Archive for the 'Books' Category

‘Broken Angels,’ Richard K. Morgan’s sequel to ‘Altered Carbon,’ puts his hero in jeopardy on a war-torn colony world

April 22, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 22, 2019

About four months ago, I reviewed Altered Carbon, the breakout debut novel by British science fiction and fantasy author Richard K. Morgan. Last week, my local library hold on a digital copy of the sequel, Broken Angels, and I’m happy to report that it’s just as entertaining as its predecessor.

The second book, which was published in the U.S. the same year as Morgan’s first, 2003, is set on the war-wracked colony planet Sentinel IV roughly 30 years after the events of Altered Carbon. The story opens when narrator Takeshi Kovacs, a soldier with a freighted past, is approached while recuperating from wounds sustained in a savage local civil war being fought between a cartel and insurrectionists. This individual has a proposition for Kovacs that concerns an artifact left behind by an apparently extinct alien race whose remains humans have been uncovering and attempting to interpret for centuries:

“[A]ny decent archaeologue who wants to make a killing is going to head for the centers of habitation, and that’s what they all did.” 

“How do you know all this, Schneider? You’re not an archaeologue.” 

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Humanity makes a sudden and unexpected splash on the interstellar scene in Patrick Tomlinson’s science-fiction novel ‘Gate Crashers’

April 13, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 13, 2019

Patrick S. Tomlinson’s 2018 science-fiction story, Gate Crashers, is an uneven but promising work.

At the heart of the book is a slight twist on a familiar premise: Homo sapiens discover an alien device and use it to reverse-engineer revolutionary technologies, including faster-than-light travel. Tomlinson’s novelty is that the object is discovered in deep space — literally the middle of nowhere — by humanity’s most ambitious crewed extrasolar flight. However, the crew is not alone…

…and not just because there are aliens about.

Due to the miracle of quantum entanglement radio, or QER (for which read: ansible), which enables instantaneous communication, the crew of the American/European Union Starship Magellan is able to share its discovery with a small group of scientists at the American/European Space Space Administration, the 24th century’s successor to NASA. The ground-based team of whiz kids team up with the astronauts to unlock amazing secrets.

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A time-traveling federal agent doggedly pursues justice in Tom Sweterlitsch’s gripping novel ‘The Gone World’

April 12, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 12, 2019

I’d never heard of Pittsburgh science-fiction author Tom Sweterlitsch until I stumbled across a library catalog listing for his second novel, 2018’s The Gone World. Having read the book last month, however, I’m prepared to say that he’s a force to be reckoned with in the genre.

Sweterlitsch’s debut book, Tomorrow and Tomorrow, concerned a man who investigates unexplained deaths in a virtual recreation of a destroyed city. The Gone World is a complex time-travel mystery in which a Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent attempts to apprehend a SEAL accused of slaughtering his wife and children.

The protagonist here, Shannon Moss, is uniquely qualified to investigate the 1997 triple homicide. Like suspect Patrick Mursult, Moss trained to sail with Naval Space Command, a classified U.S. military fleet capable of probing the distant reaches of time and space. Moss was diverted to NCIS after her first solo excursion on a far-future Earth ended in a bizarre injury that resulted in the partial amputation of her left leg.

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Science fiction anthology roundup, including a major reason to visit ‘Old Venus’

March 31, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 31, 2019

Over the last month and a half or so, I’ve been reading a handful of anthologies. Notable among them were Galactic Empires, a 2017 publication edited by Neil Clarke themed on, well, exactly what the title says; and Infinite Stars, also from 2017, edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt and billing itself — rather grandiosely, I thought — as “The Definitive Anthology of Space Opera and Military SF.” I enjoyed both volumes but thought the former to be stronger overall.

