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The mission of this blog is simple: To give my thoughts, feelings, impressions and judgments on the top 100 Science Fiction novels of all time (as selected by Sci Fi Lists).

I’m not interested in getting into an argument over where each book falls on the list or how the rankings were compiled. Passionate fans could argue for millennia about the ranking of specific books – and each reader is going to have their own opinion on their favorite novels. However, I’ve found that this list in particular has been a great resource for discovering new novels and authors that I would have never come across on my own.

I’m nowhere near done with the list, so this is going to be an ongoing process. Please feel free to comment on any of my posts, whether you agree, disagree or just want to talk about the book!

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#1 – Ender’s Game Review – Orson Scott Card

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With its high stakes interstellar conflict, menacing alien threat, sympathetic child protagonists and a twist ending that would make The Sixth Sense jealous, Ender’s Game is an instant classic and one that has captured the imaginations of both science fiction and non-science fiction fans alike. Whether it deserves the number 1 ranking on this list is up for debate, but it certainly has a place in my mind as one of the most striking, original and strangely moving books I’ve ever read.

Ender’s Game Summary: Set in a future in which humanity has been in conflict with an alien race known as the Formics (or the pejorative “Buggers”), the novel follows the progress of 6 year old Andrew “Ender” Wiggin, a gifted child who was the result of a government program to develop new commanders to help in the fight against the Buggers. After a schoolyard altercation results in another boy being seriously injured, Ender is whisked away to Battle School – an elite training facility where young prodigies are tested on their military instincts and groomed for the upper command levels. Ender quickly shows himself to be at the top of his class through his ingenious use of military tactics during a succession of zero-gravity wargames. While Ender’s success makes him a target for older, resentful commanders, he keeps moving up the ranks and is eventually promoted to Command School where he gets advanced military training from the famous commander Mazer Rackham. In Command School, Ender’s tests and games become increasingly exhausting and consuming until he is finally forced to make a ruthless decision that has devastating consequences…

Ender’s Game Review: Much like Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Ender’s Game centers around a group of children who, over the course of the novel, seem to grow in our minds into full fledged adults whose emotions and actions seem at odds with their actual ages. And while Card has been criticized by some who object to the level of violence and cold, military cunning that he ascribes to these children, the youth of these characters only served to add weight to the sadness I felt for these kids who had been raised to be self-sufficient and trained since birth to view life as a conflict to be won or lost, all while having to deal with the petty jealousies and competitive cruelty that every survivor of childhood knows all too well. The fact that these “Innocents” are competing against each other to kill a faceless enemy for the better of mankind is seen as an inevitable result of the fear that the Formic race has instilled in humanity. And while obvious similarities to our own current state of war and paranoia can be made (and references to earth bound politics, rivalries and warring factions are made throughout), the book doesn’t focus as much on the overall implications of the Bugger threat as it does on Ender’s struggles with his own abilities and the consequences of his actions.

My main regret with this book was that I didn’t read it when I was younger. I’ve literally had people recommending this book to me since I was 14, but only just got around to reading it about 5 years ago. Although the childhood conflicts and emotional turmoil still rang true to my grown-up self, I think that I probably would have had an even greater visceral reaction to the story and the struggles of Ender if I’d been closer to his age when I experienced it. Oh well, better late than never I guess.

Ender’s Game Movie: Rumors of a film version of Ender’s Game have been circulating for years, with various writers, directors and stars attached to it. The latest news to come out has director Gavin Hood set to direct with writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman working on a script. Card himself has been involved in a few different versions of a script, but nothing has come of it so far. While I would be the first to get in line to see an Ender’s Game movie, I also have serious doubts that Hollywood could adequately bring the story to life in a satisfying way.

Ender’s Game Quotes: “As a species, we have evolved to survive. And the way we do it is by straining and straining and, at last, every few generations, giving birth to genius. The one who invents the wheel. And light. And flight. The one who builds a city, a nation, an empire…. Human beings are free except when humanity needs them. Maybe humanity needs you. To do something.” – Colonel Graff

“In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them-….. I destroy them. I make it impossible for them to ever hurt me again. I grind them and grind them until they don’t exist” – Ender Wiggin

Enders Series: Speaker for the Dead | Xenocide | Children of the Mind

Enders Shadow Series: Ender’s Shadow | Shadow of the Hegemon | Shadow Puppets | Shadow of the Giant

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October 1, 2009

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#2 – Dune Review – Frank Herbert

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Few books on this list have had a bigger cultural impact than Frank Herbert’s 1965 masterpiece. Often cited as the best selling science fiction novel of all time (over 10 million copies sold), it is also usually in the discussion as possibly the best novel that science fiction has ever produced, period. Spawning countless sequels (only 5 of which were written by Herbert himself), prequels, movies, TV adaptations and even a video game, the Dune saga looms large in any discussion of the top science fiction franchises of all time.

