1986


The Hercules Text: Asks interesting questions in an uninteresting way

The Hercules Text by Jack McDevitt

In the near future, NASA scientists pick up a signal from space that turns out to be a coded message (“The Hercules Text”) from an alien species. It originated a million years ago, so it’s unlikely that the aliens still exist, and even if they do they’re very far away, but the message tells us that (1) We are not (or were not) alone in the universe and (2) A million years ago these aliens were sophisticated enough to send this technologically advanced message.

These facts have profound effects on the scientists and other people involved with the NASA project. They are forced to re-think much of what they thought to be true and they need to work with the US government (and other nations) to decide how much of the information should be made public because some of it is dangerous. As you’d expect, there are differing and strongly-held opinions on these issues and the outcomes have ramifica... Read More

Replay: Imagine reliving your prime years over and over

Replay by Ken Grimwood

Replay is a story that every reader can empathize with. Who wouldn’t want to relive their best years over again, with all their memories intact? Fixing all the mistakes, seizing all the missed opportunities. It’s an irresistible thought, a fantasy of “what ifs.” Ken Grimwood’s Replay (1986) predates Groundhog Day (1993) by 7 years, and explores the concept in far more depth, taking it to the extreme to examine what gives our lives meaning. It’s a very appealing story, and delivers some powerful moments in the latter half.

Replay is about 43-year-old Jeff Winston, who dies of a heart attack and finds himself back as an 18-year-old student at Emory University with all his memories intact, reliving this 25 year period over and over. This could easily be simple wish-fulfillment fantasy, and it star... Read More

The Songs of Distant Earth: A slightly fantastic SF tale

The Songs of Distant Earth by Arthur C. Clarke

The Songs of Distant Earth is one of Clarke's later novels, based on a shorter piece of the same name that he wrote in the 1950s. In the foreword Clarke states it is something of a response to the rise of what he calls "space opera" on television and the silver screen (he specifically mentions Star Trek, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas), which according to him are fantasy. I suppose one could see them as such if you stick to the narrow interpretation of science fiction. Personally I never saw the point of trying to define genres and sub-genres, it's pretty obvious it is almost impossible to come up with a definition that would satisfy everyone. To Clarke apparently it matters. He sets himself the task of writing a science fiction novel that portrays interstellar travel realistically. So get rid of your Heisenberg compensators, Warp drives and Hyperspace, time to ... Read More

It: Stephen King’s best

It by Stephen King

Stephen King's It is a wonderfully sweeping tale of what it means to be a child and what it means to leave your childhood behind, inevitably and mostly forgotten, when transforming into an adult. This very evocative tale of childhood orbits and surrounds a tale of exquisite horror, and is my favorite of the 25 or so King books I’ve read.

It story takes place in King’s old fictional haunt of Derry, Maine, and focuses on two time periods — 1957 and 1984 — where a group of friends, as children and then as adults, form a magnificent bond to battle foes both natural and supernatural. One member of this group frames the story well:

My whole pleasant life has been nothing but the eye of some storm I don't understand.

An eye of ... Read More

The Bridge: Lucid dreams with a Scottish flair

The Bridge by Iain M. Banks

Iain M. Banks is a versatile Scottish writer, equally skilled in far-future space opera (the CULTURE series), dark contemporary novels (The Crow Road, The Wasp Factory, Walking on Glass), and a host of novels in between. The Bridge is one of his earlier books, and the late author’s personal favorite according to an interview. It was also selected by David Pringle in his Modern Fantasy: The 100 Best Novels. I’ve had it on the TBR list for about two decades, and finally got around to listening to it on audio.

The Bridge (1986) is narrated by Peter Kenny, the highly talented narrator of most of Banks’ novels, who is a master of British and Scott... Read More

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller (writer/artist) and Klaus Janson & Lynn Varley (Artists)

Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986) and Alan Moore’s Watchmen (1986-87) are generally considered the watershed graphic novels that revived and reinvented the comic book industry, forced mainstream critics and readers to take the genre more seriously, and laid the groundwork for a massive superhero movie industry eager to bring classic comic superheroes to the big screen wi... Read More

Star of Gypsies: A beautiful story about exile, wandering, and coming home

Star of Gypsies by Robert Silverberg

In 3159 AD humans have spread across the universe, colonizing other planets. The spaceships that took them to the stars were piloted by the special “magic” of the Romany people. The Romany “Gypsies” have always been mistreated by the people of Earth who never realized their true history and nature. The Gypsies are not actually human. They are the remnant of an ancient race who escaped from their home planet thousands of years ago when it became inhospitable to life after its sun flared. According to prophecy, after the third solar flare the sun will be stable and the Romany can return home. Meanwhile, while they wait, the Gypsies have roamed the Earth and have used their skills to help humans get to space.

