sábado, 1 de agosto de 2020

A Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias

For a while I will not be able to review or comment on my readings as I would like, so I can only say that A Darkling Sea is a good science fiction novel, a space (or aquatic) opera very entertaining, well developed and with good sciencefictional ideas.

jueves, 16 de julio de 2020

Hella by David Gerrold

(I am aware that there could be some mistakes in this review. I’m trying to improve my English, thanks)

As I said in a previous review I love monster movies. So when I knew that Hella was a planet with giant dinosaurs in it, I bought it the same day it was published. The fact is that I had a wrong (or rather uninformed) expectation of the novel. Hella is clearly a young adult book and this not the style of novel that I was expected. About this I must clarify that there are the good YA and the bad or poorly written ones, and fortunately Hella belongs to the former.

Great cover art by Leo Nickolls
As a first issue to consider, in a science fiction the worldbuilding is an important part of the fun, and more in this book in which the author delights the readers with detailed info-dumps about the planet and about how the colonist must have to adapt to it. For example, the day in Hella has 36 hours and the author manages an ingenious way to adapt to this cycle. They are a lot of details like this one and for me this is very good, Hella has a lot of things to offer and it is the main theme on which the first half of the novel is based. Thus, the reader can enjoy the awe of discovery, or in other words, the sense of wonder by the most straightforward route.

Hella and the colony’s community are introduced and explained in first person by Kyle, the main character who has an Asperger-like syndrome. You know it is a resource frequently used in science fiction -for example Mr. Spock or the android Data in the Star Trek series-: “I don't understand humans (or adults) so I must learn how they works and explain it to the readers/audience”. By the way, to Kyle and his handicap this means a sort of coming of age, first knowing the planet’s ecology and then about the colony troubles.

Unfortunately when we reach the middle of the read the things are turning ugly, both for Kyle & friends but also for the reader, because the main plot becomes something else entirely different. It starts with the arrival of a new Earth’s starship, which brings an artificial intelligence along with a new group of settlers. From then on the argument evolves towards the internal problems of the colony and how Kyle and his friends deal with them, so bye bye to the fascinating ecology.

In summary, mostly the great things of Hella are the planet itself and the colony-building, the new society that is being born according to Hella's ecology. About the main story, I can not consider it flawed but it is disappointing because as I said the book becomes quite a different thing. Also there is the young adult issue: with the good and bad people clearly defined, the exaltation of friendship and some typical teen plot twists. About the conflict that arises, I must say that the political positions that both sides represent are interesting, in a way Earth's problems are spreading to the new society they are trying to build.

As you can see in this case my review is more subjective than usual so it is possible that it do not serve as a reference, so you must read more reviews. For example this one by Paul Di Filippo in Locus Magazine reviews it rather more favorably:

miércoles, 8 de julio de 2020

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

(I know there could be some mistakes in this review. I’m trying to improve my English, thanks)

A land devastated by nuclear winter, or some kind of mass extinction? That is one of the keys to The Road (2006), the reader does not know what has happened. Apparently no one knows. Actually it does not matter, the case is a continent -or the whole planet? - absolutely ruined, without sun, without animals or plants, without food and cold, very cold... So nowadays this novel, with the knowledge we have and what we know we are not avoiding, gives us plenty to think about, both of what can happen and what we can lose.

The novel focuses on a father - a man, no matter what his name is - who tries to save his son. So the novel deals about paternity (or maternity of course) and what parents do/would do in a situation like this one (you also can imagine a war, in which you are forced to flee and seek refuge in another country, walking a great distance through a desert landscape or crossing a sea in a precarious boat). All of us who know what parenthood means are aware of that we would do anything to save our children and that we would face the most adverse circumstances, even - which is worse - if we have lost all hope. It is in our genes and it is in what makes us human.

