Modernmoonman. Science Fiction book reviews.

Science Fiction Book Reviews and Stuff...

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Pattern Recognition

Pattern Recognition was written by William Gibson and published in 2003.  The attack on the World Trade Center  looms over this novel, Gibson's best (!) and most subtle.  In the tremendous  Neuromancer, Gibson detailed a net surfer negotiating layer after layer of internet "Ice" security....Count Zero was more of the same...cyber-jockys jacking into the matrix for one last ride and taste of "true" freedom as tears of release streamed down their faces...Cyberpunk has evolved into....the world of Cayce Pollard..?  A sensitive allergic to the brashness of advertising?  Kind of an allergic reaction to the Frederick Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth  world of Space Merchants, like 50 tears later?  Or an allergic reaction to the ostentatious reality of today...yeah, well technology will change, but the fundamental laws of advertising are eternal....

And there are layers on layers on being owned and being used and what it means to work...and who is working for who and for what and what it means...

      "We don't know what you are doing, or why.  Parkaboy thinks you are dreaming.  Dreaming for us.  Sometimes he sounds as though he thinks you're dreaming us.  He has this whole edged-out participation mystique:  how we have to allow ourselves so far into the investigation of whatever this is, whatever you're doing, that we become part of it.  Hack into the system.  Merge with it, deep enough that it, not you, begins to talk to us.  He says it's like Coleridge, and De Quincey.  He says it's shamanic.  That we may all seem to just be sitting there, staring at the screen, but really, some of us anyway, we're adventurers.  We're out there, seeking, taking risks.  In hope, he says, of bringing back wonders.  Trouble is, lately, I've been living that."

Mr. Gibson is great at depicting the artist in the story as well:

     "And from it, and from her other wounds, there now emerged, accompanied by the patient and regular clicking of her mouse, the footage.
     In the darkened room whose windows would have offered a view of the Kremlin, had they been scraped clean of paint, Cayce had known herself to be in the presence of the splendid source, the headwaters of the digital Nile she and her friends had sought.  It is here, in the languid yet precise moves of a woman's pale hand.  In the faint click of image-capture.  In the eyes only truly present when focused on this screen.
     Only the wound, speaking wordlessly in the dark."

New Maps of Hell

New Maps of Hell was written by Kingsley Amis and published in 1960.  The book is based on some lectures he gave at Princeton University on the topic of Science Fiction, and I really loved this book because it introduced me to writers like Clifford Simak and Frederick Pohl, and because it is a primer of sorts of pre-1960 sci-fi.

The whole book is great because he kicks it off with a little talk about addiction, and how those who appreciate sci-fi are far different from the addicts of sci-fi, who are also more prone to love jazz, and of how sci-fi and jazz music are not mass culture with a radical tinge (for 1960) and...and...and...

Kingsley Amis is an upper crust sort of writer, taught Literature at Oxford, and throws around the word "Chap" with a startling regularity.  Funny how such a stiff neck can get into prose like this:
(from "Of Missing Persons", by Unknown (an author yet to make his name), from "Good Housekeeping" magazine circa 1955):

     The first-person hero, Charlie Ewell, on recommendation from a stranger met in a bar, goes to a travel bureau and asks the man to help him to escape.  "From what?" the man asks.  Charlie hesitates; he's "never put it into words before."  Then:

     "From New York, I'd say.  And cities in general.  From worry.  And fear.  And the things I read in my newspapers.  From loneliness...From never doing what I really want to do or having much fun.  From selling my days just to stay alive.  From life itself--the way it is today, at least."  I looked straight at him and said softly, "From the world."

New Maps of Hell is a Classic; it's a shame that it's out-of-print.  Recommended without reservation if you can find a copy.

The Space Merchants

The Space Merchants was written by Frederick Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth and published in 1952.  It's a satire of corporate America and the phenomenon of Advertising and Consumerism that still exists today.  This book has aged pretty well; it's dated for sure, but kinda like the TV show "Mad Men" only set in the future.  This book really delineates the difference between the rich and poor.   If you are a star class top ad executive then life is pretty good, but if you're just a regular working person, then, well, you are basically a slave in a system that is designed to make you an addict and forever in debt.

