Monthly Archives: June 2012

Books: The 1977 Annual World’s Best Science Fiction

1977 World's Best SF

1977 World’s Best SF. Click to buy your own copy

Rather intermittently I’ve written about sci-fi and I find that if I don’t take the time to slow down and write something out then I promptly forget whatever it is that I just read.  This post is not only an attempt to share but also one of self-preservation for my own recollection.

Appearance of Life – Brian W. Aldiss

The introductory paragraph for this story says, and I quote, that Brian has been writing stories that “baffle the comprehension.”  I don’t find personally that this story is completely beyond my comprehension but I will say that such a statement does little to recommend such a narrative.  The bits that stand out for me, many days after reading this story, center around a planet-wide museum constructed by an ancient and extinct race.  Our narrator visits the locale and spends many months seeking out some greater truth about our history as a species.  Eventually, he comes to a conclusion which his mind cannot accept, that drives him mad, that causes him to extract himself from humanity entirely lest he loose this knowledge upon the universe and create havoc.

Overdrawn at the Memory Bank – John Varley

If this book were a pop song, this story would be “the hook.”  Our narrator, in a far distant time is visiting the equivalent of Disney World.  He’s having his consciousness implanted into an African lion for a few weeks to relax and disconnect from the world around him.  Unfortunately, when he returns from his excursion he finds that his real body has been misplaced.  In the months and months which follow while Uncle Walt looks for his body, he discovers a few key truths about himself and about mankind in general.

Those Good Old Days of Liquid Fuel – Michael G. Coney

The Wonder Years meets Trainspotting.  ’nuff said.

The Hertford Manuscript – Richard Cowper

In this short tale Cowper does a fairly reasonable job of filling in some of the narrative holes left in H.G. Wells “The Time Machine”.  Cowper’s protagonist doesn’t come to anything approaching a happy ending but it is good nonetheless to have an answer, even if it isn’t the most uplifting one.

Natural Advantage – Lester Del Rey

Aliens are nice enough to visit Earth, but sadly, it’s with nothing but bad news.  A solar flare is coming to wipe us off the face of the planet within the decade.  This particular race has trinocular vision and that allows them to not only perceive depth of field but depth of time and thus they can see that our puny race is about to snuff it.  At least they’re nice enough to tell us though, right?  After delivering their news they agree to an exchange of technology with our sadly doomed race and go on their way.  When they return to their homeworld years later they find that humanity had a little more ingenuity than they bargained for.

The Bicentennial Man – Isaac Asimov

In this old and familiar story we find a robot with an ambition.  Before the story of this robot there was a wooden marionette with the same ambition.  So many are the articles of furniture which yearn to be human.  Why do we write of such things?  Is it possibly because we want to make our finite and human frailties seem somehow valuable?  The Bicentennial Man yearns to be human, to expire, to pass on from a mortal existence.  How many of us would give everything to NOT be human?

The Cabinet of Oliver Naylor – Barrington Bayley

Mankind’s technology has outpaced his morality.  He can travel not only faster than light but exponentially faster.  He can cruise about the cosmos and watch every possible sitcom produced mechanically by a simple box.  (Not that there are all that many possible combinations mind you).  So what WOULD happen if the entirety of the omniverse became the equivalent of the wild west?

My Boat – Joanna Russ

A young black girl close on the heels of the civil rights movement proves to be more than she might seem.  In fact she might be downright alien…

Houston, Houston, Do You Read? – James Tiptree Jr.

Our protagonists were on a mission.  All they had to do was loop around the sun and come back to Earth.  Unfortunately for them, the Earth has changed since they left, especially since 300 years passed when they approached perihelion.  Pesky temporal distortions.  Plague has ravaged the planet they’re returning to and they’re the last three human males in the universe.  What greater paradise could there be?  Or perhaps it’s really hell in disguise….

I See You – Damon Knight

Television has come a long way.  Now you can dial in the time and location of whatever you want to view, even your next door neighbor.  What exactly WOULD happen if all of history both distant and recent was wide open to scrutiny from a hoard of people with a $7 gadget from Radio Shack?


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Filed under 1970s, science fiction

Books: How Starbucks Saved My Life – Michael Gates Gill

So, first, I realize that it’s been far too long since I wrote anything.  The reasons for this are various and have absolutely nothing to do with the book in the subject line.  The book I just finished is merely an excuse to write something and provide this bit of drivel as a preface.  There has been much tumult and annoyance in my life since the last post that you couldn’t care less about but suffice to say that I have learned to live by the wise credo that to live a life fully one need merely pay attention, state one’s opinion clearly and concisely and honestly and then detach from whatever outcome may result.  It is no man’s task to fix the world.  Do your part and then move on, I say.  And with that monstrously opaque preamble out-of-the-way, we move on to the topic at hand.

I read this book because I was having one of THOSE Saturday mornings.  Have you ever had one of those mornings when you just need something… something to read and since your wife is one of those really wonderfully bookish people you happen to have just stacks and stacks of books handy and can pick something rather randomly and sit down to read it?  It’s rather like living in a library staffed by an impossibly sweet and wonderful person who you also happen to get to sleep next to.  At any rate, I digress.  I picked up this book at random and … well, after a couple of days I can’t say that I’m disappointed in the book itself but I do find myself rather disappointed with the reality therein presented.

It’s worth noting that I am by nature a cynical person and I get that the wealthy in this country  are detached from the reality of the less fortunate.  I don’t expect them to know how it is “growing up in the hood” but the author of this book seems more hopelessly clueless than one could reasonably imagine.  Sure, he grew up in affluence but he seems almost ignorant that there are people in the world who are NOT affluent.  His writing style is child-like and his themes, at least from the viewpoint of a lower-middle class person, are obvious and pedantic.  There’s no news here.

What is refreshing and inspiring is his view of Starbucks as a corporation.  I’m not a coffee-drinker so I’m about as detached from this company as they come.  I bought some stock a while back… and then sold it, but that hardly counts as knowing their culture.  Admittedly I’m a bit old-fashioned.  I want a company (and a job at said company) to be a family.  Not a family born out of a common enemy like a U.S. Marine’s drill Sargent, but a family born out of a common goal and a real sense of supportiveness.  Gill’s portrayal of Starbucks is exactly that.  I’m sure that he’s taken plenty of artistic license with the reality of working at Starbucks, but if even half of what he says is accurate then it’s a step up from the average corporate reality.

To sum up, the book is a unique viewpoint.  It’s one that we never think about generally because we assume that nobody’s actually that naïve.  Clearly though, there are some that ARE that naïve.  One feels for the narrator in the same way one feels for Lenny in Of Mice and Men just before he gets shot in the head.  Mercifully, our narrator survives but he does have the same dopey aspect that makes one feel sorry for him nonetheless.



Filed under 2000s, literature and books, non-fiction