• Science Fiction Short Story Junkie

    Sandkings book cover
    Credit: Cover by “Rowena” from Amazon.com

    I’m a science fiction junkie. I don’t remember the first science fiction book I ever read, but I do remember starting very young. My father gave me all his science fiction paperbacks, many bought during the 70s when he was on the road a lot for work. His collection included Heinlein, Simak, Clark, and tons of Asimov. As a teenager, I expanded that collection significantly by trading in my grandmother’s Harlequin Romance novels at the local used bookstore at increasingly outrageous exchange rates until they wouldn’t take any more. My choices often were anthologies. They had more pages and there seemed to be a ton of thick choices.

    I’m still a science fiction aficionado although I’ve “traded” in my paperback buying habits in favour of unabridged audiobooks and e-books. To that end, I ran across the following earlier this year and I thought I’d share: Free Science Fiction, Fantasy & Dystopian Classics on the Web: Huxley, Orwell, Asimov, Gaiman, and Beyond. This lists a variety of formats, including text and audio–alas, not for every book included. You might find it worthwhile to check out. Enjoy!

    As a self-confessed scifi short story junkie, the most vivid stories that have stuck with me have been short stories. For example, Sandkings by (surprising to me!) George R. R. Martin creeped me out immensely and I didn’t see the corresponding The Outer Limits episode. You’ve heard the aphorism that people resemble their pets? This story riffs on the reverse, showing what happens when our “pets”, insectoid aliens, caricaturize us, flaws and all. I wonder how much better we’d be as people if we all had our own Sandkings putting up an incontrovertible mirror?

    Which science fiction stories have most stuck in your mind?

  • [Sci-Fi September]

    I’m moving right along! Now that I’m done teaching my “short” (but intensive!) course and the marking is all done for it, I obviously had more time to sit back and read, because I read 13 books in September. That’s more than double August’s total of only 6. Here’s the list:

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  • [Time Travel Title]

    I’ve been participating in a discussion of The Time Traveler’s Wife at Howard Rheingold’s Brainstorms community. If you have read the book, you know that Henry always travels through time naked involuntarily. That reminded me of a time travelling story I read in the 1980s where the protaganist travelled naked on purpose. He explained a naked man was less startling in any time than a person in clothes wildly out of sync with the time in which the traveller finds himself. Imagine, for example, how remarkable it would be to find a traveller on the road in front of your house fully clothed in full Elizabethan regalia or some whacky futuristic clothing. While naked people are unusual on the road, at least they’re not anachronistic.

    In addition to time travelling, I believe the story may have involved some kind of barrier which trapped time travellers and broke their machines, if they used a mechanical method of time travelling. The protagonist hit this barrier and ended up in a society heavily controlled with an active police presence. When he interacted with the locals, they thought he might might have been “Slandutch” or “Slandeutsch” because he spoke still in complete sentences with a traditional English word order and verb conjugation. For example, where he would say, “Are you Slandutch?”, the temporal natives said things like “Be you Slandutch?”. The local police eventually caught up with the protagnist and he’s jailed with a variety of other humans and aliens who have also been time travelling.

    I’m guessing this story was written between 1950 and 1970, although I read it in the early 1980s. What is the name of this story and who wrote it?

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  • [Random Reading]

    I have all kinds of reading on the go at the moment. From Audible, I’m just over halfway through the unabridged audio version of Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife. I’ve been really impressed with it so far. With the exception of a few cases, like how did Clare reach the lake when Henry took the one and only car at 3 am, the story’s been well-developed and covers some interesting aspects related to time-travel and causality.

    On my handheld, I’m working through an Baen omnibus release of Andre Norton’s The Time Traders. This is possibly not as good as The Time Traveler’s Wife, but an excellent way to spend a few minutes before bed or while standing in line somewhere. I’m already into the second book in the omnibus edition, The Galactic Derelict, where some of the time traders have found an abandoned alien ship and it has activated and taken them back to its home port. This is actually a re-read for me as I’ve read it in the last three years already, but it’s entertaining enough, as I said, for idle moments.

    By the toilet, I have the trade edition of The Deptford Trilogy by Robertson Davies (Canadian content!). I raced through the first half or so and I’m sort of stalling on finishing it off. Somehow it’s lost its appeal for me. Perhaps if I continue pecking away at it, I’ll regain my interest and finish it off.

    By the bathtub, I’ve just finished off two thirds of the books I have from Christian Jacq’s historical novels about Ramses, pharaoh of Egypt. I only have the first, fourth, and fifth book in the set. The first book, Ramses: The Son of the Light covers Ramses’ life as a boy and how his father grooms him to become pharaoh over his older brother, whom everyone was sure would succeed the throne. It sets the stage and introduces all of the major characters and events that will shape the series. After reading the fourth, Ramses: The Lady of Abu Simbel, I think the first is the best one of the set I’ve read so far, but it’s still intriguing enough and the fourth has an interesting take on Moses and plagues of Egypt. I’ll probably continue on the fifth.

    In my personal development corner, I’m working slowly but surely through a number of books. As personal development books only pop up at most once a week and some only once a month, these are all longterm projects. As I didn’t learn PHP (or Perl, for that matter) in a structured fashion, I’m working through the O’Reilly Programming PHP, an introduction to bits and pieces that make up the PHP language. Also on a programming theme, I’m working through Head First Java, also published by O’Reilly. The Head First series employs a novel approach to teaching programming, at least novel in any book I’ve happened to pick up: it tries to get you seeing, doing, singing, writing, etc, trying to engage all of your senses in learning the material and much of the material is presented in bizarre and comic ways. I’m not very far into it, but I think it’s an exciting approach.

    Also in my personal development corner, I have a few books on improving my skills with graphic design applications. I’ve upgraded my old copies of Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator to the new Creative Suite versions and picked up new copies of Adobe Illustrator CS: Adobe Classroom in a Book and Adobe Photoshop CS: Adobe Classroom in a Book to go with both of them. Adobe Classroom in a Book books are prepared by Adobe and they start with bare essentials of these programs and help you proceed through various projects and modification of included projects/examples throughout the books. I’ve used them before, but I’ve never managed to finish them. Now, with a scheduled approach, maybe it will eventually happen–preferably before the software is outdated this time.

    In the last year, we’ve upped our incoming periodicals. We now receive Utne, National Geographic, Scientific American, and the weekly Canadian news magazine Maclean’s. I don’t always have time to cover them all, but I’ve done well in the last few weeks, as I’m completely current on Maclean’s and Scientific American. Utne is often my favourite, though, because it’s like the Reader’s Digest of the alternative world, packed with all sorts of interesting advertisements and stories.

    So, even though I don’t talk about it, I am still packing away the books. All this reading leaves me no time for discussing. (-:

    Disclosure: Amazon links have a referrrer program link in them that generates revenue for an international discussion-based virtual community to which I belong. Your cost is not affected.