Book Review: The Wandering Earth by Liu Cixin (three stars)

Book Review: The Wandering Earth by Liu Cixin (three stars)

‘The Earth is a cosmic soap bubble. One pop, and it’s gone. So what is there to be afraid of?’

An anthology of early writings. Titular work among the stupidest SF premise by one of the best SF authors today. Written in 2000, long before he reached his stride. No, he didn’t redeem the premise.

‘The spaceship’s gravity will puncture the upper layers of the atmosphere. Earth’s atmosphere will be like a pricked balloon, its air escaping through that puncture, right into space! All of Earth’s atmosphere will disappear!’

Many erroneous ideas about physics and geography. Some humorous. Later offerings are better. The last work is the best. Serious readers may be misled to misjudge the author by these works; someday scholars will mine these works for clues of his coming mastery.

‘Any civilization that stays on her birth world is committing suicide! You must go into the universe and find new worlds and new homes, and spread your descendants across the galaxy like drops of spring rain.’

Book Review: The Hard SF Renaissance, David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer, editors. (Three stars)

Book Review: The Hard SF Renaissance, David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer, editors. (Three stars)

“We’re not building a future, we’re building weapons.” 

Much better-than-average SF anthology, which is admittedly a low bar. Most of the stories engage the mind as well as the emotions of the reader with a variety of characters and plots. Published in 2002. A monolithic worldview.

“Hey, wait—if you’re dead, then how can you be here?” “Because I’m not here, silly. I’m a fig-newton of your overactive imagination.” 

Many stories represent the best of their respective authors. Unfortunately, even here there’s some sloppy science. Certainly the cream of the last two decades of the twentieth century. From a certain point of view. (see below)

‘School was a place where mostly they taught you stuff that had nothing to do with the real world. Jonathan secretly reckoned that quadratic equations just didn’t ever happen outside the classroom.’ 

When are people being political? When they declare—time and again—they’re not political. That applies here, though not so overt and insulting as the rants from both sides now.

“Fast, cheap, and out of control.” “Exactly, man. If this stuff ever got loose in the real world, it would mean the end of everything we know.” 

Book Review: Exhalation by Ted Chiang (four stars)

Book Review: Exhalation by Ted Chiang (four stars)

Nothing erases the past. There is repentance, there is atonement, and there is forgiveness. That is all, but that is enough.

Excellent anthology of Chiang’s thought-provoking shorter fiction.

With every movement of my body, I contribute to the equalization of pressure in our universe. With every thought that I have, I hasten the arrival of that fatal equilibrium.

The eponymous story is excellent. Loved “The Great Silence.” Several stories explore paradoxes or hidden truths which are perhaps better examined, as Chiang does, through the safety of fiction. “Omphalos” raises but doesn’t address the question of how the believer relates to the creator who didn’t choose them. What does Esau do?

Contemplate the marvel that is existence, and rejoice that you are able to do so.

“What’s Expected of Us” fails Logic 101. Of course, negative time delay equals time travel, so of course it works, but that doesn’t destroy free will. “Anxiety is the Dizzyness of Freedom isn’t bad, but it’s way too long. Chiang could have/should have made his point in half as many words.

We parrots used to think humans weren’t very bright. It’s hard to make sense of behavior that’s so different from your own.

Book Review: Needle in a Timestack by Robert Silverberg (four stars)

Book Review: Needle in a Timestack: And Other Stories by Robert Silverberg (four stars)

Ordinary intelligence would not work. Odyssean cleverness was the only salvation.

A decent anthology—a rarity in science fiction. Silverberg serves generous offerings from across his career, with introductory comments for each tale. Most involve some form of time travel.

The poor old shattered moon, souvenir of an era long gone: it seemed a scratchy mirror for the tormented planet that owned it, for the fragmented race of races that was mankind.

Though first published in 1966, the current version collection includes little of the original and much that wasn’t, including the eponymous Needle story. Some materials are as recent as 2019.

Still, life is all there is, so you want as much of it as you can. Which means getting gold, and power, and fame.” “Which you had. And apparently have no longer. Friend Pizarro, where are we now?” “I wish I knew.” “So do I,” said Socrates soberly.

My personal favorite was “Enter a soldier. Later: Enter another.”

Even to an old soldier like me it is all very sad. He was a man like us, enemy though he was, and he died far from home.

Book Review: New Folks’ Home: And Other Stories by Clifford C. Simak (Three Stars)

Book Review: New Folks’ Home: And Other Stories by Clifford C. Simak (Three Stars)

“I’m going to go home and keep my mouth shut.” “Nothing else?” “Nothing else. If I were a praying man, I think I’d do some praying.”

