Sci-fi Month 2015

A stand-alone science fiction book.

Publication year: 2003
Format: ebook
Page count: 345
Publisher: Mythic Island Press

Jubilee is one of 16 children and the second oldest. Her mother is the keeper of Temple Huacho which (like all temples) is built around a well which produces kobolds which do pretty much of the all work in this society. They’re small machines and they also protect stuff from silver. Silver is a deadly substance which rises from the ground and kills people and animals who are caught in it. It also transforms matter which is caught in it, including buildings and landscape. The new constructs are called follies.

One night, Jubilee and her older brother Jolly descend to their mother’s kobold well and Jubilee is hurt. Later that night, silver creeps up again and comes into the house, eats away a part of the wall, and takes Jolly. Jubilee thinks that Jolly called it to himself but she can’t be sure and since she’s only eight years old, she convinces herself that she couldn’t have seen that.

Seven years later, Jubilee becomes convinced that her brother is still alive. One night, a strange and mysterious man steps out of silver and demands to know here Jolly is. Jubilee is shocked to see that the stranger is able to live in silver and apparently also command it. She starts to find information about silver and anyone who has survived in it, which turns out to be dangerous. At the same time, she finds out that she has a lover; a man she’s genetically destined to be with. Genetic compatibility is the only way to find a spouse in this world and Jubilee is very fortunate to have found her lover when they’re both young. Her uncle Liam has been searching his lover for 40 years, for example. However, Jubilee’s lover lives far away and traveling is dangerous because of silver.

This is a unique world, which feels post-Apocalyptic to me. There are remnants of ancient cities and also newer ones which have been swallowed by silver and spat out changed. The characters often ride in dusty landscapes or near mountains. The players (as people are called) travel from one temple to another with motor bikes and trucks but flying is forbidden. They use savants to communicate long distances. Savants seem to be floating computers which are directed with voice commands and they have a limited internet type function. The players are reborn into the world after death and they rely on skills they’ve learned in previous lives.

Jolly had a dog, Moki, and after Jolly was taken by silver Jubilee inherited Moki. He seems to be a hunting dog but small enough that he can be easily carried on a bike. I loved him; it’s so rare to see dogs in SF.

Jubilee is a strong-willed young woman who loved her brother dearly and took his death badly. She partly blames herself because she wasn’t old enough to prevent Jolly’s death. Silver is thought to be a remnant from the time when the goddess created the world. Silver also nourishes the kobolds and in that way keeps the society working.

The start was more fast-paced than the rest of the book and the ending was a bit abrupt.
This was a very good read. I especially enjoyed the different world and culture.

Publication year: 1964
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 1993
Format: print
Page count: 277
Translator: Matti Rosvall
Publisher of the Finnish translation: WSOY

I’ve only read one Dick book before, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, but I’ve watched several movies based on his short stories, such as Total Recall, Minority Report, Paycheck, and of course Blade Runner. My expectations of the book were very different from the actual book. In-stead of fast-paced SF adventure, Martian Time-Slip is a study of mental illness, treatment of native people, cheating in marriage, and real estate scam.

Even though the book’s set in Mars, it’s not our Mars. That is, apparently this Mars is perfectly habitable for humans without any terraforming. The only thing different from Earth is Mars’ dryness. In fact, the UN distributes water to the settlers through the famous Marsian canals. Another thing is the relative isolation; the family houses aren’t very close to each other and the bored housewives have to desperately find something to do by themselves all day. My problem was that I’m not interested in the petty jealousies and cheating; I was rolling my eyes and thinking “You get to live on Mars and the only thing you come up with to do with your life is to be a housewife????” Of course, it’s not the women’s fault if the society doesn’t allow them to do anything else. Oh, yes there’s also the option of becoming a mistress, if you’re born with enough good looks. So yeah, in some respects this book hasn’t aged well. But the women aren’t the main characters.

The Finnish cover.

Another strange thing about this Mars is that some of the children born there are strange: some are autistic, some schizophrenic, and some deformed. These children are reared in separate camps with healthcare professionals. The native marsians are called Bleekmen (translated as “Greys”) and they don’t really mesh with the humans. Apparently, the natives had once a great civilization but now they’re degenerated to hunter-gatherers who wander around begging for food and water from humans. Many humans despise them and call them the N-word.

The book has several male point-of-view characters: Jack Bohlen is a repairman who travels around in his helicopter. He’s only home at weekends and his wife Silvia is one the bored housewives in question. Jack has suffered from schizophrenia but hasn’t had an episode in years until he comes into contact with an autistic boy. Another POV is Supreme Goodmember Arnie Kott of the Water Worker’s union who is struggling to maintain his power and his union’s power. He hits on the idea that he can use an autistic child to predict the future if only he could communicate with the boy. He enlists Jack’s help in that. The boy is 10 years old Manfred Steiner, and his family lives next door to Jack’s family. Then there’s Manfred’s father Norbert who’s a door-to-door salesman. He travels in his own helicopter and sells health foods and smuggled luxury foods. His partner in crime is Otto Zitte, a former repairman who has slept with a lot of bored housewives and wants that lifestyle back.

