27 June 2015

Putting the SF in SF: A Review of Foundation, Isaac Asimov

Perfection, thy name is a blue-sky day, an empty park bench, and at hand a space book to while the hours away. Reading in the summer months has always been an obsessive period. July/August is when this girl ticks books of her list, either be it a complete retrospective of all that Agatha penned or an intense relationship with Tostoy's horse drawn lanes.

This summer's compulsion sprang from Empire of Dust. It's simplistic space operatic drama triggered a desire to make this summer a science fiction summer, grand master realm science fiction; the science fiction that puts the science fiction in science fiction. 

Without grade 10 English my journey down this space path may never have occurred. It wasn't until Japan that my SF passion developed as I moved from obsessively rereading Dune to exploring the genre. A decade or so ago, living in a small agriculturally Japanese town, English books were a rarity. An English teacher had to either bring her own into the country, share with others, or luck upon a cast away. In the copy room of the small school I taught was a pile of random English novels left behind by past teachers, long gone. Amongst this pile was Foundation, and hence began my second intense relationship with a series that gave birth to the geek I am today.

Sitting with Foundation open before me, I am yet again astounded that I like it as much as I do. It is said that to read the grand-daddies you have to look to the times that they were written. Even on this, my umpteenth reread I continue the futile search for a viewpoint beyond the male perspective, or at the very least a casting of women that does not portray my fellow sistren as nagging, flippant wives, dazzled by jewels, obsessed with the next miracle home appliance. For such a creative mind, how was Asimov unable to stretch his imagination beyond his social confines, explore the concept that the world is larger than the male perspective? Even as I expound on this I realize that Foundation has no place for these enlightened sentiments.

Foundation is based upon the fall of Rome. Hari Seldon a brilliant mathematician/psychiatrist develops the science of psychohistory:  a mathematical algorithm to predict the future of humanity. Seldon calculates the fall of the mighty Galactic Empire, sealing the fate of billions but through those same predictors finds a path through which humanity can grow and flourish once again. Although it is filled with space ships Foundation is at its core an ancient tale and as such should never be expected to be forward looking. 

It is an easy read, Asimov was not a poetic genius able to swirl words together. He was a story teller for the people, making him forever readable. The tone of Foundation is simplified, somewhat the voice of Tomorrowland, if the voice of the old 1960's Disney play-park could speak. It is also space opera at it's purest level, a novel documenting the fall of an empire and the rise of another. This story has touched many a writer, and its legacy can be found in countless plots. 

Without Foundation, I wonder what path science fiction would have taken?

22 June 2015

KOA: A Review of Empire of Dust, Jacey Bedford

Summers as a kid found me either barefoot, ripping around on my 3-speed bike, or backseat of the family car, spying for KOA signs. We were a camping family; that was our thing. I grew up learning to catch salmon in the fjords of Alaska all the while sipping on hot apple cider mentally preparing for my daily morning argument of why my brother should allow me to eat the Fruit Loops from the multi-pack cereal snack box. My parents believed in packing us all up and seeing Canada through the vantage point of the open road. There were no overnights in hotels, or road side diner pit stops. We drove from Nova Scotia up through to our new home in the Yukon one long summer, stoping for the odd baseball game, the odd relative reunion and fishing. As long as my Mom had a book, my Dad could stop at any prospective raging river or brook to try his luck. For all those trips, all those places travelled through, it was not the arrival but the anticipation of getting there that lingers. 

Maybe this is why Empire of Dust by Jacey Bedford was the perfect book for this girl to launch her summer reading campaign. Even though Empire of Dust is described as psi-tech it really is an old school space adventure with focus on adventure. My local SF bookstore had to weave their art of negotiation rather tightly around me before I tossed it into the buy pile. However I soon discovered that the very tech I was reluctant to explore created a more cohesive world-view, lending an air of uniqueness to the plot that heightened my imagination. 

Bedford's world-view is thankfully not utopian. The story is rather dark, Cara Carlinni, a first grade psi-tech telepath is on the run, hiding from her past employer, the mega-corporation Alphacorp. The science is not holistic encompassing; being upgraded with technology to expand a person's latent psychic tendencies has a price of servitude that can be viewed from both ends of the spectrum of personal gain to life-long bondage. To be fair, the adventure does drag, the crisis opening the novel does not dissipate until the denouement. Once resolved to the notion that all the secrets Cara held close were not going to be revealed quickly, I stepped back, and simply enjoyed the ever-increasing pace and seemingly never-ending level of anxiety that shadowed the main characters. 

Empire of Dust is the perfect little space book, for the perfect summer day. It is less about the characters and more about world-building, scope and plot. Sometimes the journey is the story, especially when it comes to Empire of Dust.