The Departure (Owner Trilogy, #1) by Neal Asher

As if Nigel Farage saw “Soylent Green” and decided to write an SF novel.

Aurora, by Kim Stanley Robinson

The eminent contemporary SF writer K.S. Robinson books are more miss (The Years of Rice and Salt2312) than hit (Mars trilogy, Science in the Capital trilogy) for me. But the hits are so good, that I’m willing to try anything by him. His latest book about a  generation ship, “Aurora” is a sort of hit, just like Galileo’s dream.

“Aurora” falls in a SF  Goldilocks zone. It has just enough action, just enough details, just enough of plot twists,  just enough of diverse real world science to be educating as well as entertaining. The unusual narrator is a plus, as wells as a female protagonist, Freya, and her mother, Devi, who is “the closest the ship had to a captain.” The protagonist doesn’t have a classical love interest, which is also a plus in my opinion. If a cannot warm up to a sketchy, pessimistic Devi that never develops any deep relationships, it probably reflects my indoctrinated mind.

(contains spoilers)

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SCI PHI Journal

Sci Phi N6 cover

Via’s eNewsletter I found out about  SciPhi Journal, which combines two of my hobbies, science fiction and philosophy.

Just as I was despairing that the modern SF lost the philosophical depth of Bradbury’s, Le Guin’s and Strugatskys’ works. I also despaired that “the Kindle revolution”  is selecting for fast writing authors who churn out multiple sequels of mediocre quality.

In theory, magazines like this (selective acceptance, reader revenue based, paying the authors) can start a new Golden Era of SF just as the 1930s pulp fiction American magazines gave us SF classics.

P.S. I must declare a conflict of interests: I am submitting my short story to the magazine. However, I bought N3 and overall quality is good. I liked a story by Mark Andrew Edward so much that I started looking for his other work.

Dr Moreau and universal human rights

To Henry Hunt, Esq., as chairman of the meeting assembled in St. Peter’s Field, Manchester, sixteenth day of August, 1819, and to the female Reformers of Manchester and the adjacent towns who were exposed to and suffered from the wanton and fiendish attack made on them by that brutal armed force, the Manchester and Cheshire Yeomanry Cavalry, this plate is dedicated by their fellow labourer, Richard Carlile. (A coloured engraving that depicts the Peterloo Massacre (military suppression of a demonstration in Manchester, England by cavalry charge on August 16, 1819 with loss of life) in Manchester, England. The banner the woman is holding should read: Female Reformers of Roynton — “Let us die like men and not be sold like slaves”). (Manchester Library Services) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Moving from the Gothic origin to the classical age of modern science fiction, it is interesting to discover allusions to the Romantics in unexpected places.

For example, in a scene in Well’s novel, Island of Dr Moreau (1896), Prendick is running away from Dr. Moreau and his assistant. The protagonist has a mistaken belief that he is in danger of being vivisected and turned into one of the Best Men. Eventually, he is cornered and makes an impassioned plea to the Beast Men, who also take part in the pursuit under the leadership of the Doctor:  “You who listen! Do you not see these men still fear you, go in dread of you? Why, then, do you fear them? You are many—” (1, Chapter 13).  The sentence is never finished, but  I hypothesize the unsaid but implied end of it.

There is a poem,“The Masque of Anarchy”(2),  by a romantic poet, P. Shelley, the husband of Frankenstein’s author, which ends:

Rise, like lions after slumber

          In unvanquishable number!

         Shake your chains to earth like dew

         Which in sleep had fallen on you:

         Ye are many—they are few!”

The poem is dedicated to the victims of Peterloo Massacre in Manchester in 1819 and written in the same year. About 60 000 people gathered for a peaceful protest demanding universal voting rights. They were attacked by the cavalry and at least 15 people died, 400 were injured. The riot was named after the anti-Napoleonic victory, Waterloo.

Therefore, despite their strange appearance and habits, Prendick is appealing to the universal humanity of the Beast Men. As a potential victim, he feels more in common with strange creatures than with two Englishmen in charge. The coming XX century will see the expansion of universal human rights in the former British empire from white men of property to white women and non-white people. Including when  the rights were not given but taken by “many” from “few”.

