the Little Red Reviewer

So many wonderful Vintage SciFi Posts!    I’ve been adding to the draft of this blog post for a couple of days now, so If I missed you, add your link to the comments and I’ll update the post.

 

Too many posts for me to visit, read, and comment on! the best problem a blogger could ever have!

 

I am in awe of Jean at Howling Frog Books and the quantity of reviews she has posted! Jean, how do you do it??  Recently, Jean has posted reviews of The Lotus Caves by John Christopher,  The Case Against Tomorrow by Frederik Pohl, Siege Perilous by Lester Del Ray, and The Metal Monster by A. Merritt.  Seriously, Jean, how do you get so much reading and review writing done??

 

Bookforager gets the prize for next most Vintage Science Fiction reviews posted in a short period of time, she recently posted reviews of The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard and The Airs of Earth by Brian Aldiss.

 

Musings of a Middle Aged Geek has more than just musings on the 1960 movie version of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine.  If you’re looking for an indepth post about this film, you just found it!

 

Scifist 2.0 takes us on a trip through some very early silent science fiction movies.  Science fiction wasn’t new. . .  but movies were!

 

it’s been a great month for Vintage SciFi movie blog posts!  The Initiative has a great post on Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, one of my favorite old movies.

 

Lydia Schoch reviewed Philip K Dick’s Second Variety, in which robots are just following their programming, to the further demise of humanity. And you end up feeling bad for the robots.

 

Medleyana is taking the opportunity to rediscover the works of Henry Kuttner. After reading this article, you’ll want to (re)discover Kuttner too!

 

Berthold Gambel of Ruined Chapel mostly enjoyed Isaac Asimov’s The Caves of Steel, finding the underground cities a little far fetched. Like the rest of us, Berthold  was not impressed with how Asimov wrote  female characters.

 

Eclectic Theist continues the Asimov trend with  a review of the Hugo and Locus award winning Foundation’s Edge, which is the fourth book in what I thought was a trilogy.

 

Need more Daneel Olivaw? Head over to Wiki Fiction for John Schmidt’s article on Connecting the Daneels.

 

Kaedrin reviewed  James P. Hogan’s debut novel Inherit the Stars. This novel was apparently Hogan’s response to being disappointed by Clarke’s 2001.  Strangeness is found on the moon, much chatting between scientists ensues.

 

Froodian Slip reviews another one of my favorites, “Who Goes There”, by John W Campbell, Jr. This short story was the inspiration for so much future scifi, I can’t even!

 

Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations discusses A.E. Van Vogt’s  generation ship short story “Centaurus II”. If you like what you read in this review, the short story is available to read for free online.

This book is 200 years old. This post will have spoilers.  I also might be spoiling a very early scene in an even older book, so there’s that.

 

It’s a famous story,  how Frankenstein came to be created:  simplified greatly, Mary Godwin, Percy Shelley,  Mary’s step-sister Claire Clairmont, and Lord Byron spend the summer together.  A “ghost story” contest is hatched. Mary has a terrible dream, starts writing what she dreamed,  and the rest is history.

 

(hey, have you read The Stress of Her Regard, by Tim Powers? I think I really need to!)

 

I’ve had this particular paperback of Frankenstein since high school. Younger me wrote notes in the margins, and underlined words I didn’t know. Lol, I haven’t changed a bit, I still do that.

 

You know how I can tell these notes in the margin were written when I was in high school?  So, there’s a scene where Victor is off to college, and he, well, takes a break for a few months.  The note I wrote in the margin was “didn’t his profs miss him?” . Only a high school junior would write that!

 

My high school was Frankenstein-crazed.  The film starring Kenneth Branagh and Robert De Niro came out in 1994, and a year or two later our drama club put on a play that was a post-apocalyptic re-telling of Frankenstein (best high school memory? The scene where the kid who played Igor had to get the abnormal brain and bring it back to the lab. Our “brain” was a cauliflower covered in green jello.  As Igor carried it around, he licked it. A lot. It was hilarious!)