It’s worth devoting a moment on Schmidt’s collection because it revisits some famous science fiction universes. Infinite Stars includes a new Dune story co-written by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, which I found to be particularly weak, and an original “Ender’s Game” story by Orson Scott Card, which I didn’t much enjoy but felt arrived at a haunting ending. I particularly enjoyed Nnedi Okorafor’s “Binti,” which approaches space exploration and interspecies conflict from an African perspective, and “Night Passage,” an Alastair Reynolds tale set in his “Revelation Space” saga, of which (unlike “Dune” and “Ender’s Game”) I have no knowledge.

However, the real point of this post is to share a few thoughts about Old Venus, a 2015 themed collection edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois.

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The specter of death writ large looms over Ben Winters’s science fiction–mystery hybrid ‘The Last Policeman’

March 26, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 26, 2019

Maryland native Ben H. Winters is a prolific author whose first two books, published in 2009 and 2010, were the literary mashups Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and Android Karenina. The author’s first wholly original novel, the horror story Bedbugs, appeared in 2011. Since then, Winters has completed a number of volumes for adults and young readers. His work for the youth set includes a horror anthology and a pair of mysteries. Over the years, Winters has also penned several theatrical productions meant for both adult and young audiences.

Most of Winters’s adult-oriented tales have science-fictional elements; many also borrow elements from the mystery genre. His 2012 book, The Last Policeman, straddled both literary categories in launching what’s come to be called the Last Policeman trilogy.

The core death investigation plays out against an unusual background: The planet is six months away from a catastrophic collision with a massive asteroid. A number of tales about apocalyptic encounters between Earth and heavenly bodies with menacing trajectories focus on the effort to avert potential tragedy or to preserve segments of the population. The 1998 movie Deep Impact, by way of example, features both elements, with the U.S. government converting a set of Missouri caves into a shelter for a million survivors while a space mission attempts to alter the asteroid’s course.

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Horror maven Stephen King’s 1978 anthology ‘Night Shift’ still packs a powerful sting

March 23, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 23, 2019

Look, Stephen King obviously doesn’t need my help to sell more copies of his books — even though, as I recently established, he isn’t the best-selling modern fiction author of all (or even just of modern) times. But still…

I recently reread Night Shift, a 1978 anthology of King stories that I probably first read back in the ’80s. I’m happy to report that I enjoyed it as much as I did the first time round. Some of the passages that chilled me back then gave me the same shivers of horror more than two decades later.

The book contains 20 stories, which by my count directly inspired an eye-popping six movies: Children of the CornMaximum Overdrive (infamously known as King’s only directorial outing, based on the story “Trucks”), Graveyard ShiftThe ManglerSometimes They Come Back and The Lawnmower Man (although this film was so loosely based on King’s story that he successfully sued to have his writing credit de-emphasized).

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Authorial success: A highly skewed investigation

March 21, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 21, 2019

The other day, I wondered who was the most successful author of all time. So I did what people do in 2019: I consulted Wikipedia.

As of mid-March 2019, a regularly updated Wikipedia list of books sold ranked Stephen King as the 22nd most successful fiction author. The American horror scribe rises to 16th by excluding writers working in a language other than English — by name, Belgian mystery writer Georges Simenon, Japanese manga artists Eiichiro Oda and Akira Toriyama, Spanish romance author Corin Tellado, Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy and Russian poet Alexander Pushkin. And by removing five children’s and young-adult writers — Brits Enid Blyton, J.K. Rowling and Gilbert Patten and Americans Dr. Seuss and R.L. Stine — King rises to 11th place.

Now, you might protest that this is cheating. After all, not all of Rowling’s books have been aimed at youngsters — see The Casual Vacancy and her trio of mysteries written under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. Moreover, there’s some debate over whether the Harry Potter series, which of course brought Rowling fame and fortune, is properly categorized as children’s literature. My qualms about classification extend to Stine, Blyton and Patten, with whose work I have zero familiarity. But who’s writing this post — me or you?

