Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

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Foundation by Isaac Asimov

January 4, 2012

The Book: Foundation by Isaac Asimov. Originally published by Gnome Press in 1951, the edition read was published by Avon in 1966 or so.


The Setting: Some really distant planets. Trantor, Terminus, others.

The Story: Humans really kicked some ass in the Universe. But stuff is gonna fall apart. One guy can see that (mathematically), and creates a situation which will help to make the Intergalactic Dark Ages suck a lot less.

The Science: The obvious idea to focus on is that of psychohistory. That by applying history, sociology, and mathematics to societies, one can statistically predict the future. It is an awesome foundation for these stories. But I don’t think anyone is going to come along who can map out the next 1000 years of the human race with any sort of accuracy. It’s not really plausible. But it’s plausible enough to buy into totally.

The Reaction: Loved it. Loved it. Wanted more. Wanted lots and lots more. Great stories, great writing. There’s a reason this is a classic of the genre and other-books-I-could-mention-but-won’t-because-you-can-just-scroll-down-a-ways aren’t.

The Cover: No cover art credit. I’m not a fan. It’s the cover art I associate with these books, but it’s kind of dull. Though it does succeed in being enigmatic and probably highly symbolic, though I’m not paying that much attention because I’m bored already.

Next Up: Stowaway to Mars by John Wyndham

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“To People a New World” by Nelson Bond

April 10, 2011

The Book: “To People a New World” by Nelson Bond. Originally published in Blue Book Magazine, November 1950. The version read was inBeachheads in Space, edited by August Derleth, published by Berkeley Books in 1952.

The Setting: Earth, the future.

The Story: A family lives an isolated life without any metal.

The Science: Something happens which disrupts the atoms in metal, making them, I presume, highly radioactive and making those who come into contact with them highly sick. This is a nice bit of pseudo-science. It’s hard for me to imagine that any sort of chemical reaction that resulting in unstable and radioactive metals would affect only metals and not other materials. So I think it’s just a convenient plot device, not really science.

The Reaction: I was interested in this story – a family lives in a strange new world with strange new rules – until the end. Then it got biblical. A boy killed his brother. The boy’s name? Cain. Oy. So cliche. Not even a twist. Just something that’s supposed to make you go “oooh… what a clever thing this is.” But it’s not. The ending ruined it for me.

The Cover: Alas, no cover art credit for this book. Because it has got a really awesome spaceship on the cover, and an outpost on a hill, and is very lovely science-fictiony in general. Awesome.

Next Up: The Stars Like Dust by Isaac Asimov.

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NSF Double Header: “The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl” and “Powerhouse” by Ray Bradbury

October 18, 2010

The Book: “The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl” and “Powerhouse” by Ray Bradbury. “Fruit” was first published by Detective Book Magazine in November 1948. “Powerhouse” was also published in 1948, copyright Street and Smith Publications. Both were read in The Golden Apples of the Sun by Ray Bradbury published by Bantum Books in 1961.

The Setting: Earth.

The Story: “Fruit” – A murderer grows increasingly frantic that he has left fingerprints in his victim’s home. This is his downfall.

“Powerhouse” – A not religious woman has a religious experience at a remote desert power station.

The Science: Not science fiction, not relevant.

The Reaction: These are both lovely little stories. Bradbury has a way of establishing a story and a character very quickly. “Fruit” starts slow and whips itself into a frenzy, “Powerhouse” is slow and reverent throughout except for the climactic experience. Both very nice.

The Cover: Same as last time.

Next Up: Against the Fall of Night by Arthur C. Clarke

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That Hideous Strength: A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-Ups by C.S. Lewis

September 1, 2010

The Book: That Hideous Strength: A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-Ups by C.S. Lewis.  Originally published in 1945, the edition read was published by MacMillan after 1965.

The Setting: England, more or less after WWII

The Story: A husband and wife find themselves on opposite sides of a show down between the forces of good and evil.  Featuring: Tame bears, talking heads, bureaucracy, Merlin, and an institute.  It’s complicated.  Short version: Man and wife aren’t all that in love.  Man wants to be in circles of power, wife wants… something else.  He pursues new job at the Institute.  She has… bad dreams.  He gets embroiled at the Institute (it’s evil, by the way) and she wanders over to Camelot where Ransom from the previous books is the Pendragon.  Both get deeper at their places, then it all explodes, and they are re-united happily.  Not as boring as I made it sound.  I swear.

The Science: The Institute has taken a decapitated head, stuck it in a tank with some tubes, and made it live again!  It’s like a Frankenstein’s monster, but with less tedious mucking about in the graveyard.  Fortunately, such a thing should be impossible.  Sure, you could pump blood and air into a dead head, but the brain is really all about the synapses and the neat little electrochemical signals running around in there.  And those?  Those end when you die.  And there’s no bringing ’em back.  Not for 10 more years, anyway.  It doesn’t really work out for the Institute anyway.

Besides, this book mostly deals with straight up magic.  Not so much with the science.

The Reaction: Man, I had a hard time getting into this book.  Whether it was because of summer being glorious or the flashbacks to meetings I’ve sat in or the references to a woman being obedient to her husband, it took a while to get rolling.  By the final third of the book, I was getting into it, but it all came to a head so quickly that I didn’t really feel satisfied.  I mean, it’s a fine story and a very nice book, but I enjoyed the first two books far more.

The Cover: No credit for the cover, but it’s signed BES.  The cover is a grab bag of literal things from the book and representations of others.  Like the building.  That’s in there.  And the chess pieces are more about the action in the book.  The hole face thing with the spinny colors?  I don’t know what that’s about.  To lend an air of the supernatural/extraterrestrial, I guess.   The cover is ridiculous.