This paperback that I have, it makes a big deal that the book’s subtitle is “The Modern Prometheus”,  so I hadn’t realized until I did some research that when you buy a copy of Frankenstein at the bookstore, it will rarely have this subtitle.  As a kid, I didn’t get the whole Prometheus connection, he’s the guy who stole fire from the Gods and gave it to man, right? Who cares about a little bit fire?

 

Prometheus did more than steal fire from the gods.  Prometheus gave humanity some of the powers that until then, only the gods had had – the power to create fire, and more importantly, the power to create life.   In contemporary western culture, Prometheus has equally become a symbol of quests for scientific knowledge as it is a cautionary tale of over-reach and hubris.

 

Hubris causes all sorts of entertaining science fictional stories to happen, doesn’t it?  But where’s the line between entertaining and cautionary?

 

Anyway.

 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 200 years, you know the plot of Frankenstein.

 

And thanks to the fact that Shelley revised the text in 1931 to drastically change the themes, Hollywood, and pop culture, the original story has gotten all mashed up.

 

Victor Frankenstein was not a mad scientist who had a lab in a castle.  He never had an assistant named Igor. The creature isn’t stupid. The creature is never specifically referred to as “Frankenstein’s monster”, he’s referred to as a monster, a creation, a wretch, an abortion.

 

And those movies, where the monster gets a bride?  That’s actually the happiest possible ending.

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Award winning books must be the best books that were written that year, right?

right?

as anyone who has ever taken part in a “Read the Hugo’s” challenge,  this is not always true.

 

If you’re reading Hugo winners or nominees for Vintage month,  or ever,  I highly recommend tracking down a copy of An Informal History of The Hugos, by Jo Walton.   It’s a chunkster of a book, and not one that’s meant to be read cover to cover in one (or ten sittings),  the volume contains Walton’s “Revisiting the Hugos” series of articles she wrote for Tor.com,  along with a selection of comments and additional commentary for each year’s nominees and winners.   For a taste of what to expect, check out any of her original articles at Tor.com.

 

Like the Vandermeer edited Big Book of Science Fiction,  I’ve been flipping through Informal History,  stopping a pages that have book titles I recognize, to see what Walton thought of them.  What did she think of Dune? What did she think of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress,  or Way Station, or Lord of Light, or Philip K Dick or Andre Norton?     It was super interesting for me to see where we completely disagreed on our opinions, books that I loved and she thought were just ok at best.

 

Her commentary isn’t formal reviews,  she’s talking about mostly if she liked the book when she was a teenager reading it for the first time, if it has re-readability, if it is print and/or available at the library, if it’s a title people are still interested in talking about.   Where applicable she gives a brief mention to the location of that year’s WorldCon,  who was nominated for different awards,  other notable works that were published that year,  and an invitation for people to suggest works that should have been nominated, but weren’t.   She starts at 1953, and goes all the way to the year 2000.   Yes, ok, this non-fiction commentary doesn’t totally qualify for Vintage Month, but I swear, while I was writing this blog post,  I only paid attention to the chapters that cover 1953 – 1979!

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I discovered this wonderful short story in The Big Book of Science Fiction, edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer.  I did some research on the author, and learned about her incredible legacy. Read the story because it’s fun,  learn about Rokheya Shekhawat Hossein (also known as Begum Rokheya) because she’s freaking amazing.

 

 

One of the many wonderful things about fiction that’s older than 100 years old, is that you can often read  it for free, online.  If a fifty pound anthology isn’t for you,  you can read “Sultana’s Dream” at Strange Horizons, where they reprinted the story as part of a series on Utopias.

 

Because all science fiction (and a lot of art) is a reaction and reflection of the time in which it was written,  here are a few contextual things you might want to know before you read “Sultana’s Dream”.

