Modernmoonman. Science Fiction book reviews.

Science Fiction Book Reviews and Stuff...

Monday, January 31, 2011

The Windup Girl

The Windup Girl was written by Paolo Bacigalupi and published in 2009.  It won a Hugo and a Nebula award and is the most current offering reviewed on Modernmoonman so far.  It's taking me forever to slog through this book; seriously, I hit a wall here: this book (and Snow Crash) brought this blog to a halt.  It's written well, but there's no tension, no motivation to turn pages, no characters to care about, and it's hard to care about genetically engineered fruit, no matter how beautifully it's described... I dunno; still, there is some nice writing:

     Piles of them.  The little red fruits with their strange green hairs sit before him, mocking him from within a photo of a farang bargaining for food with some long ago Thai farmer.  All around them, brightly colored, petroleum-burning taxis blur past, but just to their side, a huge pyramidal pile of ngaw stares out of the photo, taunting.
     Anderson has spent enough time poring over ancient pictures that they seldom affect him.  He can usually ignore the foolish confidence of the past--the waste, the arrogance, the absurd wealth--but this one irritates him:  the fat flesh hanging off the farang, the astonishing abundance of calories that are so obviously secondary to the color and attractiveness of a market that has thirty varieties of fruit: mangosteens, pineapples, coconuts, certainly...but there are no oranges, now.  None of these...these...dragon fruits, none of these pomelos, none of these yellow things...lemons.  None of them.  So many of them are simply gone.
     But the people in the photo don't know it.  These dead men and women have no idea that they stand in front of the treasure of the ages, that they inhabit the Eden of the Grahamite Bible where pure souls go to live at the right hand of God.  Where all the flavors of the world reside under the careful attentions of Noah and Saint Francis, and where no one starves.
     Anderson scans the caption.  The fat, self-contained fools have no idea of the genetic gold mine they stand beside.  The book doesn't even identify the ngaw.  It's just another example of nature's fecunfity, taken entirely for granted because they enjoy so damn much of it.
     Anderson briefly wishes that he could drag the fat farang and ancient Thai farmer out of the photograph and into hid present, so that he could express his rage at them directly, before tossing them off his balcony the way they undoubtedly tossed aside fruit that was even the slightest bit bruised."

There's also a "Windup Girl," a robot who is all too human and she gets humiliated a lot and is a combo of Asimov's Caves of Steel "Olivaw" Robot and Spielberg's A.I. pleasure robot....

I'm slogging through this sad and depressing novel, and as of pg. 67, I still can't wait to get back to the Van Vogt, but maybe I'll change my mind...(to be continued...)  I really wish this book would make me want to read it.  Farang this.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


Saw Splice this week.  This sci-fi movie started out great, then quickly went banannas.  I wouldn't recommend it to anyone, but it's not boring, that's for sure:

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Martian Chronicles

     "The ship came down from space.  It came from the stars and the black velocities, and the shining movements, and the silent gulfs of space.  It was a new ship; it had fire in its body and men in its metal cells, and it moved with a clean silence, fiery and warm."
The Martian Chronicles was written by Ray Bradbury and published in 1950.   Some would say this book is pure fantasy, but I say look: it's got rockets, it's got Mars: it's sci-fi, and he can really write:

     "Suppose all of these houses aren't real at all, this bed not real, but only figments of my own imagination, given substance by telepathy and hypnosis through the Martians, thought Captain John Black.  Suppose these houses are really some other shape, but, by playing on my desires and wants, these Martians have made this seem like my old home town, my old house, to lull me out of my suspicions.  What better way to fool a man, using his own mother and father as bait?"
     "And suppose those two people in the next room, asleep, are not my mother and father at all.  But two Martians, incredibly brilliant, with the ability to keep me under this dreaming hypnosis all of the time."

