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Showing posts from December, 2021

Bewilderment (SF) - Richard Powers ****

Generally speaking, I avoid anything listed for the Booker Prize as being too worthy and pretentious to be bothered with, but I'd heard good things about Bewilderment , and I have found in the past that genre books that manage to get past the literati ( Wolf Hall , for example) are far better than the average entry. The publisher would probably disagree, but the reality is that Bewilderment is science fiction. I wondered to start with if Richard Powers was dealing more in Lab Lit - fiction with a scientific context but where the science isn't the driver in how people's lives are changed - but this is pretty solid SF. Clearly the book is strongly influenced by that SF classic Flowers for Algernon - in fact, Powers does a couple of open hat tips in its direction. Although Bewilderment isn't as ground-breaking as Flowers , it follows the model of a person's brain being changed by science to deal with an issue, but here it's an emotional problem rather than an in

Dune (SF) - Frank Herbert *****

The year 2021 has seen two SF classics that were considered impossible to film well make it to the screen. What was arguably the greatest SF of the 1950s, Asimov's Foundation , turned up on Apple TV (in highly modified form), while the best of the 1960s, Dune has been filmed (in part) more effectively after the occasionally impressive but generally disappointing David Lynch 1984 attempt. To accompany the movie version, this handsome hardback edition of Dune has hit the shelves. Most SF fans will be familiar with Dune, but if you haven't come across it, what we have here is an impressively wide-scale space opera, centring on the desert planet of Arrakis, known as Dune, source of a unique spice that is both anti-ageing and, in excess, supportive of a kind of prescience. The planet is occupied by a people strongly modelled on traditional Middle Eastern Arabic cultures and is the subject of political in-fighting between two 'great houses' and an Emperor. The whole thin

The Genetic Lottery - Kathryn Paige Harden ****

Sometimes you get hold of a book, then keep putting off reading it, because it seems like it's going to be hard work. That's what I did with The Genetic Lottery - in a sense I was right. It could have been more accessible in its writing style, but where I was expecting a woke, knee-jerk response to genetics and social equality, what we get instead is a well-reasoned argument for taking a different approach, combined with more in-depth explanation of the traps it is possible to fall into when dealing with the influence of genes on cognitive ability, earning etc. - and how to avoid them. Kathryn Paige Harden has to tread carefully. Any mention of linking genetics and ability is liable to face an instant accusation of resorting Galtonesque eugenics. However, Harden espouses what she calls anti-eugenics. It is not enough, she suggests to be genetics blind. If we really want equity of opportunity, we need to try to level out genetic favourability just as much as we should try to de

Cytonic (SF) - Brandon Sanderson ****

The third in Brandon Sanderson's Skyward series is perhaps not quite as impressive as the second,  Starsight , but still packs in enough to make it a good read. Interestingly, where Starsight triumphed in terms of action sequences, the best bits of Cytonic for me were more talky and philosophical - but filled in huge gaps in exactly what is going on in the series, particular in terms of the nature and motivation of the mysterious delvers. Not as action packed, then, but more fulfilling in its revelations.  Broadly we get three acts here - the first is a kind of mission quest across a Roger Dean-like (and surely Roger Dean-inspired) floating islands, the second involving some of the starfighter flying action that Sanderson does so well, and the third the talky bit, which had a touch of van Vogt about it, for SF oldies who might appreciate the reference. (Speaking of Roger Dean's art, the Barbie-like proportions of the central character seem to get more extreme with every cove