Posts Tagged ‘sci fi’

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Cat’s Cradle

November 30, 2007

Cat’s CradleCat’s Cradle

Kurt Vonnegut

read by: Tony Roberts

pub. Harper Audio, 7hrs. 10 min.

So this is the first audiobook I’m going to review. For all intents and purposes, I will treat it, as I will all future audiobooks, as if it were a paper book, focusing on the content of the story rather than the quality of the reading. However, as this is an integral part of any audiobook, I feel like I have to at least mention it somewhere. To this end, at the end of the review, I will make brief mention of whether or not I thought the audio added to or subtracted from the story.

As to the book, this one is on my all time top five list without any doubt. I have read it more times than I can remember, and it just keeps getting better and better as I find new things each and every time I read it.

Written in 1963, this is Vonnegut’s tale of the absurdity of even debating the validity or value of science vs. religion, truth versus lies, and various other of man’s huge questions. Within its pages, Vonnegut invents an entirely new religion, conjures a scientific invention that could destroy the world, and looks deeply at the connections both real and imaginary between people in general.

Set on the fictional Carribean island of San Lorenzo, it tells the story of the narrator’s rise from freelance journalist to president-select of this tiny country like no other and yet precisely like all others. Often dismissed as a humorous bit of whimsy, this book is anything but. While it can be hilarious, it is also deeply profound. In fact, I think that it has been an essential cog in the development of the way I think, and ultimately who I am. And I don’t say that lightly. This book is awesome.

As an example I offer the following quote. On the day of remembrance for the “Hundred Martyrs to Democracy”, or lo Hoon-yera Mora-toorz tut Zamoo-cratz-ya in the local dialect, a national holiday memorializing the deaths of 100 young volunteers who died after volunteering to fight in WWII for the Americans, the American Ambassador, Horlick Milton, makes the following speach:

“‘We are gathered here friends,’ he said, ‘to honour lo Hoon-yera Mora-toorz tut Zamoo-cratz-ya, children dead, all dead, all murdered in war. It is customary on days like this to call such lost children men. I am unable to call them men for this simple reason: that in the same war in which lo Hoon-yera Mora-toorz tut Zamoo-cratz-ya died, my own son died.
My soul insists that I mourn not a man but a child.
I do not say that children at war do not die like men, if they have to die. To their everlasting honour and our everlasting shame, they do die like men, thus making possible the manly jubilation of patriotic holidays.
But they are murdered children all the same.
And I propose to you that if we are to pay our sincere respects to the hundred lost children of San Lorenzo, that we might best spend the day despising what killed them; which is to say, the stupidity and viciousness of all mankind.
Perhaps, when we remember wars, we should take off our clothes and paint ourselves blue and go on all fours all day long and grunt like pigs. That would surely be more appropriate than noble oratory and shows of flags and well-oiled guns.
I do not mean to be ungrateful for the fine, martial show we are about to see – and a thrilling show it really will be…..
(…)
And hooray say I for thrilling shows.
(…)
But if today is really in honour of a hundred children murdered in war is today a day for a thrilling show?
The answer is yes, on one condition: that we, the celebrants, are working consciously and tirelessly to reduce the stupidity and viciousness of ourselves and of all mankind.
(…)”

What else can I say. The man gets it.

If you haven’t read this one, do. If you have, read it again. It’s that good.

5stars 5++++!

Now as to the audio version, unfortunately, the reader was not very good. Add to that the fact that I love this book, and I was truly disappointed with the audio version. His character voices were terrible, especially the women, and his reading was generally flat to me. However, the story is so strong, that it was able to shine even through these shortcomings. I would definitely recommend reading this one, though. Especially the first time.

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Spook Country

November 30, 2007

spookcountrySpook Country

William Gibson

pub. Putney Adult, 384 pp.

I find myself enjoying William Gibson’s books more and more as he continues to write, and this book was no exception.

Gibson, one if not the father of cyber-punk fiction, has mellowed significantly as he has developed as a writer much to my enjoyment. Furthermore, while many people would stop reading this review at the words ‘cyper-punk,’ that moniker doesn’t really fit his stories anymore, at least the ‘punk’ part anyway. And while his stories are no longer the edgy, action fueled romps that they used to be, his ideas are no less stimulating or thought provoking. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed his earlier books such as Neuromancer and Idoru, a lot, I just think he keeps getting better and better.

This trend began with Pattern Recognition, a great story about ‘cool hunting’ and the power of the crowd vs. individuality. Now, with Spook Country, Gibson has truly settled into a form of science fiction dealing with the ‘what-might-be-right-now’, instead of the ‘what-might-be-of-the-distant-future.’

This book is set in the same world as Pattern Recognition and follows three main narrative leads all circling around a mysterious shipping container and its cargo. We have Hollis Henry, the recognizable ex-singer of a semi-famous indie-rock band, now writing a story for what appears to be a developmental tech magazine, ostensibly about locative art – a form of virtual art installation all run through GPS and wireless networks. To her story we also add Tito, a young Russian/Cuban member of a crime family with extensive links to the intelligence community. And finally, we have Milgrim, a strung out drug addict being held captive and forced to work for Agent Brown, who in turn may or may not work for a government. At the center of all three stories is the techno-geek recluse Bobby Chombo who may be the key to why everyone is interested in the seemingly untrackable container.

