A Taste of the Future

One of the great things about reading science fiction is receiving a glimpse into the future. It’s not true of every science fiction writer, but a great many of them are well read in the social and scientific trends of their day and weave that knowledge into their writing, extrapolating out to take a guess at where we all might be in a few decades, centuries, or millennia. Of course, predicting the future is a hard business, and it’s a truism that nothing dates so quickly as science fiction. Still, Verne had men travelling to the moon, Clarke foresaw the communications satellite, and Gibson gave us cyberpunk and the kind of brain-computer interfaces that are even now emerging into the light.

I’m even guilty of it myself, in the short stories that I’ve written that veer into the science fiction arena. I’m not claiming any great foresight, but I do enjoy finding here and there among the materials that I read an idea or two that sparks a story. In some cases, the original inspiration gets forgotten. So I don’t really know where I got the idea for “Life and Death on the Edge of Unreason“. I suspect I just liked the idea of an observation station orbiting a star about to go supernova. As settings for a detective story go, it’s pretty evocative.

It’s not the best story I’ve ever written – the fact is that a detective story in a panopticon society with instant access to information is never going to work well. Still, I was reminded pleasantly of it when I read this article, all about  one of the main elements in the story – a charred planet surviving in a star’s outer layers. Pleased enough to be inspired to tidy it up and offer it here as some Christmas reading material. I hope you enjoy it.

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November Reviews

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November was a month of major readjustment for me, keeping me busy and reducing my opportunities to add to this blog. Hopefully that will change in the weeks to come. In the meantime, here are some reviews of the books and movies I managed to avail of during the month.

Book Reviews

Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson: Written with the full cooperation of the Apple founder in the years before his death but without his editorial interference, Isaacson’s in-depth review of Jobs’ life reveals him to be a complex, often unlikeable, character who is redeemed by a life trajectory that saw him learn from his failures and recover to change a range of global industries. Isaacson’s interest is in Jobs the man rather than Jobs the technological pioneer, and this book is likely to disappoint those who have criticised or lauded him over the years from within the technology industries, but as a portrait of his personality, it’s exhaustive. It’s not likely to become a classic of the biography field, but as a portrait of Jobs himself, it will probably never have a rival.

Temeraire, Naomi Novik: Taking fantasy out of its traditional faux-medieval setting can be tricky, but Naomi Novik manages to make it very rewarding as she delivers a Napoleonic-era tale embellished by the addition of dragons. Not only is the impact of dragons on the world carefully thought through, but the characters are rendered with due care and attention to detail, creating an overall package that is emotive without being overly sentimental. One of the best new fantasy offerings in years, it not only tells a fine tale but also sets up a world that most readers will be keen to explore in subsequent books in the series.

Movie Reviews

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: One of the finest assemblages of British acting talent in years (all white and mostly male, mind you) offer up a masterclass in acting as they move through a spy thriller where the smallest gesture or glance carries a novel’s worth of meaning. Based on the Le Carre book, this is as far from James Bond as you can get, with the unravelling of the treachery at the heart of the plot requiring patience and psychology, with guns kept off the screen except for a few moments at the beginning and end of the film. A film about loyalty and betrayal as much as it is about the Cold War conflict it depicts, it is intricate enough to reward repeated viewing if you’re determined to winkle out all the nuances on display by the first-rate cast.

Wuthering Heights: Taking the latest shot at the classic tale of gothic moorland romance, director Andrea Arnold strips away the framing narrative and minor characters to deliver a version that proves heavy on the atmospherics but somewhat muted in terms of passion. Extreme closeups are seemingly meant to remove the emotional distance between the audience and the cast, but everything proves to be downplayed to the point where the adult character of Heathcliff, more central than he is in the book, never quite escapes the sulky victim of circumstance he’s portrayed as in his youth. The film itself is stark and easy to follow, even given the lack of dialogue, but for all of its apparent efforts to get to the heart of Emily Brontë’s tale, it doesn’t reveal much worth knowing.