Tag Archives: science fiction

Unfinished business

Hi readers.  Thanks for coming by for a read.

Most of you probably know that going into a new year with unfinished business is a risky proposition.  There’s no telling what sort of karmic baggage it will carry into your next year to harry you.  But sometimes it just can’t be avoided.

In my case it’s a couple of obvious items.  One being Orphans in the Sky, copyright 1941, Robert Heinlein.  I found it listed in the Johnson County, Kansas, Library and only managed to get it yesterday.  I put in into the que for reading, but unless I get cracking I won’t finish it before midnight.  I’ve only got a chapter to go.  But Heinlein isn’t the only iron in the fire.

A reader here recommended A Pirate of Exquisite Mind, by Diana and Michael Preston.  I only got it from the library the same day as the Heinlein tome, so I’ve been alternating between the two.  The Preston book is biography of William Dampier, who discovered earlier than anyone else that being a scientist and a pirate weren’t mutually exclusive.

I’ll be a while polishing off the Dampier tome, even if I manage to croak the Heinlein before the world slouches into next year.

And as for the Orphans in the Sky, I’ll confess it rattles me somewhat.   One of my favorite all time science fiction books was Starship, by Brian Aldiss.  I’ve read it at least half-dozen times over the years.  The Heinlein book reminded me of it so when I discovered the library doesn’t have it and it’s not available InterLibrary loan I checked Amazon.  And surprised myself by finding a review I wrote about it in 2004:

See this image

Starship Paperback – December 1, 1969

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful

By Jack Purcell on May 8, 2004

Format: Paperback

This book was written long before most readers of this review were born. Maybe that’s the reason this great work of science fiction lies dormant and almost forgotten. The book is absorbing, fires the imagination, is both believable and original. I don’t believe, of all the thousands of books of science fiction I’ve read over half a century, I’ve ever read one similar to this (and few better).
The basic story involves a starship the size of a small city on a voyage lasting hundreds of years. Many generations prior to the time of this plot a cataclysmic event and internal disruptions caused the crew to break into factions and isolate themselves. Thereafter the population forgot itself, what it was, and struggled to survive and understand, by the time of this plot, in a strange world.
If you’d like to discover a ‘new’ old one you’ll treasure and read many times through your life this is a good shot at finding one, while it can still be obtained. Take good care of it.
5.0 out of 5 stars
As good as Aldiss ever got. And it beats Heinlen’s Orphans of the Sky, December 30, 2014
This review is from: Starship (Paperback)
My review of this in 2004 didn’t mention the plot similarity to the 1941 Robert Heinlein tome, Orphans of the Sky. I’ve just finished re-reading the Heinlein book and it gave me a thirst to re-read the Aldiss. I’m searching my books-in-tow for it, but I’ve already checked the library system and haven’t located it. Might have to fork out $1.48 for a used copy of this classic.
I haven’t ordered Starship because I want to check whatever books of mine Jeanne has in her basement, but I might yet have to fork out $1.48 plus shipping and snag a used copy from Amazon.
Reason for my studied lack of haste:
I got the urge to re-read the late Philip Jose Farmer’s series, Riverworld one more time this lifetime.  Put them on hold [Jeanne’s library account] at the library.  Jeanne saw it and tossed all five books down in front of me.  Mine.  The originals from when Farmer first published them in the 1970s.  From her basement.
I have vivid recollections of waiting with baited breath for next sequels on these.  So there they are, more unfinished business trying to anchor me here in 2014.
Old Jules
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2010 Space Odyssey Two – Arthur C. Clarke

Hi readers.  Thanks for coming by for a read.

2014 is a good year to read 2010 Space Odyssey Two so’s to help get a better perspective when you read 2061 Odyssey Three.  I’ve got 2001 Space Odyssey sitting over there asking itself why I haven’t re-read it, prior to launching into 2010.  I haven’t confided to it that it’s just too damned far off the mark and leaves me pondering whether it was pure BS.  I was a bit distracted in 2001 because of Y2K, but I’m inclined to think 2001 Space Odyssey and 1984 by George Orwell might have shared some chronological disorders.

Anyway, Clarke’s 2010, published in 1982, at least has briefcase computers.  That’s an encouraging sign.  And although men haven’t ventured beyond the moon, nor even as far as the moon in a longish while, they’re back to discussing the possibility of going to Mars, or maybe an asteroid or comet.  Humanity decided somewhere back in the late-1970s that the moon wasn’t worth the price of admission.  They’ve shot a lot of rocketships at it, set of a bomb trying to find water, but the moon has proved to be more profitable as an abstraction than a reality.  Heck, people have made more money off the moon singing, recording, writing songs about it than they’ve managed to do sending rocketships to it.  Even movies.  There’s been more money made from movies about the moon and about people going to the moon, than from people actually doing it.

