Paolo Bacigalupi, Ship Breaker

I encountered this name when I was looking for literature by Ted Chiang who obviously isn’t writing much at all. So looking for new texts of his is a litte time consuming and very often I found mentioned the name Paolo Bacigalupi together with Chiang’s until I finally gave in and got me one of Bacigalupi’s books. There should be a reason why those authors were mentioned in the same contexts. And I found out why: Marketing!

The setting of this story is Earth in a near future. Climate change has hit, ocean levels have risen and coastal areas are inundated. Storms are much fiercer and more abundant. It’s a far-post-peak-oil society where few extremely rich live separated from the enormous hordes of impoverished who try to scrape their living together from the remains of a wealthier past.

The hero is a boy, Nailer, who is working in a demolition crew. These crews populate the US Gulf coast where old supertankers have been stranded to be scrapped for their metals. The task of crews of children is to dive deep into the smaller ducts of the ships to collect valuable parts like copper wires or to look for pockets of oil residues. Since small children are more apt at crawling through those ducts they always face joblessness and complete abandonment after they have grown too big. Nailer is about to suffer that fate when one of the frequent super storms hit the coast. It blows away his horrible boss but spares his equally disgusting father. And it gives the boy the possibility to rescue some rich girl whose ship had been blown ashore.

From that point on the story becomes a princess and the beggar plot. He saves her from his bad father, helps her escape attacks from the bad part of her oligarchic group until she’s finally rescued and Nailer gets his rightful reward. Happily ever after …

The story is as predictable as it can get and its sf part leaves a lot to be desired. Those demolition crews are not really science fiction, they already exist at the asian and indian coasts – the sf element is apparently that this now happens in the US. New New Orleans is flooded but people stille live there – is climate change really still science fiction for the US american audience? By using jet streams sailing ships can become extremely fast – obviously there is no air traffic any more across oceans. And the world is dominated by big enterprise, oligarchs that are wealthy beyond measure whereas most of the rest are dirt poor – this doesn’t sound much like sf either.

All in all the story is quite boring to read. Perhaps when I’m feeling more bored than during reading it I’ll try another of Bacigalupi’s books. But this may take some time. Until then I can only conclude that the only two reasons to put Bacigalupi and Chiang in the same context is marketing — or reviews.

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Friedrich Scholz, Nach dem Ende

Es ist vielleicht etwas gemein über ein so altes Buch zu schreiben, vor allem, da es dies Buch wohl nur noch bei zvab.com zu holen gibt. Aber es ist mir beim Aufräumen in die Hände gefallen und ich konnte mich daran erinnern, wie begeistert ich früher davon war. Ich musste es also erneut lesen und hier die kurze Zusammenfassung.

In einer postapokalyptischen Welt haben sich die Nachkommen der Überlebenden in den Überresten der Zivilisation arrangiert. Fast steinzeitlich leben die einen in den zerfallenden Hochhäusern der Städte, treiben Handel und können mehr schlecht als recht ihren Alltag fristen. Sie leben in ständiger Angst vor den Göttern, andere Überlebende des Untergangs, die sich deutlich besser arrangiert haben. Sie hatten Bunker um sich nach dem Ende mehr oder weniger unversehrt eine neue Welt aufzubauen. Es gelang ihnen ihr Leben unendlich zu verlängern und nun haben sie die Erde unter sich aufgeteilt und herrschen als gefürchtete Götter über die weniger glücklichen Überbleibsel der Menschheit. Sie verbieten den Zutritt zu großen Teilen des Landes und halten den Rest der Menschheit so in ständiger Abhängigkeit. Gehorsam wird durch Furcht erzeugt. Die Nachkommen der Überlebenden erinnern sich nur zu gut an den Untergang der Welt und leben in ständiger Angst vor den pilzförmigen Wolken mit denen die Götter Unbotmäßigkeit bestrafen. Einem jungen Helden gelingt es in den Hofstaat eines dieser Götter aufgenommen zu werden. Mit Sex, Charme und Gerissenheit versucht er aus seinem Alltag zu entfliehen. Zusammen mit Freunden erkennt er aber die grundsätzliche Ungerechtigkeit dieser Welt und versucht seine göttliche Gönnerin zur Rebellion gegen ihre Standesgenossen zu überreden. Er hat damit zwar Erfolg, der Umsturz der Welt aber schlägt fehl. Die anderen Götter verstoßen seine Gönnerin, sie muss leben wie der Rest der Menschheit. Letztendlich ändert sich nichts.

