THE WORD FOR THE BLOG IS SCIENTIFICTION

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.

domingo, 5 de abril de 2020

Patron of the Arts, by William Rotsler


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

Cover art by Tom Adams
I did not know nothing about William Rotsler (1926-1997). His name did not even sound familiar to me in science fiction, despite Patron of the Arts was and Hugo and Nebula awards finalist. So I discovered him in this book. His biography can be a novel itself, because  he appreciated life and knew how to consume it intensely with a lot of friends, adventures or creating art: he was a novelist (including two Star Trek books), a comic book illustrator, a photographer, a sculptor, a porn movies director and above all he was a devotee of life, sex and loving.

You can read his bio in the Wikipedia, or in the IMDB, or better in this blog: http://www.williamcharlesrotsler.com/. But the best is the preface written by himself on this Kindle edition, where in a few pages he tells fervently his memories.
Cover of the Kindle edition. 

This novel is very unusual, a piece of art itself. It deals - of course- about (future) modern art… and about women. The main character of this novel is a very wealthy person, a future mogul and a playboy, but he is also -and maybe above all- an art collectionist and a mecenas. Because one of the countless meanings of art is understanding our universe, o maybe others universes, this novel is science fiction and it has its quota of sense of wonder. Well, I don’t want to tell you more, you can read the sinopsis if you want.

About love (there is art without love?) and about sex too, this is the point of view from a man. A man very respectful of women I must say, but as an experimental thought I wonder how would be this novel written by a woman and I think it would be equally respectful.

Patron of the Arts is a novel written fifty years ago, in 1972, and it has some temporal issues. In my opinion it is not a novel for all tastes, of course not. But I enjoyed it and better, the book changed something inside me, and this is what we demand of art, isn't it? 

So… you dare?

jueves, 26 de marzo de 2020

The Fog/The Rats by James Herbert

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


The Fog (1975)


I wanted to read an horror novel and I found this one. Although the writer is well known -and also the book is considered a classic-, I did not know James Herbert’s works before.

The fog is not an horror novel like the ones I used to know (Ahem! basically Stephen King’s books and some H.P. Lovecraft’s tales). I consider this book is also a disaster novel, like these seventies movies; and also a zombie war avant la lettre, and the main issue -the fog that transforms people- can be considered science fiction; in other words, it has a scientific justification.

In short, the book has a best seller-esque style and sometimes it captivates me absolutely... and I confess that sometimes not. To be highlighted, a lot of brutally and violent action scenes, some of those I consider very well written. However, it is possible that the novel suffers for being a classic written in the seveties: some developments of the plot, and some scenes too, nowadays we have seen them in a lot of horror movies.

So, reading the book, have I been scared, as expected in an horror novel? I think not, but it was a very entertaining reading. 


The Rats (1974)

After reading The Fog I was curious about The Rats, Mr. Herbert first novel and a success that made him instantly known; and when I saw it in the Kindle Flash discounts, I could not resist.

Despite its fame, as Neil Gaiman comments in the prologue, it is still a first work and and you can see it in some aspects, but the pace is good and the reading is very entertaining too.

I must note that the characters are well described. Somehow their behavior seems more like in a movie than in a novel, I think because the best-seller style of Mr. Herbert. It is interesting how the author describes (very well) de daily life of some London citizens as a resource to give realism to the novel, of course before becoming victims of the rats; although this can sometimes divert attention a bit from the main plot.

To highlight, the notably well constructed scenes of violence and gore when the rodents attack beggars, housewives, old people and even children, so nothing escapes from their voracity. As I commented about the previous James Herbert reading, I was not really scared from this horror/science fiction reading (as in Stephen King's stories, for example). However, the rats looks really ugly and repulsive creatures.

martes, 17 de marzo de 2020

Sky Coyote, The Company series #2, by Kage Baker

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

I did not know that time travel was so funny. This novel is the second in the time Company series and it has a less tragic tone than the previous one.

In this case, Joseph, accompanied by his unofficially adopted Mendoza, has the mission to save a tribe located in what will later become California from the white men invaders. For this, he must impersonate the native god Coyote Sky. The Chumash were an advanced tribe in their time, especially compared to other neighboring communities. They have -at least in this novel- an advanced social and mercantile structure, so at the first contact they doubt if Coyote Sky really exists. 

I must say that the description of the Chumash seems to me a bit inaccurate -they are a very, very “Californian” tribe- but in return they are so amusing: it helps the ingenious manners and dialogues of both the natives and the inmortal employees of the Company. About the latter, they deal with myths and religions with some irony, with the attitude of someone who has experienced similar situations on many previous occasions; and they have adapted very well to their job, knowing how to appreciate the luxuries of each century in which they work. 

This novel, in addition to the Chumash, opens up new intrigues about the Company and about those who rule its destiny in the future, and it delves into some characters; apart from Joseph and the embittered Mendoza, also with some interesting people from the Chumash. For me, the characters are the best part.

As a result of when the novel was written (published in 1999), it also offers a criticism comparing the Company's future personnel, all them political correctness and light/insipid food lovers, with the blatant appreciation for the pleasures of life of the immortal field agents, leading to comical situations.

I get the impression that the Time Company series, or at least this has been my impression of the first two novels, offers a science fiction intended to entertain but without forgetting a certain level of quality in the approaches and with a previous historical study of the places where the action takes place, so “in a future” I intend to read the next novel of the series, titled Mendoza in Hollywood.