e a m harris

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Archive for the tag “science fiction”

The words of Gerard Manley Hopkins and others

Cover artRecently I did a post on the words listed in Landmarks By Robert MacFarlane.

In the glossaries are several words attributed to Gerard Manley Hopkins. Words like endragoned for a raging sea, or bright-borough for an area of sky thickly strewn with stars. I never knew we needed a word for ‘thickly strewn with stars’, but looking at it I can see it could be useful and poetic.

I had not realised that Hopkins went in for neologisms in a big way, but I’m not very familiar with his poetry. So I decided to read up on it and found several interesting websites: Crossref-it.info and The Wonderful World of English among them.

Science fiction should be a good hunting ground for novelty in all forms including words, and academia positively blizzards invented/imagined/redefined terminology.

I’ve known people who really hate invented words, but IMHO without all these authors developing new words, our language would be poor indeed.

Reading a book so new it’s not out yet – ‘Amok’ from Solarwyrm Press

amok cover artI recently reviewed Amok: An Anthology of Asia-Pacific Speculative Fiction – edited by Dominica Malcolm on Goodreads, but since I don’t know how to connect this blog with Goodreads I’m reposting it here as I think the book is worth writing about.

It is a rich collection of twenty-four stories; rich in diversity of setting, of speculative ideas, and of character.

There are a lot of stories here that I loved and only a couple that didn’t appeal to me. There were also a few I felt could have been shortened – but this might just be a reflection of my dislike of description.

The editor defines speculative fiction as

real world settings in the past, present, or future, with science-fiction or fantasy elements.

and the stories chosen reflect this closely.

The settings are spread widely in the Asia-Pacific area and move from the present to the not very distant future. However, the science-fiction and fantasy elements are all in residence on variants of modern Earth; there are no alien planets or sword-and-sorcery fantasy cultures – though there is some sword-without-sorcery.

This doesn’t mean the ideas are limited. The story-worlds described may be recognisable as derived from ours or from our folklore, but each has one or several differences that fuel the events. Some of them are very way out, but some are horribly possible. How do people deal with making a cupid, quarrelling over a mountain of rubbish, half the world disappearing in a flood, or a special dimension for healers? Even the vampire and the mermaid have unexpected features.

Though the speculative ideas are central to the stories, these are basically tales about people. In them we meet, as central characters, parents and grandparents, a blind schoolboy, students, a shopkeeper, a soldier, a gangster, a couple of ghostbusters, a kung fu master, and several pairs of lovers. Even the moon rabbit and the garden ornament are ‘people’.

Some face a variety of enemies – among them an empire building European, a Filipino aswang, big corporations up to their usual (and unusual) evilness and a sea-witch.

Others have to deal with the aftermath of a major war, the pain of losing a child, their own inability to believe the unlikely, and love lost in some odd ways.

All lovers of speculative or quirky fiction should find something for them here.

Expected publication: April 30th 2014 by Solarwyrm Press.

Happy birthday Quatermass

Today is the 60th anniversary of the BBC sci-fi series, Quatermass, which ran intermittently from 1953 to 1979.

It was not only about an experiment, but was one – a British written for TV sci-fi aimed at adults rather than children.973445

It was very popular and had lasting influence – there was a remake as recently at 2005.

As a sci-fi fan I regret that I’ve never seen it. I think the original would seem a little quaint by now, but the later serials and remakes are more modern and hopefully, around this anniversary, they will be available in some form.

It’s fitting that this anniversary falls in the same year as the 50th anniversary of Dr Who. Without the success of Quatermass would we have the Doctor?

Cover art from Goodreads.

Ben Bova – ‘Mercury’

Cover art MercuryThis is the second of Ben Bova’s ‘Grand Tour of the Solar System’ series that I’ve read. The other one was ‘Jupiter’ and I think this one is better. This is definitely a story about people.

It is about how Saito Yamagata, business tycoon, achieves his dream even as he fails his life; about who Dante Alexios, engineer, is and why he sets out on a path of vengeance; about Victor Molina’s fall from a position of respect as a scientist. The mighty mostly fall on Earth, but find their true ends on Mercury.

The planet is more than just a background. It’s natural features provide many of the various characters’ motives and explain how these people come together to move through their story.

The writing is readable with good descriptions and explanations and the complex backstory is well handled.

At the basis of the novel is a love story, coming from the story-past into the story-present and on into the future. Unfortunately this is the thing I found somewhat difficult. I know there are people whose desire to possess the love object takes strange and dangerous routes to the goal, but I didn’t think this was made totally convincing in this book. That there should be two people doing the strange and dangerous made it even harder to accept. I think one of the reasons for this is that the loved one did not have a strong enough role to make the excessive desire believable. I won’t say more about this as it would give too much away. On the whole this didn’t spoil the book for me – it’s introduced far enough along in the story for empathy with the characters to have developed anyway.

The book is straight sci-fi – space opera even – no ‘steampunk’, ‘science fantasy’ or other sub-genre. Most science fiction fans will be familiar with Bova’s work. Any who aren’t and would like to make his acquaintance would do well to start here.

Cover art from MacMillan.

‘Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.’

The above quote is attributed to Abraham Lincoln, who must have had a sense of humour hidden under that austere-looking exterior.

To writers silence, in the sense of saying nothing, is not an option. Our words may be read in silence but they’re based on speech. So are we destined to be thought fools?

I think we have to take the risk.

As a politician, Lincoln didn’t have the option of silence either. Perhaps that’s why he valued it – like most of us, wanting what he couldn’t have.

I prefer to think of the silence he means in terms of not sounding off when all you have in your mind is opinion not knowledge.

Even here writers have to take the risk of being thought fools. If H G Wells had decided to wait until he knew what life in the future or on other planets was really like, we would be the poorer by several great novels. Many novelists take the same route to foolishness – we can’t all stick to what we know.

Like speech and other forms of communication, silence is a complex subject with many aspects.

Martin Luther King Jr spoke about one of them:

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

As did Carmen de Monteflores:

Oppression can only survive through silence.

Again, writers have to put themselves forward as they are the ones who can speak the un-silence most eloquently.

Don’t get me wrong. I agree with Lincoln and others who advocate silence of his sort. Chatter for the sake of chatter gets boring. But his is a narrow sense and not available to everybody.

The history of the world has included the history of the spread of writing (plus broadcasting) and an increase in writers and their audience, the readers/listeners. Today, with easy access to the internet anyone can be a writer with an audience, and can push back the silence oppression depends on.

If that means an increase in the sound of foolishness, so be it.

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