The End of Eternity (1955) by Isaac Asimov

EndofEternity1And here’s another sci-fi romance, dated forty years earlier, by Mr. One-of-the-Big-Three Himself, Isaac Asimov.

Andrew Harlan works as an Eternal Technician, analyzing and recommending Minimum Necessary Changes (MNC) in order to guide Reality. When he meets Noÿs Lambent, a non-Eternal from a Century far from his own, he falls in love and attempts to save her from the upcoming MNC that could destroy her existence as he knows it. But is he just playing into the hands of his superiors? Or, perhaps, a more powerful guiding force?

Like Remake (1995), which I reviewed yesterday, it’s another “he barely met her, but now he desperately loves her” kind of book. And also like Remake, it’s easy to dump this book for its dull, old-fashioned tone and predictable sexist relationship patterns. However, both books’ faults lie in their shared purpose: a tongue-in-cheek critique of social standards, although Asimov’s tongue might be less in his cheek and too buried in sci-fi pseudo-jargon for ‘50s sci-fi geeks to notice the social disconnect. Continue reading

The Time Ships (1995) by Stephen Baxter

TheTimeMachineBut first…

The Time Machine (1895) by H. G. Wells

(a.k.a. The Communist Manifesto, Part II: Eat the Rich)*

With The Time Ships shimmying up my TBR, it was about time I committed to finishing the 1895 classic, The Time Machine. Years back, I decided to sample some pre-20th sci-fi classics and, along with Mary Shelley and Jules Verne, H. G. Wells joined my reading list. At least for a few pages.

Then I decided to read another Verne, instead.

As with a lot of the early genre writers, old Herbie G has this issue with trusting the reader to suspend disbelief, so his narrator spends a large chunk of the book setting up the premise for the story, rather than just starting the story with an omniscient third party. The first quarter of the novella centers on Unnamed Protagonist explaining the story to his friends (one dude happens to be a writer): explaining the time machine, demonstrating the time machine, coming back from a time trip and explaining his tale over a proper gentleman’s feast. Lots of explaining.

That’s The Time Machine part. It’s incredibly boring. I never got past that part the first time. I thought the whole book was going to be like that. Continue reading

Bones of the Earth (2002) by Michael Swanwick

bonesoftheearth1After a rash of Michael Swanwick’s name appearing everywhere in my usual online haunts, and seeing his name associated with every author I categorize as being cerebral, artistic, and innovative, it’s about time for one of his books to queue up on my TBR.

Bones of the Earth. Now that’s a pretty name. Visualizing rickety scaffolds in the mantel of the earth. Imagining Earth’s remnants floating in empty space. Pre book blurb, the possibilities are sensawendless.

*scans the first few pages*

Dinosaurs. It’s about dinosaurs.

So you mean, like, literal bones of the earth?

*scans some more*

Dinos with time travel.

*shoulders sag* Continue reading

Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern (1983) by Anne McCaffrey

moretadragonlady1stAs a kid who devoured Nancy Drew and Baby-sitters Club novels, then Kurt Vonnegut and Marion Zimmer Bradley as a teen, I can’t quite place where Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series would go on the recommended reads for child development chart.  Its style and content seem ideal for the ages 3 to 7 crowd, yet there are some sexy moments that seem a little too sophisticated for young kiddos. But I’m not sure an older child or young teen would buy the whole space-dragon on a medieval future world premise. I know I wouldn’t have.

Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern is the prequel to McCaffrey’s extensive Dragonrider series, which serves to explain the legendary tale of the famous dragonrider, Moreta, who is often referenced in the earlier-published, but later-occurring novels. Moreta is a dragonrider/dragonhealer/weyrleader who lived 1000 years prior to the events of the first published Pern novel. Little is known about her because the Pernese suck at recording history (they do this on purpose, sometimes), but her adventures and tragedies are immortalized in song and poetry. Basically, it’s a story about a story from the story. Continue reading

Millennium (1983) by John Varley

Millennium(1stEd)John Varley’s 1983 Millennium, a novelization of the 1989 film disappointment of the same name, which was inspired by a Varley short story*, has a tasty core with a problematic shell. The story itself? It’s just plain neat. The characterization? Kind of annoying.

