Wednesday, July 27, 2005

22. The IF Reader of Science Fiction edited by Frederik Pohl

Though a collection of short stories by different authors, it was bound in book format and was book length, so I'm counting it! The IF Reader is an anthology of the best stories of 1962 from IF magazine. They represent many of the major authors of the period, A.E. Van Vogt, John Brunner, Fritz Leiber, Fred Saberhagen. They were all fairly light, better read for their speculations and concepts than an involving story or deep theme (though, as always in sci-fi, many interesting human themes were present, just not touched on in depth in short story format). All pretty fun and light. Glad I passed the time with it. Probably, if I knew more about the history of science fiction literature, I would be able to put these stories in context better.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

21. The Golden Spruce by John Vaillant

The Golden Spruce book picture
Non-fiction book #2!

This is the true story of a giant golden spruce in the Queen Charlotte Islands, a genetic freak, tourist attraction and sacred symbol to the Haida people, that was cut down by an ex-logger turned environmentalist. Grant Hadwin's story is the center narrative for an excellent history of the region and logging and wood production in the world.

It's not totally clear why Hadwin cut the tree down, but part of it was his outrage that this tree was protected while the rest of the Queen Charlottes was basically clearcut. He was angry about the little symbolic patches of trees that the big logging companies saved to show their concern for the environment. He didn't seem to know the power that the symbol held for the Haida people (who basically want to kill him now) and showed signs of mental instability.

It's an interesting and sad story, but it's the incredible greed and waste that surrounds the story, and the strong sense of the power of human consumption, that makes this book so compelling. I know this is my opinion already, but when you read about how the region was first completely raked clean of sea otters (for their fur), then of species after species of tree (starting from the best and biggest, to the smaller and lower quality), it really drives home how incredibly out of control we are as a species and how terribly we handle the planet. We are like rats that have taken over the house, are reproducing out of control and consuming anything and everything in our path. Foul creatures.

We can write some good books, though! And I strongly recommend the Golden Spruce.

Monday, July 11, 2005

20. The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dick

The 3 Stigmata book pictureFound this one in a box on the street. I've read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Ubik, but years ago, so I was curious about getting a better sense of Dick's writing.

My first reaction after finishing it was further annoyance at these snobby pseudo-intellectuals (like Margaret Atwood) who make this forced distinction between Science Fiction and Speculative Fiction, the former being considered adolescent and the latter somehow literature, because they supposedly deal with complex human themes that the former doesn't touch. All of the science fiction books that I have read this year have been very philosophical, with explorations of god, man's perception of himself and the meaning of existence.

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch starts out in a future world where the earth is overheated to the point that living things can't go out in the day without dying. The wealthy take evolution therapy and the poor are slowly recruited to be colonists on distant planets. The colony effort is basically to get the people off of earth and is considered a punishment. Physical survival is not an issue, but morale is as most of the colonists just sit around and mope on their bleary, depressing planets. Their only escape is a drug called Can-D that puts them into an alternate fantasy earth reality. However, for the drug to work they need to have precise miniatures of the world they are going to enter. The biggest industry on Earth is the production of these miniatures and the drug.

That's the setting. The plot is quite complex and very open to interpretation. I think it's about an invasion of a single, powerful alien being in the personification of Palmer Eldritch, a space explorer who is trying to set up a new drug called Chew-Z that's supposedly way better than Can-D. The book is about the employees of the Can-D company trying to stop him. But because it's constantly dealing with alternate realities, it's difficult to figure out what's real and what's in the drug world and by the end, the two have blurred together. Plus, many of the colonists equate the use of Can-D with a religious experience, so there are all kinds of discussion of translation and transubstantiation.

It's quickly paced and has some interesting ideas. Dick does have a strong sense of the malleability of our reality and he plays well with that in his writing. He is also able to create a future with some big, crazy ideas and not get caught up in the tone and culture of the time he's writing in. I'll pick up another one of his novels in a bit.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

19. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

Stranger in a Strange Land book pictureIt's obviously a science fiction classic and one that I've been meaning to read for a long time. I have to say that I really didn't like it very much. I'm sure there is a lot of contextual information of which I'm ignorant that would help me appreciate the book more and I'm also sure that it hasn't aged well (which is not necessarily a valid criticism of a work of art). I found it to be inconsistently structured, with long passages of conversation that were basically philosophical musings interspersed with short narrative steps forward. The philosophy was very annoying for me because most of it was relayed through the voice of Jubal Harshaw who talked like Travis McGhee. He had that early 60s american hip style where nobody can seem to say anything in a straightforward manner. There always has to be some clever little joke, exaggeration or sarcasm. And since all the philosophy was about human sexual relations, it didn't help that it was totally sexist. This free love perfect world seemed based on the idea that all the women were young and beautiful, playful and willing to do anything the men asked. They still cook the dinner even though all you have to do is push a button! And Michael's perfect world of free love, which all the characters in the book perfectly accept, had absolutely no room for homosexuality. Very convenient, indeed.

Perhaps this book was a real wake-up call to audiences of the late '50s. But today, it seemed like unsophisticated and self-indulgent rambings about north american sexual mores.