Posts Tagged ‘Science Fiction’


Sunday, 28 August 2011
Cover of "In High Places (Crosstime Traff...

Cover of In High Places (Crosstime Traffic)

111. In High Places by Harry Turtledove

I just read this book this weekend and I enjoyed it a lot. It’s a science-fiction novel for young adults (notably YA only in that the main characters are teenagers and there’s no bad language – it’s a good book with some really big issues in it) set 100/150 years in our future where a means of transferring between alternate realities has been found. A teenage girl and her parents (completely secular Jews) go to an alternate where the Black Death killed off far more of Christian Europe’s population, and thus the Muslims were never pushed out of Spain and now hold southern France as well. Europe is only now getting towards the beginning of a Renaissance and technologically is medieval. Since Jews are as badly considered in that world as they were in our medieval Europe, this family is acting as Muslim traders, and to fit into that world they are fully covered, with the women including face veils.

There are lots of different issues in the book, with slavery, tolerance and whistle-blowing some of the big ones, and covering only a minor one, but it’s fairly sympathetically covered at that.

Annette/Khadijia accepts her veil as a costume that she’s not especially fond of, but she realises quickly that her face covering is the only real difference from what the local Christian women are wearing, and that for a trader it can be quite useful to have her face covered in negociations, and that it’s not so terrible or derogatory as she’d previously have thought. Then when she and others are taken prisoner and forced to remove their veils she doesn’t mind the removal all that much, but the other women are shown as being horrified, and feeling practically stripped naked by the loss of something they’ve worn for years/life.

All in all I thought the book addressed the negatives and positives of its various issues well, and in a way to provoke thought. Those who are careful about what their kids read may well want to read it themselves first, but I doubt it’s one for anyone to reject out of hand.

False expectations

Wednesday, 18 May 2011
Cover of 2001 hardcover edition

Image via Wikipedia

31. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin

That’s basically what this book is about, and sums up what I previously knew of Le Guin’s work: practically nothing besides that she is well known for her fantasy writing.

In this classic of science fiction Le Guin really tackles issues of gender, stereotyping and cultural clashes. Genly Ai, our main narrator (although several chapters are by other major or minor characters, all in the form of official reports in one form or another) is the only alien on the planet known to outsiders as Winter, since it’s deep in an Ice Age, or locally as Gethen. He is openly there as the ambassador of the Ekumen, a loose federation of the known worlds with human-like life, and trying to negotiate the local etiquette and politics with particular difficulty because he just can’t get used to the fact that Winter’s natives are hermaphrodite, and spend most of their lives without gender. They are sexually active only cyclicly, and during any cycle may ‘turn’ either male or female. A temporary female who becomes pregnant will remain so until she has and then weans her child but will not necessarily be so again. Many Gethenians are mother to some of their children and father to others, with the distinction meaning little or nothing beyond infancy.

Genly knows intellectually that his constant instinctive attempts to assign male or female-ness to the people he meets are both useless and counter-productive, but even after some years there he can’t do it, and this will become just part of his downfall.

First published in 1969, the novel gets to openly discuss issues of gender, sexuality (including homosexuality and bisexuality), marriage and family relationships as well as those of culture clash and relative value. It took me awhile to get into the story (DH did not have that problem though) but it was definitely worth the read for simple enjoyment even beyond the thought-provocation. Recommended.

Down the side of the bed

Monday, 16 May 2011
The Speed of Dark

Image via Wikipedia

I read in bed quite a lot. It’s something I’ve always done, and it goes together quite well with a baby who doesn’t like to sleep without a parent next to her. I usually have a few on the go, piled on the top corner of the bed (in a corner of the room) and occasionally one or two fall down the side, from where I fish them out as I realise they’re missing. The bed got jogged out of place this morning, however, and when I went to retrieve the avalanche I realised that there were a few older escapees. To be unnoticed as missing these were ones I hadn’t actually got into, and sometimes hadn’t even started, but had just thought might be interesting. Anyway, I thought I’d list them here, with comments on how I’m getting on with them. (The order is just as they were piled.)

