Tuesday, May 3, 2016

A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (required reading)

Hitchhiker's Guide is, for the most part, a light hearted science fiction story that follows likable and interesting characters. The humans feels real and the aliens even have human qualities, particularly Ford Prefect, who does his best to blend in with human society. 

However, on a deeper level, the story makes a pretty serious and profound comment on what it means to be human, on a small planet in a giant universe. There is a world that we live in that mostly exists within our own head and we have priorities and concerns that are much smaller in reality than they are in our minds. Hitchhiker's does a fantastic job of breaking though that illusion and showing us the bigger and more true picture. 

It is a humbling story that would seem like it could only be told in a scathing or cynical manner... but to my surprise, and liking, it is actually a very hopeful and positive experience. What we often think we are is far more significant than what we probably are and the dosage of "truth" that hitchhiker's offers up is a refreshing one. I really liked this story all in all. 

Sunday, May 1, 2016

A Clockwork Orange (required reading)

A clockwork Orange is a science fiction novel that speculates a future in which England's rebellious youth culture has become uncontrollable. The science fiction setting is merely a framework that allows Anthony Burgess to analyze and comment on the direction he feels the youth at the time where really heading down. 

Not only does it analyze the youth themselves but also the way their behavior and is reinforced by the older generation. He uses powerfully disturbing imagery to make this statement in a way that will effect the reader on a deep, emotional level. In this way I think the novel is definitely literary. 

In some ways the book feels like dystopian vision of a world in the same way that 1984 or Brave New World is, but really it is a different kind of dystopian book. Rather than igniting anger and fear at the idea of outside forces (like the government) creating a dystopian world, he instead puts that on the reader. I think this is what makes the book most alarming to me. It is our fault for the way society turns out, whether you are the current generation causing mayhem with seemingly no repercussions or the generation before them that it is enabling it to happen and doping nothing to stop it. Everyone is guilty and a victim at the same time; and Even the most heinous character, Alex, is a victim in some small way, just by being born into and influenced by society... It's hard to admit cause his character is so awful but I think it is true and I think that subtle tragedy is actually one of the most impactful things to take from the novel.  

Nueromancer (required reading)

Nueromancer is a cyber punk novel that creates a very interesting world in which augmentation and alternate realities blend into the everyday live's of the people that inhabit the world. The novel deals with these seemingly fantastical elements in a way that makes them feel very real, especially in this day and age where the Internet is a primary form of interaction and entertainment, and where medical technologies are essential to many people's continued existence. 

William Gibson also takes special care detailing many other interesting aspects of a cyberpunk world that make it all feel more real and substantial. At first the way the characters throw around unfamiliar lingo/ slang is disorienting and it really started to turn me off to the novel. However, after a while, it started to pull me in deeper into the world and makes me feel like they are in a real places with real people... The feeling is not unlike being in another state or country where people talk differently from the way you are used to. You feel like a fish out of water at first but if you stay long enough, you will start to blend in. 

William Gibson uses these things to enhance the world he has built but when you boil the novel down to its most essential aspects, you realize it is a adventure/ action novel. I think this is what make the novel so great to me. It's an adventure that is structured in a way not far from many adventure stories I have read/seen before; all containing characters that fit into proper adventure story roles... However the world he builds is so awesome and inviting... even when it seems like a pretty crumby place (which it often does), you still want to be there. 

Dune (required reading)

Dune is an epic science fiction novel that explores many ideas especially when it comes to ideas that involve the power of the mind. I think it's most interesting aspect come from this idea. Paul, the main character undergoes an incredible transformation throughout the novel in which he becomes a god-like being that a mixture of male and female aspects that the novel establishes. 

The powers of the female Bene Geserates of the novels are mainly mental (although some are physical) and the novel establishes them as the superior force of the universe. Paul possesses these powers as well as fighting and survival abilities learned from training he got from mostly male characters... I think that Herbert made these 2 separate worlds so distinctly different intentionally and that makes Paul's journey into becoming the best of both worlds all the more incredible. Paul's unique role not only makes him transform into an incredibly powerful being, it also happens to fulfill a a prophecy from the Fremin (the native people of Arrakis) and it is never really made clear if their prophecies are fact or not, or if it is just all coincidence. I think Frank Herbert keeps all the answers intentionally vague so that the reader struggle with finding the answers in the same way Paul does. Because of this we are able to slip into Paul's shoes and experience his journey along side him... which is pretty cool considering Paul is far from your average person in almost every way imaginable. 

