Archive for the 'Science Fiction' Category

Significant SF at NTC

December 15, 2006

(From The Silver Eel)

Update: marked a few new titles as ‘read’ (03/09/08)

The Key:
Bold the ones you’ve read.
Italicize those you started but never finished.
Put an asterisk beside the ones you loved.

1. *The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
2. The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov
3. *Dune, Frank Herbert

4. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein
5. *A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin
6. Neuromancer, William Gibson
7. Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke
8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick

9. The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
10. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
11. The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe

12. A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.
13. The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov
14. Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras
15. Cities in Flight, James Blish
16. The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett
17. Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison
18. Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison
19. The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester
20. Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany
21. Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey
22. *Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card
23. *The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson
24. The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
25. Gateway, Frederik Pohl
26. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling
27. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

28. I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
29. Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
30. **The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
31. Little, Big, John Crowley
32. Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
33. The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
34. Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement
35. More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon
36. The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith
37. On the Beach, Nevil Shute
38. Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
39. Ringworld, Larry Niven

40. Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys
41. The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien
42. *Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut
43. Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson

44. Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner
45. The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
46. *Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein
47. Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock
48. The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks

49. Timescape, Gregory Benford
50. To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer

I think Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness will always be my favourite SF novel. It is a brillant transposition of the gender puzzle into an SF context that reveals new ideas about gender that conventional fiction never could. It’s also an eloquent, Jungian study of nationalism. And a cracking good read.

Other favourites include Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-5, which is a stunning novel with funny and tragic moments, some great lines that have stuck with me, and a strange potion of unsettled temporality that, when taken, somehow imparts a bit of existential comfort.

I’m on a bit of a Blish binge at the moment – just finishing up the Star Trek books, and I’ll soon move on to Cities in Flight.

I think, as with all lists, this list is not definitive at all. Blish’s A Case of Conscience is not there. And what about E E Doc Smith’s Lensman series? Lem’s Solaris? And so on. But it’s fun to reflect a bit on things read years ago, and this list is a good stimulus for that.



May 24, 2006

In the last couple of months I’ve been mixing up my intellectual pursuits (such as they are) with some pleasantly pulpy indulgence in Star Trek stories and Robotech TV Manga. What this really amounts to is plain and simple nostalgia: I loved both shows as a child.

I’ve been reading a chunk of the original Star Trek episodes, adapted as short stories by James Blish (a Golden Age sci-fi author for whom I have the same sort of affection as I do for those seasoned actors who walk the line between A- and B-grade movie careers – e.g. Jurgen Prochnow). Blish is a good writer, I think, because he mixes into readable stories the detailed drudgery of choreographed fight scenes, details of uniform design etc. and the abstract and utopian idea that arch over each episode like a flimsy but glittering rainbow.

The Macross Saga is the first series of Robotech, which ran to two more increasingly abstract and bizarre series (as Manga does), and the only series that I watched in its entirety as a child, and now I’ve watched it again, in much contracted form, as an adult. It’s definitely made for children, and I think mostly what I enjoyed about watching it as an adult was what it revealed about my childish self.

But that’s not what I wanted to post about – just setting the scene here.

What I’ve found most interesting of all has been the concurrence of what I perceive to be a shared subject, hiding behind the veils of scenery and action set pieces, of nuclear holocaust. And what’s most interesting to me is that the creators of the two series represent, in very very general terms, the two sides of the only nuclear holocaust our world has seen – America for Star Trek, and Japan for Robotech.

Now, before I go any further, I want to disclaim all responsibility for my own thinking here, and then I’ll be able to move on unhindered – meaning, I’m aware that there is a LOT more to this subject and these perspectives than the inkling I will derive from my two examples, and I don’t think I’m being particularly clever and I know this is all much bigger than me, but I wanted to share my thoughts nonetheless.

