Category Archives: Sci-Fi

Red Dwarf: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers – Grant/Naylor

Grant Naylor is the collective writing name of Rob Grant and Doug Naylor.  They gained quite a bit of notoriety for writing the hilarious long running BBC SCI-FI/comedy series  Red Dwarf.  This collaboration, unfortunately ended in the 1990s, when Rob Grant left due to the age old euphemism “creative differences”, although the series continue(s) on through series VII, VIII, IX and X.

The Red Dwarf series had it’s ups and downs, sometimes side split-tingly hilarious and sometimes just OK with series X airing in 2012 with a much aged cast, but closer to how some of the previous seasons were.

Grant Naylor wrote several Red Dwarf novels that, in some ways, were better written and “acted” than the actual series since some things just could not be done on the meager budget and technologies available.

This is the first of the novels and is very, very funny and an excellent way to get to know the series.  It takes elements of much of the first few series and combines them into a novel that is one part SCI-FI, one part comedic masterpiece and all parts entertaining.

If you’ve never seen the series is about one human, Dave Lister, who due to an infraction on board the Jupiter Mining Corporation ship Red Dwarf is put into suspended animation as punishment. During his hibernation, the ship had a radiation leak and all of people on board died.  Holly, the ship’s intelligent computer, sped the ship into the deep outer space for millions of years to prevent others from dying from the radiation and finally woke Dave after the radiation levels were acceptable.  Sounds funny?  Well, oddly it is….Dave’s infraction was bringing aboard a cat, named Frankenstein, which escaped into the holds and survived the radiation and somehow bred and over the millions of years evolved into a humanoid race which has many cat tendencies…they all left except for the dying and the “terminally stupid”.  This leaves Dave with a companion, aptly named “Cat”.  Holly, who has pretty much gone insane over the millions of years, creates a hologram of Dave’s cabin mate, Arnold Rimmer, an officious but completely inept career Space Corp member who’s main job before death was as a food dispenser cleaner and who now is supposed to keep Dave sane.  Finally, a “nanny” type android that was near the end of the first season named Kryten who cooks, cleans, etc…

These are their bizarre, hilarious adventures, hurtling though space in a ship piloted by an mixed up computer, manned by a lager, curry, and chili sauce consuming Human, a creature evolved from his pet cat, a hologram of the Humans long dead roommate and a vaguely human shaped android.

If you enjoy this, read:

  • Better than Life
  • Backward
  • Last Human

The City at Worlds End – Edmond Hamilton

Edmond Hamilton was an American novelist of the early to mid twentieth century.  Much of his work was science fiction.  Born in Youngstown, Ohio, he was considered to be a child prodigy and graduated from high school at the age of 14 after which he gained admittance to Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania…although he left at age 17 without a degree.

His first short story in a genre that hasn’t been yet named as Sci-Fi, “The Monster God of Mamurth” published in 1926 in the magazine Weird Tales (the term Sci-Fi wasn’t coined until 1954).  Throughout the ’20s and ’30s, Hamilton was a very popular writer of space operas, in fact it is said that he an E. E. “Doc” Smith were the creators of this sub-genre of Sci-Fi.  His story “The Island of Unreason”, published in Wonder Stories in 1953 was the first story to win the Jules Verne Prize as the best Sci-Fi story of the year, which was the precursor of the Hugo Awards.   In 1945, Hamilton also wrote for DC Comics for Superman and Batman and was instrumental in the Legion of Super Heroes including many of the founding concepts.

In The City at Worlds End, the idyllic small town of Middletown, there is a secret; unknown by the majority of the citizens, Middletown is the home of the U.S.’s atomic defense research.  Our hero, Hamilton, is one of those scientists and one day while walking in town, an unnamed enemy has dropped a “superatomic bomb” over Middeltown…everyone drops to the ground and covers their heads although Hamilton knows this is futile…..or is it?  Shortly afterwards, he gets up off of the street and is amazed that he’s still alive and so is everyone else….but, something is different, the Sun is an odd color and it’s chilly.

