Archive for the ‘Sci-Fi’ Category

Book #105: The Long Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul

One of my favorite things about reading Douglas Adams is trying to explain it to other people. One night my dad and I were both reading and, probably inspired by my giggling over The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul from the love seat, he asked what my book was about.

“Thor is taking this girl to Valhalla to challenge Odin to a fight, because Odin made him count all the rocks in Scotland.”

“…that’s probably a metaphor for some deep thought, though, right?” he asked.

“Nope,” I said gleefully, and returned to the book.

It’s hilarious to think about the different things you can try to explain to people. Throughout the evening I’d occasionally say stuff like, “Oh my god, the guy got turned into a Coke machine!” or, “He turned the fighter pilot into an eagle!” or “The sofa can’t exist in that space because of time travel!” It sounds insane, because it is.

Another thing I love about Adams is the way he plays with language and turns sentences on their head. Dirk views the world in such a unique way, and you can tell by the way he thinks of things and says things. Immediately upon hearing about an “act of god” that destroyed an airport, Dirk wonders which god is responsible for this “act of god.” Things like that make me giddy.

I also appreciated this quote, which is a good example of how Adams can play with language in such a fun way:

“Let us think the unthinkable. Let us do the undoable. Let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable, and see if we might eff it after all!”

Hilarious.

As a whole I didn’t enjoy The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul quite as much as Dirk Gently, however. It’s still Douglas Adams, so it’s still a zany romp through time, space, and dimensions. The pacing was just a bit off in this one, however. The crazy plots built and built, and then they were resolved a bit too quickly, which left me a tad unsatisfied. I was left happy, but also wanting more.

Douglas Adams is still Douglas Adams, however, and I still adored this book.

Rating: *****
Up Next: The Girls of Slender Means

Book #104: Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

I. Love. Douglas Adams.

I first encountered Adams in high school when I went to see the movie “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” with my friends. It was silly and ridiculous and the humor was just my style. I fell in love with it and immediately read all the books in the series. They were awesome. I even named my car Marvin, after Marvin the Paranoid Android.

I read Dirk Gently in college, and it was such a pleasure. It was clever and fun, and I especially liked how well Adams worked in all the stuff with Coleridge and “Kubla Khan.” This was also about the time that I was into old-school Doctor Who, and when I figured out that Douglas Adams wrote the serial “City of Death” for the Fourth Doctor, I was surprised at how similar the plot of Dirk Gently was to it.

I enjoyed Dirk Gently just as much this time around. I still thought it was fun and clever, and I was still absolutely tickled with the connection to Coleridge and how Adams managed to tie up the threads of several seemingly unconnected and equally ridiculous plots.

It really is about the fundamental interconnectedness of all things

For me, I think, reading Douglas Adams is always going to be a sheer pleasure. He’s always zany, clever, witty, and hilarious. So much so that I read Dirk Gently’s sequel immediately after this one.

Rating: *****
Up Next: The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

Book #98: 2001: A Space Odyssey

Wow. Wow, wow, WOW.

I’m not entirely sure what I just read. My overwhelming first impression is Arthur C. Clarke > Isaac Asimov. By like ten billion. WOW.

Believe it or not, I haven’t seen the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and while I’ve picked up a bit on the general story just from existing in the world and hearing pop culture references, I didn’t really know too much about it. All I’d really heard about was that HAL went crazy and tried to take over the ship and that then the end was mind-blowing and no one really understood it.

I sort of thought that HAL was really the only plot. And I figured that the ending of the book couldn’t possibly be hard to understand. After all, words are easier to understand than when movies get all artsy and abstract. Unless, of course, you’re reading Ulysses, in which case nevermind. But I digress.

To be honest, I’ve written and rewritten this post several times over the course of about four days. I’d love to say more about 2001, but I’m just having trouble processing it and finding anything to say about it. It was so crazy and I’m not quite sure what happened at the end. I want to talk about it but I dont’ know how to put it into words.

This book was just so different from what I was expecting. The whole thing was also so well-done and so well-written and well-executed and just so different from anything I’ve ever read before that I’m still processing and trying to react to it. I think I might need to read it at least one more time to try and make sense of it. I also want to read the sequels, too.

I guess this is all I’m really going to say about 2001 for now, because whenever I try to think about it or formulate anything resembling an intelligent, coherent thought about it, my brain turns to mush. I will say that this is going to be one of those books I keep going back to and re-reading. I’m also definitely going to watch the movie. Someday I will figure it out.

Rating: *****
Up Next: Embers

Book #96: The War of the Worlds

This group is really heavy on the H.G. Wells, and the science fiction in general (I just finished 2001: A Space Odyssey). I’m told that The War of the Worlds is really the book that started the whole science fiction, alien invaders genre. I suppose we maybe should thank him for it? I’m not usually a huge fan of this type of sci-fi. I’m much more into the stories where humans actually get to go to outer space and travel around.

I’d never read The War of the Worlds before, but I knew quite a bit about it. I saw that weird movie adaptation they made a few years back. You know, the one that should really have been called “The War of the Worlds, or Dakota Fanning Screaming.” I also knew all about how they tried to make it into a radio drama and people freaked out because they thought it was actually happening. I knew the general story: Martians invade and wreak havoc and destruction because the people of Earth don’t have the technology or knowledge to fend them off.

I didn’t realize that that was sort of all the book was. I thought that was the general plot but that there’d be more to it. Except there wasn’t, really. It was actually surprisingly technical. The narrator describes everything relatively calmly and clinically, like he’s writing for some sort of science journal about what happened. There’s surprisingly little emotion to it.

