Tag Archives: Science Fiction

DISCRIMINATION’S COMPLEXITY

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

Invisible Man

Written by: Ralph Ellison

Narrated by: Joe Morton

RALPH ELLISON (1914-1994, AUTHOR, CRITIC, SCHOLAR)

Few books capture the complexity of discrimination and its societal consequence. Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” is one of the few.

To re-read/listen to Ellison’s book, it seems a biography of its author. Ellison was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He attends Tuskegee Institute, a black university in Alabama. He fails to graduate and moves to New York. He becomes a spokesman and propagandist for the communist party before WWII. He eschews communism after the war while living in New York. He becomes acquainted with other writers like Richard Wright who expose discrimination in its abomination. In these details, one sees Ellison as the “Invisible Man”.

JOE MORTON, JR. (AMERICAN STAGE, TV, FILM ACTOR,  AND NARRATOR)

The intensity and credibility of Ellison’s story is magnified by Joe Morton’s skill as an actor.  Every line reflects understanding and relevant emotion.  In just reading “Invisible Man” much of what Ellison wrote is missed.  Morton offers clarity and visibility in his narration.

In outline, this story follows the path of Ellison’s life.  The book’s hero is expelled from college in his Junior year and moves to New York.  The reason for his expulsion is an aspect of discrimination and its consequence.

FONTENELLE CHILDREN (PICTURE-TAKEN-BY-GORDON-PARKS-IN-HARLEM-1967.)

A rich, white financial benefactor of the university is being shown around by Ellison’s “Invisible Man”.  Through a series of incidents, the white supporter becomes embroiled in the reality of human poverty in a black community.  His immersion exposes a black father’s incestuous relationship with his daughter.  However, the story’s inference is that incest is not limited to the poor; i.e. the benefactor’s reaction to the story implies a similar act in his life.  The University benefactor appears overwhelmed by the black father’s story.  He is emotionally and physically shaken.  He asks the “Invisible Man” to get him a shot of liquor.  Because they are far from town, the only place for a drink is a seedy bar in the neighborhood.  In trying to please the university’s patron, the “Invisible Man” embroils the rich man in a bar fight.  No one is killed but the experience illustrates how discrimination relegates parts of society to a life of poverty, anxiety, and despair.  Many of the characters in the bar seem crazy. They seem consumed by fear, hate, boredom, or frustration.

—————–HARLEM RIOT 1964 (133RD ST. AND SEVENTH AVE.)—————————
MARTIN LUTHER KING (1929-1968, PROMOTING EDUCATION IN THE 1950 S)

Upon returning to the University, the patron tells the “Invisible Man” to have the President of the school come see him in his room.  Dutifully, the “Invisible Man” calls the President and is condemned for showing the patron to a part of town that shows some of black America’s reality.  The University President expels the “Invisible Man” for a mistake he believes he did not make.

The President tells him he did make a mistake.  He could have shucked and jived to steer the patron away from the reality of being black in the south.  The President is telling him he must “play the game”.  This is a statement about the complexity and disastrous effects of discrimination.  A respected black leader is saying—if you want to get ahead, you must hide who you are, play by a white man’s rules, and interpret everything a white person says to mean you don’t matter.  Then act like you believe it, but keep your own counsel.

The “Invisible Man” accepts the University’ expulsion and understands the President’s reasons for expelling him.  He asks the President for letters of recommendation to rich patrons he knows in New York.  The “Invisible Man” plans to get a job in New York that will allow him to come back to the school after a year of exile.  The President agrees and writes several letters, seals them, and tells him not to open them.

NEW YORK IN THE 1950S

In New York, all but one letter is delivered to offices of potential white employers.  No job interviews are offered.  With a last letter in hand, the “Invisible Man” insists on seeing the white patron that the letter is addressed to.  He is interviewed by the son of the business owner who offers to show the letter to him.  The letter is a condemnation of the “Invisible Man” by the black University President who has no intention of ever allowing him to return to the University.

