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Re: Books.

Post by Don Alexander »

DAY 3.2

In mid-September, right after finishing Prometheans, I launched in my second DAY of the third WEEK. This time around, I would for the first time read a single physical volume which comprised of three single books, an omnibus edition, though it felt weird to call it that since the whole thing is only 450 pages long. Very small font, though... It's Ben Bova's The Exiles Trilogy: Exiled from Earth/Flight of Exiles/End of Exile, seemingly one of his classics.
Exiled from Earth: It's the middle of the 21st century, and the power of nation-states has been subjugated by a world government based in Messina, Sicily, former Italy. Many problems have been solved by the centralized power; wars are pretty much a thing of the past, and the ecological catastrophe has been pushed back as well. Many people live perfectly comfortable lives, not even to mention the rich. And yet, the world is heading toward a Malthusian catastrophe, the Limits of Growth have been torn to shreds, the world is succumbing under 12 billion souls. The inner cities have been given up by the authorities and are urban warzones ruled by rival gangs that fight bitter small-scale wars.
Into this semi-dystopia, a genetics lab makes a breakthrough in germline technology and anti-aging research, promising to get rid of essentially any genetic ailment as well as virtual immortality. These findings are too much for the world government. If this news leaks, chaos will ensue, everyone will want to become immortal and there are way too many people anyway. Therefore, not only is the lab shut down, but the scientists - and many others, I think in total about 1500 - are rounded up, mainly biologists/geneticists, but also a bunch of physicists. The world Government, which is actually less despotic than the back cover wants you to believe, must come up with a pragmatic answer to this "problem" - and decides to exile the scientists to a large space station in orbit!
Most of the book deals with the travails, flights and escapes of one Lou Christopher, one of the leading scientists of the genetics institute. But in the end, he does not win out, and they all get exiled. After a lot of discussion, they decide to make this exile permanent by transforming the space station into a long-range generation ship, and leaving for alpha Centauri, where a planet has been discovered in the habitable zone!
Flight of Exiles: The second book dives right in! Nearly half a century has passed, of the people still alive who built "the ship", all are in cryosleep, their sons and daughters are in command. And right from the first sentence on, the action hammers at you, as a fire in one of the cryosleep compartments kills not just Lou Christopher, but also a colleague of his (who had shown up a few times in the first book) who is the father of Larry Belsen, who now gets to be the protagonist. Lou's son Dan, Larry's best friend, is injured in the fire. While he is in the sick bay, Larry and Val, the girl both friends are gunning for, but who truly loves (or so she claims...) only Larry, orchestrate a vote so that Larry gets command of the ship, a position that was fully expected to go to Dan. Friendship turning to hatred, friends becoming enemies, go!
The ship is nearing Alpha Centauri, and it's not looking good after all. The planet has life on it, but vegetation only, and looks inhospitable. Should the ship slow down and go into orbit, or continue right on (goal as yet unknown). The rivalry escalates, people get hurt, then killed, truth gets ever more muddled and the reader becomes more and more undecided on who the reliable narrator is. It is decided that the ship will go into orbit, a pioneering group is sent down, but a massive storm kills nearly all of them, with Dan surviving. Were they trying to get rid of him?
