Archive for December, 2010

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1984 by George Orwell

December 26, 2010

The Book: 1984 by George Orwell. Originally published in 1949, the edition read was published by Signet after 1962.

The Setting: Earth, London. 1984.

The Story: A man living in a totalitarian society doesn’t conform to the ideal. This leads to a desire for history, love, and privacy. It ends badly for him.

The Science: The world of 1984 is a world in which most science has retrogressed, except those which can be applied to war, torture, and spying. The telescreen, a television like screen which can simultaneously transmit and receive, is ubiquitous and feared by Winston, the main character. Such a device is certainly possible today. In fact, laptops with webcams can be used as such by unsavory individuals. And surveillance cameras are pervasive in much of the modern world – often even in public spaces. While the resolution of such devices is probably not high enough to capture a comparable level of detail to what those in the book could capture, it’s still very much a part of this modern world.

The scientific angle in the final third of the book has to do with torture, brainwashing, and the ability of the brain to control itself. Sadly, this has all been done in the real world. And I imagine it’s all a great deal easier when the brain in question has a compelling desire to be controlled.

The Reaction: 1984 is a good book. It’s a classic cautionary tale of a possible world to be, one which seems almost as possible today as it did in 1949. But not only that, it’s great writing, good characters, and just damned compelling. If you haven’t read it, you probably should. I hadn’t read it in probably a decade and I was struck by the fact that I still liked it and found it important and relevant.

The Cover: The cover is fine. It conveys information. In this corner, it’s George “1984” Orwell! But the Schoolhouse Rock font is perhaps a bit too friendly for such a story.

Next Up: “Those Men from Mars” by Robert Spencer Carr. I like that title!

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“Dark They Were and Golden-eyed” by Ray Bradbury

December 25, 2010

The Book: “Dark They Were and Golden-eyed” by Ray Bradbury. Originally published in Thrilling Wonder Stories in August, 1949.  The story was read in A Medicine for Melancholy printed in 1963 by Bantum Books.

The Setting: Mars.

The Story: A pioneer family is stranded on Mars begins to adapt to their new surroundings, so to speak.

The Science: The idea of the story is that Earth things become Mars things when on Mars. This applies to plants and to people. That somehow, through exposure to the environment, humans slowly become Martian. It’s not a sudden transition, but a slow and natural seeming one which extends beyond physiology to culture and language. It’s something more than a genetic mutation and something less then a parasite taking over their bodies. It doesn’t really work scientifically at all.

The Reaction: The story is good. It feels like a classic. I like it.

The Cover: Same as last time.

Next Up: 1984 by George Orwell.

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“Critical Mass” by Arthur C. Clarke

December 24, 2010

The Book: “Critical Mass” by Arthur C. Clarke. Originally published in Lilliput in March 1949 according to the ISFDB. Copyright on the story is listed as 1957. Whatever the case, the story was read as part of Tales from the White Hart published by Ballantine Books in 1957.

The Setting: Earth, Southern England.

The Story: A truck carrying boxes, possibly from a radiation research establishment, crashes. Some boxes break open and something emerges…

The Science: Not really applicable here, unfortunately.

The Reaction: Very short, builds a sense of suspense quickly and effectively, with a cute ending. It’s alright.

The Cover: Cover appears to be signed “Powers.” I like this cover a lot. Very fitting for the book. Whimsical and delightful, with a nice spaceship and a drunken octo-alien.

Next Up: “Dark They Were and Golden-eyed” by Ray Bradbury.

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The Big Eye by Max Ehrlich

December 23, 2010

The Book: The Big Eye by Max Ehrlich. Originally published in 1949, the edition read was published by Bantam Books in 1958.

The Setting: Earth, 1960, New York City and Palomar, CA

The Story: David Hughes is an up-and-coming astronomer who wants to get it on with his actress lady friend, but the world is on the brink of nuclear extinction and strange things are happening… Like a planet headed for collision with the Earth and no chance of escape!

The Science: David Hughes works at the Palomar observatory, which houses “The Big Eye,” a 200 inch telescope. What I did not realize is that this telescope is real! The telescope opened the same year the book was published. That’s pretty cool. Moreover, the telescope is still in use for science, which is super awesome. Built to last!

Most of the story, however, is concerned with the impending collision of an extra-solar planet-like body on a collision course with Earth. At the beginning of the book there are mysterious tremors and other things being caused by the interference of this body, even though it is not even near Earth yet. But, when the body is practically filling the sky, there’s hardly any gravitational interference with the planet. So that doesn’t make any sense. I mean, the main characters were living in an apartment building at the end of the book! I don’t get it.

The Reaction: I actually finished reading this book a few weeks ago. But it took me a long time to get through it and just as long to temper my resentfulness of the book with time. Because, oh my god I hate this book. It’s part melodrama, part attempted social commentary, and part dude only thinking about sexing it up with his lady friend. The story has potential, but way too much of the book is spent talking about what is happening the world over. It’s very ineffectual. Also, the casual misogyny is annoying – it’s not even tempered by awesome storytelling. This book is so not worth the effort.

The Cover: The cover is probably the thing I like best about this book. It’s got an awesome font going, and AN EYE! Above a city! There’s a very strong mid-century vibe in the painting which I like. Although the front blurb “with only two years left for all the laughing and loving of a lifetime” puts me on the fence between loving the camp and rolling my eyes so far that it hurts.

Next Up: “Critical Mass” by Arthur C. Clarke

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Actual Real Science: It’s Alive!

December 2, 2010

NASA Finds New Life … On Earth

In case you hadn’t heard. This is really cool.