“Contact” by Carl Sagan

Contact_SaganFor me, the film version Contact is still the gold standard for intelligent science fiction in cinema. After having read Carl Sagan’s Contact, I realize that the movie benefitted from exceptionally strong source material. Sagan manages to explore Big Ideas™, but also develops compelling characters. In addition to being a talented scientist, Sagan could write better than most professional science fiction authors.

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“Arthur C. Clarke” by Gary Westfahl

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Of the “Big Three” authors who dominated the Golden Age of science fiction, I’ve always felt I had the weakest grasp on Arthur C. Clarke. Isaac Asimov’s oeuvre is easy to summarize: technological optimism and robots. Robert A. Heinlein tended to infuse his works with libertarian politics and nonconformists. As for Clarke? I’ve read several of his most famous novels and short stories, but always struggled to identify common themes. Clarke seems to veer wildly between hard-nosed science and wild-eyed mysticism. Childhood’s End features humans who gain almost godlike psychic powers, while Rendevouz with Rama tells the story of a scientific exploration to a mysterious alien object. Hal 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey seems like a warning against A.I., yet Clarke was hardly anti-science – most of Clarke’s protagonists are scientists.  Continue reading ““Arthur C. Clarke” by Gary Westfahl”

“Upgrade Soul” by Ezra Claytan Daniels

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There have been countless in science fiction using advances in cloning technology to ask questions about human identity. Science fiction has also used different forms of humanoids or aliens to explore race and racial identity. Upgrade Soul merges these two with a unique take on this subgenere of science fiction. The author, Ezra Claytan Daniels, won the Dwayne McDuffie Award for diverse representation in the comics medium. Continue reading ““Upgrade Soul” by Ezra Claytan Daniels”

“Rendezvous with Rama” by Arthur C. Clarke

Rendezvous with Rama is widely acclaimed as Arthur C. Clarke’s best book, and it definitely deserves much of the praise it’s gotten. That said, the book isn’t perfect, particularly when it comes to the characters.

Rendezvous with Rama starts when an large, cylindrical object is detected hurtling towards the sun. The object is named “Rama” after the Hindu god. The United Planets sends the solar survey vessel Endeavour under the command of Commander Bill Norton to investigate. The rest of the book focuses on the crew’s exploration of the alien artifact. Continue reading ““Rendezvous with Rama” by Arthur C. Clarke”

“Miyazakiworld” by Susan Napier

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A few years ago, I discovered Studio Ghibli and fell in love with Japanese anime. I’m particularly fond of Ghibli founder Hayao Miyazaki’s ability to use animation to tell stories that are emotionally moving, visually stunning, and intellectually stimulating. Miyazaki’s films combine whimsical settings, strong female protagonists, and unconventional plots. I’m still new to this brave new world of anime, so I was excited to find Japanese culture expert Susan Napier’s latest book to help me make sense of Miyazaki’s oeuvre. Continue reading ““Miyazakiworld” by Susan Napier”

“Sandworms of Dune” by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

SandwormsofDuneMy first reaction upon finishing Sandworms of Dune was that, unlike Hunters of Dune, it at least it has a plot. In Hunters of Dune, we learned that the Ominous Threat™ is actually the Thinking Machines from the Butlerian Jihad. This reveal came out of nowhere. The struggle between man and machine is a classic sci-fi trope, but it’s not a theme that appeared at the forefront of the Dune saga. In fact, in Dune, it appeared that humanity had solved the problem thousands of years before by replacing computers with Mentats.

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“So Say We All: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Battlestar Galactica” by Edward Gross & Mark A. Altman

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The original Battlestar Galactica brought groundbreaking effects to the small screen, while Ronald D. Moore’s reboot remains the gold standard for serious science fiction on television. Yet, while BSG has easily earned its place in the science fiction hall of fame, few books have documented the story behind the camera. In So Say We All, Mark Altman and Edward Gross attempt to do what they did with the Star Trek franchise and provide a complete oral history of the Battlestar Galactica franchise.

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“Hunters of Dune” by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

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I had mixed feelings about the direction Frank Herbert took the Dune saga after God Emperor of Dune, but the cliffhanger at the end of Chapterhouse Dune piqued my interest. Unfortunately, Frank Herbert passed away before he could finish the story. Nearly 20 years later, Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson wrote Hunters of Dune and Sandworms of Dune in attempt to wrap the story up. They claim to have developed the story based on a draft outline left by Frank Herbert in a safe deposit box. Unfortunately, the book carries on some of the worst writing instincts of the pair’s House trilogy, including the meandering plot lines and thin characters.   Continue reading ““Hunters of Dune” by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson”

“Winds of Dune” by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

WindsofDuneAs with Paul of Dune, I came into this book with low expectations, so Winds of Dune did not have to work too hard to surpass those. As others have noted, Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson tend to repeat themselves quite a bit, reminding readers of basic plot points that they probably still remember. Moreover, this book has a weaker narrative structure than even Paul of Dune. It loosely follows Bronso of Ix, Paul Atreides’ former friend and leader of the rebellion against Paul’s empire. The plot straddles three separate time periods: just before Dune, several years after the jihad starts, and just after Dune Messiah. Continue reading ““Winds of Dune” by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson”