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Read _The Martian_.

August 25, 2015 Leave a comment

That the imperative form, not the past tense–I just said “reed” The Martian, not “red” The Martian. Which I have also done, twice, but I’m telling you that if you haven’t, you should.

(People ranging from Adam Savage of Mythbusters to Barack Obama of the White House are also recommending this book, so I’m not alone. Not hardly.)

_The Martian_ is the story of the third manned trip to Mars. The first one to experience any real difficulty. A sandstorm. It forces the month-long trip to be aborted after less than a week. It causes them to leave for Earth, and kills one of the crew members.

Except, y’know, it _doesn’t_. It leaves Mark Watney supposedly dead and abandoned on Mars. Alone. For the first time in human history, there is only one person on a planet. And nobody knows he’s there.

He tries to survive one day. Then another. Then another. And things happen. I have now spoiled the first, oh, five pages of the book. Maybe a bit more.

This book is very much for anyone who thought that the best part of Apollo 13 was when the flight director dumped a pile of parts the Apollo astronauts would have out on the table and said “We need to connect this [one port] to that [another port] using only this [pile of junk].” This phrasing is not original to me, but it is both apt and funny, so I’m stealing it.

It is also for anyone who recognizes and values human ingenuity, dignity, heroism, sacrifice, and several other high-minded emotions I can’t even name without getting sucked back into a complete re-read of the book.

Yes, it gets math-ey, in some places. If the numbers bug you or bore you, skip them. Some of them aren’t exactly right anyway, and very few of them are important to the story of a man who will. Not. Give. Up.

There’s a movie coming. Let me tell you, I avoided the trailer as long as I could, because I didn’t need to be sold. I was going first weekend, likely first night. But when I saw it, a _trailer_ made me weep. Weep. My son Joshua asked me if I was okay, the tears came so hard and fast.

I have recommended many works of fiction over my years as a bookseller and after. _The Martian_ gets my very highest recommendation.

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“Down Memory Lane”, by Mike Resnick

June 26, 2013 2 comments

“Down Memory Lane” is a 2005 science fiction short story by Mike Resnick.  It was nominated for the Hugo for Best Short Story of 2006.

Non-Spoiler Summary

“Down Memory Lane” is the story of a man losing his wife to Alzheimer’s, and the lengths to which he’s willing to go to help her.

Why should you read it?

For the first time in this blog, I’m going to tell you that I’m not the person to tell you why you should read this story.  It’s well written, as every Resnick piece is.  However, as someone who lost his father to Huntington’s Disease and is dealing with my mother losing parts of her memory at this very moment, I almost never enjoy stories about mental degeneration.  And this blog is about telling you what I love.

I don’t love this story.  It’s very well done, but it was no fun at all for me.  If you want to a recommendation, let the bulk of Resnick’s work make it, and perhaps read some or all of the other pieces of his I’m going to recommend here, or have.  But I can’t recommend this one, even though it may deserve it.  I just can’t do it.

Where to find “Down Memory Lane”

E scape Pod has a well acted version of “Down Memory Lane” in audio.

“Tk’tk’tk”, by David D. Levine

June 24, 2013 1 comment

“Tk’tk’tk” is a 2005 science fiction short story by David D. Levine.  It won the Hugo for Best Short Story of 2006.

Non-Spoiler Summary

“Tk’tk’tk” is the story of a human salesman who goes to a very alien planet, and tries to sell the software he represents to other humans.  Unfortunately, the people he’s speaking to are aliens, and don’t buy.  When he learns to sell to aliens, then suddenly success comes to him.  When he learns to be an alien, then his life changes.

Why should you read it?

On one level, this is brilliant science fiction, with a very Campbellian hook: these aliens don’t think much like humans, but they do think as well as humans.  But this time, I’m not going to suggest you should read this story for the science fiction.  “Tk’tk’tk” is the story of a man who is learning when struggle is not just going to get you nothing, but is actively counterproductive.  It’s the story of a man learning to release himself and become the other, in order to serve both the other and himself.  That’s the part of it I’ll be taking with me.  The aliens themselves are almost set dressing for the transformation of a man with an drive to overcome into a man who accepts.

Where to find “Tk’tk’tk”

This story is available online as text courtesy of Asimov’s, or in audio from Escape Pod.  I especially recommend the text version, as the alien language makes for some sounds you’ve never heard before.  I admire them for even trying this story.

“Kirinyaga”, by Mike Resnick

“Kirinyaga” is a 1988 science fiction short story by Mike Resnick.  It won the Hugo for Best Short Story of 1989.

Non-Spoiler Summary

“Kirinyaga” is the story of the mundumugu, or witch doctor, of a recreated Kikuyu people, living on a created world in space.  They’ve followed their tribal ways, and killed a baby born feet first, which is an indication that the baby is a demon.  Now they face an intervention by Maintenance, the people who made the created world they live on, and unspecified penalties.

Why should you read it?

Killing a baby is a bad thing.  Killing a demon is a good thing.  How does one tell if a baby is a demon?  Well, Maintenance knows that if both parents are human, there’s a good chance the baby is.  The mundumugu knows differently–his culture tells him that the circumstances of the baby’s birth clearly indicate that it is not human.

He wants cultural purity for his people, the adults of which have chosen to live by the (sometimes harsh) rules of the Kikuyu.  But babies… haven’t.  How can he convince Maintenance to leave them alone to follow their traditional ways?

