The Sci-Fi Saturday posts lately have reported on books by Robert J. Sawyer, my new favorite science fiction author, or on books by Ben Bova, one of the notable stars in the SF firmament. A couple of posts recommended interesting movies (this one and that one).
This month I’ve been exploring other things. For instance, other parts of YouTube than I usually frequent (see yesterday’s post). Relevant here, other science fiction authors. (And maybe a TV show if there’s space.)
Today’s post reports on books by: Isaac Asimov, William Gibson, Neil Gaiman, and James S. A. Corey.
What if, as more than one science fiction story has imagined, the sheer size and complexity of the World Wide Web made it become self-aware. And what if, contrary to most of those stories, it was wonderful in every sense of the word. What if it meant world peace, freedom, and humanity at long last growing up.
That’s the vision Robert J. Sawyer presents in his WWW trilogy, which consists of Wake (2009), Watch (2010), and Wonder (2011). It’s the tale of a young woman blind from birth who gains sight, a bonobo-chimpanzee hybrid who makes a choice, and an emergent machine-based superintelligence who wants to serve man.
And not, it (or rather he) adds, in the cookbook sense.
While I may not have been posting much lately, I have not been idle. One good descriptor for me — one that has been valid for nearly my entire life — is voracious reader. One thing I’m not, however, is a broadly eclectic reader. I tend to stay in the realms of science and science fiction, with the latter leaning well towards hard science fiction.
There is a third reading axis I love, the murder mystery, detective, crime, thriller axis (so: Christie, Grisham, Leonard, Child, et many al). And lately I’ve discovered some interest in historical accounts of quantum mechanics and the people behind it.
But Sci-Fi Saturday is all about the science fiction!
Quite some years ago, poking around Apple’s collection of science fiction eBooks, I noticed Calculating God (2000), by Robert J. Sawyer. I’d never heard of him but got the impression he was a literary author who’d written a science fiction novel about God.
But the book’s description intrigued enough to add to my wish list. It sat there for years. An unknown author, a very long reading list, and Apple’s obnoxious prices, all conspired to keep me from buying it. Recently I noticed Apple had removed it from their catalog.
The library didn’t have it either, but an author search turned up lots of his other SF novels. I tried one, loved it, then tried three more with good result. We seem to have similar interests and sensibilities.
There have been good science fiction movies and TV shows going at least back to Metropolis. Of course, there is always Sturgeon’s Law, so we’ve also had ten times as many that were bad in one way or another. A few were memorably awful; a few are remembered as classics.
When it comes to fantastical material, I’m convinced books are best. Animation is a distant second, and live action can often be a mistake, depending on the material. Too much realism in visualizing the fantastic collapses the wavefunction of our imagination.
But our imagination is the best part, and it needs exercise!
Two weeks ago, for Sci-Fi Saturday I posted about Absolution Gap (2003), by Alastair Reynolds. It’s the third book in his Revelation Space series. If you read the post, you know I didn’t care for it. Really didn’t care for it, especially after some disappointment with his writing style in the second book in the series, Redemption Ark (2002).
Now I’ve read Inhibitor Phase (2021), the last book of the series. For the first three-quarters of the book, I was once again rather enjoying Alastair Reynolds. Unfortunately, the last quarter, not to mention the resolution to the series, was a huge disappointment.
In that previous post I also mentioned Uranus (2020), by Ben Bova. Now I’ve read the sequel, Neptune (2021), and it was… strange.
Because they are intended for mass consumption, there are few modern science fiction movies or TV shows that really hit the mark for me. Sturgeon’s famous statement about everything being 90% crap seems even more true with mass media. It’s no less true of science fiction books, but there are so many more of those that it’s easier to find good ones. The trick is finding good authors.
Neal Stephenson is one author that usually delivers for me. Ben Bova is another good one, although until recently it was decades since I read his work. Alastair Reynolds, compared to them, is a new entry on the scene. All three write hard SF — my favored flavor of science fiction.
Unfortunately, the last Reynolds books I read was a disappointment.
Greg Egan is among my favorite science fiction authors. He especially stands out to me if I limit the field to authors currently writing. Egan might not be a working scientist, but he has a degree in mathematics and his work is known in that field. His math and physics background shine brightly in his science fiction writing and that light is why I like his stories so much. I love hard SF most, and Egan delivers the goods.
I just finished his 2010 novel, Zendegi. There have been some recent disappointments from my reading list (including the last Egan story I read), so it’s nice to read a book that I thoroughly enjoyed and find worth posting about.
Zendegi is about what it means to be human…
Yesterday I finished FKA USA (2019), by “Reed King” — a pseudonym of a “New York Times bestselling author and TV writer.” It was a new book at my library, and the blurb about it concluded, “FKA USA is the epic novel we’ve all be waiting for about the American end of times, […] It is a masterwork of ambition, humor, and satire with the power to make us cry, despair, and laugh out loud all at once. It is a tour de force unlike anything else you will read this year.”
Sounded good. It had a long wait list, so I put it on hold back in mid-October. It became available in mid-December. It weighs in at over 1000 e-pages, so it’s taken me a few days to finish. The length is one reason though. I didn’t find the book to be much of a page-turner, and I’m afraid I skimmed bits of the last chapters.
Victoria wasn’t amused; I wasn’t engaged. Or amused.
I originally planned this Sci-Fi Saturday post as a positive review of the Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer, but Burns really nailed it about plans “gang aft agley.” I’ll tell you right now I bailed about halfway through the second book because I wasn’t enjoying the read, was utterly bored by the story, and had found VanderMeer’s writing style annoying from the beginning.
So this isn’t a positive review, but I’m willing to credit much of the lack of connection on my taste, both with regard to content and to writing style. The author and the trilogy are held in high regard, and I don’t at all dispute the quality of the storytelling. It’s just not for me.
His Wiki page says he’s compared to Borges and Kafka (which seems apt), and I’ve never cared that much for their writing, either.