Tag Archives: society

Universe 4 – Edited by Terry Carr 1974

519QW9-HHhL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Like our last post this too is a collection of rather random sci-fi goodness but this one is from the 70s. I give a brief reflection on my thoughts after reading each story below.

Assault on a City – Jack Vance
At 48 pages this one is a full-blown novella. At its heart, it is a story of class struggles in a future that has taken fashion to an amusing extreme. It’s a solid story and an easy read in an hour.

A Sea of Faces – Robert Silverberg
At under 20 pages this brief foray into the genre is primarily psychological. In it a woman with a mental disorder is treated and we see the situation from inside the mind of the patient. The trip back to consciousness is illustrated as a journey on a mysterious floating island that has to be steered back to the mainland so the patient can rejoin the rest of society.

And Read the Flesh Between the Lines – R. A. Lafferty
In this brief story we have what I would categorize as an alternative history of sorts. Our protagonist, if he can be called such, has an Australopithecus as a servant and lectures his guests that a full third of history has been intentionally wiped from the collective recollection of society. This is a bizarre and rather surreal tale and one would not go amiss in noting that what it lacks in plot it makes up for in setting of the scene.

My Sweet Lady Jo – Howard Waldrop
Weighing in at under 20 pages this one reads like a twilight zone script. I will attempt not to spoil but know merely that it has a wry twist at the end. I cannot claim that it’s a terribly original twist but a twist none the less. In the story, man has bridged the gap between the stars but is still in the early, clumsy phase that requires him to sleep away the decades waiting. One such intrepid group has made the journey to Terra Nova and back again. How will they get on with the people of Earth who have passed decades while they slumbered?

Stungun Slim – Ron Goulart
This is a story of a stark but fairly realistic future. Interestingly, I find that of all the stories in this collection, this one stuck with me the least. The only lasting impressions I have is of public executions and insane personal debt with the most notable item being a $4,000 personal computer from the J.C. Penney catalog.

Desert Places – Pamela Sargent
Like a previous story, this one reads like a Twilight Zone episode. In it, we follow a family as they move from house to house attempting to stay ahead of some destructive force that’s gobbling up their world. At the end we find that the destructive force…. well, now I wouldn’t tell you that, now would I? That would be obvious spoilage. Suffice to say that it’s a keen allegory that has played out a million times on a million worlds including our own

If the Stars Are Gods – Gordon Eklund and Gregory Benford
Of all the stories in this collection, this is probably my favorite. In a nutshell, aliens visit the Earth and they want to talk to the entity in charge. Which, it turns out, they believe to be the sun. The story goes into a fair amount of detail about how the aliens came to believe in the sentient nature of stars and points out effectively how our physical environment shapes our long-term mental framework about how the universe works. At the risk of somewhat of a spoiler I will reveal that the aliens evolved on a planet with an extremely elliptical orbit and large axial tilt so their seasons were acutely variable in temperature. At certain points when proximity to the sun coincided with the proper angle of inclination to the sun entire populations had to pick up and move to the other side of the planet. One wonders how early life could possibly evolve in such conditions but it does make one ponder the ramifications of such an arrangement. At any rate, as has been amply illustrated by my prolonged babbling, this one made an impression.

When the Vertical World Becomes Horizontal – Alexei Panshin
In direct opposition to my feelings about the previous story, this one left me flat. Clearly some huge mental shift is taking place in humanity during the course of the story but it is intentionally kept vague and impenetrable to the point that I cannot muster any emotion from this story at all.

And there you have it. Well, there I have it. I don’t honestly expect anyone to read these but some future version of me that’s trying to remember what that weird book was that had the story of the aliens that looked like the Apple logo. So hello, Future me! How’s it going? Did we ever figure out what that weird growth was in the corner of the back yard or did it take over the universe?

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Alph – Great 50s sci-fi (5/5)

I picked up this title as I was perusing the shelves at a locally-owned bookstore and purchased it based only on its intriguing description and the fact that I’ll buy just about anything at a locally-owned bookstore to support those fine and endangered institutions.