The schizophrenic POV characters experience vivid and horrible hallucinations.

Dick also tells us about the schooling system which doesn’t have human teachers but lifelike robots, males from Western history (alright, there was one female robot but we see it only briefly and whose name the POV character doesn’t know). The whole system causes anxiety to the POV character there, because of his mental illness but also because “For the entire Public School was geared to a task which went contrary to his grain: the school was there not to inform or educate, but to mold, and along severely limited lines. It was the link to their inherited culture, and it peddled that culture, in its entirety, to the young. It bent its pupils to it; perpetuation of the culture was the goal, and any special quirks in the children which might lead them in another direction had to be ironed out.” And the children who couldn’t be molded ended up diagnosed as mentally ill.

On the whole, this was quite a depressing read for me and I fully admit that I had different expectations of it. I have another Dick book in my TBR, Valis, which seems to be more of the depressing SF coupled with drugs so I think I’ll pass on that one. Maybe a short story collection is more to my taste.

Early Science Fiction by women writers. A SF short story collection from 1887-1930.

Publication year: 2015
Format: print
Page count: 228
Publisher: Dover Publications

As the subtitle says this is a collection of SF short stories. Most of them have written other stuff and have been regular contributors to the early SF magazine. But these days they aren’t known. Next time, when someone claims that women don’t write SF, or haven’t written SF until modern times, this is the book to wave at them. Of course, the stories reflect their times and can feel outdated. Some of them use science which seems fantasy today and some use clichés, like beautiful=good, ugly=evil. They also have racism and sexism. But they’re readable and I enjoyed most of them but I tend to enjoy Weird Science. I also found Ashley’s introductions to the writers very interesting since they were all new to me.

Most of the stories have strong atmospheres and some of them resemble ghost stories or horror more than modern SF. Most have male narrators and some use a device that might grate on modern read-ers: another character tells his story to the narrator.

When Time Turned by Ethel Watts Mumford (1901): The main character encounters a man who claims that he is living his life backwards.
The Painter of Dead Women by Edna W. Underwood (1910): A terribly powerful and evil man lures a beautiful socialite woman to his castle where he intends to kill her and preserve her body forever in its youthful beauty.

The Automaton Ear by Florence McLandburgh (1873): A brilliant professor gets the idea that he can build a device which can enable him to hear all sounds ever made. His obsession with the device takes over his life more and more.

Ely’s Automatic Housemaid by Elizabeth W. Bellamy (1899): The most fun story in the collection. The main character’s friend has invented automaton devices (Automatic Household Beneficent Genius) and the MC orders two of them. Chaos and hilarity ensues.

The Ray of Displacement by Harriet Prescott Spofford (1903): The main character has invented a device which allows him to pass through solid objects. Another use of the devise makes the user also invisible. The MC accidentally dematerializes a judge’s diamond and even though he brings the diamond back, the judge throws him in jail. The corrupt judge wants to use the device for profit but the MC refuses.

Those Fatal Filaments by Mabel Ernestine Abbott (1903): The main character invents a device which allows him to hear other people’s thoughts.

The Third Drug by Edith Nesbit (1908): Roger Wroxham is so depressed that he wants to die. However, when he comes face to face with ruffians, he finds that he was too hasty and wants to live after all. He’s wounded but manages to flee into a large house. A kind old man living there alone helps him. But the old man has a chilling reason to appear to help.

A Divided Republic: An Allegory of the Future by Lillie Devereux Blake (1887): Perhaps the most badly aged of these stories. Women get fed up for asking for the same rights that men have and they up and leave. Women form their own two states and men are left to their own devices. This feels satirical to me so it’s not meant to be realistic. Still, both men and women are shown as stereotypes; all men gamble, drink, and smoke to their heart’s content and are planning wars while the women live in “calm monotony” building schools and tending gardens.

Via the Hewitt Ray by M.F. Rupert (1930): This is pure pulp. Fun but in a E. R. Burroughs way. Lucile is an airline pilot. Her inventor father disappears leaving behind a letter where he explains that he’s going to use his Hewlett Ray device to beam himself into another dimension. Lucile is frantic with worry but she’s not a scientist. However, she contacts her friend Marion and together they build another ray device and send Lucile into the other dimension, looking for her father. There, she finds strange lands and stranger creatures, including a society where women rule over men.

The Great Beast of Kafue by Clotide Graves (1917): An African hunter tells his son about the time he hunted the terrible beast and why his young son must promise not to kill it.

