The Murderbot Diaries

Murderbot-novellasThe Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells is a series of novellas centered around an artificial construct with organic, human components. This means the main character is a robot with human parts, which is often called a cyborg, but the semantics are essentially irrelevant because Martha Wells created her own universe and we are lucky to play around in it beside her artificial being who calls itself Murderbot. As with all book recommendations, there will be no spoilers.

The series currently has four installments. All Systems Red, Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol, and Exit Strategy. The newest book is titled Network Effect and is set to release in May this year. I say book because this upcoming novel is in fact a full-length, standalone novel whereas the previous books are much shorter and read as continuations of the original story. I won’t be surprised if we see several if not all four of these first books published in a one-volume collection with four parts. They are all quick reads and each could be read easily in one day/afternoon. This is both fantastic and unfortunate. Fantastic because they are easy and fun to read (and you can easily read them all before the new book arrives), but unfortunate because you want more Murderbot (which luckily there are four out already and the fifth on the way).

There are several things I really like about this series. One is the main character who calls themself Murderbot. They are an anti-social being who just wants to watch tv shows all day and not interact with humans. The issue is, they are not considered human and are owned by a company who uses them as a security robot. I really enjoy stories that have introverted characters who slowly learn how to become human, which can be argued as what happens in this story. Argued is the key word here.

The second thing I really like is about the character of Murderbot but came to me via author V.E. Schwab’s twitter account.

V_MBTweet

Of course, Murderbot is genderless because it is fabricated but has human parts (and none of those parts are related to sex). I thought it was fascinating that this was a prime example of how readers create part of the story when reading books. I had projected my own gender on this main character and assumed they were male. I only realized this once it was pointed out. This just goes to show that gender and sex really don’t need to be part of a fictional character and readers can bring their own views into the fictional worlds they enjoy. As a writer myself, I’m glad I now have a prime example to use when/if I ever have to argue gender or sexuality of characters.

If you have read the Murderbot series, did you apply your own gender to Murderbot? I’m curious. If you are female, did you apply a male gender to Murderbot because they exhibit traditionally male stereotypes (protective, destructive, violent, stubborn)?

A few things that made the universe of Murderbot a little frightening for me was the way corporations are represented and how data is constantly collected (legally and illegally) and data-mined for profit. I think such data-mining is currently happening with social media and other programs we use today, but we are only at the very early stages of what is seen in Murderbot. Ever have a conversation about something and then see an add on your phone a few minutes later? Yeah. That’s because companies use any techniques they can to try and get you to buy something. Wells may very well be predicting an unsettling part of our future with this aspect.

To stay true to my “no spoilers” comment at the start. I’ll end the post here. If you like science fiction and space travel and robots, you’ll likely enjoy Murderbot. If you consider yourself introverted, you’ll also likely enjoy Murderbot. If you don’t think you would like Murderbot based on this post, give it a shot anyway. The first book is the perfect size to try it out.

Happy Reading.

Authors I’d Love to Have Coffee With (Time-Travel Edition)

That’s right, it’s the time-travel edition. These are all authors who I would have loved to have coffee with. Several of them had passed away prior to my even being born. Several were alive during my lifetime but I had not yet discovered their work and/or their fun nature. So, if I had a time machine, I’d use it to visit each of these authors to have a casual afternoon tea with (or beer or whatever). I definitely wouldn’t use a time machine for nefarious or benevolent reasons of course.

J.R.R. Tolkien

Tolkien AuthorOf course I would have Tolkien on this list. He has been a big influence on my life as well as millions of others throughout the years. A special thanks to my dad for introducing me to his work, and to Peter Jackson for his excellent film adaptations that I experienced during some of my earlier years. I became slightly crazed devouring Tolkien’s works when I first found them and though that craze has lessened, I still enjoy reading his stories. He will always be an influence in my life as well as my imagination. If you haven’t read the Tolkien biography by Humphrey Carpenter, I recommend it.

Philip K. Dick

Phil K Dick AuthorPhilip K. Dick unexpectedly became one of my favorite science fiction authors. I still have a lot of his work to read, but I’ve read several short story collections and I love most of them (some are a little goofy but most keep you thinking). He was truly an excellent write who could convey complex ideas through a simply told story. He made it look easy and Hollywood continues to use his stories for films and television. I would trade in a chance to meet him if doing so would have prevented his stroke. He could have lived so much longer and produced so much more work. His pseudo-memoir, which is really an interview transcription, titled What If Our World is Their Heaven? is a fascinating glimpse into who he was.

Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le GuinAlas, I discovered Le Guin only a few months before she passed away in 2018. I have much of her work yet to read, including her popular Earthsea series, but I will get around to it. Her non-fiction is fascinating and I believe she led important movements at a critical time in the development of science fiction and the publishing industry. There is much more change needed in publishing (I just read about the scandal with American Dirt), but Le Guin fought for what she believed in and that is admirable. She wanted science fiction to be taken seriously and she wanted more women writers in the world. She especially wanted women writers to stop using pseudonyms and own their work. I think we still need many people like her in the world to fight the good fight.

Robert Jordan

robert-jordanI read Robert Jordan‘s The Wheel of Time series last year and it was an experience. He rightfully deserves his fans admiration. And speaking of his fans, they are excellent people. I follow many who are part of the #twitteroftime group and they are simply fun people who love the series and love sharing about it. It’s nice to find a fandom that isn’t toxic like so many out there. Jordan’s work has brought a lot of people together and I am excited for the television adaptation, which is currently in production. Jordan is another author who had lived during my lifetime. He passed away in 2007. I would have been sixteen then, but I would have loved to meet him (if only I had discovered his series sooner). The series is quite large at ~4.5 million words across 15 books (14 and a prequel). I tracked my reading of the series on this blog. It does contain spoilers after the second book posting, but it was fun to track my thoughts and predictions as the story progressed.

Ray Bradbury

Ray BradburyI somehow had no idea that Ray Bradbury was alive during the same time I was. I naively assumed he passed away several decades ago. This is probably because I read Fahrenheit 451 in high school and almost everything else we read in school was by authors who lived a long time ago. I was wrong and can only claim youthful ignorance. Ray Bradbury passed away in 2012. I was, by then, a not-so-naive adult at age 21. What I wouldn’t have done to meet him had I known. I recently picked up his book Zen in the Art of Writing from my local library and am excited to jump in.

Diana Wynne Jones

Diana Wynne JonesA somewhat recent discovery for me, I first discovered Diana Wynne Jones without realizing. I watched the film Howl’s Moving Castle and simply loved it. It was a few years later that I found out the movie was based on the book of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones. I of course read the book. I love them both equally and separately. I have since heard many stories about Diana herself and she seemed like such a lovely person. She has been an inspiration to many and I’m sure my fondness for her work will grow. I recently was gifted her book Reflections: On the Magic of Writing and I am excited to read it also.

 

Even after someone is gone, they are able to leave behind bits and pieces of themselves for others to discover. Some hold those pieces dearly, others simply enjoy them, and others will share them and discuss them with their friends. This is one of the greatest things about books and writing. I’m grateful to have discovered these authors and some of them have been influential in my life and they all inspire my own writing pursuits. I also simply love to read their stories.

*If anyone develops a time-machine and could loan it to me or wants to join on an adventure, contact me immediately.

8 Authors I’d Love to Have Coffee With

I must admit that I came across a blog post by N S Ford and I thought it was a fun idea. Now, I love coffee, but I have recently gotten into tea as well (partly in an attempt to reduce my caffeine intake), so this post is really a “authors I’d love to hang out with over a drink” post.

Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman AuthorI’ve talked about Neil Gaiman before and have recommended many of his books. I took his MasterClass about a year ago and may very well take it again soon. Neil is one of several authors (a few also on this list) whose writing I enjoy and whose personalities I find even more fascinating. You can find more of what I think about Neil by reading my post On Neil Gaiman which is part of my Authors Who Influence Me series.

V. E. Schwab

VE SchwabI cannot remember how I first discovered V, but as with Neil, I find her fascinating as well. She gave an excellent speech titled “In Search of Doorways” at the J.R.R. Tolkien Lecture at Pembroke College in 2018. She has an active Twitter presence and is a fun to follow.

Tobias Wolff

Tobias Wolff AuthorAnother author who I have written about in my On Authors series, Tobias Wolff is a prolific writer who I don’t think appears on many peoples radars because his work is primarily in the realm of short stories. I absolutely love his work and would love to have an informal talk with him about many things.

Gareth L. Powell

Gareth L PowellI first discovered Gareth L Powell on Twitter and only a few months ago. Others were talking about his book About Writing: A Field Guide for Aspiring Authors. I recently read it and greatly enjoyed it. I have yet to read his fiction but I plan to pick up Embers of War in the near future and dive in. He is an absolute delight to follow. He is engaging, uplifting, and an overall prime example of what social media can be used for as he offers encouragement and maintains positive enthusiasm.

Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm GladwellI never knew who Malcolm Gladwell was until I took his MasterClass on writing. I have since read all but one of his books. His most recent, Talking to Strangers, is my favorite of them all. I’ve learned so much from his research and skillful way of tying topics together around a theme that would beforehand seem unrelated. I’d have so many questions for him but would be happy just sitting there and listening to him talk.

J. K. Rowling

JKRowling_2016GalaYet another from my On Authors series, how could I not have J. K. on this list. I grew up alongside her popular character Harry Potter. By this I mean I literally grew up as the books were released and I was around the same age as Harry when each installment was released. Though I would like to have coffee/tea with her, I don’t think I’d really talk about Harry Potter at all.

Margaret Atwood

Margaret AtwoodSomehow I failed to read Margaret Atwood, or even know of her, until I took her MasterClass. She seems like a delightfully fun person and I know I would enjoy talking with her. I still have much of her work to read, but I will get to it eventually. Oryx and Crake is the next book of hers I think I will read unless I read The Testaments next as I’ve already read A Handmaid’s Tale.

Patrick Rothfuss

rothfussworldbuildersI first read Pat’s work about three years ago. I have since convinced several friends to read his Kingkiller Chronicles series and they both love me and hate me for it. I first discovered Pat through Twitter when someone (I believe it was a publisher) posted a video of him and Sabaa Tahir talking about writing and sequels and taking questions from fans. I thought they were both delightful and I read his book and loved it.

 

 

Those are eight authors who I’d love to have a drink with. I’m sure there are several others who would make such a list and many more who I have yet to discover, but we will save those for another time. Stay tuned for Authors I’d Love to Have Coffee With (Time-Travel Edition).

*If your name is on this list, the drinks are on me of course.

On Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le GuinUrsula K. Le Guin was an influential writer and advocate for the progression of science fiction and fantasy into the realms of mainstream literature. She was also a strong advocate for female writers and did what she could to promote equity in publishing. Needless to say, she was a strong-minded and socially aware individual and she has been praised and criticized for these very reasons. To me, she is an inspiration and encourages me to improve myself.

I hate to say I have only recently discovered Le Guin, but what I have read so far has already impacted my own views of writing and the field of writing. I can’t recall when I first discovered who she was (I believe I discovered her from Neil Gaiman), but I do remember when I read her work for the first time. It was The Left Hand of Darkness and I finished it roughly two years ago. She died three weeks later on January 22nd, 2018. I have since read a collection of non-fiction The Language of the Night and watched a documentary titled The Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin.* The documentary was well-one and worth the watch.

Within The Language of the Night, Le Guin discusses much of what the world of science fiction looked like from a writer’s perspective during the 1960’s and 1970’s. It was at this time when the publication of science fiction and fantasy was changing. These two genres, which are often paired together, were looked down upon as a secondary form of writing or considered childish stories. There were a lot of terrible stories written during the first half the 20th century (and the second half as well), but something happened during the second half which changed societies views about these topics. I believe J.R.R. Tolkien was a big influence (mainly on the view of fantasy as a legitimate form of storytelling) primarily with his essay “On Fairy-Stories.” These areas of entertainment still face some resistance today but it is hard to deny that stories written within the classification of either genre are influential and have merit. This is not just because they are extremely popular across the globe, but because they are lasting.

Yes, we are lucky because most of the not-so-great science fiction and fantasy stories written in the 1900’s have been culled by time thus leaving us with the better stories still standing, but there are some hidden gems still out there and I hope they do not fall into obscurity or disappear altogether. I don’t believe Le Guin’s works are at any risk of disappearing. I still need to read many of her books, but the one’s I hear most about are her Earthsea series and the Hainish Cycle (this later series consists of standalone novels and includes The Left Hand of Darkness). My lovely wife bought me the illustrated Earthsea series for our one-year anniversary. I hope to read it this year.

