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  1. #1
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Books

    We have an off-topic thread about films, why not one about books?

    Oh well, yes, I've read most of the classics... but I want to talk today about a genre that I love although some consider it to be low-brow (I disagree; there are many worthy examples of top literary value in some representatives of the genre - granted that they are not always easy to find and there *is* a lot of low-quality production out there, as well): science fiction.

    I'm reading an author that is new to me, and while I'm still on page 124 of this 588-page book which is just the first installment of a saga, I'm impressed with the unusual depth of character development and the deep insight into the human condition this author is showing. The writer is Peter F. Hamilton, and the series is called The Reality Dysfunction. I'm reading part 1, Emergence.

    The human race has spread throughout the galaxy, thanks to the immense capacities of a new technology called bi-tek, that is, extreme integration between biotas and machines. This integration can be developed into two main styles. Half of the humans remain fully biological although they count on genetic engineering to enhance various capacities. Most notably, they have developed telepathic capacity so they are very empathic beings. A good half of humankind has embraced this telepathic enhancement - they are called the Edenists - while the other half has chosen to stay without it - the Adamists - and instead, the latter rely on nanomechanical enhancements of physical capacities, leaving the psychological mind untouched. So, the Adamists are more on the bionic enhancement side, being stronger (for instance, with nanostrenghtening of various organ membranes so that they can endure higher g acceleration and more longevity for long-term travel in conventional spaceships). The Edenists, however, count on the advantage of a collective consciousness.

    The two types co-exist mostly peacefully, and collaborate with each other in various ways in spite of seeing each other often with some suspicion.

    One of the main characteristics of the Edenists is their ability to communicate telepathically with their spaceships, which are sentient and for all purposes, alive (being that they are bi-tek machines, half biological, half mechanical).

    Well, this is not all. They are a lot more integrated than that with their spaceships. They can actually in a way mate with the spaceships and have offspring with them. OK, by now you're all laughing, since it does sound silly. Well, it is not. It is very well thought out by Peter F. Hamilton.

    A human Edenist couple gets fertilized eggs through old-fashioned sexual reproduction. These eggs are transferred to a spaceship's uterus. They get cloned and integrated into the spaceship's genetic material. The pregnant spaceship then delivers two children. One is a fully human child (no machine parts) with most of the genetic material coming from the human couple, and some from the biological parts of the spaceship. The other one is a bi-tek child-spaceship. The two entities are fully independent and fully sentient, but share a strong bond, a sort of oneness (they are in a way, twins), and achieve full telepathic contact among themselves like no other (while they do remain able to also communicate telepathically with all other Edenists and all other sentient spaceships). While the human child is left with the human parents to be raised and grow, the child-spaceship is parked in orbit and tended by adult spaceships, growing as well in size and age, both biologically (it is given organic food) and by being infused with various minerals that make up its inorganic parts (hull, propulsion drive, etc.). Both beings remain in telepathic contact while they grow, and mentally dialogue all the time. They love each other; their bond is really strong. When both the human child and the spaceship reach maturity, at age 18, then they meet physically for the first time and the teenager (a newly promoted adult) becomes the captain of the spaceship. While they grow, they are both taught lots of physics and space theory, military tactics, weaponry specifications, etc. The captain/adult spaceship pair therefore is the ultimate Navy unit, with enormous military and space navigation knowledge. They go out in missions to patrol the galaxy and to ensure the safety of human settlements in various planetary systems, etc. (there are other sentient species out there, some hostile). Meanwhile the more mundane space travel (transport, trade, etc) is left mostly to the Adamists who are better at endurance, etc. The sleek bi-tek sentient spaceships (called Voidhawks) with their symbiot captains are however much faster and lethal than their Adamist counterparts, thus being better fit for the Navy.

    The Adamists prefer to colonize planets. The Edenists live in space stations orbiting planets, called habitats. Since the habitats are also bi-tek huge-scale biomachines, they are sentient as well, and are able to absorb the thoughts and memories of all Edenists when they die. Those minds continue to exist in individual basis in the habitat's collective mind, and can continue to communicate telepathically with their loved ones who are still alive. This for all purposes make the Edenists immortal in terms of the eternity of an individual sentient mind - which then has resulted in the abolition of religion among the Edenists - they say they don't need it. The Adamists remain religiously-minded, this being the main reason why they have refused to get into the telepathic side of the bi-tek technology, which they feel is blasphemous in terms of substituting what they believe is the human soul for this electronic immortality of the mind.