With no job, no prospects, and dwindling savings, the “Invisible Man” realizes he is screwed; i.e.  not only white America denies his existence, but Blacks-in-power accept white-cultural-rules and screw him; just like other racists in America.

Dr. Blesoe, the black University President is saying: “Play the game, but play it your own way, my boy.  Learn how it operates, learn how you operate.”  The inference is to act like a toady to white culture to gather money, power, and prestige while keeping your own counsel.  Never let your guard down.  When you have power, you can selfishly guard it by being the equal of white racist when confronted by minorities who might challenge you.

LOUIS FARRAKHAN MUHAMMAD, SR (1933-PRESENT) BECAME NOI LEADER 1978

Both black leaders in power and whites deny equality of opportunity.  There seems nowhere to turn.  That is until Ellison describes a story about a black family’s eviction in Harlem.  With that incident, the “Invisible Man” becomes visible.  Relying on his education and previous speech-making experience, the “Invisible Man” addresses a crowd around a dispossessed family and sparks a Harlem’ riot.

Members of “The Brotherhood” are in the audience.  The leader of “The Brotherhood” is impressed by the “Invisible Man’s” ability to motivate the crowd.  The leader offers him a job.  At first, it seems like the dawning of a new life, an opportunity to prosper while doing good for himself and the community.  In the end, it is just another game.

SCOTTSBORO BOYS INCIDENT IN HARLEM ALLOWS GROWTH OF COMMUNISM IN THE 1950s.

The game is the “science” of collectivism; i.e. what is important is not the individual but the collective.  Whomever does not play the game by the rules is sacrificed.  He/she is either ostracized, or murdered, if the rules of the collective are disobeyed.  If the collective is challenged by a minority, the minority is sacrificed.  The suicide, or murder of an individual is of no consequence except as it benefits or hurts the collective.

——–COMMUNISM IN THE USA———

When a riot breaks out in Harlem, the “Invisible Man” expects “The Brotherhood” to be supportive of the plight of the poor and dispossessed but what he finds is that “The Brotherhood” is happy to see the destruction because it advances their collective objective; i.e. the destruction of the State and its replacement by “The Brotherhood”.  They care nothing for the black community.

Ellison cogently reflects on his life to explain that the individual is of supreme importance; i.e., not the collective, not white culture, not black culture, but only the individual within the whole of humanity.

Majority rule is as tyrannical as minority rule when it discounts individual freedom.  Human beings playing the game by rules of a collective is as harmful to minorities as slavery.  Choosing to become invisible is not a solution for discrimination.  In reality, invisibility is a symptom of American apathy that encourages discrimination. Small activist groups elect populists who pander to extremist views.

Ellison suggests his “Invisible Man” is only in hibernation.  He ends his story by suggesting the “Invisible Man” will soon awaken to become an involved individual.  One is skeptical of Ellison’s pronouncement.  It is easier to be invisible.

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SCIENCE FICTION

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

How Great Science Fiction Workshow-great-science-fiction-works

Written by: The Great Courses

Narrated by: Professor Gary K. Wolfe

 (REVIEW IRONICALLY WRITTEN THE DAY AFTER DONALD TRUMP’S ELECTION AS PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.)

GARY WOLFE (AMERICAN WRITER, PROFESSOR, EDITOR, CRITIC OF SCIENCE FICTION)
GARY WOLFE (AMERICAN WRITER, PROFESSOR, EDITOR, CRITIC OF SCIENCE FICTION)

“How Great Science Fiction Works” is a rapid-fire exploration of what Professor Gary Wolfe argues is great science fiction.  No work of science fiction has achieved the heights of great literature represented by authors like Dostoevsky, Austin, Dickens, Nabokov, Roth, and others.  However, Wolfe shows that science fiction fires imagination by taking readers outside the boundaries of day-to-day human’ existence.

the roadRarely does a work of science fiction create characters that evoke deep emotion in a reader, or understanding about the individual.  Though one may feel a passing sympathy for the plight of Frankenstein or shed a tear for the fate of a child and his father in Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”, a reader moves on to think about the story’s societal implication.

