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jjohn (22)

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Perl hack/Linux buff/OSS junkie.

Journal of jjohn (22)

Wednesday February 27, 2002
08:41 AM

Brief tour of 20th century SCI-FI

[ #3155 ]

In an attempt to reduce the amount of time I spend talking out my ass, I'm reading a series of books that cover various styles and epochs of science fiction. I just finished (in one day!) H.G Wells' _The Time Machine_. It's short, fun adventure story that reflects much of the late nineteenth century's faith in both technical and social progress. Clearly, this book was written before the inhuman (all too human?) destruction of the World Wars. Wells attempts to use Darwin's Natural Selection, a hip new concept for the day, to spin a cautionary tell of capitalistic hubris. It's a good read, despite some truly stupid moves on the part of the Time Traveller -- like starting a massive forrest fire.

Representing post-war sci-fi, I also recently finished Orwell's dystopian masterpiece _1984_, in which (for Orwell) the future has become ruled by three giant totalitarian states whose political ideology makes Machiavelli's work seem like a Christian sermon. These states exist, not to help their subjects or even to aggrandize their leaders, but simply to exert power -- everyone is expendable. Even abstract concepts like language and history are viciously assalted. Orwell's story is a bleak testiment to the loss of faith in humanity brought on by popular rise of fascism 1920's and 1930's, and to the war, holocausts and pogroms that followed.

Next up on the tour: the psychadelic sixties. Yeah, baby! Phillip K. Dick trips the light fantastic with _Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep_ and John Wyndham keeps a stiff upper lip in _Day of the Triffids_. Turn on. Tune in and drop out, man!

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  • DADOES isn't the best example of psychadelic PKD. If you really want something psychadelic, go find a copy of The Zap Gun (where weapons designers do their best work when in an altered state of reality for days at a time), The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (where users of the drugs Can-D and Chew-Z duke it out). Better yet, if you want the drug induced schizophrenia with none of the psychadelic culture, check out A Scanner Darkly.

    Of course, one of the most classic PKD novels is Ubik. If I said anyt

  • Stop whatever you're reading now and read this book. Then continue...

    Oh - the author is Orson Scott Card

    • I have read _Ender's Game_ -- about 5 years ago. It's a nice little book; I enjoyed reading it. I'm afraid I don't find it as resonating as most geeks do. Smart kid is duped by Bad Government into doing Bad Things to win a war. It's not a bad plot, but it doesn't thrill me. I didn't identify with Ender and I sure as hell didn't want to read more about the little bugger (so to speak ;-).

      On the list of other sci-fi I don't "get," put Azimov's Foundation Trilogy. I read this series twice and I still don't fi
      • I found Ender's Game pretty well written, but Card's books after that get kinda lame. All about a distant future where all cultures are very separate and very proper and very quaint. (Ahem and Mormon-esque.)
      • Re:Ender's Game (Score:2, Insightful)

        I found that the sequels to Ender's Game had a bit more depth to them (unlike the typical successful book turned into a series where any important ideas have been presented in the first book and the rest are only for entertainment in a familiar territory). But I enjoyed Ender's Game too.

        Card is one of the authors that I read every book he writes. While he has interesting stories, I especially find his characterization and focus on inter-personal relationships to be good. Theodore Sturgeon is another aut
  • Have you read Wells's /Shape of Things to Come/? Out of print in the US last I heard, but there's millions of copies floating around in used bookstores.!
  • OK, I guess I'll have to chip in then:

    • John Varley, especially his short stories. I find facscinating the way most of them take place in the same world, thus relvealing it little by little as you read more of them. Plus the guy can really write and can give life to his characters.
    • Norman Spinrad: The Iron Dream is one of the funniest and scariest and above all most clever books I have ever read. His short stories are pretty good too.
    • Theodore Sturgeon, especially his short stories (once again, but remember
    • John Sladek's Tik-Tok: hilarious story of a... twisted robot, forget about the 3 laws here.
      Wow. I thought I was the only person on the planet who actually bought and read that book. :-) I tried to describe the amphibious aircraft carrier that was as big as the state of Delaware, but somehow my explanation didn't sound as funny as Sladek's.
  • Bruce Sterling! Bruce Sterling! Bruce Sterling!
    • Yes, but Islands in the Net is worth avoiding. It was a great read, until Sterling realized he didn't know where the story was going, and shoved the plot over a cliff to get the damn thing done.

      Involution Ocean is a great first novel, doubly so when you read Harlan Ellison's forward. Holy Fire is a really nice recent work of his.

      • Yes, Islands in the Net is a bit off structurally, but there's lots of wierd=fun ideas in it to make it worth reading, I think.

        I would almost say the same about Stephenson's Diamond Age, depending on how charitable I'm feeling toward He-Who-Has-No-Editor (aka Stephenson).

        • Oh, yes. Neal Stephenson. Zodiac is quite nice, and the first 20 or so pages of Snow Crash are some of the funniest bits I've ever read.

          jjohn, you'll probably get a real kick out of Zodiac. It's set in Boston, and deals with overprivedged yuppie kids who are polluting Boston Harbor (among lots of other things). Lots of funny moments in that book, too. Not good in-flight reading, unless you like making a spectacle of yourself because you can't stop laughing (I had to put the book down mid-flight and m

          • Yes, Zodiac is brilliant.

            It's a bit sad that Stephenson's books have gone mostly downhill (while getting thicker and thicker) since then. But read Zodiac and enjoy it.