    Well, so, this is the set-up. The author Peter F. Hamilton then embarks in a complex saga with dozens of characters, some Edenists, some Adamists. With the Edenists and their Voidhawks, we get all sorts of philosophical considerations given that they rely on a fabulously powerful and ancient collective mind, so they are very well equipped to think about the meaning of the universe, life, ethics, etc. They are basically a very positive force, given that they are incapable of betrayal or deception, since all individuals are an open book to all other individuals of the collective. They are also highly intelligent and their conversations are very interesting for the reader.

    With the Adamists, we get the old-fashioned independent human spirit, and they are the explorers of new frontiers and new worlds. Of course, they do have more of a regular human nature and can be greedy and deceitful, therefore they haven't eliminated crime like the Edenists did (thus the need for the Navy to exert police powers as well within the human confederation, in addition to functioning in defense capacity against hostile alien races).

    So the book goes back and forth between the two sides of humankind, with for example some characters being explorers in a new world that is being terraformed - and there we see exploitation, theft, etc., - and other characters being Edenists both in habitats - more concerned with science and philosophy and trying to decipher some important mysteries, and in space missions as Navy captain/voidhawk pairs.

    This book then packs lots of excitement - there are space battles and wars, there are pungent losses (like a particularly touching episode when one of the captain/voidhawk pairs gets killed while pursuing smugglers of anti-mater), and there are personal dilemmas in the Adamist side in their sort of Wild West pioneering tasks on a new planet. These parallel stories of these various characters are likely to converge at some point. The stories are *all* interesting, suspenseful, with good character development and psychological depth, and well written.

    And then, added to all these parallel stories, there is the main story that is unfolding, the Reality Dysfunction phenomenon - a mysterious event that has completely annihilated an extinct alien race called the Laymil, who seemed to have adopted a lifestyle similar to that of the Edenists, but got their entire collection of habitats blown to pieces around the orbit of a recently discovered gas giant. Of the Laymil, nothing is left except the bits and pieces of their habitats which became a ring around the gas giant (like Saturn's rings) - so that archeological exploration is done in order to try and piece back together an understanding of what happened to them. One feels that the Reality Dysfunction that killed off that race will become a threat to humankind (although we don't know yet what it is).

    All right, so, I'm enjoying this, and getting a break from opera, hehehe.
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); September 13th, 2012 at 04:35 PM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  2. #2
    Schigolch
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    I'm a big Sci-Fi & Fantasy myself.

    Not being very fond of the The Night's Dawn Trilogy, however. I wish you good reading (you have still a long one in front of you ), nonetheless.

    Just to mention one particular Sci-Fi novel I liked a lot, back in the 1970s, and that it could interest many people because of the current reputation of George R. R. Martin, I'd say Dying of the Light.


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    Senior Member Involved Member emiellucifuge's Avatar
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    Not a huge sci-fi fan but one the best series of books I've read is Frank Herbert's Dune, which as far as I'm aware stands like a giant in the genre. Have any of you guys read it?

    my favourite books tend to be late 19th century Russians... Tolstoy, Dostoeyevsky etc... Particularly Tolstoy. But I also love Thomas Mann.

  5. #4
    Schigolch
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    Yes.

    I've read all the Dune books, including the prequels by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson-

  6. #5
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Yes, Dune the book is awesome (and so are the sequels) - the movie made out of it, not so good.
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); September 13th, 2012 at 05:00 PM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  7. #6
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Schigolch View Post
    I'm a big Sci-Fi & Fantasy myself.

    Not being very fond of the The Night's Dawn Trilogy, however. I wish you good reading (you have still a long one in front of you ), nonetheless.

    Just to mention one particular Sci-Fi novel I liked a lot, back in the 1970s, and that it could interest many people because of the current reputation of George R. R. Martin, I'd say Dying of the Light.