Ray Bradbury is such a good writer; Martian Chronicles reminds me of Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, another classic that dwells upon the idea of the same city viewed from many different perspectives=many different cities.   I think these books are very similar in a way, but I digress...Ray Bradbury is a national treasure and  has inspired a Tina Fey-esque video, that is kinda funny and kinda obscene, but he said he liked it anyway.  Ray Bradbury is a good sport; and Racheldoesstuff is a riot that is worth watching at least once; here's the video: (WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Olbermann leaves MSNBC/ NETWORK

****** Modernmoonman has learned that the world is a poorer place because Keith Olbermann just got fired from his job at MSNBC.********************************************************

He must have spoken truth to power one too many times, for he was given 10 minutes to say goodbye to his audience.  It was a complete surprise.  He mentioned the 1976 prophetic movie Network as he left, so, good-bye Keith, you will be missed, you were a class act, and here's a scene from the movie Network:

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Snow Crash/ Just Kids/ Patti Smith/ Huck Finn/ Rock and Roll Nigger

Snow Crash is a novel written by Neal Stephenson and published in 1992.  He writes:

"This is America.  People do whatever the fuck they feel like doing, you got a problem with that?  Because they have a right to.  And because they have guns and no one can fucking stop them.  As a result, this country has one of the worst economies in the world.  When it gets down to it--talking trade balances here--once we've brain-drained all our technology into other countries, once things have evened out, they're making cars in Bolivia and microwave ovens in Tadzhikistan and selling them here--once our edge in natural resources has been made irrelevant by giant Hong Kong ships and dirigibles that can ship North Dakota all the way to New Zealand for a nickel--once the Invisible Hand has taken all those historical inequities and smeared them out into a broad global layer of what a Pakastani brickmaker would consider to be prosperity"...

With it's themes of virus as language and language as infection all involved in creating the next step from the internet: the Metaverse, Snow Crash is a be continued...this book is impossible for me to write about...because of too many kids and too many snow days...and because there is absolutely no redeeming qualities about the protagonists that keep the reader turning the pages....I've written about many books that are hard to put down....this one is hard to pick up....and what's really funny is that this quality has become a virtue of the book!...just look at the huge Wikipedia entry about Snow Crash and you will see 800 things that I never saw while reading this text.....BUT;  my friend V. gave me this, so I've been reading this:

Yes this is a sci-fi blog, but, (o.k. in it she talks of looking for UFO's with her dad through a telescope....I mean how many kids do that these days?  And of dating a science fiction writer for a swordfish dinner; wonder which one it was?) I started reading the Patti Smith book, Just Kids, got to page 87, yes I'm taking my sweet time with this one, and you know what?, it connects to Snow Crash (cos I said so)...with it's themes of biblical computer language and biblical voice cacophony of Babel, and guess what was the name of my very first Patti Smith poetry book:...............
 "Babel," yes; correct... 
So, it's a great book so far, and, in a month where they (they is "Big Brother," natch) are going to "whitewash," err...sanitize, uh, well "Huck Finn" is gonna be published with the word "Nigger" ....Orwellian?...well...

He who controls the past
Controls the present
He who controls the present
Controls the future

"Nigger" is a pretty bad word generally; unless speaking of Conrad's : "Nigger of the Narcissus", and now with Huck Finn sanitized, Keith Olbermann removed in a only question is: Who's Next?

Here's one for the Huck Finn sanitizers: The great Patti Smith Band doing the incredible Babalogue and  "Rock and Roll Nigger:" (WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT)

Friday, January 14, 2011

La Jetee

Modernmoonman Friday Night Sci-Fi Film Classics Presents:  La Jetee (The Jetty) by Chris Marker, 1963.  This film inspired the movie "12 Monkeys," and in 2010, Time Magazine voted it #1 in it's top ten movies about time travel.

The Naked Sun

The Naked Sun was written by Isaac Asimov and published in 1956.  Like Caves of Steel, it's a "Lije Baley and R. Daneel Olivaw Novel."  The R is for Robot, of course, and Asimov crafts another masterpiece here, as the detective partners investigate a murder on the planet Solaria:  population 20,000 "spacers" (human aristocrats) and 200,000,000 robots (slave labor.)  As usual, sociology plays an important role, and Asimov describes the situation on Solaria like this:

     "Civilizations have always been pyramidal in structure.  As on climbs toward the apex of the social edifice, there is increased leisure and increasing opportunity to pursue happiness.  As one climbs, one finds also fewer and fewer people to enjoy more and more.  Invariably, there is a preponderance of the dispossessed.  And remember this, no matter how well off the bottom layers of the pyramid might be on an absolute scale, there are always dispossessed in comparison with the apex."
     "So there is always social friction in ordinary human societies.  The action of social revolution and the reaction of guarding against such revolution or combating it once it has begun are the causes of a great deal of the human misery with which history is permeated."
     "Now here on Solaria, for the first time, the apex of the pyramid stands alone.  In place of the dispossessed are the robots.  We have the first new society, the first really new one, the first great social invention since the farmers of Sumeria and Egypt invented cities."

