Tag Archives: classic scifi

Dune by Frank Herbert

dune_frank_herbertTo my colossal shame I only just got round to reading Frank Herbert’s classic this year. I’ve owned about four copies of the paperback over the years and I finally read it on a kindle. To be fair, the book version is quite a hefty tome and the kindle version isn’t.

A quick summary in case you somehow don’t know the plot of the book or film or TV show or comic or computer games. Set over 10,000 years in the future humanity has spread among the planets and continues to be warlike arsewits to one another. At some point there had been a war with the machines and so nobody uses computers any more. Instead humans have been adapted, bred and trained to be human computers, soldiers, partial psychics, seers and more. One powerful group has been blending the bloodlines to create a mega powerful being called a Kwisatz Haderach . Dune follows the story of a young lad called Paul Atreides (who may or may not be the Kwisatz Haderach) as his family takes of control of the planet Arrakis – also known as Dune.

Arrakis is a pretty special place as it is the only source of the ‘spice melange’ – a drug like substance that expands consciousness and life as well as allowing space travel through the melange addicted Guild Navigators. Chuck in a power balance between the Emperor and the Ducal Houses and there is a whole lot that can go wrong. So when the Atreides are attacked by their enemy, the absolutely psychopathic Harkonnen, things come to a head. Oh, there are also mega hard desert warriors, huge worms, psychic sisterhoods, plots, assassinations and war. It’s pretty awesome.

Dune by Frank Herbert was published in 1965 but frankly, it could have come out yesterday. I agree with many who have described Dune as being to Science Fiction what Lord of the Rings is to fantasy – probably not a great entry point to the genre but once you have read a few things it is a masterpiece that absolutely needs to be read. My quick summary ended being quite long because it is one hell of tale.

If you haven’t gotten round to reading Dune yet – you should! What the hell have you been doing with your time? Highly recommended.

By it on Kindle here:

 

The Dancers at the End of Time by Michael Moorcock

The Dancers at the End of Time by Michael Moorcock

The Dancers at the End of Time by Michael Moorcock

Where to begin? The unique, bizarre, satirical novel, The Dancers at the End of Time is an experience that is hard to categorise or even explain.

Set millions of years in the future, the book opens with the protagonist, Jherek Carnelian, and his mother, The Iron Orchid, discussing the word “virtuous” on a beach of bleached bones on the shore of a crimson sea after just having had sex. So it is immediately established that the world has changed a fair amount. The characters inhabiting the End of Time are a decadent and dissolute bunch who are immortal and possess almost unlimited power. They amuse themselves by holding ever more elaborate parties in incredible settings. At one such party an alien lands and warns them all that the Earth is about to end along with the entire universe. This is pretty tedious news to the denizens of the distant future as the ‘End of it All’ has been prophesied for so long that it, along with space travel generally, is seen as passé and dull. The alien is consequently ignored.

Into this bizarre immoral society comes Mrs Amelia Underwood – a highly moralistic housewife from the 19th century Brockley. Jherek is fascinated by her and decides to fall in love with and limit himself to just having sex with one person. This is a novel and exciting idea to those from the future and, as it turns out, is quite a challenge.

The Dancers at the End of Time has aliens, time travel, robots, godlike beings, parallel universes and more. It is a tale of the last lovers in the universe and an insane discussion on morality. It is also a bit bonkers in a charming and erudite way with a host of characters and situations that seem almost normal when you are reading it, but sound insane when you are trying explain it to others.

It is actually an omnibus of three novels – An Alien Heat, The Hollow Lands, and The End of All Songs. Consequently, it is a tad long. In my humble opinion, however, that is a good thing. The Dancers at the End of Time is essentially a satirical look at the contrast of Victorian morality clashing with the utterly decadent world at the end of time. It is both funny and inventive. Humanity can now do anything, has done everything, and is just struggling to stay entertained. This results in a stagnant amoral species, that is strangely naive and pointless. By the end of the book you no longer see the opening scene as shocking, it is just the way things are.