  • Begum Rokheya was born in 1880,  in what is now known as Bangladesh, and at the time was British India
  • She is considered the pioneer feminist of Bengal
  • She was raised in an intellectual, multi-lingual home that was wealthy but also very traditional.  This combination meant that she learned Arabic and Urdu, and then English and Bengali.
  • You may want to understand what purdah is. (or not. up to you)

 

Reading this story sent me down a google rabbit hole of the phrase “gender-flip”.  That term has to be fairly new, right?  hahahaha, NO.    I love that gender-flipping has been having a moment for the last, oh, 20 years,  but the concept has been around for quite a while.   My brain is also going down the rabbit hole of “what was social media way back when?”  more on that at the end of this post.

 

“Sultana’s Dream” plays with gender flipping (and women’s rights!),  with the idea that in this Indian Utopia,  the women run the country and the men are kept in seclusion.

 

The plot goes like this:   Sultana is drowsing away the afternoon,  when a woman walks into her room and invites her out for a walk.   Sultana at first thinks the woman is her friend Sister Sara,  but later realizes the woman is a stranger.   Upon leaving Sultana’s home, they end up where not-Sister Sara lives,  and Sultana states that  she feels weird walking around in public unveiled, as she is a purdahnishin.

 

The rest of the story  is not-Sister Sara explaining to Sultana how her women-run world, called Ladyland, came to be.  A young Queen insisted that all women in the country have access to education,  thus women’s universities were started.   The women’s universities used their discoveries and inventions for the good of the whole community, while the men stayed focused on military might.  The men insisted that the inventions that came out of the women’s university’s were nice, but nothing compared to the value or importance of military strength and other men’s work.

 

When the country finds themselves on the losing side of a war,  the Queen and her female advisors come up with a plan, which I won’t spoil.   They win the war, and in the process transform the country into one where women can be in public unveiled, and the men are kept in seclusion.  When the men ask to be let out of seclusion, the Queen’s response is “if their services should ever be needed, they would be sent for, and that in the meanwhile they would remain where they were”.

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We’re about  a week into Vintage month,  and it’s been so wonderful so far!  There’s been wonderful discussions in comments sections,  chit chat on twitter,  cool stuff happening every where!

 

I catch the posts I can, so anything i missed, feel free to leave a link in the comments.

 

Howling Frog Books is having a blast using the Vintage SciFi Month bingo card, and has reviewed Spock Must Die by James Blish, Bill the Galactic Hero by Harry Harrison, and Exiled from Earth by Ben Bova. Three reviews in a week?  Yikes, I gotta up my game!

 

Bookforager has a  beautifully written review of Driftglass by Samuel R Delany. Srsly, if you have not read his work, you are missing out!

 

Eclectic Theist enjoys Past Master by R.A. Lafferty, with bonus recommendations in the comments section.

 

Kristen Brand has a blast talking about her favorite Vintage Scifi tropes. What are you favorite vintage scifi tropes? which ones annoy you?

 

Wiki Fiction offers a very indepth look at Stanislaw Lem’s fiction, and primarily the frustration with Solaris.  I too was frustrated, but as luck would have it, I ended up being OK with how it ends.

 

Judith Tarr (yes, that Judith Tarr!)  is over at Tor.com talking about reading Andre Norton’s Quag Keep.  Fantasy fiction certainly wasn’t new in the last 70s, but Dungeons and Dragons was.

 

Sara Light-Waller has an excellent profile of Captain Future, at PulpFest.   the mythos of Captain Future goes back to the first Worldcon, how cool is that?

 

Still looking for Vintage recommendations?  Prepare to have your TBR explode. Not only does Joachim Boaz have a list of excellent Vintage Scifi recommendations, he’s got an entire website, Science Fiction and other Suspect Ruminations that is 99.99% Vintage Scifi Goodness!