So. In an episode of The Macross Saga called Force of Arms, after years of war, the invading alien armada finally folds out of hyperspace and surrounds the earth with approximately five million (yup – count ’em) warships. Earth, to put it mildly, is buggered. The armada proceeds to bombard the surface of the entire earth with its staggering weapons. Life on earth is wiped out. The orange lines of the enemy lasers fire incessantly and before our eyes the cities of earth are devoured in fire. Then the fields and mountains and rivers are obliterated until only gray, cratered earth remains, looking much like the dead surface of the moon. The whole earth – all life, pretty much – gone.

I was struck as an adult, as I was not as a child, by the sheer horror of what was being depicted. And I thought, as earlier episodes had begun to lead me to suspect, that a people who had experienced having nuclear bloody bombs dropped on them somehow had the credentials to create this scene. And I also thought that perhaps it’s that experience, locked in their collective memory, that facilitated the depiction of a complete holocaust in what seemed (in the context of the series) such an off-hand manner. Throughout the series, there is untold death and destruction, but it is never addressed; which is not to say it goes unmentioned, but rather to say that the characters seems to expect and be largely unphased by large scale slaughter. In other words, that this episode of Robotech actually expressed something of the culture of those who have received a nuclear bomb.

Children’s TV, huh. Whatcha gonna do.

And then I read a Star Trek story called A Taste of Armageddon that seemed (most likely in the light of my feelings described above) to express something of the culture of those who have dropped a nuclear bomb.

Beaming to the surface [of Eminiar VII] with a landing party, Kirk and Spock are met by a young woman, Mea 3, who tells them that Eminiar VII has been at war with its neighboring planet, Vendikar, for over 500 years. Mea 3 takes them to the council chambers where they find banks of computers. Eminiar’s head council Anan 7 informs them that the two planets have learned to avoid the complete devastation of war because computers are used. When a “hit” is scored by one of the planets, the people declared “dead” willingly walk into antimatter chambers and are vaporized.

To preserve their respective cultures, argues Anan 7, the two planets must wage bloodless war. Kirk is alarmed to find that Mea 3 accepts the need for her and her people to step into the chamber and be vaporised; if the war agreement is violated, then real war would ensue, and their culture would be destroyed. So, to preserve the wonders of their world, they are willing to sacrifice themselves.

Kirk argues that real war – horrible and destructive – is the experience that is needed for peace to become your goal. Without war, there is no will to make peace. Kirk and Spock eventually save the day by destroying the computers and forcing the two planets’ people to either experience war in its full horror, or to make peace to avoid this horror.

To my mind, for all its melodrama, this episode is expressing powerful cultural emotions. These people have engineered this situation to preserve the beauty of their world, enable progress to continue uninterrupted, and to repress the physical pain of war. An illusion of Arcadia. Keeping the monsters well fed but docile. And along comes Kirk with his dose of reality that is driven by an urge for peace.

I feel I’m not explaining this very well but I’m not sure how to elicit what I mean. If you think of Star Trek as American and closer to WWII than we are now, and you therefore think of this story as having the mind set of people recovering from dropping the bomb, you can perhaps discern that an urgent desire to preserve and to make peace that must be sustained or provoked by destruction and death is a sort of hymn to the predicament of having dropped the bomb.

Do you see? This, I think, is what make Star Trek so interesting – the way it taps into an subliminal sea of thought and emotion and grandeur and human squalor. Showing us our dreams and our nightmares in a digestible format.


May 15, 2006

They say I am going to die. Aren’t we all? I ask in return.

I stepped up onto the raised dais and looked out into the raked darkness before me; I imagined this darkness was rolling toward me, a cloud of lethal black gas, a wave of thick and airless oil. So this is life, I thought. This is light. God help me.

"I stand before this assembly," I began, "as a broken man." Silence. A cough.

I continue. "I stand before you today as a man who is no longer himself. I have travelled to another world, have passed through its bloodstream, and have returned bearing its stain. Indeed, I stand before you as an alien, an anomaly, an insurgent."