I really enjoyed The Dancers at the End of Time but it probably isn’t for everyone. Which is a shame. It’s inventive and fun with some great characters. Recommended.

Harry Harrison

Harry Harrison

It’s a sad day. Harry Harrison, a legend of Science Fiction, has passed away. R.I.P Mr H.

I’ve always been meaning to write about a couple of Science Fiction writers that I loved when growing up and who should be a million times more famous. The first was Edmund Cooper (about whom I will write one day) and the second was Harry Harrison. In respect I will write about some of his work that I loved and you might enjoy. Like I did with J.G. Ballard. Hopefully you will feel intrigued to read more.

Harrison is quite well known mostly due to The Stainless Steel Rat series and Make Room! Make Room! which eventually became the movie Soylent Green. And we all know what that is.

The Stainless Steel Rat series

The Stainless Steel Rat

 

The Stainless Steel Rat is an epic series that follows career criminal ‘Slippery’ Jim DiGriz. There aren’t many humorous Science Fiction authors for some reason but these books are great. In a future where criminal behaviour is usually detected at birth very few bad guys slip through the gaps. Jim DiGriz is one such guy and he is roguish and generally cool. He then starts to meet others of his ilk… Highly recommended space romp fun.
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Bill the Galactic Hero

Bill the Galactic Hero

The first book is a classic and another example funny space adventure. Instead of a quick witted criminal the protagonist here is the slightly dim, but highly determined ex-farmhand Bill. He enlists in the space marines and has a ton of adventures. Usually funny ones that frequently end with him losing a limb which, due to army supply problems, means he often has  mismatched anatonomy – two right arms and an animal foot for example. Most of the follow ups (with other authors) weren’t too great, but the original is superb.
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Make Room! Make Room!

Make Room! Make Room!

As mentioned, this was became the classic Soylent Green. This is most definitely not a comedy but it is a classic dystopian tale of planetary overcrowding. The novel is great and the writing is superb. You should give it a go.
Click here to buy in US
UK – Make Room! Make Room! (Penguin Modern Classics)

 

 

The Deathworld series

Deathworld

I will stop saying “I loved this” but I really did. Maybe because I first read it when I was 12, the main character is called Jason, and everything is pretty cool. It was either this or Stainless Steel Rat that I read first and they both sealed my admiration for Harrison.

The story features a guy called Jason dinAlt who is a professional gambler. He is also psionic which means he can cheat at dice. Which is exactly the sort of life I should lead. When he gets hired by a guy to win a load of money he becomes intrigued by the guy’s home planet. Which is seriously deadly. There are earthquakes, volcanoes, huge tidal disruptions massive storms and so on. All life is predatory: huge animals can crush vehicles and eat you whole, smaller animals are vicious and/or poisonous, even the plants are carnivorous and deadly. dinAlt is intrigued and ends up there and has awesome adventures.
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The Eden series

Here is the premise. The massive asteroid that killed the dinosaurs never hit. Dinosaurs continued to evolve until some became clever, developed speech, weapons, war, houses, mail order porn and so forth. (Maybe not the latter, it has been a while.) Unfortunately an ice age is coming which means there are increasing amounts of dinosaurs being pushed into colder areas. And there be humans… They don’t get on and it is all tremendously exciting.
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Captive Universe

A standalone novel that is just awesome. If you like some of Brian Aldiss’ work, you will love this. Two Aztec-like tribes live on either side of a river. No one, as far as they know, can ever cross as there is a monster in the river. I can’t reveal more as it will give things away but things aren’t what they seem. A great read.
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The Hammer and the Cross series

Historical fiction as violent vikings cross the north sea and have massive bloody battles with the Brits. Tremendously exciting and awesomely violent fun.
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Homeworld trilogy

It is the future and it is paradise. Except it isn’t really, it is pretty dystopian.
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Harry Harrison wrote over 80 books. They range from comic, dystopian, historical, alternate history, to space adventure and more. Some are just light fun, some have a bit more bite. There is something for everyone. I read nearly all his stuff when I was in my teens and am now going to read lots of them again. If you haven’t read his stuff, I recommend you try.