Dune Summary: Dune tells the story of young Paul Atreides and House Atreides as they take over control of the desert planet Arrakis from their hated rivals House Harkonnen. Despite its harsh climate, unfriendly native population and hostile wildlife (i.e. Killer Worms), Arrankis is also the only known source in the universe of the “spice” Melange – an addictive substance which has the ability to extend life and give greater awareness to the user – including the ability to fold space-time for interstellar travel. Suffice it to say, the Spice is the engine that powers the entire Empire, making Arrakis the most strategically important planet in the universe.

While Paul is a member of House Atreides, it is also revealed that he is the product of a centuries old breeding program organized by the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood, a shadowy group whose goal is to produce a super human with prescience abilities – also known as the Kwisatz Haderach. As the novel progresses, Paul becomes more attuned to his growing powers and how to harness them for his own purposes. After an ambush by House Harkonnen deposes House Atreides and sends them scattering, Paul and his mother Lady Jessica are forced to take refuge with the planet’s native elements – the Fremen. During his time with the Fremen, Paul completes his transformation from fresh faced royal heir to the vengeful messiah Muad’Dib – bent on retaking Arrakis back from the Harkonnens and spreading Jihad throughout the universe.

Dune Review: While there are many reasons to appreciate Herbert’s brilliantly realized world (its philosophical meditations on war and power, its subtle environmental and ecological themes, its epic battles and strategic maneuvering), the thing that impressed me most was the sense that, although the novel often take place on an intimate, individual level (as with Paul’s almost constant inner dialogue and self reflective soul searching), there is still a sense that the events set in motion have consequences on a much larger scale. Whether it’s the generations worth of selective breeding and silent influence of the Bene Gesserit or Paul’s own visions of the Jihad he created sweeping out into the Universe unchecked for centuries, the larger than life nature of Dune’s mythology serves to elevate the stakes of what may seem at first to be petty squabbles between feuding families. Even Paul’s own personal metamorphoses is a clear narrative archetype – a dramatic retelling of the Hero’s Journey (or M
onomyth) – and one that can be found in numerous stories throughout history.

While the original Dune is still untouchable, the sequels do an admirable job of continuing the story and adding new layers and characters to the mythology. So if you end up finding yourself becoming addicted to the spice-tinged intricacies of the Dune universe, you’ll be happy to know that there is no shortage of further adventures and interplanetary intrigue to help you get your fix.

Dune Quotes: “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” – Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear

Dune Series: Dune | Dune Messiah | Children of Dune | God Emperor of Dune | Heretics of Dune | Chapterhouse: Dune

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September 29, 2010

Posted in Empires, Far Future, Military Science Fiction, Social Science Fiction, Uncategorized, World Building | Tagged | 3 Comments

#3 – Foundation Review – Isaac Asimov

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I have to admit, when I first read Foundation (probably sometime around age 15), I didn’t really understand much of what was going on. I remember reading it partly because it was supposed to be a “classic,” but mainly because it had a cool cover. The overall ideas and themes interested me, but the dense exposition, foreign settings and growing list of minor characters (whose names I had trouble pronouncing) were just a little too much for my impatient teenage mind to process. Maybe it was because it was one of the first real science fiction novels I’d read and I just wasn’t accustomed to the peculiarities of the genre. Either way, I’m glad that I gave it a second chance later in life.

The part of the book that intrigued me the most (both times I read it) was the concept of Psychohistory: a fictional branch of science that used elements of mathematics, history and sociology to help predict human behavior over long periods of time. While not quite true prescience, the idea that you could use statistical principles and human psychology to, essentially, look into the future was a fascinating idea. In the novel, the main character Hari Seldon is able to use psychohistory in order to predict the downfall of the current Galactic Empire – as well as a 30,000 year period of barbarism to follow. In order to shorten the time period between the fall of the Empire and the rise of a second empire, Seldon sets out to create a collection of the entirety of human knowledge (the Encyclopedia Galactica) - compiled and protected by an organization known as the Foundation.