DOSTOEVSKY'S MURDER OF THE PAWN BROKER IN "CRIME AND PUNISHMENT"
DOSTOEVSKY’S MURDER OF THE PAWN BROKER IN “CRIME AND PUNISHMENT”

Science fiction creates characters in alternative realities.  The societal outcomes of imprecisely understood scientific discoveries make science fiction work.  Adding action to an alternative reality, enhances a work of science fiction, but not in the same way as a murder of a pawn broker in “Crime and Punishment”.  Science fiction’ actions are not focused on a character’s individual insight but on revealing more about an alternative reality based on partly understood science.  Science fiction’s action is not to evoke individual emotion like revulsion, love, guilt, or hate in a reader.  Character development is not a primary objective of science fiction writers (not to suggest these authors are incapable of eliciting those emotive qualities but character development is a secondary objective).  Science fiction drives to illustrate societal change from discoveries that go beyond current scientific proof or knowledge.

Names of science fiction writers and their stories are spread throughout the lectures, some well-known and others less famous.  Few readers have not heard of Shelley, Verne, Orwell, Herbert, Wells, Heinlein, Bradbury, and Asimov.  For the non-science fiction amateur, tidbits of information are offered by Wolfe.  Information like Asimov’s “Foundation” series being based on the history of Gibbons’ “Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire”.  Also, Wolfe recounts the “War of the Worlds” to explain that, contrary to myth, there is never a city-wide panic caused by Orson Wells’ 1938 telling of the tale in a radio broadcast.

A.E. VAN VOGT (1912-2000, CANADIAN BORN SCIENCE FICTION WRITER)
A.E. VAN VOGT (1912-2000, CANADIAN BORN SCIENCE FICTION WRITER)
KONSTANTIN TSIOLKOVSKY (1857-1935, RUSSIAN ROCKET SCIENTIST AND SCIENCE FICTION AUTHOR)
KONSTANTIN TSIOLKOVSKY (1857-1935, RUSSIAN ROCKET SCIENTIST AND SCIENCE FICTION AUTHOR)

For knowledgeable fans, Wolfe resurrects vintage science fiction stories like “Slan” (a book about a race of super beings) by A. E. Van Vogt and the development of space-ship science fiction by Russian rocket pioneer Konstantin Tsiolkovsky.  Of course, no lecture series on science fiction is complete without robot and cyber science stories.  Karel Capek, a Czech writer, and later Isaac Asimov, are early writers in those categories.

Another category noted by Wolfe is planetary exploration and earth invasions (noted above in Wells narration of “War of the Worlds”).  Wolfe suggests WWI and the earlier Franco-Prussian war leads to apocalyptic science fiction stories.  The advent of mechanized murder is first recognized in the 1870-71 war.

FRANKO-PRUSSIAN WAR, BATTLE OF MARSLE TOUR VIONVILLE, AUGUST 16, 1870
FRANCO-PRUSSIAN WAR, BATTLE OF MARSLE TOUR VIONVILLE, AUGUST 16, 1870
MARY SHELLEY (1797-1851, AUTHOR OF FRANKENSTEIN, WIFE OF PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY)
MARY SHELLEY (1797-1851, AUTHOR OF FRANKENSTEIN, WIFE OF PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY)

Professor Wolfe surveys the field of science fiction from its beginning with Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” through today’s authors.  Wolfe describes some science fiction that slips in and out of fantasy with thematic cohesiveness that ranges from religion, to science, to philosophy.

