Tag Archives: fiction

Beautiful quotes from The Last Man

The Last Man by Mary ShelleyThe Last Man by Mary Shelley, 1826

As the last of the human race suffer:

“They were sad, but not hopeless.  Each thought that someone would be saved; each, with that pertinacious optimism, which to the last characterized our human nature, trusted that their beloved family would be the one preserved.”

And later,

“We have a power given us in any worst extremity, which props the else feeble mind of man, and enables us to endure the most savage tortures with a stillness of soul which in hours of happiness we could not have imagined.  A calm, more dreadful in truth than the tempest, allayed the wild beatings of my heart — a calm like that of the gamester, the suicide, and the murderer, when the last die is on the point of being cast — while the poisoned cup is at the lips, — as the death-blow is about to be given.”

And as the last man gazes upon the countryside:

“Yes, this is the earth; there is no change — no ruin — no rent made in her verdurous expanse; she continues to wheel round and round, with alternate night and day, through the sky, though man is not her adorner or inhabitant.”

Mary Shelley’s false messiah in The Last Man

The Last Man by Mary Shelley, 1826

The Last Man by Mary Shelley, 1826

I always wonder just what people believed and assumed in years past, most specifically in hundreds of years past.  And these quotes by Mary Shelley from The Last Man, one of the earliest science fiction novels, give me insight that there are always astute individuals in every age.

Centering around a plague that makes its deadly way to England, the few people left are torn between the calm, caring, patient leader who has brought them across the ocean in search of salvation, and the evil power-hungry charlatan who threatens eternal damnation and preaches that sickness is God’s punishment.

“It is a strange fact, but incontestible, that the philanthropist, who ardent in his desire to do good, who patient, reasonable, and gentle, yet disdains to use other argument than truth, has less influence over men’s minds, than he who, grasping and selfish, refuses not to adopt any means, nor awaken any passion, nor diffuse any falsehood, for the advancement of his cause.”

So relevant to our time!  (Donald Trump running for president)  I guess some things never change.

 

Michael Hogan, narrating METAtropolis

METAtropolis by Jay Lake, Tobias Buckell, Elizabeth Bear, John Scalzi, & Karl Schroeder

In the Forests of the Night by Jay Lake

METAtropolisI truly love this book.  I’ve listened to it twice and read it once and every time I discover something new that I didn’t take notice of before.

And I love it when two concepts coincide between different METAtropolisbooks I read.  In the Forests of the Night takes an excerpt from the fictional “Bacigalupi Lectures” which describe the rise of many tiny “secret societies”  made up of just two people sometimes, where people trade among themselves and use knowledge to get what they need, truly trusting few but connecting to many.

I’ve also been reading Paolo Bacigalupi.  The Wind Up Girl and Pump Six are set in a future that is post-climate change and strikingly similar to the world described by METAtropolis.  On Wikipedia you can learn that Bacigalupi’s works are considered to be part of the biopunk genre and perhaps METAtropolis is too.

METAtropolis was designed as an audio book, not for print, and the narrators turn it into a completely different experience than if you are reading it.

Michael Hogan, taken from WikipediaWhat makes this such an amazing work of art, this short story, is the tone and depth given to it by narrator Michael Hogan.  I know and love him from Battlestar Galactica, and the beautiful job he does on this story is astounding.  It’s as if he’s reading a poem.  His voice sounds like he should be a legendary western character akin to Clint Eastwood or John Wayne.

This time it’s not the different voices for different characters that makes the narrator stand out, but instead his darkly melodious voice and the seriousness with which he goes about his task.

You can listen to this AMAZING short story by the late Jay Lake on his website, www.jlake.com.

Saga, Book One (graphic novel)

Saga, Book One by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples

Saga, the graphic novelGraphic novels often have characters that are an intriguing mix of good and bad.  To attract the graphic novel audience, I guess, you have to be edgy, complicated, and often violent.  The three main characters of Saga though, are mostly just good, although they are quite tough and do their share of fighting (well, except the baby).

Saga is dark sci-fi, with spaceships and everything, and it’s oftentimes quite naughty.  Sex and violence, it’s full of both.

The story line involves a forever-long war between two humanoid races.  They use magic and muscle to fight.  The story is told by a woman named Hazel who was born to star-crossed lovers from opposing sides of the war.  She starts the book out:

“I was born on a planet called Cleave, an ancient ball of mud circling a faded old star.

It never had much strategic value, but the place still mattered.  To me anyway.

See, this is where my parents met, but it’s not where they were from.Saga, the graphic novel

They grew up way over here, back where the war began.”

There is an arrow pointing to a large shining spot in a galaxy and she goes on to say this is where her mother is from, Landfall, and its moon is her father’s original home.   (At right, her father and her.)

The endless war between the two eventually got outsourced to other planets and spread across the galaxy.  The “moonies” of Wreath have a wide variety of horns and the people from Landfall have wings.  Apparently there are tons of creative ways to dress people up with horns!