Foundation Summary: As the first novel in the Foundation Trilogy (originally published as a collection of five short stories), the book recounts the founding and strengthening of the first Foundation amidst a skeptical empire and a location amidst
planets that were rapidly devolving into barbarism. The second novel, Foundation and Empire, introduces another threat to the Foundation: The Mule – a mutant conqueror whose unique ability to alter people’s emotional allegiances was not accounted for in Seldon’s predictions, and which ultimately leads to a confrontation with the Foundation. As its title suggests, the final book in the original trilogy, Second Foundation, recounts the discovery of a parallel Foundation at the opposite end of the universe – whose true purpose is eventually revealed.

Foundation Review: While it would be hard to call Foundation action-packed (most of the actual fighting and war takes place “off-screen”), there is just enough intrigue and suspense to keep the story humming along. But even though it has its entertaining elements, I would recommend this book to a friend as a novel of “Ideas.” Sometimes you’re just not ready to appreciate something like that at first (I wasn’t). But if you are, there are few better places to start than Asimov’s crowning achievement.

Foundation Quotes: “It is the invariable lesson to humanity that distance in time, and in space as well, lends focus. It is not recorded, incidentally, that the lesson has ever been permanently learned.”

“Any dogma, primarily based on faith and emotionalism, is a dangerous weapon to use on others, since it is almost impossible to guarantee that the weapon will never be turned on the user.”

The Foundation Trilogy: Foundation | Foundation and Empire | Second Foundation

Other Books in the Foundation Series:
Foundation’s Edge | Foundation and Earth | Prelude to Foundation | Forward the Foundation

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September 29, 2010

Posted in Far Future, Social Science Fiction, Uncategorized | Tagged | 1 Comment

#4 – Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Review – Douglas Adams

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While the genre of Science Fiction isn’t particularly known for its sense of humor, the The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams is a prime example of how the format’s unique characteristics can be used for humorous effect. With droll British humor and an absurdist streak to match anyone in the Galaxy, Adams is able to bring us a thrilling adventure through time and space that not only provides some genuine chuckles (maybe even guffaws) along the way, but also presents us with an awe inspiring picture of the universe (as well as an Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything).

Hitchhiker’s Guide Summary: Following the adventures of Arthur Dent as he tries to survive (and comprehend) the strange vastness of the universe after Earth is unceremoniously destroyed to make way for an interstellar expressway, the first novel in the series also introduces the reader to a motley cast of characters, including Ford Prefect (a humanoid looking alien who accompanies Arthur on most of his travels), Tricia McMillan (Arthur’s love interest and a fellow earthling who was also able to escape Earth’s destruction), Zaphod Beeblebrox (the two-headed President of the Galaxy) and the super computer Deep Thought (who is tasked with discovering the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life). While the first book deals primarily with Dent accompanying Zaphod and the others on a quest to find the legendary planet of Magrathea, subsequent books (and plays, movies and comic books) help to expand the universe even further.

Hitchhiker’s Guide Review: Although most fans probably identify the series most closely with the 6 main books, the Guide originally started off as a comedy radio series that was broadcast by the BBC, the first parts of which eventually became the novel. That makes sense, as the book does have a slightly episodic feel to it. Besides the books and radio series, it has also been adapted as a series of comic books, a TV series, a computer game, and even a 2005 movie starring Martin Freeman.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the book (and even the sequel The Restaurant at the End of the Universe), I couldn’t seem to muster up the energy or enthusiasm to keep going any further. Maybe I just got a little tired of the increasingly fantastical, tongue in cheek nature of the plot and characters. Maybe I just have a hard time appreciating British humor (wait, that can’t be it…Red Dwarf is one of my favorite shows of all time). Either way, if you’re a fan of science fiction or humor or absurdist farce, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a must read. Just remember two things: Don’t forget your towel…..and Don’t Panic!

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Quotes: “This planet has — or rather had — a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much all of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movement of small green pieces of paper, which was odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.”

“In many of the more relaxed civilizations on the Outer Eastern Rim of the Galaxy, the Hitchhiker’s Guide has already supplanted the great Encyclopaedia Galactica as the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom, for though it has many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate, it scores over the older, more pedestrian work in two important respects. First, it is slightly cheaper; and secondly it has the words DON’T PANIC inscribed in large friendly letters on its cover.”