During the journey, often the best answer the man can give at his son is "I don't know". The only certainties he has is that humanity has returned to a kind of hobbesian state of nature (or maybe worse) in which everyone seeks food and shelter, and they struggle to take it away from others because there is not enough for all; and that he tries to save him moving southward in a belief that the weather can be somewhat better.

Years ago on my blog I asked the readers to make a list of the best science fiction novels and to my surprise this one was the most valued. Of course I added it to my extensive list of pending to read books; although similar to another very crude novel such as Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, I waited years to have a suitable frame of mind to read it. Over time I discovered that this suitable state of mind does not exist, but in any case I recommend you to read this masterpiece if you have not yet.

If you have curiosity, this is the list (the post is from 2014 and it is in Spanish) of the best novels so far in the 21st century.

viernes, 22 de mayo de 2020

The Legacy of Heorot (Heorot #1) by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle and Steven Barnes

(I know there could be some mistakes in this review. I’m trying to improve my English, thanks)

It is not my first reading written by three authors but I still do not figure exactly how this works. I think that -at least in this case- the best-known authors Larry Nivell and Jerry Pournelle decide about the big ideas and contribute with their names in the book's cover, while Steven Barnes writes most of the book. I say this because although Steven Barnes is an author with his own original books, he has also written a lot of franchise novelizations, for example some Star Wars novels.

The book has an interesting ecological premise but mainly it is a monsters novel. I confess it, I adoooore monster stories! In this case, the monster -or the alien animal- is a mix of Komodo dragon and aquatic velociraptor, which is quite interesting and well thought-out than it might seem. Of course, Heorot is from Beowulf’s poem so you can imagine how the colonists nickname the monster.

About the plot, this is the first interstellar colony for humanity, set in the fourth planet of Tau Ceti, ten light years from Earth. It has been an expensive voyage, both for the Earth resources and for the two hundred colonists that journeyed 100 years in suspended animation. Some of them awaked with apparently minor sequelae, their brain cells have been affected by the on hibernation, resulting in cognitive glitches. For example, the moving case of the Mary Ann character: she knows that before her long dream she was a genius in her scientific specialty and since her awakening she must strive to remember her knowledge. She continues being a viable person, she can work, she can love but she can not contribute with her knowledge to the colony. Fortunately, she will not pass her disability to her descendants...

The colonists choose a small island and begin to adapt to this idyllic planet. On the contrary of the highly recommended Sue Burke's Semiosis novel (you can read the review here), the colonists surprisingly do not care about the planet own ecology. For me this is the most nonsensical part of the novel, although of course in another case there would not be any story to write. Still, the authors could have thought it better. So the settlers sow the island with their own plants and they also have a lot of imported embryos from the Earth's fauna. Sue Burke's novel is hard science fiction and this one is mainly intended for entertainment. However, I must say that some other ecological premises of the novel -for example the part of the monster - are well thought out.

The Legacy of Heorot has two sequels that at this moment I do not know if I will read them one day. Another novel written by three authors that I remember right now is Hunter’s Run, a good science fiction story with an horrific alien too by George R. R. Martin, Gardner Dozois and Daniel Abraham. The latter, who later will be well known for the series The Expanse written under the pen name of James S.A. Corey, I understand that he was too the writer on behalf of the other two.

lunes, 18 de mayo de 2020

Supernovas: una historia feminista de la ciencia ficción audiovisual, de Elisa McCausland y Diego Salgado.

Supernovas de Elisa McCausland y Diego Salgado es un libro que sin dudarlo un instante puedo calificar como excelente y que merece una relectura o su estudio como texto académico, tal es la riqueza de la información que nos ofrece. Además he tenido el placer de compartir la lectura y comentarla conjuntamente con unos amigos tan aficionados al fantástico como yo mismo: Esteve Torrents (alias @El_Commutador), Josep Ma. Oriol (@jm_oriol) i Miquel Codony (@Qdony), entre otros/as participantes.

