Tag Archives: Science Fiction

Jargon will make time travel very confusing


This was a gift from my sister and is a solid science fictiony quote – one that I’m quite happy to put on my wall1.

The Time Machine by HG Wells (1991 Bantam Classic Reissue from library of Josh Witten)

The Time Machine by HG Wells (1991 Bantam Classic Reissue from library of Josh Witten)

Being a fan of, but hardly an expert on HG Wells2 and being a fan of, but hardly an expert on the history of science, I had to wonder if this quote was actually from HG Wells’ The Time Machine, or was from one of the movie adaptations. As you will see, this is an easy question to answer. The trick is figuring out why you might want to ask the question in the first place.

HG Wells was brilliant and reasonably familiar with scientific research. To pen that line, he would also need to be a time traveler himself. Continue reading

Some light reading for fellow science fiction junkies

amisnewmapsofhellAt last: I’ve got an author index of my science fiction reviews here at The Finch and Pea. If you compulsively read vintage science fiction like me (my interests mostly fall in the ~1945 to 1986 range), then you may just find something to your liking here.

Why vintage science fiction? It is a literature that has a lot to say about our culture’s relationship with science and technology, one that has developed some striking metaphors for science and nature.

Over the last few years I’ve managed roughly 30 reviews, fewer than I’d hoped, but not too shabby. Up next is a series on Big Dumb Object science fiction, already begun with Rendezvous with Rama. Coming up soon will be a discussion of Niven’s Ringworld, Varley’s Titan, Bob Shaw’s Orbitsville, Greg Bear’s Eon, and finally, once I finish working my way through the Polish original, Lem’s Solaris. Continue reading

Sunday Science Poem: Big Dumb Objects, Arthur C. Clake, John Keats, and the Sublime

RamaThe purpose of the Big Dumb Object in science fiction is to cure us of our familiarity with the universe. We tend to forget that the universe is complex, vast, exotic, eerie, and downright mystifying. Our daily experiences with its odd phenomena constitute what is normal, and normal is, of course, that which we’re inclined to take for granted. Among the bizarre things we accept as normal are the spontaneous development of a child into an adult, our ability to perceive coherent images and sounds that reach us through a tangled mess of reflecting waves, that there “are mountains in Chile, and not a hill in La Plata,” and the fortunate fact that Jupiter hasn’t yet sent the Earth spinning out of the Solar System.

Big Dumb Objects are metaphors that regenerate the strangeness of the universe in order remind us that a strange universe is a necessary condition for the sublime experience of scientific discovery. Two writers who knew this well were Arthur C. Clarke and John Keats. Continue reading

Empty World 1956: Shock and Awe in Arthur C. Clarke’s The City and the Stars

clarkeCitystarsArthur C. Clarke didn’t write write typical post-apocalyptic stories, but he sure liked to write about dying worlds, long-abandoned constructions, last cities, the end of humanity, and vast, empty spaces. In his stories, humans who face extinction, or who live as the last holdouts on a barren Earth, are not doomed. Instead, they’re about to have their consciousness expanded as they become tied into a grand galactic narrative. But unlike other galactic narratives like Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, which treat the galaxy or universe as a gigantic platform on which to re-stage Edward Gibbon, Clarke keeps his universe unfailingly mysterious. Pursuing that mystery is humanity’s noblest aim – it is an essentially religious imperative that becomes a means of transcendence.

What that means for Clarke’s End of the World stories is that the theme of extinction or a dying Earth is an opportunity to encourage us to leave our petty terrestrial concerns behind and embrace our galactic manifest destiny. Continue reading

The End of the World, 1985: A Post-apocalyptic tropical paradise

Beach_in_key_westWithin science fiction, there is a great tradition of the oddball post-apocalyptic novel, pioneered by Philip Dick in Dr. Bloodmoney (1965) and Deus Irae (with Roger Zelazny, 1976). It is a tradition still thriving today in books like Jonathan Lethem’s Amnesia Moon (1995) and Ryna Boudinot’s Blueprints of the Afterlife (2012), and it includes Denis Johnson’s lyrical Fiskadoro. The oddball post-apocalyptic novel is not concerned with the gritty realities of survival; instead, it takes place in a less lethal and much more hallucinatory setting that is populated with various hucksters, grotesques, dreamers, and generally confused people who are trying to figure out just what the hell is going on.

The post-apocalyptic setting of Fiskadoro is a group of small fishing communities in the paradise of the Florida Keys, about sixty years after a nuclear war destroyed North America and probably much of the rest of the world. Life here is based on scraps of the pre-holocaust world: physical scraps, scraps of language, scraps of identity, and scraps of awareness of the birth of the present world. Salvaged car seats make up the living room furniture, and people speak in a combination of broken English and Spanish. The residents of these villages piece together their identities by assuming names of celebrities nobody can any longer recall, or grandiose but largely irrelevant titles like ‘Manager of the Miami Symphony Orchestra’. Continue reading