Louise Baltimore runs a time traveling snatch team from “The Last Age” of humanity. Bill Smith investigates aircraft crashes for the U. S. government in 1983. A devastating double-plane crash occurs in California which draws both characters to the event—Bill to identify the cause, and Louise to supervise her distant-future team as they snatch the imminent victims from the doomed planes and dash them to the diseased and polluted Last Age to be preserved until arrangements can be made to transport them to another world and begin humanity anew. Continue reading

No Enemy But Time (1982) by Michael Bishop

noenemybuttimeI got kind of busy this weekend and never had a chance to link my most recent book review, which was actually posted last week at the Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations blog, one of my favorite SF blogs. This review is part of a series of guest posts to promote the work of Michael Bishop, an SF author who has attracted critical acclaim throughout his career, but is not as well known as other SF authors. It’s an admirable effort by Joachim Boaz, the guy behind SF&OSR (who does not actually live in a city under the sea), and a reasonable pursuit considering that Bishop’s novel is one of the best I’ve read so far this year, and one of the best SF novels I’ve read from the (*cough* dreadful *cough*) eighties.

I reviewed Bishop’s 1982 Nebula Award winning novel, No Enemy But Timewhich also appears on David Pringle’s Top 100 Best Science Fiction Novels. If you have a taste for time travel, prehistory, and trope trampling, you should give this a whirl. I will definitely be adding more Bishop to my TBR list.

And don’t forget to keep checking Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations for more Bishop posts this week! Some of my other favorite SF bloggers have been and will be participating!

 

The Man Who Folded Himself (1973) by David Gerrold

TheManWhoFoldedHimself(1stEd)The man best known for giving us tribble troubles also gave us this fun but disquieting 1973 Hugo-nominated story about the technicalities and repercussions of time travel. In the space of 100 pages, The Man Who Folded Himself explores every nuance and angle of time travel, both amusing and troubling at times. I imagine Gerrold had to sit on the cover just to get the pages to close from all that he stuffed in, but the moment it’s unlatched– WHOOSH! Springy snakes everywhere.

It’s like no other time travel novel you’ve read– the ultimate Pandora’s box of time travel fiction. And it just may make you reevaluate that childhood wish for a time machine. Continue reading

The Big Time by Fritz Leiber

A Nazi, a Roman, and an English poet walk into a bar set in the Void of the Universe…

TheBigTime2

— Stop me if you’ve heard this one…–

That’s where Leiber starts his surreal tale about chronologically mismatched barroom patrons unwinding after a battle in the destructive Change War. It gets more bizarre as his Time Soldiers alternately carouse and argue with some lady “ghosts”, a fuzzy-tentacled moon alien, a satyr, and a Minoan warrior chick, with a devil horn hairdo and an atom bomb. Escorts are provided for amusement, one of whom narrates the story, in her unsophisticated and puerile way.  

The Change War is fought between cryptic rivals, the Spiders and the Snakes, within the Void of the universe. Leiber’s stage is the Void bar, his cast are the patrons, and, naturally, (although nothing about this book is natural), the hijinks ensue. Continue reading

Month in Review: September Reads

thewindupgirl strangerinastrangeland amongothers blackoutwillis allclear

I made considerable headway through the Hugo list this month. Here are my mini-reviews:

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (Hugo winner, 2010)- Thailand goes all steampunky after the consequences of climate change cause a Contraction of resources and international trade. From all this, we get a genetically-engineered, wind-up stripper girl, and a series of other characters, all of whom are self-centered, greedy, and just plain horrible. If you like dystopian fiction and graphic rape scenes, this is the book for you. If not, go for the other 2010 Hugo award winner, The City & The City by China Mieville  (which is also kind of dystopian, but without all the rape and horrible people).

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein (Hugo winner, 1962)- What happens when an Earthling is born and raised among Martians, then returns to Earth as a young adult? He starts out endearingly naive, (even when he permanently disappears people), exhibits phenomenal telekinetic powers, and then starts a sex cult. Such a weird book, but you have to read it because it’s Heinlein.

