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.

Why I Left Harry’s All-Night Hamburgers by Lawrence Watt-Evans

1931778This story and Coherence movie could greatly complement each other,though the latter one offers more thrill and grittiness to the concept.

In this first person narrative, a young man from the countryside shares with readers, his strange experiences at Harry’s all-nighter, where he worked his teenage days off. Harry’s All night Hamburgers could be considered as a Way Station, unlike Simak’s Intergalactic one, this version works on Interdimensional platform. Narrator encounters strange beings, multiple versions of same person and is occasionally seduced by the possibility of being an Interdimensional travel bug.

Most striking fact about this story is, that even in its pompous setting of parallel universes and wanderlust, it is essentially a pleasant travel motivation short. And the feelings I am left with, after the read, goes something like this.

I should make it to Banaras at least this year :).

full text available here for free read

 

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.”

The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin, translated by Ken Liu

“The Universe consists of non-simultaneously apprehended events” – Buckminster Fuller
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There is this one particular scene where author explains how a 2D surface when unfolded contains more surface area for adsorption than its higher dimensional 3D form, with the example of a cigarette filter. Having given this analogy, Liu later cleverly segues into unfolding of proton which according to him is of 11 dimensions. This is the beauty of Three Body Problem, everything you require to pelt along the plot is right in front, kindling your scientific mind, like a Christopher Nolan movie.

I consider 三体 of a dimension higher than my usual perception, proper unfolding of which requires general understanding of engineering, physics, etiology, Chinese history, so on and so forth. Many allegories and references might have been lost in translation for English readers, who like me conclude the internecine civil unrest in China by a single red word – communism. Initial Red army prosecution of Zhetai for his reactionary ideas to the plight of Galelio or Brno, Red coast base for covert cold war weaponry, initial extremist transmissions for blind espousals, racial and communal fascism for officious government, scrupulous research for reservation of education, Trisolarian chaotic eras for Earth’s prime extinction events, ETC for religious invocation , miracles and religion in general were a few that caught my eye.
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As for the characters, though not coterminous, they were well developed for their roles, given proper background for their actions, allowing a character pov, from the Physicists Ye Wenjie, Nano research engineer Wang Miao to the arrogant Police officer Da Shi. The joy of discovering post convection zone reflectivity of Sun by Wenjie and the explanation of same was some of the finest science description I’ve ever encountered. Absolutely loved how they kept the mystery of Trisolarians till the end, though it was constantly teased through game plot of three body. Similarly the unfolding of Proton and the reaction of microcosmos on its first encounter with a higher dimension were highly thought provoking, bating the significance of our existence in the vastness of universe. And author was careful in keeping the Trisolarians on technologically comparable scale with their limitations rather than making them a highly Type 3 civilization.

I would advice a blind read, without any peek into the plot for the book cleverly holds back info, like the first Red Coast base did with Ye Wenjie.Perhaps the most science-y hard sci fi I have read till now, well written and translated, where it was way easier to consider the flummoxing science as something scholarly advanced than carefully crafted fiction. And Liu was considerate enough to give it a layman treatment where even the seemingly unintentional data dumps were secretly training readers for the intricacy of the plot that followed.

High quality of this book make me suspect a vastly unexplored sci fi scene from mainland China, which like Trisolarians, if could, would proton print these words to my retina.

“You are bugs”

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.

The Story of Your Life – Ted Chiang

Beautiful, absolutely beautiful. I wish I had more stars to give and more pages to read.971e4a52d1b2318d04a3c67271b01b43


Honestly this review covers only the eponymous story and I read it after watching first trailer of ‘Arrival’. Expected something of Contact sort, never in my head crossed what it really was during the speculative process of determining what it could be. The writings of a mom to her daughter, those wore some of the most beautiful things I have ever read. I found myself standing in train absorbed in the copy, never caring to check for seats or station.


Big alien ships out of nowhere like Childhoods End all over the world and a linguist is hired by government to establish communication with the visitors. Stuff like Calculus of variation and Fermat principle of least time seems elementary to them, the very stuff I dozed off in last weeks lecture series. Now I am stuck with Whorfianism and sorts like below in my head. Human ear is adapted for the sounds of human larynx and so forth with every other sensory elements, and perception outside usual neurotic receptions would certainly be overwhelming. Also we as well maybe limited in our capabilities and thought processes by our language and senses.

Anything more will be rendition and spoilers. And keep an eye on the usage of tenses through out the read. Totally a non zero sum game 🙂