In the end, after a bunch of seeming twists and turns, the novel flakes out a bit by concluding in a predictable way. Dan is indeed the bad guy who went crazy, Larry gets the girl, and the ship refuels and flies on. All in all, a quite different tale from the first book, lots of psycho stuff, pretty cool. I do wonder if it was somehow based on some classic work, because the "best friends become enemies because of a girl" is one of those ages-old plotlines.
End of Exile: And now for another incredible jump. It is far, far in the future. The ship is mostly dead space, pierced by meteoroids, in vacuum. Humanity is reduced to a miserable group of children and teenagers who dwell in a dilapidated but mostly functional part of the ship. It's Lord of the Flights, everyone. All these kids had been raised from cryo and brought up by a single old man, the final survivor of "knowledgeable" humanity, as in, the people who actually had a sense of history and continuity. But conflicts had erupted and finally something had smashed into the bridge, killing all there. And even the wise old man retreated years ago, "up" to where, it is said, there is no more weight.
It was really hard to get into this tale. In the beginning, a small kid has managed to break one of the pumps of the hydroponics station, dooming many of the kids to die of starvation. He is banished from the group into the dark and unknown beyond, where the rats dwell... He has one last interaction with Linc, our protagonist, a young man who has the singular ability to, as we Germans say "look beyond the rim of the dining plate". Linc manages to activate some of the unused ship systems, such as an instruction program on how to fix a hydro pump. He does fix it, a miracle! But... Forbidden! His kind-of girlfriend, Magda, is the priestess of the impromptu religion centered around worshipping their departed guardian. All his Law comes down to a single video message that plays on a monitor of the cafeteria when she pushes a certain button (Linc had pushed some other buttons on another such system - also Forbidden!), which states that the kids should not fumble around with the equipment. As they all were little kids back then, the message once made sense. But now it is outdated... except for the fact that it is religious doctrine and therefore infallible!! I was really gnashing my teeth at all this taboo mumbo-jumbo that was clearly dooming the final bit of humanity.
Linc is exiled too, but he is much more resourceful than the poor kid from the beginning (Linc finds his rat-gnawed skeleton), and he manages to get all the way up to where their old teacher dwells (he had to move to zero g for health reasons). Many a thing is learned, and it is Linc who informs the old man that there is a single star out there that keeps getting brighter - they are approaching a stellar system! (which, of course, as it turns out, has a habitable planet).
Linc returns from "up" with a mission. To go into the haunted ghost place - aka the bridge - and reactivate the ship's navigation systems so they can perform an orbital insertion burn. But guess what! Taboo! Forbidden! And it is not just the word of the priestess, there is also a total Draco Malfoy (plus Crabbe and Goyle) bully who wants to destroy Linc because he feels he has become a threat to his tiny empire...
As much as I struggled to yet again switch thinking on the narrative structure, this in the end turned out to be the best of the three books. In the truly climatic ending, sabotage by the petty bully destroys the ship's propulsion system, dooming it to fly off again and leave the planet behind forever. But luckily, a "beamer" has also been brought online and with seconds to spare, all the surviving youths, even the recalcitrant Magda and the horrible bully, make it to the surface where they can set about refounding humanity and do a lot of inbreeding... Interestingly, in contrast to my expectation, it's not some future Earth. Contact with Earth completely ended between book 1 and 2 and its fate remains unknown.

