SF/F Reading in March 2017

Discussion in 'Science Fiction' started by Boreas, Mar 1, 2017.

  1. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    I'm halfway through Greg Bear's Beyond Heaven's River.
  2. Bierschneeman

    Bierschneeman Well-Known Member

    Reading the last man, by Mary shelley.
    And the adventures of sherlock Holmes
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  3. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    The Sherlock Holmes stories are great! But I've never read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. I'm only familiar with the James Whale directed film which I've seen a couple of times, but I know that the focus of the film is supposed to be different from that of the book.
  4. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    First time I read Frankenstein I was 17. It was one of my very first books in English, and I was so focused on the language itself that I didn’t appreciate the story in its detail. The second time, I loved how Shelley delivers the key aspects, in my view, about human behaviour and its consequences, specifically regarding pride, egoism and prejudice. Readers who read Frankenstein expecting a horror story, will be disappointed.

    Finished Old Man’s War, and after all this talk about Bear, I have put aside Shift and have just started Anvil of Stars.
  5. Bierschneeman

    Bierschneeman Well-Known Member

    Elvira and I have already had a discussion on frankenstein.

    I hated it. I went in expecting a scifi novel, but was thoroughly disappointed as the only pretext of science at all was merely one paragraph that could be summed up with "I make science. And saw that it was good" the rest was mostly various chapters about unrelated topics, or sociopolitical commentary.

    One could say it is in fact core science fiction. As a core is change one thing and see what's different. It does do that, but it takes half the book to get to it, and the other half is mostly ignoring the plot.
    Viktor does make a bride fyi.

    I thought it was more a horror than a scifi.

    I am enjoying the last man .
  6. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    I hope Anvil of Stars is good! But come on, I need to hear how you found Old Man's War. Did you like the final third with
    the Ghost Brigades and Jane Sagan?
    I liked Scalzi's little tributes to Gaiman, McKean and Sagan. There might have been more, but these were the ones I remember noticing. And of course, the Heinlein tribute with "the Beanstalk".
    To me, science fiction is intimately linked with horror. No getting around that. It's the fear of change. Technology is Prometheus' Fire. A great gift bringing warmth and light and Enlightenment. And even more easily destroying or changing beyond recognition with a moment's inattention or lack of wisdom. And more than half of science fiction grapples with this fear and the potential for destruction or grotesque change, even whilst showcasing all the wonders that are in store with the innovative application of said Fire.
    It's a Gothic Romance after all. With only having seen the movie, I would consider it amongst the proto-science fiction works before the first real examples with Poe, Verne and Wells. It's now considered the first SF novel by the general public, mainly because it's Brian Aldiss' popularised opinion from his history/commentary work on the genre. And Aldiss' approach was very UK-centric. I've always had the impression that he was almost disdainful of the early American SF that sprang from the pulp tradition.
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  7. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    Have we? Gosh, I don’t recall it. This is worrying...

    I think many people have read Frankenstein on the assumption of being a horror story. Frankenstein is not horrific.
    As a Science Fiction work is concerned, it could be considered such, if the mere premise of “what if…” is accepted. Other than that, Science is absent, except for being responsible for creating (almost magically) the creature.
    I’m very fond of works in which the psychological study of the characters is pivotal to the story, and I think this is why I enjoyed Frankenstein. I understood this work as an exposition of the human spirit, presented from the perspective of the Romanticism conventions. Shelley deals with the permanent conflict human must face over group ethics and personal moral principles, including the forever search for acceptance: we all want to belong, being accepted. Later on in the story, revenge and abandonment are the triggers, which give impulse to the novel.
    Frankenstein is dark, Gothic and the doomed duality so common in Romanticism is always present. In my eyes is a wonderful work, but we all also place literary value differently.
    I must add I haven’t read any else by Shelley, so I’m judging her, perhaps unfairly, based on one work only.
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  8. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    Well, I must say the ending was an improvement. The middle section when Perry goes on bouncing from planet to planet was a bit flat and simplistic.
    I really liked the concept of
    Ghost Brigades, but meeting Jane, we-love-each-other-so-much-from-primary-school-days-we-will-always-be together-through-time-and-space-even-with-different-skin-colour
    was a bit too much... despite my big my romantic streak.
    I will continue with the series. Really curious to see where this is going... ;)
    Royce Sears likes this.
  9. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    What I liked about the
    Ghost Brigades
    section was it finally got slightly more serious with the implications of what it means to be human (or not). The sections that preceded it had a tiny whiff of it, but it all seemed rather facile to me. I never really saw the
    relationship between John and Jane as romantic.
    What I liked most were those brief moments when she was obsessed with the memory of
    her dead, alternate self.
    It presented reasons to exist other than combat. I could imagine the situation...knowing that all these memories exist, and they're yours but not. I think it would bring out an obsession in me as well. It's like Scalzi's playing with the idea of genetic memory without even realising it. Better authors have delved deeply and with far greater skill into the topic, but that last third brought up some of those themes in slightly more solid form instead of the wishy-washyness that preceded it. And personally, if the last third hadn't taken the direction it did, I would never consider picking up the sequel.
  10. Bierschneeman

    Bierschneeman Well-Known Member

    Maybe. Not...it might be theopenia or whatever the spelling is.