Asimov is prophetic about the impact of communications technology (facebook, twitter, blogger, etc.) on humanity, as the "spacers" live in isolation; they don't like to see each other in the flesh, but prefer viewing each other via computer terminal:

     "In short, a Solarian takes pride in not meeting his neighbor.  At the same time, his estate is so well run by robots and so self-sufficient that there is no reason for him to have to meet his neighbor.  The desire not to do so led to the development of ever more perfect viewing equipment, and as his viewing equipment grew better there was less and less need ever to see one's neighbor.  It was a reinforcing cycle, a kind of feed-back.  Do you see?"

The Naked Sun has a heavy Brave New World vibe to it, but I like the chemistry between the characters very much; they are charming and, uh, likable, and it is with a natural writing style and some great ideas that Asimov demonstrates why he is sci-fi's great visionary.

Triple Detente

Triple Detente was written by Piers Anthony and published in 1974.  Overpopulation is the topic of this book, and although the protagonists of three races learn to impersonate each other, speak to each other, fight each other, trade kids and raise 'em, and have wild alien shape-shifting perversion (this novels only saving grace) with each other, none of it means anything or goes anywhere as the solution to the crux of the problem of overpopulation is still genocide and euthanasia at 6 million lives a day.  Plus towards the end they start using words like "rrwr," and "mngh;"  I didn't like that sh*t when Ursula K. LeGuinn did it, and I certainly don't like it when Piers Anthony does it.  Ugly goofy-ass cover, too.  Take it away...

The Foundation Trilogy

The Foundation Trilogy was written by Issac Asimov and is a collection of three books: Foundation (1951,) Foundation and Empire (1952,) and Second Foundation (1953.)  It is a classic in the Science Fiction genre, and is a look at what happens in the corridors of power over a thousand year span of galactic struggle.  Though it did heavily influence "Star Wars," (The planer Trantor looks like the Death Star, for example) it's mostly a story told by dialogues between politicians, and it's a remarkable study of leverage moves, power plays, straw men, deceptions, red herrings, and the things people do to get and maintain power through generations.  There are some unforgettable characters like Hari Seldon (the Good Guy) and the Mule (the Evil Mutant,) both master psychologists who "work by indirection, through the mind.  They would never destroy or remove when they could achieve their ends by creating a state of mind."  This sci-fi mind control stuff is precisely what makes The Foundation Trilogy relevant to today, as states of mind are easy to create; you don't have to be an evil mutant, all you have to do is publish something like this:

In The Foundation Trilogy, Asimov has got some great words of wisdom:  "Violence," came the retort, "is the last refuge of the incompetent."   He describes the development of a new science that will save humanity:

     "Down-down-the results can be followed; and all the suffering that humanity ever knew can be traced to the one fact that no man in the history of the Galaxy, until Hari Seldon, and very few men thereafter, could really understand one another.  Every human being lived behind an impenetrable wall of choking mist within which no other but he existed.  Occasionally there were the dim signals from deep within the cavern in which another man was located-so that each might grope toward the other.  Yet because they did not know one another, and could not understand one another, and dared not trust one another, and felt from infancy the terrors and insecurity of that ultimate isolation-there was the hunted fear of man for man, the savage rapacity of man toward man."
     "Psychohistory had been the development of mental science, the final mathematicization thereof, rather, which had finally succeeded.  Through the development of the mathematics necessary to understand the facts of neural physiology and the electro-chemistry of the nervous system, which themselves had to be, had to be, traced down to nuclear forces, it first became possible to truly develop psychology.  And through the generalization of psychological knowledge from the individual to the group, sociology was also mathmaticized.
     The larger groups; the billions that occupied planets; the trillions that occupied Sectors; the quadrillions that occupied the whole Galaxy, became, not simply human beings, but gigantic forces amenable to statistical treatment-so that to Hari Seldon, the future became clear and inevitable, and the Plan could be set up."

The Foundation Trilogy is a timely and timeless masterpiece, and a solid introduction to the genius type.


