READING UPDATE: ROBERT A. HEINLEIN, BRIAN ALDISS AND ISAAC ASIMOV
For me reading is an essential as breathing. As my DIY tote bag says: 'Once a bookworm, always a bookworm'. Perhaps reading is my way of dealing with stress but then again I also read when I'm all relaxed so I suppose it's just something I do. I read when I'm happy, but also when I'm sad, when I'm busy and when I have time on my hands. So, let's see what I have been reading lately. It's mostly science fiction but there is also one non fiction scientific book.
Per me leggere è una attività essenziale, una cosa senza cui non posso vivere, un po come respirare. Come dice la mia tote bag: "Una volta un bookworm, sempre un bookworm". Forse leggere è il mio modo di affrontare lo stress, ma in realita io leggo anche quando sono rilassata, quindi suppongo che sia qualcosa che faccio. Leggo quando sono felice, ma anche quando sono triste, quando sono occupata e quando ho tempo a disposizione. Quindi, vediamo cosa ho letto di recente. È principalmente fantascienza ma c'è anche un libro di saggistica.
Ja ne mogu bez čitanja, kao ni bez disanja. Kao što kaže moja torba koju sam sama oslikala: "jednom knjiški crv, uvijek knjiški crv". Možda je čitanje moj način borbe sa stresom, no ja čitam i kada sam opuštena, tako je da je to jednostavno nešto što radim. Čitam kada sam sretna, ali i kada sam tužna, kada sam zaposlena i kada imam slobodnog vremena. Danas ću vam pokazati što sam pročitala u zadnje vrijeme, većinom je riječ o znastvenoj fantastici ali ima i knjiga eseja.
THE BOOK OF BRIAN ALDISS 4/5
My introduction to Brian Aldiss was an early one. As a kid, I stumbled on and fallen in love with his novel Hothouse. My brother even bought me a copy of this novel for Christmas, so I can reread it whenever I feel like it. Since then, I've been meaning to read more of Aldiss, so when I happened upon The Book of Brian Aldiss, I knew I had to read it. I'm certainly glad I picked it up.
Aldiss is a wonderful author, he really is. His writing style often makes me think of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley. I wonder is there a cultural reason why some readers can't get into Aldiss' writing. Is it because he is British? I don't know why this collection doesn't get more love. It is a great collection of science fiction stories, but it doesn't seem that well known. Sure, it is a bit dark in its humour, but that is what Brits do best, isn't it?
As I already said, this book is a fine collection of SF stories and novelettes. However, it is worth pointing out that the stories and the novelettes are very different in tone and style of writing. Consequently, the book feels quite unbalanced. Maybe that is it (I mean the reason why this book isn't that widely read)? The stories seem to be a bit randomly collected-I think they were selected by the author himself but following what criteria, I cannot tell. Not that I mind that much, honestly. Not all editions of short stories need to be organized by style or set in similar worlds. However, this makes reviewing the book a bit of a challenge. I think the best thing I can do is to write a separate review for every story. There are in total nine stories in this collection: Comic Inferno , The Underprivileged , Cardiac Arrest, In the Arena, All the World's Tears, Amen and Out, Soft Predicament, As for Our Fatal Continuity and Send Her Victorious and they differ both in style and length.
Comic Inferno 4/5- This is the first story in the book. It is set in a robotic future society and it examines the influence technology and the use of AI has on human psychology. A pretty classic and common subject in science fiction writing. Nevertheless, Adliss does a good job with adding a new twist to the classic tale as well as with making the characters come to life. However, I actually struggled with the writing style in this one, especially in the introductory part. I had a weird feeling that I wasn't able to pick up on everything, you know there seemed to be too many details and I couldn't figure everything out. Plus, I was a bit confused about the characters (the dialogues and the scenes moved so quickly) at first. However, once the story neared its ending, it really started to make sense. I would give it a five out of five starts for the ending, but not for the story as a whole. In fact, this happened to be the last story in the book that I read, just because I needed more time to process it.
The Underprivileged 4/5- While the ending to this story was somewhat predictable, especially for a reader of Science Fiction, the story as a whole was quite enjoyable. It deals with two cold blooded semi-humans who were invited to live on a prestigious human planet. They are not the only ones of its kind to live there, but upon arriving to the planet, they grow more afraid and the female of the two is especially troubled (female intuition, perhaps?). It is one of a few stories in this collection that has a solid ending, albeit a predictable one. It could possibly be referenced to British colonization (and exploring a future kind of it). Quite ironic in tone and dark in its humor.
