Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Seventh Voyage

Lem Stanislaw’s Seventh Voyage was a fun read with interesting message, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Although I loved Stanislaw’s approach to time travel and the idea of a lone space traveler just going about his day on a long voyage, what really drew me to the novel was the character. Even before the he entered the vortices and the duplication process began, it was already clear what kind of person the main character was. As he methodically goes about his daily life, eating, calculating, and trying to make repairs, Stanislaw shows that the main character is just a normal person. The characters strengths are shown; we see that he is precise with his actions, methodical with his planning, and is good at thinking things through. And we see his weaknesses; he can be stubborn sometimes and is fairly set in his ways. It’s this setup that makes the character so interesting, and gives the 2nd half of the story such a strong impact. As the main character enters the vortexes and meets with his past and future selves, each one more stubborn and self-assured than the last, we can see his flaws begin to emerge as a more prominent issue.
As the amount of duplicates increase, the tone of the story switches from a play on the main characters flaws to a play on the flaws of humanity in general - we see that alone, a person can be intelligent and even wise, but together people are dogged, selfish, and narcissistic. When the main character realizes that his problem – finding another person to help him fix his ships rudder – is solved not by himself or any of his more recent duplicate selves, but by two duplicates of him as a child, he as the protagonist and we as the reader are given a pretty frank message – that people are productive and good as children but fairly useless as adults. This message is compounded even more by the ending – not only does no one believe him, but the main character learns nothing from his adventure and is disgusted with people for not believing his story.


Octavia Butler’s, Bloodchild was the most disturbing short story we read this semester. Pregnancy is never a particularly fun thought for men in general, and male pregnancy is even more off-putting. Bloodchild takes this issue even farther – men impregnated by bugs, who give birth to flesh eating maggots that need to be removed via cesarean before they kill the carrier. Not a huge fan of pregnancy, flesh eating, or maggots myself, this story didn’t do much for me. It wasn’t the gore the bothered me so much as the situation the author put the characters in. In fact, I had the same problem with this story that I had with Aye and Gamorrah – after a certain point I no longer wanted to relate to or empathies with the main character and eventually found myself uninterested in the story.

I wasn’t a fan of the story’s ending either; at the end of the novel the main character gives in and is impregnated with maggots to save his sister from bearing the burden. I wasn’t really expecting a matrix-style human rebellion but I was hoping the main character would make some kind of stand against the situation itself.

I think my biggest issue with the story was that for all the unpleasantness it had I couldn’t seem to a message in it. The main character eventually sacrifices himself to protect his sister, but that wasn’t the focus of the story. The situation of bugs impregnating people was a prominent element of the story but the only message I could glean from that was “the horrors of pregnancy.”

I did like the way the bug creatures were described. Butler talks about them in detail but still manages to be nondescript enough to keep the reading guessing what they look like. Then during random parts of the story different parts of the insect creatures are casually referred to until it becomes clear that the creatures are actually fairly monstrous – looking.

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Douglas Adams’s The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is one of my favorite novels of all time. The story is interesting, the characters are likeable, and the humor is almost always spot on. There were very few times when I was reading the novel when I felt the story was lagging or the characters were losing their personality, two issues that are often the most problematic for me when reading novels and short stories.
What drew me into the hitchhiker’s guide at first was the flat, frank humor. Even in written form all of the book’s narration feels as though it’s being given in an ironic deadpan. As far as the humor goes I’d liken the book a lot to the “Monty Python” sketches – the same sort of wacky silliness takes place throughout the book. What makes the humor so much more appealing, however is that it is used is scattered throughout many of sci-fi’s biggest clichés to give the book a light, satirical tone. My personal favorite play on sci-fi was in the way that flying was explained. That achieving fight was simply a matter of falling and accidentally missing the ground, and that although the falling part was fairly easy, actually missing the ground was quite difficult. Many people, Adams writes, “fail to miss the ground.”
During class we saw the first few minutes of the BBC version of the Hitchikers Guide the Galaxy Movie. I noticed that a lot of the humor was kept intact and that the story and characters seemed to be remaining true to the novel, however I couldn’t help but feel that the movie lost some of the charm that the book had. Something about transferring British comedy into a written format made it feel a lot more accessible to me; In the film, all of the actors and the settings are clearly of British origins and inspiration, and because of that the story felt a lot more foreign. Seeing the BBC version, however, did make me want to watch the newer version that was released in theaters to see how it measures up to the book.

