Category Archives: Books

Kurt Vonnegut on Veteran’s Day

Kurt Vonnegut on Veteran’s Day vs Armistice Day:

BreakfastOfChampions(Vonnegut)will come to a time in my backwards trip when November eleventh, accidentally my birthday, was a sacred day called Armistice Day. When I was a boy, and when Dwayne Hoover was a boy, all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.

Armistice Day has become Veterans’ Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans’ Day is not.

So I will throw Veterans’ Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don’t want to throw away any sacred things.

What else is sacred? Oh, Romeo and Juliet, for instance.

And all music is.

Kurt Vonnegut
Breakfast of Champions (1973)

WATCH: Childhood’s End is coming to television

Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke was first published in 1953 and it regularly lands on lists of all-time greatest science fiction novels. It was among the first books I read as a child when I discovered the joy of books and a love for sci-fi.

And now it’s coming to television as a miniseries. The long wait for a trailer is over.

Here it is:

If SyFy does this right, it’ll be great. But more likely, it’ll be fair to good. Hopefully, it won’t be awful. The danger would be in re-writing Clarke to make the aliens evil, rather than as they were in the novel: not quite here with our best intentions at heart, but with a view toward the next step in human evolution.

Childhood's End, first edition, 1953

Childhood’s End, first edition, 1953

Memorial Day reading

Slaughterhouse Five

“Slaughterhouse Five” by Kurt Vonnegut is a great book to read over Memorial Day weekend. His first-hand account of surviving the bombing of Dresden as an American prisoner during World War 2, and intertwining it with a twisty time-hopping sci-fi story, is both harrowing and compelling.

It was a life-changing book when I first read it in high school. I never wrote — or read — the same way again.

Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt

“Mort(e)” is a novel you should read before Hollywood screws it up.

mortbookKurt Vonnegut said, “Love whoever’s around to be loved.” And to that I’ve added, “and be good to dogs and cats, because they’re pure.”

Well, there might be another reason to be good to dogs and cats, because maybe, just maybe, one day they might suddenly stand on their hind legs, grow hands with opposable thumbs, learn how to talk… and how to take revenge on humans who have mistreated them.

Mort(e) by Robert Repino is a wild, audacious, thrilling and sad novel about talking cats, dogs and ants suddenly gaining dominion over humankind; and about war, and cruelty, and love, and faith. In the end, it turns out that love is stronger than God.

The story of a cat’s undying love for a lost dog, who searches for her across years of apocalyptic warfare and the rebuilding of an animal society that turns out to be all too human, is a brilliant examination of our culture as well as a great sci-fi action thriller. I’m sad I’ve finished and there’s no more to read.

Dear Hollywood: this would be a great one to turn into a movie, but please don’t screw it up. When you slather on the CGI, try not to cut the heart out of it. If you do, I will sic the ants on you.

About galactic empires

GalacticEmpireBlackWarning: sci fi geekery ahead.

For some time now I’ve been writing up notes on a “galactic empire” that would look quite different from what’s been portrayed in most science fiction. In my imagination, a true galactic empire wouldn’t need to “conquer planets,” go to war or fight giant space battles. In fact, it would be better if most intelligent species were unaware of what else is happening in space. The wildly disparate levels of technology would be so variant that any kind of outwardly visible empire doing battle with another wouldn’t be plausible. I assume if an empire is able to encompass the galaxy it would have done so because it was able to move out first, before anyone else had risen to a level of civilization sufficient to challenge it.

An empire — if that’s what you need to call it — would only need to bring a few other spacefaring species into the fold and keep a close eye on the millions of lesser-advanced species, infecting those planets with exclusionary religions, superstitions and fractious nationalism to keep them from climbing out of their cradles.

Any resources, wealth, minerals, whatever, needed by the empire can be extracted from these planets without the natives ever knowing, but the resources could be taken from uninhabited planets anyway. I’ve never been quite able to buy it when a story posits an empire advanced enough to control a whole galaxy but still needs to target this one small planet to get the one thing it needs.

The name of the game would be to keep any planet that might one day be capable of advancing to the point of being a threat mired in distractions. The empire’s sociological scientists would be advanced enough to figure out who might be a threat in a few thousand years and who wouldn’t. And the empire would be thinking in terms of thousands or even tens of thousands of years, in the way modern nations think in decades.

With all that in mind, I found this article about what Frank Herbert and Isaac Asimov got wrong in their visions of galactic empires. I’m not sure I agree with everything in the article, but it’s a great conversation starter.

Kip Thorne

Photo: Wikipedia

Photo: Wikipedia

I’m interviewing Kip Thorne this week, to be recorded for later broadcast. The science nerd in me is TUMESCENT!

In the meantime, pick up his book The Science of Interstellar. If you liked the movie, he’s the science guy behind it.

First question: Are black holes the new black?

Foundation

Foundation

I just finished reading Isaac Asimov’s original Foundation trilogy for the second time — the last time I read it I was in my teens. My dad had given me a box filled with old sci-fi paperbacks, and those were the first ones I pulled out.

If you’re not familiar with Foundation, it’s a science fiction classic set in the far future and concerns the fall of a galactic empire, and a scientist’s attempt to establish “foundations” that will shorten how long the chaos will last before a second empire is able to arise. Heady stuff.

Because Asimov wrote the original three novels in the 40s and early 50s, there are a few anachronisms. For example, it’s set some 11,000 years after the founding of a human galactic empire — but people still read newspapers and smoke cigarettes. The books were published long before the advent of personal computers, the Internet and smartphones. TV was still relatively new and not everybody had one.

A few years ago a studio bought the rights to make a movie out of it and the director was one of those “blow things up real good” types – Roland Emmerich… I hope they’ve moved on from him, because Foundation is not space battles and Star Wars… it’s a sci-fi retelling of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. It’s about culture, the interactions of societies, and the debate between free will and determinism.

But they’ll probably throw tons of 3D CGI battles on it and add lots of alien bar fight scenes. Feh. You kids get off my lawn.