Is It Too Early to Ask for a Do-Over of 2020?

The month of January is almost over and so far 2020 seems to be shaping up to be a repeat of 2016. The notable deaths over the past month of people who have had an influence on me:

  • Neil Peart
  • Buck Henry
  • Christopher Tolkien
  • Terry Jones
  • Jim Lehrer
  • Bob Shane
  • Kobe Bryant
  • John Andretti

It’s just a reminder of how limited life is and how we should take our chances to be an influence when the opportunity arrives. Also a reminder that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed for any of us.

Aniara

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

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

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Note:
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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Note:
I again request that any comments remain spoiler free.
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