    O darn. So, The Reality Dysfunction (book one of the Night's Dawn trilogy, of which I'm reading part 1, Emergence) is one of those things that start well and end badly, right? I've just read a review on Amazon.com that goes in the same sense: "I waited until I had read all six vols. of this marathon. Thus what I'm going to say relates to the entire series, not just this first part. As to the first part, it will suck you in with the hope that all of the following five long, long, long episodes are as good; they are not. Nothing about the final books is as good as the first, or even the second."

    So, that's really disappointing because the first one really sounds promising and enticing. Of course it's much easier to come up with good ideas to start something, than to keep up with it and skilfully tie up all the lose ends and provide a compelling ending.

    Well, if Hamilton could not keep up with his good start, then, why bother? Do you think I should continue to read it, or just dump it?

    Maybe I should switch to Dying of the Light as you recommended. I did very much enjoy Game of Thrones, so...
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  8. #7
    Schigolch
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    I will continue to read it for as long as getting entertained, of course.

    About Dying of the Light is a short novel, it can be read very quickly, and it's quite good.

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    I have read much sci-fi in my day. The Dune saga is a must - the first is obviously the best, but the whole series is worth reading. By that, I mean Frank's books. I find they may take multiple readings to truly digest what the grand plan is. The latter books take a bit more will power to plunge through, but are worth it. The "prequels" and "conclusions" written by his son and Kevin J. Anderson are worthy and interesting books in their own right, but I am loathe to credit them with being honest depictions of what Frank had in mind. They are a bit too cut and dry and simplistic compared to what Frank wrote.

    Asimov is a must. The Foundation series is excellent, as well as the Robot books.

    Many love the Ender series from Orson Scott Card - I read the first, Ender's Game, and was not as impressed with it as some, but still it should not be overlooked.

    Philip K. Dick is also a great one to read. His book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, was the inspiration for the movie Bladerunner, and many of his short stories have been made into movies (Paycheck, Total Recall, Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly - there may be more, those are what I could remember off the top of my head).

    Arthur C. Clarke - I enjoyed his 2001 series. If the whole intro part of the movie with the primates confused you, read the book - it made more sense to me than Kubrick's film.

    Heinlein - He is justifiably considered (along with Asimov and a few others) as one of the giants of sci-fi. I have not read many of his books, including his perhaps most famous one (Stranger in a Strange Land), but The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is a great story, especially for those who tend to favor a more libertarian political view (Heinlein was very much so).

    William Gibson's Neuromancer is a great book, but it takes some getting used to. If the concept behind the Matrix interested you, then this book is a must, and you will recognize some of the ideas in the Matrix emerging here first.

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    I also enjoy fantasy - unfortunately, I have been left disappointed by so much that I have read. Tolkien is the undisputed master in this genre - and sadly that is both a blessing and a cursing. The Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings, and the Silmarillion are on a very short list of books that I have read more than 4 times. The down side is that so much out there in fantasy has tended to be derivative of Tolkien's formula. Ever read anything in the Shannara series? The first book, The Sword of Shannara, while not a bad book, is a blatant retelling of the Lord of the Rings - a humble, not particularly skilled everyman and his loyal companion must make a long journey to overthrow a dark lord who has returned from a long exile to subject the world to his will. They are joined in their quest by a group of adventurers representing the various races of the forces of good, and are led by an enigmatic magic wielder who is steeped in both the magic and the lore of the world, and who at a critical point is lost to the company. The company is separated, and the protagonist and his companion must finish the quest on their own. Substitute a magic sword for a magic ring, and there you have it.

    George R. R. Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice series is excellent - it breathes new life into a genre that desperately needed it. Not for the young or the squeamish, it is a welcome change to the standard sword and sorcery tales. A Game of Thrones is the first, and, I believe, still the best. Many think that the most recent books have suffered much, and they are not completely wrong, but only when compared to the first. My only fear is that Martin will die before finishing the series (there are still two books to go, and he is notoriously slow at getting these out, but maybe the fact that HBO is turning the books into highly successful TV series will push him to be a little more diligent in the writing).

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    Finally, history is my last favorite genre. I have an affinity for war history, particularly both World Wars, the American Civil War, and the American Revolutionary War.