I indeed managed to complete the whole thing in just under ten hours! :D
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Re: Books.

Post by Don Alexander »

DAY 3.3

After finishing the Exiles Trilogy, I started with another Ben Bova book, but this one did not especially grip me. The following Sunday, I switched, and did another DAY. Now, instead of merely reading a single physical volume, I'd read even less than one! Among my purchases from the Michael Moorcock Collection was A Cornelius Calendar, the "middle" volume of the three Cornelius books. The Cornelius Chronicles/Quartet is four reasonably long novels, and The Lives And Times Of Jerry Cornelius is short stories. Here, we have a "reasonably long" novel, two typical short ones, and three novellas in the 80 - 100 page range. Skipping the first longer book, I actually managed to read all others! As a side note, this book must be one of the thickest I own, despite being "only" a bit less than 900 pages, it is quite a bit heftier than the 1060 page Cornelius Chronicles...
Now let's see how much I can even reconstruct... For this is Cornelius, and for me, it once again would be a lot more miss than hit.
The Entropy Tango: This was a quite fast read since the book consists of five "novellas" (more or less cohesive narratives) interspersed with a bunch of poems and lots of illustrations. It's only been a month but I already can't reconstruct what was happening here, it was the typical blur of time-jumping, war-fighting (Nestor Makhno's anarchists take over Toronto...), betraying... The many known characters show up in their more or less usual roles... All in all, left me in some despair that this thing would be as hard to read as the short story collection had been.
The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle: First of the novellas. This was later revised by replacing loads of names with characters from the Cornelius universe (then known as "Gold Diggers of 1977") but this is the original. It is kind-of based on the mostly fictional movie biography of the Sex Pistols of the same name, and originally handed out as a newspaper for free at the cinema screenings. It was later published as a stand-alone book.
Again, this was a pretty confusing tale, but it was already a lot more coherent and in the end I overall really enjoyed it. Steve Jones, the real-life guitarist of the Sex Pistols, is hunting for their manager (Malcolm McLaren IRL) to get the money. He is often accompanied, sometimes betrayed by Helen of Troy, who seems to be THE actual Helen of Troy, though no explanation is given what she is doing there. Sid Vicious, freshly dead, hangs out in a ghostly pub with all the other dead Rock 'n' Roll musicians and comments on things. The totally most awesome moment was when none other than Motörhead show up!!! All three initially in a pub scene, but later, Steve talks with Lemmy about a certain job, and it comes out that Lemmy is actually a "chrono-assassin"! :D But retired. He will, though, establish contact with "the last chrono-assassin" - none other than JC. Who then reunites the Sex Pistols on a boat in the Thames which has such a powerful sound system that their concert lays waste to London... It was all pretty crazy but also really fun.
Firing the Cathedral: Another novella which has been published as a standalone book. This one is a lot newer, from the early 2000s, and clearly references 9/11. After that, it's the usual confusing mishmash of global brush wars and shit.
The Alchemist's Question: Despite being the second short-novel length story I was reading here, this one never seems to have been published outside of collections, so I could not actually count it as a "read book."
This story is from the 80s, strongly influenced by the reign of Margaret Thatcher (whom Moorcock despised). I'm afraid yet again I do not remember very much, but I know for certain that I... absolutely loved it!!! Seriously, this is one of, if the not the best Cornelius story I have read. What I do remember is that it had a heart-stopping finale where Jerry (mostly catatonic like Elric deprived of Stormbringer) and his friends hole up in the tunnels under an old monastery on a hill, facing off against a great army, and have to defeat the plans of Miss Brunner, who wishes to bring about Nuclear winter to freeze everything in the name of Law. This indeed felt a lot more like an Eternal Champion novel than anything from the JC canon.
Modem Times 2.0: Originally published some years back together with a very long interview as well as an essay, therefore also does not count toward my book count. I was already really tired but decided to struggle through the last two hours and get everything done but the first book! But the consequence is I really have no idea anymore what was going one. The beginning was coherent for several chapters, taking place in the usual 1960s London, Ladbroke Grove and so... But then it goes forward in time... Interestingly, reviewers on Goodreads are also not capable of giving any real description of the story. :P

All in all, I got 600 pages read in 12.5 hours. Finally another really long DAY! (It sure felt like that afterward...)
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Re: Books.

Post by Don Alexander »

The following week, I lacklusterly return to my Bova book, and then suddenly it's the 30th! Dang! Need to finish some stuff! I decide to wrap up the longer book first and switch to...

Michael Moorcock - The Adventures of Una Persson and Catherine Cornelius in the Twentieth Century: Now, I could have sworn I'd discovered a very detailed chapter by chapter breakdown of this novel... And now I can't find it. Anyway, I remember reasonably enough to write something about it.
The book started off really nicely. Deep in the Great Depression, and deep in rural America, in a big rambling country house they have somehow acquired, our two titular heroines are relaxing from their chrononautical adventures and relishing their lesbian relationship. The boy scouts on the other side of the river try to get peeks at the sunbathing ladies... :D Then they get a visitor. A young, downtrodden man, almost literally dead on his feet, who has been walking (!) from the east coast to California because he lost his job and has heard there are better prospects on the west coast. They feed him and let him bathe, and grant him a long, long sleep in a very nice bed. But already for days, Catherine has been restless, and so the two decide to leave in the middle of the night, to split up, to walk the Moonbeam Roads once more. And they leave a letter for the young man, simply giving him the house!!!
From here on, the story descends, alas, into rather typical Cornelianism. Both initially show up about three decades earlier, at the century's turn, and embark on the usual time-hops, from one chapter to the next, with no connections in-between. Each goes there separate ways, and each follows a theme. Catherine stumbles from one oppressive (hetero, mostly) relationship to the next, while Una, ever the firebrand revolutionary, finds more than enough armed conflict to satisfy (?) her. Indeed, as so often, the 20th century seems to be unending warfare, there is one chapter which, iirc, actually takes place again in the early 30s, but the first WW seems not even to have ended, and she meets Jerry lying in a tank near the Rhine river after some tank/air battle. Catherine's relationships slowly improve with time, whereas Una's conflicts become worse and worse - reminded be somewhat of the narrative structure of Breakfast in the Ruins. In the end, it is Catherine who must save Una from despair, as they rejoin where they started off.