Cardiac Arrest 3/5 Despite the fact that I found stream of consciousness writing technique interesting, the story itself felt hectic. How to describe this one? A mystery set in future? The story deals with an American chemist who has found the virus that can make us live forever. He tries to flee to China where he is promised a sanctuary, but he gets into trouble once he lands into Hong Kong (apparently China- Hong Kong tension is present even in the alternative future). The stream of consciousness technique, albeit not badly done, makes the hectic story a bit hard to follow. Perhaps it would have worked if the story itself was better plotted or organized (even if the rambling parts, written in cursive, were unnecessarily long.
In the Arena 3/5 A good story about a future human gladiator Javlin fighting for his life in an insect Infested Earth. For his next fight, he will be paired with some other human and they will have to fight the insects together. Fighting in a duo is something Javlin hates because it means additional responsibility- that for a life of another. There were some clever details in this one, like the fact that the protagonist has to use some kind of device to communicate with his Insect Trainer (and the other intelligent Insects that have conquered Earth and made slaves of human). If human languages are so complex and different that it takes a long time for us to be able to learn proper pronunciation of them, then obviously communicating with another species would require some kind of aid. However, the story itself was too basic to be deeply fascinating. The human society is not really elaborated on and too much space is the story is used up by the protagonist's sulking over the duo part. The young lady (yes, there is a girl!) doesn't get a chance to really shine and the two lack chemistry together. Moreover, the story ended quite suddenly and predictably.
All the World's Tears 5/5 Another story that deals with the future implications of technology on our human society. It depicts an Earth where population is scarce and people rely heavily on robotic help. Deprived of their humanity, people need the help of specialist to be motivated to do things. A professional is called into a home, where he proceeds to make his client mad, prepping him for a conference call (something to do with the client's work I guess). In this future, people are so devoid of feelings and sense, they need specialists to make them angry, since anger is the only remaining human emotion. That's quite depressing, isn't it? When the daughter of the client (the only thing that he seems to care for and exactly the thing the professional uses to manipulate his feelings into rage) is brought into the story, we get a sad and tragic ending (as the tears in the title would imply). I found the ending quite touching. The story also felt quite original. Well done, Aldiss!
Amen and Out 4/5 A fantastic story set in a future society where men pray to Gods that talk back. Who are these Gods? At first it is a mystery, but everyone seems to have a shrine they pray to regularly, even the junkies (some carry portable ones) but by the end of the story it suddenly all makes sense. This human society where Gods talk back obviously doesn't need a religion, but they have something similar- the immortals. Who are they? A group of people that were made immortal in a project that didn't go all that well. The people of this future society don't wish to became immortals themselves, but they seem open to getting ideas from them. There are quite a few memorable characters in this one and the story is well plotted. Making an LSD addict a hero of the story seemed an unusual choice, but it makes sense in the context of the story. My only complaint is that the story seemed to end too suddenly. I have a feeling that the author hinted on something I didn't quite catch. If only the story were a bit more elaborate!
Soft Predicament 3/5 This future society is segregated to the extreme. The world is separated into a 'developed' and 'undeveloped' part. One part of the world is technology more advanced (but lacks humanity) while the other is human but in a more primitive sense (their world is one big chaos). The protagonist of the story is a man who could be described as racist (he hates the undeveloped part of the population) but while working on a project that feeds dreams into some kind of a machine and works on figuring out the human unconsciousness, he comes to realize that the machine doesn't work because they are feeding it only the data of the 'developed' population. Does this means he has seen the error of his ways? The whole dream and subconscious part of this story was interesting, but it was still a bit painful to read.
As for Our Fatal Continuity 3/5 A very short story, only a few pages long. It is basically an obituary, written for a fictional future artist, the last one of its kind. We don't know who writes the obituary but from 'his' descriptions and musings, we get a fascinating view of a future society. What will be like to be an artist in the future? A bit intellectual in tone but very amusing, this short story was an easy and an interesting read.
Send Her Victorious 3/5 This story is set in a future society where Earth is over populated and the protagonists are a group of individuals trying to prove that human history actually started with queen Victoria. Yes, you read that right. Queen Victoria is controlling everything from some parallel Universe. There are quite a few Freud references in this one and some good points in regards to sociology. The author even managed to write a decent psychological portrait of some of the characters (not the easiest thing to do in a short story). However, the whole story seems too chaotic, there is too much going on and the feeling of isolation seems overwhelming. On overall, it is a terribly depressive and bleak story despite it having an interesting set of characters. I can't say that I enjoyed it too much and the ending pretty much ruined it for me.
