Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Two sci-fi books

It's half-term holiday here and our grand-daughter is staying but she's off elsewhere at the moment so I thought I'd try to do a couple of short reviews of two classic science fiction novels I read last week. The trouble is, I really ought to do these reviews a lot more promptly as I have a weak memory when it comes to remembering the exact details of the books I read. Never mind, I will do my best. Both of these are for Carl's Science Fiction Experience.

First up Downward to the Earth by Robert Silverberg.

Gunderson is returning to a planet previously known as Holman's Planet but now known as Belzagor. It was once owned, or run, by the huge mining corporation that Gundersen worked for as an administrator. He has events in his past, that happened on the planet, that he regrets and is here to try to make amends. The planet has been handed back to the indigenous species as it was realised that they were sentient beings and intelligent enough to run their own affairs. There are two sentient species in fact. The nildoror are very similar to elephants in appearance, they live in the more temperate zones around the equator. The 'sulidoror' live in the northern mist country, are bipeds and much more secretive than the nuldoror. What Gundersen wants is to gain access to the mist country to view the mystical rebirth ceremony. He needs permission from the nuldoror to do this but they may be bearing a grudge against him. Setting out on his journey of discovery Gundersen can have no idea what's in store for him.

This is why I took up reading science fiction in my teens. Sadly I missed this one, it was published in 1970 and I never saw it anywhere - library or bookshops. It's a shame, I would have loved it. In fact I don't actually remember reading anything by Robert Silverberg, but suspect I must have at some stage. No matter, I'm making up for it now. Part of the attraction for me is that Silverberg never shrank from the task of imagining new planets: boy can he do some inventing. Three books I've read by him now and every new planet in each book is unique. Belzagor was a stunning place, clearly very beautiful but also dangerous. Things happened to ex-pats still living there which made my eyes stick out on stalks... but I'm weird... I love that kind of thing. I also love it when a book makes me think about my prejudices and values. The huge question in this book is sentience and our human attitude to appearance. Can a being that looks so much like an Earth animal - in this case an elephant - really be treated by humans as a fully sentient and intelligent being? How do we overcome the temptation to use them as we use elephants on Earth... ie: beasts of burden, fit only to do our heavy work. Especially as their intelligence is different to ours. They're not city builders or competive in the way of wanting to conquer other lands or planets. Do we still respect them in the way we ought? Is it possible to understand these people without trying to rule over them or at the very least feel superior. And of course the same questions can be applied to expansionism on our own world where plenty of peace loving indigenous peoples have been shoved aside or even wiped out by expanding populations from other parts of the world. Fascinating questions which I have to admit to finding very complicated. Easy to think the right thing in the comfort of your own armchair where your thoughts and decisions make no difference to anyone.

Robert Silverberg is my discovery of Carl's sci-fi experience and I plan to keep on reading his books throughout this year. I've just ordered two more from Amazon Marketplace in fact - Tower of Glass and Nightwings. Plus I have several others on my sci-fi tbr pile.

Next up, Time for the Stars by Robert Heinlein.

Earth is a very over-crowded place in 2200 and space is the only place to go. The Long Range Foundation is sending a dozen or so ships out into the unknown and for instant communication it's been decided to find telepathic twins, one staying behind on Earth, the other going on the spaceship. Tom and Patrick Bartlett are two such individuals. Pat is the twin who tends to get his own way and even though Tom would like to be the one to go, Pat as always gets his way and is going. Until he has a skiing accident and, at short notice, Tom boards the craft with 200 other explorers, scientists, telepaths, and sets out on the voyage of a life-time.

This was my first Heinlein book, my daughter was a huge reader of his books as a teen but for some reason I never got around to them. This one I gather was written for young adults... specifically, it says on the cover: 'boys'. As it was written in the 1950s that kind of sexism (perhaps too strong a word) is understandable for the times. Really, it's a ripping yarn that I quite enjoyed. It explores the nature of telepathy very thoroughly, also the nature of long-distance space-travel, especially the implications of the theory of relativity, whereby if you set off into space you age normally but your relations back on Earth will be old by the time you get back, if not dead. Most of the story takes place on the ship and explores the various relationships between those aboard. This was quite good, interesting, but for me the book really took off when they reached the alien planets and described events there. That didn't happen until the about the last third of the book and honestly I would have been happier with more of that... perhaps a longer book rather than less detail about the journey. I know the author wrote many longer books (this was less than 200 pages) so possibly I need to try those in order to get a better idea of his work. There must be a good reason why Robert Heinlein was, and remains, such a hugely popular science fiction writer.

Having written all that I just checked FantasticFiction for something and see that I have actually read one other Robert Heinlein book: The Puppet Masters. I remember thinking at the time that it was excellent and I still own it.