Better than average anthology. Variety of time travel, space opera, horse opera, engineered immortality, the-enemy-is-us alien encounter, and dystopia. Among the best stories I’ve read by the celebrated Simak. Admittedly a low bar.

“I came for a story, but not any more. Right now I’m … well, I’m sort of scared.” “So am I.”
“If what I’m thinking is right, it’s too big to be a story.” “I hope that both of us are wrong.”

Written in the 30s, 40s and 50s these have the expected technological cluelessness about the next decades; forget the next century. A creature of his time, he reflects all their social incorrectness, but Simak knew people.

“The fact is that that’s the way it is. The point is why? How did it happen? How was it planned? Why was it planned?” “Nothing’s planned. You know better than to talk like that.”

Forget “Barb Wire Brings Bullets.” It’s a run-of-the-mill western. “Worrywart” is about the best of the bunch.

“So Charley sits and worries and waits for the flicker of the lamp beside his chair.
Although he realizes, of course, that when it comes there won’t be any flicker.”

Book Review: Tales of the Flying Mountains by Poul Anderson (Three Stars)

Book Review: Tales of the Flying Mountains by Poul Anderson (Three Stars)

“I don’t care who writes the nation’s laws,” he misquoted, “if I may program its computers.”

Better than average collection of stories written mostly in the 1960s. Like Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein, Anderson wrote many future history short stories—some of which were connectable. The framing story, presumably added later, is inept. Readers won’t miss much by skipping it.

“Harleman knew that Emett’s gang were discovering things. He hoped those things would justify enlarging their division next year. Other than that, he was too busy to care.
Until the day when the CIA man came.”

Got many things hilariously wrong, but several shrewd guesses. Male chauvinism is on full display, though Anderson has several well-drawn female characters. Slide rules, card catalogs of computer tapes, and clattering computers are still in evidence. Anderson, of course, didn’t know about Cere’s frozen ocean, but he did posit lots of ice available in a asteroid belt. Most everyone smokes: cigarettes, cigars, pipes, etc.

Quibbles: “Her faded eyes seek Polaris—but it’s Earth’s, not ours anymore.” No, the parallax as they approach Alpha Centari would not suffice to displace Polaris, especially as they were headed almost due south. “The self-sealing hull was thin magnesium …” What idiot would construct a battle ship out of magnesium?

“Isn’t that, the real universe, isn’t that enough? What more do we need?”
“Do you mean,” Lindgren asks, “that we may as well tell the undisguised truth about what brought us here?”
“Yes,” I reply, “because the only thing that matters is that we are here.”
“Sure. Go ahead. Let them have the truth. When they grow up, they’ll gloss it over anyway.”

Book Review: Visions of Tomorrow: Science Fiction Predictions That Came True, edited by Thomas A. Easton. (Three Stars)


Book Review: Visions of Tomorrow: Science Fiction Predictions That Came True, edited by Thomas A. Easton.

(Three Stars)

“Finlay’s Law: Trouble comes at three AM.”

Regular readers of science fiction understand how risky projecting future trends of science and technology, not to mention sociology. But SF writers have been amazingly close on several things, as documented in this volume, published in 2008.

“Now people’s lives can be turned upside-down with a few keystrokes. Information has no mass.”

Not bad as anthologies go, keeping in mind that the accuracy of the forecast is the criterion for selection, not the quality of the writing. And howling errors abound. Yes, people in the 1960s were told the world’s population would surpass twenty billion early in the twenty-first century, then society (and population) would collapse.

“A few years of minimal breeding will not hurt this planet any. There are about nineteen and a half billion too many people on Earth already.”

Since some stories hark back half a century or more, politically incorrectness abounds. The thin-skinned and hypersensitive are forewarned.

“If there’s a rule about deals with the devil, it’s that you don’t realize you’re making one at the time.”

Book Review: The Robot Who Looked Like Me by Robert Sheckley (Three Stars)


Book Review: The Robot Who Looked Like Me by Robert Sheckley

(Three Stars)

“Incredulity is not an appropriate attitude in this age of Heisenbergian physics.”

A better-than-average collection of Sheckley’s short stories and novelettes from the early 70s. The title story is among the better. Some humor. The number co-written with Harlan Eislson is sick, as you’d expect.

“When you come right down to it, life was a disappointment and the best it has to offer was never quit good enough. I realize now that I can’t be happy by owning things.”