Dan Sandman

Posts Tagged ‘Science Fiction’

#30 The Time Machine

In Adventure, Books, Fiction, Science Fiction on 21/07/2017 at 12:00 pm

#30 The Time MachineAn intrepid Time Traveler calls a dinner party of distinguished fellows to discuss his time machine. The guests leave skeptical, despite the Time Traveler’s convincing scientific arguments. Later, the Time Traveler returns from a week-long adventure far into the distant future. His story is of two separate species evolved from the British class system: the first group are benign, live in the upperworld, and great the Time Traveler with garlands of flowers; the second group are hostile, live in the underworld, and steal the time machine from our hero. As he attempts to understand the future of planet earth, the Time Traveler must rescue his machine and return to his guests in time for dinner. On his way back home, he accidentally shoots far, far, far ahead in time to witness the destruction of all life as we know it. In one final twist, after telling his story, both he himself and the time machine disappear in front of our eyes. The whole fantastic tale is around one hundred pages long and has remained in print for over a century. It is a thought-provoking adventure story and the work of a great prophetic imagination.

Thanks must go to the good folks at Primrose Hill Community Library who got this latest edition in for me by request (excellent introduction). They also got in The Island of Doctor Moreau. Great little library!


#23 The War of the Worlds

In Books, Fiction, Science Fiction on 02/06/2017 at 12:00 pm

#23 The War of the Worlds.jpgObserved by astronomers, in the quiet and peaceful English countryside, a star-like object falls from the sky, blasting open a huge pit in the ground. Later, hostile Martians start to emerge with one mission: to destroy mankind. With only late-Victorian weaponry to fight with (Maxim guns and artillery men), Earth must defend itself against alien invasion. But the Martians have developed a destructive heat-ray and a devastating unit of giant metallic tripod-like machines. The army, and humanity in general, stand no chance against the superior technology of the brutally advanced invaders. There is no negotiation and no prisoners are taken. Civilization is set to be destroyed and our planet is set to be colonized without hope of reprisal. Will we survive the War of the Worlds? The first clue to answering this question is apparent from the novel’s earliest chapters. Clearly, the story is that of a survivor, writing in the first-person.

As Adam Roberts points out in his introduction, at the time of publication, the invasion novel already existed as a popular genre.  But whereas the invasion fiction of the late nineteenth century dwelt on fears surrounding the Germans, the Chinese or whoever, Wells pits his plucky English townspeople against aliens from Mars. This stroke of genius, drawing on Wells’s knowledge of the science and the fears of his day, would go on to both create and define a new branch of popular fiction: science fiction. It is fair to say, from Blade Runner to the X-Men, that this book is the central modern influence on all subsequent science fiction. And to add to its power, it remains a good read and a good page-turner.

#20 The Island of Doctor Moreau

In Books, Fiction, Science Fiction on 12/05/2017 at 12:00 pm

#20 The Island of Doctor MoreauH.G. Wells second novel is about a vivisectionist whose name gives the book its title. On an island exactly resembling Nobel’s Isle, the obsessive Dr. Moreau (with the help of his alcoholic assistant Montgomery) is guilty of performing cruel experiments on living animals. As part of an autobiographical shipwreck narrative (think Vitctorian Robinson Crusoe), the stranded Pendrick delves into the island’s dark secrets, revealing the terrifying truth: Moreau has made himself Prospero to a host of Calibans.

In similarity to Wells’ other early novels, the grandfather of science fiction combines the tools of the scientific theorist with the tools of The Novelist [caps. to donate stress]. As part of an unsigned contract, the novelist is allowed to lie to his or her readers: making up a story which is a complete work of the human imagination. However, for this contract to work, the novelist must strive to convince the reader that the world imagined (envisioned firstly by the writer and secondly by the reader), is as real as the world perceived by the senses: touch, smell, sight and sound, etc. To achieve a convincing but also a beautiful reality, The Great Novelist [caps. again]–and H. G. Wells is one of the greatest to have put pen to paper–will evoke these senses using the incredible power of language. The great novelist will also employ tools found in other forms of prose; such as autobiography, history and scientific writing to convince the reader of their ability to tell a good lie.

