Rescue Party by Arthur C Clarke

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This is the upside down version of almost all alien exploration stories out there; for one, we are the exotic mysterious civilization, the aliens of this story are interested in.

Wikipedia lists this not-so-short short, as the first published work by Arthur C Clarke, Astounding Science Fiction May 1947, a fitting trailer for the vision and imagination that was to follow. In Rescue Party’s fictional universe, there seems to be a confederation of star civilizations and god like beings who orchestrate and control the happenings of explored universe. On the onset of a Supernova explosion, Sun in this case, these Lantern Guardians like beings, Alverons as they are known, sends a convoy to rescue or preserve newly discovered Earth’s civilization. Anything more than this would be an overshare at this point. Absolutely loved the pace of the story, the universe and races built in the limitation of words, psychology and mystery of exploration, along with the open ending bonus tease. If there was an option to add review title in goodreads, I would definitely have gone with ‘Rendezvous with Earth’ as a homage for Clarke’s (well, mostly Clarke’s) Rama series.

According to internet legends, Clarke abstained himself from re reading his early published works, for the fear of realizing how little he had improved over years. I must say, something near perfect doesn’t leave you much room for improvement.

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Way Station by Clifford D. Simak

waystationMost of our contemporary science fiction rattles around a technologically advanced gone wrong future, that is obsessed over the imperfect past we never truly cared to live in.* It is a contradiction considering the classics we started off from, like Way Station which envisioned a future of Intergalactic peace and confraternity among Stars.

This novel essentially represented a Space Opera during cold war, spatially confined within the private bulwark of a Man from the Earth civil war veteran, by American Midwest. Our anachronistic Highlander, Enoch Wallace, and his House of Leaves soon falls under the surveillance of covert Men in Black, thanks to the static sloppy life he has been protracting for over a century. This classic mystery build up from an outsider pov eventually shifts, and takes the reader through protagonist’s eternal loneliness and indirect adventures in an Intergalactic Way Station, for which he is the custodian of. In my imagination Way Station looked like a controlled visitation zone, full of artifacts and sacrosanct knowledge. The novel subtly touches the terrains of human emotions and humanity as a whole through the eyes of alien visitors, hind-bound local yokels and a morally conflicted old man.

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I found a pub by the name Way Station on internet, which I pretty much captures the strange image I had in mind, and it has got a Tardis!

Might be a bit far fetching, but, Enoch and Lucy had the facsimile of a censored docile Old Man Logan, more with the upcoming movie than the comic it claims to have been adapted off. And I kept wondering whether Douglas Adam‘s Babel fish came from Simak‘s pasimology for understanding intergalactic shibboleths, till getting hit by the obvious parental reference – the Bible. Prose has been simple yet classy and I actually copied down one correspondence between Enoch and an unknown science journal editor, for embellishing my ongoing job covering letters.

Way Station was a pleasant reading experience, a calm soft classic sci-fi with little dystopian elements. It hasn’t been entirely faultless especially with the rushed resolution and extra nicety around, but none of them mitigated the kernel of the story nor it’s debonairness.

 

*source – John Dally

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

The Forever War feels a lot like Halo, with Captain Mandella playing a novice Master Chief against the Covenant looking Prophet less Taurians. For a novel written in 1976 on horrors of Vietnam war with an Interstellar undertone, this hard science fiction feels so surprisingly contemporary and expedient. Or accurately prognostic.

Humanity is at war with Taurians, an alien civilization we know very little about except the fact that they initiated the conflict on the very first contact, attacking Earth’s outpost in farther space. Planet’s elites, the ones with IQ above 150, are soon absorbed by UNEF and then send to Charon for revenge and recon. Many couldn’t survive the rigorous training itself, and a lot more were killed during the first post-hypnotically suggested initial combat, thanks to the alien environments and weaponry. Soldiers travel intergalactically through Collapsor jumps (worm holes), with enigmatic relativistic effects, by the order of centuries back on Earth, making them alien to the world whose very future they’ve been fighting for.

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Sci fi is often metaphorical in nature, and in this novel Haldeman depicts the horrors he experienced in Vietnam war, without recreating it essentially. I don’t think any other linear work directly dealing with the subject of war could have accurately conveyed the essence and remained ageless at the same time. Another book I know which did a similar job, though not essentially similar is Slaughterhouse Five, which portrayed war through a nonchalant non linear life, where everything felt preordained with time travel.

Peter F. Hamilton calls this “damn near perfect” for a novel and I couldn’t agree more. Haldeman’s vision for future covered almost everything in Taurian war, where survival was only by mistake.

  •  Unaccounted combat units either slaughtered or lost or crawling through normal space at near light speed to a Earth, which by their arrival would be centuries ahead.
  • Heavily outsourced job scenario, where most of the countries are promoting homosexuality as a strategy for population control.
  • Temporal lingua franca with which a soldier could communicate with someone contemporary of his/her double digit time grandfather or grand-kid for that matter.
  • Wormholes and collapsor jumps making some one feel like Galileo meeting Einstein or Genghis Khan meeting Mass Effect’s Shepherd in terms of military tech (future shock).

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Couldn’t help but notice the areas Interstellar borrowed from this one, including the final letter between Marygay and Mandella. Even though this was a dystopian military sci-fi novel, it had a pleasant aura around it, and subtle humour, with a very satisfactory ending. Like Hamilton says- “damn near perfect.”

Rendezvous with Rama

A Mountain of Madness in space, probably one of the finest First Contact story of all time, whose influence is readily visible in most of pop culture sci fi. Though never evasive in details Rendezvous with Rama is a big scientific tease, that does not deliver. At least not everything in the first book of a long series.

A near future Earth with interstellar travel, where scientists have exhausted almost every pantheon except the Hindu Gods in naming celestial bodies, intercepts a huge alien starship for asteroid somewhere outside the orbit of Jupiter and names it Rama. Then follows the chronic rendezvous by a manned survey vessel which investigates the alien world through its course till perihelion.Every single time they mentioned space drive, I was imagining Infinity Probability Drive and Heart of Gold, thank you Douglas Adams.

I couldn’t help but compare it with Lovecraft’s A Mountain of Madness all through the read, though one links to Ancient Astronauts and other to Future ones – Shoggoths in hollow earth and Ramans in an enormous steam cake hollow cylindrical ship. Loved the scientific explanations with the Raman ship, astronaut maundering, thrilling discoveries and detailed descriptions of an alien universe. Also it was quite cool to have it written from two aspects, from the pov of investigation crew and dissection by diplomats at space guard. That forgettable sequel of Independence Day totally stole the Space guard idea, though it didn’t help them in any way.Hats off to the imagination he put in developing the universe of Rama and connecting the same with known physics, especially the interaction differences astronauts experience in the alien atmosphere.

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Pretty sure, Rama’s circular ocean was the inspiration for Interstellar’s Cooper Station. And it would be amazing to see the whole world unravel in big screen, high time too. But there were issues in execution, atleast to me as a reader. The initial exploration and deductions off that gigantic space ship was totally contradicting with whatever got revealed by the end. Might make sense in further installments, still it leaves a sense of in-completion.