Among Others by Jo Walton (Hugo winner, 2012)- First-person, diary-style novel about a magical teen struggling in a mundane private school. Billed as the “reverse Harry Potter,” it feels like a YA book, but it’s tolerable enough to be read by grown ups. The best part– the main character is a major sci-fi bookworm and makes all kinds of references to seventies SF. This book introduced me to Le Guin and Zelazny.

Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis (Hugo winner, 2011)- Time-traveling Oxford historians from the year 2060 get stuck during the London Blitz and might be wrecking history as a consequence. These two books were my favorites of the month, despite my criticism that they should have been whittled down to one longer book with some considerable editing. It was still an exciting read that was difficult to put down.

My recommendations: Choose Willis’ Blackout/All Clear for the suspense and history. Walton’s Among Others is also great if you want fairies, and don’t mind the young, first-person perspective.

All Clear (Blackout #2) (2010) by Connie Willis

ImageThe strangest thing about All Clear by Connie Willis is that, despite the accolades won by its predecessor (see my review of Blackout), this “sequel” to the 2011 Hugo Award winner for best novel is entirely absent from the big SF award listings. Despite its major flaws, it’s a great story, so I can only guess that the publication dates for both novels were so close — within the same year– that it only made sense to nominate the first book.

That observation alone perfectly demonstrates the main criticism of this series– this is supposed to be one book.

It feels like one book. The pacing is quick enough that it was jarring to reach the end of Blackout and discover there was an entire novel’s worth of conclusion in a second book. I try to go into books without much preparation or research, so I was completely unaware that Blackout had a sequel. And it was an unnecessary sequel. I would have preferred a much longer, but edited, one-book novel.

The All Clear follow-up was great, but it included a whole bunch of middle stuff that is interesting, but unnecessary. The story continues about the three primary characters, time-travelling Oxford historians from the year 2060, who go back to WWII England and get stuck. The second book continues a pattern from the first book that I was already frustrated with– the three characters separating to go do things, then stressing out about being separated in the middle of the Blitz, then finding each other again, and learning that their separation did not do much to improve their circumstance. You get a sense that Willis was so enamored with the era, that she constructed these moments just to expose the reader to all the research that went into the book. I certainly walked away from Blackout/All Clear feeling much more knowledgeable of and impressed by the people of the London Blitz, but the extra subplots didn’t do much to drive the plot forward. Essentially, the bridge between Blackout/All Clear was just a whole lot of bombs and running around.

Then again, maybe that’s what it feels like to live in the middle of a war. It’s just a multitude of unnecessary events that impact the people, but usually have no real impact on the ultimate conclusion of the war. Bomb all you want, but we all know that economic might and diplomatic prowess are the actual tools that win wars.

In my review of Blackout, I warned that some readers might dislike the lack of explanation about time travel, but it didn’t really bother me. By the second book, though, I did take issue with how little the historians (and even their professor!) understood of mechanics that governed time travel, even though it appears to be driven by a computer that one assumes was designed and controlled by humans. However, it’s almost as if they characterize time travel as being a separate intelligent entity– fixing things and preventing things that are beyond the understanding of the humans using the technology. In my mind, I’m wondering, “Forget the Blitz! Why aren’t these people studying this mysterious, intelligent force behind time travel?” I find it hard to believe that these scholars would demonstrate such willful ignorance and lack of intellectual curiosity about the technology that they rely upon. In the real world, all scholars are expected to know as much about their tools as they do about their disciplines. Wouldn’t that be an OSHA standard, anyway?

Finally, I don’t think I’ve ever read a book where the characters start out with more dimension than they end up. Is that something else that war does to people? Devolve them into flat personalities? From the first book, I loved Eileen, but I hardly know her now. In my mind, she started out as the main protagonist, but lost that throne to Polly somewhere in the middle of the first book. I think Eileen could have lent more strength to the story if she had remained as the primary perspective. It’s obvious that Willis’ love for the background overshadowed her need to develop the characters, and it’s a shame. There were so many outlying characters and so much potential for emotional interaction and investment, but much of those opportunities were sacrificed in order to sprinkle in more research.

As cranky as this review sounds, I loved this series. These are minor complaints compared to my level of enjoyment of the story. It was suspenseful and engaging, and I was eager to pick up the book every day. Some potential was drowned in the length of the series, but I still believe this was one of the best stories I read all year. I would recommend it to anyone.