In his excellent book New Maps of Hell, Kingsley Amis says that in The Space Merchants,  reality is "a utopia in which the economic system has swallowed the political, with power wielded immediately as well as ultimately by the large companies, the forms of the administration retained for their usefulness as a "clearinghouse for pressures," and society rigidly stratified into producers, executives, and consumers.  The opening is pure Pohl:  the hero, Mitchell Courtenay, copy-smith star class, attends a top-level conference of Fowler Schocken Associates, the advertising agency he works for, one of the most puissant and formidable in all Madison Avenue, billing "a megabuck a year more than anybody else around."  The reader is introduced, casually and by degrees, to representative features of the society imagined: the industrial anthropology expert reports that while schoolchildren east of the Mississippi are having their lunches--soyaburgers and regenerated steak--packed according to the prescription of a rival firm, their candy, ice cream, and Kiddiebutt cigarette ration have been decisively cornered by a Fowler Schocken client, so that the children's future is assured.  Similarly, the Coffiest account is mentioned and the cost of the cure from this habit forming beverage estimated at a nice round five thousand dollars.  Finally we come to the Venus project and a preview of the relevant television commercial:

     "This is the ship that a modern Columbus will drive through the void,"  said the voice.  "Six and a half million tons of trapped lightening and steel--an ark for eighteen hundred men and women, and everything to make a new world for their home.  Who will man it?  What fortunate pioneers will tear an empire from the rich, fresh soil of another world?  Let me introduce you to them--a man and his wife, two of the intrepid..."
     The voice kept on going.  On the screen the picture dissolved to a spacious suburban roomette in the early morning.  On the screen the husband folded the bed into the wall and taking down the partition to the children's nook; the wife dialing breakfast and erecting the table.  Over the breakfast juices and the children's pablum (with a steaming mug of Coffiest for each, of course) they spoke persuasively to each other about how wise and brave they had been to apply for passage to the Venus rocket.  And the closing question of their youngest babbler ("Mommy, when I grow up kin I take my
littul boys and girls to a place as nice as Venus?")  cued the switch to a highly imaginitive series of shots of Venus as it would be when the child grew up--verdant valleys, crystal lakes, brilliant mountain vistas.
     The commentary did not exactly deny, and neither did it dwell on, the decades of hydroponics and life in hermetically sealed cabins that the pioneers would have to endure while working on Venus' un-breathable atmosphere and waterless chemistry."

If you have ever had a desire that you don't trust or have wondered why you have bought (or bought into) shit you don't need that may even be detrimental, then this book is for you.  High marks for capturing the timeless dynamic and infinite layers of punishment and reward, or as D. Boon said, "Psychological methods to sell should be destroyed..."  The Space Merchants is loaded with class warfare, some 50's type commie red scare shenanigans, and now that the U.S. Supreme court has decided that a corporation can donate to a political organization unlimited funds just like an individual, this novel is more profound and timely than ever.  It's a prophetic mirror, one you can see clearly for miles in, and that's a very high compliment.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Sci Fi Rock and Roll Jimi Hendrix

Alternating Currents

Alternating Currents was written by Frederick Pohl and published in  1956, when Mr. Pohl was 36...but the stories appeared in the Sci Fi Pulps (Galaxy, Beyond, and Fantastic Universe) from '53 to '55.  Mr. Pohl wrote "Happy Birthday, Dear Jesus" apparently for his wife; ......and even if he didn't it still would be one of the greatest love stories ever....he makes his wife's family appear as if they were from another planet...yet the story is all heart;....a fine start to this book of now classic Sci Fi stories.    "Let the Ants Try" is a time travel tale extraordinaire; "Rafferty's Reasons" details the insanity and murderous rage instilled and caused by the gap between the rich and about prophetic!  Last but not least is the tale "Until the Analyst Comes" that is the funniest story about addiction, like, here's a taste; a taste of the text:

     "He stopped me before I could work up a full explosion.  Wait! Don't think that you're the only person who thinks about what's good for the world.  When I first heard of Cheery-Gum, I worried."  He stubbed the cigarette out distastefully, still talking. "Euphoria is well and good, I said, but what about emergencies?  And I looked around, and there weren't any.  Things were getting done, maybe slowly and erratically, but they were getting done.  And then I said, on a high moral plane, that's well and good, but what about the ultimate destiny of man?  And that worried me, until I began looking at my patients."  He smiled reflectively.  "I had 'em all, Mr. McGory.  You name it, I had it coming in to see me twice a week.  The worst wrecks of psyches you ever heard of, twisted and warped and destroying themselves; and then they stopped.  ....."

