Aniara

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I will avoid spoilers here and request that any comments remain spoiler free as well.
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I watched the movie Aniara on Hulu this past week because the description about a doomed spaceship caught my eye.

After watching it and seeing it was based on a book, I requested the book from the library. I was not fully prepared for the book I received and read. The book edition I read was the out of print 1963 Hugh MacDiarmid and Elizabeth Harley Schubert translation of the poem.

Yes, you read that correctly. the Aniara story in its original form is a Swedish language, scifi, epic poem written by Harry Martinson. Epic poetry, or really any form of poetry, is a text form I’d never considered for scifi. Fantasy use of the epic poem and the poem makes sense to me because of Edmund Spencer’s The Faerie Queene, but scifi never struck me as a poetry subject prior to encountering Martinson’s epic.

The stories retain similarities in poem and movie form. There are a few gender swaps of characters; however, the way the story progresses, these gender swaps actually serve to make the tragic tale all the more tragic.

The most startling part of this work is that I’d never encountered it in my readings across scifi and human nature considering the subject matter is so close and compatible to the tale of The Lord of the Flies and The Heart of Darkness. While both of those stories focused on behavioral reactions to removed supervision, Martinson’s story deals with the emotional and mental side of how people deal with the knowledge that they have no hope of salvation from their situation.

At times chaotic, at times primal, at times shocking, both epic poem and scifi movie first ask the reader/viewer how would you handle and endure in similar circumstances? Then they counter your positive answer with the question of are you sure?

This is a must-see and a must-read for any fan of scifi period. If you’re reading on evolutionary psychology and studies of human nature, this should be added to your parables of human nature set as Volume Three (the society/the species) after Volume One: The Heart of Darkness (the individual) and Volume Two: The Lord of the Flies (the group). For everyone else, I say just check it out in both forms. As far as movies go, it’s a fantastic film. As far as books go, how many scifi epic poems have you read?

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I again request that any comments remain spoiler free.
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Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

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Note:
I will avoid spoilers here and request that any comments remain spoiler free as well.
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The Russian scifi novel Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky is one of those books that kept showing up on lists of recommended books but I kept putting it off for some reason. Recently, it kept showing up in references and cross-references so I finally decided to pick it up and read it.

When dealing with non-English scifi, there’s always the question of which version or translation should you read. Luckily for me, I found and discuss here is the 2012 Olena Bormashenko English translation which Boris refers to in his “Afterword” as “completely restored and returned to the author’s version” (209).

Roadside Picnic is about the aftermath of alien visits to Earth and what happens as people try to make sense of the things that get left behind after they leave. The title and concept is best described by one of the characters:

A picnic. Imagine: a forest, a country road, a meadow. A car pulls off the road into the meadow and unloads young men, bottles, picnic baskets, girls, transistor radios, cameras… A fire is lit, tents are pitched, music is played. And in the morning they leave. The animals, birds, and insects that were watching the whole night in horror crawl out of their shelters. And what do they see? An oil spill, a gasoline puddle, old spark plugs and oil filters strewn about… Scattered rags, burnt-out bulbs, someone has dropped a monkey wrench. The wheels have tracked mud from some godforsaken swamp… and of course, there are remains for the campfire, apple cores, candy wrappers, tins, bottles, someone’s handkerchief, someone’s penknife, old ragged newspapers, coins, wilted flowers from another meadow… (131-2).

Of course, in this description, the aliens are the picnickers and the humans are the ants.

Specifically, Roadside Picnic follows the story of Red Schuhart, a stalker, who goes intot he visitation zones and brings back artifacts to sell. The story is told over a sequence of four period’s of Red’s life and primarily deals with the actions and consequences of messing with things we don’t understand.

Other themes that stick out are: The irony of jobs and statuses. When Red works for scientific institutes, he’s a hero and paid employee; when he works for the benefit of his own family, he’s a criminal and punished. Mutations and the dead returned to life, but not in the zombie and monster sense, and the impact on the families involved And the moral dilemma faced by those who recover the artifacts weighed against the knowledge that they might be used for weapons.

This book should definitely be on your must read list if you’re a scifi fan, post-apocalyptic/dystopian fan, or have an interest in scifi that doesn’t originate from U.S. and U.K. origins. The fact that this book, published in the Soviet era of Russia, has messages for our modern world, should push this one closer to the top of your to-be-read list.

