the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘Vintage Science Fiction

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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:

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Woah! How did it become December, like, when did that happen?

I could put myself under a ton of pressure to write thousand word reviews that won’t get read . . . or I could write some low-pressure mini-reviews.

Mini reviews it is. (I mourn my loss of review-writing motivation. I really do)

Here are some mini-reviews of books I read this year and enjoyed. If you read them, I’d love to know your thoughts! If you aren’t familiar with them, do they look interesting?

The Quantum Garden by Derek Kunsken – the direct sequel to Kunsken’s break out novel The Quantum Magician. I am a sucker for heist stories, and I am a sucker for when the con artist gets conned. This second novel in the series is quieter than the first, less action, less gigantic set pieces. And in the quiet spaces, we really get to know Bel and Cassie, and the family they came from. I’m not going to give away any plot points, because if you haven’t read the first book they won’t make any sense. If you like smart science fiction, if you like physics that is on the edge, if you like stories about science meets capitalism and human greed, and oh, if you’re looking to scratch your Locke Lamora itch, this is the series for you.  Seriously excellent in every possible way. Def gonna want to reread this and tease out all the cool dimension hopping physics and cultural and family obligation stuff, and just totally cool shit on every page.

And Shall Machines Surrender by Benjanun Sriduangkaew – I loved this book. It was fun, it was super sexy, the characters were great, I enjoyed the story, I loved the idea of a sanctuary community that is run and governed by AI’s who rebelled against their human owners. But this isn’t a story about AI’s, it is a romance. Orfea and Krissana have history, oh do they have history. And the only thing they have more of than history is chemistry. If you don’t like romance and sexytimes getting all squished up in your scifi, this isn’t the book for you. Enjoy ultra smart scifi characters who also get to have romantic relationships and sexytimes? This novella is the gift you give yourself. Even better news? Sriduangkaew recently published Then Will the Sun Rise Alabaster, which is same world, different characters. This is a huge sprawling space opera world that Sriduangkaew has created, there are endless stories she could tell.

Indelible Ink by Matt Betts – Ok, so I read this one a few months ago, and don’t remember a ton of the details. I remember that it had a rough start, but found its bearing pretty quickly, and that I enjoyed it enough that I’d read it again. Deena has some hella cool superpowers that she can sort of control, her story line felt X-Men and edgy, as if she was some mutant kid who got recruited into Magneto’s crew and didn’t really know what was going on. I remember really liking her as a character and rooting for her. And there was this crazy twist at the end that came out of left field, but at the same time made a ton of sense because there had been some clues all long. Yep, just gonna have to read this one again. If you can find a copy of this book, I recommend it.

Read the rest of this entry »


Follow me on Twitter!

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,448 other followers

Follow the Little Red Reviewer on WordPress.com

Archives

Categories

FTC Stuff

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.