Overall one of the more coherent and better Cornelius offerings but still not really up to my taste. But since this omnibus edition contained one good and one really awesome story (oh, and I completely forgot to mention, a short comic fragment of an aborted project to turn the very first Cornelius novel, The Final Programme, into a graphic novel - pity, actually, while black & white, it was really well drawn and had no problems with full frontal male nudity...), I overall give it a 3/5.

Ben Bova - Test of Fire: Okay, so here's that Bova book I had been hinting at. It was the fourth book I had taken with me on my trip from Germany. It looked pretty interesting from the blurb on the back and behind the cover...
Anyway, the plot is... The Sun explodes!!! OH NOT AGAIN!! But this time, it's a lot more realistic. Not some helium flash, not some "nova", but instead "just" a superflare that puts the Carrington event and even the 885 one totally to shame. And the crazy thing is: Sun-like stars ARE known to have such flares! BUT only if they are far more magnetically active than our Sun actually is. Bova even states that the flare disappears after just hours and the Sun goes back into quiescence for the next 100000 years...
So one side of the Earth gets totally scorched, this being, alas, most of the landmass. All of Asia, Australia, Europe and Africa is just wiped. Some military guys in a super-hardened bunker under the Ural mountains or so lose all communications with their headquarters, think it's a US First strike, and launch everything they have!!! So North America, almost completely spared by the superflare, gets annihilated in a nuclear firestorm. :| South America is reasonably unscathed... and then just drops out of the story. :(
This was, in short, the synopsis I mentioned above which made me curious. And this is done in like 5 pages...
... and then the story switches to a moonbase, where almost everyone survives since they are shielded against solar flares under the regolith anyway. And it quickly develops into a lot of personal drama with Mr. Big Hero and his Viper of a Wife and her Scheming Lover and... Really, there were like no likeable people at all, worse than Game of Thrones! So that's why I got like 50 pages in and then hardly touched it. Finally, the horrible power-hungry wife reveals she has had a bunch of abortions, which drives Mr. Goody Two-Shoes insane, and he never returns from the next shuttle mission down to Earth to retrieve "fissionables" the moonbase needs to keep their reactor going.
Jump 20 years. Mr. Hero's son has grown up, and has been indoctrinated by mom (who essentially rules the moonbase, which is slowly dying out) to hate his father. He gets to lead a mission down to Earth, to Las Alamos, to get their hands on a large stock of reactor fuel. On his way down, guess what, he rapes a woman. :| Anyway, despite this, this is actually where the book became a better story. The fissionables are gone, and only his dad had the knowledge to remove them. Not to mention the expedition is attacked by a "post-apocalyptic barbarian army", and they are helped out by people sent by... Hero Dad! Son, who has sworn to kill Father, then travels far north to his Father's base, where he meets Girl, and absconds after a while to collude with the savages to storm the base and finally get revenge...

So, yeah, in parts a hard read, but all in all an enjoyable book.
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Re: Books.

Post by Don Alexander »

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Re: Books.

Post by Azrael »

HUZZAH! IA! IA! CTHULHU FTAGN! :ymparty:
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Re: Books.

Post by ImpulseOracle »

I'm currently reading the 2nd book in the Game of Thrones series. Very interesting, seeing as I have watched the tv show first.
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Re: Books.

Post by DarkAsh »

You made the right choice in order. I watched the first season of GoT and then read the book series. When I watched the second season it felt lacking in comparison. But reading the first book second still felt fresh and interesting. I never did go back to watching the tv show.

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Re: Books.

Post by Vitocap »

You're smarter than me...
It took me like five seasons to make my decision and stop watching the show. I had read the books by then, and was very unhappy with the way the show-writers were ditching the original storyline and concocting their own butt-dumb plots.
We, the old ghosts of Pizen Bluff, who still roam about this dead forum screaming imprecations at the characters and whatnot.

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Re: Books.

Post by Don Alexander »

ImpulseOracle wrote:
Thu May 24, 2018 5:10 pm
I'm currently reading the 2nd book in the Game of Thrones series. Very interesting, seeing as I have watched the tv show first.
So you're reading the second book of "A Song of Ice and Fire". :P
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