So while 2010 Odyssey Two is a fun, interesting and imaginative read by a fine author, it doesn’t recommend itself well under comparisons to reality as we mostly believe we’ve experienced it, or know of other humans experiencing it.

Planet of the Apes is a lot more accurate in that regard.  I don’t know how the hell Planet of the Apes managed to happen right here under our noses without me noticing it before.  But hell, there it is.  Spang spread out all over the planet.  Russian apes killing wossname, Ukraine apes, Syrian apes killing other Syrian apes, Iraq apes, Israel apes killing Palestine apes, Chinese apes killing India Indian apes, African apes killing other African apes, and US apes indiscriminately killing all but Israeli ones.  Which establishes who the real Chosen apes are.

Arthur C. Clarke should have anticipated Planet of the Apes and written about it.  Then he wouldn’t have to be consigned to the Nostradamus and George Orwell stream of close-but-no-cigar prognostications.

Old Jules

 

Farnham’s Freehold, by Robert A. Heinlein 1964

Hi readers.  Here’s another one of those old early-days RAH tomes to give you some smiles, some anachronisms to feel smug about, and a couple of truly interesting things to think about.

The first part of the book is all the usual suspects, family with a bomb shelter before the bombs fall, etc.  If you haven’t read a thousand others, might as well get it done  with this one, I reckons.

But then the bombs hit, one of them dead-center.  Spang blows Farnham and his family into sometime a longish while in the future, same spot.  Then the fun starts.

The big powers destroyed themselves and most of the other non-ethnic places full of advanced white people.  So when Farnham and his white family come up for air it isn’t long before they’re discovered by the meek who inherited the earth.  Africans, mainly, in this area.  A sort of do-it-yourself African empire sitting atop the ruins of the US.

Sure, some white people survived.  Most have been adopted as slaves in a manner similar to the way the Ottomans treated captured Europeans during an earlier time.  Bred the good ones for physical and mental traits, castrated the others and put them to work.  Kept a lot of females for breeding stock, too.

So once they’re captured, Farnham and his family are forced to adapt themselves to a lifestyle most white people have spent a lot more generations becoming unaccustomed to than was good for them.  Farnham’s wife lucks into being the paramour of one of the black rulers, and being a 20th Century mom, wants her son with her.  But him being a male, her being part of the harem, he’s got to be castrated first.  Which gives her pause, but only momentarily.

And so on.

Lots of laughs in this book.  A truly fun read.

Old Jules

Have Spacesuit Will Travel – Robert A. Heinlein

Came across this book in a thrift store in Kerrville recently and couldn’t resist it because they were having a dime-a-book sale.  As nearly as I can recall it was maybe the 3rd, or 4th science fiction book I read when I discovered the genre in the Portales Junior High School Library around 1958 or ’59. 

I’d qualify it as ‘middling’, probably nowadays young adult, Horatio Algeresque, and a nice evening read if a man has three cats interrupting to punctuate things.  Those times were full of first in orbit Sputink Explorer Cape Canavaral fizzles and it’s clear Heinlein, along with almost everyone else in the US, suddenly realized what an ignorant, poorly educated society we were becoming already.  Spends a considerable while early in the book with a father discussing the shortcomings of the education the young main character was getting for himself and how he, the kid, was going to have to take responsibility for changing that.  Assuming the kid wants it changed for the eventual outcome of his goal to go to the moon.

But there’s also a lot of other social commentary about responsibility, goals, paternalism, and finding a place outside the ‘normal’ shortcomings and flaws of humankind.  Surprising lot of insight as to where science and engineering were going to go, though it naturally overlooked the prospect of the field being increasingly dominated by Asians.  Even though RAH saw the social and educational conditions in the US that led in that direction, in those days nobody’d noticed whatever it was in Asia that would bring it to fruition.

All in all I doubt it would appeal much to the readership of today.  But most would never find it anyway.

Old Jules

Waldo – Robert A. Heinlein – Book Review

My first introduction to science fiction came in the Portales Junior High School Library around 1958.  One of the first of the hundreds of Sci-Fi books read over the course of a lifetime was Red Planet, by Robert A. Heinlein.  Probably Keith, one of the readers of this blog, stood beside me in PJHS Library and argued over who’d get to check it out first. 

