domingo, 26 de enero de 2020

The City Among the Stars, by Francis Carsac

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

A classic of science fiction? Good! An unknown science fiction author, and French? Very good! I admit that before I downloaded it I looked for the original French edition -Pour patrie, l’espace-, but I did not find it (at least in ebook), so there is my honest review from the forthcoming English edition, for which I must thank both Netgalley and Flame Tree Press.

As the cover points out, this is the first edition in English of the classic French science fiction novel published in 1962. However, Francis Carsac’s novels were very popular in the USSR, and he has also two translated into Spanish. Francis Carsac was the pseudonym of François Bordes (1919-1981), known as a prestigious prehistorian, with numerously bibliography for his Paleolithic studies.

At first it surprises me that this novel is a happy precedent of Culture starships by the missed Iain M. Banks. There are people who want to live in space, in enormous city-state spaceships and not with the contemptuously called planetaries. There is also a decadent Terran empire, in the form of a dictatorial aristocracy vs. a sort of space technological anarchism. About the latter, apparently an utopia then, but soon we will realize that there is no perfect human society. But I will not talk about the plot, if you want you can read the synopsis provided by the publisher.

Of course, for a novel written in 1962 some issues are expected. The style of writing science fiction from nearly sixty years ago has changed, for example the pace is slower. Also some didactic and a bit silly explanations, mixed with the author own philosophical ideas (Confess, reader!, if you were a writer, will you resist the temptation to explain your own ideas in your novel?).

On the other hand, habitually we must accept the way that the women are disregarded in classic science fiction. If not, we would not read none of them. This book is not a exception, but the women have a curious role: in some way they are important for the story, but mostly as a sentimental counterparts of the hero. In this utopian spatial society they are imagined as independent and capable, for example as technicians or soldiers (In France times were changing, six years before May 68) but her role in the story is mainly as partners of the protagonist. So there is plenty of flirting issues in this novel between the hero and... three women!, and it includes a ridiculous catfight. I must add also that the protagonist warrior ego is a bit tiresome.

For all this I get the impression that the author facet as a science fiction writer is mostly due to entertainment. The novel contains spaceships, intersolar empires, space battles, terrific aliens, adventure and a lot of flirting… In other words, this is pure space opera! It is difficult to translate the French title, but it means something like My Country, the Space. Does it remind you of another very influential novel, written a few years before?

I must add that the novel has some minor plot nonsenses -even for being a space opera-, and also some illogical style problems, but I have to keep in mind that this is an evaluation copy and that it needs a final correction before its publication on May 21. In the marketing aspect, in my opinion the cover is more than right, it shows the beginning of the story with the hero marooned in space.

Finally, can I recommend this novel? Of course if you love classics like I do. By classics I mean pre-cyberpunk or better, pre-New Wave literature. Also to space opera lovers, the book has an interesting and different -or eccentric- way to tell a science fiction story.

domingo, 19 de enero de 2020

Gods and Robots: Myths, Machines, and Ancient Dreams of Technology by Adrienne Mayor

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

Briefly, Adrienne Mayor's book intends to make a comparison between the ancient myths -mostly greek and roman- and our modern science fiction dreams.

As I said, the book is just a comparison, it does not explain a cause effect or an influence between classical myths and contemporary science fiction stories. It is clear that the author is an expert in classical stories but not an expert in the science fiction genre. However she is well informed and the comparisons are clever; and, above all, the myths and classic legends about made, not born creatures, or about automata, enhanced powers, etc., especially in the Greco-Roman antiquity, are so fascinating that by themselves they captivate us as much or more than any good science fiction novel.

A brief example of the content. There is a chapter that deals with the myths about human improved powers, by pharmaka or biotechne (or also by life through craft, for example, Daedalus), or the one that deals with mechanical automatons like Talos, the giant warrior protector of Crete in the Minoic era. 

Talos, from Jason and the Argonauts movie (1963).
Can I recommend this book for the science fiction readers? Really I do not know, particularly when she cites the sources of each case the book becomes repetitive (after all, it is an academic book), but on the other hand the subject matter of the ancient fantastic myths is very interesting. So, you must decide for yourselves.

domingo, 5 de enero de 2020

Sea Change, by Nancy Kress.

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

I receive this book from Netgalley in exchange for a honest review, so here we go:

Sea Change in one phrase: In a near future, Renata Black is an illegal activist who fights for her cause despite her own personal circumstances.

I could seem that the author’s personal life is involved in the story. Well, all the authors do this to a greater or lesser degree. In this novel -narrated in first person- you can notice this in the personal issues dealt: divorce, the loss of the loved ones, the stubbornness of not giving up… But in second thought I think that this explanation is better: Renata Black is a very well developed character.

So, the novel can be understood as a good picture of the future quotidian life in the USA after a catastrophic event and I think this is a positive aspect. However, I do no like it. Why? I am not sure, maybe it is about the proportion of personal life/science fiction in the story. In both ways it's interesting, I do not deny this, but together, for me at least, it doesn't work completely.

On the other hand, although at a first glance the main premise of the book may look a bit absurd -there are a lot of stupid things in our world, and they exist and they rule our lives-, actually this is the best part of the book, the issues in which Nancy Kress excels. I mean her accurate hard future speculation due both to her scientific knowledge and her incisive imagination. These are some of the topics dealt: genetic modified organisms vs. natural crops, the danger about a genetic engineering in capitalism, irreversibility of climate change and how to deal with it, power abuse vs. civil society activism and the enemies of liberty (fear, ignorance & fanaticism).

Finally I must note a good aspect and two complaints about this novel. About the former, the absence of bloodshed: violence is not necessary to explain a good story. On the latter: Nancy Kress plays the deus ex machina card in the usual computer hacking way and second (a minor one), the USAcentric perspective, but I understand that this is a lot to explain in a short novel.

You can read another review about this author here.