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.

Exhalation

 

The universe began as an enormous breath being held.

 

ExhalationExhalation by Ted Chiang is a collection of nine stories ranging from 4 pages in length to 111. Therefore, I would not consider this a short story collection. Simply a collection of stories. This is Chiang’s second collection with the first being The Story of Your Life and Others, where the title story was the basis for the film Arrival.

Several of these stories have been published previously but a few make their debut in this collection. The story I was most looking forward to reading was “The Lifecycle of Software Objects.” I remembered seeing it was published as a novella back when I looked into Chiang’s bibliography after reading his first collection. I can’t remember why I didn’t pick it up at the time, but it added to my desire to get my hands on this collection.

Though I will admit that my favorite story in this collection ended up being either the title story “Exhalation” or “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate” with “Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom” and “Omphalos” as close seconds, all of the stories in this collection are worth a read.

I feel compelled to compare Chiang’s work to Philip K. Dick’s. Not because they both write science fiction, but because both of them write stories that linger. Stories that keep you thinking after you have read them. I think this is because they frame a story around a larger question. A story that provides glimpses of the question as you read. Their writing encourages me to ponder questions I haven’t considered. They often make me see something in a new way. And best of all, they inspire me to write stories of my own that may tackle bigger questions and hopefully keep the reader thinking after they finish the last page.

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that “Exhalation” was partly inspired by Dick’s story “The Electric Ant,” which Chiang states he had read as a teenager. I am a big fan of Dick’s work and I have become a fan of Chiang’s. I very much look forward to following his career and reading everything he produces.

I couldn’t help but notice a theme to this collection though. One I can’t quite explain with accuracy. The best I can do is say that many of the stories include some form of fatalism. They either question free will or question the reasoning behind our choices. None of this is done directly, which may be the genius of Chiang’s writing, but these might hint at the larger questions I mentioned earlier. There are story notes in the back of this collection that give brief insights into what inspired each story. It’s fun to see where he got some of these ideas, especially since some of them came from unexpected sources.

I hope you read one or two of Chiang’s stories to see if they interest you. I was hooked after the first one.

Happy Reading.

On Philip K. Dick

Phil K Dick AuthorI’ve recommended a few books by Philip K. Dick (PKD) on this blog. In one of them, if I remember correctly, I mentioned how I first discovered his work. It was a very strange, roundabout way that I think is ironically fitting. Before I “discovered” who he was or what work he had done, I had already been exposed to several adaptations of his works. Many movies and shows have been based on his short stories and books. Perhaps you have seen some of them without realizing who first created the concept or idea. Many adaptations take many liberties that stray from the original story, and movies based on short stories obviously had additions, but at the core they are influenced by PKD’s work. Here are a few adaptations:

Movies:

  1. Blade Runner (1982) & Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
    • Based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)
  2. Total Recall (1990 & 2012)
    • Based on the short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” (1966)
  3. Screamers (1995)
    • Based on the short story “Second Variety” (1953)
  4. Imposter (2002)
    • Based on the short story “Imposter” (1953)
  5. Minority Report (2002)
    • Based on the short story “The Minority Report” (1956)
  6. Paycheck (2003)
    • Based on the short story “Paycheck” (1953)
  7. A Scanner Darkly (2006)
    • Based on the novel A Scanner Darkly (1977)
  8. Next (2007)
    • Based on the short story “The Golden Man” (1954)
  9. The Adjustment Bureau (2011)
    • Based on the short story “Adjustment Team” (1954)

TV Shows:

  1. The Man in the High Castle (2015-present [2019])
    • Based on the novel The Man in the High Castle (1962)
  2. Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams (2017)
    • Episodes based on the following short stories:
      • The Hood Maker (1953)
      • The Commuter (1953)
      • The Hanging Stranger (1953)
      • Sales Pitch (1954)
      • Exhibit Piece (1954)
      • The Father Thing (1954)
      • The Impossible Planet (1955)
      • Human Is (1955)
      • Autofac (1955)
      • Foster, You’re Dead! (1955)