 

I know I missed plenty of links. Help a girl out and put them in the comments?  you can also tweet them to @VintageSciFi_ 

 

Hey, so sorry to tell you, but it already looks like 2020 is going to be a thinky year for me.  Thought experiments, taking things apart to see how they work and then trying to put them back together,   connecting things that are really obscurely connected, asking questions and not caring about the answer, and then getting bored and moving onto the next thinky thing.

 

Let’s start with a famous short story called “The Cold Equations” by Tom Godwin, published in 1954. The story is available to read free online, at Lightspeed Magazine.

If you’re not familiar with this story, you’ll want to go read it at Lightspeed before reading the rest of this post, because there are major spoilers ahead.    If you liked it so much you want to own it in print, Baen Books published a nice collection of Godwin’s short fiction*. I’m not at all ashamed to admit that “The Cold Equations” is the only short story in the collection that I’ve read.

 

“The Cold Equations” gets a lot of discussion because of how cruel the physics of the story is, does the stowaway  deserve what happened to her, engineering that’s too stupid to be negligent, etc.    Those reasons, and plenty more, is why we still enjoy talking about this story more than 60 years after it was written.

 

If any of that sounds interesting,  I recommend this excellent post (warning, major spoilers) on Tor.com by James Davis Nicoll.  The Wikipedia page for “The Cold Equations” also has some interesting  material about how when editor John Campbell bought the story in the early 50s, he pushed the author to change the story so that it didn’t have a happy ending.

 

Many articles and think pieces online like to take this story apart because of, to misquote Derek Kunsken’s The Quantum Magician completely out of context, “the math was inescapable”.  (damn do I love that line)

 

To me,  “The Cold Equations”  is  nothing more than The Trolley Problem thought experiment with very thin veneer of a plot.  What’s the trolley problem?   To steal directly from Wikipedia:

And since you are barreling down the tracks at the speed of a well, speeding train, you only have a few seconds to make your decision.  nice, huh?

For a more entertaining introduction to The Trolley Problem, I recommend you watch season 1 and 2 of The Good Place**.  they  have a little too much fun visualizing  that you have a split second to make your decision.

Anyway, what does any of this have to do with “The Cold Equations”?

SPOILERS , if you haven’t already read the short story:

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I finished Lem’s Solaris shortly after drafting my last blog post.  I hadn’t realized how close I was to the end of the book!

 

I’d been warned (thanks wikipedia) that the books ends rather abruptly.  And it does!  the end is going along nicely,  and then it just BAM, ends.  I was like “where’s the rest of the story?”  but no, all the rest of the pages in the book were blank.

 

Lemme give you some context, plot-wise.   Kris Kelvin, a psychologist, has traveled out to the Station on the ocean planet Solaris, to continue his studies.  There are only a few other scientists on the station,   and when Kris arrives, he learns the man he hoped to meet and study with, Gibarian, has committed suicide.

All sorts off other weird things happen, that I won’t spoil, because they are the meat of the story.  And if I mention them, I will color your experience, and I don’t want to do that.

 

Cool things about the station:    there is a library! and it is full of paper books!  When Kris needs to kill time, or just needs a quiet place to think,  he goes to the library!   The station also has video calling, you can basically Skype/Facetime other people in other locations in the Station. pretty neat!

 

Scientists have been studying Solaris for decades.  We’ve convinced ourselves that the planet-covering ocean is sentient, and maybe intelligent, and that when the ocean solidifies itself and sometimes imitates us, that it is trying to communicate with us.  The strange happenings on the station, is that also the Ocean trying to communicate with us?

The whole concept of the novel is that there are things humanity will never understand,  that we need to be at peace with the fact that we will never be able to communicate with Solaris, that we may never be able to communicate with an alien intelligence, ever. We can’t seem to figure out the best way to make contact with Solaris, and Solaris sure as hell has no freakin’ idea how to communicate with us in a way that makes any sense.  We can observe each other, we can attempt to communicate, but we will never succeed.  Failure is in itself, the knowledge that the thing you are trying isn’t working, and to try something else.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.