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A Canadian master puts a modern twist on Shakespeare in Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Heart Goes Last’

March 17, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 17, 2019

Margaret Atwood, the Canadian poet and novelist, is one of the most celebrated contemporary writers. Her popular 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, postulated a post-democratic United States controlled by fundamentalist Christians. The book, which Hulu adapted into a hit streaming video series, plumbed the souls of a certain strain of Reagan supporters and came away with a vision of a near-future America that no longer seems as preposterous as it once did. (See: Bush, George W.; and Trump, Donald.)

Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy explored future scenarios that were far wilder — as well as more dystopian and more apocalyptic — than that of The Handmaid’s Tale. As with the earlier book, the vision expressed in 2003’s Oryx and Crake and sequels, seems more relevant today than at the time of publication. Not only does corporate power, and its ability to quash individuality and independence, appear to be ascendant in the United States (thanks in no small part to federal judges appointed by Bush and Trump), scientists are slowly acquiring the genetic mastery needed to create the augmented, hybrid and altogether novel species that Atwood described in her MaddAddam sequence.

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Unseen phenomena seemingly lurk around every corner in Jeff VanderMeer’s ‘Authority’

March 4, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 4, 2019

Annihilation, the first book in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, described the dissolution of a four-woman expedition into Area X, a mysterious zone somewhere on the coast of the U.S. Authority, which like the other books in the sequence was published in 2014, details the aftermath of the excursion.

The book takes the point of view of one John Rodriguez, who for reasons that are never fully explained goes by the moniker Control. A disgraced former operative with influential supporters in an unnamed American intelligence agency, Rodriguez as the story opens has just taken up his post as head of Southern Reach, the obscure government agency tasked with overseeing research into Area X.

The reason — or, at least, one reason — for Rodriguez’s appointment its explained to the reader early on:

His first full day was only four hours old and he already felt contaminated by the dingy, bizarre building with its worn green carpet and the antiquated opinions of the other personnel he had met. A sense of diminishment suffused everything, even the sunlight that halfheartedly pushed through the high, rectangular windows. He was wearing his usual black blazer and dress slacks, a white shirt with a light blue tie, black shoes he’d shined that morning. Now he wondered why he’d bothered. He disliked having such thoughts because he wasn’t above it all — he was in it — but they were hard to suppress. 

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John Scalzi traps readers in a dull narrative with his 2014 science fiction–detective novel ‘Lock In’

February 26, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 26, 2019

About four and a half years ago, I read and very much enjoyed John Scalzi’s popular 2012 novel Redshirts, a comic exploration of the (often short) lives of junior crew members aboard a starship that bore a suspicious resemblance to a certain vessel from the TV series Star Trek. This month, I read Lock In, which the same author published in 2014.

This Earthbound story, set perhaps three or four decades into our future, posits a world where a disease known as Haden’s syndrome has caused millions of people to experience total paralysis — the titular lock in. However, thanks to new scientific advances, victims needn’t suffer silent and unheard. (This fortunate development is partly a function of one very prominent early victim being Margaret Haden, the beloved spouse of an American president.)

Implanted neural nets enable Haden’s sufferers to remotely operate sophisticated human-shaped machines known as personal transports. While a Haden’s sufferer’s body remains stationary at home or in a facility, where they’re fed intravenously, transports or “threeps” enable her or his mind to engage with the real world. Threep users hear and sense just what a “normal” person would.

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William Gibson connects a small Georgia town to Russian-British kleptocrats in his intricate 2014 novel, ‘The Peripheral’

February 17, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 17, 2019

To read a William Gibson story is to embark upon a journey of discovery.  What kind of world — often at once amazing and dispiriting — has the U.S.-born writer created, and what convoluted scheme are the characters enmeshed in, voluntarily or otherwise? Moreover, what kind of inventive gadgets will they wield?

