We

WeWe by Yevgeny Zamyatin is a strange, wild ride that I can only describe as a mixture of Ayn Rand’s Anthem and George Orwell’s 1984. Though We was published long before either of these books were even beginning to be written. It likely influenced Rand and Orwell when writing their own novels. We was written and published exactly 100 years ago and has an interesting history of its own. It was first translated and published in English in 1924, but it almost didn’t get published or survive the political changes happening in Russia after the first World War.

There are strong elements of Russian communism within the novel but the novel as a whole offers a critique of the political system, which created tension between Zamyatin and his own country. In fact, the international publication of We became the reason the Russian government began repressing writers in 1929. Zamyatin elected a self-imposed exile after this book was attacked and removed from Soviet libraries and he was forbidden to publish any future work. He and his wife moved to Paris (with permission from Stalin) in 1931. He later died in 1937 never returning to the country he considered home.

The novel was written at the beginning of what we now know as the communist period of Russian history. We was an examination into a future where such a political system was made perfect, at least in reference to the citizens becoming merely parts of a whole known as The One State. The citizen’s live within a walled city and their days are mapped by the hour and the schedule is strictly followed. Their apartment-style living quarters are made of a futuristic glass material allowing absolutely no privacy. They are all furnished minimally and exactly the same way. However, there are blinds that can only be drawn when an approved “pink ticket” is inserted. This provides privacy for one hour and the tickets are approved only for sexual activity.

Our lead character, D-503, gradually faces changes to his own conditioned way of thinking. The number designation, instead of a name, is echoed in Rand’s Anthem which also presents a society focused on a collective instead of the individual but with different results. I noticed a handful of similarities in plot with Orwell’s 1984. However, and again, We preceded both of these novels, but I must admit I liked the latter novels more. That is not to say that We presents its own, intriguing dystopian vision which is important in its own way.

The book did get fairly abstract at times, especially since it is written in journal form through the perspective of D-503 and often uses mathematics to make analogies. They are easily understood but several entries are not fully formed or lack description. I cannot say whether or not the translation from Russian into English accounts for the lack of clarity or if it was written that way with purpose. I’ll let you be the judge.

If you are a fan of dystopian novels, which I must admit that I am, you will likely enjoy this book. Dystopian novels are unique because they offer a vision into an imagined future based on events from our own history. They are a commentary of the time they were written but set in worlds where practices of that time, often injustices, are allowed to persist and become normal behaviors within futuristic societies. They are written almost as warnings of what may come to pass. The same applies here but perhaps with more historical contexts.

But it is up to you if you decide to read it. I am merely providing some information that may help you make that decision. Perhaps this is the first time you have heard of this book. I know I only discovered it recently and likely never would have heard of it if I hadn’t read a collection of essays by Ursula K. Le Guin in which she mentions it only briefly. Should you take the plunge into this strange world, I hope you enjoy it or at least take something of value from its pages.

Happy Reading.

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 also 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.

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. I have not seen the movie and had not read the book. 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 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 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 likely highly influential to science fiction as a genre. Most of them were written in the 1960’s or prior with the exception of Gibson. 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 did have 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 awhile.

Happy Reading.

New Year, New Series

Nothing like starting a new year, so why not start a new books series as well? Below is a list of book series I’ve read in the past few years which I enjoyed and have recommended to friends. Another list, below the first, includes several series I hope to read this year. These are books I’ve been hearing a great deal about or have always intended to read but have not yet gotten to them.

1. The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan

The Eye of the WorldI read this series last year and it was an incredible ride. This series begins with The Eye of the World and includes a total of 15 books, one of which is a prequel. The series started in 1990 and was completed in 2013. Brandon Sanderson completed the final novel (which was published as three novels due to length) after Robert Jordan passed away in 2007. If you enjoy fantasy and are up for an epic adventure filled with great characters, magic, several unique societies, and a genuinely friendly and non-toxic fanbase, then look no further. The series may take you a while, it took me 9 months, but the journey is worth the investment.

 

2. The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss

TNotWBeginning with The Name of the Wind, this trilogy first arrived in 2007. The sequel arrived in 2011 and there are rumors that the third installment will arrive later this year. There is a novella and a short story that are supplemental to the main story, which you likely will devour as I did after being pulled into the series. This series is considered fantasy due to the use of a detailed magic system, supernatural elements, and a few fantastical creatures. The story is beautifully written. If you don’t like waiting, I may recommend starting this series after the last book arrives. However, if you are a fan of great stories, don’t pass this one up.

3. Dune by Frank Herbert

DuneDune is a series I must admit I have not completed. I have only read the first book, which can be read as a standalone novel. Frank Herbert wrote 6 Dune novels and 14 more were written by his son, Brian Herbert, and Kevin J. Anderson. This brings the total to 20 books should you be interested in a long series. You can simply just read the first one, like I did, as it is a great story which ends without leaving you hanging like some installments in a series do. You therefore have the option of moving forward into the longer series if you want.

 

4. John Carter of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

princess-of-mars-tpEdgar Rice Burroughs is best known for his Tarzan series, but he wrote a fun science fiction series that follows the protagonist John Carter. He is a former american civil war soldier who gets unexpectedly transported to Mars where he finds that it is inhabited by several species. There are 11 books in the series, but only the first three follow John Carter himself and is called the first Barsoom trilogy. I have only read the first four, and therefore can only recommend the first three as a trilogy to read. The first book is titled A Princess of Mars. It was first written in 1912 but reads as if it were written recently.

5. The Inhuman Trilogy by John Marco

Eyes of GodThis trilogy begins with The Eyes of God. A fourth book actually came out fairly recently which extends this trilogy, but I have not yet read it. Mostly because I would likely reread the trilogy before reading the new book. This story has elements of the Arthurian tales and follows a knight named Lukien who falls in love with his queen, Cassandra. This is just the beginning and the story goes well beyond simple court politics. It is an adventure into realms of ancient sorcerers and magical weaponry.

 

Series I hope to read this year.

1. The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe
Books of the New SUn.jpg

Starting with The Shadow of the Torturer, I first discovered Gene Wolfe from a book of nonfiction by Neil Gaiman. I later purchased the New Sun series after I learned Gene Wolfe passed away last year. I’m exited to read it.

2.  The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells
Murderbot-novellasI’ve been hearing a lot about this series and they are all great things. This series consists of four novellas. Therefore, I will likely read through the series pretty quickly. The fifth installment comes out later this year as a full novel. I may wait to read the first four until closer to the release date.

 

3. The Tales of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
The Books of EarthseaI’ve become a huge fan of Ursula K. Le Guin since I read her book The Left Hand of Darkness. I know the Earthsea novels have been well-loved by many, but I never knew about them until recently. My wife bought me the entire illustrated series as an anniversary present and I hope to read it soon.

 

 

4. The Imperial Radch Series by Ann LeckieAncillary-trilogy.jpg

This trilogy begins with Ancillary Justice. I first discovered this series when I went to see Ann Leckie. I saw her a second time at a library event. Despite attending two events, I have yet to sit down and read her series. I hope to change that this year and read all three.

5. The Binti Trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor
Binti Trilogy.jpg

Binti has been on my radar for awhile now. I hope I can read the series this year. This is a another series of novellas, so I should be able to read them quickly.

 

Well there you have it. Several series I recommend, and several series I look forward to reading myself. I hope you have a bountiful year of books and great reading. I’m sure I will discover new favorites myself.

Happy Reading.