19th April 2009 – J. G. Ballard

19 April 2009

The following is taken from this article in The Guardian.

JG Ballard, novelist and short-story writer, has died after a long battle will illness, his agent has said.

The 78-year-old author, who was best known for the award-winning Empire of the Sun, a semi-autobiographical novel written in 1984, and his controversial novel, Crash, later adapted into film by David Cronenberg.

His agent, Margaret Hanbury, said it was “with great sadness” that Ballard had passed away this morning after several years of ill health.

jgballard

Member of the New Wave of science fiction authors,  JG Ballard was one of the first science fiuction authors I read in the sixties. I remember reading The Drowned World, The Crystal World and The Terminal Beach (which I still have in my library). Not my favorite science fiction author – too “psychological” for my taste – I was in to hard science fiction.

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Read 1/2009 – Making Money

4 April 2009

Book: 1/2009
Title: Making Money
Making Money
Author: Terry Pratchett
Genre: Science Fiction
Why did you get this book? I like Pratchett’s sense of humour.
Did you enjoy the book? Yes, though not my favourite Discworld novel.
Was the author new to you? No. I have read all the adult Discworld novels up to this one.
Would you read something by this author again? Yes. I guess you could call me a loyal reader.
Are you keeping it or passing it on? I am keeping it.
Spoilers? Our hero, Moist von Lipwig postmaster general, has recently manged to get the post office running on time and in the process invented stamps. Now Ankh-Morpork’s absolute ruler, Lord Vetinari, thinks the Royal Bank needs shaping up. When Lord Vetinari asks you to do something you can refuse, in theory, but the consequences of refusal are not particularly attractive. One of Moist’s immediate challenges is to find out why the Royal Mint runs at a loss when they are the ones who manufacture coins? Moist has a challenge before him. His only previous experience with banks was in robbing them. And why is gold so valuable anyway?
Number of pages: 474
Total pages for the year: 474


Read 21/2008 – Rainbows End

31 December 2008

Book: 21
Title: Rainbows End

rainbowsend
Author: Vernor Vinge
Genre: Science Fiction
Why did you get this book? It was a birthday present. After reading a review of Vernor Vinges Rainbows End over at From a Sci-Fi Standpoint I asked for any book by Vinge.
Did you enjoy the book? Yes. His vision of the near future was most interesting for someone like me who has worked on mainframe computers for over thirty years.
Was the author new to you? Almost. I have read his essay on the coming technological singularity.
Would you read something by this author again? Yes.
Are you keeping it or passing it on? I am keeping it.
Spoilers? The tale of a famous poet who loses twenty years due to Alzheimer’s. Fortunately for him medical advances cure him. Now he has to catch up with twenty years of technological advancement. In this strange new world computer power is built into your clothes and contact lenses add multiples layers of virtual reality over everything you see. Everything and everyone is connected and communicates using these multiple layers.  Technology has made it possible for marginal groups to gain weapons of mass destruction – our nightmare come true – and the need for security dominates society. People who can not adjust to this technology are cut off from sophisticated social interaction. Our poet has to relearn many things in order to adjust. The ending was rather abrupt and disappointed some. Vinge’s description of our near future compensates for this. I like this kind of hard science fiction. Its object is to speculate, to warn, to show options and to raise the important question – is this really how we want our future to be?
Number of pages: 381
Total pages for the year: 5541


Read 2008/19 – Slan

6 November 2008

Book: 19
Title: Slan
Author: A. E. van Vogt
Genre: Science Fiction
Why did you get this book? In my early days I liked van Vogts science fiction. I bought this book in June 1979.
Did you enjoy the book? Yes. This is part of my project to revisit some of the first science fiction authors I read. I recently read van Vogt’s The War Against the Rull
Was the author new to you? No. I have a fair few of his books.
Would you read something by this author again? Have done and will do again.
Are you keeping it or passing it on? I am keeping it.
Anything else? At the start of the story our hero Jommy Cross is a nine year old super human. He is a Slan – mutated humans with super human strength and intelligence. Slans are natural telepaths but are easily detected because of their golden hairlike tendrils. Slans are feared by humans and are hunted down and murdered by the human government. Those that survive are in hiding. Jommy’s deceased father was a brilliant scientist who made a scientific discovery the can save the Slans. Jommy is to inherit this discovery when he comes of age. Jommy lives in isolation with his mother – knowing no other Slans. At the start of the tale his mother is murdered by government agents. Jommy manages to escape but is captured by a greedy human woman who hides him in the hope of using his telepathic abilities to steal stuff that she can later fence. The tale tells of Jommy’s growth to maturity, his discovery of a tendril less Slan community that are secretly living amongst the humans. These tendril less Slans hate the tendrilled Slans just as much as humans do. Eventually Jommy gains his fathers invention and uses it to discover why the tendrill less Slans hate the tendrilled Slans. He eventually saves the day for Slans. Van Vogt first serialized this book in the magazine Astounding Science Fiction from September to December 1940. The science in the book is scratchy and shows it’s age. It was fun to revisit this book after so many years but it demonstrates how the quality of good science fiction has increased over the decades.
Number of pages: 156
Total pages for the year: 4881


