Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Week 14: Douglas Adams - Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Sci-Fi Satire

No matter how many times I’ve read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and it has been MANY times now, it never fails in inducing endless laughter, joy and nostalgia. To me, it was a childhood staple.  Before I was even old enough to read I was quoting this book, though I didn't didn't know that that was what I was doing, because my Uncle David was always going around saying things like, "Don't forget your towel" or "Don't panic" or "There's a frood who knows where his towel is at". Beneath the surface of utter hilarity, Adams used sarcasm and wit to make some rather poignant statements about life and the manner in which we are going about living it. This is one reason the book is so appropriate for multiple readings. You will understand things you did not the first time around because of the author’s subtle, ideas and approach to writing. One brilliant thing that Adams does is to step away from the action every so often to present interesting facts about the universe as recorded in the Hitchhiker's Guide; here we learn about Vogon poetry, the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal, Trans Galactic Gargle Blasters, and other intriguing pieces about life in the wild universe Adams created. He even gives the reader the ultimate answer to the question of life, the universe, and everything in between. I love Douglas Adams' writing style. The sort of heavy handed, matter-of-factly way that he describes things, and can go off in tangents to describe something in detail is very interesting. I don't know of another author who would so abruptly interrupt the story of the two main protagonists stuck in an alien spaceship to describe in full detail the mechanization and theory of the fish they put in their ears to understand alien language.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Week 13: Margaret Atwood - Oryx andCrake

Literary Speculation

The novel takes place in the distant future, where global warming has changed the Earth as we knew it. The concept of the world as we know it ending and starting a new seems so plausible and like it could happen at any moment. The way this book is set up was very intriguing. By starting in the middle of the story and working in back story and leading up to where they started kept it interesting. Throughout the whole book I was kept on the edge of my seat wondering how things got this way. I really felt like I was there with Jimmy experiencing what he was experiencing, trying to work through and understand what is happening and trying to understand how it all relates to his past. What I found most important was how introspective I became while reading about the human race and the damage that we have done to our planet. I find the different concepts and studies of humans as a whole and the problems with our species to be very interesting and this book definitely highlighted many concepts and ideas that I have thought about in the past and presented them in new ways.  I found that Oryx and Crake really pushes one to think about how how own futures could be. I thought that Oryx and Crake was an amazing read and a great look at a post-apocalyptic future.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Week 12: Octavia Butler - Lillith's Brood

Diverse Position Science Fiction

The novel deals with the idea of being an alien in the sense that it tries to determine what makes a species that “other” group of people, meaning what is it that causes that dividing line of us and them.  To do so the novel has to explore the idea behind what it means to be human and what it means to be alien.

The novel also explores the relationship between humans and aliens with the consensus being that their relationship is one of a slave and master relationship. I found this to be an interesting point within the story because it reflects typical human-to-human interactions as well. For extended periods of time within our own history humanity has treated “others” or people that are different in a subservient manner. We see this parallel time and time again in the case of Native Americans and also with the enslavement of native African peoples. So reading this part in the novel I found this to be an interesting connection because that seems to be a trend in the way “otherness” is dealt with.  

Another important thing to note in this series is that Oankali alien race has taken over the human race deeming them unfit to rule themselves after they almost massacred themselves in an all out nuclear war. The Oankali are essentially genetic manipulators and when they “adopted” the human race they began to reconstruct their genetic code to reflect that of their captives, the idea being that soon they would create a new species that was uniquely Oankali and human and thereby destroy the human race all together. This aspect of the novel reminds me yet again of historical concepts, this one being the idea behind Manifest Destiny,the once wide spread belief that it is America’s right to expand their territorial holds and shape the world within their image. This series reminds me of this particular aspect of history in that the alien race felt the need to take over the struggling earth and rather than just help them rebuild their planet restructures them in their own image quite literally. While that may not be the underlining theme of the series, colonization is the one that sticks out to me the most as an apparent theme, intentional or otherwise. I think having a historical basis that the audience can identify helps ground this book in reality and gives the reader a tangible notion by which to base the book.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Week 11: Neal Stephenson - Snow Crash

Cyberpunk & Steampunk

My first impression of this book is that it reads like something a teenager would write about his kooky adventures as an unsung hero. I don’t mean that in a negative way, by any means, because I think it was intended to be read sort of like that. I think it gives off that vibe because of the severe lack of pronouns and also the fact that the protagonist of the story, “the deliverator” is amped up to be this superb hero despite the fact that pizza delivery boy isn’t the best of job descriptions. I think the fact that it’s written like that made the book all the more interesting to me. For one, it was grounded in a reality. I semi understood it and it was mildly humorous so it caught my attention, whereas most sci-fi novels don’t typically do that for me.  I enjoyed traipsing through this new found world and exploring the decline of cultures and societies and seeing how they rebuilt themselves, for instance Kong bucks because the inflation of the dollar was so profound, which kind of reminds me of the Bitcoin of today. I think it was an interesting take on the world if businesses were allowed to be on the same footing as government. All in all I would say it was a very clever novelization.  

