One of my reading goals for 2021 was to re-read or experience anew the classic sci-fi series getting pop-culture adaptations — Foundation and Dune.
Halfway though 2021, and I’ve made good on part of that with my listening to Issac Asimov’s Foundation. I have to admit that listening to the novel was a different way of experiencing one of the giants of the science-fiction genre and one of the pillars (notice I didn’t say foundation) that all of science-fiction is built upon.
The good news is that Foundation still holds up. It’s a rich, episodic novel that is less concerned with space battles and space opera and more on having characters debate big ideas and moments. The Galatic Empire is failing and historian Hari Seldon says there is nothing that can be done to stop it’s fall. However, the length of the coming Dark Ages can be shortened if all of humanity’s knowledge is collected together on a single planet in a single resource.
Early on, humanity looks to Seldon to guide them through various crises, before realizing that Seldon has pulled a bait-and-switch. There is no intention of publishing an encyclopedia with all of humanity’s knowledge included. Instead, Seldon has created a group to be a beacon of light in the dark times and to possibly consolidate and wield power. And so, over the course of several thousand years, Asimov details the men who will come to power and the crises that will face civilization continuing.
It’s a fascinating series of stories — ones that never fail to intrigue me or hook me. I will go out on a limb here and say that I don’t think Foundation is quite as solid as Asimov’s robot novels, but that’s probably because I read the Robot novels first. The first entry holds up well, though it does concern me how this might be adapted for the screen since most of (OK, all of) the huge dramatic action tends to take place off-screen and we’re treated to various characters talking about what happened and the ramifications of those actions.
I’ll still be tuned in for the upcoming series, though based on the previews, it looks like they’re adapting the first two books for season one. But after listening to this one again, I don’t hold out much hope that the series can and will be as good or as impactful as the book.
Now, time to keep that resolution and start the second installment….
One of the eternal questions debated on many a playground is if you could pick one superpower, which one would it be and why? Odds are that a lot of the responses are going to be the old standards of flying, running fast, or becoming invisible.
The becoming invisible portion is the basis for one of the building blocks of the science-fiction genre in H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man. Odds are that even if you haven’t read it, you’re aware of the basic outline of the story thanks to multiple pop-culture retellings or uses of the character over the years.
For this year’s Vintage SciFi Month, I decided that I’d take a look at the foundational novel in the genre and see if it holds up.
Since it was included as part of my Audible subscription, I decided to take advantage of it and began listening. And immediately found myself not really looking forward to going back to it. The story of a scientist who invents a serum that allows him to become invisible and then becomes a raging ball of id just never quite connected with me this time around. Doing a bit of research, I found that Wells initially serialized the story, which then put into the Doctor Who frame of mind of figuring out where the cliffhangers all were. And maybe the story would have worked better unfolding in weekly or monthly installments. But I’m honestly not so sure. Continue reading
It’s Vintage Sci-Fi Month! It’s a time to celebrate the foundation (pun fully intended) and look back at some of the building blocks that brought us to the future.
Hosted by the Little Red Reviewer, “vintage” refers to anything published on or before 1979. And while, I’ve picked out a few books to read during the month, I have to admit part of my excitement about 2021 will be two adaptations of two of the giants in the genre.
Yes, I’m referring to the upcoming adaptations of Foundation and Dune.
Dune has had multiple attempts to bring it to the silver-screen, including the David Lynch version and a couple of Sci-Fi Channel miniseries back in the mid-90’s. Both had their good points, both had some limitations. But I can’t wait to see what director Denis Villeneuve brings to this sprawling epic. His work on Arrival (which made me weep at the end. If you haven’t seen it, go into it without knowing anything) alone made me think that he could do for Dune what Peter Jackson did for Lord of the Rings. I have to admit, I’m extremely encouraged by the preview we got late last year and while I have HBO Max, I may still pony up for a ticket to see the one on a huge screen with cutting edge surround sound.
I’m also equally intrigued to see Issac Asimov’s Foundation novels come to life as a tv series. I read these for the first time back in high school and loved them. I read them at the time when Asimov appeared to have a bit of a resurgence on the best-seller list and was working to tie all of his various universes together (with varying degrees of success). It seems like there were rumors for years that the novels would become a movie franchise, though I have to admit after I, Robot, I was concerned that a two-hour movie might not do justice to this seminal sci-fi series. Now, that it’s a series for Apple TV, I hope it has the time to tell it’s story right and hopefully open up this world to a whole new generation of fans. Again, the preview released late last year has me intrigued.
I know we’ve got a bit of a longer wait for Dune than Foundation (which I think is promised this spring). And I really do hope that both live up to my expectations and dreams for them.
Either way, I think I may spend some of my 2021 reading time with these old friends. I’ve already purchased the audiobook of Dune to refresh my memory and I’m leaning toward doing the same for the Foundation novels.
Many of Richard Matheson’s short stories and novels take a supernatural premise and make it relatable through the use of the characters and their reactions to it.
This isn’t the case with Matheson’s What Dreams May Come. The novel is Matheson’s attempt to look at what happens to us after death and while it’s interesting, I never felt like it necessarily connected with me in the same way that other Matheson novels and short stories have.
Driving home, Chris Nielsen is killed in a car accident. After his spirit lingers in our world for a bit, Chris transcends to the next level of being. While he’s content there, he misses his wife Anne and longs for the day she’ll join him on the other side. But when Ann can’t take the pain of missing Chris, she commits suicide, condemning her to a purgatory of sorts from which her spirit can’t or won’t escape. Chris decides he needs to rescue Ann and undertakes a journey to the underworld to bring her back.
There are early passages in this novel that work very well, from Chris’ initial frustration about not being able to interact with his family and friends while “stuck” on this plane of existence. And while Matheson attempts to set up the romance and deep love that Chris and Ann share, it never quite becomes as transcendent as the novel requires. Chris’ grand gesture to potentially throw away his eternal existence to “save” Ann should feel more monumental than it does.
I found myself growing frustrated with the novel at points because, as I said before, Matheson has given us stories focusing on “love that transcends the bounds of time and space” before in Somewhere in Time. And yet as unbelievable as the premise is that a man could will himself back in time to be with the woman he loves, I found it far more easy to suspend my disbelief for that premise than I did for the premise here. Part of it is that I was a bit more invested in the characters in Somewhere in Time (aka Bid Time Return) than I was in What Dreams May Come.
But even “lesser” Matheson is still enjoyable Matheson. And while I didn’t love this novel as much as some of his other works, there are still some good nuggets buried in here.