Thursday, January 13, 2011


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Saturday, January 8, 2011

Blade Runner (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)

Blade Runner is a movie from 1982, directed by Ridley Scott, that was based on Philip K. Dick's 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  The movie is one of the greatest science fiction films ever made.  The book is very different from the movie; more meditative.  It's a story about a bounty hunter Rick Deckard, and his job of hunting down "replicants," or "genetically modified organisms" that are very close to  human beings, except that they have a lack of empathy and a life span of four years.  In the novel, the Earth of 2019 is a dystopia, a dust covered world decaying into ruin:

     "In addition, no one today had remembered why the war had come about or who, if anyone, had won.  The dust which had contaminated most of the planet's surface had originated in no country and no one, even the wartime enemy, had planned on it.  First, strangely, the owls had died.  At the time it seemed almost funny, the fat, fluffy white birds lying here and there, in yards and on streets; coming out no earlier than twilight as they had while alive the owls escaped notice.  Medieval plagues had manifested themselves in a similar way, in the form of many dead rats.  The plague however had descended from above.
     After the owls, of course, the other birds followed, but by then the mystery had been grasped and understood.  A meager colonization program had been underway before the war but now that the sun had ceased to shine on Earth the colonization entered an entirely new phase.  In connection with this a weapon of war, the synthetic freedom fighter, had been modified; able to function on an alien world the humanoid robot--strictly speaking, an organic android--had become the mobile donkey engine of the colonization program.  Under U.N. law each emigrant automatically received possession of an android subtype of his choice, and, by 2019, the variety of subtypes passed all understanding, in the manner of American automobiles of the 1960s.
     That had been the ultimate incentive of emigration: the android servant as carrot, the radioactive fallout as stick."

The replicants Deckhard hunts have made a violent escape from the Mars colony, where they were property and slaves,  and have assimilated themselves back on Earth.  There are some great questions raised in the novel, and things are very ambiguous:  What does it mean to be human?  Are replicants human? Some humans lack empathy; is Deckhard a replicant?  Is the struggle to raise oneself up out of entropy and decay only a human endeavor?  Is spirituality real?  In a world where everything is artificial:  pets, emotions from a "mood organ," the religion "Mercerism," what is real?  What is reality?  What do replicants read on Mars?  Answer: "Pre-colonial fiction.  Stories written before space travel but about space travel."  They read Science Fiction!  The book is a good read, especially if you are a fan of the movie. 

One of the greatest scenes in film isn't in the book;  Rutger Hauer wrote it (!) and he really nails this scene, here it is:

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Doomsday Book

Doomsday Book was written by Connie Willis and published in 1992. It won a Hugo Award and a Nebula Award.  (Spoiler Alert.)  Part Time Machine and part Canterbury Tales, it's a book about time travel back to the middle ages, set 50 years or so from now.  It's soft on the sci-fi and hard on the historical reconstruction, which, in this case, is o.k.  This book is kinda like that Led Zeppelin song "Stairway to Heaven."  It meanders along nice and pretty, all strings and woodwinds...very English, with pubs, and de da... until page 386;  then the John Bonham drums kick in (Book Three), and you are on a hellish 200 page gallop as Kivrin the time traveling historian takes on the black plague with a bottle of wine and a pocket knife.  There is some great writing about the role of the church in medieval times, and Kivrin is the most heroic female in literature;  mostly it's pure doom of the blackest and grimmest and most heartbreaking kind.  It's well written for sure; I love the fact that she can incorporate three languages (2 dead) and a malfunctioning translator and her work never loses it's clarity, and Willis deserves the awards for crafting the most down to earth (6 ft. under) science-fiction ever made.  There is nothing outlandish about it, no big ideas or wild conceits to groove on (well, besides time travel), just the cold, hard truth of inescapable death, death, death: the horror, the horror...

As she's being crushed by the pile up of diseased corpses, Kirvin muses,  "Perhaps that's what's wrong with our time, Mr. Dunworthy, it was founded by Maisry and the bishop's envoy and Sir Bloet.  And all the people who stayed and tried to help, like Roche, caught the plague and died."

She's basically saying that evolution sometimes doesn't go to the worthy, who stand and fight and comfort and divide the word of truth (to be a rock, and not to roll...), but to the swift who race away from responsibility and basic human decency.  And Kirvin, she's doing what needs to be done as she approached sainthood...

     "For one human being to love another,
      that is the ultimate test and proof,
      for which all other work is but preparation."
                            -Rainer Maria Rilke

After reading this, I will never hear church bells in the same way again, well because bells were a way of communicating news before the web.