DIANETICS PUBLISHED MAY 9, 1950
DIANETICS PUBLISHED MAY 9, 1950

L. Ron Hubbard’s science fiction’ writing leads to the pseudo-science of Dianetics that morphs into a religion called Scientology; attracting famous people like John Travolta and Tom Cruise.  Wolfe reflects on science fiction’s history and how category’ markers mature as it grows.  What is meant by markers are discoveries; i.e. like an alien artifact on earth, an imaginatively created alien planet, or an invading alien force that precipitates human actions or reactions.

MARY SHELLEY'S ORIGINAL INSIDE COVERS FOR FRANKESTEIN
MARY SHELLEY’S ORIGINAL INSIDE COVERS FOR FRANKESTEIN
PAOLO BACIGALUPI (AMERICAN SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY WRITER, WON HUGO, NEBULA, AND SEVERAL OTHER AWARDS.)
PAOLO BACIGALUPI (AMERICAN SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY WRITER, WON HUGO, NEBULA, AND SEVERAL OTHER AWARDS.)

Moving on to the sixties, Wolf notes science fiction addresses nuclear war and its destruction of civilization.  In the seventies, nuclear war fears are replaced with stories about environmental destruction caused by insecticides, tainted food and water, and other disasters.  “The Water Knife” by Paolo Bacigalupi is noted as a modern science fiction writer that raises issues of global warming and writes about the exploitative use of the Colorado river by Las Vegas, Nevada, and Phoenix, Arizona.  At the end of his lectures, Wolfe speculates about science fiction’s future.

Wolfe offers a lot of information about the origin and growth of Science Fiction and recounts interesting stories drawn on new scientific discoveries that are only imprecisely understood by experts in the field; let alone, society at large.  Though this genre of fiction may not reach the level of Pulitzer Prize recognition, it certainly entertains its readers.  Fans of science fiction and dabblers in the science of the 21st century will be entertained by Professor Wolfe’s lectures.

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EVANGELISM

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

The Book of Strange New ThingsThe Book of Strange New Things

Written by: Michel Faber

Narration by:  Josh Cohen

MICHEL FABER (DUTCH-BORN WRITER OF ENGLISH-LANGUAGE FICTION)
MICHEL FABER (DUTCH-BORN WRITER OF ENGLISH-LANGUAGE FICTION)

The history of religion’s evangelism is mixed.  In some minds, it is precursor to civilization; to others it is a destroyer of culture.  Michel Faber favors the first. He implies the second is exaggerated.

In “The Book of Strange New Things”, listeners are transported to another world.  Transport is provided by a capitalist culture that foresees rapid deterioration of earth’s civilization.  Faber’s book is placed in the 21st century with a mega-corporation interviewing prospective employees.

the bibleThe hero of Faber’s story is a protestant evangelist who is interviewed for a mission to another planet.  The evangelist is a recovering alcoholic, drug user, and homeless prodigal that has found God and re-directed his life.  The beginning of his re-directed life is marriage to a nurse who completes a missing part of his consciousness.  He begins his new life as a pastor who interprets “The Book of Strange New Things”; more commonly known as the “Bible”.

In a job interview, like many conducted by large corporations, this “man of God” is extensively profiled before employment.  Questions asked are customized to reveal how this protestant pastor views life, how he would relate to strangers, and how he would act in a foreign culture.  After a background check, corporate compatibility questions, and profiling interviews, the corporation hires and schedules the pastor for transport to an alien planet.  It is an assignment one imagines given by Popes and other religious leaders in pre-modern times.  The fundamental difference is that the hiring agent is a business corporation; not a religious organization.

The pastor’s wife cannot accompany him on the remote assignment; in part because she does not fit the corporation’s profile.  The consequence is that a part of the pastor’s consciousness is left on earth.  Separation from his wife creates a cultural blind-spot that makes the pastor’s social and psychological personality incomplete.

The pastor’s duty to the corporation is to “civilize” the natural inhabitants of the new world.  He is to reinforce the cultural teachings of the old and new testaments to an alien culture.  The corporation’s goal is obscure.  On the one hand, Faber implies private industry will save human kind; on the other, Faber suggests corporatism is an artificial construct of an idealized society that cannot survive without religion’s influence.