(The ones with wings are not the good guys, contrary to popular assumption.)

More on this in the next post, but for now I will just say, this book is awesome.

 

The Windup Girl on audiobook

Book:  The Wind-up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

The Windup Girl, art by Sharksden Art Studio, from DeviantArt
The Windup Girl, art by Sharksden Art Studio, from DeviantArt

It took a while to get into this book.  I’m listening to it, not reading it, so that makes a difference in how it’s experienced.  In my view, reading is better, you can go at your own pace, reread a section if you want to, go back and check for something, etc.  Listening takes more effort; dry or slow-moving sections are more boring.

About one-third of the way through I started to listen more carefully to The Windup Girl and now that I’m in the second half I’m closer to sitting on the edge of my seat, and I really care about the outcome.

In Bacigalupi’s post-oil future every calorie is counted and carbon expenditures really matter.  Seas have risen and droughts and crop failures have created a world where only highly modified GMO crops can survive to provide sustenance for humans.

The Thai Kingdom has weathered the storm better than most countries and here our story takes place, with a Japanese “wind-up” as an extremely sympathetic character.  Wind-ups are genetically modified humans who are considered by the Thai people to be unnatural, soulless, even disgusting.

There is a lot of racism – the Thais disdain foreigners – but even worse, there is a total lack of compassion for living things.

I have noticed this in Bacigalupi’s other writing:  His socially collapsed realities are filled The Wind-Up Girlwith people who must struggle to survive and compassion is something that has been left in the wake of that world of leisure that is no more.

The wind-up girl has one friend, a white man, a foreigner, and their attraction to each other is the closest thing to love that this book has.  So I ask myself, do I want to keep reading Bacigalupi’s books even though there is no “love”?  And it’s a resounding yes.

The reader has a way of finding the tiniest salvation and hanging on, as long as the rest of the story is engaging, and it certainly is in this case.

Attributing opinions to an author

Can we ever attribute comments that a character in a story makes to be the opinions of the author who wrote them?

This question comes to me often when reading various authors like Robert Heinlein, and Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinleinrecently, to a lesser extent, Ursula Le Guin.  When an author writes about something “political”, we seem to automatically ask that question.  Should we attribute certain remarks in a book as being of the author’s true political opinion?

I would venture to say that most science fiction authors (or rather, most authors) do not state strong opinions in their writing.  They neither state them nor dwell on them, because they run the risk of becoming “political” or siding with a certain political or religious group.

Statements by certain characters, such as the “good guy”, may indicate a leaning by the author. I say “good guy” because that is a major factor.  A good guy (forgive my simplicity here regarding good vs bad) who gives an opinion should be more likely to be representative of what the author thinks, than if a “bad guy” gives it.  Simple enough.

In general I regard this as a dangerous practice, attributing an opinion to the author, but sometimes I can’t help myself.

Oftentimes good guys are of mixed morals.  (Some would say the best good guys are of mixed morals!)  They follow the good “moral” path only after certain events and perhaps emotions goad them into doing so.  So it would be dangerous to assume anything that this type of character says to be what the author believes, for that and other reasons.  But perhaps a long-time good guy or elder in a story, may give more indication of the author’s true beliefs.

Ayn RandI’ve deemed certain authors political, like John Barnes, Heinlein, and Ayn Rand, but I came to that conclusion only after a pattern emerged that led me there.  And maybe that’s what it comes down to.  There must be an overt pattern in a story or an author’s books that all of them point in one direction, toward that opinion, before you should safely make that claim.

Regardless of all of this, I think nearly all authors are trying to get a point across about humanity and if they can let you figure it out, without being explicit, but lead you to the answers piece by piece, their job has been to some extent completed.

At least that’s my take on it.

Clarke vs Heinlein: polar opposites

Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. ClarkeRendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke (1973)

This book was a truly wonderful experience after reading so much Heinlein.  It was my first Clarke book, but even though, I could tell that he and Heinlein are absolute polar opposites in their writing styles and content.

Heinlein’s copious dialogue, over the top personality quirks, and political opinions are tiring over time.  He seems to put his two cents in wherever it will fit into a story.  Clarke, on the other hand, is light on drama and personality, and heavy on straight forward information and scientific realism.

This is a book without human drama, instead filled with human “history” (future history) and significant detail about a fascinating scientific phenomenon.

Rendezvous with Rama highlights the moment in human history when we have our first encounter with an alien civilization.  No aliens actually appear in the book but we get beautiful glimpses of a civilization with technology far surpassing ours that is traveling in a manner we do not understand, and whom we may never meet.

Don’t get me wrong, there are human characters and we hear about their lives to some extent, which are very different than ours, both in function and philosophy, but if you need a break from the endless drama of the average fiction book, look to Arthur C. Clarke.