     "They stopped eating themselves up with worry and fear and tension, and then they weren't my patients any more.  And what's more, they weren't morons.  Give them a stimulus, they respond.  Interest them, they react6.  I played bridge with a woman who was catatonic last month; we had to put the first stick of gum in her mouth.  She beat the hell out of me, Mr. McGory...."

      "It isn't a habit.  So why break it?"
       So how can you break it?
       You can stop Cheery-Gum any time.  You can stop it this second, or five minutes from now,  or   
       So why worry about it?
       It's completely voluntary, entirely under your control; it won't hurt you, it won't make you sick.
       I wish that Theodor Yust would come back.  Or maybe I'll just cut my throat."

Funny how things that aren't habit forming are after all indeed quite habit forming!

Great collection of tales from Mr. Pohl.


Way Station

Way Station  was written by Clifford D. Simak and was published in 1964.  It is one of the greatest science fiction books ever written.  Does the progression of the cover art from chthonic wormy tastelessness to pastoral tastefulness mean that the text is getting some respect?  Has anybody out there even heard of this book?... I had never heard of this book until I read "New Maps of Hell" by Kingsley Amis, a writer and critic who is to pre-1960 Sci Fi what Lester Bangs is to pre-1980 Rock and Roll...that is, the authoritative addict of the genre; the real authority, and well spoken, uh, articulate as$#ole advocate of the genre, for better or worse....  That said, Way Station is a masterpiece of science fiction because it is all HEART...sure, the invincible alien way station exists, and immortality exists for the station agent...and only because the universe is eternal do the temporal human things have the all too human 150 year old well tempered station agent...and of course there is a conflict between the needs of earth vs. the needs of the universe, and what hard choices Enoch the station agent has to make and why....for the good of the quotes of text cos I was breathless the whole time and forgot to turn the corners of the pages for future use!  Huh!

So this isn't "hard" Sci Fi; it's "heart-Sci Fi" and a beautifully written book about Enoch the first interstellar politician from the planet earth.  Recommended to everyone without reservations...cos quality like this easily spans generations man, and make sure you have 2 or three copies around the house to pass down to the future generations so you can have your offspring say, "What the heck are you giving me this disgusting old and brown pulp paper product for, man?".........

So Bright the Vision

So Bright the Vision was written by Clifford D. Simak and published  in 1968 composed of 4 stories written between 1956 -1960.  This book was mentioned in "New Maps of Hell" by Kingsley Amis, and the 4 tales are all good, in spite of the fact that they could be written by your favorite grandfather, you know, the one who told you stories when you were little..."So Bright the Vision" has a lot in common with Kenneth Bulmer's "On the Symb-Socket Circuit" with the symbionic "Alice" blanket alien host, and is about the next step in human evolution, and a new species predicted ages ago:
     "He turned back to the beginning of the fragment and he read: Author Unknown.  Circa 1956.
    Six hundred years ago!  Six hundred years-and how could any man in 1956 have known?
     The answer was he couldn't.
     There was no way he could have known.  He'd simply dreamed it up.  And hit the truth dead center!  Some early writer of science fiction had had an inspired vision!"

Modernmoonman wants to know "who dreamed us up six hundred years ago, and who are we dreaming up six hundred years from now..."

So Bright the Vision is a "good read"; It was the first Simak I encountered; luckily Kingsley Amis turned me on to "Way Station," an utterly "Great Read"  and a Masterpiece of American Literature...

Farenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451 was written by Ray Bradbury and published in it's final form in 1953.  It originally appeared as a story entitled "The Fireman" in Galaxy Science Fiction in 1950.  Ah, Ray Bradbury.  This book is considered a pillar of the Sci Fi genre, and once you get past the idea that firemen can go from putting out fires to starting them; I suppose it is....this writing about memory and forgetting and the political transformation from normalcy to "something else" by the totalitarian manipulation of memory by "Laughter and Forgetting" predates Milan Kundera's similar political text ("Laughter and Forgetting") by some 30 years.   Fahrenheit 451 is sometimes held in the same company as Orwell's 1984, but I don't think it has aged as well, though it is still a fantastic book of ideas.  Ray Bradbury is wide awake and he wants the reader to be aware of the pitfalls of too much Government control.  Government wants the populace not too aware of the world; living on t.v. soap operas and sports programs.   Ray Bradbury sure casts a spell, and some of this text is indeed  immortal; here's a taste:

     "Number one:  Do you know why books such as this are so important?  Because they have quality.  And what does the word quality mean?  To me it means texture.  This book has pores.  It has features.  This book can go under the microscope.  You's find life under the glass, streaming past in infinite profusion.  The more pores, the more truthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more 'literary' you are.  That's my definition anyway.  Telling detailFresh detail.  The good writers touch life often.  The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her.  The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies.
     "So now do you see why books are hated and feared?  They show the pores in the face of life.  The comfortable people want only wax moon faces, poreless, hairless, expressionless.  We are living in a time when flowers are trying to live on flowers, instead of growing on good rain and black loam.  Even fireworks, for all their prettiness, come from the chemistry of the earth.  Yet somehow we think we can grow, feeding on flowers and fireworks, without completing the cycle back to reality."

Though not as great as 1984, Fahrenheit 451 is of it's ilk, and top notch in it's own way, to boot.   It was  apparently taught in U.S. High Schools, though sadly not in mine.  Required reading, as the nocturnal river ride at the end is redemptive American elision at it's finest. 

Man Parachutes from 100,000 feet: A Real Modernmoonman hero: Joe Kittinger

Against the Fall of Night

Against the Fall of Night was written by Arthur C. Clarke and published in 1953.  It's very early work by the master, and he reworked this novel 10 years later and retitled it The City and the Stars, (which modernmoonman will review at a later date.)  Against the Fall of Night is science fiction that is similar to When the Sleeper Wakes by H.G. Wells, in that the protagonist "wakes up" and tries to enlighten society, but it has a much more positive outcome.  The trippy, cosmic stuff that made Childhood's End so great is present and strong here, and the futuristic society is really well described....Clarke really is good at creating a "sense of wonder" in the reader as he describes the cosmic engineering that takes place over eons....and he's good at contrasting the engineering with the spiritual stuff that co-exists with the science...all in all a pretty interesting and worthwhile read; kinda hard to go wrong with pre-Rama II Clarke.  It will be interesting to see what he wasn't satisfied with when he re-wrote it in City and the Stars


Cryptonomicon is written by Neal Stephenson and was published in 1999.  It's 1,152 pages long and is as big as a really f$@king big brick.  Luckily I burned through this massive tome in about a week and a half, cos my forearms are already as popeye-ish as I'd like them to be... man reading this book is like lifting weights...anyway, I disliked his "Snow Crash" very much, but this book is a tremendously fun read.  I'd even go so far as to call it an American Masterpiece, up there with all of the greats; Faulkner, Asimov, etc...except this book is 10 times funnier than they are, and crammed with a great idea on every 4th page...Bam!  Bam!  Bam! Fast and furious it just keeps coming.  I love this book....what's it about?  Everything.  Mainly about the origin of computers during WWII and the lovable, wacky mathematicians that started this whole A.I. business, and a character named "Shaftoe" who is the greatest fictional character ever created; well, maybe one of 'em at least...  You would think that this book is too long, but you know what?:  It, like Life, is too damn short....Stephanson should send his editor out on a decade long fishing trip, cos modernmoonman is along for the ride...  The Singularity starts here...recommended to smart people who like to have their ideas fast and hard:  bang! bang! bang!......'nuff said!