The Word for the Blog is Scientifiction

sábado, 27 de enero de 2018

Undersea Quest, by Frederik Pohl & Jack Williamson

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

(También puedes leer esta reseña en castellano aquí)

As I explained in the first post, I intend to read three submarine science fiction books. Maybe I must have read this one first, because it is an anterior work than Creatures of the Abyss (1961) but it does not matter: the two novels deal with different topics.

I admit that I expected more from the masters Frederik Pohl and Jack Williamson, but it is my fault because Undersea Quest (1954) is juvenile literature. Juvenile literature is that we call today young adult? I think this is not exactly the same: about the former, one can say that is more naive and intentionally more... juvenile; while about the latter, as far as the few books that I have read, the A weighs more than the Y, but maybe the kind readers of this blog could think different…

So, from the firsts pages I know this is a novel for youngsters. The orphan Jim Eden receives a visit from his uncle, who is a great scientist and lives in a submarine city-state called Marinia. Uncle Eden announces to Jim that on his sixteenth birthday he will join the Sub-Sea Academy... and then the adventure starts. As a submarine cadet, Jim will visit astounding undersea cities; he will make friends (and some enemies) and he will face incredible dangers, including some monsters from the unexplored depths (well, this in not true, they are only mentioned, but I hope to see them in the sequels).

The undersea world that Jim and his friends will know is full of technological marvels, with incredible city-states and submarines faster than the surface vessels, but also this future has its own troubles, such as corruption and crime in Marinia; and also, one terrible threat for the entire world: a shortage of uranium! I said in the previous post how the oceans were considered the promise of future for humanity, and there is another trope: in the fifties the nuclear fission was expected as the future energy source. How I love retrofuturism! (No irony here, I am being honest).

The novel is correctly written, it is narrated from the protagonist point of view and maintains the youthful tone at all times. For example, when the story gives clues about what will occur next, such as when Jim Eden says, Soon (in the next chapter) I would discover how wrong I was. This is a curious way to anticipate the plot because... juvenile literature. However, in the third part of the book the pace is faster and the story gains interest.

Summarizing, an entertaining submarine adventure, nostalgic from better times, by the SFWA Grand Masters Frederik Pohl (1919-2013) and Jack williamson (1908-2006), whose prolific and prolonged careers have given us great science fiction stories for almost six decades.

My next and last under the sea science fiction reading will be Starfish by the mad genius Peter Watts. Naivety is over!

Undersea Quest, de Frederik Pohl y Jack Williamson

                         (You can also read this review in English)

Como expliqué en una publicación anterior, me propongo leer tres libros de ciencia ficción submarina. Tal vez debería haber leído este primero, porque es una obra anterior a Creatures of the Abyss, pero no importa: las dos novelas tratan temas muy diferentes.

Confieso que esperaba más de los maestros Frederik Pohl y Jack Williamson, pero es culpa mía porque Undersea Quest (1954) es literatura juvenil. Como literatura juvenil, ¿podemos entender lo que hoy en día se llama young adult? En mi opinión no es exactamente lo mismo, para mí la primera es un tipo de literatura más ingenua e intencionalmente más... juvenil; mientras que en la segunda, por los pocos libros que he leído, la palabra Adult pesa más que la de Young. Es solo una reflexión rápida, claro, tal vez los amables lectores y lectoras del blog podrán corregirme.

Desde las primeras páginas lo anterior se hace evidente. El huérfano Jim Eden recibe la visita de su tío, un gran científico que vive en una ciudad-estado submarina llamada Marinia. El tío Eden le comunica a Jim que a los dieciséis años ingresará en la Academia Militar Submarina ... y así es como empieza la aventura. Como cadete submarinista, Jim visitará asombrosas ciudades sumergidas en las profundidades; Hará algunos amigos (y también enemigos) y se enfrentará a muchos peligros submarinos, incluyendo algunos monstruos de las profundidades inexploradas (bueno, esto no es cierto, en esta novela solo se mencionan, pero espero verlos en las secuelas).