The ones I really wasn’t reading will probably go back on the shelf for now, but renoticing them has got me intrigued by some of them again. Watch this space to see which ones make it to the ‘Read’ lists…

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon

Unstarted, although it looks interesting. Looks a bit different from the other science-fiction I’ve been reading of late.

Cover of

Cover of Farewell, My Queen

Farewell, My Queen by Chantal Thomas

About three-quarters of the way through this novel of the last days French royal court in July 1789, and enjoying it quite a lot.

Cover of "The Green Flag: A history of Ir...

Cover via Amazon

The Green Flag: A History of Irish Nationalism by Robert Kee

While this officially covers the history right from the 12th century it really picks up the detail from the mid-17th century. I’m up to the late 18th century, approaching but not yet at the 1798 rebellion.

The Little Girl Book by David Laskin and Kathleen O’Neill

A rather different approach to a parenting book than I’ve come across before, this discusses the complicated issue of bringing up little girls while negotiating the stereotypes and sexism of our societies. The book was published in 1992, so still seeing how it stands up two decades later to my own opinions. Definitely interesting, though.

Cover of "Byzantium Endures"

Cover of Byzantium Endures

Byzantium Endures by Michael Moorcock

The two or three chapters I’ve read of this so far are decidedly odd. I’ll give it more time gradually and hope it grabs my attention. I wasn’t enjoying it all that much, and yet it was somewhat compelling.



People of Darkness by Tony Hillerman

I got side-tracked from the Hillerman books, but will get back to them. (I’d better, seeing as I ordered the entire set on Bookmooch!) I’d read a chapter or so of this one, but would probably restart from the beginning.

The Sea Wolf by Jack London

I haven’t read any London since I was seven, and read White Fang in one sitting (staying with my grandparents I picked it up off their shelves to sustain me through a long morning meeting of my grandmother’s). I’m still in the introduction here, and I hadn’t realised what a fascinating life the author himself had.

Cover of How I Came West

Cover of How I Came West

How I Came West, and Why I Stayed by Alison Baker

A rather bizarre collection of often fantastical (but always so far set in modern-day USA) stories that I’m enjoying so long as I read each story in a single sitting, as they can be hard to keep track of after a break.

I don’t think I’ve read a collection of stories that was neither from one of the orthodox Jewish publishers nor aimed at children in an absolute age. (These are definitely not for children, although not crude, just for adults.) I’m enjoying the different perspective, and wondering why the general market avoids them so much.

Med Ship by Murray Leinster

I think this is a compilation of a lot of stories and novellas Leinster set in the same universe, but which aren’t always about the same characters, but I’m not far enough in to be sure.

Cover of China WitnessChina Witness by Xinran

More academic in its feel than the other books by Xinran I’ve read, this offers a very broad sweep of 20th century experience in China, as told by the survivors and thrivers of that period, an apparently reticent and now elderly generation. Each chapter, about a different person or small group, is relatively short, and tends to leave me wanting more, but that’s not a bad thing.

Wisdom of the Fox by Harry Turtledove

I don’t know why I haven’t got into this, seeing as I’ve been enjoying Turtledove’s alternate histories so much. I think I wasn’t really in the mood for what appeared to be more classic fantasy. I’ll try again at some point.

Cover of Wild Swans

Cover of Wild Swans

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang

The first book about Chinese history I read. That was as a teenager, shortly after it first came out, and with all the Xinran I’ve been reading I thought I should go back to this one too. I’m picking up on details I certainly hadn’t remembered, partly because I’m older and partly because I do know a bit more about China now and can make more sense of what was going on (not that it’s badly explained in the book, but there’s only so much context a writer can be expected to give). Still looking for other modern writers on the country.

Don’t read this while pregnant

Monday, 9 May 2011
Cover of "Darwin's Radio"

Cover of Darwin's Radio

That was my husband’s advice about this book (not that we had it while I was, but I think he was pleased about that himself, to be honest).

