Tag Archives: sci-fi

REVIEW: IN OTHER WORDS: SF AND THE HUMAN IMAGINATION

In Other Worlds: SF and the Human ImaginationIn Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a neat little collection of Margaret Atwood’s history in the field of science fiction. It’s split into three parts:

1) Her thoughts on science (speculative?) fiction and the persistent problem of defining the genre; thoughts on how science fiction is a continuation of much older, mythological sorts of fiction; commentaries on her early life in rural Canada, what made her move into the field and inspired her to write the novels that marked her career.

2) Reviews, articles and talks she’s written and given over the years on seminal works and writers such as The Island of Dr Moreau and H. G. Wells, Nineteen Eighty-four, Animal Farm and George Orwell, Brave New World and Aldous Huxley, She and H. Rider Haggard, The Birthday of the World and Ursula K. Le Guin (her name is seriously pronounced “gwin”?) and others.

3) A selection of her own short stories, some of which I remembered from reading Bones and Murder some weeks ago.

Listening to this wise old lady speak of her long life and pose difficult questions about SF in general was very pleasing for the mind. I also found it quite revealing, and I’m hardly versed in her work. If you are more familiar with it than I, you know what to do.

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REVIEW: NEVER LET ME GO

Never Let Me GoNever Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Read this on my phone.

 

This book is quite remarkable. For more than half of it it gives off very few clues on what it’s all about, what these weird kids were doing cordoned off in a special school somewhere in a remote corner of an apparently alt-universe England. You go through their lives through Kathy’s -the protagonist’s- memories, which are incomplete, the possibility always hanging that her memory’s playing tricks on her. She says so herself. And if we don’t grow fond of the characters per se, it’s because there’s something terrible about them being left unsaid, politely ignored. It is something that makes people surrounding them, their “guardians” in that odd sub-space Hogwarts, cry when these children inadvertently show emotion and, say, sing and dance to Judy Bridgewater’s Never Let Me Go I’ve added above – a song that doesn’t strictly exist in our timeline, mind you. I’ll let you unfurl its story on your own.

The whole style of the book was reminiscent of Murakami. Is it a Japanese thing or is my mind playing tricks on me pigeonholing Ishiguro precisely on the basis that both authors are Japanese? But wait a second: more-or-less short and simple sentences, matter-of-fact, every-day situations, relationship- and memory-focused narrative… maybe it’s not just me.

Anyway. Once the secret of the book is revealed, just as matter-of-factly as anything else the characters might be talking about, the genius of Never Let Me Go is truly made clear; I can’t recall ever reading a story with less hand-holding on its central premise, such slow exposition and thus such complete suspension of disbelief. So I’m left here thinking that Its story is precisely what would happen if what’s true in the book was true in real life. And as a wanna-be writer of a similar kind of fiction, I can think of no praise more sincere.

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REVIEW: HOW TO LIVE SAFELY IN A SCIENCE FICTIONAL UNIVERSE

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional UniverseHow to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I read this on my phone.

Hey look! A novel about a guy in a corporate time machine killing/getting killed by his future/past self and getting all paradoxanalytical about it! That’s a word I just invented, by the way. It describes the way a lot of science fiction novels try to express and explain paradox just by throwing more words at you. It sort of works like writing a recipe for a cake just by using the chemical compounds and formulas involved, complete with instructions using moles for ingredient mass and the Kelvin scale for when it’s time for the cake to hit the oven.

Let’s get back to the book. It was just a ceaseless bout of self-reference. The premise was interesting and the writing had some inspired moments idea-wise, at least when it didn’t come out as narrated by a completely socially incompetent nerd – which the protagonist actually was, by the way… huh, maybe he was a well-written character after all and not just mirroring Mr. Yu himself… It didn’t take long, however, for all the meta to become too much for me. That and the oddly-used jargon too rigid to peer through, or the “science fiction” part of the story too often spoken about, described, but not represented in an engaging or memorable way. “Oh, this machine has permitted the existence, trademarking and patenting of entire universes”. Sounds great, it does, but where did you go with that Mr. YU?

It all felt like reading the diary of a Companion Cube (yes, I’m old) that suddenly through some bug in Portal’s code (the 2007 game we all loved) turned into a sentient hypercube and got existential agony. I respect the cube’s feelings but, yeah, I have no idea what being a hypercube would or should feel like. The protagonist was human, but his feelings came off as little more than the hearts the Companion Cubes have painted on them in Portal. Programmed into him, just like they were programmed into them, and just like they were programmed into the couple of sentient-like operating systems he had in his TARDIS – I mean time machine – I mean TARDIS; it even says in the book the time machine had the shape and size of a phone booth. Come on.

While in theory I should have enjoyed reading page after page of convoluted twisting thoughts on the paradoxical nature of time as part of the physical world and then some, I just couldn’t get into it.

Yes, left-brained. This book was left-brained through and through.

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