Is Willis a great writer, or a great manipulator, or are they the same thing?  Death is the topic here, make no mistake, and it is a serious business with Mrs. Willis.  She does not pander, or insult your intelligence about anything.  She makes you care about children that existed 650 years ago in a work of fiction!  I suppose that's why this is an uncomfortable book; because it's so true.  Yes, these people did exist, or if not these particular fictional ones, then people just like them, in the same bind, with the same suffering, in the same boat, with the same shared history....Willis makes you want to own them, and own up to our's amazing, really.  This is a very emotional science fiction book that would probably appeal to those not necessarily enticed by standard science fiction tropes.

I suppose one could take this opportunity to discuss things like AIDS, or Haiti, or any number of contemporary plagues (bats, bees, birds falling out of the sky...) but I can't wait to get back to the doom and gloom of future dystopias...where there's still a fighting chance...

Monday, January 3, 2011

Destination: Universe! & Great Stories of Space Travel

Destination: Universe!, published in 1952,  is a collection of stories written by A. E. Van Vogt and originally  published in Astounding Science Fiction magazine between 1944 and 1950. Great Stories of Space Travel, published in 1963 and edited by Groff Croklin,  is a collection of short stories by Poul Anderson, Isaac Asimov, Jerome Bixby, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Lester Del Ray, Damon Knight, Murry Leinster, Eric Frank Russel, A.E. Van Vogt, and Jack Vance.  The stories were all written from 1944 to 1955, and were originally published in the magazine Astounding Science Fiction.  Both of these books have cool spiral galaxy covers.  The Van Vogt book is mostly a collection of classics like "Far Centaurus," "The Enchanted Village," and "The Search."  Great Stories of Space Travel also contains some, like the title says, great stories.   "Kaleidoscope," by Ray Bradbury, is about what it's like to die in the vacuum of space.   Here's an excerpt:

     "A meteor flashed by.  Hollis looked down and his hand was gone.  Blood spurted.  Suddenly there was no air in his suit.  He has enough air in his lungs to move his right hand over and twist a knob at his left elbow, tightening the joint and sealing the leak. It had happened so quickly that he was not surprised.  Nothing surprised him any more.  The air in the suit came back to normal in an instant now that the leak was sealed.  And the blood that had flowed so swiftly was pressurized as he fastened the knob yet tighter, until it made a tourniquet.
     All of this took place in a terrible silence on his part.  And the other men chatted.  That one man, Lespere,  went on and on with his talk about his wife on Mars, his wife on Venus, his wife on Jupiter, his money, his wondrous times, his drunkenness, his gambling, his happiness.  On and on, while they fell, fell.  Lespere reminisced on the past, happy, while he fell to his death."

Imagine surviving your rocket ship blowing up, and then losing a hand to a meteor, just before you die in space from running out of air!  What are the odds? If it's not one thing, it's another...
All in all,  nice collections of "Golden Age" science fiction.

Saturday, January 1, 2011


Mirrorshades is an anthology of Science Fiction writing that that was edited by Bruce Sterling that came out in 1986.  It's got a vision of the future in a story called "Freezone," by John Shirley, that is very interesting considering it was written in 1985:

     "The States had already been in trouble.  The nation had lost its economic initiative in the 1980s and 1990s:  its undereducated and badly trained workers, its corrupt, greedy unions, and its lower manufacturing standards made US industry unable to compete with the Asian and South American manufacturing booms.  The EMP credit dissolve kicked the nation over the rim of recession into the pit of depression.  And made the rest of the world laugh.  The Arab terrorist cell responsible--hard-core Islamic Fundamentalists--had been composed of seven men.  Seven Men crippled a nation.
     But America still had its enormous military spread, its electronics and medical innovators.  And the war economy kept it humming.  Like a man with cancer taking amphetamines for that last burst of strength.  While the endless malls and housing projects, built cheaply and in need of constant upkeep, got shabbier, uglier, and trashier by the day.  And more dangerous.
     The States just weren't safe for the rich anymore.  The resorts, the amusement parks, the exclusive affluent neighborhoods all crumbled under the attrition of perennial strikes and persistent terrorist attacks.  The swelling mass of the poor--growing since the 1980s--resented the recreations of the rich.  And the middle-class buffer was shrinking to insignificance."