So begins The City at Worlds End…Hamilton has transported this small town far, far, far into Earths future as a result to an atomic attack.  The citizens have to come to the realization that they are alone on an “alien”, inhospitable Earth.   Other than themselves, there are no other Humans on Earth and on a dying planet with a dying sun where every night is far below 0F and the days aren’t much above freezing either they are going to have to find some way to survive…they eventually do find a still standing domed city which offers some protection from the cold and has tanks of fresh water, but despite being Human it is very alien to these early twentieth century folks and just isn’t home.

This story is partly about the trials and tribulations of people trying to cope with such massive change and the daily struggle to survive.  It’s also also about human relationships and how they struggle to deal with crisis and drastic change from the norms.  It’s also about culture shock when alien races are eventually contacted and the how different and alien Humans become after thousands and thousands of years and how it’s possible to have more in common with alien races and less so with your own over time.

Yes, this is somewhat dated in some ways, but, in others it’s still quite relevant and very easy to read and relate to.  I quite enjoyed the story, but, it did kind of end abruptly and I found it quite unlikely that people would find out that they’ve been lied to for years then simply accept being led by the deceivers; however, if he hadn’t the story wouldn’t have gone very far.  The aliens are endearing and quite funny, it was the humans (both twentieth century and future) are actually the most annoying here; the twentieth century because they are so set in their ways and unwilling to give up their homes even to survive and the future humans in their “we know best” attitude.  Don’t get me wrong, I can see both in reality…frankly, we see it every day, I just don’t quite relate to either.  Without turning this into a political blog, this progressive attitude is overly present today with those on the far left and far right convinced that they know best and that everyone who doesn’t believe what they believe are the “unwashed masses” and just don’t know better so it’s our responsibility to “take care of them” and make them do what the were unwilling to or refused to take responsibility for in the first place.  On the other hand, there are those who are so resistant to change that they either fade from relevance or they gain enough power to suppress those that want to move forward.

I’m afraid I’ve not read anything else by Edmond Hamilton other than what I’ve mentioned; however, I do intend to remedy that.  If you want to hear this book rather than read it, there is an excellent LibriVox recording for free read by Mark Nelson.

Blood Price – Tanya Huff

Tanya Huff is a Canadian writer who writes fantasy, paranormal romance and sci-fi, often involving strong female main characters.  Unfortunately, my personal knowledge and research hasn’t raised much in way of a background.  She was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia and has a Bachelor of applied Arts in Radio and Television Arts from Ryerson Polytechnical Institute in Toronto, Ontario and currently resides with her wife Fiona Patton in rural Ontario.

This novel is the first of the “Blood” books involving a former police officer, Vicki Nelson, who was forced from her position as detective by Retinitis Pigmentosa which causes failing eyesight, and Henry Fitzroy, a historical romance writer who also happens to be a vampire and the 1st Duke of Richmond and Somerset.

Vicki witnesses the brutal murder of a young man and is hired to investigate by his girlfriend, Coreen Fennel who claims that her boyfriend was murdered by a vampire, which she of course does not believe and even after seeing the killer disappear she chalks it up to her failing eyesight.  While investigating, she’s knocked unconscious and wakes up in an unknown apartment with a strange man looking through her purse.  The stranger, Henry Fitzroy, explains that he isn’t the killer but a demon is, oh and he’s a 450-year-old vampire…so begins a guilty indulgence of a series of 5 novels and a short story involving these two and several other characters.

The stories are cheesy, to be honest, but enjoyable much like watching the silly Sci-Fi series.  Cleopatra 2525 and much like the first few years of Smallville, the stories are “monster of the week”. This first and the last are probably the best of the series, probably due to them being more character based.  My biggest complaint has to do with the simplicity, i.e. it’s very, very straight-forward and other than the main vampire, all of the characters are stereotypical with clear delineation between “good” and “evil” and little depth or background; however, that can be part of it’s charm as well since it doesn’t require any “deep thinking” either.