Thoroughly enjoying this foray into classic science fiction at the moment. I am reading other things... halfway through Look Back With Love, Dodie Smith's autobiogrpahy of her younger years in Manchster in the early 1900s. It's lovely but I'm yearning for something more meaty which I will grab when our grand-daughter goes home. She's reading one of my Chris Priestly anthologies of weird stories at the moment. Oddly enough he was on the BBC's breakfast show this morning (my grand-daughter rushed to get me) talking about how modern children 'supposedly' scare more easily than children used to. He said it was nonsense and I completely agree and so did my grand-daughter. It's more of a pity, imo, that more kids don't read classic sci-fi for youngsters or authors such as Chris Priestly, Roald Dahl and so on. But that's 'a whole other story', as they say and I'll leave that for now.


GeraniumCat said...

Super reviews, Cath - made me itch to read both books! The Silverberg in particular - have you read Brian Aldiss's Helliconia books? I thought they were stunningly imagined.

I've just finished Look Back with Love - post scheduled, I think (assuming I did actually do that. Must check!)

DesLily said...

I sure don't know why I don't like sci fi books. I love the sci fi movies and tv shows..but could never get into reading them... oh well.. I still feel I've come a long way thanks to carl lol.. never read gothic mysteries before and got into more "fiction" and not just "fantasy fiction" and a lot more biographies so I can't complain...

Sure glad you enjoyed these sis! I am overdue for one of those "wow" books..*sigh* reading a good one now but still not "wow"..

Cath said...

GeraniumCat: The Silverberg is the better of the two by far and well worth a read if you can find it. It's been reissued so likely as not one of your county's libraries should have it. I've heard of the Helliconia books but never read any... not sure why. Anyway, made a note to look into them. Thanks for the rec.

Be interested to read your thoughts on Look Back with Love. I like it but am nearing the end and finding it a bit samey now. Probably ready for something else.

Pat: Yeah, you loved Avatar so much that it is a bit surprising that you don't read sci-fi. To tell the truth there is a slight feel of Avatar to the Silverberg book. Not perhaps quite as wondrous as the look of that world, as film does bring things to life much more. But honestly they could make a film of Silverberg's book and it would be amazing.

'Wow' books are hard to find, sadly. But I have a feeling a few sci-fi books are going give me that 'wow' feeling this year.

Val + the Girls- BK +CK said...

I think I'm going to devise a kind of tbr pile book warning button for your blog...lol
Cath..you are having a fatal growth effect on my "must try this one" list

I loved "these is my words" and am now part through "Wait for me" and enjoying that one too now I have to investigate Dodie and your scifi reviews make me tempted to dabble further in that pool. I loved (still love) John Wyndham but have never really paddled much further ...yet

fiction-books said...

Hi Cath,

I'm afraid that like yourself, I find that I need to write a review as soon as I have finished reading a book, or some of the more salient points that I wanted to make just disappear somewhere into the ether of my lost memory.

I also find that things I want to include in the review, come to my mind at some very strange times and places, but again, if I don't jot them down straightaway, they are gone as quickly as they arrived.

I use FantasticFiction on a regular basis these days, as it is always fresh and with the latest information. Also, everything is in one place and I don't have to waste time trawling around several different sites.

Great reviews, even though science fiction is just about the only genre that I would seriously struggle to read.


Cath said...

Val: It seems we have similar reading tastes... along with a few others who comment here. I've said this many times but I do wish we all lived in the same street and could pass our books around... meet up for book chats etc.

I think John Wyndham was read by many British teens for years as an intro to science fiction. I read him (my favourite being The Midwich Cuckoo) and so did my daughters but I've no idea if he's still read in the same manner. I suspect not.

Yvonne: Yes exactly... I can be brushing my teeth or out shopping and think of a good point but it's gone as soon as I sit down to write something.

FantasticFiction is probably the best resource on the net as far as I'm concerned. I use it on a daily basis and would be hopelessly lost without it.

Vintage Reading said...

Enjoyed your review Cath, I do enjoy the young adult sci fi genre. I remember reading Trillions and Grinny by Nicholas Fisk as a teenager and they were thrilling (and terrifying!)

Cath said...

Nicola: I haven't heard of Nicholas Fisk... I'll have to look him up.

StuckInABook said...

I've just finished Look Back With Love and I adore it - trying to write a post explaining why I think it's wonderful, and struggling!

Cath said...

Simon: I enjoyed Look Back With Love very much but a hard one to review. I'll probably lump it in with a couple of other non-fictions I'm reading and post about them all in a week or two. Look forward to reading your thoughts.