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Week 10: Frank Herbert - Dune

Narratives from the Multi-verse

I read Dune by Frank Herbert. Dune is a complex piece of literary work dealing with a time period in the not so distant future. The story explores a lot of fascinating themes like religion and power and the need humans have to control their environment. I thought it was an intriguing notion that “Dune” addressed religion in a way that it was such a prominent feature within the novel. Thinking about it more, I realize how little other things within the sci-fi genre touch on religion. Looking more into it I realized that Herbert actually held a different outlook on religion as an institution, as opposed to his contemporaries. Hebert’s outlook on the future and religion’s place within it has religion and politics heavily intertwined, much like our time right now in my opinion, whereas other science fiction writers wrote of religion being an outdated institution that would lose all functionality when the future approached. I think in part that’s why  he’s such a critically acclaimed author because he wasn’t afraid to point out that religion wasn’t just a faint or new idea and that years in the future it could very well still be a crucial player in our day to day affairs. I also think it’s brilliant how his story seems to be making observations about life in his day even though it’s told through the efforts of a futuristic story. For instance the idea of the Fremen being controlled by religion seems to be a good way of highlighting the way cults work and how charismatic religious leaders can sometimes exploit the religious for their own ends. Herbert’s outlook on religion, as implied by Dune, is that when mixed with power and greed it could be the most detrimental thing to a person’s way of life, in which I agree.

Another interesting concept that Herbert addresses within “Dune” is the idea of humanity having power over the environment. Within the novel an ecologist by the name of Kynes is determined to altar the harsh desert climate of Arrakis into a more lush tropical one, a dream that Paul is more than happy to continue with after Kyne’s death. No one seems to question whether it is right to completely altar the eco-system and typical planetary conditions, that have kept numerous animals alive on the planet. This brings to mind the way we, as a whole, treat the planet we live on today. Herbert seems to be trying to point out that the way we are treating our planet will only hurt us  in the future. Although the repercussions are blind to us presently, though we are slowly starting to become more aware, we mustn’t take it upon ourselves to completely altar the ecological makeup of our environment because we will surely pay for them later. It’s themes like these that I think propelled Herbert’s book far above it’s time and is why it has gained the reputation as one of the greatest sci-fi writers. He addressed ideologies that I don’t think a lot of science fiction writers were thinking about at the time.

I also really enjoyed the movie, which we watched in class.  I have seen the movie before many many years ago with my grandpa and it was really nice to see the movie again and to read the book and be reminded of the times that it was just me and my grandpa with milk and cookies, sitting on the couch watching Dune.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Week 9: Alfred Bester - The Stars My Destination

Space Opera

I think that Space Opera allows the viewer to imagine what our future will really be like and all of the possibilities of mankind, while equally allowing us to reflect on our current state. I found this book to be a very interesting read, it delved into a lot of social and political issues and really explored how far one person would go to exact revenge. It is quite an interesting story being told. The main character, Foyle, is intense, to say the least. He is a character that you as the reader both root for and despise at the same time.  At first he was easy to identify with, the feeling of mediocrity, nothing makes him special or stand out, until he becomes possessed by revenge, and that is when I thought he took a turn for the worse. some of Foyle's actions make him quite a shocking character. Foyle is brutal and often it is hard to remember he is the protagonist. I found it an interesting notion that up until the point where Foyle was enraptured in retribution he was a common place man with no ambition whatsoever but his embitterment empowered him. It seems like one of those things where the protagonist needed to find something to draw strength from and although revenge was good fuel at the time, it ended up costing him a lot more than it was worth in the end.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Week 8: Neil Gaiman - Stardust

Mythic Fiction & Contemporary Urban Fantasy

I chose to read Stardust, which proved to be an interesting read, because I have seen the movie and loved it. Truthfully, I had no idea that it was a book before it was a movie. The movie version of Stardust, for me, is the ultimate feel good movie. So naturally when we were given the opportunity to read a Neil Gaiman novel, I jumped at the chance to read this book. The book was an excellent read, though very different in major ways from the movie, like most novel to film movies. I think the production of the movie did what it could to make it a more visually appropriate story, which I personally don’t mind because sometimes you just have to what with time constraints and the attention span of the viewer.  Though I feel if I had read the book before I had watched the movie that those changes would have irked me a lot more then they did.

I personally enjoyed the movie more than the book. Though I did still find the book interesting the characters were given more 'weight' within the movie than they were in the book. In the book some of the characters feel very one-dimensional as though they had no real purpose. For example the sky pirates who rescued them in the book were there with the intention of finding them a way out of the clouds and taking them part of the way so they could arrive at their destination much sooner, but in the movie the sky pirates did much more than that by also teaching teaching Tristran things like how to fight etc. and in the movie that was also the true turning point in the way Yvaine felt about Tristran. Which bring me to another issue that I had with the book, the relationship between Tristran and Yvaine happened kind of matter of fact-ly and didn’t seem to grow and flow naturally, I was very disappointed in how it happened. As a whole I did enjoy it, though there are some things that I personally found lacking but that might have to do with me watching the movie before reading the book, and I would defiantly suggest reading it, especially if you are a fan of Neil Gaiman's writing.