El mundo submarino que Jim y sus amigos conocerán está lleno de maravillas tecnológicas, con increíbles ciudades-estado y submarinos más rápidos que los buques de superficie; pero este futuro aparentemente idílico tiene sus propios problemas, como la corrupción y el crimen en Marinia; y además una amenaza terrible para todo el planeta: ¡escasez de uranio! En la entrada anterior comenté que los océanos se consideraban como la promesa de futuro de la humanidad, y aquí tenemos otro tópico de la ciencia ficción optimista de los cincuenta: la fisión nuclear vista como la fuente de energía ideal para el futuro. Ante esto solo puedo decir: ¡Amo el retrofuturismo! (y lo digo sin ironía).

La novela está escrita correctamente y está narrada en boca del protagonista, manteniendo un tono juvenil en todo momento. Por ejemplo, la forma inusual de proporcionar pistas sobre lo que ocurrirá después, como cuando Jim Eden explica que las cosas se van a torcer: Pronto (en el próximo capítulo) descubriría lo equivocado que estaba. Una forma curiosa de anticipar la trama porque ... es literatura juvenil. Sin embargo, la tercera parte del libro mejora, el ritmo es más rápido y la historia gana interés.

Resumiendo, una entretenida aventura submarina, nostálgica de tiempos más optimistas que los nuestros, por los premiados como Grand Master por la Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Jack williamson (1908-2006) y Frederik Pohl(1919-2013), cuyas prolíficas y prolongadas carreras nos han dado grandes historias de ciencia ficción durante casi seis décadas.

Mi siguiente y última lectura de ciencia ficción bajo el mar será Starfish, del genio perverso de Peter Watts. ¡Se acabó la ingenuidad!


martes, 16 de enero de 2018

Luna: Wolf Moon, Luna trilogy #2, by Ian McDonald


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

(También puedes leer esta reseña en castellano aquí)

Reading an Ian McDonald's book is not an easy endeavour for the science fiction fans, frequently used to more lighter novels. It requires carefull attention to not lose the richness and nuances of his prose, and in this case the added difficulty to remember all the dramatis personae. But the effort has its reward: in an unique way the author shows a complex and also a highly believable story about our future Moon.

Of course, like all Ian McDonald's books, to better understand his novel a second reading would be preferable.

About the plot, I just want to say that an elegant change suggests us new possible ways for the third book, while it maintains our attention for the whole story. It is said that the medium book of a trilogy is the most risky, but this is not the case: Wolf Moon maintains the quality of the first novel and needless to say, I highly recommend both novels.

I must comment that, as the previous book, it disappoints me a bit that the ending is an absolute cliffhanger… but I suppose it is the author choice in this trilogy (or perhaps by his publisher, I do not know). 

So, as Master Yoda says: Patience! Wait for the third novel we must... (scheduled for next July).





Luna: Luna de lobos, de Ian McDonald

     (You can also read this review in English)

En mi opinión, un libro de Ian McDonald no es tarea fácil para los aficionados a la ciencia ficción, frecuentemente acostumbrados a novelas más livianas. Las historias de este autor requieren una atención cuidadosa para no perderse en la riqueza y los matices de su prosa, y en en el caso que nos ocupa la dificultad añadida de recordar todos los dramatis personae, muchos de los cuales ya nos fueron presentados en la primera novela. Pero el esfuerzo tiene su recompensa: de una manera única, el autor muestra una historia compleja y también muy creíble sobre nuestra futura Luna.

Por supuesto, como todos los libros de Ian McDonald, para entender mejor su novela sería preferible una segunda lectura.

Sobre la trama, solo puedo decir que un cambio elegante nos sugiere nuevos desarrollos posibles de caras a la tercera  y última novela (prevista en inglés para julio y en castellano para este mismo año), mientras mantiene nuestra atención en toda la historia. Se acostumbra a decir que el segunda obra de una trilogía es la más arriesgada, pero creo que este no es el caso, Luna: Wolf Moon mantiene la calidad de la primera, siendo casi de Perogrullo recomendar ambas novelas.

Debo comentar que, como el libro anterior, me decepciona un poco que el final sea un cliffhanger absoluto, pero supongo que es una elección del autor (o tal vez por su editor, lo desconozco).