Faber’s ending suggests “The Book of Strange New Things” carries only a piece of civilization’s creation and stability.  The pastor fails to fulfill his corporate contract and returns to earth because the “Bible” and religion are not enough to make him whole.  He questions faith in God and religion as sole progenitors of civilization.  Without his wife and unborn child, God and religion are not enough to sustain his future, and by implication, the world’s future.

In listening to Faber’s book, one appreciates the difficulty of verbal communication in a foreign, let alone alien, culture.  One wonders how well that difficulty can be conveyed in a written format.  It is aggravatingly conveyed by Josh Cohen’s narration.  At times, Cohen’s narration of the aliens’ spoken-words are difficult to understand.  However, “The Book of Strange New Things” is an interesting listeners’ journey; both for believers and non-believers.

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LUST AND LOVE

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

Undermajordomo MinorUNDERMAJORDOMO MINO

Written by: Patrick deWitt

Narration by:  Simon Prebble

 

PATRICK deWITT (AUTHOR, CANADIAN NOVELIST AND SCREENWRITER)
PATRICK deWITT (AUTHOR, CANADIAN NOVELIST AND SCREENWRITER)

Human lust and love simmer in “Undermajordomo Minor”.  From a male’s point of view, Patrick deWitt has written a fantasy about an ancient time of castles, counts, and countesses reflecting on lust and love through the ages.  The story suggests men are liars, and women are enablers; with the sexes meeting in lust and, at least in one case, growing into love.

The main character is a man named Lucy.  Listeners meet Lucy as an unloved child nearing death.  Lucy is visited on what appears to be his deathbed by a mysterious stranger that asks him what he wants out of life.  Lucy says he wants something different.  The stranger nods his head and leaves his bedside.  The next day Lucy feels better but his father rapidly deteriorates and dies.  His mother believes her husband’s death is related to Lucy’s recovery.  Never having shown much love to Lucy, she treats Lucy as a tenant more than a son.

Lucy grows into manhood as deWitt offers pictures of Lucy’s life.  DeWitt tells a story of Lucy’s relationship with a young woman near his own age.  The young woman is Lucy’s introduction to lust.  After a time, the passion of their conjugal pairing diminishes and the young woman moves on.  She becomes engaged to another man who is bigger and stronger than Lucy.  In the meantime, Lucy seeks counsel of a local priest about the visitation he had at his bedside when he was nearing death.  The priest discounts the visitation but takes enough interest in Lucy to send a letter to possible employers to recommend Lucy for a job.  Only one employer responds.  Lucy accepts because it is something different.

As Lucy is leaving his mother’s house, he chances to meet his former lover.  Lucy slyly explains that her handsome strapping young fiancé is secretly engaged to another woman in a neighboring town.  This is a lie delivered with such sincerity that the young woman leaves with a belief she has been misled by her chosen mate.  In this brief interlude, a listener/reader forms a guarded opinion of Lucy.  Lucy seems a liar and a less than decent, and somewhat cowardly, human being.  That assessment is reinforced when he boards the train; seeing his former lover and her fiancé coming toward him on the train platform.  Lucy shudders with fear.  Lucy escapes the confrontation but the reader/listener’s guarded opinion hardens to amused dislike.

A strange castle, which is Lucy’s destination, seems straight out of Edgar Allen Poe.  Upon arrival, Lucy meets an extremely handsome soldier.  Lucy asks the soldier about the castle. The soldier ridicules Lucy and then takes his money.  The extremely handsome soldier becomes an important character in Lucy’s supernatural life.

The bereft Lucy proceeds to the front door of the castle.  The castle’s owner is a mysterious unseen presence.  Lucy arrives to meet the owner’s castle keeper.  The castle keeper gives Lucy a tour and introduces him to the cook.  Each of these characters is odd; neither explain why the castle’s owner is so reclusive.