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Series: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy | The Restaurant at the End of the Universe | Life, The Universe and Everything | Mostly Harmless

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September 27, 2010

Posted in Satire, Soft Science Fiction, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

#5 – 1984 Review – George Orwell

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This is another novel that I’d been meaning to read since I was young but only just recently got around to. I knew what the basic premise was, and I was familiar with plenty of the concepts that surrounded the book (Big Brother, ThoughtCrime and the use of the adjective Orwellian to describe an oppressive, totalitarian state), but I hadn’t actually sat down to see what all the fuss was about. When I finally did, I was blown away. No other book that I’ve read even comes close to the constant level of dread, anxiety, claustrophobia and fear that 1984 is able to sustain. From the opening paragraph you can feel the main character’s feverish need to rebel against his oppression, as well as the impending sense of doom and fatalism he feels in the knowledge that he will mostly likely be caught and punished for his transgressions.

1984 Summary: If you don’t already know the basic plot, 1984 tells the story of middle-class bureaucrat Winston Smith in the fictional super-state of Oceania – a nation controlled entirely by the ruling Ingsoc party and its figurehead dictator: BIG BROTHER. Needless to say, Big Brother controls all aspects of life in Oceania, from where people live, work and eat to the most intimate details of people’s personal lives (including their thoughts). Operating in a surveillance state in which ubiquitous telescreens keep watch over the population at all times, the mere thought of rebellion or disobedience is considered a crime punishable by death (or worse). It’s in this climate of fear and paranoia that Winston tries to assert his individuality and independence.

Winston finds a kindred spirit in Julia, a colleague at the Ministry of Truth, who at first seems to conform to the rigid ideals of the party but who eventually reveals herself to bea fellow libertine with a history of promiscuous behavior. Their secret love affair is a tender respite from the constant gloom and degradation of their daily lives – although the constant threat of detection looms large throughout. Along with their secret meetings, the pair also become interested in learning more about the mysterious rebel organization The Brotherhood (whose leader Emmanuel Goldstein is said to be an early member of the Party – and who is now Public Enemy #1). Their meeting with one of the Brotherhood’s supposed leaders marks a turning point in their rebellion.

1984 Review: The sheer visceral impact of the book’s not so subtle implications and warnings of the risks of unchecked totalitarianism and government surveillance do nothing to distract us from our intense sympathy for Winston and the emotional and psychological torment that he is forced to endure at the hands of the Party for transgressions that seem, to us, to be the basic rights of any human being. And even though the temptation is to think that this type of society could never really exist, even a cursory look back at the political landscape of the 20th century will reveal multiple instances of societies and regimes that foreshadow this type of manipulation and control.

While 1984 might not be a light read, it is still a powerful, engrossing book that has lost none of the impact that it had when it was first published in 1949.

1984 Quotes: “From where Winston stood it was just possible to read, picked out on its white face in elegant lettering, the three slogans of the Party: WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.”

“The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness: only power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from all the oligarchies of the past, in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites.”

1984 Movie: A film version of 1984 was produced (released conveniently in 1984) that starred John Hurt as Winston Smith. The film got generally good reviews upon its release and adheres relatively faithfully to Orwell’s original text.

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September 26, 2010

Posted in Dystopia, Social Science Fiction, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

#6 – Stranger in a Strange Land Review – Robert Heinlein

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Few books deserve the title of “Cult Classic” more than Robert Heinlein’s 1961 novel about a Martian-raised human who returns to earth and ends up transforming human culture in profound ways. Although it started out as a minor hit in the science fiction world, Stranger in a Strange Land would eventually became a crossover success – attracting a devoted following among the counterculture movement of the 1960′s due to its emphasis on free love, liberty and the shared human experience. And while it may not seem as controversial and groundbreaking today as it did back then, it still has a lot to say about our current culture of consumerism and our reliance on organized religion to dictate our social and spiritual interactions.

Stranger in a Strange Land Summary: The novel tells the story of Valentine Michael Smith, the offspring of the first human astronauts to reach the planet Mars. After the death of the crew, Smith becomes an orphan and is raised by the native Martians as if he were one of their own. During his time there, he acquires a number of the traits of the Martian culture, including the ability to read minds and control matter in strange and unusual ways. When he is eventually found and brought back to earth by a second expedition to Mars, he becomes an instant celebrity as the only known human to have made contact with the Martians and returned to Earth.

Valentine’s acclimation to human customs and mores (as well as Earth’s gravity and physical constraints) is slow and awkward – helped along by a Nurse named Gillian Boardman who inadvertently becomes Smith’s first “Water-Brother.” After escaping the grasp of leaders who wish to use him for their own personal gain, Valentine and Gillian (along with the help of the famous author and bon vivant Jubal Harshaw) are able to set about constructing a religion of their own based on the principles and teachings of the Martian way.

While some of the overall themes may seem a little heavy-handed to a modern audience, I can see how they may have caused a stir when they were first published.