The library didn’t include a lot to select from and we pored over them all.  Thunder and Roses, by Theodore Sturgeon.  City, by Clifford D. Simak.  The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury.  The Stars are Ours, and Star Born, by Andre Norton. And anything by Robert Heinlein.

Written in 1940, Waldo must have been one of Heinlein’s earliest novels.  By the late 1950s it was still too early to be profound.  Most of the setting, plot, concepts Heinlein visualized in 1940 hadn’t yet come to pass.  Hadn’t made their way into human reality in a form more concrete than a pleasurable indulgence in imagination set to words.  My memories of reading it were vague compared to hundreds of other works by Heinlein and other visionaries who hammered and blasted the new genre into mainstream readership. 

So when Waldo showed up in a box of books in the Saint Vincent de Paul Thrift Store in Kerrville for a dime each and I bought them all, noticing Waldo among them, I was only mildly interested.  Another couple of hours of something to read before dropping off to sleep, I figured.

I was wrong and discovered how wrong I was roughly 20 pages into the book.  Squinted, read and re-read it far past my normal sleep time.  Read it again the next day.  Twice.

Aside from a goodly other phenomena Heinlein described in 1940 that eventually came to pass decades later, he discusses others that haven’t yet made it into mainstream thinking.  One of which includes something I’ve been examining with insane intensity during the past several years, began experimenting with during the late 1990s.  Dropped, partly because of Y2K, partly because the Internet and home computer RAM didn’t yet allow the accumulation and examination of sufficient evidence to arrive anywhere beyond conjecture and assertion.

Thankee, Saint Vincent de Paul Thrift Store.  And thankee Robert Heinlein, particularly for this one.

I keep Waldo close at hand, thumb through it when I’m pondering where things are going as I go through my daily downloading rituals, working my way through the maze to the center. 

You mightn’t, probably won’t be as impressed with this tome as I am.  But I’m betting if you can find it you’ll be more than mildly surprised.  Find yourself asking, “How the hell did Heinlein figure all that out in 1940?

If not, you’ll at least enjoy a fun plot, good characters, a couple of hours of science fiction back when that’s what it was.

Old Jules

Greg Bear – The Forge of God – Book Review

Greg Bear gave himself a hefty job of work for this 473 page tome.  The subject is the arrival of aliens on the surface of the earth, the gradual discovery of their motive to ‘eat’ the planet, and the reactions of science and politicos as the realization becomes certainty.

In some ways the internal plotting resembles Heinlein’s, The Puppet Masters, in others, Larry Niven’s, Lucifer’s Hammer.  However, if you’re a reader who finds himself studying the characterization as the author develops it, the tool used in furthering the plot, you might find this one a bit annoying.

Although Greg Bear’s handling of the plot requires the introduction of a lot of characters for the reader to attempt to keep track of, he does a fairly craftsman-like job.  He’s obviously aware of the problem and uses a lot of internal plotting to provide the reader with anchors of segment  for each of them to assist.  If he hadn’t been a workmanlike writer he’d never have succeeded as well as he did, which isn’t to say he succeeded completely.  Greg Bear’s skill at characterization kept the work from becoming a complete disaster.

The plot develops rather slowly, and to keep the interest of the reader the author introduces a number of not-often-used event features as crucial pieces of his plot.  This served in my instance to keep me determined to finish the book. 

The concepts Greg Bear introduces are compelling enough to cause me to pause in the reading about 2/3 of the way through to allow some digestion of it all before continuing.  There was no temptation to leave it alone after a day, but I found when I returned I found I already had to reorient myself, reacquaint myself with the individuals connected to names among his multitude of characters, briefly re-study which sub-plot I’d absented myself from when I stopped to contemplate what he was doing.

I believe authors could gain a lot of benefit by carefully studying Bear’s handling of a complex plot broken constantly by updating internal, brief sub-plots, and constant shuffling a population of characters within.  Before reading the book I might have thought it was an impossible task.  After reading it I’d conclude it was merely improbable in a Tolstoyesque sort of way.

I’ve pondered how he might have done it better, considering the task he set for himself, and haven’t thought of any way it could have been done without removing some of the sub-plots, which he’d made essential to the overall plot development.  A trap he’s too competent an author to have caught himself in unaware.

Too busy might be how I’d describe the book, but still compelling enough to cause the reader to work hard to struggle through.  At least some patient readers.

Old Jules