Der Held zeichnet sich durch Schlagfertigkeit und Frechheit aus, etwas Besonderes aber ist seine Naivität. Diese Mischung aus Gerissenheit und Unschuld wird verdeutlicht durch eine fast kindliche Erzählweise der Geschichte, einfache Wortwahl, einfache Sätze. Ich habe so etwas später wiedergefunden im  Simplicissimus und war da zuerst etwas verblüfft, wie man ein Buch 300 Jahre vor seinem Erscheinen imitieren kann. Scholz hat es hier geschafft einen Simplizissimus in einer Welt nach dem Ende zu beschreiben. Wie bei Grimmelshausen erzeugt die naive Unvoreingenommenheit eine sehr eindringliche Atmosphäre, man erfährt alles aus der etwas unbedarften Sicht des Helden. Er ist allerdings nicht dumm und weiß sehr genau, was er will und welche Folgen seine Handlungen haben. Ich fand es insgesamt sehr überzeugend, wie Scholz es gelingt zu beschreiben, dass alles gleich bleibt, auch wenn es sich geändert hat. Warum sollte nach einem Weltenbrand sich die Natur derjenigen ändern, die diesen Brand verursacht haben? Menschen lieben, kämpfen und intrigieren um bei beiden Tätigkeiten die Gewinner zu sein. Insofern ist das Buch relativ pessimistisch was die menschliche Gesellschaft betrifft. Einen Hoffnungsschimmer liefern aber die Menschen selber, die sich mit den Gegebenheiten arrangieren und das beste aus ihnen machen, auch wenn nicht immer mit den besten Ergebnissen. Für einige Leser dürfte der erwähnte naive Ton der Erzählung etwas gewöhnungsbedürftig sein. Mir hat das Buch wieder so fantastisch gefallen, wie auch früher schon. Ausgesprochen lesenswert und also auch kaufenswert: http://www.zvab.com/advancedSearch.do?title=%22Nach+dem+Ende%22&author=Scholz,+Friederich&iref=suggest07

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Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter, The Long Earth

I don’t know if I like that book. The story is about the discovery of an endless sequence of alternative earths, the Long Earth, “east” and “west” of the main thing called “Datum Earth”. One day mankind discovers that they are able to step into these alternative universes with the help of a wired potato with a switch. On this basis the authors use several side conditions to explore the possibilities of such an alternative world setting.

  • Condition one is the fact that humans are alone in this multiverse. In all of Long Earth only Datum Earth is inhabited by humans.
  • Second condition is the fact that only humans or rather sentient beings can step over to these other earths. This generalisation becomes important during the story.
  • When humans step into other worlds most of them need more or less time for recreation, a condition similar to the one in Charles Stross’ “Merchant Princess” series. At the fringes of the human bell curve there are those who can’t step at all, no matter what kind of potato they use in their steppers and those who step lightly and easily, sometimes even without a stepping device.
  • Another condition is that people who step can only take things with them that they are able to carry themselves, again similar to Charles Stross’ “Merchant Princess” series. No tricking by touching anything and then switching the stepper, everybody has to carry the stuff that they want to take with them.
  • Further the authors declared that nothing containing iron can be taken across the borders. Since they obviously realised the danger for stepping humans to arrive at another earth without the iron in their hemoglobin, they allowed iron to be carried over when it is incorporated into someone.