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I again request that any comments remain spoiler free.
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We Are Mayhem by Michael Moreci

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I will avoid spoilers here and request that any comments remain spoiler free as well.
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We Are Mayhem (WAM) by Michael Moreci is what results when a Star Wars (SW) fan and writer of SW and Battlestar Galactica, and other comic book series offers his own take on the space opera. It is the second novel in the Black Star Renegades series picking up after the events of the first novel, Black Star Renegades (BSR).

Since it is a follow up to, picks up almost immediately after, and refers to events from BSR, I highly recommend reading the first one before venturing into this one. However, don’t view this as a task to be filled, BSR is a great story in its own right.

All of the elements that make SW fans love the films exist in these two books. There are plenty of nods to the originals, including a “I don’t have a good feeling about this” or two for good measure. However, it doesn’t feel like you’re rereading SW. The story in BSR and WAM is definitely a new tale and offers a new take on the space opera sub-genre.

I highly recommend this novel, and i9ts predecessor, to all fans of space opera, military scifi, and Star Wars. Though set in a galaxy a far, far away, it still feels like home.

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I again request that any comments remain spoiler free.
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The Redemption of Time by Baoshu

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I will avoid spoilers here and request that any comments remain spoiler free as well.
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It’s a rare thing when a work of fan fiction turns out to be as high quality a work as the originals. It’s even rarer when a work of fan fiction becomes official canon, an official sequel to one of the great series of scifi to hit the world scene, and all with the endorsement of the author of the original series. That’s exactly what Baoshu has accomplished with his novel The Redemption of Time (TRoT).

Baoshu’s novel is the latest sequel to Cixin Liu’s The Remembrance of Earth’s Past (TRoEP) trilogy, picking up after the events of Liu’s Death’s End. Baoshu’s work was an entirely new encounter for me and this novel is something special.

Baoshu’s status as a fan of Liu is evident with TRoT being a sequel to Liu’s work and also bridging two of Liu’s works TRoEP and Ball Lightning, both mentioned in previous posts here: TRoEP and BL. In addition to the references to the four previous Liu books, Baoshu demonstrates his status as a scifi fan by also working in a few tips of the hat to Robert Heinlein and Douglas Adams into the mix.

I recommend this book to anyone who’s a fan of Cixin Liu’s The Remembrances of Earth’s Past. However, I also recommend reading both the TRoEP trilogy and BL before reading this one, since events from both factor significantly into the story here.

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I again request that any comments remain spoiler free.
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Million Mile Road Trip by Rudy Rucker

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I will avoid spoilers here and request that any comments remain spoiler free as well.
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Imagine Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy involving a car instead of a space ship.

Now imagine that car driving across a parallel universe that is flat with valleys of lands instead of a sequence of globes hung in space.

Now imagine the characters and their encounters have more in common with cyberpunk attitudes and sensibilities than space opera.

If you’ve got all that in mind, then you’ve got a pretty good mental image of what you’ll find in Rudy Rucker‘s novel Million Mile Road Trip.

Now add a giant bagpipe the size of a mountain as the big bad, a Mayan pyramid as the ancient advisor, and three teens (18, 18, and 16) as the heroes. This is one road trip you don’t want to miss.

To be honest, I’d never heard of Rudy Rucker prior to picking up this book in my local library. The cover offered praises from William Gibson and promised a humorous scifi adventure. Once I’d finished the novel and read the afterward, I discovered that Rucker was influenced and mentored by Robert Sheckley, a personnal favorite scifi author I’ve mentioned in a previous post and one of the true kings of comedic scifi.

I really enjoyed this one and recommend it to all fans of scifi, humor, comedic scifi, and anyone else looking for a different spin on so old scifi themes.

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I again request that any comments remain spoiler free.
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Liu Cixin’s War of the Worlds

In a previous post, I discussed the socio-poltical aspects of scifi stories in terms of The War of the Worlds. The selection of this story is intentional for two reasons. First, there is a timeline of the telling and retellings of this story that can be viewed in parallel to socio-political events. The second reason for selecting this text is because over on The New Yorker website, there is an article titled “Liu Cixin’s War of the Worlds” by staff writer Jiayang Fan. The previous post serves as a sort of background introduction for this post.