Lucy settles into his new job.  He meets a beautiful young girl in the village.  He falls in lust.  They become lovers partly because Lucy tells another lie about his former lover. Lucy suggests his former lover kills herself because he left.  Lucy goes on to explain a spurned and forlorn lover pursues Lucy for causing the young girl’s suicide.  Lucy confesses that he is compelled to defend himself and slays the unrequited lover.  Lucy is impressed but somewhat skeptical of Lucy’s story because of his diminutive stature.  Lucy explains that he is stronger than he looks.  Lucy’s new lover decides to tell of her loss of virginity.   She explains that a “Don Juan” like character visits the village and arouses subtle, if not lustful, sexual interest. Lucy’s lie about his former lover heightens a listener’s disrespect for Lucy. The virgin lover’s story reinforces an implied enabling theme; i.e. Lucy’s new lover seems to enable “Don Juan’s” fantasy.

Finally, deWitt introduces the reader/listener to the castle’s owner.  Lucy has been told by the castle keeper that he should always lock the door to his room at night without explaining why.  The castle owner is a lust-broken husband of a wife that has left him.  The castle owner’s broken heart has caused him to lose touch with reality; i.e. except for letters he writes to the absent Countess.  The Count artfully entreats his Countess to return.

Lucy eventually finds that the Count walks the grounds and castle naked and eats rodents like a beast of prey; i.e. he captures rodents, and eats them raw; with blood and fur dripping from his lips. He communicates with no one but lurks in the woods near the castle.  Lucy is charged with delivering the Count’s letters to a train conductor that delivers the mail.  Lucy surreptitiously reads one of the letters and is astounded to find how lucid and beautifully written the letters are.   Lucy chooses to correspond with the Countess to advise her of the Count’s condition.

The Countess returns, and the Count recovers his sanity but a turn of events causes the Countess to leave again.  The cause has to do with women’s enablement of men’s lust and the consequence of that enablement.  Here is where a supernatural event occurs that tells a story illustrating a difference between lust and love.

Patrick deWitt has written something different in “Undermajordomo Minor”. He shows himself to be a skilled teller of tales; an artist suggesting there is more to a supernatural story than entertainment.

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IMMORTALITY

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

The Bone ClocksThe Bone Clocks

Written by: David Mitchell

Narration by:  Jessica Ball, Leon Williams, Colin Mace, Steven Crossley, Laurel Lefkow, Anna Bentinck

DAVID MITCHELL (ENGLISH NOVELIST, ALSO WROTE CLOUD ATLAS AND number9dream)
DAVID MITCHELL (ENGLISH NOVELIST, ALSO WROTE CLOUD ATLAS AND number9dream)

“The Bone Clocks” is a labyrinthine journey into the thrills and fears of immortality.   “The Bone Clocks” is not a straight forward story.   One who has read Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas” will have an inkling of what is in store.  Mitchell creates characters in “The Bone Clocks” where time has no meaning; i.e. a reader listener is not sure whether they are in the past, or present.  In some instances, timelessness creates tension and high suspense; in others, it creates confusion that only clears near the end.

Authors of fiction may or may not have meaning or teaching moments in a story.  Meaning and teaching moments rests with reader/listeners. Fiction writers are not constrained by history, logic, or provable truth but only by imagination.  “The Bone Clocks” is, in part, like a memoir of a financially successful author of fiction in the late middle of a career without a good idea for his next novel.

NEIL GAIMAN (AUTHOR)
NEIL GAIMAN (AUTHOR)

Reader/listener’ consciousness of something insightful or revealing makes stories enjoyable and authors memorable.  The idea behind the title, “The Bone Clocks”, is that human bodies are bone clocks that can carry particular immortal souls. When a body runs down, the immortal soul moves on to another bone clock.  Moving on takes two forms–one where the immortal soul takes a body after death, and another that takes a body while alive.  “The Bone Clocks” plays with time and incorporates the paranormal, reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods”.  It will lose some listeners who struggle to find their way through Mitchell’s maze.

