Science Fiction

07/12/2012 - 10:38am
Starslip by Kris Straub

As with my review of Altered Carbon, I've arrived at the Starslip webcomic party a little late, as in, the seven-year series is finished.  However, that might add a welcome bittersweet flavor to each strip I read as I come closer and closer to the end.  I have fallen head-over-heels in love with all of author Kris Straub’s characters, his artistic style, and his off-kilter sense of humor as he simultaneously pays homage to and lampoons the best and worst traits of sci-fi soap operas.  With every click of the forward-pointing arrow I know I am coming to the close of an incredible story, but, like with any good book, I can't stop!

06/11/2012 - 7:22am
Mangaman by Barry Lyga

In the world of manga, Ryoko Kiyama is an ideal character. His eyes turn into pulsating hearts when he sees the object of his affection, sadness creates literal storm clouds overhead, and he is an expert at combating giant lizards and robots without getting injured. After accidentally falling through an “interdimensional cross-rip,” however, Ryoko’s ordinary behavior suddenly becomes freakish and bizarre. Ryoko has accidentally fallen into Western comics, a place populated by American teenagers who struggle to understand and tolerate such a strange visitor.

05/28/2012 - 3:30am
Brain Jack by Brian Falkner

Let me get this out of the way: if you're not a "computer person," someone with more than a vague knowledge of computer networking technology, Brain Jack, by Brian Falkner, is probably not the book for you. If, however, you ARE such a person, Brain Jack will start off as the kind of thriller that you think you will love, but its ending, like so many other cyber-thrillers, feels rushed and absurd. Don’t get me wrong--you'll enjoy reading it, but don't expect anything too deep from this book.  

Sam is the generic hero of our story. He's 17; he's a computer prodigy; and he's going to save the country from itself. The world of Brain Jack is set only a few years into our future. Falkner does a good job of building a world that, initially, is entirely conceivable based on our present. Computer technology is even more prevalent, and its consequences all the more potent. Las Vegas has been the victim of a nuclear attack that has left it in ruins, and the rest of the country is decaying under strict martial conditions.

08/14/2014 - 2:16pm
Shambling Towards Hiroshima by James Morrow

Shambling Towards Hiroshima is a brisk and inventive novel that incorporates elements of science fiction, humor, historical fiction, and moody introspection. James Morrow utilizes these disparate narrative modes in order to portray the life story of a B-movie actor named Syms Thorley. Thorley has spent most of his screen time bringing monsters to life. His devoted fans fondly remember him as “Kha-Ton-Ra the living mummy, Corpuscula the alchemical creature, and Gorgantis, King of the Lizards.” However, no one suspects that Gorgantis, a grotesque fire- breathing lizard, originated as a top secret military project designed to swiftly end World War II.

05/18/2011 - 3:31am
Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis

One sign of a good book is that you come to the last page and want to start all over again. Connie Willis’s Blackout and All Clear – which should really be read straight through as one – made me wish for leisurely hours in a hammock, where I could go back and savor every plot twist, every character and every word.

In 2060 Oxford, historians have figured out how to travel back in time, allowing them to conduct first-hand research on everything from St. Paul to the French Revolution. Blackout begins with three of these historians dropped into England during the Blitz: Michael is planning to take part in the Dunkirk evacuation, Merope is in a country house taking care of evacuee children, and Polly has a job in a London department store. Each has come equipped with background information (such as when and where bombs exploded) and enough money, clothes and background knowledge to blend in with the “contemps.” But their scheduled returns go awry, and all three find themselves stuck in the past.
09/23/2010 - 9:08am

My paperback copies of Ray Bradbury's wonderful fantasy collections--The Illustrated Man, October Country, Dandelion Wine, The Machineries of Joy, and The Martian Chronicles--are in sad shape. The pages are brittle, yellowed, and, yes, a bit musty. But I keep them because his lyrical words matchlessly probe humanity at its worst and best. When friends of mine gifted us with 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales one Christmas, I was happy to have many of those beautiful stories collected together in a hardback edition to last for years--and so was the local library for we own several copies of it.

I certainly won't go through every one of the one hundred, but I'll mention several pieces that stuck with me time and again. One of the first stories in the collection is "The Rocket," in which a poor junk man gets hold of a prototype rocketship and dreams of somehow going into space with his family. "The Sailor Home from the Sea" is a tale of loss and love and the imagination to reconcile them. "The Sound of Summer Running" is the opening piece for Dandelion Wine, and it brings back the time of year and the time of life for one young man who feels as if his whole town might capsize, go under, leaving not a trace in the clover and weeds of burgeoning summer.

08/12/2010 - 9:57am

The late Philip K. Dick's works were one of the strongest influences on science fiction writers in the first decade of the 21st century, including the fields of alternate history and paranoid thrillers.

08/11/2010 - 8:46am

For science fiction aficionados, the premise of WWW: Wake by Robert J. Sawyer initially sounds, well, perhaps a bit contrived (even beyond the normal contrivances of science fiction).  But keep reading: the protagonist, Caitlin Dector, is a young blind millennial who has never known a world without the Internet, a world she can navigate with ease through the use of assistive technologies.  Caitlin becomes the subject of an experimental procedure to restore sight.  However, when her vision is "switched on" she does not see the physical world, but an abstract representation of the World Wide Web.  While exploring her strange new ability, she discovers a growing intelligence emerging from within the Web . . .   see what I mean?  My first thought after hearing this description was, "That sounds like the plot of a bad 90s Outer Limits episode."  After cracking the book open however, I found WWW: Wake tells a fascinating story, blending the best of both science fiction and hard science as well as cyberculture, blind culture, information theory, epidemiology, world politics, family dynamics, pedagogical theory, teenage culture, and probably a few other things I'm not thinking of.  All of that in one book.  And it's really, really good. 

07/26/2010 - 12:04pm

Lists of the worst literature ever written tend toward the eclectic and diverse. Alongside such standards as James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, and L. Ron Hubbard’s Battlefield Earth, people have been known to list authors as diverse as Stephanie Meyer, Dan Brown, Christopher Paolini, and even (on one list) Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. Compiling a worst-of literature list is highly subjective and dependent on individual tastes, but there seems to be one thing the literary world agrees on—the horrible high-fantasy novelette The Eye of Argon belongs at the top of the list.

10/31/2016 - 8:57am

No discussion of twentieth-century science fiction writing can be complete without mention of Isaac Asimov, the biochemistry professor and visionary writer who was responsible for creating the popular characterization of robots and incorporating themes of social science into “hard” science fiction. His most popular works, the Foundation trilogy and the I, Robot series, are considered landmarks of science fiction to this day. 

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