However, unlike the autobiographer, the historian and the scientist, the novelist admits that every part of his or her work is imagined and therefore a complete and utter hoax. In this way, the novelist has much is common with the magician (whose work is to pull a rabbit out of a hat as if by magic). Like a wise person who goes to a magic show, it is the literary critic’s job to make sure that every party that signs the contract is in full and total knowledge that the fiction is a complete and utter falsehood. Whether one is reading H. G. Wells, Daniel Defoe or William Shakespeare; fiction is a work of the human imagination; using magic tricks to entertain our bodies, educate our minds and refresh our souls.

Other forms of writing, including religious and scientific texts, run contrary to this contract and encourage us to believe that they hold the truth within their pages: that Jesus really did walk on water or that time really is relative to space and velocity. For the wise literary critic, the absolute and undivided belief in religion or the power of physics to describe reality is as questionable as the methods employed by Dr. Moreau to convince his Beast People to follow him. Of course, all worthy religious and scientific thinkers would agree with this point to an extent (as would the majority of conscientious historians): at one extreme of the spectrum, our most questionable religious or scientific leaders are Prosperos (i.e. obsessed with a mission–or a commission–to guide the world’s Calibans to religious or scientific enlightenment, using just their powers of persuasion and their knowledge of magic); at the other end of the spectrum, other questionable thinkers, not just in science and religion but in all areas of thought and action (including politics and including business), are constantly questioning and debating what they do. But great artists, some of which write novels, are continually striving to make new works of art as part of a conversation both with themselves and with other artists. This is done by finding the correct balance between certainty and uncertainty; between the assertion of the self (touch, thought, beauty) and the self’s doubts concerning the real world (vivisection, shipwrecks, isolation).

In my personal view, poetry often comes closest to offering us a view of the truth; as do Prospero’s (Shakespeare’s) immortal words of farewell to the island (stage) upon which he walked and loved.

We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

#14 The Invisible Man

In Books, Fiction, Science Fiction on 31/03/2017 at 12:00 pm

#14 The Invisible ManA stranger walks into a bar wrapped in bandages and wearing dark spectacles. So begins H. G. Wells’ classic novel about scientific discovery; the obsessive character of an inventor and the potential for hubris given to those who wield the power of science. In our age of advanced technology–emerging at the time when H. G. Wells was writing–the intellectual and moral questions raised by The Invisible Man (1897) are still relevant. Even before he discovers the means to become invisible, the invisible man steals money from his father in order to feed his obsession. From the moment he quits his work at the university, Wells’ invisible man is a rogue scientist, working as an individual outside of the law. This raises the question, should the state should control areas of technological research? The history of twentieth century conflict, beginning with the Maxim gun and ending with the Manhattan Project, challenges the assumption that technological advances benefit humanity. Technology without morality is set loose to become the tool of those who wish wield power over their fellow man. Humanity will always need stories to remind us of our potential, for both compassionate love and unyielding hatred.

#4 Dune

In Books, Science Fiction on 20/01/2017 at 12:00 pm

4-duneOn the desert planet Arrakis, two great houses fight for control of the spice Melange. The spice is necessary for interstellar travel, making it a highly valuable resource. Following a lengthy stewardship of the spice, Baron Harkonnen has grown fat from profit, becoming a despotic ruler. On the Emperor’s order, power is transferred to House Atreides, but the Atreides are soon usurped, through military defeat and in house treachery. As the Duke Leto is defeated, Paul Atreides and his mother survive, joining forces with the indigenous Freman. Paul’s education–his combat training, his zen training, his book studies–empower him to lead a guerrilla army. He has a unique identity, a combination of traits inherited from his mother’s side and his father’s side. These characteristics are useful, but he must also learn to adapt to the harsh desert environment, where water is prized above all else.