“The Bone Clocks” is partly about human mortality.  Conversely, it is also about the thrill of immortality; e.g. the potential of knowing more about everything, acting as you wish without personal consequence, remembering different pasts while seeing the future unfold, never worrying about the present; etc., etc.  It is also about the cost of immortality; e.g. fear of having to start over and over and over, the psychic consequence of leaving others behind, fear of being cliché, fear of knowing ones’ life work is inconsequential; etc., etc.

Immortality in art, science, or religion is sustained by insight and revelation. Literature, like other arts, religion, and science, offer humans an opportunity for immortality.

Mitchell introduces the heroine of the story in his first chapter.  She is a fifteen year old who decides to run away from home.  She chooses to leave home after a row with her mother about a boyfriend who is several years older.  The boyfriend is a cad.  He has seduced the fifteen year old.  In her runaway, she finds her boyfriend in bed with another girl.  She is determined not to return home because of embarrassment over her mistake.  As an aside, the author notes that this fifteen-year-old, Holly Sykes, hears voices.  These voices are found to have material importance when Holly decides to hitchhike to another village to find a job.

Holly’s idea is to show her mother she is capable of independence with the inference that she will, at some time, return home.  In the course of her job search, she finds there are reasons beyond proving independence for returning home; i.e. reasons that are related to “radio voices” only heard by a select group of souls.

Several stories unfold during the course of Holly Sykes’ life.  Each story reveals more about Holly Sykes and an unknown war, waged by two factions of a Horological society.  Horology is the science of measuring time which is ironically irrelevant to the souls of those who are a part of the Horological society.  The largest and most malevolent faction of the society occupies bodies and replaces souls of living human beings.  The smaller (less than ten souls) and benevolent faction of the society occupies bodies only when a soul departs from natural or human cause.   This small group of immortals track down the soul killers for elimination.  What creates some tension is that both the malevolent and benevolent factions can die in described circumstances.

It is unlikely that Mitchell has created a work that will offer immortality but it is certainly imaginative and offers some human insight.   Not the insight one might wish for and hopefully not a future that comes true.

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TONGUE IN CHEEK

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

SuperEgoSuperego

FRANK J. FLEMING (AUTHOR)
FRANK J. FLEMING (AUTHOR)

Written by: Frank J. Fleming 

Narration by:  Joel Richards

“SuperEgo”, is a tongue-in-cheek exploration of artificial intelligence

and science’s manipulation of the human genome.

In Freudian terms, superego is “…that part of a person’s mind that acts as a self-critical conscience, reflecting social standards learned from parents and teachers.”  In Frank Fleming’s fiction, the hero’s social standards revolve around the logic of killing.  Fleming’s hero is a trained killer.  His education begins with one parent and a criminal organization, aided by futuristic science.

The hero flies to and around universes in a space ship piloted by a “Hal like” algorithmic computer owned by a criminal syndicate.  This “Hal” is called “Dip”; a funny choice of names because “Dip’s” meaning varies from taking a chaw of tobacco, to getting the hell out of somewhere, to being stupid.  The last two definitions work for Fleming’s story.  The space ship’s A.I.’ pilot serves the purpose of getting the hell out of somewhere and often makes obvious and sometimes humorously stupid comments.

The back story of Fleming’s main character is symbolized in a vignette about the hero’s father.  The hero’s father shoots his son’s mother in front of him.  The hero’s only response is “Who will make dinner, tonight?”  The hero is a designer baby, genetically modified to have no sense of morality, care for others, or emotional attachment.  His actions are strictly compelled by ordered tasks and logic; without morality or conscience.