The summary is a pretty simple one and one that about half the population isn’t especially comfortable with. All the dudes are gone. Society has turned into the ultimate matriarchy. All is well and good though, they’ve figured out how to get by without us. Until one day scientists create a dude and 500 of monosexual culture it turned on its proverbial ear.

To the positive side, this is one of those brilliant science fiction novels of the 50s-60s-70s that not only entertains you but has a deep and vibrant kernel of sociological truth to it. This isn’t just a feast of Lesbian eroticism (which it most definitely is) but it’s also a broad and well thought out tale of how societies and governments deal with and relate to change. It’s one of those books that always makes me whip out the standard mantra of “this is what science fiction was meant to be!” It makes you think about yourself and about everyone you know in new ways.

To the negative, and this is not so much a negative as it is an advisory to potential readers, the book loves its terminology. You’re advised to look up the first ten words you don’t know (unless you know the definition of cytology and parthenogenetic off the top of your head) and commit them to memory because you’ll be seeing them again and again and again. The book is an education but be prepared to either gloss over things or infer by context because this isn’t the soft vocabulary fiction you’re used to.

In summary, this book is exactly as old as I am and it’s worth a read. It does tend at times to be rather graphic sexually so it’s not one for the kiddies but it has a lot of deep things to say about humanity. I’m sad that I’ve lived my entire life along side it without having any awareness of its existence.

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Matcher Rules – It’s like Pern with Polyamory (4/5)

As usual I received this book for free so I’d review it; this time from NetGalley. Also as usual I give my scrupulously honest opinions below.

For the purposes of categorization, this book falls into the same basic premise as the Dragonriders of Pern. Human colonists found a colony on an alien planet and find “thing” that completely changes their way of life. Saying much of anything else will constitute a spoiler so I leave it at that.

To the positive side of assessing this novel, the author’s crafting of location is exceptionally intriguing. It’s the sort of book that makes you want another 47 set in the same world just to wrap up various nuances of this alien society. Holland has created a world filled with endless possibilities that this book only begins to touch on. From a writing perspective the style is easily, accessible almost juvenile; I’d recommend it to my own children except for some references to sex which I am far too cowardly to explain to a teenager.

On the negative side, like all books of this sort, the beginning 10 pages or thereabouts were a bit of a struggle. This is somewhat unavoidable as the book is busy giving new and alien names to things but it could have been a bit less compressed. Those first pages are a bit daunting but worth getting through to get to the rest. Additionally, the ending seemed far too tidy and wrapped up with a too nice, too neat bow. Perhaps my reaction is at least in part because I want the other 47 books but the ending here is too pristine to even tease a sequel. In general the start and end seemed rushed endcaps to a beautiful middle.

In summary, this is a wonderful little concept for a society and I merely wish fervently that there were more of it. Given proper treatment there is so much of human nature to explore here but as a single stand-alone novel this came up a bit wanting. Again though, that may be at least in part my opinion because I wanted 47 more books.

Visit our review on Amazon.com to let us know what you think and don’t forget to vote our review helpful if you find it so. If you don’t then that’s fine too but please let us know what we missed!

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Seeking Superlatives Or: Shooting for the Moon

Lately I’ve been hearing a lot of people around me lapse into the use of blanket superlatives. They’ll talk at length about the smartest/nicest/tallest/most wonderful person they ever met and while these stories are nice, my first rather egotistical thought is, “How would this person describe ME?” Lately I’ve found increasingly that I’m really tuned in to what people think of me and care far too much about the opinion of the world.