To conclude, this is a very interesting collection of science fiction stories and I do recommend it.
ISAAC ASIMOV, FROM EARTH TO HEAVEN, 4/5
From Earth To Heaven is a non fiction collection of essays by Isaac Asimov. If you're into science or just enjoy reading intelligently written essays, then this is a book for you. Does it ever happen to you that you start reading a book and you just know that you're going to love it? As much as I don't like judging the book by its cover, the wonderful cover of this book really caught my attention. Moreover, the introduction to this book was so good it send tingles of pleasure down my spine. All that stuff about poetry and science really got to me. I like how Asimov shows that there can be beauty and poetry in science. After all, isn't science at its core about freedom of thought? Does not science spring from longing for truth? Isn't science in its essence poetical? What is even better this beautiful introduction was followed by quite a few interesting essays. Some of these articles I found endlessly fascinating, some quite interesting and some a bit less interesting. However, taken as a whole, From Earth to Heaven was a very enjoyable read. I probably won't surprise anyone by saying that my favourite essay in the book was the one about science fiction. 'Future?Tense!' I believe it was called. In this article, Asimov speaks about his future predication but also about why science fiction is important. Asimov had some really good arguments in that one, 'upon my honor as a science fiction fan'.
I must admit that some of the less 'interesting' articles took some effort to get through. Sometimes Asimov seemed a bit self-indulgent in choosing his topics and going about them. You can tell that he wrote many of this essays for himself. Not that I blame him, if someone paid me to write about thing I found interesting, I would jumped at the chance. Still, it can get a bit tiresome at times. Not just because I don't care or don't agree with some of the arguments ( for example I don't see the point in organizing Nobel winners by the language that is used at the University they studied at ) because we can't always be on the same page, but because I feel like I'm a being a bit ignored as a reader. Despite being really good at presenting and organizing facts, Asimov doesn't always engage the reader in this book, at times he just sort of wonders of. So, yes some of these essays weren't all that, but the rest more than made up for it. Besides Asimov is charming even when he is a but self-indulgent. It is a pleasure to read him. Asimov had a beautifully curious mind and I always end up enjoying his works, even non fiction ones. I can definitely recommend this book!
ROBERT A. HEINLEIN, THE NUMBER OF THE BEAST 3/5
It was bound to happen sooner or later. The first novel by Heinlein that I'm not crazy about. I did enjoy The Number of the Beast, but not as much as I hoped for. I think I would have enjoyed it a great deal more if this novel had been shorter. This novel felt overwritten, self-indulgent and repetitive at times. Sure, there was much to like, such as an interesting cast of characters and fantastically written dialogues, but even the things I liked were dulled with repetition. The story itself is pretty good. A mad scientist Jacob (mad as in temperamental not clinically insane) invests a time machine. With the help of his beautiful daughter D.T (named after the fictional princess heroine of Mars- you know the one from the cult pulp Barsoom series?), Jacob gets away with his bad character. Soon Jacob gets a brilliant man for a son in law and ends up marrying a family friend, aunt Hilda. Together they must run for their lives because some dangerous aliens know about Jacob's invention and so the adventure begins.
As much as I initially reading about this close nit family, soon I got a bit tired of them, for no other reason then they felt overwritten and the the story started to drag. Turns out you can have too much of the good things. I caught myself loosing interest in the dialogues, as clever as they were at times. Honestly, why did that whole episode placed in an alternative dimension ruled by the Russian Tsar and British Empire world took so long, if not to allow Heinlein time to bully us with his Russophobia. It is not like it had any significance for the story- not that I can tell. When Heinlein finally started introducing new elements into that episode, and I thought some kind of moral or plot development would come from it, Heinlein just dropped it and headed to Oz. Not that I don't like Oz, but come on. The novel did get better with time but towards the end I started to loose interest in it. Maybe I wasn't able to follow it all the way to the end despite my effort?