Set two years in the past rather than the future, this story looks at the world of technology through the lens of what might be out there that we just don’t know about. Just how well can governments, or other bad guys find out about people on the street? It takes your nightmares of the loss of freedom and governmental spying and make them even more spookier. In a world where the Deputy Director of National Intelligence, Donald Kerr, recently said, “Too often, privacy has been equated with anonymity; and it’s an idea that is deeply rooted in American culture… but in our interconnected and wireless world, anonymity – or the appearance of anonymity – is quickly becoming a thing of the past,”(source) the themes and ideas strike even closer to home.

I found the story, while not a rip-roaring page turner, a well paced read and the characters well developed and genuinely interesting. But again it is the underpinnings of technology and its use, acceptance, and ubiquity that ultimately kept me engrossed. The juxtaposition of very cool technology utilization in art and culture against the privacy-threatening, invasive intelligence gathering aspects of some of the very same technology is something that Gibson explores better than almost anyone else.

4half 4.5

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Extras

October 25, 2007

extrasExtras

Scott Westerfeld

pub. Simon Pulse: 432pp

This is the fourth book in the Uglies/Pretties/Specials trilogy. Yes, I did say the fourth book in the trilogy. Apparently, Scott Westerfeld just couldn’t stay away from the world he had created in the original books. To me, this is a very good thing.

In this future world, people of our time (Rusties) have destroyed civilization as we know it, and in its place a new society has risen. The first three books tell the story of Tally Youngblood’s journey through the various body and brain modifications given to kids as they reach and pass puberty. Unfortunately what seems like a benefit to all comes with a very high cost; one which Tally figures out and works to eliminate. Ultimately she rebels against this society and helps to bring about major changes.

Extras picks up the story in the post-pretties era, one in which people have been set free to re-craft their culture in any way they see fit. It takes us to a new city where everyone has a feed on an advanced internet. Computers monitor all these feeds in addition to everyone’s conversations, which feeds are being watched, etc. in order to give everyone a “face rank.” The higher your face rank, the more important you are. In fact, the entire economy is based on popularity. Those with the highest rank are given the biggest apartments, the nicest clothes, etc. But for those at the bottom of the barrel, they must be good citizens in order to earn “merits” which they can trade for the goods and services they need.

The main character, Aya Fuse,has an extremely low rank – in the 480,000’s – and will do anything to catch the big story that will propel her into the upper ranks of fame. In pursuit of this goal, she falls into a major adventure that takes her beyond her wildest dreams and brings her into contact with the world’s most famous person, the one and only Tally Youngblood.

I really liked the first three books of this series, especially the way there was a major phase shift between each book that physically transformed Tally and also forced her to adapt mentally and emotionally. However, I do think the series lost some of its momentum as it moved towards its conclusion in the third book. This new volume, thankfully, restores the series to its original level. It is a compelling world with enough new ideas, concepts, and cool gadgets to keep you thinking, and at the same time the plot hums along like Westerfeld at his best.

It was also fun to read this book having just read the articles about popularity and gossip I mentioned in my Deep Impact of Language post. Here was an entire culture based on nothing but the concept of what is essentially gossip or public perception of who we are. By creating this world, Westerfeld allows us to look at what some of the possible outcomes of current trends might be (collecting friends on Facebook, MySpace, or other social networking sites, personal blogging, etc.) and to think about whether those are ultimately good or bad for society as a whole. As always, I really love the way fiction allows for an ethical sandbox or laboratory, and this series in particular does this very well.

rating: 4star 4

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Jumper (cont.)

October 18, 2007

Jumper I finished Steven Gould’s Jumper the other night and must say that I really liked it. Perhaps the biggest reason for this is the way the story evolves. Just when you think you have the story arc figured out, something else happens to the main character and the story moves in a new direction. This kept me interested in what was going on and allowed for some nice character development.

That and some very inventive (and fun) methods of dealing with the bad guys just cemented my opinion.

I also found and ordered a used copy of the book, so I will add it to the library soon.

overall rating:4star 4

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Jumper

October 15, 2007

JumperI’ve been reading Steven Gould’s book Jumper for the past two nights and have really been enjoying it. A YA science fiction novel, it tells the story of Davey, a young man who finds out that he has the ability to teleport to any location he has already been. Part adventure, part revenge, and even part romance, I’ve been taken by its readability and the overall enjoyment level of Davey’s story.

I recently saw that there was a movie coming out based on this book, and was instantly disappointed. It is very rare that a decent movie can be made from a good book, so it was with some trepidation that I watched the trailer. However, while they changed the story quite a bit (new characters and what looks like a completely new plot thread) the trailer actually looks pretty good.

The book is out of print, and I could only find a copy in the library, but as soon as I can find a copy I’ll add it to my classroom library. In the meantime, check out the movie trailer.