If you have seen any of these movies or TV shows then you have experienced PKD’s work. Perhaps, like me several years ago, you had no idea that this man was behind a piece of work you have seen before. So I guess you can say I first discovered/realized PKD the author around 2015 when one of his novels was mentioned by a character in a show I really enjoy. I discovered William Gibson from the same show. The show, an animated science fiction, dystopian future story, is called Psycho-Pass. The novel mentioned was Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? which subsequently became the first book of PKD’s that I read. I have read a few collections of short stories, the transcription of his final interview What if Our World is Their Heaven?, and I still have much of his work still to read. After all, he wrote 36 books and 121 short stories.

What I like about PKD’s work, especially the short stories, is that after I finish reading the story, I am still thinking about something. Many of his stories are centered around an idea or a social commentary that get my synapses firing and sometimes prompts me to have ideas of my own that I could use for stories. I can’t tell you which ones, but I know that a few stories I wrote for this blog were influenced in this way. Some of his stories were about social issues back between the fifties and seventies, but most are still relevant today. I remember reading a story about abortion around the same time new abortion laws were being made in several states in the U.S.. Not every social commentary story is that prevalent. Some are and some touch on lesser topics that are still relevant.

Another thing I find fascinating about his work is that much of his work is already dated in some way. The events in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? happen in 2019. Obviously things turned out quite different (we still don’t have flying cars for f**k’s sake), but science fiction is never about “predicting” a future. It’s about talking about the current moment in a different perspective. This is why PKD’s stories are still fascinating and fun to read. I once referred to his work as “nostalgic science fiction” and I think that is still accurate. His stories are dated not only because they dated themselves by using futuristic dates that have come and passed, but because they cover topics that were prevalent at the time they were written. Topics that did not persist as the years passed. So even though the stories are futuristic they are also historical, and I think this adds to the magic of them.

There is no doubt that PKD writes an excellent story. Hollywood wouldn’t be using them if they didn’t think their adaptations would make a lot of money. I really enjoy reading them because I think the old adage “The book is better than the movie” rings true with probably every adaptation of his work. Granted, I haven’t read or seen them all, but the few I have lead me to hold strong to this assumption. I will be honest here though. I watched Blade Runner after I read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and I was thoroughly disappointed with the movie. This statement I’m sure will open a can of worms with those who love the movie and will try to defend it. I think the book was way better. I did enjoy Blade Runner 2049 despite its slow pacing, but that’s enough about the adaptations.

I will say that some of his stories have not aged as well as others and some are simply odd or outright goofy, but most are thought-provoking and meaningful. I have come to hold PKD’s works as essential additions to my little, personal library. He was an interesting man as well from what little I have learned about him. Most of which I learned in What if Our World is Their Heaven? The Final Conversations of Philip K. Dick, the transcription of his final interview. I randomly came across this book in a Half Price Books store and bought it along with a collection of PKD short stories. I had no idea the book had existed before then, but it caught my interest.

The interview was conducted three months before PKD died of a stroke in March of 1982 at the age of 53. He died before they finished filming Blade Runner, but he was able to see parts of the set and was really excited about the movie. It was the first film adaptation of any of his work. I also learned from this book/interview that PKD mainly read non-fiction. He taught himself Latin so he could read the bible in the original Latin because he wanted to see if anything had been lost as the book was translated throughout history. He read less and less fiction as he got older until he only read non-fiction. He also wrote books and stories extremely fast and sometimes at the cost of his health. He would shut himself away for days or weeks and pound out a full manuscript usually in about ten days. He often wouldn’t eat much during these projects and once mentioned mainly consuming only painkillers and alcohol for days at time. I was afraid this interview may prove to be one of those “never meet your heroes” kinds of thing because we often hold our heroes on a pedestal and can get a shock when finding out they are not anything like we believed, but I don’t build pedestals too high (I hope) and always remind myself that everyone is human. Anyway, I was glad to find out that this interview revealed a lot about the person I knew little about outside of his works and I was interested in almost everything that was said. 