Gibson, who moved to Canada in 1968, after initially traveling there to explore options for avoiding the draft, is one of the titans of science fiction. Beginning in the early 1980s, Gibson’s enormously popular short stories and novels fueled the genre’s cyberpunk movement. The subgenre typically posits dire futures in which a small number of powerful corporations, oligarchs, criminal syndicates and autocratic, sometimes rogue, governmental organizations oppress large civilian populations; clever hackers who infiltrate computer systems also appear often.

Naturally, Gibson’s writing has evolved over the past three and a half decades. He’s no less enamored of novel scientific concepts and technology, but over time his stories have shifted their focus from heroic figures to regular people. That transition is on display in his most recent novel, 2014’s The Peripheral, which features as its main characters a dissolute publicist from (presumably) the late 21st or early 22nd century and an underemployed 27-year-old from small-town Georgia about a decade in our future.

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China Miéville invents an incredible alien civilization in ‘Embassytown’

February 14, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 14, 2019

I know the British author China Miéville by his reputation for being one of the more inventive science-fiction scribes working today. However, until recently, the only work of his that I’d read was his novelette “Reports of Certain Events in London,” a haunting epistolary tale about streets that mysteriously appear and disappear in that city.

Miéville’s 2011 novel, Embassytown, is narrated by one Avice Benner Cho, a native of the eponymous community on the planet Arieka. Cho lives in a future so distant that Earth’s location has been forgotten by humanity, which along with other sentient races lives in cities scattered across at least one galaxy. (Trade and travel is enabled by a mode of faster-than-light transportation known as immersion.) As it happens, one of the strangest places in existence is her native world, an isolated outpost populated by a race of alien genetic engineers called the Ariekei, also known as the Hosts.

There’s no simple way to describe the many-legged Hosts, which “walked with crablike precision … with a gait that made them look as if they must fall, though they did not.” They see through moving eye-corals, described as a “constellation of forking skin.” Each hears through a many-colored fanwing that extends from its back; each grips using a giftwing mounted below its primary mouth. Their technology, called biorigging, is completely organic — Ariekene buildings, batteries, power plants, planes, garbage cans and even their equivalent of spacesuits are all living beings.

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In ‘The Feed,’ a young married couple goes through hell after society’s disintegration

February 12, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 12, 2019

Think about what you do with your computer, phone and/or tablet: Scrolling through social media, favoriting your friends’ posts, checking and responding to emails, posting a rant or status update, sampling the headlines on your favorite news and entertainment websites, watching videos, sharing a funny meme or interesting article, voting in polls.

Now imagine doing all these things — and so much more — exclusively using your brain, with each activity consuming not seconds, or even tenths of a second, but mere thousandths of a second. What’s more, imagine if equipment enabling this instant networking could be implanted in utero. This near-future innovation serves as the basis for Nick Clark Windo’s 2018 science fiction novel, The Feed.

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Harry Harrison’s debut novel, ‘Deathworld,’ is a light and breezy science fiction adventure

February 7, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 7, 2019

As a child, I spent a bunch of time loitering in the science fiction section of libraries and bookstores; my friends also tended to be sci-fi enthusiasts. From these times, I have vague memories of the covers of paperback books written by Harry Harrison, whom I associate with a series of books about someone or something called the Stainless Steel Rat. However, I don’t think I’d ever actually read any of Harrison’s fiction until just the other week, when I zipped through his first novel.

Like many sci-fi adventures prior to 1980, Deathworld was initially published in periodical form. But even though the tale dates to 1960 (when its Connecticut-born author was 35), the book has a spare prose style and propulsive narrative that makes it feel like a much more contemporary work.

The hero of this work, Jason dinAlt, left his native stuffy, caste-conscious farm planet of Porgorstorsaand at age 19 and hasn’t looked back since. He became an itinerant gambler after realizing that he possessed unusually long runs of sustained success at games of chances — a phenomenon enhanced by his fickle psychic powers, which at times grant him amazing awareness of his environment and the thoughts of the people around him.