Read 2008/18 – The War Against the Rull

16 October 2008

Book: 18
Title:
The War Against the Rull

Author: A. E. van Vogt
Genre: Science Fiction
Why did you get this book? In my early days I liked van Vogts science fiction. I bought this book in June 1979.
Did you enjoy the book? Yes. This is part of my project to revisit some of the first science fiction authors I read.
Was the author new to you? No. I have a fair few of his books.
Would you read something by this author again? Have done and will do again.
Are you keeping it or passing it on? I am keeping it.
Anything else? This novel is based of a series of stories that first appeared in Astounding Science Fiction. It consists of six connected tales about an interstellar conflict between humans and the Rull. The two species are fairly evenly balanced technologically – the Rull have a more mature technology while the humans are more innovative. The humans are losing ground. Our hero Trevor Jamieson is head of the Science Department searching for advances that will give humans the edge in the war. The stories tell of two of his discoveries that should help humans get that edge. Jamiesons first and most prominent discovery is of a race of sentient beings who are telepaths. Unique in the galaxy because they are able to communicate with non telepaths. Our heroes problem is that these creatures are hiding the fact that they are sentient and are violently hostile to the human setlers on their planet. Jamieson manages to convince a captured juvinile to cooperate. The tales in this book were originally written in the between 1940 and 1950. They have aged surprisingly well all things considered. Computers are pretty much unknown – he mentions a paper tape teletypewriter. The vanishingly small role women have in the book seems archaic. When his eight year old son is to participate in one of the cultures growing up rituals – he has to be out alone all night – his concerned wife phones him. His response is:

“How about you going out and doing some shopping? That’ll take your mind off him for the rest of the afternoon anyway. Spend -” he made a quick calculation, took another look at her face, and revised the initial figure upward – “what you like. On yourself. Now goodbye, and don’t worry.”

Number of pages: 156
Total pages for the year: 4725


Read 2008/17 – There Will Be Time

6 October 2008

Book: 17
Title:
There Will Be Time

Author: Poul Andersen
Genre: Science Fiction
Why did you get this book? I like Poul Anderson’s work. I bought this book in May 1979.
Did you enjoy the book? Yes. I was revisiting an old favorite.
Was the author new to you? No. I have a few of his books.
Would you read something by this author again? Have done and will do again.
Are you keeping it or passing it on? I am keeping it. This is one of the books I revisit every decade or so.
Anything else? Suppose you were born with the ability to travel in time. This raises a few questions. How do you manage to grow up without being persecuted because you are a freak? Are you the only one? If not; how do you find the others spread through time and space? How do you finance the search? How do you learn to communicate with people in civilizations so remote from your own that you can barely comprehend them? What use (besides getting rich) is the ability to travel in time anyway? This is the tale of such a person. Jack Havig is born with the ability to travel at will through time. He learns the hard way to keep his talent secret. With the help of his future self he manages to grow up. He prepares himself for the search for other time travelers. After finally hooking up with a group, he comes to the realization that they are a bunch of thugs. Eventually he realizes that he has to neutralize the threat to humanity that they represent. And of course he figures out what use time travel is.
Number of pages: Ca. 189
Total pages for the year: 4569


Read 2008/14 – Red Thunder

27 July 2008

Book: 14
Title: Red Thunder

Author: John Varley
Genre: Science Fiction
Why did you get this book? The author was recommended to me by observethebanana.com.
Did you enjoy the book? Yes. The book is, according to Wikipedia, a homage to the juvenile science fiction novel written by Robert A. Heinlein. Which perhaps explains why I enjoyed the book since Heinlein’s juvenile science fiction were my introduction to science fiction more years ago than I care to remember.
Was the author new to you? Yes. What can I say – some things slip by unnoticed.
Would you read something by this author again? Yes. I appreciated that the story arc was kept tight. This in contrast to Heinlein who, in later books, tended to bloat up his books with his social theories.
Are you keeping it or passing it on? I am keeping it.
Anything else? Our heroes accidentally meet up with an alcoholic ex-astronaut and his savant cousin. Together they build a space ship out of second hand railroad tanker cars and attempt to beat the Chinese to Mars and save the day. Strangely the thing that irritated me most in the book was the part when they were testing the tanker to see whether it could stand up to vacuum. The pumped air out of the tank when what they should have done was increased the air pressure inside the tank to twice air pressure. After all space is on the outside.
Number of pages: 411
Total pages for the year: 4001