Le Guin is known as one of many essential science fiction authors. She was advocating for the field around the time that these types of books were first being taught in schools. Many people today, myself included, grew up reading fantasy and science fiction in school alongside the other “classic” books. I read The Hobbit in middle school and again in high school (though I had already read it before it was “required”). I read Fahrenheit 451 in high school and loved it. Science fiction and fantasy have become part of the norm. They remain popular and are growing fields. At the time Le Guin was becoming a popular writer of these genres, it was a somewhat niche field. She wanted it to grow and grow it did. In the 1970’s, Le Guin stated that only 1 in 30 writers of science fiction were female. She was a rarity. She worked to encourage women writers and urged them to resist the use of male pseudonyms which was still common at that time. I’m glad that the times have changed and the world of writing is more inclusive than the past, but we still have a ways to go. I, like Le Guin, will advocate however I can to promote diversity and inclusion in all areas of life.

Though many readers believe her work can be a little too political, primarily her non-fiction, I find it mostly reassuring and encouraging. Her writing was her form of learning her social environment and saying what she wanted to say. She wrote stories of worlds where certain aspects of our society were dismissed or exaggerated in order to explore what those fictional societies would look like. This is what I believe makes them so interesting to read. Many of the aspects she writes about are still very much relevant today, nearly fifty years later, and will likely remain for a long time. I think her writing will endure because most of her stories are simply other worlds we can enjoy. Oftentimes they are, but they still hold a gem which we can either discover or ignore depending on what we want from the book. That gem is much like a flag to be raised toward a cause we may wish to stand behind.

Le Guin has influenced many writers who are popular today. I hope she continues to influence writers and others, much like she has influenced me. I may not love all of her works, but I will respect her for who she was and what she believed. Her words survive her and will continue to influence the world to persevere and improve itself. That is the best that any writer can hope for.

 


*Link was available at the time of writing. If the link is unavailable, I recommend searching the web or checking your local library for a copy of this film.

2001: A Space Odyssey

2001-a-space-odyssey2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke was published only a few months after the movie released in 1968. The introduction to the copy I have states, by Clarke himself, that Stanley Kubrick commissioned the novel because he wanted a genuine story for his movie. Clarke and Kubrick thus worked on the screenplay together while Clarke was writing the book. I had no idea that this story was developed this way and thought it was an interesting and likely isolated case as most movies are based off of books, or a novelization of a movie is released after the movie screening. One precedes the other. This one was more of collaboration or joint production.

I have known of this book for a long time but only recently read it. I knew of the movie but have still not seen it. They are, to me, quite older works (they were released more than two decades before my birth and only seven years after my father was born; also the actual year 2001 was 19 years ago now). I of course have read much older works, but this one came to be placed on my TBR pile after I read an introduction to another novel which claimed that there are six novels that have proved to be the most influential to the development of science fiction. Naturally, I was curious. I had only read one of the six listed and I respect the author of that introduction. I also greatly enjoy science fiction so I made it a goal to read every book on this list.

For those who are curious, the list was:

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
  • The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein
  • Dune by Frank Herbert
  • Neuromancer by William Gibson
  • The Once and Future King by T. H. White

Of these six, the only one I had read was Neuromancer. I am not sure why The Once and Future King would be considered science fiction as it centers on the Arthurian tales, but who am I to refute somewhat trivial genre categories.

I have now read all of these and agree that they were/are highly influential to science fiction as a genre. Most of them were written in the 1960’s or prior with the exception of Gibson’s novel. I loved a few and only liked others. As for Odyssey, I liked it and can see its merit but do not believe it would be a popular novel if written today. It was written at the peak of space exploration and public curiosity with the cosmos, which unfortunately has diminished. Not so much the curiosity, but we have stopped that fervent wish to explore beyond our planet. Probes are still sent out and they gather public interest momentarily (i.e. the Curiosity rover), but we no longer as a species desire to go beyond. We no longer care to have manned missions beyond orbit.

Odyssey is well written and is still interesting partly because we still have so little knowledge of what lies at the outer reaches of our solar system. We know a lot more than we did in 1968, but we no longer look out at the stars. We have reverted back to fighting each other and squabbling over idiotic disagreements or straight up greed. I’m sure anyone who lived in the 1960’s and watched the moon landings thought the year 2000 would be much different than what it turned out to be. Though I can probably say the same of what we believe 2050 will look like from today.

I wish we would return to the dreams of space exploration. This book was kind of a nostalgic reminder that the human race once had such dreams. However, I am recommending it much like it was recommended to me. I believe it was influential to the growth of science fiction and has influenced many stories since. I knew of HAL 9000 without having read or watched the movie, but he is just a minor part of this book. So, if you are a fan of science fiction or are interested space, then you will likely enjoy this book. I hope you maintain your curiosity and go look out at the stars every once in a while.

Happy Reading.