Were there any deep ideas that I missed? I'm not sure, but Heinlein seemed quite repetitive about some of his ideas in this one and what is worse he goes on and on about them. I don't mind his preaching when it is somehow relevant or at least fascinating but he just recycled some of his old favs here (you know free love and all that). Yes, I'm sure that nudism is quite therapeutic (in warm climates) but must you talk about it non stop? Is that the only thing that defines a society, the lack or the presence of clothing taboos? Speaking of which, be prepared for incest talk...and you might want to know that certain Lazarus makes an appearance and you know what that means- more incest and sex talk but nothing concrete. The story itself is a bit all over the place. If it is primarily a time machine why do they use it almost exclusively to explore other words? Who are the dark hatters? On the other hand, I have to admit that the novel often does makes sense, especially for such a mixed story. Moreover, I can appreciate Heinlein's efforts to show how bad-ass and intelligent female protagonists can be. Aunt Hilda is quite a character. I liked how out of the four of them, Hilda proved herself the best captain. I also enjoyed all that talk about responsibility and the load that comes with being a CO, that was some good food for the thought, but still something was lacking.
Nevertheless, The Number of The Beast is definitely not one of my favourite works by Heinlein, possibly because he expressed a lot of his ideas I was already familiar with. So, I suppose that I didn't find them that interesting this time around. Not that I wouldn't recommend it. It is definitely a good science fiction work. I can see how a fan of Heinlein might enjoy it a lot. I can also see how it might go the other way around and cause boredom (as it did in my case). Similarly, I can see how someone not familiar with Heinlein's writing might like it and find his ideas as fresh as I once did. I can also see how someone might hate just about everything about this novel. It could go either way and that's the nature of the Universe. Anything that can happen will happen and quite possibly it is happening as we speak- in multiple dimensions. That is what this book taught me. Anything is possible.
ROBERT A.HEINLEIN, BEYOND THIS HORIZON 4/5
The blurb on the cover implies this is an adventure story set in a future. In reality, the plot is hardly relevant at all, as this novel serves mostly as a way for Heinlein to express his ideas. I haven't read the blurb on the cover until after I had finished Beyond This Horizon, but if I had I would have probably been mislead into expecting a more dramatic story. Not that there isn't a dramatic story. The protagonist Felix does have to fight for his life, love and freedom. While Felix spies on a secret society that wants to take over the well organized society he lives in, there are bullets and deadly rays fired, lives lost, love interested aroused and all that. However, all those things happenings are just a means to the end. I got a feeling that the plot was there only as a pretense for Heinlein to develop his ideas. I might be wrong, but I don't think I am.
Similarly, the cast of characters is written in much the same way. Beyond This Horizon is anything but a character or a plot driven novel. The characters are the typical Heinlein superhuman types and I didn't find myself particularly interested in them. I was more interested in their (well better say- Heinlein's ideas). Beyond This Horizon is quite a philosophical work. Now, that I think of it, Heinlein often uses word building and dystopia societies to put his ideas through. Beyond This Horizon is a fine novel in the sense that it offers plenty food for the mind.
So, is there anything I didn't like? Quite a few details rubbed me the wrong way, but perhaps that is understandable since the writer belonged to another era and to a culture somewhat foreign to me. There is this other thing. The more I read of Heinlein, the more predictable his novels seem to become. That is only to be expected and perhaps not a fault of the author as such. Still, I find myself not enjoying his works as much as I did. These days, I often see and notice things in his writing that bug me. However, his ideas stay interesting even when he gets a bit preachy and repetitive (and he can be quite a preacher).
Heinlein does get a bit repetitive with many arguments, especially with his pro-arm arguments. It takes more space in the novel that it needs to. It is an argument that is repeated ad nauseaum and ultimately gets boring, even if a person agrees with: “An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life.” I personally don't see it that way, although that part about how the police shouldn't be better armed or more willing to fight for the right thing than its citizens- I can see how that makes sense. Any government that doesn't teaches or allows its citizens to carry or use weapons shows that it doesn't trust them one bit (and possibly also that it wants to hold them under tight control). Handing weapons to everyone doesn't seem like a realistic idea in our day and time, but in certain societies it could work. Similarly, some other ideas are explored in too much detail. I would have loved to read more about economics, for that is one problem we as human race have yet to serve. So, even the philosophical aspect of the novel had some small issues. Nevertheless, Beyond This Horizon remains an interesting and though provoking book. I'm glad I've read it. Would I recommend it? I would, especially to fans of Heinlein.
As always thank you for reading and commenting. Let me know what you are reading or doing at the moment! Are you ready for the new season that is approaching or are you missing summer already?