I’m glad I read The War of the Worlds, I suppose, but I think I liked The Time Machine much better. It seemed less clinical or detached. Also, I tend to like time travel more than space invaders if given the choice.

Rating: **
Up Next: The Pit and the Pendulum

Book #92: The Time Machine

I read The Time Machine I was in sixth grade. All I remembered of it was that he went to the future and there was this girl thing called Weena and she died. My memory was pretty accurate, I guess.

If there’s anyone out there who somehow doesn’t know, H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine is the original science fiction time traveling story. You’re welcome, Doctor Who fans. Basically, during the Victorian Era, this crazy scientist dude builds a time machine and is all excited to go to the future and see how awesome everything is. He gets there and finds out that humans have essentially evolved to be unrecognizable. There are two distinct groups – the pudgy, friendly Eloi, descended from the genteel, leisure class, and the dark and ominous Morlocks, who live underground and at one time worked the factories and machines that kept life on the surface going.

While 11-year-old me got the basic plot of The Time Machine, she totally missed the social commentary. I suppose that’s to be expected though. It’s not like I knew a ton about the social order of Industrial Revolution-era England. I’ve re-read several books now that I read when I was younger, but this is the first time that I’ve really been shocked at how much I really missed when I read them the first time around.

There is a clear, “Um, this utopia we think we’re working towards with all these machines is not going to work out very well in the end” vibe here. That, I suppose, is nothing that modern readers aren’t used to now. I did think it’s interesting that Wells wrote an almost evolutionary divide between the working class and the leisure class. The Morlocks are literally a different, darker, and more dangerous thing than the Eloi. And at this point, the Eloi have become useless and the Morlocks dangerous and able to literally feed on the Eloi – the tables have totally turned.

Interesting to think about, even today. I can’t say I’m surprised that I missed out on this aspect of the book when I was a kid, I guess it just goes to show that maybe you should re-read the “classics” you read when you were way younger; you never know what you’ll discover this time around.

Rating: ***
Up Next: The Devil and Miss Prym

Book #70: The Island of Doctor Moreau

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I started H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau. I knew it would be science-fictiony, but I wasn’t prepared for brutal genetic mutation and human experimentation.

It was definitely creepier than I expected, and much closer to something that could happen in real life than I typically prefer my creepy science fiction to be. A shipwrecked Edward Prendick winds up being rescued and brought to an island inhabited by Doctors Montgomery and Moreau.

Doctor Moreau is a vivisectionist trying to form animals into humans, complete with coherent thoughts and humanlike features. He has been largely successful, except for one thing – he can’t stop the half-men he’s created from reverting back to their natural, beastly state, no matter how hard he tries. Some will become “civilized” for a short amount of time, even able to speak and communicate, before reverting.

The island is a scary in-between place, with creatures struggling to remain men and men struggling to control and manipulate the creatures they have created. The pseudo-society on the island places Moreau as a malevolent god, ready to shoot any beasts who break his strict rules and revert back to their natural states, breaking with civilization.

The “civilized” society on the island is in a constant state of near-collapse; at any point, something could break, and all the Beast Folk, as they’re called, could revert to their animal state and overrun the island.

In a way, The Island of Doctor Moreau reminds me a little of a creepier, more unreal Lord of the Flies. In both, you can have a society that can easily degenerate into anarchy, with humans throwing off the mores of civilization and becoming like animals. The civilizations in both of these books ultimately do fall apart. The difference is that in Moreau, it’s animals becoming animals again. The trouble is that in the middle, those animals looked an awful lot like men.

For the scientific-minded, Wells’ book can call into question many moral questions about genetic manipulation, as well as the nature of humanity and science’s impact on society.

Rating: ****

Book #45: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was really weird.

It’s set in some futuristic, post-apocolyptic society where nuclear war has basically destroyed Earth and most of the genetically, physically, and mentally sound people have emigrated to Mars. Most of the people left on Earth have been somehow damaged by nuclear fallout. Because life has been so totally destroyed, owning and caring for a living animal has become a mark of social standing. People who cannot actually afford real animals spend money on convincing electronic animals, so no one will know that they can’t afford the real thing.

In this world where electronic versions of animals can fool people, there are, naturally, electronic versions of people. The androids are manufactured on Mars and intended to serve the people there. Like most technologies, they keep getting smarter and generally better. The problem is that sometimes these servants “go rogue” and escape to Earth. This is where the bounty hunters come in. It’s their job to try and figure out which people are the androids.

The thing about this book is that it makes you feel like you’re going insane. Like…for real. You’re reading along and you think everything’s fine and you’re into the plot and then suddenly Dick flips your world completely upside down. Then it’s like you’re standing on the ceiling of the book, which is never fun, and you aren’t even sure if you’re actually right side up or not. And you’re just like, “Whoa, I’m not even sure what’s happening right now.” Sometimes it’ll be the little things that freak you out.

For example, there’s a part where John meets one of the androids. She tells him her name and she says it’s Pris. Then in the next sentence, she says her name is Rachel. Then she goes back to being Pris. For some reason, that tiny moment in the book freaked me out a whole lot.

Overall, I liked Androids. At first when I was reading, I wasn’t terribly excited or interested in the book. But once Dick really got rolling and things got weird, I couldn’t stop reading it. While I was reading the book, I told my roommate about how it made me feel crazy. He told me that it’s supposed to do that. Dick was actually probably schizophrenic. At the very least he had mental illnesses that he worked into his books. If he really was schizophrenic, I’m pretty sure that Androids gives a pretty good representation of what that must feel like.

My goodness.

Rating: ****
Up Next: Enduring Love

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