Así pues, como dice el Maestro Yoda: Mmm... ¡Paciencia! La tercera novela esperar debemos.

sábado, 30 de diciembre de 2017

Creatures of the Abyss, by Murray Leinster

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

(También puedes leer esta reseña en castellano aquí)

In the fifties and sixties the sea was seen as the last frontier… on Earth. The oceans were -and they still are, but less- a world to discover, where the overpopulated humanity could someday live, or at least exploit its resources. This was reflected in popular culture and, of course, in science fiction works. I intend to read three books about this subgenre, and the first one is Creatures of the Abyss (1961).


When I was a young space cadet I was fascinated by those science fiction sea adventures (well, actually I was fascinated by all science fiction), seen in movies like Around the World Under the Sea (1966) or the Captain Nemo stories. Creatures of the Abyss (also known as The Listeners) seems like one of those B movies: the hero, the girl, an incredible mystery, etc.

The plot, obviously, deals with some creatures found in the Philippines Deep but this is not all the story. This is how it starts: Terry Holt is a radar expert who, against his will, must joint an exploration mission as crew of the yacht Esperance. The expedition is commanded by Captain Davis and has among their members his beautiful daughter Deirdre. The Esperance must investigate some anomalies in the South China Sea which are also related to a local superstition...

The novel is correctly written. A fast and entertaining reading, except for a bit boring moments, such as when the characters insistently are reluctant to admit the astonishing/unbelievable/bla bla bla evidences that are against rational thinking. And of course, you must also forgive some old-fashioned tropes. For example, it is curious how the author describes Deirdre so resourceful but also how the hero insists to protect her (Fortunately they were different times!). However, I must also say that the story has some sparks of talent that should not be underestimated.

This is my first Murray Leinster (1896-1975) book, a prolific author who began publishing in the Golden Age of Science Fiction. He was a regular in pulp magazines such as Argosy, Amazing Stories and Astounding Stories and published a lot of science fiction novels among other things (and was two times Hugo awarded). As I said, I enjoyed Creatures of the Abyss, which is nothing more that escapist literature with a nostalgic value added in this case. However, I want to read more works by the master Leinster.

Next marine science fiction: Undersea Quest, by the SFWA Grand Masters Jack Williamson and Frederik Pohl.




Creatures of the Abyss, de Murray Leinster

                          (You can also read this review in English)

En los años cincuenta y sesenta del siglo pasado el mar es visto como la última frontera... de nuestro planeta. Los océanos eran -y aún lo son, pero algo menos- un mundo por descubrir, donde una humanidad con exceso de población podría vivir algún día, o al menos explotar sus recursos. Esto se reflejó en la cultura popular y, por supuesto, en las obras de ciencia ficción de su tiempo. Me he propuesto visitar este tema mediante tres lecturas, la primera de las cuales es la que nos ocupa: Creatures of the Abyss (1961), de Murray Leinster.

Cuando era un joven cadete espacial, me fascinaban todas estas aventuras de ciencia ficción en el mar (bueno, en realidad me fascinaba todo lo que era ciencia ficción), vistas en películas como La vuelta al mundo bajo el mar (1966) o las historias del Capitán Nemo. Creatures of the Abyss (también publicada como The Listeners) parece una de esas películas de serie B: el héroe, la chica, un misterio increíble, etc.

La trama, obviamente, trata de criaturas que aparecen en la fosa abisal de Filipinas, pero esto no es toda la historia. Así es como empieza: Terry Holt es un experto en radar que, en contra de su voluntad, debe unirse a una misión de exploración como tripulación del yate Esperance. La expedición está comandada por el Capitán Davis y entre sus miembros se encuentra su preciosa hija Deirdre. El Esperance debe investigar algunas anomalías en el Mar del Sur de China que también están relacionadas con una superstición local...

La novela está escrita correctamente. Una lectura rápida y entretenida, excepto por algunos momentos un poco cargantes, como cuando los personajes son reacios a admitir las evidencias de que algo está sucediendo en contra del sentido común. Y, por supuesto, también se deben obviar algunos aspectos superados hoy en día. Por ejemplo, es curioso como el autor describe a Deirdre como la persona más ingeniosa del grupo pero a su vez como el héroe insiste en protegerla (eran otros tiempos, afortunadamente). Por el contrario, también debo señalar algunos detalles de la trama sugieren el talento del autor.

