Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Books ready in 2017: No. 39 -- Annihilation: Book I of The Southern Reach Trilogy

by Jeff Vandermeer

Started: Oct. 30
Finished: Oct. 31

Notes: I've been reading so much older fiction lately, I thought I'd switch things up and go for something modern. I'm familiar with Vandermeer's work as an editor, but I've not read any of his writing, at least not in the long form. This novel has proven rather popular, and it is my understanding a movie is soon to be released, so now I'll discover what all the hubbub is about.

Mini review: While not extremely short, this is a fast, easy, breezy read perfect for a modern audience. There are a lot of secrets in this novel, so many that most are not explained, or if explained, then the explanation itself is somewhat vague. An expedition of four women is sent into a mysterious Area X where other expeditions have been sent in the past, most of which have not returned due to homicide, suicide or just plain old disappearance. Of the former expedition members who have returned, they have been shades of their former selves with little to no memory of what happened to them in Area X. This tale is told by a biologist, her account of what she witnessed in Area X. Overall, I enjoyed this book, and I see why it's popular. I have two minor problems, the first being that despite the ease of the text's flow, I did feel the story slowed too much in a few places, and secondly, I found the ending far too ambiguous, though I suppose the other novels in this trilogy will explain more. There are potentially shades of Lovecraft here, though not quite the darkness of such stories. This story reminded me a bit of the TV show "LOST" from a few years back, and somewhat of Scott Smith's horror novel, The Ruins.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Books read in 2017: No. 38 -- Slan

by A. E. Van Vogt

Started: Oct. 25
Finished: Oct. 29

Notes: Here's another classic sci-fi author whom I have never read, this particular novel perhaps being his most famous, or at least the one I have run across the most often. Published originally in 1940, I'm hoping to enjoy it and maybe learn a few things about writing (as is always the case for me). While these older speculative writers might not be popular today, often even forgotten altogether, they do speak to me usually more than modern writers at least as far as the kind of fiction I myself want to write. Admittedly, modern readers might not care for my own writings that draw upon the styles and subjects of authors of the past, but I write for myself first. Plus, since I'm mainly a fantasy writer, if I wrote yet another long pseudo-political piece set in a pseudo-medieval world, or a lengthy novel of nothing but war and war and more war, which seem to be popular currently, I would probably bore myself and maybe give up writing altogether. It's not that there's anything wrong with those types of tales, but I've read enough of them and don't feel a need to read more on any regular basis. And it's not that earlier authors didn't include such themes, but they did also stretch themselves into other subject matters. I'm rambling. I'll go read now.

Mini review: The writing here was actually quite solid, and quite modern. A boy who is a slan, a race with mind-reading powers and some few other abilities, must raise himself secretly among humanity, which seeks to wipe out his race. There's a lot more to it than that, but read it for yourself for some enjoyment. I will say I'd gladly read more from Van Vogt. My only issue here was I felt the ending was a little too rushed.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Books read in 2017: No. 37 -- The Metal Monster

by A. Merritt

Started: Oct. 11
Finished: Oct. 25

Notes: Being a former newspaper journalist, I'm well aware of Merritt's accomplishments in that field, but he was also known to be a popular speculative writer in the early 20th Century, influencing such figures as Lovecraft. I've never read any of Merritt's fiction, and though I have some apprehension considering his prose is often criticized as being overly flowery (something I usually can't stand), I thought I'd give him a go. In this novel originally serialized in 1920, four Americans apparently stumble upon a secret army of robots hidden away in Asia and must save the world from the metal beasts.

Mini review: I learned something new from this book. I knew too much description could be a bad thing because it is often boring, which was not necessarily the case here, but I learned that too much description can actually be counter productive, that it can actually obscure instead of describe. I would have not thought that possible before reading this novel. Yes, Merritt's descriptions were lengthy, but they weren't necessarily dull. The problem is that there is so much description, it's difficult to actually see the scenery in one's mind. I suppose it didn't help that the description often referred to structures and creatures which would be quite alien to the human mind. Here the "robots" were actually anything but. They were living creatures with sort of a hive mind, and they were made of metal. Their origin is never fully explained, but it is hinted that they are an alien race from the darkness of space. I'll go no further in case anyone wants to read this. For me, I'm not likely to pick up any more of Merritt's work any time soon, but that's not to say I won't do so at some point, if nothing else to give him another shot at me. Besides, anyone interested in the history of speculative fiction could do worse.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Books read in 2017: No. 36 -- Logan's Run

by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson

Started: Oct. 9
Finished: Oct. 10

Notes: This is an example of why I love used book stores so much. If you take the time to peruse the shelves, you can find books you didn't know existed, or had forgotten they existed. This is the case for me. The original "Logan's Run" movie and television show were big when I was a kid, but all things science fiction were suddenly cool in the late '70s after the success of Star Wars, and I had forgotten that it had actually been a novel. A novel which I'd never read. I'm correcting that now. I hope it's good.

Mini review: This was just a fun adventure tale, but one with something to say. The novel and the movie (for those who remember it) are pretty similar until about the halfway point, then each verges off into different territory, with the novel having the more surprising and interesting ending. The novel also is much more gritty than the movie, reminding me somewhat of the worlds of Blade Runner and even The Running Man to some extent. All in all, I prefer the book over the movie.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Books read in 2017: No. 35 -- Ancient, My Enemy

by Gordon R. Dickson

Started: Oct. 5
Finished: Oct. 9

Notes: Having just enjoyed a novella of Dickson's, I thought it high time I read more from the man, so I turn to this 1974 collection of his short stories.

Mini review: There were some fine tales here, dated for sure but still enjoyable reads and not as dated as some of the author's contemporaries. Of these stories, the first one, which bears the same name as this collection, was one of my favorites, but favorite had to be the last story, "The Bleak and Barren Land," a story of what happens when a group of colonists find themselves confronting miners and aliens on a semi-populated planet.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Books read in 2017: No. 34 -- The Day the Sun Stood Still

by Poul Anderson, Gordon R. Dickson, and Robert Silverberg

Started: Sept. 27
Finished: Oct. 5

Notes: This is a collection of three science fiction novellas from the authors mentioned above, originally published in 1972.

Mini review: It turns out this collection is a themed one, based quite literally upon the title, The Day the Sun Stood Still. Editor Lester Del Rey gave these authors the task of writing stories based upon the notion of the sun standing still in the sky for one whole day, much as was purported to have happened a time or two in ancient times according to the Bible. All three stories have religious thought at their heart, but generally come to rather dark opinions concerning mankind, though not God. Of the three tales here, the longest, "Things Which Are Caesar's" by Gordon R. Dickson, proved to be my favorite, also being the tale that was most down-to-earth, in my opinion, focusing more upon how such events affect individuals rather than society (or the world) as a whole. I'd like to add that since I've been reading pre-1980 (or thereabouts) science fiction of late, I'm surprised how much of it has been related to religion; perhaps that has merely been a fluke, but it seems to me modern science fiction rarely touches the subject, though maybe that is understandable considering the vast political and social gulf that has arisen between science and religion during the last few decades. Also, it was somewhat eerie and frightening how much these forward-looking stories from 1972 mirrored the world we live in today.