Recommended Sci-Fi Books (for modern citizens)
Science Fiction + Speculative Fiction
The Testaments: A Novel (2019) Margaret Atwood
Set 15-years after
The Handmaid's Tale
(reviewed 2-page clicks below), "The Testaments" is book of speculative fiction which explores
life in an American Christian Theocracy named
comment: daily news about American states challenging female reproductive
rights makes me wonder if this speculative fiction is already become fact. Obviously many of the
American religious-right do not think the idea of Gilead would be a bad thing. Doesn't
anyone ever heed the warnings of speculative-fiction any more?
This book contains the testimony of three people: Aunt Lydia in Ardua Hall,
Witness 369A and Witness 369B. While I do not think the book was meant to
terrify, similarities between my own childhood (I was raised by Christian
Evangelicals) and Witness 369A have triggered several nightmares. I suspect that
some readers educated in Catholic schoolrooms may associate some nun-related
experiences with the shenanigans by the Aunts.
Students of history will see similarities between Rodrigo Borgia and Commander
Judd. Likewise, activities by some of the Commanders will be associated with the Cardinals
of Rodrigo's day.
IMHO, people who have previously read "A Handmaid's Tale" or watched the
recent TV series will get more out of this book than those who didn't. For that
reason alone, I have included a few observations which some readers might
consider SPOILERS so those people should not read past the five hash marks.
##### possible spoilers follow #####
Offred (June Osborne) had two daughters: Hannah/Agnes was raised in
Gilead, and Emily/Nicole was raised in Canada as Daisy. Witness 369A represents
the testimony of Hannah/Agnes while Witness 369B represents the
testimony of Emily/Nicole. We learn that Offred is living in Canada which means
she was not able to leave Gilead with her oldest daughter. Since this book is
presented as a testimony, it is safe to assume that Gilead has collapsed and
some sort of official investigation was made. Be sure to read the last chapter
titled "The Thirteenth Symposium" dated 2197. Now go back a read the last
chapter of "The Handmaid's Tale" titled "Historical Notes" dated 2195.
Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece
(2018) Michael Benson
Celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the film’s release, this is the definitive
story of the making of 2001: A Space Odyssey, acclaimed today as one of the greatest
films ever made, including the inside account of how director Stanley Kubrick and
writer Arthur C. Clarke created this cinematic masterpiece.
Regarded as a masterpiece today, 2001: A Space Odyssey received mixed reviews
on its 1968 release. Despite the success of Dr. Strangelove, director Stanley Kubrick
wasn’t yet recognized as a great filmmaker, and 2001 was radically innovative, with
little dialogue and no strong central character. Although some leading critics slammed
the film as incomprehensible and self-indulgent, the public lined up to see it.
2001’s resounding commercial success launched the genre of big-budget science fiction
spectaculars. Such directors as George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott, and
James Cameron have acknowledged its profound influence.
Author Michael Benson explains how 2001 was made, telling the story primarily
through the two people most responsible for the film, Kubrick and science fiction
legend Arthur C. Clarke. Benson interviewed Clarke many times, and has also spoken
at length with Kubrick’s widow, Christiane; with visual effects supervisor Doug
Trumbull; with Dan Richter, who played 2001’s leading man-ape; and many others.
Artemis (2017) Andy Weir
Andy Weir is the author
of The Martian
which was made into a
2015 movie by Ridley Scott. Artemis is a sci-fi story about life on the first
permanent moon base. It has already been optioned by Hollywood for a future flick.
The Handmaid's Tale (1985) Margret Atwood
A dystopian vision of a future in which [American] Christian fundamentalists
have executed the President, machine-gunned the Congress (blaming the assassinations
on Muslim fanatics), suspended the constitution, and created a new social order
in which women are, at best, commodities.
comments: There is no science in this fiction so the tag
"speculative fiction" is more appropriate. This story was written in 1984 but contains
many similarities to western life in 2017. For example, many people in this
story pretend to be pious bible-thumpers but are secretly sexual, if not
perverse. Computerized banking enabled their society to become hijacked. Young men
have very little to do so are employed by the military/paramilitary groups to protect
the theocracy. Pollution (chemical, genetic and radioactive) prevents many people
from reproducing but only women are blamed. The new nation's capital has been moved
to Anchorage Alaska [ 24 years before anyone ever heard the name Sarah Palin ].
Many people in this story are obsessed with "the wall".
A Book Within a Book?
The Handmaid's Tale covers 313 pages divided
into 46 chapters and stands on its own as a chillingly brilliant cautionary tale.