The series of books was also the basis for a Canadian/Lifetime channel television series, called Blood Ties, which ran for two seasons.  The series was “OK”, just a cheep, Canadian cable television series…but, if you can get it cheap or off of Netflix, it’s still watchable…but, like so many books turned into movies or series imagination and visual media never quite match up.

If you enjoy this, please read the remainder of the series:

  • Blood Trial
  • Blood Lines
  • Blood Pact
  • Blood Debt

Towing Jehovah – James Morrow

James Morrow is a self proclaimed scientific humanist. His most famous series of novels is referred to as the Godhead Trilogy and are religious satire with elements of apocalypse.  The Godhead Trilogy (i.e. Towing Jehovah, Blameless in Abaddon and The Eternal Footman) are epic tales about God’s suicide and the aftermath, men coming to grips in a world without God and yet finally knowing that he did exist.  Religion and the religiously obsessed tend to be recurring themes in many of his stories and while many treat his novels as athiest (he considers himself to be one, I think this is too simplistic.  Blameless in Abadon, for example, is about a man who has suffered more than anyone should ever have to and taking God to task for his suffering. And while irreverant, whether the story is an affirmation of religion or of anti-religion is in the eye and mind of the reader.

In Towing Jehovah, the first in the Godhead Trilogy, the massive body of God is found floating in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.  The Vatican secretly hires a supertanker to tow the body to a tomb being carved out of ice in the Artic.  Along the way, any number of challenges along the route including a group of atheists discovering the body and attempting to destroy it to prevent everyone from knowing that, while now dead, God did exist which now proves they were wrong all along.  The supertanker’s captain, Van Horne, struggles with guilt over damage caused to the ecology (think Exxon Valdez) as well as the usual that everyone struggles with (girlfriend and father), but hopes for redemption in his devine task.  Even worse are crew mutinys and the results of the devine corpose decomposing in ways never expected.

The novel is equal parts religious satire, and naval adventure drama.  The story is funny, scary, and critical of every faction you can imagine (feminists, athieists, organized religion, you name it).  Noone is off limits and everyone is lampooned in action and statement, yet, underneath there is a overwhelming question…”Can we, whether we say we believe in God or not, survive without Him?”

If you enjoy this, read:

  • Blameless in Abaddon
  • The Eternal Footman

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

An English writer, humorist and writer of many BBC radio and television pieces, Douglas Adams was head and shoulders above the rest not only in his body of work, but, his shear height (i.e. 6′ 5″).

This book, written after the comedic radio sci-fi piece he wrote for BBC Radio in 1978.  The book is actually rather small at about 180 pages or so and reads very quickly; however, it is jam packed with humor, action, Earth destruction, stolen space ships, space chases, etc…

Arthur Dent is an “every man” who wakes up to find that his house is scheduled for demolition to make way for a freeway bypass.  His friend, Ford Prefect, convinces him to the local pub for several pints of beer where he explains that he’s not from Earth after all but an alien who is desperately trying to get off Earth because it’s scheduled to be demolished….today.  “It must be a Thursday,  I never could get the hang of Thursdays.”.

Arthur and Ford escaping from one frying pan and into another, and into another.  Along the way they meet “Trillian”,  a beautiful fellow Earthling that Arthur once completely failed to hit it off with at a party years earlier and Zaphod Beeblebrox, self-kidnapped, President of the Galaxy who picked Trillian up on a visit to Earth years earlier and who stole the one-of-a-kind space ship the “Heart of Gold”.  They travel the galaxy, time, and still have time for dinner at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe (well, that’s a different story).

Completely irreverent, caring little for any of the sacred cows of the  sci-fi genre that will have you rolling with laughter and amazed that the book is so short.