What if Our World is Their Heaven? also includes the description of the book PKD was working on before he died. A book that was never finished, but the concept and outline he provides in this interview makes me wish he had finished it. Then I remind myself that I’m lucky to even have the description he provides. The book would have been called An Owl in Daylight if my memory serves me right. It was a conceptual novel that was quite fascinating and involved extraterrestrials and life-after-death and religion and mixed them all together into a simple yet complex and thought-provoking story.

I think his stories greatly influenced the progression and possibilities of science fiction as a genre. His stories continue to get adapted into film and I think his work will persist and continue to influence people for many years to come. I sometimes imagine how I would be today if I had discovered his works earlier in my life. Perhaps they would have simply been another log in the fire that is my aspiration to become a published writer myself. I definitely hope that I can write some stories that are as thought provoking as many of his are. I also hope to influence and inspire others as his stories have influence me, and obviously the many people in the film industry. He may have passed away much too early, but he left us a large collection of great stories with which to remember him. I’m just glad I discovered them. They will likely remain on my shelf, even after I am gone, to be enjoyed by those who come after.

The Eye of the Sibyl

PK DickToday I am recommending The Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick. This is the second short story collection by Philip K. Dick that I’ve recommended. The first was The Philip K. Dick ReaderI didn’t know it when I picked this book up, but apparently there are six “Collected Stories” of which this and the Reader are two of them. If I’m completely honest with you, I think the Reader is a better collection than Sibyl, but that is really only my opinion and my overall opinion is that Philip K. Dick is an excellent author. So I think if you like his style or prose or concepts then you’ll like this collection just as much as any of the other ones.

I’ve technically read more collections of short stories than I have novels by Dick at this point, which is a bit surprising even to myself (though I have plenty of his books on the old TBR list). The opening story in this collection is “The Little Black Box” which was later used in his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (the only novel of his I’ve read so far). There is a “Notes” section in the back of this collection that have comments by Dick himself regarding most of the stories contained within. His notes about “The Little Black Box” talk about how he thinks the short story does a better job regarding the initial idea than how he uses it for in the novel.

Other stories in this collection include “The Faith of Our Fathers” and “The Pre-Persons” both of which apparently caused quite a ruckus when they were first published. “The Pre-Persons” is a story that covers the ever taboo subject of abortion in an elaborate lens of absurdity. It was published in 1974. In Dick’s notes on this story, he explains how he received hate mail and even the “nastiest letter I’ve ever received” but he was also unapologetic for the story itself. He wrote about what he believed and though he was sorry it upset people (topics like these always upset someone) he wasn’t sorry for writing it.

I never would have known that “The Faith of Our Fathers” had any reference to the Cold War or was written when hallucinogenic drugs were first being used in experiments. This story was written in 1966. Well before my time and over 50 years ago. Reading it today doesn’t seem like many of the concepts are strange considering what has occurred in the past 50 years. Dick says he “[doesn’t] advocate any the ideas” in this story (from his notes in 1966), and he even goes on to say he actually regretted writing this one (from his notes in 1976). A strange stance from a writer’s perspective but maybe I’m just saying that because I’m still new to this writing game. I’m sure much can be said about regret but we won’t dive into that here.

I hate to admit that one reason I picked up this collection was for the title story “The Eye of the Sibyl.” I was already a fan of his work, but I couldn’t help but be drawn to the title of this one story. The reason is that I first heard of Philip K. Dick in a strange way. I heard one of his books referenced in a show that I really enjoy called Psycho-Pass. In the show there is a central system called the Sibyl System that effectively governs the people. Of course the Sybil story turned out to be quite different from what was in the show, but I’m always fascinated when I can find allusions to other artists in works that I enjoy. I also discovered William Gibson from the same show. It may show my age that I did not know of these authors previously, but there is no shame in admitting how you learned of something. Especially since you may have missed it otherwise.

I could go into why I think Dick’s work is so fascinating to me, but I think I’ll save that for its own post. Until then.

Happy Reading.