In fact, as I was surprised to discover, after the Peterloo Massacre proudly anti-revolutionary Britain was as close to a revolution as it would ever be. The government, presided over by the anti-reformist, pro-landowner Duke of Wellington of the Waterloo fame, gave in in the end and implemented the voting reform.

 P.S. A movie We Are Many about anti-Iraqui war protests shows that the image of them and us, them in charge, us in the right and saying about it, is popular 200 years later

Works cited:

1) G.H. Wells — The Island of Dr. Moreau,

2) P.B. Shelley —  The Masque of Anarchy

What fantasy ever did for humankind (except New Zealanders)?

I am taking part in Coursera’s  Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World.  Recently I was disappointed to learn that from the literary point of view SF (spaceships and robots) is a sub-genre of fantasy (kings and wizards), and not two separate, opposing genres.

So why do I  think that SF is better? Firstly, fantasy always happens in the past, even it’s “past in our future” as in  King’s  “The Dark Tower”.  And the past means outdated forms of social order, where your future is determined by your birth and you have no say in how the kingdom is run. Of course, everybody imagines herself being a princess with golden hair and blue eyes or an exceptionally gifted brunette sorceress, who will transgress the class boundaries. But I read witty short story, of which I don’t remember the author or the title (sic transit gloria mundi) about a young man, who is told that he should have been born in a fantasy and offered to transport him there. He agrees and becomes a groom, who shovels dragon dung all day long. There is only one princess for a hundred thousand of illiterate, half-starved peasants, so your chances of being a princess are negligible.

Prof. Rabkin from Michigan University in his excellent lectures have said that in granddaddy of modern vampire stories, Stoker’s Dracula the vampire represents aristocrats, an outdated social class, which is being replaced by a ragtag band of commoners including even a woman, representing emerging democracy. Likewise, werewolves represent middle class and zombies – underclass. In one of the most notorious modern fantasy franchise, Twilight, the heroine has a choice between a decent but poor werewolf and a very rich vegetarian vampire. It is the sign of our time of capital concentration and decreasing social mobility that, opposite to Dracula’s Mina and similar to another notorious pop-culture phenomenon Fifty Shades of Grey, she chooses the millionaire with kinky sexual habits. A fantasy world means acceptance and detachment from the real world. I don’t think Nineteen Eighty Four would have been so chillingly effective if it was set in a world ruled by an evil wizard.

Secondly, it may not matter from the literary point of view that in a fantasy people communicate via telepathy and in a SF novel via an ansible. But it matters in real life. The golden age of SF, 1930th – 1960th, raised a whole generation of engineers and scientists, who constructed bridges, buildings and dams, put man on the Moon and machines beyond the Solar System. A rational explanation leads to incorporation of cutting edge science into the public consciousness and results in discoveries. A purely fantastic explanation is an escapism, pleasant but not harmless.

Book Review: “Coalescent”, by Stephen Baxter

Cover of "Coalescent: Bk.1: Homo Superior...

Cover via Amazon

This is not just one book, but loosely connected, two and a bit – a historical novel, a biological thriller and a science fiction short story – under one cover.

The historical novel is about a girl growing up in Britain in the 5th century A.D., while the Roman rule disintegrates. Now, I am not a fan of historical novels – when I’ve tried to read them a couple of times before, I’ve been disappointed by how modern the characters’ thinking was. And if I want to know about history, I’d rather read a popular history book. However, this novel did not contradict anything I’ve read about the Roman period and, in fact, added a lot of details to the picture I’ve had before. Moreover, the narrative seemed as real as any “true story based” fiction.

This “reality” or “believability” is part of Stephen Baker’s trademark – anybody who has ever lived in Edinburgh and wanted to brush up on their geology should try reading another of his Sci-Fi books, Moonseed, and you will never look at Arthur’s Seat with the same eyes.

But I digress, back to Coalescent.

The biological thriller, set in a near future, is a Dan Brown-escue (in a good way) story about a man looking for his long-lost sister and discovering a Puissant Monastic Order led conspiracy. The most interesting detail is that at the heart of the conspiracy is biology with some emergent theory thrown in. The motto of the Order is:

      • Sisters matter more than daughters.
      • Ignorance is strength.
      • Listen to your sisters.   

        Worker bees

        Worker bees – E.O.Wilson thinks that humans have a similar capacity to live and work together as an meta-organism  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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