What follows is another 15 pages in an apparent appendix titled "Historical
Notes". I wonder how many people read up to this page then just closed the
book. This last fictional chapter is even more chilling if not down-right scary.
It begins as follows:
Being a partial transcript of the proceedings of the Twelfth Symposium on Gileadean
Studies, held as part of the International Historical Association Convention,
held at the University of Denay, Nunavit, on June 25, 2195.
Neuromancer (1984:2004:2016) William Gibson
Before the Internet was commonplace, William Gibson showed us the Matrix—a world
within the world, the representation of every byte of data in cyberspace. Henry
Dorsett Case was the sharpest data-thief in the Matrix, until an ex-employer crippled
his nervous system. Now a new employer has recruited him for a last-chance run against
an unthinkably powerful artificial intelligence. With a mirror-eyed girl street-samurai
riding shotgun, he’s ready for the silicon-quick, bleakly prophetic adventure that
upped the ante on an entire genre of fiction.
comment: if you enjoyed the movie
Blade Runner or the video
game Deus Ex then
this book is for you
Brave New World (1932) Aldous Huxley
I first read this dystopian sci-fi story 45 years ago but re-read it again after
a free PDF
copy. What I treat to re-read it as an Adult while using Wikipedia to retrieve
rare words like "freemartin" and "viviparous". I have always
believed that dystopian stories provide humanity with warnings about what might
go wrong with utopian plans.
- They still have lift-operators ("liftman") in the year 2540? (page
- this side of the Atlantic we use the phrase "Elevator Operator"
if anyone could ever remember such a job
- The author writes about "mescal" and "peyotl". Although
college students have continually experimented with "mescaline" and "peyote"
starting long before 1932, no government today is advocating for the recreational
use of these compounds.
- "mescal" could also mean "tequila" but mescal that "ought
to be called soma " (page 65) most likely refers to mescaline.
- They still have music recorded on paper rolls in the year 2540? At least
the author employs selenium cells to read them. (page 84)
- The author writes about oral contraceptives 28-years before they first appear
in the US (year: 1960)
- The author writes about recreational drug use (Soma) 90-years before US
voters in Colorado and Washington approved measures that legalize non-medical
use of cannabis (year: 2012)
- One of the primary story threads of
Brave New World
involves a man (Bernard) with a high IQ (Alpha-plus) who does not like to ingest
recreational drugs (Soma) even though the society in which he lives demand that
he does. To me, this is no different than those people today who limit their
consumption of grain alcohol or avoid it entirely.
- The author writes about banned books (page 91) and yet the author's own
still on the top-ten list of banned books more than 80 years after its first
- One of the secondary story threads involves a savage
(John) who appears to know more about humanity (partly by reading Shakespeare
which is banned in 2540) than Alphas and Betas
- Quote from page 91: "But inexorably, every thirty seconds, the minute
hand of the electric clock above his bed jumped forward with an almost imperceptible
click". The phrase "minute hand" indicates analog time displays
in the year 2540 but at least they are electric (I would assume that most clocks
in 1931 Britain would have been spring-wound).
- facts: in our world there are 86,400 seconds
per day (60 x 60 x 24)
- calculations: divide this number by 36 leaves
you with 2400 minutes; divide this number by 24 leaves you with 100 minutes
- Brave New World (1932) was published in
the first decade of the second quarter of the twentieth century (a few
years after the stock market crash of 1929 triggered the great depression of
the dirty thirties; many historians agree that this depression was a contributing
factor in the rise of Adolph Hitler along with the Nazi party in Germany)
- Brave New World Revisited (1958) is a non-fiction retrospective
published in the first decade of the third quarter of the twentieth
century and contains a lot of comparisons to that other dystopic novel
- page 8 quote: But liberty, as we all know, cannot flourish in a country
that is permanently on a war footing, or even a near-war footing
I was thinking about the USA as I read this
- page 10 quote: The shortest and broadest road to the nightmare of Brave
New World leads, as I have pointed out, through over-population and the
accelerating increase of human numbers -- twenty-eight hundred millions
today, fifty-five hundred millions by the turn of the century
he was out by 500 million because humanity reached 6 billion in 1999
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968/2000) Arthur C. Clarke
After rewatching this movie on New Year's day (2007-01-01), I visited
to purchase a 1999 hardcover
copy of the book. What a treat; so timeless and yet still relevant.