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Joe Haldeman postulated a peaceful first contact in his 1976 novel ‘Mindbridge’

February 5, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 5, 2019

Author’s note: This post contains some minor spoilers for the terrific novel The Forever War. Although these spoilers are rather trifling, If you have any interest in science fiction and haven’t read that book, I urge you to do so before you read this post! MEM

Joe Haldeman made his bones as a science fiction author in 1974 with his first genre novel, The Forever War. Like much of Haldeman’s work, this gritty soldier’s-eye perspective of a centuries-long conflict fought between humans and a mysterious alien race was informed by the author’s experiences as a draftee who was injured during his service in the Vietnam War.

Under a pseudonym, the Oklahoma-born author published two adventure novels featuring a merman before releasing another book using his own name. That volume was Mindbridge, a 1976 work which borrows a few techniques from The Forever War while tackling a story that in many ways is quite different from its predecessor.

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A psychic astronaut hits the road in Clifford Simak’s 1961 novel ‘Time is the Simplest Thing’

February 2, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 2, 2019

Shortly after the opening of Time is the Simplest Thing, the 1961 Clifford D. Simak novel, protagonist Shepherd Blaine realizes that the machine he is telekinetically operating has entered an artificial structure in a desert on a faraway planet. The open-aired dwelling is occupied by a sprawling pink blob about 12 feet high with a base 20 feet in diameter.

“Hi pal,” the Pinkness tells the probe, “I trade with you my mind.” In that instant, the alien creature swaps a slice of its consciousness with part of Blaine’s… and in the next, Blaine’s mind is recalled to his sleeping body at the Fishhook complex in Northern Mexico.

It emerges that Blaine — and yes, his first name is capital-S Symbolic — is a sort of psychic astronatut who works for an organization called Fishhook. Over a century or so beginning around the end of the 1900s, Fishhook has harnessed psychic powers to explore outer space, a task to which human bodies and ordinary technology proved ill suited. As soon as Blaine awakens, he realizes that in a matter of minutes, the scientists at his organization will review recordings from the probe he’s been using and discover that he has been compromised.

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Astronauts face peril on a remote planet in Poul Anderson’s 1966 novel ‘World Without Stars’

January 31, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 31, 2019

I continue this month’s (inadvertent, I swear!) tour of early novels by science fiction and fantasy grand masters with World Without Stars, a 1966 tale by Danish-American author Poul Anderson.

The book revolves around an ill-starred voyage by the merchant vessel Captain Felipe Argens and his crew of eight. The Meteor is bound for a remote star located outside our galaxy, a place where sentient technology users have developed despite the relative paucity of heavy metals (due to the vagaries of the formation of isolated heavenly bodies).

Humanity is but one of many species that use space jump to zip from one point to another in Anderson’s far future. What’s more, galactic inhabitants are blessed with virtual immortality courtesy of the “antithanatic,” an internal system that instantly rejects “any hostile nucleic acids.” People don’t live forever, for as our narrator, Argens, relates, “sooner or later some chance combination of circumstances is bound to kill you.” And without selective memory editing every so often over the decades or centuries, brains become overwhelmed with information and eventually succumb to madness.

Still, the travelers are engineered to survive all but the most extreme exigencies, which means that for Anderson to imperil his characters, he must meet a high barrier. Naturally, the author realizes this, and he’s up to the challenge: In chapter five, out of 17 in the book, Meteor crash-lands on a distant planet. Two of the astronauts die instantly; one lasts only a few hours longer.

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Paper-thin characterizations help sink Robert Silverberg’s 1969 science-fiction tale ‘The Man in the Maze’

January 30, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 30, 2019

Every so often, I’ll think about books that I read, or at least tried to read. A long time ago, probably when I was a teenager, I stumbled across a promising book in my local library’s science fiction section. It was set in an ancient and deadly maze constructed millennia ago by a mysterious alien race that had long since gone extinct. The heart of this sprawling, city-sized labyrinth housed a former interstellar ambassador who lived in self-imposed exile after having been tainted in the course of making first contact with an alien species. This contamination, which took place unbeknownst to the ambassador, left him telepathically emitting a flood of noxious emotions that quickly sickened anyone who entered the same room as him.

