A millennium into the future two advancements have altered the course of human history: the colonization of the galaxy and the creation of the positronic brain. Isaac Asimov's Robot novels chronicle the unlikely partnership between a New York City detective and a humanoid robot who must learn to work together. Like most people left behind on an over-populated Earth, New York City police detective Elijah Baley had little love for either the arrogant Spacers or their robotic companions.
Isaac Asimov's The Caves of Steel is the first book in his Robot series which began in the 50's. Asimov crafts a future where the solar system has been colonized, but Earth has remained an overpopulated, environmentally damaged body that resents the technological advances of their spacer brethren and the humanoid robots that accompany them. Earth is barely scraping by and has a strong "medieval" sentiment. Into this mix is the murder of a spacer with an Earth detective heading up the case along with his spacer robot partner.
The major sci-fi elements are solar system colonization, although all the action takes place on Earth, along with the robot's positronic brain that gives it superhuman capacity and realism. Asimov leans heavily on his robot laws throughout, but pushes the boundaries of robots as distinct entities that presages eventual AI themes. Also included are little touches like moving walkways that allow an individual to move at 60 mph; food supplied by a yeast based extract that is texturized and flavored to approximate many types of food; and visual telecommunications. As a pure detective tale, the mystery is well structured and deduced. Of special note is the societal attitude towards technology which is both fascinating and enlightening.
The narration is well done with good character distinction for both genders. Pacing is a bit slow, but aligns well with the action.
In this Hugo Award-winning classic, Enoch Wallace is an ageless hermit, striding across his untended farm as he had done for over a century, still carrying the gun with which he had served in the Civil War. But what his neighbors must never know is that, inside his unchanging house, he meets with a host of unimaginable friends from the farthest stars.
Clifford D Simak's Way Station is a Hugo award winning novel from the 60's. A civil war veteran in a remote farming region becomes the station master for a transportation hub in our section of the galaxy. Given that he only ages during the one hour a day he is outside his modified "house", he's still around after 100 years and comes to the attention of the government. His interactions with various alien races are presented, but eventually he faces some critical decisions about the future of the whole planet as well as reorienting the galaxy with its spiritual sense.
Simak offers a unique mode of travel, that is reminiscent of a Star Trek transporter. The aliens are varied, unique, and offer diversity beyond the standard humanoid-like body frame. While the engagement with government officials is a bit crude and naive, the potential solution to planetary annihilation that requires a sort of stupid bomb is novel and creative. It's clear that Simak was responding to the geopolitical situation of the the day and looking for an external solution for global strife.
The narration is first rate with a good range of character distinction. Pacing is in line with the pastoral setting of the story.
Time is running out for the passengers and crew of the tourist cruiser Selene, incarcerated in a sea of choking lunar dust. On the surface, her rescuers find their resources stretched to the limit by the mercilessly unpredictable conditions of a totally alien environment. A brilliantly imagined story of human ingenuity and survival, A Fall of Moondust is a tour-de-force of psychological suspense and sustained dramatic tension by the field's foremost author.
Arthur C Clarke's A Fall of Moondust is a creative disaster tale on the moon. Clarke imagines a region of the lunar surface covered in so fine a dust and of such depth that it takes on the features of liquid resulting in a maritime environment. Into this mix he adds a tourist cruise that encounter a lunar geologic event that "sinks" the vessel and requires a rescue mission. Switching back and forth between the surface and the sunken ship, the tension rises as more and more problems emerge to hamper the rescue efforts.
While imagining so fine a dust as to behave like a liquid is the focal point of the tale, Clarke adds subtle, realistic details from the finding of the vessel to eventual mechanical breakdowns that utilize solid scientific principles to craft a believable story. The touch of media interest adds to the feel of breaking news. The injection of personal touches with the various main characters is a bit crude, but serves to round out the tale.
The narration is first rate with a respectable range of character distinction, although the females are strained. Pacing is aligned with the plot, although the tone doesn't always reflect the action.
At last, one of the world’s greatest works of science fiction is available - just as author Stanislaw Lem intended it. To mark the 50th anniversary of the publication of Solaris, Audible, in cooperation with the Lem Estate, has commissioned a brand-new translation - complete for the first time, and the first ever directly from the original Polish to English. Beautifully narrated by Alessandro Juliani ( Battlestar Galactica), Lem’s provocative novel comes alive for a new generation.
