I liked the idea of us discovering our past history and ancient aliens which turn out to be "us" (if I remember the story correctly).  It's a sure bet the sequels are even MORE dated.

I'm currently reading Mieville's Kracken (for some reason I'm reminded of Neil Gaiman).  Anyways, tasty weird writing from Mieville, as always.

Also picked up Diving the Wreck (KK Rusch, hmm, I think that's her name).  I didn't realize these stories were from work previously published in Asimov's Magazine.  The protocols / rules of salvage diving spaceship wrecks or mysterious rooms are rather strict, which makes for an interesting story.  Interactions between the characters seem to me kinda choppy but still, I'm enjoying the book.  I like the author, love her Retreival Artist series.

Last Edited on: 9/12/10 11:35 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Subject: a couple more
Date Posted: 9/10/2010 8:41 PM ET
Member Since: 3/25/2006
Posts: 723
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Let us know what you think of Diving the Wreck; it was recommended to me by a friend here, whose taste in sf I am unfamiliar with.

Here's my two lastest reads...

Tor Double #29, 1991

Nanoware Time, by Ian Watson, 1991.

Aliens come from Beta Hydri, injecting nanoware into the bloodstream and consciousness of human adepts to enable them to make use of inner demons for purposes of teleportation to the stars and other psychic abilities. However, it is just a pretext for harvesting human minds for purposes of their own warfare. This novella is the first-person experience of a couple of humans who initiate a revolution against their own posthumous slavery. I found the style of experimental writing in this piece almost unreadable. 

The Persistence of Vision, by John Varley, 1978.

This Nebula and Hugo winning novella, that I have read numerous times before, tells of a drifter who finds meaning and love in a commune of deaf and dumb social refugees, that have established a lifestyle that transcends normal human existence. I think near the end of the Tor Double series, Tor must have been using these classics to move other less familiar, and lower quality works, such as the first in the volume.

War With The Newts, by Karel ?apek, 1936

I'm not sure if the sarcastic tone is common to all Czech writers, or maybe Karel ?apek was just individually influenced by Jaroslav Ha?ek (The Good Soldier ?vejk, 1923) but in any case I like it. Through multiple perspectives, this 1937 dystopia follows the rise of an intelligent but cultureless species of undersea salamander from rumors of obscure interactions with a few humans in the South Pacific to their eventual world domination. Along the way ?apek lampoons every major world power, trade group, and social force of his day, some of which are especially poignant in light of the Munich Agreement that turned over his homeland to Nazi Germany just two years later. I was surprised at how well the book has not become dated; really I think ?apek needs to be considered on a par with Orwell and Huxley. I give the book high recommendations.

-Tom Hl.

Last Edited on: 9/10/10 8:47 PM ET - Total times edited: 2
Subject: Diving Into the Wreck
Date Posted: 9/12/2010 11:30 AM ET
Member Since: 7/26/2006
Posts: 385
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Good book, with a dark atmosphere.  The choppy interaction with people had to have been on purpose, as the main character had a very dismal childhood and she distances herself from others.  I don't think I'm giving anything away by saying the plot centers on stealth technology and its mystery, apparently lost during a war.  You can find these stories previously published in Asimov's Magazine.  Will there be a sequel to this book? - Rusch sets it up.  But Diving Into the Wreck is a stand-alone novel.  I enjoyed it and gave it 4 out of 5 stars. 

Subject: hardsf lately
Date Posted: 9/24/2010 4:33 PM ET
Member Since: 3/25/2006
Posts: 723
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The Gentle Giants of Ganymede, by James P. Hogan, 1978

SPOILER ALERT - This book is a sequel to Hogan's Inherit The Stars. While I always try to avoid posting spoilers of the book I am reviewing, even the background situation of this book would act as a spoiler to the science mysteries of the earlier book. Read Inherit the Stars before continuing with this review.

Ironically, after noting in my review the lack of DNA testing on the 50,000 year old remains of the human found on the moon to determine his evolutionary relationship to Earthly humans, Hogan starts this book off by posing a science mystery coming out of the DNA chemistry of the 25 million year animal remains found in the crashed spaceship found on Ganymede. This book was written only one year later. Maybe Hogan did some catch-up work in that year.

This book unravels the paleontological mysteries involving the Ganymeans who lived 25 years ago on the lost planet Minerva (now asteroids between Mars and Jupiter), and traveled within our Solar System. Shortly into the book, the human scientists investigating the mystery on Ganymede receive unexpected visitors. A spaceship of Ganymean scientists, that left Minerva on an unintended 25 million year-long relativistic journey to another star, return. They are able to reveal many clues regarding their own origins and civilization, but almost all interactions with then-Earth happened after their departure from the Solar System, and they cannot explain the presence of the crashed spaceship on Ganymede.