Una breve mención del enfoque teórico en el que se sustenta el libro, que me gustaría aprehender en mayor medida en adelante (hace ya bastante tiempo estudié alguna de estas teorías, otras... espero no dejarme ninguna): teoría feminista, cultura de masas y cultura global, teoría crítica y perspectiva dialéctica… En este sentido me tomo esta lectura como un puerta a nuevos horizontes de aprendizaje.

Debo mencionar que es una lectura espesa, de las que no ofrecen concesiones a la amenidad. Una lectura que toma su tiempo y que uno puede/debe saborear, y por supuesto revisar algunos párrafos cuando es necesario; de la que no se puede desatender una frase o calificarla como “paja”. Entiendo que es un aspecto totalmente intencionado por parte de los autores, sabedores en todo momento de lo que desean mostrar al lector/a. 

A destacar que se aborda el objeto de estudio -además de la base teórica mencionada- en dos pasos, siempre teniendo presente el punto de vista ciencia ficcional: primero abordando el fenómeno (contra)cultural en su conjunto para después profundizar (¡aún más!) en la parte específica dedicada al feminismo. Para esto se tienen en cuenta dos dimensiones: por una parte la dimensión temporal; esto es, es establecer un estudio histórico de la cuestión desde sus orígenes o “proto-ciencia ficción”, pasando por el “pulp” hasta la actualidad; y una segunda diimensión global, puesto que se analizan el estado de la cuestión en todo el planeta. 

Conforme al propósito del libro, el aspecto audiovisual es el más detallado mientras que para mí lo es menos cuando se adentran en la literatura (que es el que conozco más); En todo caso es muy exhaustivo en cuanto a feminismo que al fin y al cabo es lo que se propone. Simplemente lo digo en el sentido de que he echado en falta alguna mención a obras que para mí son claves en el género, que tocan temas relativos como la identidad y las diferencias culturales.

Antes mencionaba la necesidad de una relectura, lo es también por este otro motivo: la riqueza de las fuentes es tal que resulta difícil no dejarse atrapar en cada página por la respectiva consulta a determinada (interesante) película, cómic, juego u obra literaria de la que se hace referencia. Volviendo al símil del portal, este tratado ofrece al lector/a un montón de obras pertenecientes al fantástico en general y de su vertiente feminista en particular que por lo menos para mí han pasado desapercibidas. Por ejemplo, desconocía que en el período entre guerras del siglo pasado se producen muchas películas, tiras de cómic y obras a nivel de cultura popular que transgreden o questionan la división de roles de género aceptada. O bien, se examina -con alguna sorpresa para lo comunmente aceptado- el aspecto igualdad en determinada obra, etc. 

He encontrado interesante la concepción histórica de olas del feminisimo (actualmente estamos viviendo la cuarta) y de las idas y venidas, esto es, de los avances y retrocesos, que también los hay, de la causa feminista. Y me gustaría mencionar un concepto central del libro, la gentrificación de un movimiento o corriente: la apropiación de este por parte del mainstream o del establishment con su consiguiente descafeinización de motivos o su reconversión a algo meramente estético. Un ejemplo evidente, salvo alguna excepción, es el feminismo en el cine de Hollywood.

En resumen, un libro excelsior y en mi opinión, un hito sobre el estudio del feminismo desde la perspectiva de la cultura de masas y su reverso tenebroso que es la contracultura; pero también una lectura absolutamente recomendable para cualquier aficionado/a con ganas de profundizar en el género de ciencia ficción. 


lunes, 27 de abril de 2020

Secret Under the Sea, by Gordon R. Dickson

(I know there could be some mistakes in this review. I’m trying to improve my English, thanks)
I admit it may surprise you that my first Gordon R. Dickson’s novel is this one. Secret Under the Sea (1960) is undoubtedly a minor novel by the author, but I can not resist an underwater science fiction adventure, so why not start with this and later, "in the future," with the intention of read, for example, his best-known Dorsai series.