66. Darwin’s Radio by Greg Bear

This is one of those science-fiction stories which demand the acceptance of a big premise to work, and in this case it’s a bit too easy to pick holes in that premise as presented, particularly in the first half of the book. Weirdly enough, even though I didn’t find the science to be well defended until the second half, it was only really then that there started to be real emotional weight for me either. There are hugely emotive events and ideas at play throughout the book, and yet in the first half we really only meet stereotypically detached (and often very cynical) scientists and administrators. If my DH hadn’t previously intrigued me about the story and the issues raised I’m really not sure I’d have got far enough to engage with the book.

Not that the second half is perfect either. While the original premises are explained, developed and justified (somewhat), new and completely fantastical ones are introduced, and the romantic/familial storyline is brought to a climax just at the end of the book, without a satisfactory conclusion, in my opinion. That storyline seems a set-up for a sequel, which apparently does exist, but which I haven’t come across. I’d probably read it if I came across it, but not go out of my way to do so.

The elephants are coming!!!

Monday, 4 April 2011

Image via Wikipedia

45. Footfall by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

This is a fun SF alien invaders novel where the authors know the basic premise has been DONE umpteen gazillion times before, but are out to have fun with it anyway.

So, we have a variety of representative characters from among the invaders, the military and US civilians. We’re told this is a worldwide invasion, and get reactions to things that happen elsewhere, but we’re only shown the USA and a bit of Soviet Russia, this being from the Cold War era. This multiple unconnected POV set-up seems to be common to war novels, in my experience, as a way to show a broad spectrum of what’s going on. (In most cases by the end of the novel there is a loose web of connections between all/most of the POV characters.)

I really haven’t read that many alien invasion novels (yet – they seem to be coming through…) but I enjoyed this one quite a bit. The scenario fits together, and the characterisations and opposing cultures do too. The idea of the invading Fithp being a thoroughly herd-based society not able to understand the invididuality of humans at all works, and their herd culture is fleshed out. My quibble is that they don’t really seem to take much or any interest in Earth’s elephants, that they resemble so much, although those are mentioned.

Still, despite them nearly all being Americans we do get a reasonable range of human characters, between different branches of the military, politicians, journalists, survivalists, loners and others, as well as both influential members of the invasion fleet (including their leader and their main specialists on humans) and their foot soldiers. Ultimately, it’s the level of understanding of the enemy, or the lack of it, that will win or lose this war, and leave the humans in charge or chains.

Gentle Fun

Friday, 4 February 2011
Cover of "Firebirds Rising: An Anthology ...

Cover via Amazon

I just heard about this tonight and read it in one sitting (at 43 pages, free and online, it’s somewhere between a short story and a novella, in my opinion). I haven’t yet listened to the audio version on PodCastle (my DH got us downloading  EscapePod, which I nearly always enjoy, its SF sister awhile back, but I hadn’t ventured into the fantasy version yet), but I will.

16. In the House of the Seven Librarians by Ellen Klages

This is a great story, especially for the librarians among us. It plays upon all the library stereotypes and brings out all the magic libraries have to offer. I’m quite surprised I hadn’t come across it before, to be honest. This is the tale of seven librarians in a closed library and the little girl left on their doorstep. It’s absolutely worth the read (or listen) if you like books at all. (And why you’d be reading this blog if you didn’t I have no idea.)

This has been published in Klages‘ book, Portable Childhoods, as well as in Firebirds Rising, an anthology of works by different authors.

In the middle of the night

Sunday, 7 November 2010
Cover of "Dolphin Island"

Cover of Dolphin Island

Can’t sleep, so might as well blog, right?

51. Dolphin Island by Arthur C. Clarke

This book opens with Johnny, the protagonist, being woken in the middle of the night, and going to investigate the unusual disturbance. Which wasn’t necessarily so clever, but does work out well enough for him, since through several unexpected events he ends up living on Dolphin Island, a dolphin research station on the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia (he started well inland in the USA), and making a new and much happier life for himself there.

This is one from my DH’s extensive collection of mid-20th century science fiction, and is apparently one of Clarke’s few specifically YA novels. It’s about the the new (then) field of research into dolphin communication, and assumes this field would get far further than I’ve ever heard about it doing so far. It’s not bad, but not as good as I might have hoped, either. For a novel from the 1960s, set over half a century into the future, it’s also too noticeable that we only meet one human female character at all (although she is a figure of respect and status within the community, as the island’s nurse and medical expert, and a very nice person) and the only others referred to (Johnny’s aunt, Professor Kazan’s wife) are portrayed rather negatively. The cetacean females get a far better deal!