Observations (and spoilers
- there were many monoliths on Earth
- the monoliths were transparent rather than black
- one of the monoliths accidentally killed one of Moon-Watcher's companions
during "the experiments"
- Heywood Floyd flies by plane to the Kennedy Space Center and lands on a
runway near the VAB (vehicle assembly building). Clarke published this story
in 1968 which would have predated the shuttle's runway by almost 15 years.
- The space-plane was named Orion which happens to be the project name for
NASA's return to the moon in 2020. Click
here for more
- While flying to the moon on the Aries-1B, Heywood reads an electronic newspaper
which sounds suspiciously similar to connecting to the internet and then doubling-clicking
on an icon. Here is an excerpt from P.52:
...he would plug his foolscap-sized Newspad into the ship's information
circuit and scan the latest reports from Earth. One by one he would conjure
up the world's major electronic papers; he knew the codes of the more important
ones by heart, and had no need to consult the list on the back of his pad.
Switching to the display's short term memory, he would hold the front page
while he quickly searched the headlines and noted the items that interested
him. Each had it's own two-digit reference; when he punched that, the postage-stamp-sized
rectangle would expand until it neatly filled the screen and he could read
it with comfort. When he had finished he would flash back to the complete
page and select a new subject for detailed examination.
So there you have it. Clarke's imagination preceded the Apple Macintosh
(1984), Microsoft Windows (1985), the merged-protocol Internet (1973), and using
a computer for communication rather than number crunching. I wonder if he was
ever called to testify in the court case between Apple and Microsoft regarding
the graphic interface? :-)
- At Clavius base, the office equipment includes typewriters,
office computers, and telephones (see Page 60)
- Once properly heated by the first sunlight in 3 million years (it was dug
up during the 14 day lunar night), the monolith emits 5 radio burst.
- Deep Space Monitor 79 was designed by Americans scientists, built by British
engineers and launched by Russians. (see Page 80). Did Clarke
foresee the collapse of the USSR as well?
- book: The Discovery mission was originally planned for Jupiter but was
diverted to Saturn after the radio wave is emitted by TMA-1.
- movie: They only go to Jupiter because Stanley Kubrick worried that
he might not be able to produce believable rings for Saturn.
- The thin, card-sized plate, of the AE-35 unit lay on the bench under a powerful
magnifying lens. It was plugged into a standard connection frame, from which
a neat bundle of multicolored wire led to an automatic test set, no bigger than
an ordinary desk computer.
- problem with Hal:
- Frank does the first EVA to retrieve the primary AE-35
- The AE-35 passes bench-testing so Dave notifies Earth
- Earth says there might be a problem with Hal
- Hal now predicts a fault with the second AE-35
- Just as Earth begins to tell Dave and Frank how to disconnect Hal,
the antenna is moved and communications are lost. Hal claims this is
due to a failure of the second AE-35 (or related subsystem) which he
- Frank does the second EVA to repair the antenna.
- Hal kills Frank
- While Dave attempts to do a manual revival of Whitehead, Hal attempts
to kill them both by opening the pod bay doors and vent the atmosphere
- Dave ducks into an emergency shelter to put on a space suit
- Hal kills the three hibernating astronauts
- Dave does the first EVA to retrieve the AE-35
- The AE-35 passes bench-testing so Hal suggests they put it back
and let it fail
- Frank does the second EVA to put back the original AE-35
- Hal kills Frank
- Dave leaves Discovery to rescue Frank's body but is then locked
out of Discovery
- Hal kills the three hibernating astronauts
- Dave reenters Discovery by coming in through the emergency air lock
(without his helmet)
- Hal is disconnected from Discovery
- star gate
- the entrance to the star gate is inside TMA-2 ( a two mile high
black monolith on the lighter-side of the Saturnian moon, Japetus)
- TMA-2 is floating in orbit around Jupiter
- room at the end
- refrigerator is full of blue food
- ceiling TV above the bed displays programs collected over the past
two years (must have been collected by TMA-2 after a wake-up-call from
TMA-1). Dave's hotel room is seen in a TV program (so that's where his
hosts got the reference)
- Dave goes to bed and turns out the lights
- then the room dissolves around him
- his memory is relived in reverse order (and transferred somewhere?)
until he becomes a baby
- the monolith reappears, turns transparent, then reprograms the
baby (just like it did 3 million years ago to Moon-Watcher's clan
- no refrigerator
- no TV
- Dave goes to bed but the lights stay on
- Star Child
- he looks at the Earth then destroys the orbiting weapon systems
- he looks at the Earth but does nothing
2010: Odyssey Two (1982) by Arthur C. Clarke
- In January 2010, I enjoyed a TV screening of the 1984 movie 2010: The
Year We Make Contact and was so moved that I decided to purchase a
hard-cover copy of the book 2010: Odyssey Two ($8) at the
local used book store. What a
joy to reread.