Into this tableau enters a starship crew on a desperate quest: To evade the maze’s numerous dead ends and lethal traps, reach its center and recruit the embittered exile for a dangerous mission that could save humanity from extermination.

This seemed like a surefire premise for a science-fiction thriller. Unfortunately, experience belied expectations; my teenage self began reading this book but never finished, put off by meandering philosophical and psychological digressions that hopelessly bogged down what I’d expected to be an action-packed story.

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Richard K. Morgan’s dynamic 2003 debut novel, ‘Altered Carbon,’ is an entertaining murder mystery set on far-future Earth

January 29, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 29, 2019

Richard K. Morgan’s 2003 debut novel, Altered Carbon, is an immensely entertaining synthesis of two genres: The noir-style hard-boiled detective story and the hardcore cyberpunk science-fiction tale.

The narrator and protagonist of the tale is Takeshi Kovacs. A one-time hoodlum from Harlan’s World, Kovacs endured a rocky experience as a marine for the United Nations’ interplanetary protectorate before becoming a member of a shadowy group called the Envoys, a contingent of planet- and body-hopping warrior monks with the lethality and mission-oriented amorality of James Bond.

Kovacs has bombed out of the Envoys and been placed in punitive deep freeze when he’s summoned back to consciousness on Earth by Laurens Bancroft, an ultra-rich, nigh-immortal centuries-old Methuselah who needs a can-do private investigator to unravel the mystery of his death.

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Aliette de Bodard fashions a fascinating albeit understated crisis in deep space with her ingenious novel ‘On a Red Station, Drifting’

January 28, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 28, 2019

Aliette de Bodard’s 2013 novel On a Red Station, Drifting is an intriguing, understated science fiction story set in a future galactic empire where Vietnamese culture reigns supreme.

The story begins as Lê Thi Linh, a magistrate — here apparently signifying a planetary governor — arrives at an interstellar outpost known as Prosper Station. Linh has preemptively fled her position on the Twenty-Third planet because of an approaching invasion fleet led by an insurrectionist warlord. Resources are scarce on Prosper Station because of the rebellion, which the emperor finds himself unable or unwilling to resolve. The position of chief human administrator on Prosper has fallen to Lê Thi Quyen, whose husband was drafted by the empire.

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In George R.R. Martin’s 1981 science fiction thriller ‘Nightflyer,’ the possibilities raised by a long journey and a malevolent force are thwarted by bad company

January 26, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 26, 2019

As a youngster, I loved almost everything about space. If I found a book, movie or TV show with a spaceship in it, I wanted to read or watch it.

This enthusiasm has persisted into my adult, albeit in somewhat diminished strength. (I still haven’t seen Solo: A Star Wars Story, for instance, and it took me months to watch Star Wars: The Last Jedi.) These days, I’m especially intrigued by science fiction stories concerning mysteries or atrocities committed aboard a spaceship — for instance, Event Horizon or Supernova.

Given that background, you can understand why I was excited to run across George R.R. Martin’s 1981 novel Nightflyers in my library’s online catalog. Unfortunately, my enjoyment of the book’s potentially dynamite scenario was tempered by my disinterest in the 10 travelers whom the author imperils.

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A biologist investigates impenetrable mysteries in Jeff VanderMeer’s enigmatic 2014 science-fiction novel ‘Annihilation’

January 22, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 22, 2019

When I saw Alex Garland’s Annihilation last spring, I found myself captivated by the atmospheric, understated science-fiction story. I recently read the book it’s based upon, Jeff VanderMeer’s 2014 novel, which similarly establishes an odd and unsettling mood.

