Archive | Science Fiction

The Time Hoppers | Robert Silverberg

The cover of Silverberg's The Time HoppersI suppose even legends can write a stinker or two.

Robert Silverberg certainly qualifies as a legend. He is one of the writers (along with Asimov, Pohl, and handful of others) who brought the genre of science fiction into the popular consciousness. He has won multiple Hugo and Nebula awards for his copious writing.

Time Hoppers is not one of his best stories.

The book promises to explore the paradoxes involved with time travel (a topic that’s interested me since I watched Back to the Future as a kid and one we’re still exploring today in movies like Looper). Instead of fleshing out these paradoxes, the book devolves into a cautionary tale about classism with an unlikable protagonist at the helm.

The most interesting part of this book was considering how a person in 1967 thought society would develop. With the rise of the super-rich and the growing divide between rich and poor, he may have been on to something.

—Robert Silverberg, The Time Hoppers (New York: Belmont, 1974).

Consider Her Ways and Others | John Wyndham

If your only experience with Wyndham was being forced to read The Crysalids in high school, it’s time to pay this science fiction master another visit. In addition to rereading all of his major books (The Day of the Triffids, The Kraken Wakes, The Chrysalids, The Seeds of Time, Trouble with Lichen, and The Midwich Cukoos), I’ve been reading through his lesser known forays such as Chocky, The Outward Urge and Web. I recently continued this journey with his collection of short stories entitled,Consider Her Ways and Others.

As with most collections, there are highlights and lowlights. The novella, “Consider Her Ways” is the shining light here. It’s a disorienting horror story about the future of men and women with a distinctive Wyndham twist at the end. Many of the stories in this collection deal with time travel, Wyndham’s bread and butter, in some form.

Wyndham falls short when he stretches too far from his base such as “Oh, Where, Now, is Peggy MacRafferty?”, a cultural satire where prospective movie starlets are groomed and modified to the point where they are all indiscernible.

The final story, “A Long Spoon,” was a clever surprise. It’s quite a twist on the old idea of selling your soul!

These stories are well worth reading.

Downward to the Earth | Robert Silverberg

Fantasy and Science Fiction are often kept in two separate sections of the bookstore. Silverberg marries the two masterfully in Downward to the Earth.

This book is essentially the sequel to Avatar. No, it’s not set in the same world, but the themes remain. In fact, I’d be surprised to find out that the script writers of Avatar had not drawn inspiration from this book.

In Downward to the Earth, the humans recognized the error of mining a world with sentient creatures on it so they gave back ownership of the planet. Now, a few years later, a former player during the mining days returns for some unfinished business. The contrast between the science fiction of space travel and the fantastic elements of native creature’s religion make a compelling story.

This is more than just another museum-piece science fiction novel. It’s a story about spiritual discovery with a few unseen twists along the way.

The Empire of the Ants | H. G. Wells

In high school I became infatuated with the fathers of science fiction: Jules Verne & H. G. Wells. After having read many of his famous works (The Invisible Man, The Island of Doctor Moreau, and The Time Machine to name a few), it was a pleasure to find a slim collection of his short stories.

This Scholastic Publication contains five stories:

  1. The Empire of the Ants (1905)
  2. The Country of the Blind (1904)
  3. The Crystal Egg (1897)
  4. The Man Who Could Work Miracles (1898)
  5. The Magic Shop (1903)

Two of the stories really stand out. “The Country of the Blind” explores the old proverb, “In the Country of the Blind the One-eyed Man is King”. The unconventional twist (although not entirely unexpected) fires the reader’s imagination. “The Crystal Egg” reminded me of C. S. Lewis’ unfinished The Dark Tower. Come to think of it, the idea of a crystal orb granting vision resonates with Stephen King’s Dark Tower books as well.

Unfortunately, the rest of the stories are at or below average. They might have been titillating in an age where science fiction was novel but they don’t stand up as well today. Unless you’re an H. G. Wells completist, stick to his major works of science fiction.

Turn Left At Thursday | Frederick Pohl

Turn Left At Thursday is a collection of three novelettes and three stories, although I’d call the “novelettes” short stories as well. The longest clocked in at 43 pages.

These stories go beyond the usual golden age sci-fi fare. Rather than just setting adventure stories in space, Pohl used some mind-warping points of view to shed a dystopian light on the world.

The best part of reading mid-twentieth century science fiction is the light it sheds on the culture of that day. You can learn a lot about people’s history by reading their dreams (and nightmares) for the future. The last story, “I Plingot, Who You” is particularly telling. In it, an alien exploits cold war tensions to attempt to bring earth to the point of nuclear annihilation.

Even though the quality of some of the shorter stories was lacking, this was an interesting set of tales.

The End of Eternity | Isaac Asimov

Reading 50 year old science fiction is an entertaining experience. Not only do you have to envision the future with the author, you have to view it through a dated lens.

Asimov’s The End of Eternity is a great example of classic science fiction. You get an archetypal mystery/love story mix set in a world of time-travel.

Asimov’s science-fiction creativity is superb. How, for example, did he think up a time-travel system energized by the power of our sun in the distant future as it goes nova? The paradoxes that are always explored in time-travel books are well worked into the mystery.

Unfortunately, the character development is as bad as the science-fiction is good. These people feel like little more than artificial devices invented to carry the plot forward—which, of course, they are.

If you’re feeling nostalgic, this book provides a few interesting hours of escape.

The Outward Urge | John Wyndham

You can enjoy The Outward Urge on a couple different levels. On the surface, it’s a collection of short stories about humanity’s exploration of space. Dig a little deeper and a couple sub-themes stand out. These stories cover 200 years of the history of the Troon family to show how the desire to explore can follow a family line. The stories are also thinly veiled rhetoric on how human infighting undermines technical acumen.

On another level altogether, you can read this series of stories that were written over a decade before humans landed on the moon to examine the hopes and dreams of a generation. This was written when our own solar system was still so full of habitable promise.

Some of the short stories are better than others. The first story has a cowboy flair to it, while the last episode deals with the human effects of cryogenic freezing. I picked up this book because I enjoy Wyndam and wanted a light read. I found that, plus a little extra.

Star-Begotten | H. G. Wells

Do you remember The War of the Worlds? This is a sequel, of sorts. In War, the Martians were defeated by their vulnerability to earth’s ecosystem. Star-Begotten explains plan B. What if, instead of invading earth, they used interplanetary rays to subtly change humans into their own spiritual children?

This book is a lot more about philosophy than plot. If you assume that the Martians are technologically as well as morally superior to humans, how would their benevolent rule change the course of the planet?

Star-Begotten is an interesting period piece, exploring optimism and fear on the eve of World War II.

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