Tonight, I’ll be joining the Mythgard Movie Club podcast to talk about Blade Runner 2049, one of my new favorite movies. Back in January, we had a roundtable discussion about Blade Runner (you can find it here), and even though I’ve read books about the original Blade Runner and listen to the Shoulder of Orion Blade Runner podcast, I still gained new insights and appreciation for that film. Looking forward to our discussion tonight. You can watch it live (here) or download the podcast episode here later this month.
For a while, I’ve felt that, when it comes to politics, science world-building has been stuck in the past, fixated on stories about galactic empires or rebellions against totalitarian regimes. Governments in science fiction almost never resembles the messy democracies of our world. By contrast, in Malka Older’s Infomocracy, the protagonists are political operatives and central threat is a conspiracy to manipulate an election. This is perhaps the first science fiction story I’ve read that takes electoral institutions seriously and makes them central to the story (not surprisingly, Older is a political scientist). Continue reading ““Infomocracy” by Malka Older”
In theory, The Fall of Hyperion is the sequel to Dan Simmons’ Hyperion (reviewed here). However, it feels like it comes from a different franchise. Fans of Hyperion expecting to learn more about the six pilgrims will find themselves disappointed. If anything, Fall of Hyperion draws more from the frame narrative of Hyperion than the short stories.
Fall of Hyperion focuses less on character and more on plot. We spend relatively little time with the pilgrims and more time with Hegemony CEO Meina Gladstone and her war council. As hinted in the end of Hyperion, war has broken out between the Hegemony and Ousters, and as well as an Artificial Intelligence construct. Continue reading ““The Fall of Hyperion” by Dan Simmons”
Hyperion by Dan Simmons is an example of a book I don’t enjoy but that I respect immensely. Hyperion is a work of art. It is regularly ranked amongst the top 10 science fiction books of all time. Simmons employs an innovative narrative structure that serves to create a sense of dread. Despite Simmons’ skills as a storyteller, I found Hyperion a difficult story to read.
The book starts off 700 years in the future. Seven pilgrims – a captain, a priest, a soldier, a poet, a scholar, a detective, and a diplomat – travel to the planet Hyperion to visit the Shrike, a mysterious, murderous, quasi-religious figure. While en route, they agree to tell each other their backstories and their reasons for wanting to visit the Shrike (à la Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales). The book then proceeds like a collection of short stories, one for each pilgrim.
For 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.
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”
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 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”
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”
For anyone who wants to learn more about Frank Herbert’s life and philosophy, I recommend picking up Timothy O’Reilly’s biography of Frank Herbert. O’Reilly’s book is an intellectual biography of the man, his influences, and his thought process. He also interviewed Herbert for the book. It’s available for free on Tim O’Reilly’s website.