The story unfolds entirely from the perspective of an unnamed biologist, the template for the movie’s Lena, played by Natalie Portman. Much like Garland used an interview with Lena after her emergence from the strange Area X to frame most of the events, the book unfurls as an account that the biologist has written in her journal following the dissolution of her four-woman expedition.

The exploration party is led by an older psychologist and includes an anthropologist and surveyor. (The movie’s group was led by an older psychologist and had an anthropologist, but featured a physicist and paramedic.) The biologist has followed her husband, who vanished along with the previous party sent into Area X before mysteriously returning to the couple’s home; unlike in the movie, the husband — here a seaman turned paramedic, rather than an army special forces operator — has died.

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Strangers in a strange land grapple with their lust for death in Fritz Leiber’s strangely poignant post-apocalyptic novella ‘The Night of the Long Knives’

January 16, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 16, 2019

If you’d asked me just yesterday to recite everything I knew about Fritz Leiber, I’d only have been able to tell you that he was one of the old grand masters of science fiction. This is correct, but only in a limited technical sense. While the Chicago native was the fifth person to be named a grand master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, in 1981, his biggest impact on speculative fiction was actually in fantasy, by way of his Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories.

As it happens, I was browsing my local library’s collection of science-fiction electronic books earlier this month when one of Leiber’s titles caught my eye. I initially thought that this 1960 novella was known to me as an old science-fiction movie. Here again, I was mostly wrong; the movie of that title, released in 2005, is a 45-minute documentary concerning the deadly 1934 purge of opposition figures that then-chancellor Adolf Hitler ordered to strengthen his control over the Nazi party and German society at large.

Long story short: I started reading Leiber’s tale on the strength of (somewhat mistaken) name recognition and a short blurb about the contents of the book. As it turns out, The Night of the Long Knives is an engrossing story about drifters in a hellish wasteland who are drawn together by happenstance.

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The pioneering ‘Mission to Horatius’ is both a path-breaking and pedestrian ‘Star Trek’ tale

December 31, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 31, 2018

It’s safe to say that when Star Trek debuted in the late 1960s, its corporate masters had no concept of its potential. NBC considered axing the show in 1968, after ratings for the series’ second season sagged, but a fan-led campaign of protests, letters and postcards persuaded the network to extend the show for a third year. (There would be no fourth season, of course, although the show eventually inspired a number of books and toys before segueing into a string of movies and television productions.)

Given corporate America’s initial cluelessness over Star Trek, it follows that initial efforts at merchandising the show were rather spotty. I mention this because for no particular reason I came across a copy of Mission to Horatius, the very first licensed book containing an original Star Trek story.

The 1968 novel was written by Mack Reynolds, an obscure but prolific science-fiction author who died in 1983 at age 65. The story, which was purportedly aimed at a young-adult audience, is straightforward enough: The U.S.S. Enterprise has been dispatched to respond to a mysterious distress call originating from the distant solar system Horatius. Centuries ago, three of the system’s planets were settled by humans, but the colonists have long been out of touch with their ancestral planet of Earth.

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Can a movie adaptation be better than the book? In the case of Ernest Cline’s 2011 tale ‘Ready Player One,’ that argument can be made

December 28, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 28, 2018

This spring, when I watched Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, I had yet to read the 2011 debut novel by Ernest Cline on which the movie was based. I recently did so, and I’m here to tell you that the book is… OK.

I can see why Spielberg would have wanted to adapt the tale for the big screen. The man at the center of Ready Player One, the late computer programmer James Halliday, harbored “an extreme fixation on the 1980s, the decade during which he’d been a teenager.”

That was, of course, the period when Spielberg was arguably at the peak of his cultural influence. E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial, which Business Insider ranked as Spielberg’s second-biggest box-office hit, premiered in 1982. Raiders of the Lost Ark and its first two sequels came out in 1981, 1984 and 1989, respectively; all three are top-10 earners on Business Insider’s list. The Color Purple, slotted 12th by BI, was released in 1985.

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