Of course, I’m perhaps unfairly somewhat put off by the fact that Clarke doesn’t appear to have considered what might have happened in the oceans by the time of his future setting, so there is absolutely no issue of pollution or over-fishing to deal with, nor any recognition of other problems cetaceans might potentially have with human behaviour (such as noise pollution).

I’m certainly not put off Clarke’s writing style, but will have to find some of his books better than this one to become a real fan.

This machine nearly stopped

Sunday, 14 February 2010

(Our router reset itself this evening, and had it taken too much longer to sort out, I mightn’t have got a blog post in tonight, which would have put me out of NaBloPoMo again. However, here I still am, for now!)

More from 2009:

69. The Machine Stops by E. M. Forster

I had a bit of déjà vu listening to this, so it is possible I had previously read or heard this, but if so it was a long time ago. I don’t think of Forster as a science fiction author, being more familiar with A Room with a View and his other turn of the (nineteenth) century novels. This is a well-plotted and thought out sci-fi story, however, and I may have to seek any more such of his. It warns of the dangers of becoming so dependent on machine interventions with the world that we lose the point in life, and is a timely occasional reminder!

Addictive Books…

Thursday, 12 November 2009

I actually have some new stash and crocheting I should show you, but I’m too tired to take and upload the pictures now, so I’ll just discuss the next book on the list.

56. Dune by Frank Herbert

This was another recommendation from my DH‘s library, and I enjoyed it, for the most part. I had a few quibbles (especially the wrapping up in the last page and a half – and I mean that literally – it should either have been longer or left out) but for the most part it’s well put together, even though the three parts to the novel could hang together better. The addictive Spice of Dune is what inspired the post title.


Sunday, 8 November 2009

And so to my first forays into my husband’s library (which is great, but I’m still looking forward to the rest of my books arriving)! He does have lots of classic science fiction I haven’t come across before, however…

53. Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper
54. Fuzzy Sapiens by H. Beam Piper
55. Fuzzies and Other People by H. Beam Piper

I’ve been dithering between writing about these individually or together, but seem to have chosen to do them together. Even just two months after reading them altogether it becomes difficult to necessarily be distinct about exactly what happens in each novel. (The whole series covers only a few months.)

Still, I really enjoyed the complete story. Yes, there are a lot of attitudes and practices that are decidedly dated and uncomfortable these days (let alone however many millennia into the future the series is supposed to be set), but it’s of the time it was written (the 1960s, although the third book was lost on Piper’s death, and not found and published until 1984, by which time other authors had written some versions of their own – William Tuning‘s Fuzzy Bones is coming up on the list shortly) and there is recognition that some of these attitudes could and/or should be challenged, even if it isn’t prioritised within the series.

By the end of the series several of the Fuzzies themselves have rounded characters, as do many of the humans who are stereotypes and ciphers in the first volume. The potential of all the people of Zarathrustra (the planet where these books are set) has been challenged to develop both technologically/educationally (the Fuzzies) and morally/socially (the humans). While all the women who marry give up the (often prestigious) jobs they held before they married, they do at least move into expert posts alongside their husbands (luckily the Fuzzy bureau and research divisions have plenty of openings). Certainly the treatment of the Fuzzies as children to be adopted and continuously looked after should be no model for any real human behaviour.

In a way, this is television morality. Huge issues are raised, and sometimes trite solutions are given, which if you give it too much thought are not satisfactory, but all that could be expected (perhaps) in an hour, or 150 pages. It is up to us to not only enjoy the story and its wrap up, but to consider the real issues as they apply to our world, and ensure that the best solutions are put into practice, despite their necessary complexity.

(Well, this should go out at 11:35pm, which is a little closer than I’d like for NaBloPoMo posting, but counts. I’ll go by the time of this initial posting however, rather than when I finish any later tinkering with links or typos!)