Stranger in a Strange Land Quotes: “Smith is not a man. He is an intelligent creature with the genes and ancestry of a man, but he is not a man. He’s more a Martian than a man. Until we came along he had never laid eyes on a human being. He thinks like a Martian, he feels like a Martian. He’s been brought up by a race which has nothing in common with us. Why, they don’t even have sex. Smith has never laid eyes on a woman — still hasn’t if my orders have been carried out. He’s a man by ancestry, a Martian by environment.”

“Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own”

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September 25, 2010

Posted in Religion, Soft Science Fiction, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

#7 – Fahrenheit 451 Review – Ray Bradbury

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Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 shares a lot of similarities with Orwell’s 1984. Both take place in a dystopian future where intellectual freedom and free thought are suppressed. Both tell the story of a man who begins to question the basic cultural assumptions and rules that his society is built upon. And both show the consequences of rebellion in a society bent on maintaining censorship at any cost. And while Fahrenheit 451 may be slightly more optimistic when it comes to its belief that an individual can be set free from the collective prejudices of their society, it is no less an indictment of the anti-intellectual tendencies that can emerge when a society starts to value happiness and order over truth.

Fahrenheit 451 Summary: The novel takes place in a future in which reading has been outlawed by a population that values the pursuit of pleasure over knowledge. “Illegal” books are rounded up and burned by “Firemen” for the good of humanity (The title of the novel refers to the temperature at which book paper will burn). Our protagonist, Guy Montag, is a Fireman who begins to question the practice of book burning after an incident at the home of a woman whose books were going to be burned. After inadvertently reading a line in one of her books, he decides to steal the book. When the woman eventually allows herself to be burned alive along with all of her books, Guy begins to reconsider his belief that books have no value.

As the novel progresses, Guy starts to become more and more obsessed with collecting and memorizing books and begins to find kindred spirits who have been actively trying to preserve as many books as they can (often going so far as to memorize their contents before burning them to avoid detection). At the same time, Guy’s superiors at the Fire department begin to suspect his book hoarding tendencies and eventually force him to burn his entire house to the ground. All of this takes place while newscasts warn of a pending war that is foreshadowed throughout the book.

Fahrenheit 451 Review: While many critics have declared the book to be a critique of state-sponsored censorship and oppression, Bradbury himself has noted that it is society itself that has initiated and allowed the censorship to take place by turning its back on books and intellectual curiosity. While Bradbury may have originally intended it as an attack on television and its effect on people’s interest in Literature, today’s reader could make the connection with any number of new forms of entertainment (movies, video games, etc.) that seem to be distracting people from the joys of reading. And while intellectual censorship stills occurs with alarming frequency around the world, modern technical advances have also given books, thoughts and ideas the ability to travel around the world in an instant and live independently of the physical pages that use to hold them bound.

Fahrenheit 451 Quotes: “If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war.”

“Remember the firemen are rarely necessary. The public stopped reading of its own accord. You firemen provide a circus now and then at which buildings are set off and crowds gather for the pretty blaze, but its a small sideshow indeed, and hardly necessary to keep things in line. So few want to be rebels anymore. And out of those few, most, like myself, scare easily.

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September 24, 2010

Posted in Dystopia, Social Science Fiction, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

#8 – 2001: A Space Odyssey Review – Arthur C. Clarke

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While most people know 2001: A Space Odyssey from the classic Stanley Kubrick-directed film, the original story and novel were developed by Arthur C. Clarke, based on a short story called The Sentinel. And while Kubrick’s unique vision doesn’t give the viewer a lot of explanation for the events that take place, Clarke’s novel provides a much clearer picture of the relationship between the black monolith that appears to the group of early human ancestors and the eventual first contact that human civilization has with an alien life form.

2001 Summary and Interpretation: The novel opens with a group of hominids living on the African savanna around 3 million B.C. The group is shown foraging for food and engaging in confrontations with rival groups. After the appearance of a strange black monolith causes them to erupt in a frenzy, members of the group begin to exhibit uncharacteristic levels of comprehension and ingenuity, including one who becomes the first to use a bone as a crude tool for killing animals (as well as a rival leader). While the movie is much more subtle, the book makes clear that the monolith has helped awaken intelligence in these primitive beings, giving them the ability to hunt for food and protect themselves from predators. The implication is that this mysterious nudge forward is what helped our ancestors evolve into the species we are today.