Stanislaw Lem's Solaris is a captivating tale of an alien world with a potential alien intelligence, but so inscrutable as to be beyond understanding. The main character goes to a space station to study this strange alien world only to find bizarre happenings which includes the recreation of a long dead lover seemingly derived entirely from his memories. As the crew struggles to understand what is happening, the capability to manifest memories and recapture an emotional loss interferes not only with the mission, but also their sanity.
Lem's futuristic setting includes space travel, but the main draw is an alien world that is truly alien in a hauntingly familiar, but not right manner. The ocean on this planet displays strange behavior that is capable of duplication and replication of physical object as well as biology from human memories. At its heart, the tale explores human limits in understanding life and intelligence that is so far far removed from our frame of reference as to defy comprehension.
The narration is first rate with very good character distinction and an excellent range of emotional ups and downs.
A carnival rolls in sometime after the midnight hour on a chill Midwestern October eve, ushering in Halloween a week before its time. A calliope's shrill siren song beckons to all with a seductive promise of dreams and youth regained. In this season of dying, Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois, to destroy every life touched by its strange and sinister mystery.
Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes is a standalone tale within his Green Town series that portrays different times of the year through the eyes of pre-teen boys. This offering takes place in late October with fall in full swing and Halloween on the way. Two friends, one who wishes to be older and the other, a bit fearful of growing up experience a supernatural adventure in the dark occult realm when a carnival comes to town and rather than running to the circus, running from the circus becomes the order of the night. With help from one of the boys' father who is dealing with his own mortality, they face a gauntlet of evil that threatens to steal their souls.
The tale is pure fantasy of a dark magic variety that includes a witch and other assorted creatures of the night, all led by a man with living tattoos. Standard carnival attractions become houses of horror.
The narration is well, although a bit on the slow paced side. There is decent character distinction and the tome suits the dark shadows feel of the tale.
All Systems Red is the tense first science fiction adventure novella in Martha Wells' series The Murderbot Diaries. For fans of Westworld, Ex Machina, Ann Leckie's Imperial Raadch series, or Iain M. Banks' Culture novels. The main character is a deadly security droid that has bucked its restrictive programming and is balanced between contemplative self-discovery and an idle instinct to kill all humans.
Martha Wells' novella All Systems Red is a short listen concerning a "murderbot" who is providing security for a scientific team investigating a planet. The exact origins of this class of cyborg-like entities is never fully revealed, but they are regarded more as semi-autonomous units rather than an independent, free living intelligence. The main muderbot has hacked his governance program for the purpose of spending his free time watching soap operas. The investigation team comes under a threat when an unknown force seems intent on disrupting their activities and taking them out.
The sci-fi elements focus on a human machine combination called a murderbot. Space travel is routine. The emphasis is targeted to the emergence of a sense of free will and morality in an entity that has been freed of software designed control. The murderbot has a professional sense of duty that will even involve the potential for personal harm, but at the same time displays a decidedly independent streak as well as a penchant mundane pasttimes. This character offers much fodder for future adventures.
The narration is quite respectable with good character distinction. Pacing is well aligned with the flow of the tale.
The final book in Philip K. Dick’s VALIS trilogy, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer brings the author’s search for the identity and nature of God to a close. The novel follows Bishop Timothy Archer as he travels to Israel, ostensibly to examine ancient scrolls bearing the words of Christ. But more importantly, this leads him to examine the decisions he made during his life and how they may have contributed to the suicides of his mistress and son.
The Transmigration of Timothy Archer is Philip K Dick's final piece of his VALIS trilogy, although each installment is a standalone story connected by the common theme of theological discussions. While the title role is an Episcopalian bishop whose religious views evolve over time as a result of both perceived beyond the grave activity and "dead sea" -like scrolls that suggest Jesus was repeating writings from 200 hundred years earlier, the tale is narrated by his daughter-in-law, Angel Archer. Having endured the suicide of her husband due to his inner conflict over his father's, the bishop's, mistress who also commits suicide due to her cancer remission, Angle struggles to find meaning in her life as she endures these losses.
Dick eschews sci-fi elements while presenting the implication of supernatural forces beyond the grave and presumption of reincarnation. While the bulk of the tale is a series of complicated interpersonal relationships against a backdrop of late 20th century California mores, the main focus is theological concepts and the notion that new historical information has the power to reshape millennia of thinking. Dick also imparts a degree of disdain for established organized religions with a narcissistic religious leader with a "do as I say and not as I do" attitude. Finally, Dick offers an interesting juxtaposition of schizophrenic thinking versus religious thinking.