Highly recommended, this is by far the funniest of the series and has the heaviest sprinkling of footnotes of the books as well (but not to distraction).

If you enjoy this, read:

  • Restaurant at the End of the Universe
  • Life, the Universe and Everything
  • So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish
  • Mostly Harmless
  • And Another Thing… (written by Eoin Colfer)

The Eyre Affair – Jasper Fforde

Beginning his career in the British film industry on such films as Quills, GoldenEye, The Mask of Zorro, The Saint and Entrapment as the first assistant camera who’s primary responsibility as a member of the film crew is to maintain image sharpness on the filmed subject.  His first novel, the one being reviewed here, is the first to be published.

The Eyre Affair follows the exploits of Thursday Next a member of the SpecOps (Special Operations) 27 (i.e. Literary Crime) division of the police department.  Thursday assists in the capture of her former professor and known terrorist, Acheron Hades.  Acheron evades capture by use of his superhuman abilities allowing him to withstand gunfire and in the process kills Thursday’s entire team.  Thursday would have been dead as well if it weren’t for a copy of Jane Eyre which stopped a bullet.  A stranger helps her while waiting for the paramedics leaving behind a monogrammed handkerchief embroidered with the initials E. F. R. and a 19th century jacket.

Thus begins a fast, action-packed, hilarious adventure spanning the alternate reality in which Thursday lives to the literary world of Jayne Eyre. The story is rife with puns, literary references both commonly known and obscure (or sometimes just forgotten).  The story is a genre-bending mix of Sci-Fi, Super-hero, Procedural, Mystery, Romance, and just about any other type of story imaginable and completely engrossing.

Note: The series is described as actually two series, the first story essentially wrapped up with Something Rotten and the second on-going series beginning with First Among Sequels.

If you enjoy this, try the rest of the ongoing series:

  • Lost in a Good Book
  • The Well of Lost Plots
  • Something Rotten
  • First Among Sequels
  • One of Our Thursday’s is Missing
  • The Woman Who Died a Lot

 

Rendezvous with Rama – Arthur C. Clarke

Born in Somerset, England, Arthur C. Clarke was a prolific and celebrated English Sci-Fi writer and television host.  He’s probably most famous as the co-writer and collaborator with Stanley Kubrick of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  He’s won numerous Hugo and Nebula awards in his career and along with Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov were frequently called “The Big Three”.   Clarke’s stories are often prophetic if not always accurate.  He is credited with inventing the concept of the artificial satellite; however, his vision of the moon being a sea of dust was, well, let’s say unrealized.

In this story, which is the only one in the Rama series written solely by him, the future Earth’s solar system is visited by a massive cylindrical ship.  Sending a ship to investigate, it docks with the ship. It’s discovered that the ship is a incredibly huge spinning “tin can” with a frigid but breathable atmosphere.  As the astronauts investigate, the ship begins to waken.  Three “cities” are found and the “cylindrical sea” which encompasses Rama like a band. The far, southern, end has seven massive cone shaped objects which are believed to the the engines.

Before long, it’s discovered they may not be alone inside Rama…

The story is quite chilling and shows how we can be inventive and given the right impetus can put aside our differences and investigate the unknown and overcome the dark and fear.

It’s been said that Clarke was less interested in people and relationships but only used them to push forward the science in the fiction; however, it’s not quite as obvious in this story. The personal ambitions, desires, fears and unerring quest for knowledge are beautifully portrayed here.

So impressed was Morgan Freeman, that he has owned the rights since the early 2000’s and has been trying to turn it into film form ever since and by 2012 said that he’s still moving forward with it and is still trying to come up with a good script.  Personally, I cannot wait, I cannot imagine it being anything other than incredible, but, likely less than my own imagination.

If you enjoy this, read the other stories co-written with Gentry Lee:

  • Rama II
  • The Garden of Rama
  • Rama Revealed