50: Spook Country by William Gibson

In Books, Fiction, Science Fiction, Spy on 09/12/2016 at 12:00 pm

spook-country-by-william-gibsonThree inter-connected stories weave into one, in this fast-paced and prescient novel set in 2006. Hollis is hired to write a 7,000 word piece about locative art, a new form of art involving a virtual reality helmet, allowing the user to view images overlying real rooms — pictures of death scenes, places of cultural interest. Tito runs precarious and covert errands for his Cuban family, dropping off iPods to a mysterious old man without knowing anything about what is stored on them — it is probably not a hard rock playlist. Milgrim is being held under threat by a scary ex-military type, who feeds his drug addiction to Rize and gets him to translate messages coded in a language called Volpek. All three characters are unknowingly entangled in a web of complexity, playing their roles as stooges in game of life and death.

As soon as you begin a William Gibson novel, you are thrown into the world in which the characters live and breve. There is no time to gather your thoughts, the pages turn and you do your best to puzzle out what the hell might be going on. This requires concentration, which is rewarded when the pieces of the puzzle start to come together. Gibson, famed in history for coining the term cyberspace, is able to depict our advanced technological age with great skill and a predicative sense of future. His characters move through the urban and cyber jungle as outsiders, wired up to a global system of communications and international flights. The post-millennial world is shown as the huge, looming and uncontrollable beast that it arguably is. A vast series of nodes whose points are too vast to number yet somehow describable, like a blanket of stars in a clear sky. Creatives are always in danger of being sucked in, chewed up and spat out; as the black leather gloves of shady organizations reach out to insinuate control over our lives. As a reader, it is your job to enjoy the ride and unveil the links between the nodes, which gravitate towards the massive and more powerful.

Highly recommended fun.

11: Darkchild by Sydney J. van Scyon

In Books, Fiction, Science Fiction on 11/03/2016 at 12:00 pm

Darkchild by Sydney J. van ScyocI enjoy science fiction, especially the novels of H.G Wells. As a genre, SF is able to transport the reader to fantasy landscapes and make predictions based on science. I would recommend The Time Machine (1895) to anyone with an interest in fiction and / or scientific theory. Wells is brilliant at capturing the scientific imagination of his era, and has barely been dated by one hundred years of technological advancement.

In some ways, Darkchild (1982) is arguably an advancement on Wells’ late nineteenth century scientific romances, seeing as it explores late twentieth centuries theories of space travel. The story is based in a time when the human race has journeyed to different planets, presumably in the distant future. Each separate race of people have technologically advanced at a different rate; each forming different ethical positions on the way that civilization should be run. When a young boy named Darkchild meets a young girl called Khira, conflict begins to arise across racial and social lines.

For me, this is a novel about outsiders. Both of the central characters are children of around twelve, experiencing the complexities of the adult world for the first time. They each begin their story with a sense of loss — Darkchild has lost his memory, whilst Khira has lost her sister — and must face the complicated shift from innocence to experience. Fortunately, they form a mutually beneficial friendship to help them survive emotionally. Unfortunately, this bond is challenge when the adult characters arrive on the scene.

An enjoyable read for fans of science fiction.

45: The Inheritors by William Golding

In Books, Fiction, Science Fiction on 06/11/2015 at 12:00 pm

The Inheritors by William GoldingIn The Outline of History (1919), H.G. Wells gave numerous reasons why Neanderthal man ‘may be the germ of the ogre in folk-lore’. The grandfather of science fiction makes a convincing argument for why this may be the case, but by doing so somewhat distances Neanderthals from their homo-sapient conquerors. Perhaps with a view to addressing this dehumanization, the literary genius Sir William Golding directed his masterful control of the English language upon our prehistoric forefathers. The result is a poetically fierce book, that places you directly alongside our  evolutionary cousins. By the novel’s ending, you will begin to imagine our origins in a completely new way.

This is a novel about seeing. Its central character Lok sees into ‘the others’ world (the others being the homo-sapiens). Lok peers at them from behind bushes, observing their behaviour and studying their relationships with themselves and their environment. Meanwhile, the poetry of the forest plays out all around him: the glint of the moonlight; the ripples of the water. Like some sort of prehistoric Ted Hughes poem, the forest is alive with the hunt. But unlike the poet Hughes, the mercurial novelist Golding is able to maintain a clarity of vision for 233 pages of perfectly constructed prose.