The exposition of the solutions to the science mysteries of this book was well-paced, but to judge this book on the basis of character development, or motivations other than the search for knowledge would be a mistake. On that basis, I am sure it would be quite dry. What the book does offer is a very imaginative exercise in hard sf, and I enjoyed that.

2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke, 1968

My first read of this book was a library copy when it was new in 1968. I was 13 years old, and I still remember that it was my first library reserve. This book probably influenced my early choice of career.  My interest was recently re-sparked by a sermon that the Rev. Mrs. was working on, entitled "My God, it's full of stars". But that's getting off topic here.

I both re-read the book, and re-watched the movie this week, never before having done both in close succession, and I was surprised to realize the full extent of the differences. The most obvious difference is that the location of the monolith in the book is a flat clearing on Saturn's moon Iapetus, while in the movie it's floating in space at the Jupiter-Io L1 Lagrange Point. However, there were also significant differences in the plot interaction between Dave Bowman and HAL, even to some extent in HAL's motivation. So while the movie is a milestone in the history of film, I think I should admit that I now prefer the book version.

2010: Odyssey Two, by Arthur C. Clarke, 1982

I re-read this because I had just re-read 2001 - and because it actually is the year 2010 now.

Surprisingly, this is a sequel to the movie version of 2001, rather than the book version, which Clarke acknowledges in a forward to my edition.

Sometimes it's hard to remember that the original 2001 was actually written even before the first moon landing. Written 14 years after the original, the historical references leading up to the current year of this sequel 2010 are somewhat more accurate. But still, it comes from before the end of the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union. The plot engaged me and the characters were interesting, and I enjoyed the read.


-Tom Hl.

Last Edited on: 9/24/10 4:35 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Subject: more Sept reading
Date Posted: 9/30/2010 11:37 AM ET
Member Since: 7/26/2006
Posts: 385
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What a bust this month has been, no time to read.  Working in the garden, too many good TV shows, too many days working for a living, too much playing on the computer. 

I finally finished Kraken by Mieville.  Not my favorite of his books.  There are two reviews under this title and I pretty much agree with both of 'em.  Brit speak?  yeah, but I can't begrudge it, Mieville is from Scotland.  Had some pretty funny sections but dang, I can't even remember the ending and that was the whole point of the book...... Oh well, three stars from me.

I started several books to finish out the challenge (which I'm wondering if I'll finish); Crash Course by W. Baird, The City, Not Long After, can't remember author and Chasm City by A Reynolds.  I gotta start focusing, only one more month left.  (Or maybe it's two months?).

Brad -
Date Posted: 10/1/2010 11:13 AM ET
Member Since: 1/27/2009
Posts: 200
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I'm pretty new to Sci-Fi reading, except for Star Wars books, so I'm trying to read the most popular ones first.

1984 - Orwell

- Impressed so far.  It's not what I would call edge of my seat/bed exciting, but still an enjoyable read.  I may have to pick this up for my collection.

Stranger in a Strange Land - Heinlein

Very good.  I feel I'm "groking" it well.  Heinlein is starting to become my favoite author.  I own The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, I'll probably end up picking up Stranger in a Strange Land too (the one I'm reading is a library loan), hopefully I can eventually find a deal for it.

The Maze Runner - James Dasher

Very good book.  Easy reading, yet still exciting.  Good concept.  I just may have to read the sequel.

Subject: Clarke's Space Odyssey books
Date Posted: 10/4/2010 1:37 PM ET
Member Since: 3/25/2006
Posts: 723
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Brad - The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress is my favorite Heinlein (but it's been a long time, so I'm not sure how well it has aged).

My recent reads have been to complete Clarke's Space Odyssey books, which are *not* direct sequels of each other...

2061 Third Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke, 1985

My third read of this book.  This is a choppy story set on two different spaceships in the Space Odyssey universe. It came out about the time of the return of Halley's comet in 1986, and is set at the time of the comet's next expected visit to the inner solar system in 2061. One spaceship brings a very elderly Heywood Floyd along on a visit to the comet itself, and Clarke's descriptions are, as usual, quite vivid. Then the other spaceship is hijacked and crashes onto Europa, giving some members of the crew a chance to uncover the mystery of Mt. Zeus. This book just doesn't really add anything to the themes or concepts introduced of the earlier books, is probably the weakest link in the series.

3001 The Final Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke, 1997

This is the last volume of the series, published just before the change of millenium, and is set near the time of the change of the next millenium in 3001. The astronaut Frank Poole, who was killed in the original 2001 by HAL is found drifting out of the solar system and brought back to life. Frank gives a good vantage point from which to view the changes that have come about in humanity's existence over the next thousand years - which are not as much as you might think. Finally, we come to learn more about just where it is that David Bowman and HAL went, and about the monoliths themselves.

This is the only book of the four that I had not read previously, but I'm glad I did, because it does bring some closure to the concepts introduced and developed throughout the series of books.

Last Edited on: 10/4/10 1:41 PM ET - Total times edited: 3