Regular readers here will note this is not my first post on Cixin Liu. A previous post discussed one of his latest Chinese-to-English translated novels, Ball Lighting. However, here the focus of this post and the related article is on his first major set of English translated works, the Remembrances of Earth’s Past Trilogy.

Fan’s article is based on interviews conducted during his visit the U.S. to receive an award for his works’ impact on American scifi readership. Liu sees Chinese modernization programs creating a “future… ‘full of threats and challenges'” resulting in “very fertile soil” for scifi works.

However, Fan notes at one point that Liu “briskly dismissed the idea that fiction could serve as commentary on history or on current affairs. ‘The whole point is to escape the real world!’ he said.” Later in the article, Fan writes of Liu: “’I’m a writer,’ he told me, with a shrug. ‘I don’t begin with some conceit in mind. I’m just trying to tell a good story.’”

These statements would appear to place Cixin Liu firmly in the camp with the persons who believe scifi should be absent of socio-political issues. And it would be easy to accept author/artist intent at face value. However, Fan’s article discusses the impact that The Three Body Problem has had on and the number of high profile fans of the book who work in scifi, science, and politics.

Further, Fan remarks that “Liu, unlike many Chinese writers popular in the West, is no dissident” and quotes Liu making the statement that “the relationship between politics and science fiction cannot be underestimated.” Here we have Cixin Liu himself acknowledging that scifi cannot be completely separated from socio-political issues it addresses and raises, even if they may perhaps be unintentional statement.

Fan offers a description of scifi that allows for socio-political issues by stating that “Speculative fiction is the art of imagining alternative worlds, and the same political establishment that permits it to be used as propaganda for the existing regime is also likely to recognize its capacity to interrogate the legitimacy of the status quo.”

So, while Cixin Liu may shy away from direct connections between scifi and socio-political issues, he acknowledges that scifi is by necessity about socio-political issues. And, I think it’s because of his ability to make the socio-political issues in China relatable to readers in the U.S., despite his support for, and my refusal to accept, the current political structure in China, that Cixin Liu stands as one of my favorite scifi writers.

The War of the Worlds and Socio-Political SciFi

I’ve always been baffled by the complaints by certain groups in recent years that too much scifi addresses social and political issues. The verbal and voting wars over the scifi Hugo award stands out as one of the biggest fights over socio-political scifi. The complaints baffle me because scifi is always about socio-political issues!

To discuss this, let’s just take one example story, H.G. Well’s The War of the Worlds (TWotW). From its original publication to the present, TWotW is always a socio-political (s-p) story.

When Wells first published TWotW, he was making a s-p statement about the British Empire and its imperialism and colonization program. Wells offers a look at imperialism and colonization from the perspective of the conquered, especially during the Victorian Era period of Empire expansion.

A few years go by then TWotW reappears in the form of the Orson Welles radio drama in 1938. The resulting chaos from public reaction demonstrates that once again, TWotW was making a s-p statement. This time, it was addressing the spread of Hitler’s Third Reich across Europe.

TWotW fades from memory for a while until George Pal’s 1953 movie version of TWotW emerges in theaters. This time, TWotW was making a s-p statement about the recent (at the time) Korean War and the larger Cold War taking place between the Soviet Union and the United States.††††

Again TWotW vanishes from the public consciousness until the 1978 album, Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of TWotW, appears. Appearing in record stores and on radio stations, this time the s-p statement continues the fears of the Cold War while also addressing the uncertainty of the non-victorious U.S. military after Vietnam.

Public interest in TWotW disappears again until the 1988 tv series brings TWotW into American homes. Once again s-p statements are made in a world where the Cold War is winding down, the Soviet Union appears to be collapsing under its own economic weight, and the U.S. appears to be rising as the new empire of the world.

TWotW once again drops out of sight until Stephen Speilburg’s 2005 movie version of TWotW. And again, the s-p statements are in forefront. Here the fears of terrorism in the post-9/11 world are addressed as well as the clash between parents and their children over the nature of duty and service on the part of children who want to fight the new evil in the world.

The War of the Worlds has once again been sidelined in the minds of the general public. In the current state of the world, I think it’s only a matter of time before the inevitable return of The War of the Worlds and its latest socio-political statements addressing the current chaos of the world. Until then, there’s a whole host of scifi stories making socio-political statements.