Books: Robopocalypse

May 8, 2014

I checked this book on CD out of the library at the librarian’s recommendation, when I was looking for something we could listen to during our trip to Michigan and back for Zach’s graduation. I mentioned that we all like science fiction, so Pam suggested Robopocalypse.

It’s a reasonably interesting story (at least it kept me alert while driving hour after hour, although Jon managed to fall asleep a few times while it played). We would have preferred less coarse language, but it likely is fairly realistic considering that the book is all about fighting a war.

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Cyborgs in the making?

March 18, 2014

Yesterday our younger son asked why science fiction so often portrays problems that arise from a mix of the biological with the mechanical. We had an interesting conversation about real-life instances of machines embedded in people’s bodies, such as mechanical heart valves and cochlear implants. Such devices clearly improve a person’s quality of life without raising concerns that machines could be taking over.

Science fiction, of course, is always looking at what could happen in the future based on current trends. Might we someday have implants that challenge our ability to distinguish between person and machine? Or that make the distinction meaningless?

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Books: Children of God

October 6, 2013

I had no idea that Mary Doria Russell had written a sequel to her excellent novel The Sparrow. It didn’t need a sequel and any continuation of the story could easily be a disappointment.

But I happened to notice Children of God in the library and recognized the author’s name. Considering the spiritual depth and emotional impact of the first book, I decided to finish up some lighter reading before tackling this new novel.

Once I started it, however, I was engrossed in the story. It deals less with specifically spiritual issues (i.e. in terms of our relationship with God – though everything we do has spiritual significance) and more with sociological and political matters. Much of the story takes place on the planet Rakhat, and I have to agree with those reviewers who see those as the more interesting parts of the book. I cared what happened to Emilio Sandoz, but as a character he is less of a draw than in The Sparrow.

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Books: Ender’s World

May 17, 2013

Orson Scott Card is a prolific writer, and there are a number of his books that I haven’t read, but whenever I see another book related to Ender’s Game, I read it. First he wrote sequels, starting with Speaker for the Dead, then later he went back and wrote a parallel series in which the central character is Bean rather than Ender.

I don’t think any of them are as good as Ender’s Game, but I read all of them, because Card is a good writer and I’m interested in the characters and themes he explores in the series. So when I saw Ender’s World in the library, it was a given that I would read it, even before I knew what it was about.

Ender’s World is a book of essays, rather than fiction, and written by other people about Card’s classic novel (but edited by Card, who includes Q&A about how and why he wrote various aspects of the book the way he did). As one reader review at amazon.com says, it’s a bit like having a book club discussion about Ender’s Game. Everyone has a slightly different take on it.

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Books: Anvil of Stars

April 23, 2013

Anvil of Stars is the sequel to Greg Bear’s The Forge of God. While the previous novel dealt with human reactions to the impending end of the world, this book chronicles what follows: the journey of a small group of human survivors whose purpose is to find and destroy whatever race of beings is responsible for the destruction of Earth.

The larger part of the remnant of humanity – rescued by some other unknown alien group referred to only as the Benefactors – has been settled on New Mars, a newly terraformed version of the Red Planet. But the Benefactors require that a group of children from a destroyed planet set out on a Ship of the Law to bring the Killers to justice.

By the time the novel starts, they aren’t exactly “children” anymore – the youngest of them are teens, and their current leader is in his early twenties. But they continue to be referred to as “the children,” which I found somewhat discordant. Perhaps it emphasizes their sense of dependence on the “moms” – robots belonging to the Ship of the Law who have taught them the Law and trained them for war with the Killers.

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Books: The Forge of God

April 3, 2013

Having decided to read something else by Greg Bear (after reading Dinosaur Summer), I chose The Forge of God.  I’ve read a number of post-apocalyptic science fiction stories, usually where humans are the cause of worldwide destruction. This is the first I can think of that I’ve read – from a sci-fi perspective anyway – about the time period before the end of the world.

It’s not humans who threaten to cause their own doom; aliens from some unknown place in the universe are the villains here. They send out machines that destroy planets, presumably to re-make them in a form more suited to the aliens. The science behind the means of the expected destruction is explained in some detail, though my knowledge of those areas of science isn’t enough to know how convincing the scenarios are.

What is of more interest to me is how different people react to the prospect of not only their own death but the end of humanity. Some want to fight back, even if they can’t change the ultimate outcome. Some turn to religion, convinced that the aliens are acting as agents of God’s judgment. Some try to squeeze in all the enjoyable experiences they can have before the end. Others seem overwhelmed by anger, fear, and or despair.

Hardly anyone just goes on with life as usual. Parents keep their children home from school. Businesses fail to deliver products on their normal schedules so stores run out of fresh food.

I can’t say how I would react if I knew for certain that the end was coming in the near future. But it has always made sense to me that one should live in such a way that, if one were to find out that death was coming soon, there would be no need to start living differently. I’m not saying I succeed in living up to that ideal, but I can’t think of major changes I think I would make if I found out I were dying (in a sense other than the way we all are).


Turning science fiction into science

March 9, 2013

I read recently about a number of scientific advances in 2012 that would once have been possible only in science fiction. None of them seem especially surprising, considering previous scientific advances I already knew about.

Today, however, I was surprised to read a discussion of the pros and cons of bringing an extinct species back to life. I knew that cloning techniques had continued to develop since it first made big news. But I wasn’t aware that there was serious work on recovering DNA from extinct species for the purpose of creating live animals.

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