The narration is nicely done with an adequate range of voices. Pacing is aligned with the minimal action of the story.
A century ago, the Sentience Wars tore the galaxy apart and nearly ended the entire concept of intelligent space-faring life. In the aftermath, a curious tradition was invented - something to cheer up everyone who was left and bring the shattered worlds together in the spirit of peace, unity, and understanding. Once every cycle, the civilizations gather for the Metagalactic Grand Prix - part gladiatorial contest, part beauty pageant, part concert extravaganza, and part continuation of the wars of the past.
Catherynne M Valente's Space Opera is a light-hearted romp of alien first contact. Rather than mostly empty space, the galaxy is teeming with a diverse set of intelligent lifeforms. Having previously come to blows over the definition of sentience, the powers that be have settled on musical talent in the form of a periodic singing contest with the last place finisher species being given the hook and wiped out for good. Earth is approached by a sponsoring species for the latest contest. The music must be original. Suggestions are offered, but the artists considered to have the best chance of not finishing last are all dead, except for one washed up glam-glitter punk rocker with the destruction of humanity hanging in the balance.
The sci-fi elements are mostly in the realm of alien creatures coming in all sorts of stripes and flavors. Cultural mores are even more diverse than biology. Space travel involves time paradoxes, but every intelligent species still enjoys a great song. The galaxy loves great showmanship and gravitates towards to glamorous, ostentatious, over-the-top performances. If only the aliens had come a generation earlier, Ziggy Stardust would have been our savior. Throughout, the humor is non-stop with verbal adroitness that belies a familiarity with this sub-genre of music and attention to pop culture.
The narration is superb with the British flavor heavy. The delivery is well timed to accentuate the humor, with a fast pace aligned to a fast moving story.
God is not dead. He has merely been exiled to an extraterrestrial planet. And it is on this planet that God meets Herb Asher and persuades him to help retake Earth from the demonic Belial. Featuring virtual reality, parallel worlds, and interstellar travel, The Divine Invasion blends philosophy and adventure in a way few authors can achieve.
The Divine Invasion, Philip K Dick's 2nd book in his VALIS trilogy is a standalone tale that begins as a pure SF story, but quickly evolves to a theological escapade that recapitulates the birth of Christ complete with an immaculate conception, virgin birth, and no room at the inn. With the Joseph and Mary stand-ins coming in from a colony world to an Earth that is controlled by hostile religious tyrants, Dick explores the notions of a split godhead.
Dick's sci-fi elements are muted except at the beginning with interstellar colonization. Cryogenic storage is developed with sophisticated transplant technology, but the real focus is a religious theme with the notion of a godhead that has two distinct parts, the creator and the protector. Thrown in is the notion that for the past many centuries, Earth has been under the control of an evil entity with the return of the creator representing the divine invasion.
The narration is superb with good character distinction and solid pacing for a good flow given the extent of philosophical discussions. Overall, the story is a bit weak, but does offer a glimpse into Dick's theological thinking.
Something called the “Blue Juice" is coming. For all of us. Luckily, me (Chip Collins), Pete, Nikola Tesla, Bobo, and FBI Agent Gina Phillips are here to kick its ass, and send it back to last Tuesday. Maybe. Or maybe we'll fail, and everyone in the multiverse is doomed. (Seriously, you might want to get that underground bunker ready.) Either way, I've got to get home to Julie and find out – woah, I'm not about to tell you that right here in the book description! TMI, dude.
Don't Touch the Blue Stuff is Rob Dircks' sequel to Where the Hell is Tesla. This time out, Chip who now works for the FBI is suborned in the middle of his wedding (to his most frequent email recipient) to save his buddy who has gone missing. Along the way, he must save all the universes again, from a mysterious blue stuff with the help of an uptight FBI partner, an intelligent cockroach, Tesla as a young man, and Albert Einstein. During this time he also contemplates being a father.
As before the sci-fi elements are standard with an interdimensional hallway and lots of strange creatures. Chip also encounters a parallel universe where he is president. The humorous scenarios are creative, entertaining, lively, and propel the story with a 20-something, slacker whose mind constantly wanders.
The self narration by Rob Dircks is another winner as he conveys just enough character distinction, while doling out the comedic delivery of a stand-up comic.
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