Monday, April 25, 2011

Doctor Who Season 6 Episode 1: The Impossible Astronaut

The Doctor is back in the biggest, most mind-blowing series opener ever. Amy, Rory and River also return for an adventure that combines humour, shocks for our heroes and one of the creepiest creatures they've ever encountered...
The Doctor is engaged on a quest that takes him from the visually stunning Utah desert to the White House where he's enlisted by President Nixon himself to assist enigmatic former-FBI agent Canton. His mission - save a terrified little girl from a mysterious spaceman.
Prepare for the return of the galaxy's greatest hero. Prepare for excitement. And prepare - if you can - for the Silence...
(From the BBC site)

The start of a new Doctor Who season is always one of the high points of my year.  I have been a big fan of the Doctor since the reboot that began 6 years ago.  I know that sometimes the show gets sentimental, sometimes the aliens seem hokey, and other times the stories can be silly but for the most part I have found something to enjoy in every episode.  Many of my favorites were written by Steven Moffat.  When the announcement was made that he was the new show runner beginning in season 5 (counting the seasons based on the new version of Doctor Who), I was excited.  Although some were disappointed with his first season at the helm, I liked it.  At some point in the future, I plan on going back and reviewing all of the "New Who" seasons.  This episode shows that you need to re-watch some episodes to pick up on all of Moffat's clues.
I am sure that a visit back to River Song's previous appearances will help.  Of particular interest is "Silence in the Library".  It features River's first time on the show (depending on who she really is).  With the big villain for this season being "The Silence", I am confident that the title is showing us that Moffat is connecting the episodes.
The Silence is an intriguing race.  When you quit looking at them, they vanish from your memory.  I can't wait to see how the Doctor counteracts this ability.
"The Impossible Astronaut" sets many plots in motion.  Based on Moffat's history, some of the questions will be answered next week.  Others will continue to develop during the season.  A few will carry over until next season.  And that is part of what I like about this series.  All of the questions are not wrapped up by the end of the episode.  I like the way Moffat builds the suspense and plots over each individual story but allows it to continue to build throughout the season.
For now, many people are speculating on the true identity of River Song.  With the main companion named Amy Pond, fans are thinking that she is connected (River-Pond).  Two theories seem to be taking the lead.  One is that River is the future version of Amy.  Another is that River is Amy's child. At this point I tend to side with River being Amy's daughter.
Even new fans can jump aboard with this episode.  It can be enjoyed "as is" but many of the "Easter Eggs" planted by Moffat will only appear after you have watched the previous episodes.
Overall, it is an excellent start to a new season.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds

New Space Opera has been an exciting development for me.  Although many quality science fiction books have appeared in recent years, the field went through a time where the stories were internally focused.  Philip K. Dick was one of the pioneers of this type of science fiction.  Read his “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”.  The story is very tightly focused.  It is one of my favorite novels.  But, like most things in life, a steady diet of that type of fiction tends to overload my senses.  I like to switch between the Philip K. Dick novels and the galactic adventures that dominated the field for many years.  Some of my favorite early reading fiction experiences was the Lensman series by E. E. “Doc” Smith.  Another was the classic multi-author serial “Cosmos”.  Many of the old school space operas were not exactly high quality literature.  But they did generate a level of excitement that George Lucas tapped in to when he filmed “Star Wars”.  In response to the lack of epic stories, a new British invasion arrived.  The New Space Opera movement was born. 

I consider this the centerpiece of the new space opera sub-genre.  Alastair Reynolds created a memorable novel with his first book.  Reynolds included more ideas in this book than many authors put in a whole series.  If I had to compare “Revelation Space” to existing fiction works I would say it is a mix of the grand epic of “Dune” with the wild imagination of H. P. Lovecraft.  My only complaint is with the length.  Being a fan of the shorter novels (practically novellas) of the past, I sometimes need to take a break when reading the massive novels of modern science fiction and fantasy.  “Revelation Space” held my interest when I was reading but I tended to drift to other novels once I put it down.  “Dune” was one of the rare novels that kept pulling me back in despite the amount of pages I still had to read.  “Revelation Space” is a well written first novel that I would recommend to fans of new space opera.  I can’t wait to read the future books in this series. 