Another interesting aspect of the novel is the planet of Arrakis itself. I have never read a novel where such a fantastical setting feels as alive as Arrakis does. I mean that figuratively as well as literally as the plant seems consumes people with the giant worms that live within it, and even though you can argue that worms are not part of the setting, the way they are described by Herbert makes it clear that they are. The spice that the conflict revolved around is found all over the planet but it is later realized to be a product of the worms and the only way that they can gain true control over the planet is by controlling the worms themselves. Because of all this, I think that Arrakis is probably my favorite fictional setting/non-human character of any novel, ever. 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Starship Troopers - Required Reading

Starship troopers is an interesting book. Like many people of my generation, I had seen the movie before reading (or even knowing of) the book... But I think Robert Heinlein's vision of the future (from a 1950s, post war perspective) is a very interesting and challenging one. I didn't exactly enjoy the book like it do the movie, but it definitely got me thinking more than the movie ever could, so it is not something I regret reading. 

I did some more research into the story behind the book and found that it was thought to be fascist propaganda when it originally came out. I am no expert on governments but I know a little and it never seemed to come across as fascist or even like a piece of propoganda (Unlike the movie, which does feel like propoganda), mainly cause it does not a glamorize  the military or what it is like to join and become part of a military (which is what the book is about). However, it does come across as extremely pro military and even pro-war. I don't agree at all with Heinlein's opinion he seems to take but I also cannot help but respect it for the way it is told. I really think Heinlien wants to make you think about how he views the themes of the book, rather than trying to force it upon you without thinking... and I think for that reason it is about as far from a piece of propoganda that you could get. 

That being said, I didn't exactly enjoy the book that much and I think that is my own fault. Realizing the book was science fiction from the 50's, I was expecting something very pulpy and light... Which I like. There are only a few battle in the books and the bugs are not as prevalent in the story compared to the movie... All these aspects take a back seat to the message behind it all. Still, I can't say the book didn't make me think and for that reason it is far more important and respectable than the movie.

Anansi Boys - Required Reading

Neil Gaiman brings African mythology into a modern setting with this book. There are 2 main aspects of the way he tells the story that really captivated me the most.

The first is the characters themselves... This is the first Neil Gaiman book I have read but I can tell he is a great character writer for both human and superhuman (or divine) characters. Charlies reactions to the events of the book feel so real, whether it is when he firsts finds out about his not-so-human father and brother, to his more relatable reactions, like when he finds out his fiancee is cheating on him... it is all told in a way that allows me to put myself in his shoes and experience these absurd events in his life from a first person perspective. Even Spider feels like a real character. His divine powers feel all the more real when you see him using it for his own selfish means or for the occasional selfless act of helping out Charlie... The intentions and emotions that the characters display feel real, no matter how absurd the events taking place are. 

The second thing I really like about this novel is the way that the Neil Gaiman seems to stay true to the actual myths these characters come from (particularly the background characters, like Anansi). I do not know much about African mythology/ folklore but I am pretty sure I learned quite a bit reading this book. The mythological feeling never gets lost in the contemporary settings and characters on display either, which is impressive. 

I think it is the merging of these 2 aspects in this book that make it so interesting to me... It feels like there are old-world, legendary elements at play (especially in the background) yet it also feels like a story that could take place in modern setting with modern characters not unlike myself. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Harry Potter (required reading)

One of the things that made the Harry Potter novels guide me through life's complexities as a kid was the fact that I grew up with the characters of the novel. As a 27 year old, I was in 4th grade when the Sorcerer's stone came out. Harry,Ron and Hermione where about my age from the first to the seventh book.

JK Rowling is able to capture the struggles and the feelings that young people go through and the HP novels are so character centric (especially the three main characters) we get mkuch time devoted to the exploration and overcoming of struggles that people that age endure. Even when the setting of the books is so highly fantastical, the very real characters draw us in and when we are able to put ourselves int their positions like that, we are able to to experience the fantastical world in an extremely real way.