I think we all agree 2020 has been, as the curse puts it, an “interesting” year. Going into it, I had intentions about making changes. Most fell by the wayside due to COVID-19; I still haven’t taken the bus to watch the St. Paul Saints play. Or the bus-light rail combo to Target Field.
As a life long hard-core introvert, “social isolation” mostly meant I shopped for groceries less often but stocked up more when I did. The pain was fewer occasions of meeting a friend for tasty food, drink, and chat. I’m really looking forward to dining out again.
All-in-all, the last four years, this year… It’s been exhausting.
In every literary genre (in every type of art, really), there are classics that stand out and often participate in forming the language, or at least some of the territory, of the genre. That is part of what makes these works classics. (Lord of the Rings is an ultimate classic — all Medieval fantasy since is in reference to it.)
I suspect all serious readers have a classic or two they’ve never gotten around to. Last week I finally got around to reading the classic science fiction novel, Brave New World (1932), by Aldous Huxley.
For a novel written 88 years ago, it’s surprisingly prescient and relevant.
Last week I read a science fiction novel I’d seen in a number of “must read” lists: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (2014), by Becky Chambers. The title certainly appealed to me, and, along with the book’s cover, it seemed like it might be fun, funny, or even zany.
I like to let things unfold, so I usually avoid trailers and reviews until after I’ve seen or read for myself. A few months ago I wrote about Axiom’s End, which I really liked. I was anticipating a similar ‘great new author’ experience. (I’ve also mentioned the S.L. Huang Cas Russell books. I kinda liked those, too, so I’m definitely feeling favorable towards new authors.)
Unfortunately, I didn’t like this book at all.
Originally 95 cents each!
In a post six years ago I mentioned that I’d finally gotten around to unpacking a box of books that had been sitting in a closet since I moved into the place. The problem I always have when I move (aside from all the book packing) is shelf space. I prefer the kind of shelves mounted on the wall, so I have to recreate shelf space every time.
Not that my memory for what I mentioned in a post six years ago is sharp. Or even exists. I noticed the post had some views recently, so I re-read it. The line caught my eye because last week I opened the last unopened box of books.
And I found some old science fiction friends!
I actively try to avoid “the buzz” — for most definitions of the word (“beer buzz” is a whole other thing than I’m talking about here). I mean the buzz of current memes and all the popular things I’m supposed to think, feel, and be. As I’ve said before, I’m deliberately allergic to trendy — I refuse to swim in the main stream.
That applies especially to the books, TV shows, or movies, that I’m supposed to see. I’m even more resistant to things I’m supposed to either hate or love. (I still have never seen ET — never will.) I generally don’t read or watch reviews until after I’ve read or watched what they review.
Which brings me to Axiom’s End (2020) a debut novel by Lindsay Ellis.
My last post was about my disappointment in the science fiction novel series, The Expanse, starting with book four. As it turns out, for me, that’s just the start of my disengagement — it goes seriously downhill from there. To be clear I’m speaking strictly in terms of my personal taste. As the saying goes, ‘One person’s mead is another person’s poison’ (not that I’m a fan of mead).
Given the steep downward trend, book four seems better in comparison. While I like it much less than the first three, I like it much more than what follows. It has some good protomolecule bits, and frontier colony stories are pretty standard science fiction fare.
But I’m particularly struck by what the TV version changed and added.
I feel like a jilted lover. Or a very disappointed one. I found what seemed a delightful bit of science fiction color in an otherwise increasingly grey and dismal world. I let myself get attached (despite a few alarm bells going off in my head). I thought I’d found something truly worthwhile — something to invest myself in.
And it seemed really good at first. There was all the excitement of exploring something new and interesting. But after that great start, there came a most unwelcome left turn into a stinking swamp I want no part of.
This isn’t a Sci-Fi Saturday post or a TV Tuesday post… this is a spleen vent.
Neal Stephenson, like Greg Egan, is a hard science fiction author who never fails to delight me with something new and tasty. Both Stephenson and Egan seem able to leave footprints in otherwise well-trodden ground. Stephenson, in particular, often makes me LOL.
That’s not an acronym I use very often, but it seems especially appropriate here given this post is about The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O., by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland. The book has so many tongue-in-cheek military acronyms (DODO, DTAP, DEDE, MUON, etc) that it has a glossary at the back.
The story concerns parallel worlds, wave-function collapse, and witches.
Yesterday, courtesy of Cloud Library, I finished Manifold: Time (1999), by Stephen Baxter. It’s my first exposure to Baxter, who has written 60 science fiction novels — none of which I’ve read. Per his Wiki bibliography, he’s written only a half-dozen short stories, also none of which I’ve read. (There are SF authors I’ve only met in short story collections. He isn’t one of them.)
Time is the first of the Manifold trilogy (which has a fourth book, Phase Space); the second and third books are Space (2000) and Origin (2001). Each of the books tells a separate story in a separate universe.
I enjoyed the first book, but I can’t say I was hugely whelmed.
I’ll get to the delightful alien eyes later, but I want to start this Sci-Fi Saturday post with a different delight: A Trick of Light, a novel by Stan Lee. Yeah, that Stan Lee. Along with Kat Rosenfield. And no, there are no pictures, comic or otherwise.
What is there is a fast, breezy, comic-book-like story about a guy and a gal and some interesting stuff that happens to them. I read the whole thing in one long afternoon, night, and into the AM, because it was hard to put down. “Just one more chapter” grew to reading the whole thing. It was a lot of fun.
There is also an interesting but somewhat less delightful book (a trilogy, actually) to tell you about. I have some definite mixed feeling about the author and his books.