With these conditions set the authors start to explore their world. It is virtually infinite nobody has ever found the end of this long sequence of earths. But practically these constraints limit its usefulness for every single human. There is no way to exploit the long earth in an industrial way, since all our machinery relies heavily on the use of iron. When you want to get something done on another earth you have to do it yourself and you have to start from scratch. You can’t carry good tools with you, everything has to be done anew. Since practically everybody can step there is also no way to confine people to a certain place. You can’t glue workers to a job they don’t like because if they don’t like it they step to somewhere else and nobody can stop them. This dilemma between theoretical abundance of goods and the practical limitations of this abundance is illustrated in several side stories and flashbacks. What is the value of gold if really everybody can have his or her own goldmine? And what if you would have to mine this gold with prehistoric means, without machines or even iron tools? Other side stories and flashbacks illustrate social effects of the Long Earth, how people set up treks to new lands similar to the treks westward in the USA, only without horses. Those who want to emigrate have to go with only the things on their backs, no planes, no cars, not even coaches can cross the borders. What happens to those left behind? What becomes of Datum Earth when it’s drained of people who all head out to find their fortunes in new universes? The main storyline recounts the tale of the first scientific industrial exploration of these alternative earths. A natural stepper, Joshua, is hired by a sentient computer to help it explore more of these worlds than anybody had been able to do before. I particularly like this sentient computer, his name is Lobsang. He is a reincarnated tibetan farmer and thus officially approved human. As a sentient being he has built a zeppelin as his body and together with Joshua they go off exploring the far away regions of the Long Earth (see condition two) in search of some dark secret. There the authors realize that their condition No 1 would make the whole story a little boring. So they water it down and there pop up several types of humanoids throughout the journey that all are able to step. The explorers even find intelligent dinos. They carry on until they run into a natural barrier of the Long Earth. Lobsang goes on and Joshua is sent back with the backup copy of Lobsang’s memory. The End is completely open.

The narrative sometimes is a little dreary what I’d like to attribute to Stephen Baxter, since I’m a big fan of Terry Pratchett. But all in all I like the web of main storyline, side stories and flashbacks. Lobsang is a very nice idea (why has nobody had that before?). But the book itself doesn’t seem to be a real story. It looks more like a sketch, a long story plot you can use to write the real stories. The setup of the background with these conditions and constraints gives this book a little technical feeling. It’s a book that makes you think. And while I was at it I wondered why those experienced authors write a book with only a long story plot and particularly why do they leave the end wide open? That’s not the way of anglo authors. I like open ends, they allow you to think the stories further on. Thomas Mann did that open end thing with “Felix Krull” but I can’t remember any english speaking author who had dared this. Doesn’t appear to be good for marketing. After a while I came to a conclusion that I didn’t like very much. What if those two had been bought to write the first story of a new franchise? That would explain these clear nearly laboratory like conditions, the sketchiness and the open end. Their publishers would make a fortune if they could sell this story as the basis of future franchise books, games, movies aso. That would turn me from a reader of this book into some marketing raw material for the enhancement of this franchise’s worth. I don’t like that idea! But as ideas go they often come to stay.

So that’s why I’m not certain I like that book. It is definitely not one of Pratchett’s best, but might be one of the better ones of Stephen Baxter. I’d say it’s only for enthusiasts.

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Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games