Perhaps it’s my fractured upbringing but I’ve always sought approval rather desperately. As a child I never really had anyone to approve of anything I said or did, usually quite the contrary, so there’s some compensatory instinct that nibbles away at everything I do making me want to reach further and be more. In many ways, this isn’t a bad thing; it’s the gift of testosterone. Men typically do always want to claw their way to the top. The question that occurs, however, is to ponder just how much of this is healthy. I’ve noted too that my efforts really are rather unfocused and random. Some days I feel good about things and some days I just can’t shake the idea that I’m wasting my time and energy completely. There’s just so much randomness. Occasionally it’s good to sit down and note just what the random things are so that when I look back in a year or two I can realize that I’ve abandoned something that was important for a decade. So in no particular order…

Apparently I’ve been photographing random crap obsessively for 5 years officially as of June. To be honest I hadn’t really taken much note of the anniversary and this is an area that frustrates me particularly. In 5 years I’ve tried to make my services available countless times but it’s an abominable struggle to find willing subjects. My style and particularity in artistic venue just fails to make sense to people for the most part. So I’m left wandering the streets with a camera. While this is certainly productive enough, it’s just not what I’m looking for. My introverted personality doesn’t sync well with trying to get into people’s faces and snap their photos.

My actual day job, as always, is rather a conglomeration but that’s exactly how I prefer it. As in life, I’m not the best person to do any one job but I am the solid and reliable person who can be depended on to do any random thing that is required at the moment. I’m hopeful that every workplace needs one of those people.

Attempts at writing have devolved into an odd editorial phase. Excepting random blog entries like this one, I tend to write mostly book reviews. And while it’s easy to poo-poo what I’ve done in that vein, I certainly do have a mighty stack of books on the shelf from authors awaiting my attention and more come in every day. I do not write the most flowery or most positive reviews. In fact some of them are downright thorny and scorching, but my readers can be assured that if I say a book is worth reading that it was my honest and utterly uncorrupted opinion on the thing. Individual results may vary, of course, but at least there’s one opinion out there that’s honest.

Continued attempts at polyglot status…. remain sporadic. I daily question why I need to learn another language just so I can not talk to people in that language. Despite that question, the stacks of flashcards continue to move about the apartment.

In retrospect, this post strikes me as rather self-serving and inane. Like the rest of the developed world, I continue in my circle to do the same things over and over while other sections of the world scrabble just to have enough food to eat. The fact that I’m carrying on at all about the quality of how I spend my free time is rather embarrassing. So with that realization I’ll go away and be glad that I have something to show for the last decade or so. Doubtless I’ve written this same blog entry, or one similar, 20 times. I am, if nothing else, effortlessly consistent.

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Strange Fruit by Michelle Janine Robinson

Strange FruitStrange Fruit by Michelle Janine Robinson

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

As usual, I received this book for free. This time, from a LibraryThing Member giveaway. Despite that kindness, I will give my candid opinions below.

To summarize the plot in a nutshell, the world has gone to hell in a handbasket and an American Apartheid has settled over the country. Terrorism and economic devastation reign supreme and a growing group of racial activists are fighting to stem the proverbial tide.

On the positive side, and it’s a slender one, this book had potential for an interesting story of sorts. If properly done, there was some amount of potential for this but absolutely none of that potential was realized.

The negative side is rather a lengthy ledger, sadly. First, one can’t say enough negative about the writing. It seems to be written at about a middle school level. The author writes in a rather redundant and choppy manner with little regard to transition or narrative. The editing is similarly poor. It’s obvious that the spellchecker has been run but little else; words are often transposed, misused, or clumsily chosen.

Leaving the words themselves aside, the author has made the story utterly implausible. Characters seem to shift in personality rapidly and without cause like they all suffer from bipolar disorder. Anyone trying to read the text will be left in a rather fearsome jumble attempting to keep track of the various goings on since the author doesn’t tie things together in anything approaching a connected narrative. The whole thing is rather a mess.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t touch at least briefly on the content. The main premise in this novel is that white conservatives are going to take over the country and reestablish slavery. While I’m the last person to side with white conservatives about anything, it would seem that if a white guy wrote a book with the premise that African Americans are going to take over the country and enslave the whites, it would be classified as hate speech. This book at its heart just seems to inflame racial tensions. Personally, every demographic in this country has problems and every demographic causes problems. We’re all at fault in one way or another for the problems which plague us. Books like this don’t really add constructively to the solution of any of these issues; they just serve to annoy and polarize readers’ thinking.

In summary, poorly written, poorly edited, socially non-constructive. Might have been entertaining if not for all the previous negatives.