But it’s been so long, and as the Romany people have begun to settle down and get comfortable on other planets, their urgency to return home is diminishing. Because of this complace... Read More

Robot Dreams: 21 stories by Asimov

Robot Dreams by Isaac Asimov

Every time I see a short story collection by Isaac Asimov in audio format, I pick it up because I love his short stories more than I love his novels. Last year Recorded Books released Robot Dreams, which was originally published in print form in 1986. The audiobook is 14.5 hours long and narrated by the wonderful George Guidall.

Robot Dreams contains these 21 excellent stories. All but the titular story were originally published in periodicals (noted here):

“Little Lost Robot” — (originally published in Astounding Science Fiction, 1947) When a human tells the robot named Nestor to “get lost,” he does, by hiding himself in a room full of identical robots. This is a problem for Dr. Susan Calvin and the other scientists because Nest... Read More

The Tricksters: A supernatural puzzle-box inside a New Zealand family drama

The Tricksters by Margaret Mahy

Margaret Mahy was one of New Zealand's most seminal writers, and one of only a few authors to twice-win the Carnegie Medal — first for The Haunting and then for The Changeover. As good as these books are, my personal favourite is The Tricksters, written for a slightly older audience and filled with her trademark New Zealand scenery, supernatural occurrences, family dramas and the awakening of a young person to adulthood. Older readers shouldn't be put off by the claims that this is a "young adult" novel, as any intelligent reader over the age of thirteen will enjoy what is perhaps Mahy's best work.

The Hamilton family gather at their beach house at Carnival's Hide to celebrate Christmas; p... Read More

All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By: Some truly shocking thrills

All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By by John Farris

Having never read anything by John Farris, I stumbled upon his 1977 novel All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By after seeing David J. Schow's very laudatory remarks concerning the book in Jones & Newman's overview volume Horror: 100 Best Books (1988). In his essay, Schow calls it a "unique horror novel; the strongest single work yet produced by the field's most powerful individual voice," as well as "the first modern sexual horror novel yet written." All Heads Turn When the Hu... Read More

Wizard of the Pigeons: A novel with many layers

Wizard of the Pigeons by Megan Lindholm

Wizard of the Pigeons is one of the last books Megan Lindholm wrote under this pen name, before moving on to her Robin Hobb alter ego. Once again I am impressed with the diversity of Lindholm's writing; Wizard of the Pigeons is unlike any of the others I've read. I guess you could call it an urban fantasy before the werewolf boyfriends took over, or maybe magical realism would fit better. It is a very good book, whichever genre label you prefer.

For those who can see it, Seattle, the Emerald City, is a place of magic. Living by his own rules, Wizard makes a living on what opportunities the city offers. He has elevated scavenging to an art and appears comfortable in his life as Wizard. Soon it becomes clear that all is not well in Seattle, however. A ghost form Wizard's p... Read More

Burning Chrome: Get to know William Gibson

Burning Chrome by William Gibson

William Gibson is one of those authors whose style is so distinct that it’s immediately recognizable. Anyone who’s read one of his novels could pick up another and, without looking at the cover, probably identify it as Gibson’s merely by reading the first page. His popularity indicates that legions of readers love his neon-infused plastic sheeting-coated visionary style, but as evidenced by reviews of his novels at Amazon and other places, many readers just don’t appreciate William Gibson. They complain about a wooly writing style and vague incomprehensible plots. Having been enthralled by Neuromancer and Count Zero, just slightly annoyed by Mona Lisa Overdrive and All Tomorrow’s Parties, and completely frustrated by The Difference Engine, I can understand both views.
... Read More

The Falling Woman: Insightful novel about mother/daughter relationships

The Falling Woman by Pat Murphy

Archaeologist Elizabeth Butler has a secret: she can see the shades of people from the past, going about their daily activities. This talent has led to plenty of “lucky hunches” in her career but also to questions about her sanity. Normally she just sees the past scenes playing out in front of her but cannot affect them in any way. But while excavating the Maya city of Dzibilchaltún, she encounters a shade who can speak to her: Zuhuy-kak, a priestess of the Maya moon goddess. The Maya believed that time is cyclic, and Zuhuy-kak sees in Liz a chance to bring certain events in her own life full circle.

At the same time, Liz’s daughter Diane has come to Dzibilchaltún to see her mother, from whom she has been estranged for many years. The two women try warily to build a relationship even as strange occurrences mount up and Liz begins to fear for Diane’s safety. “You will find here only what ... Read More