Rendezvous with Rama is a beautiful novel written by the great Arthur C. Clarke. An enormous bullet shaped object has entered the solar system and looks to be made by aliens. It is fifty kilometers long and ten wide and it is perfectly machined and manufactured so that there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that this celestial object is heading towards earth with a purpose. A team is quickly reassigned and before long they enter through a triple reinforced airlock into the cavernous interior of Rama.
The descriptions of the shifting changing nature of the inside of the giant ship are what make this such an interesting and thought provoking search into the meaning of the universe. A long asked question, “are we alone in the vastness of space”, has long been the vehicle of exploration into the human mind, via the medium of Science Fiction and Arthur C. Clarke is nothing short of a genius. The ships insides are vast and over the course of the novel the sterile environment changes into one of lush beauty including the mind bending and surreal thought of looking up and seeing land and water hovering kilometres over your head (less mind bending having seen movies like ‘Elysium’ and ‘Upside Down’ but still…).
The Cylindrical Sea, a massive body of water that encircles the entire inside of the ship in a huge circle, was my personal favorite. Clarke uses simple reversals of everyday physics to create a magical world that could actually exist, given the right circumstances, but one that we can hardly comprehend despite it’s conforming to the laws of physics. It is ideas like these that make Clarke a master of making hard work look simple.
The Cult of the Space Jesus (not the actual name) is a funny aside made even more hilarious by the fact that none of the things being said are much different that the ‘actual facts’ offered up by modern day religions and Clarke doesn’t ridicule them openly. Reading between the lines you can tell Clarke isn’t one for organised religion. He is a spiritual man asking spiritual questions but he is a scientist in equal measure.
All told this is another classic Sci-Fi novel and definitely one for the ages.
Hyperion is a wide ranging and elaborate sci-fi set a few hundred years after earth had been abandoned during it’s death throws. The story centres on a team of seven people (and a baby) who are traveling to Hyperion, a world in the outskirts of the Hegemony. On Hyperion there is a strange area called the ‘time tombs’. Our protagonists are on a pilgrimage to the time tombs to confront the Shrike, a fearsome daemon or monster that protects the tombs.
Hyperion deals with many topics, including war, love, discrimination and time travel. The time tombs are traveling backwards though time in some sort of localised bubble in space-time. Despite these strange effects the world has barely been studied and there isn’t much of a local populace. One of the character’s ‘origin stories’ actually deals with the (limited) colonisation of Hyperion by ‘Sad King Billy’, telling the tale of the rise and fall of the only real city ever built on Hyperion.
Over the course of the story, each of the characters tells a story about what brought them to Hyperion and why they are on the pilgrimage. These stories form the meat and bones of the novel and they are surprising in their varied plots and different ‘feels’ as each person tells their tale. Simmons is a master of subtle character depth and this novel was a pleasure to read (a little hard to review, that said…).
A few of the sci-fi terms Simmons uses are… co-opted… from existing works (it’s not quite plagiarism…) which I personally found strange, but only because I knew the words. One of the main ones is Ansible. An Ansible is a faster than light (or instantaneous, depending on who’s telling the story) communications device which allows people to stay in contact despite vast interstellar distances. Simmons also describes the galaxy in the story as being a Hegemony with a Hegemon. Both Ansible and Hegemon are frequently used in Orson Scott Card’s works and for a while I was confused. I wondered if they had been set in the same ‘universe’ or if it was just a strange coincidence. Strange Coincidence…
Hyperion is a stunning read and I recommend it for anyone who is a sci-fi fan, or someone who wants a good book to convert them into a sci-fi fan (that should be everyone). Simmons plays tricks with the reader that will leave you guessing right till the end. It must be said that this is not a stand alone novel, but rather part of a long series. The story started in Hyperion continues in Fall of Hyperion and I hope to read and review that in the near future.
Upon searching for a title to his masterwork, Ray Bradbury rang a school and a university searching for the temperature that book paper burns. No one knew. Then he rang the local fire chief. The chief looked up some tables and came back with 451 Farenheit. Too bad he was wrong. Despite the real temperature being closer to 850 Farenheit the title stuck.
The protagonist, Guy Montag, is a fireman, one of those auspicious, long serving volunteers who spends their time searching for and burning books. As firemen have always done… There is a powerful message here given the age of editing, censorship, rehistorizing and literal book burning we live in.
Bradbury has said that he wrote the original short story (burning bright) with regards to the censorship prevalent in the McCarthy government but as per usual the situation hasn’t much changed. Montag’s job requires that any house found with books be burnt to the foundations and the visceral descriptions are heartbreakingly powerful. Eventually, as in all dystopian tales, the protagonist rebels against the system of which he has been a part of his whole life, and sets about changing it. Suffice it to say he fails fairly miserably. But then it wouldn’t be proper dystopia if one man could change anything would it? The writing is simultaneously simple and detailed, powerful and profound. Montag is a well rounded character who grows from being quite vile due to his work, to very likeable due to his rebellion, to pitiable for his failure and eventually commendable for his growth and fortitude. When the novel ends, with a poignant phoenix metaphor, Bradbury makes clear his feelings of the establishment and all that ‘the system’ entails.
In a fun synchronicity I watched The Book Thief immediately after finishing Fahrenheit 451. The book burning parade shown in this film was particularly intense and I cried and cried. That’s probably strange but whatever… Anyway they are both very important texts and very worth the time
Happy New Year fellow hardcovers. Sorry it has taken so long to return but the hangovers were frequent and severe. Now that I have recovered I hope to have a flurry of new reviews to start of the one hundred books of 2014.
The first review of the year goes to the Lincoln Lawyer. This is a really good story that I didn’t actually know was a book before it was a movie. I started reading Michael Connelly last year with the Harry Bosch series and when I saw this title in his catalogue I jumped, remembering only vague specifics about the tale before I began.
The Lincoln Lawyer is, unsurprisingly, a legal story. One of the things that Michael Connelly does well is taking a genre novel and making it something more. The Harry Bosch series is a good example of this, and I am sure I will be reviewing one of those at some time in the year aswell. One of the things that sets the Lincoln Lawyer apart from other legal dramas is the constant inner tension felt by the protagonist. My first impression of the protagonist, Mick Haller, was that he was a smug bastard with his fingers in too many pies. Later that impression changed to appreciate just how many pies he has his fingers in. When the climax of the novel arrives I couldn’t believe how all the pieces came together. And I’ve seen the film.
The movie sticks fairly closely to the plot and is definitely worth a watch, AFTER you read the book. The book’s pace is fast and you shouldn’t have trouble knocking it over in a few short sessions. It is pretty hard to put down. Haller is a bastard but he’s our bastard and by the end of the book you will be hoping that he manages to pull it all off.
All in all a solid, enjoyable read. I suggest you buy it as a late gift for that one person you forgot and read it before you send it off. Because I’m sneaky like that…