    I found it to be a true early feminist prose, and Gothic romance. Not in the least scifi unless you stretch the core concept of "just change one thing about reality and write from there."

    So I see the argument, but it's such a stretch to me that I might have to include most of fantasy, all of mystery and a good portion of political books as scifi too. That's just my opinion though. Seems to me most of the science in the book is on sociology, psychology, and political science, so it might just be I have no feeling of a good nature to these. Showing my bias.

    I do want to read more of her, I am enjoying last man, and I know she is well read by college students of feminists class work. Her other novels seem to be very feminist dealing with women stuck in abusive marriages, or dealing with rape, or being third class citizens.
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  11. Bierschneeman

    Bierschneeman Well-Known Member

    I can see that. But reject it as well.
    Dracula is a horror, but in no way do I consider it scifi. Horror romance maybe.

    Lovecraft is often scifi horror, but the dream quest kadath is a horror fantasy book.

    A serial killer novel is most likely not sci-fi but certainly often horror.

    I see horror as more of a theme that can be applied to any genre at will rather than a genre in itself.

    I will say that no movie of frankenstein has come close to accurate. The best I have seen is the boris karloff frankenstein but only if you add bride of frankenstein (the sequel)...man does it miss the mark. But with the sequel it at least touches all the major plot points (some are changed drastically)
  12. Bierschneeman

    Bierschneeman Well-Known Member

    The movies are always waaaay more science than the book
  13. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Wait, I didn't say that only science fiction has horror in it. Just that science fiction due to its core premise is inherently linked to the quality of horror. Of course there are plenty of non-SF narratives that also have a strong horror tint to them.
    Something I've said myself on many an occasion. I see horror as a quality/feeling which can permeate any kind of fiction and real life. That it has been categorised as a niche genre is besides the point.
    Bierschneeman likes this.
  14. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    I don’t like coincidences in narrative. It is an easy resource similar to deus ex machina, which an author should, in my view, use very sporadically. OMW felt during different sections rather simplistic and convenient.

    The fact that it was Jane who firstly rescued Perry and secondly they bumped into each other in one Burger Space bar, felt like too many fortunate encounters.
    Jane is beginning to become whole after meeting Perry. He is her potential past and therefore her present, as you well said. Therefore, I believe Perry and Jane are linked and will be a romantic on/off thread along the series. Insinuating whether their future is truly based on their past, with an improved, alternative future perhaps?

    It comes down to opportunities and choices: would you re-live your live, even if it meant to be an improved version of it, or would you, on the other hand, run as far as possible from your past, in order to enjoy an utter different, surprising future? The unknown versus the known type of topic.

    If I had to guess, I would say that through the following books, we might have glimpses of Jane, maybe even a brief affair between the two of them, to take a sharp and probably painful turn. However, I believe by the end of the series they will be ONE happy green couple growing corn in a farm… The End
  15. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Also agreed! Especially when Scalzi was trying hard to be 'deep'. It's when it came off as most shallow. For example, during
    John's eventual crisis when squashing the laughable one-inch humanoids and the subsequent 'introspective discussion' of moral purpose/conscience.
    Although, there was an absurdity to that particular surreal situation that I somewhat enjoyed (I think).
    Running from your past with the excuse that you want to enjoy a different, more surprising future is still running away with the intention of avoiding something painful. In that direction lies no resolution. And besides,
    for her, it's no real choice since even her past is unknown and likely full of surprises anyway.
    Not an unreasonable supposition. Let's hope Scalzi is slightly more unpredictable/less simplistic than the evidence so far suggests. I'll see how I fare with book two first.
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  16. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    Or maybe there is some type of resolution… I would argue the human brain is extremely capable of deceiving, blocking itself from the unpleasant experiences.
    I enjoyed the scientific explanation of space travel by “skipping” You don’t leave a place, you just arrrive to a brand new one it didn’t exist till your arrival. Well, a new reinvented "you" can always arrive somewhere… "Skipping personality" kind of theory ;)

    Her past “happened” even though she can’t recall it. She can't go back there either. Perry gives Jane her true self by providing her with the knowledge of her past. However, if they get together, the will be moving forward into the future no into the past. Which kind of future? No idea! That’s up to them and in that future, she does have some control over it.

