Time Capsule

This records my personal memories, thoughts, and other miscellany.

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Location: Colorado, United States

My wife Sue and I are retired and have lived in the same house for over 30 years. Our local family consists of son Mason, daughter Katrina, son-in-law Dan, granddaughter Natalia, and grandson Joel, all living in the same metropolitan area where we live.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Recent Science Fiction


I’ve been reading science fiction for over 45 years, and it’s still one of my favorite genres. Obviously, I’ve seen a lot of development of SF writing in that time, with some changes in direction being better than others, in my opinion.

In the past two weeks, I’ve read three science fiction books by authors I had not read in the past. It was an interesting experience, with a wide range of reactions.

The first book I read was Ship of Fools by Richard Paul Russo, published in 2001. [I find the publication date of a science fiction book to be important information. If I know the book was written in the mid-1900’s, I take that fact into account as I read the science, political, and sociological passages in the book. If the book was published within the past couple of years, I anticipate a different view of the world and its impact on the future described in the book.] I enjoyed the beginning of Ship of Fools, although I had difficulty identifying with or caring about any of the characters. I didn’t get to know enough about any of them or understand their motivations to any depth. They were sort of like cardboard cut-outs on stands; I never saw them as really alive. Throughout the book, I kept waiting for things to happen, to connect, to develop. There were several creative surprises, but they didn’t seem to lead anywhere – they just dead-ended. I was really having to force myself to continue reading past the middle of the book. I kept expecting the author to tie things together, to create some interesting conclusion. But, he never did. The book just stopped on the last page, with no ending. Very disappointing. It seems to have been just a set-up for future installments, although the ending was neither a partial conclusion nor a cliff-hanger that would entice me to read the sequel. I see absolutely no reason to read another book by this author. I’ll donate the book to the public library, although I almost feel guilty foisting it off on someone else.

The second book I read was Slow River by Nicola Griffith, published in 1995. For some reason, I had not run into her writings until now, and the book is already 11 years old. {At my age, anything printed in the last half of the 20th century seems new.} This book was great. The writing was excellent; the characters were real; the events and action made sense; and even though a sequel could easily be added (perhaps it was), there was a very satisfying conclusion. Some passages might not appeal to some people (read: rated R for sexual imagery), but they were very reasonably integrated with, and integral to, the story. This story reminded me of Burning Chrome by William Gibson and Montezuma Strip by Alan Dean Foster. These stories take place in the dark side of life in the future – similar to the setting of the movie Matrix, but not quite over the edge (as Matrix is, in my opinion). Some of these types of stories get a little too far out for me, but these three books I found intriguing and thought-provoking. It takes a good author to write a story of this type that will keep my interest. I will definitely look for other books by Nicola Griffith.

Finally, I just finished reading Old Man’s War by John Scalzi, published in 2005. Wow, that’s my kind of book. I’m a sucker for old-fashioned space opera stories, and this essentially fits that category. It’s not as action-packed with detailed spaceship battles and political intrigue as some of my other favorite authors’ books are, but it has an excellent balance of action, description, dialog, and creative ideas. I laughed out loud several times in the opening chapter. The protagonist is a 75-year-old man who is just entering the military service in space. Well, that premise certainly got my attention, given my age. What caused me to laugh were some great lines that I thought must have been written by someone my age or older, regarding what it’s like to be this age. I didn’t learn until after I read the book that the author is certainly nowhere near my age; how can a fellow as young as he is understand so well what it’s like to be my age? The book was terrific – very believable characters, some very intriguing creative ideas, some excellent social commentary (and not overdone), good description of action scenes, and believable events (within the context of the story). He set up the expectation for a sequel (which I also have bought), but had a very satisfying conclusion. I’m very happy I purchased both this book and the sequel at the same time; I’m looking forward to continuing the story, and if the second book is as good as the first, I’ll be watching for other books by Scalzi.

These are the three science fiction books I’ve read most recently. Perhaps I’ll soon feel inspired to write some comments about some other contemporary SF writers that I am enjoying. For a while, after the 1970’s or maybe 1980’s I was not impressed by the SF being published, for the most part, with some notable exceptions. Also, I was a bit turned off by the fact that many (or most) great SF writers of that time began spending their creative energy on fantasy stories, because that genre had become very popular. I enjoy some fantasy from time to time, but I prefer really good science fiction, like the last two books I described, above. Fortunately, there seems to be a good number of excellent science fiction writers plying their trade these days – especially writing the kind of stories I enjoy reading.

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