The reasons for my admiration towards Golding are many, yet I believe the key to his genius was his ability to vary his style according to his subject material. Unlike most run-of the-mill writers of prose fiction, who repeat a nearly identical writing style from book to book, Golding adapted his style and language in order to make better stories. He makes you feel like you are inside the minds of his characters, or viewing the real actions of a long extinct species of people, by putting his own imagination completely at the mercy of the story. Such courageous artistry sometimes results in you being confused by what’s going on, but because it’s all done so brilliantly you’ll want to pick up and read again.

I am almost made speechless by how good this book is.

44: The Peripheral by William Gibson

In Adventure, Books, Fiction, Romance, Science Fiction on 30/10/2015 at 12:00 pm

The Peripheral by William GibsonThe picture on the back of this hardback book is of its author. I’m drawn to those intelligent blue eyes of his. He’s not looking straight at you, but peering just behind you. This is what his speculative fiction has been doing since he coined the term cyberspace back in 1982. It looks just behind you, peers into potential futures. The Peripheral (2014) is no exception.

William Gibson (1948 – ) has a remarkable knack for making the future believable. His slick novels thrust us into the lives of ordinary people, trying to live decent lives, despite the bullshit knocked out to them by criminals and corporations alike. Characters such as Flynne Fisher, who gets sucked into some weird future-London. All she wanted was to earn was a few quid, playing games with her brother Burton. Now she finds herself in some messed-up future dimension, whilst her whole family gets dragged into some serious shit.

There’s a quote from The Time Machine (1895) by H.G. Wells (1866 – 1946) at the start of this book. Something to do with time travel making you sick and confused. Taking this point on board, I wonder if reading a Gibson novel is somewhat like time travelling. When you first pick up one of his books, you’re thrust into an alien world. At first it feels weird, but you keep reading because you’re enjoying it. Despite feeling confused, you persevere; and eventually, all the dots start to connect.

Intersect behind peering blue eyes.

07: Virtual Light by William Gibson

In Books, Fiction, Science Fiction on 13/02/2015 at 12:00 pm

Virtual Light by William GibsonIn an interview for Wired magazine, the American-Canadian novelist William Gibson (1948 – ) quipped that science fiction writers are “almost always wrong.” And yet, Gibson himself has been nearly spot-on (almost right) with quite a few skeptical predictions regarding this crazy internet age that we surf in. In his debut novel Neuromancer (1984), he predicted the internet, inventing the word ‘cyberspace’ to rightly described this World Wide Web as a “consensual hallucination […] experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation.”

Virtual Light (1993), the first part of the Bridge Trilogy, is a noir techno-thriller based in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Ex-cop Berry Rydell and bike messenger Chevette Washington get caught up in a thrill-ride, running away from bent cops and an assassin called Loveless. The story hurtles along at great pace, freely flicking perspective, and often leaving readers overloaded with information. Thematically speaking, all the Gibsonian hallmarks – sub-cultural norms, postmodern realities, evil corporations, voyeuristic television and surveillance, gated societies divided along poverty lines – are treated with his usual imitable style, mixing a carefree flamboyance with an understated simplicity.

As you might have guessed, I’m a William Gibson fan, and if you’d have popped into Primrose Hill Community Library (my local) this week, you might have seen me engrossed, sitting in a comfy red leather chair, sometimes laughing and sometimes scratching my head, but always turning pages and always enjoying this thrill-ride book. Gibson has been criticised for coming across as “adolescent”, particular because he uses graphic violence and colloquial vulgarity to entertain the reader. But when I was a teenager reading Star Wars books every night before bed, growing up in what would become the ‘age of the internet’, Neuromancer got me excited about words in a new way. In those formative years, William Gibson turned my love of science fiction into a love of literature. That was before James Joyce, before John Keats and all the rest. Revisiting Gibson now, I can admire his technical wizardry, marvel at his almost poetic prose, and appreciate his great imaginative capabilities.

Science fiction and literature at its fully engrossing best.