In einer postapokalyptischen Welt beherrscht die böse Hauptstadt, Capital, die 12 Distrikte, die alles sind, was von Amerika noch übrig ist. Deren Einwohner müssen wie Sklaven für die Hauptstadt schuften, jeder Widerstand wird brutal unterdrückt. Bei einem Aufstand wurde der 13. Distrikt dem Erdboden gleich gemacht und zur Strafe für diese Rebellion finden seitdem jährlich in der Hauptstadt die Hunger Games statt. Dazu werden pro Distrikt je 2 Tribune ausgelost, Kinder zwischen 12 und 18, ein Junge und ein Mädchen. Alle ausgewählten werden in eine Arena gesperrt, ein speziell präpariertes Areal und gezwungen, gegeneinander zu kämpfen, bis nur noch ein Überlebender übrig ist. Die Hauptfigur dieses Buches ist Katniss, ein Mädchen aus Distrikt 12, dessen kleine Schwester als Tribun ausgewählt wird. Katniss tritt an ihre Stelle und die Geschichte nimmt ihren Lauf. Weiter geht es mit Kämpfen in der Arena, mit Freunden, Familie und Rebellion. Katniss kämpft, streitet sich mit ihren Freunden, versöhnt sich wieder, nimmt an der Rebellion gegen die Hauptstadt teil und am Ende ist beinahe alles gut.
Die 3 Bücher sind relativ locker erzählt, recht spannende Geschichte, auch wenn es fast schon klassisch postapokalyptisch ist. Die Romane sind eindeutig Jugendbücher. Ich habe mal irgendwo gelesen, alle Jugendlichen hätten etwas von einer Borderline-Störung. Die Hauptfigur Katniss schwankt zwischen egozentrischem Selbstmitleid, weil niemand sie möge, und beleidigtem Weltschmerz, weil sie als Zentrum der Welt von allen misachtet wird. Typisch pubertär weiß sie weder, was sie will, noch was sie nicht will. Gut und böse sind deutlich erkennbar für die Leser, was das Buch etwas langweilig macht. Die Geschichte wirkt außerdem ziemlich amerikanisch antiseptisch,  es gibt Gemetzel, Morde, Bombardierungen, Verbrennen und so weiter, alles, was mit Sex zu tun hat fehlt völlig. Ein paar keusche Küsse sind alles, was die Autorin ihren Lesern zumutet. Insofern ist es wohl eher ein Buch für junge Jugendliche. Angenehm ist, dass sie auf ein echtes Happy-End verzichtet hat. Sprachlich ist das Buch recht einfach, wer also seine Englischkenntnisse aufmöbeln will, der sollte es ruhig hiermit versuchen. Am besten nicht kaufen, sondern nur leihen.

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Enders Game vs. The Forever War

While on a train from Berlin to Poznań I was reading “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card. A polish guy who sat in the same cabin noticed this and after confessing his love to SF he  recommended “Joe Haldeman”s  “The Forever War” (saying something like “Enders Game” is good, but “The Forever War” is incredibel).

Having read  “The Forever War” just after finishing [Enders Game – Speaker of the Dead – Xenocide] I would really like to give my opinion about the comparison of these novels.

 

“The Forever War” is a War-Novel in a SF setting. Its detailed about the life und suffering of a soldier. Its  entertaining and quite informative for someone raised in a war-free modern middle-europe.

“Enders Game” on the other hand is a cutting-endge, debatable and very SF-creating piece of writing.

To summarise I would state: To be able to come to a understanding of 20th century SF you need to read and process Enders Game and its implications.

 

of course this is just my personal, subjective optinion.

… to be continued

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Dan Simmons – Hyperion – The Fall of Hyperion

No other Science Fiction novel had a more lasting effect on me as Dan Simmons Hyperion Omnibus.

I’d like to call Dan Simmons the “Stephen King” of Science Fiction, not only because “Hyperion” reads as a cross-over between SF and Horror but also because Dan can write as absorbing as the great master of modern horror.

This Series (of you like the style and setting go for all 4 books of the series) is really “unputdownable”.  So take your time…

 

Qualification (of couse really subjective):

Suitability: Beginners (out of Beginners, Medium or Advanced SF Readers)

Genre: Horror-SF (as in the “SF Genre Categorisation after Alexander/Bernhard/2012”)

Entertainment: High

Recommendation: High

Overall Rating: 5/5

 

Plot summary:  7 pilgrims travel to the world Hyperion. Every one tells the tale of his/her connection to Hyperion.

Awards: Do you really need an award to read a great novel? Of cource it got an Hugo!

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Here we are!

Drinking beer and chatting about Science Fiction the idea came to write down our opinions about all the consumed science fiction novels.

On the one hand to keep track over them (have I read that? what was it about?) but also to share the collected information.
Live long and prosper 🙂

 

 

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