Notes from underground

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Archive for the tag “sci-fi”

Review of “Cell” by Stephen King

CellCell by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Clayton Riddell was having a good day. He had travelled to Boston and just sold some of his art work for a publication, and was on his way back to his hotel when disaster struck. An electro-magnetic pulse sent through the cell phone networks scrambled the brains of all cell phone users, and most of them became mindlessly violent. Cars crashed, and when drivers not using cell phones phoned to explain that they’d been in an accident or were held up by one, they lost their minds too.

Clayton Riddell’s main desire then is to get back to his estranged wife and 12-year-old son in Kent Pond, Maine, to see that they are OK, and sets out with a couple of companions to make the journey on foot — the roads are blocked with crashed vehicles. They soon discover that the phone-crazies as they call them, are active during the day, but not at night, so much of their travelling has to be done at night. The book describes their journey, and the difficulties they face, dominated by Clay Riddell’s search for his son.

I find Stephen King one of the most unpredictable. His books range from very good (Needful Things) to very bad (The Tommyknockers). I’ve generally found his spooky books to be better than his science fiction ones, but this one, though science fiction, seemed to be one of the better ones. I was thinking of giving it four stars until about three-quarters of the way though, when he jumped the shark by introducing levitation, which didn’t seem to contribute to the plot at all. And I didn’t like the abrupt ending.

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Dawn in Andromeda: book review

Dawn in AndromedaDawn in Andromeda by Ernest Charles Large

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this book more than 50 years ago, and thought I would look for it on Good Reads, but could not find it. Web searches make it possible to get such information easily nowadays, however, without time-consuming and expensive trips to the library, so I added it to Good Reads.

This description, which I found on the web, is pretty much as I remember it. Since the book is out of print, it isn’t much of a spoiler.

Five men and five women, all English, walk out of the sea one misty morning on a small uninhabited planet in the galaxy of Andromeda. Their new world is remarkably like the earth, except that it has two moons and it intercepts rather more meteorites. The party have, between them, a great deal of modern knowledge of the useful arts and sciences, and God, for his own inscrutable reasons, has set them the task of making a wireless set – a seven-valve all-wave superhet-in one generation, starting naked from the sea. They begin by putting back the flesh and blood on some of the bare bones of archaeology. They make their first fire, catch their first rabbits with their own hair, smelt their first button of iron, and find the first wild plants for the establishment of their agriculture. And then? In the course of a wonderfully human story, told with scrupulous veracity and attention to detail, they retrace step after step of discovery and invention, all the way from flint implements to high-vacuum technology.

It was a book I really enjoyed as a teenager. Perhaps I wouldn’t enjoy it as much today. I borrowed it from the Johannesburg Public Library, and second-hand copies seem to be going at quite exorbitant prices, so perhaps it’s time to reprint it.

Some things in it have dated, of course. I remember some bloke at school with me had a portable radio, which may have been a seven-valve all-wave superhet for all I know. The stuff that was crammed into the case was amazing, and it weighed about 3 pounds. But within a couple of years (and by the time I read the book), valves were obsolete and had been replaced by transistors, though for several years afterwards hi-fi (audio/sound system) fundis would insist that valves gave a purer sound than transistors, but that was in amplifiers, not in radios.

earthabidesThe “starting from scratch” theme is a familiar one in dystopian science fiction, one of the better examples of which is Earth abides by George R. Stewart, which I read a couple of years later, and also enjoyed. That one has been reprinted several times, and you can see an interesting selection of the cover illustrations at Exploring the world: Earth Abides cover photos.

But this is no dystopian novel. The starting over is not because of some man-made or natural disaster, but because God, for his own inscrutable purposes, decreed it. Well, no, that’s not quite right. God’s purpose is actually quite scrutable — he wants to know if men can make a better go of it starting over.

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The seeds of time: book review

The Seeds of TimeThe Seeds of Time by John Wyndham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In my youth I liked John Wyndham’s science fiction stories, and when I picked this one off a dusty shelf to catalogue it on GoodReads, I decided to re-read it before putting it back. The seeds of time is a collection of short stories, and I had forgotten some of them, and had only vague memories of the rest, so it was almost like reading them for the first time. And I enjoyed them just as much as when I first read them some 40-50 years ago.

And that made me wonder.

When I was in my teens and twenties I read quite a lot of science fiction, both short stories and full-length novels. Now I hardly read any. On the rare occasions that I browse the science-fiction shelves of book shops I usually don’t come away with anything. On the even rarer occasions when I have bought recently-published science-fiction, I’ve usually been bored, and abandoned the book.

Have I changed, or has the genre changed?

At first I thought that I had lost my youthful taste for science-fiction, and that it was probably something one grew out of, but re-reading these stories by John Wyndham showed me that that isn’t the case. So the genre must have changed, or everything that can be said has already been said and the new stuff is just boring repetition. Or else, most likely, popular culture has moved on and left me behind. What a drag it is getting old, as the Rolling Stones (anyone remember them?) used to sing.

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