The book then jumps forward to the year 1999 (still in the future at the time the book was written) where we meet a scientist on his way to investigate a magnetic disturbance on the moon – what turns out to be the same black monolith from before. When the monolith is finally unearthed and sees sunlight for the first time, it sends out a radio signal that is fixed on one of Saturn’s moons. The next jump takes us 18 months into the future on-board a ship on a mission to Saturn to investigate the source of the radio transmission and hopefully meet the makers of the monolith. During the long journey, the crew is forced to deal with the mutiny of the ship’s artificially intelligent computer HAL 9000. When the ship finally reaches the rendezvous point, the true nature of the monolith is revealed and the remaining crew member undergoes a staggering transformation.

2001 Review: To say that this book deals with some lofty themes would be a huge understatement. From the perils of intelligent technology and the panorama of human evolution to the very origins of our species and our purpose in the universe, 2001 is a novel of grand thoughts and ideas rather than action and adventure. If you’re someone who prefers your science fiction to be fast paced and exciting, you may want to skip this one. Like the movie, the book takes a steady, deliberate approach to its narrative. While the overall story may be grandiose, Clarke takes plenty of time to detail the minutiae of space travel and provide descriptions of the mechanics of space flight. So if you’re able to get through some of the slower parts, 2001 can be a great companion piece to Kubrick’s film for those that want to delve further into the movie’s story, characters and ideas.

2001: A Space Odyssey Quotes: “I’m afraid. I’m afraid, Dave. Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going. There is no question about it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I’m a… fraid. Good afternoon, gentlemen. I am a HAL 9000 computer. I became operational at the H.A.L. plant in Urbana, Illinois on the 12th of January 1992. My instructor was Mr. Langley, and he taught me to sing a song. If you’d like to hear it I can sing it for you.”

“Let me put it this way, Mr. Amor. The 9000 series is the most reliable computer ever made. No 9000 computer has ever made a mistake or distorted information. We are all, by any practical definition of the words, foolproof and incapable of error. “

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Posted in Alien Contact, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

#9 – I, Robot Review – Isaac Asimov

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The second book from Isaac Asimov on this list actually takes place in the same fictional universe as the first one, albeit thousands of years previous. Years before Hari Seldon starts preparing the Foundation, I, Robot shows us a time in which mankind is taking its first baby steps out into the universe with the help of intelligent robots. While these robots are able to perform tasks that no human would possibly be able to do, they also start to exhibit some unexpected behavioral and psychological tendencies that threaten to derail the use of robots altogether.

I, Robot Summary: Told primarily through the perspective of robopsychologist Dr. Susan Calvin, the book is made up of 9 separate short stories that detail the early history of robotics and the different stages of robot development. As the robots become progressively more intelligent and sophisticated, the unique peculiarities of their psychology (informed primarily by Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics) take on many different forms that their human creators are forced to deal with. The majority of these incidents occur as a result of a conflict between the laws that the robots are taught to obey and the ways in which their actions affect the humans that work with them.

I, Robot Review: While most depictions of robots in fiction up to that time had been of the “Frankenstein Complex” variety (in which a robot turns against its master), Asimov’s Robot stories offer a much more complex vision of the interactions between men and thinking machines. Because of the three laws of robotics that are programmed into every intelligent robot, complex moral ambiguities and situations begin to arise as humans are forced to ask more and more of their mechanical creations. While some of the stories do tap into our traditional fears of robots (including one in which a politician is accused of being a robot or another one in which a robot can read minds), the reasons for the robot’s dysfunction is never seen as malicious or aggressive – merely the product of a mind that is incapable of thinking outsides its pre-set parameters.

Besides creating a blueprint for all future science fiction writers (and some actual scientists) to use when dealing with robots, Asimov also gives the reader 9 effortlessly captivating detective stories in which Dr. Calvin (or the team of Powell and Donovan) are forced to play Sherlock Holmes in order to deduce the reason for a particular robot’s erratic behavior. Told with Asimov’s usual biting wit and humor, I, Robot presents a compelling (and entertaining) argument for the notion that robots are often just a morally conflicted and complex as the humans that create them.

I, Robot Movie: The recent film adaption (in name only) of I, Robot, starring Will Smith, really has absolutely nothing to do with the book it stole it’s name from. The movie uses the basic premise of man’s growing wariness and suspicion of robots and turns it into a dull, formulaic action flick with the robots as the bad guys and Smith as the hero. Any subtlety or analysis of the robot psyche is discarded in favor of silly car chases as simple, moralistic sermonizing. It’s so bad I won’t even link to it below.

The Three Laws of Robotics:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

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