Friday, January 29, 2016

The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury

The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury

Like all great works of literature, Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles works on a number of levels. It is a portrait of the time in which it was written, it is a forward pointing lens through which we can examine our present and future, and a testament to the ages long gone. In other words, it is simultaneously timeless and a relic of its own time.

At its core, it is a collection of thematically connected short stories detailing the journey of humankind from Earth to the newly established colonies of Mars. Like The Grapes of Wrath, and other works dealing with migration and immigration, it is full of hardships, turmoil, small and great accomplishments, and a uniquely American spirit of rugged individualism, and the folly of our American Exceptionalism, and a sense of longing for something better and different in the face of hardship.

However, because of its SF roots, it can examine these themes without the presence of any boundaries whatsoever.  Bradbury explores elements of the immigrant story, of racism, of nationalism, and of humanity’s undying spirit of adventure, with such devices as rocket ships, futuristic weapons, an alien POV of religion, ghosts, shape changers, and all manner of the phantastique. By invoking these elements of mythology, fantasy and science fiction, The Martian Chronicles becomes an even more complete and important work of literature in the way that it connects with its readers on the levels of other “important” works while also being an exciting and entertaining pulp adventure.

No matter how many times I read this volume, its power is never even slightly diminished. The bleakness, mystery, imagination, and prose will remain forever a landmark in the world of not just science fiction, but in the greater literary world outside the realms of genre.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Einstein Intersection, by Samuel R. Delany

The Einstein Intersection, by Samuel R. Delany

When I first read Dhalgren, also by Delany, I was surprised to discover how much Gene Wolfe had cribbed for his Book of the New Sun.

Now, after finishing The Einstein Intersection, I am beginning to think that Wolfe might just be a Delaney impersonator.

Between the two books, Delany covers much of the same ground as Wolfe in the way that he examines, subverts, builds up and destroys our past and present mythologies, while simultaneously building his own. In The Einstein Intersection, Delany juxtaposes science fiction with fantasy and the myths of Orpheus and Eurydice with Elvis and the Beatles, and Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett, all set in a post-post apocalyptic setting in which a race of aliens with unstable genetic codes have usurped humanity's place on Earth. To describe the plot in any kind of cohesive detail would take a feat of mental gymnastics that I am unprepared for at this time, nor would the effort do the work justice. There is a ton of stuff crammed into this short 130 page novel.

To put it simply: it's a total mind-melter.

It's also poetic and beautiful, violent and nasty, and simultaneously mean and uplifting. There were more than a dozen times in which I put the book down just to think about a certain idea or phrase, and it is ultimately rewarding and thought-provoking. Also, like Dhalgren, I'll be thinking about this one a lot, and plan to re-read it in the near future.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Rise from the Grave!

I haven't done as much reading as I would have liked to over the past 2 years. I also haven't done as much writing.

I will remedy both of these problems in 2016.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Joyleg, by War Moore and Avram Davidson

Joyleg is the story of an old bootlegger who has lived on an $11 a month pension for....a couple hundred years. Just who is Joyleg, how old is he, and of what war is he a veteran?

Joyleg is basically a political satire (a "folly" it states inside its pages) with a slight SFF premise to work as a Macguffin - with "slight" being the key word. It also states on the copyright page that the novel was previously published in a magazine as a shorter version, and I have a feeling that the short story version is the one to read. It's all pleasant enough, and some of the folksy charm and comedy is genuinely good, but there just isn't enough there to warrant much of a recommendation.

While reading, I kept waiting for something surprising to happen, but the whole thing plays out exactly how I thought it would, by the numbers. Granted, that in and of itself isn't grounds for dismissal (I'm not one to criticize something just for being predictable), but I expected more great things from two SF greats (Moore and Davidson).

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Redbeard, by Michael Resnick

Redbeard takes place in the post-apocalyptic American East Coast, and details the struggles between the mutants born from the atomic fallout, and the Normans (the normal people who survived). The titular character is a hotheaded, savage blowhard too stupid to realize that he's being played by both sides of the conflict, and just street-smart, battle-hardened and lucky enough to survive and somehow rise in the political and social ranks of the ruling lords.

It's not a great book by any stretch, but it is a fun read. It's brash and violent, like a mix between Conan and the Horse Clan books with Groo the Wanderer in the lead role. I wouldn't seek it out, but if you stumble across a copy you could spend your time with worse books.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Circus of Dr. Lao, by Charles G. Finney

I was just talking about this book last night with my good friend Aaron. Turns out, it was the best book he read in 2013. It was my favorite book the year I read it as well.

Even today Finney's cryptic work of mind-expanding weird fiction is forward thinking and totally, absolutely, to-its-very-core bizarre and wild.

This thing is like an epic force of speculative fiction, one that stands head and shoulders above 99% of genre fiction.

I'm due for a re-read in 2014, and an all-new review. For now, just enjoy this awesome cover, and if you haven't read the book yet do whatever it takes to secure a copy. Just be prepared to have your mind blown.

I think it's time to admit....

I think it's time that I admit to myself and the world that I simply do not dig John Brunner's writing. I've tried - multiple times now - to read his seminal works (Stand on Zanzibar, Sheep Look Up, Jagged Orit), and each time I am faced with a work I find to be devoid of plot, character, and dramatic tension.

In each of these books, Brunner seems to go out of his way to not tell a story, to be purposefully obtuse, and without any strong characterizations it's nearly impossible to remember which name belongs with which person, or what any of the characters are even doing. And this opinion is coming from someone who greatly enjoys experimental fiction and non-traditional story telling.

So maybe I should try some of Brunner's earlier works, some of his more straight-forward SF. Perhaps it's just his new wave stuff that I don't dig. I don't know, and, to tell you the truth, I'm not too keen on the idea of seeking something else out.

If you have any suggestions let me know, and I might try to track something down. But as it stands now, I think I'm done with Brunner.