- I reread it again in January 2020 just for something to do while people
and politicians were behaving badly
- Movie: begins at the VLA (very
large array) in New Mexico where Heywood Floyd, a university
chancellor, is found in the unlikely position of cleaning the radio
telescope with an oily rag
- Book: begins at the focus of
Observatory where it appears that Floyd and Moisevitch have snuck
away from a SETI conference where Carl Sagan was giving a speech they
have heard too many times before
- Chapter 4 (titled "SAL 9000") is almost identical to what you
saw in the movie
- No where does Clarke tell us what
SAL 9000 means
(could it just be Secondary ALgorithmic computer?)
- From the book we learn that Heywood Floyd is a little uncomfortable of the
20 year age difference between himself and his second wife. So one reason why he
agrees to go on the mission to Jupiter is that hibernation will suspend 2.5
years of his life which might improve their subsequent time together.
- On page 263, we learn that Chandra has gathered new information during the restart of
HAL 9,000 which will allow him to begin work on HAL 10,000
- I had forgotten the final chapter titled Epilogue 20,001
- cool quote
from the movie: Listen, just because our governments are
behaving like asses doesn't mean we have to. We're supposed to be
scientists, not politicians, how fast?
- cool quote from the book (P.173): "Is it true, Dr. Chandra, that you
chose the name HAL to be one step ahead of IBM?" (H+1=I, A+1=B, L+1=M).
"Utter nonsense! Half of us came from IBM and we've been trying to stamp
out that story for years. I thought that by now every intelligent person
knew that H-A-L is derived from Heuristic ALgorithmic"
completely off topic comment: that
VMS + 111 =
WNT is a similar
accidental coincidence even though both product lines were engineered by
Rendezvous with Rama (1973) by Arthur C Clarke
The new celestial body that appears in the outer reaches of our solar system
in 2130 believed at first to be an asteroid, and named Rama by earthlings, soon
proves not to be a natural object. It is a vast cylinder - about thirty-one miles
long and twelve and a half across, with a mass of at least ten trillion tons - that
is moving steadily closer to the Sun. The five-thousand-ton spaceship Endeavour
lands on Rama, and when Commander Bill Norton and his crew make their way into its
hollow interior they find a whole self-contained world - a world that has been cruising
through space for at least 200,00 years and perhaps for more than a million. They
have, at most, three weeks to explore Rama: a dead world, as it seems at first,
though not without its perils, and with intensifying perils when it proves to be,
in its own astonishing way, very much alive. Yet in the end it is Homo sapiens who
poses the greatest menace, and whose exploits bring a continuously absorbing narrative
to its highest pitch of excitement.
I read this book 39 years ago but did
not realize (until now) that I had forgotten 90% of it.
Childhood's End (1953) by Arthur C Clarke
Large spaceships appear over Earth's largest cities. The Overlords have announced
that they will not to show themselves until 50 years have past, but they do have
a few demands: put a stop to racism; put a stop to war; put a stop to animal cruelty
(like bull fighting).
I thought I had read this book but I was mistaken.
The Eternity Artifact (2006) L.E. Modesitt Jr.
Five thousand years in the future, humanity has spread across thousands of worlds
and has more than a dozen different governments existing in an uneasy truce. For
all this expansion, though, human beings have found no signs of other live close
to approaching that of human intelligence anywhere. This changes when scientists
discover Danann, a sunless planet traveling the void just beyond the edge of the
galaxy at such a high speed that is cannot be natural. It is a world whose continents
and oceans have been sculpted and shaped, with but a single megaplex upon it - close
to perfectly preserved - with tens of thousands of near-identical metallic-silver-blue
towers set along curved canals. Yet Danann has been abandoned for so long that even
the atmosphere has frozen solid. The preservation alone hints at a miraculous level
of technology. Within a few years, Danann will approach an area of singularities
that will make exploration and investigation impossible. Orbital shuttle pilot Jiendra
Chang, artist Chendor Barna, and history professor Liam Fitzhugh are recruited by
the comity government and its Deep Space Service [D.D.S.], along with scores of
other experts - predominantly specialists in aspects of hard physical sciences-
as part of an unprecedented and unique archeological expedition in an effort to
unravel Danann's secrets. This is the story of their voyage beyond the galactic
Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.