Esta es mi primera lectura por Murray Leinster (1896-1975), un autor muy prolífico que empezó su carrera en la Edad de Oro de la Ciencia Ficción. Era habitual en revistas como Argosy, Amazing Stories y Astounding Stories, y entre otras cosas publicó un montón de novelas de ciencia ficción (y fue dos veces galardonado con el premio Hugo). Como dije, Creatures of the Abyss es disfrutable como literatura escapista, con un valor nostálgico añadido en este caso. De todas formas, me quedo con ganas de leer más obras del autor.

Siguiente lectura de ciencia ficción subacuática: Undersea Quest, de Jack Williamson y Frederik Pohl.

sábado, 23 de diciembre de 2017

Empty Space: A Haunting, by M. John Harrison


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

(También puedes leer esta reseña en castellano aquí)

I liked it, but I don't know why. Maybe if I write a review I will put my thoughts in order. And -maybe- I could explain this to the kind readers of the blog.


Recently I read a conversation about literary and not literary authors in science fiction. M John Harrison undoubtedly belongs to the first group. His science fiction is...
hard? I don't think so, but the scientific basis seems solid. Space opera? But he is at light years away from the other authors I know (except, perhaps, the missed Iain Banks). Weird science fiction? Actually the question does not matter: I think this is a good thing that the author is unclassifiable.

I must explain, this is the third novel on a trilogy. The first one is
Light (2003), and I agree with one review that says Light is brilliant. About Nova Swing (2007), I confess that I hardly finished the book. So when I tried to read Empty Space: A Haunting (2012) I did with a different attitude: in a less rational way and more about enjoying the reading. And it worked... more or less. Yes, it was a pleasure to read the embellished prose by M. John Harrison but... well, a terrible reading too.

Thanks to my Kindle and his invaluable dictionary (if you read in other languages you must try the
Word Wise function as a shortcut for the meanings), but in this case the English language was the easiest of my problems. Frequently I had to use the function Search in this book, looking for words or acronyms, details, meanings or clues, or anything that I could have missed on previous chapters which don't let me understand completely what I was reading. As I said M. John Harrison's works are not an easy experience to the readers. Most au contraire, I think he frequently tries to mislead you.

Plot & characters: In our XXI century, Anna Waterman is an absent-minded and depressed woman in her late fifties who ignores how she can get over with her disastrous marriage with Michael Kearney (a dead character from Light, his mad studies conducted to the discovery of FTL travel). Meanwhile, in a far future, in a very distant place, the assistant knows nothing about herself: she ignores who tailored her granting her incredible skills -such a 27 to 40 GHz radar- and also a total sense of anomie such so that she does not have a name (the author spares some pages explaining all the names the assistant considers). And in the same future, Fat Antoyne, Liv Hula and Irene The Mona, the crew of the K-Ship Nova Swing, have the mystifying mission to collect the spooky alien objects known as mortsafes.

M. John Harrison uses the language, plays with it and forces its meanings in a way that suggests astonishing alien wonders. And also the dialogues are exquisite. I think that the author, before immersing us in this weird universe, knows very well how to describe human nature. He is like the artist who is able to paint a perfect portrait or landscape, but he wants to paint abstract works: he is a genius and he can do anything he desires. The feeling is about a lot of details that only a second or a third lecture will discover. I realize how Mr. Harrison has to be a person so terribly intelligent (and how much I envy him!).

However, I do not want to transmit the feeling that Empty Space: A Haunting is a masterwork. In my opinion it is not a perfect novel, and in the third novel I begin to see some tricks by the author.

So, it is worth the effort? Yes, if you like literature. Yes, if you like to find astonishing sense of wonder moments, but as a science fiction reader I do not know yet if this is a cosmic joke or simply if M. John Harrison is laughing of us.

To a better understanding of the entire trilogy, I must re-read
Light (if I have the time). And also I must re-read Nova Swing (a hard work!). And yes, I must re-read this one. But it happens that we (me) are captivated by the novelties and forget to take delight in good literature like M. John Harrison's books (Mr. Harrison: apologies in advance if you ever read this!)

Really I don't know if I should recommend this trilogy, but we can make a deal: if you have not done yet, I highly recommend you
Light, which continues being one of my preferred science fiction novels, and the rest is at your risk.