    Fun exploring these concepts!
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2017
  17. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Just finished Bear's Beyond Heaven's River. I liked it, but it's also left me feeling frustrated. Like in Hegira, Bear plays with huge concepts that are revealed in an all too breathless rush towards the end. The novel is a strange mix of ambitious world-building intermittently and sparsely described, an understated and mature love story between strong, competent characters, and a surreal journey to self-awareness mired in an admixture consisting of illusion, dream and reality spanning 400 years. And all in less than 250 pages. I really liked the central characters. I liked their strong bond that went far beyond the usual notion of love (it was in many cases a deeply pragmatic bond yet strongly tinted with higher, almost spiritual overtones), and I liked how Bear was able to convey the emotions and intent of the principal characters with matter-of-fact prose, the leanness of which I think many might not appreciate or even find off-putting. While one might think that character development has been neglected in the traditional sense, I would hardly call these characters cardboard cut-outs; rather the opposite, but the onus of extrapolating meaning is on the reader. At the same time, Bear's prose reached an enjoyable, descriptive peak in later chapters that combined introspection with an examination of the overall mystery on which the novel's thrust is predicated.

    I also liked how Bear intertwined the Rip van Winkle motif, including its Japanese folklore counterpart, into a narrative where one of the main points is the shackles that cultural tradition imposes on individuals, and how this not only charts one's behaviour for the rest of one's life but can often prevent the paradigm shift necessary for true psychological emancipation. That is, unless one is fully set on the path leading to clarity of mind and all the effort that entails. But the ending let me frustrated, and sad. I suppose the thrust of it is that this inherent problem in a human-being's makeup can potentially be overcome. And in this novel, the implication that this is tied to is a secular slant to eschatology (specifically, that aspect concerned with the ultimate destiny of humankind) and in a truly cosmological sense. But it was also a cynical end. Maybe appropriate, but it was rushed, and I don't know...I just felt a little sad. Human resentment is a niggling demon carried on one's back, and some free themselves from it by foisting this weight onto others for their own petty conceit, thereby becoming witness to its final, dark flowering while mistakenly believing themselves exculpated. It's a sad affair, the momentum of which once begun must be borne out as if ordained by The Fates.

    I really don't know how many people would enjoy this book, but I'm glad I read it, even if it was flawed and left me feeling conflicted.

    Addendum: It's not a bad book. And in this early work, like in his first novel Hegira, Bear shows that he's as interested in his characters' fundamental motivations as he is in the high concept science fiction premise. It's just that the denouement is unfinished, like it's been cut off and replaced with a short 2-page coda. This, and the turn the narrative took which I didn't want to happen, made me feel a little frustrated. Otherwise, I really liked the premise of the novel, I think the large-canvas setting that Bear built up (admittedly, a little vaguely) was very fascinating, and the soul-searching of the main character 'stranded' in time and attempting to find meaning in the surreal situation he finds himself in was one of my favourite parts. I was also gobsmacked by the description of Tokyo in the 25th century.
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2017
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  18. TomTB

    TomTB Administrator Staff Member

    Just finished Dark Eden, and it's been a fantastic read.

    Basic plot - A colony ('The Family') live on a lush alien planet (Eden), which has no star, so is completely dark apart from the flora / fauna which has evolved to be luminescent. Oh, and the planet is volcanic, so is generally a lovely place to live (apart from being really really dark, obvs). The Family has descended from a couple of humans who came from Earth to Eden via a wormhole, and became stranded. The Family live in hope of Earth returning to rescue them.

    The founding fathers of The Family take on a religious aspect in the book ... the rituals of The Family revolve around the stories passed down through the 5 generations since their arrival on Eden. The story revolves around a teenager (John - a New Hair) who I guess is a kind of visionary .. he can see beyond the small enclave they call home, and wants to explore beyond the mountains which confine The Family to a relatively small area of forest. The Family don't take kindly to this, and shenanigans ensue.

    The needs of humanity to continually expand is at the heart of this book. The natural brutality of the human race plays a big part too, which The Family has managed to mute for the time they've been on the planet, but with the tension created by the views and actions of John, comes a new (more natural?) era of human life on Eden.

    There's a definite Lord of the Flies vibe to this, and I suppose it could be classed as YA, as the main POVs are all teenagers / juveniles .. but that's about it .. it didn't feel particularly like a YA book besides this fact.

    I gave it 5* on Goodreads, and I'll be starting the sequel soon!
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2017
  19. Bierschneeman

    Bierschneeman Well-Known Member

    Also has a The Village by M Night shamylon LameandShamsolong vibe with the shenanigans you mentioned of there being a whole big Planet out there and the adults not wanting anything to do with it and not liking it when people seek it out.
  20. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    I think I understand your point. In TFoG I loved the power Bear infused into the characters, but this wasn’t achieved in a traditional way. Bear did, in my opinion, a magnificent job in creating an array of players by fleshing them very gently and very subtly . This creates an intimacy with the reader, which it doesn’t get appreciated till something dramatic happens, and then you really feel it: BANG!

    I doubt I will be reading it. There are other works by Bear, which already have caught my eye. Great review by the way!

    Early days with Anvil of Stars, but so far I’m really enjoying it. There is aura of melancholia and tragedy, which really feels appropriate to this sequel. I was worried that Bear was going to set an adventurous, optimistic even naïve tone in AoS, which it would have annoyed me immensely.
    Bear knows what he is doing.

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