The hero’s father is an executive in a criminal syndicate that recruits killers to eliminate competitors and obstacles to corporate goals.  The syndicate uses their financial power to corrupt governments.  The exercise of the syndicate’s power requires physical as well as financial influence.  The hero’s father finds a job for his son in the syndicate as a perfect killer.  The hero is an enforcer who executes syndicate’ orders without conscience.  He is one of the few designer babies, grown to men, that have succeeded in fulfilling the expectations of the syndicate; i.e. at least, until the beginning of his last assignment.

Fleming has written a somewhat funny story about a future for human civilization that is at once cynical and dystopian, and ironically romantic and redemptive.  The obvious cynicism is in a future where evil corporations control worlds and their governments without protection of individual rights.  It is a view that carries the fears of some of the “Occupy Wall Street” and Tea Party followers of the 21st century.  Fleming infers that sciences’ entry into genetic modification is a threat to humanity.  He suggests a dystopian future; i.e. a future where money and logic replace human’ morality and emotion.

Fleming suggests a romantic and redemptive hope for morality’s return through love.  The vehicle of return is belief in something greater than oneself.  Fleming infers that “something greater” is love for another and/or belief in God.  “SuperEgo” is straight forward science fiction; not particularly suspenseful or enlightening, but somewhat entertaining.

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POPULARIZED ASTRONOMY

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

ContactContact

By: Carl Sagan

Narrated by: Laurel Lefkow

CARL SAGAN (1934-1996, ASTRONOMER,COSMOLOGIST,ASTROPHYSICIST,ASTROBIOLOGIST,AUTHOR,& SCIENCE COMMUNICATOR)
CARL SAGAN (1934-1996, ASTRONOMER,COSMOLOGIST,ASTROPHYSICIST,ASTROBIOLOGIST,AUTHOR,& SCIENCE COMMUNICATOR)

No one popularized astronomy more than Carl Sagan in the 20th century.  Sagan communicated the wonder of science and the universe in his television series, Cosmos.  However, Sagan’s book, Contact, fails most tests of good fiction.  First, it is more about a scientist’s view of extraterrestrial contact than storytelling for a broad audience.  Second, one cares little about its main character, Ellie Arroway.  And most importantly, it does not suspend disbelief or adequately use the best conventions of good writing (suspense, foreshadowing, drama, etc.).

On the other hand, Contact fleshes out the conflict between science and religion, and science and politics by showing how a message from another planet roils and amplifies differences of opinion. Religions’ conflicts with science are evident at the beginnings of science.  Stories of the conflicts are legion, beginning with Galileo and Copernicus and continuing through Newton, Darwin, Einstein, and today’s scientists that regularly conflict with religious belief.

Politics interferes with science because pragmatic cost/benefit calculations conflict with scientific curiosity and the human’ desire to explore the unknown.  On another level politics is parochial while science is international.  Sagan’s story reflects on political reluctance to share information with other countries while many scientists insist on broad collaboration.  In the case of the Contact story, a long message from another planet cannot be received in one transmission because of the rotation of earth. Collaboration, at least for receipt of the complete message, becomes a necessity. However, Sagan’s more fundamental point is that most scientists believe collaboration is essential to progress in science, regardless of nationality. Pure science has no national boundaries. The third level of political conflict is examined through the eyes of religious fundamentalists and a public that fears the unknown.

Sagan, with his wife Ann Druyan, wrote the story line for the 1997 film.  Contact, the book, explains the origin, operations, and challenges of a real life organization called SETI, “Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence”.   The movie shows film is a better communication medium for Sagan.

SETI is a controversial program.

Part of the science community believes the probability of hearing a message from another world is too remote to warrant science funds and resources for the project.  The political community feels there is too little return on investment to warrant continuation, let alone expansion, of SETI.  The book explains the tremendous potential of contact, but the story fails to create much excitement to change one’s mind about SETI’s value.  The story builds to a climax that is interesting but a reader/listener’s ascent to the summit is barely worth the climb.  In contrast, the film offers a more immediate emotional punch.

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