    Bruce Catton's books on the Civil War are very well written and actually quite entertaining books in their own right. His Army of the Potomac trilogy is an excellent example.

    Barbara Tuchman's book on the initiation of World War I, The Guns of August, is also quite good.

    Angels in the Whirlwind, a book about the American Revolution, is a very good single volume summary of the war.

    Currently I am reading Mommsen's The History of Rome. I am hoping that I will get a good survey of the history of Rome with this book.

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    Senior Member Veteran Member Aksel's Avatar
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    An intriguing book to say the least. And the cover is pretty.

  14. #12
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    I have dropped the series that motivated me to start this thread - since the negative reviews are spot on - it starts as a very intriguing hard sci-fi concept, and soon derails into a ridiculous fantasy story full of zombies and religious idiocy - not to mention that it is very verbose and overstays its welcome with the unnecessary long-winded secondary plots. The hot sex scenes can't save it.

    So, now I checked out from the library Schigolch's suggestion - Dying of the Light - and I'll read it over the obligatory flight delays in my trip to NYC tomorrow to see Anna Netrebko and the Met's season opening night.

    Dr. Mike's post recovers the best sci-fi authors, in my opinion. The Dune saga, Foundation, the Ender books, pretty much everything by Philip K. Dick, Clarke, Heinlein... they are the best, I've read practically everything by these authors, and the trick is to find others that can be comparable, in terms of quality. Not easy. Which makes of a lover of the genre like me, a jaded person. I crave this level of quality and it is not always there. I remember with nostalgic feelings the time when I was still exploring these authors, and I was marveling at their incredible imagination and writing skills. Now I've been there, done that, and it is very hard to find authors who will provoke the same emotions.

    Yes, A Song of Ice and Fire... it is simply spectacular! Although, like Dr. Mike said, the first books are better than the latest ones. If darn slow George R.R. Martin dies before he completes it, I'll be really mad. I hope at least if he runs into some kind of terminal illness, he gives an interview detailing how the series should end, before he bites the dust.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  15. #13
    Schigolch
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    I love many of those SF classics too, of course.

    Just to comment something more modern, let's say from the 1990s onwards, I like a lot Connie Willis. Particularly "Doomsday Book", "Passage" (my favorite) and the recent "Blackout".

    The "Spin" trilogy by Robert Charles Wilson is great, as well as Dan Simmon's "Hyperion" series.

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    Opera Lively Moderator Top Contributor Member Festat's Avatar
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    Currently reading El cine melodramático by Pablo Pérez Rubio and enjoying it to bits.

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    Senior Member Involved Member StLukesGuildOhio's Avatar
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    For a long time Giacomo Leopardi was one of those names that I had to take for granted. He was lauded as one of the greatest poets of the Romantic era... the sole Italian voice to stand along the likes of Blake, Keats, Wordsworth, Holderlin, and Goethe... but nothing that I read... with the exception of a few translations here or there... especially of L'Infinito... began to convince me of his reputation. Recently there have been two fine new translations of Leopardi's works: one by the Irish poet, Eamon Grennan, and the second by Jonathan Galassi. Galassi is known for his magnificent translation of the collected poems of Eugenio Montale... considered by many as the greatest Italian poet of the 20th century. His translations of Leopardi are just as fine... truly making this poet's work accessible to the English-language reader.

    I am particularly struck by the elegiac of many of Leopardi's poems... mourning for the Italy that was. Leopardi, of course, was writing during a period prior to Italian unification during which much of Italy was essentially a client state to the French. As an American art lover with Romantic notions of Italy and Italian culture the image of Italy as a pale shadow or ghost of its former self is quite striking. In one of Emerson's essays, he raises the question as to whether it is better to live during the early of of a great culture to be... perhaps even participating in creating that culture... or later... at the peak or even the decline of that culture... when one might fully enjoy the marvelous achievements of the past... but recognize that these are the past... and the future...? Emerson, of course, made it clear that he would vastly prefer the former... as does Leopardi... who himself an aristocrat, bemoans the dandy's lacking any sense of pride... and drive... who fritter away their inheritance.



    "Suppose you were an idiot ... And suppose you were a member of
    Congress .. But I repeat myself." -Mark Twain

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