Aye and Gomorrah

Samuel R. Delany’s Aye and Gomorrah was one of the more unusual short stories I’ve read this semester. I wasn’t exactly enamored of it, but it was nice to see something completely different. The world the author created, in which astronauts are neutered to prevent the affects of radiation that would eventually cause the birth of mutants was unsettling. It wasn’t the kind the story that really made me stop and think or changed the way I looked at the world, but about halfway through reading I realized that I no longer wanted to be a part of the world that was being described. I normally try to empathies as much as I can with the main character when I read novels and short stories, but with Aye and Gamorrah, I had to step back a little.
I’d imagine this was the authors’ intention – to show people something a little disturbing, and he definitely succeeded in that respect, although by the end, I did find myself wondering what the message of the novel was. It seemed like with all the strange Ideas and situations the author was throwing there must be some sort o underlying theme or message that he was trying to communicate. Whatever it was though was completely lost on me.
One thing that I did like, and that I felt was done very well, was the interaction between the Spacer and the Frelk when they first meet. What made it fun was that the author created a world where the power dynamic that gender creates is completely different than the one we’re used to. But he did it in such a way that rather than alienating the reader, it drew the reader in more. Even though the world was different, all of the wants, the actions, and the thought processes of the characters felt completely believable and easily relatable to everyday life.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Song in a Minor Key

CL Moore’s Song in A Minor Key, was a pleasant, almost poetic reflection on human nature and the inevitability of the future. The story was short, it was a nice read, and felt like a breath of fresh air after reading Johnny Mnemonic. What drew me to Song in a Minor Key was the character. The entire story is basically a long reflection by a space outlaw who’s taken refuge on earth – his home planet, and the very place he was originally outlawed from. We learn that the main character has had a very difficult and violent past, however his problems are all the result of his own rebellious nature.

What makes the character interesting is that although he continually talks about how rambunctious he was, and all the problems that resulted from that, the feeling we get from him as he is talking is that of a calmer, more somber person. This difference in personality makes the character feel a lot more 3-dimensional and much more likeable as well.

Midway through the story, I found myself actually interested in what the character was saying and what had gone on during his life. In fact my only real issue with the story was its length. For what it was – a short reflection on a past life – I thought Song in a Minor Key was just long enough. But it would be nice to see the character in action; now that we’ve been introduced to him I want to see what his world is like, to read about his adventures and the specific events that took place in his life.

The ending to Song in a Minor Key my favorite part of the story. After going on about the events that took place in his life and thinking about how it would have been had he been given another chance, the main character came to an interesting conclusion, and one that often holds true in real life – that even if he could start his life over knowing everything that he currently knows he would still make the same mistakes and probably end up in a similar place. His problems, he reflects were not the result of serendipity or circumstance, they all came from within him.

Johnny Mnemonic

My first impression after reading William Gibson’s Johnny Mnemonic was that although the story’s sci-fi/film noir style gave it a very dark and interesting feel, the lack of personality in all of the character sucked a lot of life out of the story overall.

I was never really a huge fan of applying film noir to different genres; I think it was cool in watchmen and I it generally makes for an interesting story, but I’ve seen it used so many times in so many different genres, it almost feels like a cliché by itself. That’s the feeling I got with Johnny Mnemonic; the dark atmosphere that the story created was interesting at first, but it didn’t hold my interest for very long. Part of what bothered me so much about the style was the way the author tended to jump around for story point to story point with minimal explanation. It made the story just confusing enough to be a bit of a pain to read.

My biggest problem with Johnny Mnemonic, however, was the characters. Johnny, the main character was my least favorite. I liked that he went through an arc during the story – that by the end of his adventure he had gained a new perspective and become a different person, however I didn’t really feel myself caring very much about him. The biggest reason for this was most of the events that took place in the story were neither triggered by him, nor affected by him; his only real “act” in the story was making the shotgun, and his efforts were completely negated as soon as the other characters were introduced.

The other characters were interesting in the ways that the helped move the story along; I liked the female assassin with the knife nails and the faceless businessman with the diamond-twine finger. But they all seemed to lack personality, and this is really what draws me to novels and to stories in general.

I did like the talking dolphin man.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Technology and the Mediascape in the Future

In five years, e-readers will have become commonplace, although they still won't have completely overtaken books and other paper media. Smart-phones will go from becoming "an option" to "the only option," although hopefully phone data plans will decrease in price. 3D will be making a bigger move into home entertainment, especially in video-games. Television will be more interactive and allow more options for video recording and customized playback. Online activities like shopping and chatting will become more streamlined and more easily accessible without a computer. Electric cars will be more popular, but still won't be standard. Animated films will continue growing in complexity and popularity.

3D and motion capture will be a standard for video-games. Television will be completely customizable so that adjustments can be made on a per-user basis. Personal computers will give way to more streamlined online communication devices. Electric power in cars will be standard and continually improving in efficiency. Commercials will be commonplace not just on television, but in stores, restaurants, etc - restrictions will need to be created to ensure that certain areas are free of commercial intrusion by advertisements. The process for the creation of animated films will be much more streamlined technologically.

Computers, smart-phones, and other media and communication devices will be replaced by something much smaller and more efficient - these devices will be a normal accessory for every person. The more these are standardized, the more they will become a way for people to express their individuality. Serialized television shows will still be around, however "television" won't exist. The technology for the creation of high quality animated films will become much more accessible for normal people.