Cover courtesy of Goodreads
I have enjoyed this classic science fiction book with its naive vision of the future that is actually our past -the story is set in 2013-, so we can consider this novel with the label retro futurism.The adventure takes place in an ocean station located in the Caribbean. In this aspect, we must remember that in the sixties the seas were part of the promising future of humanity.

In this adventure Robbie, a twelve year old boy, and his genetically altered dolphin will see how his father's advanced ocean laboratory will be compromised by a kind of terrorists (they are called Vandals in the novel) and they must try to survive and call for help, with the aid of an ugly and eccentric super agent.

It is a pity that in our present we do not have the fabulous atom powered water lung that can extract oxygen from the wateer indefinitely. Or that we have not yet discovered aquatic life in the caves of Mars, although I admit that we would be more careful to bring species from other planets to our oceans. This is something that the Vandals oppose, making them in a curious way a kind of supremacists of terran biology. Well, why not? This is science fiction : )

In summary, an interesting juvenile novella -our present young adult literature I understand that it is a bit different- of aquatic adventures that I have enjoyed and whose two sequels I also intend to read.

jueves, 23 de abril de 2020

War of the Maps by Paul McAuley

(I know there could be some mistakes in this review. I’m trying to improve my English, thanks) The main premise of War of the Maps is simply fascinating: an artificial world, a Dyson sphere and the human beings inhabit its surface, although for them the origin of the giant planet, its creation by supposed deities and their subsequent departure leaving them abandoned to their fate a long time ago, is ceasing to be history to increasingly becoming a myth. Thus, they have some technology, some ancient devices, that they continue to use it as much as possible, being aware that this knowledge does not belong to them. As a result it is a society equivalent to our 19th or early 20th centuries. In other words, a sort of steampunk society, but without “steam”.

In a Paul McAuley’s story everything is very accurate, precise: well thought-out arguments, which far from seeking the spectacularity of another type of science fiction offer to the reader a great amount of details but at the same time without neglecting to offer us a share of the sense of wonder. At some point of the book, during a journey by the main protagonist, it made me think of Jack Vance’s novels. I commented this to the author via Twitter, who kindly replied that it was not the case, that he admires Jack Vance’s novels (especially he had great regard for The Dying Earth stories), but that he had not been inspired by this work, at least consciously. As I moved further into the novel I understood my mistake in making the comparison: Paul McAuley's works actually have an individuality of their own, making them hardly comparable to other science fiction works.

Of course, in War of the Maps you will find some of the the preferred themes by the author: the characters have little control of the situation but they try to survive and achieve their purposes, unleashed biology (The title of the novel partly refers to this), incomprehensible technologies and capricious entities insensitive to human life: in this case the so-called godlings, that maybe are AIs abandoned by the creators, but who knows.

As a flaws or aspects that I do not liked, The stubbornness of the main character is a bit tiresome, although I must point out that all the characters are well depicted. On the other hand, a subject that complicates the plot is that some of them have a gift, a kind of power -for example, the gift of the main character is to nullify other powers-; This topic is interesting and has some importance in the story but it seems somewhat arbitrary and for me it is not entirely well justified. 

As usual I will not reveal anything about the plot, you can read the synopsis of the book. Mr. McAuley develops his adventure in his “quiet” way, taking his time to narrate the adventures of the protagonist - who by age could well be him himself -, which in turn makes the reading a bit cold, including in the action or violence scenes, but in return the style is more realistic. Although the book is very speculative in some parts, it also has an hard science fiction component. A curiosity about the main character. We know his name, although at the same time throughout the novel it is seldom used to refer to him. Instead, we know him as the lucidor, a sort of policeman at the service of ethics rather than of the laws or the state powers. 

It is only my guess, but I think that if this book have success, this great planet imagined by the author could hold a lot more of adventures, more discoveries or intrigues in its possible sequels. I really like this author and I've read many of his books since Fairyland totally captivated me, but I think that this quiet and rational style, likewise makes him an author not for everyone. But as I said in a previous review, I consider that Paul McAuley is one of the best contemporary authors of science fiction.