Reviews of free sci-fi with titles beginning with a number.
Recently I inherited a large collection of professional science fiction published between 1978 and 2002. This includes works from such well-known names as Greg Bear, Larry Niven, C.J. Cherryh, Steven Baxter, Octavia Butler, Orson Scott Card and many more. It is possible to access much of it for free thru public libraries, but it is not the same as free market sci-fi in that all of it has been thru professional editing and marketing. That does result in good prose, well developed plots and characters and usually better proofreading than many of us hobbyists can come up with. In later years the proofreading of main line fiction has come down to the level of the better free-market writers.
I will not review the individual stories here as none of it is actually in the free market, though they were free to me. What I will do is extract some generalities from the works of the period.
The number one take away is that science fiction writers of the day, in general, thought there would be much more advancement in mechanical and energy devices and much less in electronics. Most believed there would be enormous advances in transportation such as high speed maglev or personal flying devices. Most believed there would be a permanent human presence in space by now, one even believed we would have already launched an unmanned expedition to the stars. Permanent colonies on Mars were almost common in this era or soon after. Most believed there would be a lot more advances in medicine than there have been, chiefly because they believed we would work to preserve youth instead of old age. They didn’t take into account that the medical profession makes it’s money from old age and not from youth.
There were a few who saw the cell phone coming, but it was voice only, as in Star Trek. No one saw the smart phone coming and no one had even the slightest notion of what it would do to society. There were a few who thought there would be a world-wide data network but none thought too much about what it would mean to society. There has been other paid sci-fi that was not in this batch where these issues were thought thru a little better but the free market today is far ahead of what the paid market was predicting at that time.
A few saw the the loss of privacy and the advent of the surveillance society that we have today, but none saw it as something that we would embrace. Those who saw it, saw it as in 1984, big brother. They saw it as something we would all do our utmost to avoid, not something we would gladly assist.
The world-view of most was quite dark, but nowhere near as dark as most free sci-fi is today. If you believe as I do that sci-fi helps to create the future, we are now living in the future the darkest of them helped create. Many saw the decline of the United States, but thought it would be brought on by nuclear holocaust, a bio-engineered plague or even alien invasion. A very few understood that the decline would come from within, but many foretold the rich taking everything and the poor being left with almost nothing. Few predicted that future as well as the movie ‘Soylent Green’.
Sex was much more common in those earlier works, especially when compared to today’s free sci-fi. None have as prominent a role for it as the stories set on Kassidor, but in many it is at least present. In this regard sci-fi generally reflects the attitudes of the time when it was written and not the time it is intended to portray. If I did that there would be no sex on Kassidor. I am still writing with the attitude of the 1970’s when it could still be discussed openly.
The two factors of society that I have discussed in depth have been touched, briefly and lightly, in a few of the stories. Extended youth was touched in a few, especially in the the story ‘Marrow’ by Robert Reed. In that people were eternal, but it had almost no effect on the characteristics of society. Of course the society in that story had so many other pressures on it that the effects of longevity would be unlikely to show.
There were some early looks at living in virtual worlds and simulated humans. Some even brushed the idea that simulated humans can no longer be sure they know what’s real and what isn’t.
Politically the sci-fi in that collection was generally rightward leaning but racially tolerant. There were some important characters of African and Asian descent, some even in parts important enough that they were alive at the end of the story. Most of it was violent, but none as violent as some of the free sci-fi available today.The biggest difference is that the paid market has to concentrate much more on entertainment. The two most entertaining for me were the Atevi trilogy by C. J. Cherryh and the Ender series by Orson Scott Card. The Ender series also tackles some serious moral issues involving aliens, but probably as a stand-in for race. If he did not intend it that way, we can perceive it that way, as an important defense of tolerance. At the time he wrote it the status of minorities was still on the rise and the backlash we’re experiencing today had not reached the mainstream. The least entertaining to me were the books by Steven Baxter. They are almost always very dark, almost always kill off the main character(s) and often end with the destruction of the Earth, Humanity or the entire universe.
**** sex = 5, action = 3, prose = 9
The first two thirds of this book is really a celebration of youth. There is talk about how doing something thrilling is a life changing experience, which is what almost all young people do. There is a lot of talk about how beautiful the women are, a lot of talk about surfing, hang gliding and other thrilling and beautiful things that were done by youths. It is being young that is the real thrill, though most of us don't know it at the time. There is talk about the universe loving the main character, and it is pretty normal to feel that way when you are young. It is very difficult to feel that the universe loves you when you are a 92 year old invalid, in diapers, in constant pain and lifting a fork to your mouth is your highest athletic achievement.
The characters are young during the late 60's, 70's and 80's, the 'baby boom' generation. It takes place in Australia, mainly in metropolitan Sydney. This time is during the big cultural shift, and if the story is accurate, it happened in Australia with none of the warfare that happened in the USA. There is more pot smoked in this book than there was at Woodstock, even my lungs got sore just reading about it. They don't worry about the law, they never face the hatred and violence of the previous generation. It could be fantasy, but I can believe it after talking to people from other countries that weren't the USA, even people from the Soviet Union. No country seemed to experience as vicious a backlash that we did in the USA.
The book is full of the philosophy of the times. There are many passages where people feel they are given insights by the drugs they are doing. There is a point when the main character starts to realize that the great insights are really drug dreams but that is not until later when the Sci-fi aspects of the story begin to appear. For most of the story there is little mention of the Sci-fi aspect of the story, and no need. The first two thirds of the book could stand without it, and would probably actually be improved a bit if you didn't know the California surfer dude wasn't really from California. For two thirds of the book there is no plot as such, it is more a biography of one person's life, relationships and philosophy.
There are some sexual encounters but they are not porn. There is almost no violence, the action is all surfing, hang gliding and the like with a couple gruesome accidents. The last third of the book contains the plot, which I won't spoil. The characters are the same and it does flow nicecly from the young hippie part of the story to the the Sci-fi adventure, but it is really two different books.
I liked the book mainly for the excellent characters, the excellent narration (though it does jump around in time a little at first) the breathtaking settings and the vivid capture of the joy of youth. My own youth was not the same in detail but I can definitely relate and loved being back in that time. I don't know how autobiographical this is, but it has to be a lot more than The Second Expedition which is my own take on the adventures of that era. There is supposed to be a sequel, I haven't seen it. I'm pretty sure the sequel will be more about the plot and less about capturing the essence of those beautiful days of youth.
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