The nerdgods must be crazy, pt 2: SFaaNM and Blood Music (1985) by Greg Bear

BloodMusicMore from the nerddoomdeification category, Blood Music (1985) is Greg Bear’s multi-award-nominated and later SF Masterworked sci-fi novel about nanotech apocalypse by the hands of one single, sociopathic nerd. Like The Terminal Experiment (1995) that I discussed last week (to everyone’s terminal boredom, if the crickets were any indication— please bear with me, Zelazny is almost on deck), Blood Music relies on the actions of a sociopathic nerd protagonist to test out a dangerous and untested scientific hunch, with little thought or regard for the consequences. Another individual depicted as deity, if you please. Continue reading

VALIS (1981) by Philip K. Dick

VALIS1981Beyond the reality bending, beyond the suburban discontent, beyond the fragile male ego expressed as nonchalant sexism, PKD’s preference for the word “vast” most struck me from the very first novel I read by him, especially by the time Jason tells Alys, “But you’re vast,” (170) in Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said. It’s not a word I hear every day, and Dick uses it constantly. 

Here’s the thing, though: Flow My Tears was published in February 1974, written before the 2-3-74 events that triggered the whacked out, mystical wanderings of VALIS, Radio Free Albemuth, and The Exegesis. So, “Vast Alys” existed before VALIS.

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Solaris (1961) by Stanislaw Lem

Solaris2Somehow, somewhere in my readings, I mistakenly picked up on the idea that Olaf Stapledon’s Star Maker (1937) and 1961’s Solaris by Polish writer Stanislaw Lem (whose name is the worst kind of tongue twister*) are novels of similar substance. I’m not sure what misled me to that assumption, but while they both share the “sapient celestial object” concept that is central to both novels, they are entirely different, with Solaris being a traditional sci-fi story in the generic tradition, gleaning elements from sci-fi pulps and Lovecraftian horror, while Star Maker‘s greater scope functions strictly as an existential examination of humanity. While Solaris also does the whole “existential examination” thing, it’s not monopolized by that conceit– it easily functions as a just-a-story. What similarities do exist are likely due to Stapledon’s influence on Lem, as is the case for a large segment of science fiction writers who grew up under the legacy of sci-fi’s staple don.

In Solaris, we meet Kris Kelvin, who arrives on the Solaris Station after years of space travel, only to discover the station in disarray, with one colleague dead, another isolated in his lab, and another drunk and making vague, ominous threats. Continue reading

My Recommendations for Future Gollancz SF Masterworks Selections

sfmasterworks wwendThanks to Joachim at Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations for asking me to participate in his Gollancz SF Masterworks recommendation efforts!

I’ve spent the past couple of years reading more vintage SF, with an especially concentrated effort since last December. Dabbling with a few awards lists here and there, I’ve had more consistent pleasure sampling from the Gollancz SF Masterworks list, so I was thrilled when Joachim asked me to post some of my own recommendations for future SF Masterworks. Some of my suggestions might be obvious if you follow this blog regularly, but I surprised myself a few times!

I am of two minds when it comes to SF Masterworks potential, so I’ve divided my selections into two categories. For both categories, I made up the following criteria: Continue reading

The Unsleeping Eye/The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe (1974) by D. G. Compton

TheUnsleepingEye1While the benefits of disease eradication are oft desired, the ramifications of such a world are not hard to imagine: overpopulation, senescence, entropy. Speculative fiction has played with this trope for ages, resulting in stories that span from the optimistic to the apocalyptic to the zombie apocalyptic. Some might argue that it’s overdone, but that doesn’t stop writers from continuing the trend, because it’s something we all want, we don’t have, and we should fear what we don’t have because we might not ever have it or understand it, and also vaccinations might cause zombies.

But leave it to D. G. Compton to find a new angle on the whole brave new disease-free world trope. In The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe (published in the U. S. as The Unsleeping Eye– my copy, and later as Death Watch, after the movie), D. G. Compton ignores those obvious consequences (although we get a slight flavor of societal decay in the background), and instead twists his tale to illuminate the effects of the absence of disease on a media-suffused, yet “pain-starved public” (p. 31). Continue reading