Next Up: “Chrysalis” by Ray Bradbury.

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Man of Two Worlds by Raymond F. Jones

July 28, 2010

The Book: Man of Two Worlds by Raymond F. Jones.  Originally published as a serial in 1944, then as a novel titled Renaissance in 1951.  The edition read was published in 1963 by Pyramid Press.

The Setting: Kronweld (a distant planet?) and Earth

The Story: A man tries to prove that the religion of his society is all hocus pocus, and gets embroiled in much more than he bargained for.  This includes, but is not limited to: cross dressing, political intrigue, epic journeys, military training, and leading a new and better world.  Yeah, there’s a lot of story in this book.

The Science: So, a lot of this book involves hopping back and forth between Kronweld and Earth.  And the mechanism that allows the hopping between the two places is called a Gateway.  The book never really bothers to explain how it works, except to say that a gauge is crucial to it.  It seems to be device that can rip holes in the fabric of space and allow you to step directly from one planet to another.  And they do that a lot.  Initially, it mostly sends babies from Earth to Kronweld.  Then, at the end, there’s a lot of space hopping by war machines in both directions.

I don’t think I need to point out that this is technology which we do not possess.  I do worry, based on reading stories and watching movies, that the citizens of Kronweld and Earth are possibly doing irreversible damage to the spacetime continuum, ripping it all open like that.  It’s very much the same sort of holes in space as in Philip Pullman’s The Subtle Knife.  It’s an awesome idea, but a hard one to really explain without magic.

The Reaction:The back matter on this book really had me worried.  It declared “CALL ME KETAN” at the top, and went into a first person thingy.  It sounded awful.  Thank goodness it seems to be just a misguided marketing attempt.  The story itself is complex, interesting, and unpredictable.  Even 20 pages from the end, I had no idea what was going to happen.  There’s even a female character who spends a fair amount of time being a good character before pleading with her daddy and asking Ketan for a baby.   I declare this worth reading.

The Cover: Cover painting by John Schoenherr.  I love this cover because there’s a big crazy bug machine on the front and a close up of the human chaos on the back.  The bug machine, alas, seems to be only a product of John Schoenherr’s imagination, as it doesn’t match anything in the book.  But it is an awesome machine.  Points for coolness.

Next Up: “The Invisible Boy” by Ray Bradbury


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Perelandra by C. S. Lewis

July 17, 2010

The Book: Perelandra by C. S. Lewis.  Originally published in 1943, the edition read was published in 1975 by Macmillan Publishing.

The Setting: Venus

The Story: Ransom, hero of Out of the Silent Planet, is sent to Venus to do… something.  He encounters a watery world of floating islands with only a very few instances of fixed land.  And on them, all manner of spectacular and wonderful things.  Not least among these is the green woman who he encounters and who is the first woman on Venus.  Ransom and the woman converse.  Then Weston, villain of Out of the Silent Plant, shows up.  But he’s possessed by the devil.  Or a force of evil so pure that it doesn’t really matter what its name is.  Anyway, ex-Weston attempts to corrupt the woman by talking to her.  A lot.  And Ransom, representative of the good forces, tries to counter his arguments.  This continues for some time.  Then Ransom says, the hell with it, and proceeds to kick the shit out of ex-Weston and get his own shit kicked in the process.  They fight across the planet, ending up in a cave where Ransom chokes the ex-Weston.  Ransom climbs out of the cave which turns out to be inside a volcano, more or less, and is followed by ex-Weston, who’s not quite dead yet.  Ransom disposes of him, finds his way down the mountain, praises God (for PAGES) and heads back to earth.  The end.

The Science: The point of this book is not so much science, but theology.  Theology, however, is not our concern.  So let’s talk a little bit about what science supposes Venus to be like.  In the book, Venus is a world mostly of water, with floating mats of vegetation which can be quite massive and support a wide variety of plant and animal life.  The fixed land portions of the planet seem to be mostly very tall and mountain-y.  Light is diffused by a cloud barrier.  Lewis wrote this book during a time when science knew that Venus was covered in clouds, but not what lay beneath.  Turns out, Ransom would die of asphyxiation pretty quickly on the rocky surface, since the atmosphere is mostly carbon dioxide.  It’s supposed that Venus may have once been covered in oceans, but those evaporated and the hydrogen flew out in to space.  Or that’s what Wikipedia told me, anyway.  Lewis had some decent guesses, based on the science of his day, but it wouldn’t work out well based in today’s science.

The Reaction: I really like most of this book.  Ransom is having a grand old time discovering a world which hasn’t fallen from grace, then he has to stop it fall from grace, then there’s a nerd fight.  Then there’s a perilous journey.  The part that I didn’t like was the four page praising of the force of good.  Maybe it’s because it’s tedious, or maybe I was just really tired and wanted to go to bed.  But it’s well worth reading, even if you need to gloss over a couple bits.

The Cover: Cover painting by Bernard Symancyk.  The cover depicts a rocky landscape with a hand thrusting up through the ground.  The hand has long nails, painted red, and is holding an apple.  The hand and apple are inside a gazebo, presumably facing the gazebo alone.  Above the gazebo is a pink circle with a pink circle with a female figure in it and a green circle with a male figure in it to the right and left of first pink circle, respectively.  These side circles are inside lines of white which give the impression of being ovaries.  Pretty much…  wtf?  This cover is an artistic rendering of the theme of the novel, plus a gazebo.  I mean…  wtf?  Giant hand, apple, ovaries, gazebo, rocky landscape – none of these things are a part of the book.

Next Up: “Plague” by Murray Leinster