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Little Known Facts: A Novel by Christine Sneed

Little Known Facts: A NovelLittle Known Facts: A Novel by Christine Sneed

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As is usual, I received this book because my fiancee won the title in a drawing and was kind enough to pass it along to me after her own perusal. Despite the book’s low-low price of nothing, I will provide my candid opinion below.

I tend to try to start out the review of any book with a bit of a teaser or summary of the beginning seed of the plot. That goal becomes difficult in this case simply because there isn’t really a plot to speak of. Sneed’s novel has plenty to say but it doesn’t rely on any silly conventions like evolving story lines to draw the reader along. Instead, Little Known Facts provides us with an insightful snapshot of four very unhappy people who by the standards of society should abundantly grateful for their positions of wealth and fame.

When my fiancee passed this along to me she did it with a bit of reticence suspecting that I would dislike it. I’m not a typical “guy” reader who needs lots of drama and action but I do like to feel at the end of the novel that I’ve learned something and Sneed’s latest doesn’t fail at that. She paints a lucid picture of the darker aspects of life as one of Hollywood’s monied elite. Her narrative revolves in viewpoint from one character to the next as we hear not only how it feels to be the famous and renowned actor but also how it feels to be his son, his daughter, his wife, his ex-wife and everyone in between. Seldom is a single aspect of human existence put on display for us with such completeness and rendered with such skill.

In summary, Little Known Facts does have an important message to share and it is written in a wonderfully readable style. It falls short for me only because the topic in question is a bit outside my immediate realm of interest. I can name about 5 movie stars and I have no clue what they’re doing when they’re not on the screen. Those who desire more insight into their personal lives will be well served to peruse this novel. If nothing else, it will quench any vestiges of green-eyed envy one might have about life as a movie star.

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All Over but the Wrapping

So Christmas is over.  Well, at least the annoying part.  I’ve bought the blasted presents which society dictates I should buy and all that remains is to encapsulate them in colorful paper and distribute them.  Call me a Grinch whose heart needs to grow three sizes and break that cardiac measuring device, but it seems like there’s a much better way to do all this.

Tradition dictates that I give the people closest to me presents RIGHT NOW.  To be honest, RIGHT NOW isn’t a great time to be giving presents.  Everybody and their frickin’ mother is out at the mall trying to do the same thing and that makes it a rather large pain to try to buy anything.  Not to mention, it’s the beginning of winter and I’m at the ebb of my creative energies as far as gift giving goes.  Long and short of it… not a good time.

Here, in my never sufficiently succinct nor humble opinion is how it SHOULD work.  To heck with Christmas.  Instead of having one time a year when we get together and appreciate each other and have loving family harmony, how about we spread this out through the whole year?  I would postulate that most of the time we fail at harmony because there’s just too damn much pressure.  We’ll have much better luck if we just work harder the whole year along to demonstrate our appreciation.

Sound hard?  Not really.  OK, so here’s how I try to handle things for myself.  I have a list on my phone titled, “graphic descriptions of spiders I have recently encountered.”  This title, however, is a ruse and so entitled to keep Laura from peeking.  In reality, it’s a list of things that Laura has said that suggest to me that perhaps she’d like to have something.  For example, we might see an ad for Hungarian Beaver Cheese and she might make a positive comment.  So that stealthily goes on the list.  A couple months later, the item she expressed an interest in might just randomly show up in the mail.  Lather, rinse, repeat, as the wise and all-knowing shampoo bottles say.

As to the rest of humanity, they’re all on the list but at a lower priority.  A while ago I made advertising-based artworks for all the people in my department.  That was apparently two years ago if the dates on the photos are to be believed.  Slowly, slowly my mind has turned back towards the idea of creating another round of artwork to give away.  I’m hopeful that when this happens again, that it will somehow be more meaningful than some scripted gift-giving routine dictated by society.

To sum up, to heck with the holidays.  Let’s just appreciate each other all year around.  Sure it’s more work but ultimately, this isn’t about it being easy, is it?


Filed under personal