Friend Island by Francis Stevens (1917): Set in a future where women “naturally” rule over men. An old, weathered female sailor tells the story of how she was stranded to a very strange island.

The Artificial Man by Clare Winger Harris (1929): George Gregory is a great athlete and also a scholar. One day he loses his leg and has it replaced with an artificial one. In the next accident he loses his arm and some internal organs, and those too are replaced with artificial ones. But he starts to think that he loses a part of his soul along with his body.

Creatures of the Light by Sophie Wenzel Ellis (1930): Another longer pulp story with Weird Science. John Northwood is an athlete and a very handsome man. One day he sees a hunchback and a very handsome man together. The hunchback drops a wallet to John’s feet and the handsome man warns him not to get mixed up with the hunchback and then disappears into thin air. However, it turns out that the hunchback a famous doctor who wants something from John. The story also has people falling in love based on a picture and a very creepy romance.

The Flying Teuton by Alice Brown (1917): A sort of ghost story set in after the end of WWI (but written before the end of the war).

Many of the stories have technological advancements which have gone wrong and even in “Via the Hewitt Ray” the working ray tech reveals unexpected results. Many of the stories have the inventor as a main character, something which isn’t too common today (except for Tony Stark). On the whole, these aren’t terribly feminist stories; in most of them the main character is a man doing manly stuff in a world full of males. But these were written for early SF magazines where the readership were, presumably, mostly males. But is there any way to find out if most readers were, indeed, males?

Surprisingly many of the stories also had rather disturbing themes or tech. Some of them were horror in atmosphere and some had eugenics in one fashion or another. Most of them also have more spir-itual or religious themes than modern SF.

While the stories aren’t without their flaws, they’re an interesting glimpse into the history of SF and women SF writers.

The first book in a horror SF series the Southern Reach trilogy.

Publication year: 2014
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 2015
Format: print
Page count: 224
Translator: Niko Aula
Publisher of the Finnish translation: Like

I’ve read two books from VanderMeer before I liked them a lot so when I saw his new book’s translation in the local bookstore I snatched it up without knowing what it was about. In retrospect, starting to read it late at night might have been a mistake. I’m not a horror reader, or watcher for that matter, and I had to listen to some Terry Pratchett before I was able to sleep again.

The whole Southern Reach trilogy is horror more than SF. This first book is a journal written by the first person narrator whose name we don’t find out.

Area X appeared decades ago and it’s deserted. All around it is a boundary which can be passed through only by people who have been prepared for it. The government (US, I presume) sends ex-pedition parties into it from time to time. The current expedition is the twelfth and has four people: a biologist (the narrator), an anthropologist, a surveyor, and a psychologist, who is the team leader. Their mission is the collect specimens, observe everything (including each other), and map the area. They have access to the map the other expeditions have compiled and before leaving they saw video interviews of the previous members. They all say that Area X is an untouched paradise. All the pre-vious members have also died.

However, right from the start our group realizes that the map is wrong. They come to a tunnel lead-ing down to the ground but the narrator thinks of as a tower. On its walls they find a terrifying text which seems to be made from strange life forms. This isn’t a group of friends by any means and they start to disagree with each other right from the start.

The Finnish cover

The training they received before going inside trained them not to use names and so we don’t find out the names of any of the characters in the book. It sounds weird at first but I got used to it pretty soon, even in Finnish where we don’t have gendered pronouns so if the translator isn’t careful, he can write pretty unclear sentences. Not so here. The group is required to write a journal of every-thing they experience.

This was an unsettling book. Besides the horror elements, it has an unreliable narrator in a strange environment. Over half of the book is devoted to learning about the biologist’s life, including the events which led her to volunteer going into Area X. She’s a quiet, introverted woman who is more at home doing scientific research all by herself than with any people. Sometimes her remembrances where a bit frustrating when they interrupted the flow of the present storyline. On the other hand, they also kept the horror at bay which I was grateful for.

Annihilation doesn’t end in a cliffhanger. The ending is very much open but it can be read as a stand-alone. I have the next book so I’ll be continuing with the series, but not late at night.

November is Science Fiction Month, the brain child of Rinn from Rinn Reads , where we can celebrate SF in all its forms: TV, movies, books, comics, games…

I’m a long-time SF fan, and I devour it in any format I can get my hands on. 🙂 I love Star Trek and Star Wars both and read a lot of SF books and comics. Even some of my favorite boardgames are science fiction themed.

This month I’m planning to read more SF starting with Jeff Vandermeer’s “Annihiliation” and “Authority”. I have a couple of Philip K. Dick’s books in my shelves, among lots of other books, and of course Star Trek TNG books which I really should reread.

I hope everyone has a great month!