I am taking a break from this series to read one of his standalone novels (“House of Suns”).  After that I plan on returning to this universe to check out “Chasm City”.  If you want to sample this universe at a shorter length, try his “Great Wall of Mars”. 

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Short Story Sunday - April 10, 2011

"A Fish Story" by Gene Wolfe
First Printing:  Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, October/November 1999

One thing I can say is that Gene Wolfe's short fiction is always interesting.  "A Fish Story" is a short work that leaves you wondering what really happened.  Like most Wolfe stories, the narrator may be unreliable.  While this is a lesser work, it is still worth reading.  Wolfe is one of the current masters of the short form.  I need to read some of his novel length work to see if I like this style in a long form.

The magazine this appeared in was the 50th anniversary issue of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.  They always were able to stack the deck for the anniversary issues.  In addition to this story, other authors featured here were Ursula K. LeGuin, Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, Ron Goulart, Robert Silverberg, Theodore Sturgeon, Poul Anderson, Robert Sheckley, Howard Waldrop,  Kate Wilhelm, Lucius Shepard, and others. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Rogue Moon by Algis Budrys

"Rogue Moon" is one of the classic "big dumb object" stories.  An alien artifact is discovered on the Moon.  Anyone who enters the construct dies.  How do you get around this problem?  Enter Dr. Edward Hawks.  Hawks has developed a matter transmitter.  The astronauts on the Moonbase assemble the transmitter so new "explorers" can transport from the Earth to the Moon.  The transmitter does not work quite like the transporters in Star Trek.  In this book, the transmitter makes a duplicate that is assembled in the receiver by using materials on the Moon.  The original stays in mental contact with the duplicate.  So far when one of the duplicates enters the structure and is killed, the original goes insane.  The solution to this problem is Al Barker.

The book follows the interaction between Barker, Hawks, and various other characters as Barker's duplicates make it further and further into the construct.

Budrys crafts a very interesting character study with this story.  Most books you read feature characters that are easy to identify with.  This one showcases very flawed, damaged people but Budrys' makes you want to learn more about them.  

The exploration of the object is fascinating.  One of my favorite sections is when a character compares man exploring the construct to a beetle that gets stuck in a soup can.  We can never understand the creatures that made it or what it was created for.  Too often we assume that we can understand everything that we find in the universe.  Some mysteries are not meant to be solved.

Highly recommended.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Monument by Lloyd Biggle, Jr.

From Goodreads:

Lost Eden
It was a world of dazzling but deadly beauty, where pleasure was man's most precious birthright. In this lost colony the inhabitants had forgotten the very existence of earth. Only one man remembered. He foresaw the awesome consequences if this paradise were ever rediscovered.


The novel of a frightening future - a planet in mortal combat with an alien universe.

Cerne Obrien was not a well educated man.  He was a spacer.  When his ship crashes on an undeveloped paradise planet he discovers that he was not the first human to land there.  Another ship set up a colony in the past.  He helps the natives make their world a better place to live.  As he gets older, he starts to realize that he might not survive until humanity finds this paradise.  Cerne does not want this paradise to be destroyed by the tourists so he develops "the Plan".

In many ways this novel reads like a collaboration between Isaac Asimov and Clifford Simak.  Anytime I read about something called "the Plan" I can not help but think of "The Seldon Plan" from Asimov's Foundation books.  The tone of the book and the main character show more of a Simak influence.  Simak used a relaxed pacing in his novel "Way Station" among others.  This story is similar in style and pacing to the low key Simak approach.  Cerne is a typical Simak protagonist.  He might not be the most intelligent person in the story but he is smarter than he appears.  "The Plan" he sets in motion is deceptively cunning. 

Lloyd Biggle, Jr. is an author who has disappeared from mainstream science fiction discussions.  When I read a book like this, it reminds me that I have to do my part to help show fans what a great writer he was.