The writing is lovely.  The Eutopian worlds are a brilliant idea that I continue to want to read more about.  This is one of my favorite stories, and I was delighted to reread it for this review.  (Note that this is the same world as “One Perfect Morning, With Jackals“.)

Where to find “Kirinyaga”

Baen Books has graciously allowed us to read “Kirinyaga” online.  

“None So Blind”, by Joe Haldeman

“None So Blind” is a 1994 science fiction short story by Joe Haldeman.  It won the Hugo for Best Short Story of 1995.

Non-Spoiler Summary

“None So Blind” is the story of a young polymath who excels in neurosurgery and computer science and wants to apply some of the techniques that work well to computers to the human brain.  So he hoodwinks his wife into allowing his team to operate on her.

Why should you read it?

Haldeman writes in several styles.  One of them is very condensed, with summaries of action instead of dialog.  A very tell, don’t show, style.  Sometimes it doesn’t work that well, and sometimes it does.  This is one of the times when it does.

The events that take place in this story are uncomfortable enough that if the author didn’t keep us at a distance, I’m not sure that many of us would be able to finish the story.  Cletus, the medical wunderkind, is also ethically challenged, to put it mildly, and the choices he makes are ones we can observe, not ones we can participate in.

He repartitions the human brain. In this particular case, by removing the need for the need for the visual cortex to be used in processing vision.  By removing the subject’s eyes.

The effects on people and on society are . . . unexpected.

Where to find “None So Blind”

This story was available online, on Haldeman’s web site.  

“A Walk in the Sun”, by Geoffrey A. Landis

“A Walk in the Sun” is a 1991 science fiction short story by Hal Clement.  It won the Hugo for Best Short Story of 1992.

Non-Spoiler Summary

“A Walk in the Sun” is the story of an astronaut who was supposed to get just close enough to the moon to see it. . . and then crashed.  And how she survives.

Why should you read it?

This is some good hard science fiction.  The limits placed on this character are non-negotiable.  She’s crashed on the moon.  She’s got food to eat.  She’s got a working space suit, that can recycle her air as long as she has power.  She’s got photovoltaic “wings” on her suit to generate power.  Rescue is coming in thirty days.

Now all she needs to do is stay in the light.  All the time.  For the next thirty days.

She can walk faster than the moon rotates.  On day one, anyway.

How long can she keep it up?  Long enough?

Where to find “A Walk in the Sun”.

The story is available online courtesy of Asimov’s.

_Feed_, by Mira Grant

Feed is a 2010 science fiction/horror novel by Mira Grant, a pen name of Seanan McGuire.  It was nominated for the Hugo for Best Novel of 2011.

Non-Spoiler Summary

Feed is the first book of the Newsflesh trilogy, the story of a group of bloggers who are the first citizen journalists to accompany a major party presidential candidate on his campaign travels.  So it’s a political story.  But the main campaign issues are all effects of the Kellis-Amberlee virus, which has caused a condition of post-death animation.  Zombies.  So it’s a horror story.  And someone’s trying to interfere with the political campaign.  So it’s a thriller.  And it succeeds brilliantly at all of these.

Why should you read it?

Zombies aren’t what this book is about.  It’s about people.  Real people.  Georgia Mason and her brother Shaun are the leaders of the first news blog that is invited to accompany a senator on his presidential campaign.  The zombies are there to put pressure on people.  To cast America and the world in a new light.  And to allow Grant/McGuire to talk about fear and what it does to people.

This book is brilliant.  The author is merciless with her characters, like you must if you’re writing about a world with such danger in it.  There is risk and it is real and people suffer.  I just finished rereading Feed for the fourth time, and it made me cry in public again.  Three times.

Georgia and Shaun love each other very much, and have a trust that is palpable.  These characters are more vivid as a team than they are individually, which is saying a lot considering that I feel like I could have a conversation with either one of them.  The rest of their team of bloggers are also drawn beautifully; several of the characters have such distinctive voices that it’s easy to tell who’s speaking just from the dialog.  The culture of bloggers is also fascinating; they’ve subdivided the news into factual, action, and creative, and call themselves Newsies, Irwins, or Fictionals.

The book is horror, but it’s not the zombies that will scare you.  It’s the deformation of our culture that they have caused, and we have allowed.  Privacy is gone, just gone.  Fear is endemic, and people don’t fight it.  They’ve just given up.  Entire states have been yielded to the dead, and this is a divisive issue between the parties.

It’s appalling.  And understandable.  How would you feel if your elderly father with the weak heart was going to get up after he died and try to eat you?  Someone else’s elderly father?  Strangers on the street?  Every living person is a time bomb, and sometimes they don’t even have to die first for the virus to take over.

Fear.  Horror at ourselves for feeling the fear, and for living with it, and changing to accomodate.  And terror about what it means for humanity.

Feed is not an easy book, and it is not for children, in any way.  When asked recently, I hesitated before recommending it for a fifteen-year-old I didn’t know.  It is, however, a book I have never forgotten from the moment I started it.

Although I recommend the entire trilogy whole-heartedly, I am  not going to review books 2 and 3, Deadline and Blackout, because there is absolutely no way to do so without spoiling Feed.  Just trust me when I say that the series only gets better from this book, which I’m already recommending very highly.

Where to find Feed

Feed is available in print or in all major digital forms.  It is not freely available.