A Question of Balance

The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov, published by Doubleday, original © 1972. (Originally published in the Galaxy Magazine and the World of If magazine in 3 installments.)B Gods Themselves

Even today, after reading, and re-reading, Asimov for almost 40 years, I still encounter a book by him that I haven’t heard of before, which is not too surprising since he wrote somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 books over his lifetime, and not surprisingly, the new finds always turn out to be very good reads. This book is a great read and one of his most interesting and original sci-fi stories.

In 1957 Asimov published The Naked Sun, his last original, adult sci-fi novel until 15 years later when The Gods Themselves was published in 1972. Asimov had lost his confidence in writing science fiction in the late 1950s, believing that the genre had passed him by, but fate and circumstance stepped in early in 1971, at a New York science fiction convention, to bring him roaring back to his natural calling and eager fans.

Asimov describes his inspiration and determination to write a new sci-fi novel in the introduction of a reprint:  A Dedication of Some Length to The Gods Themselves published by Easton Press in 1986:

…Then, on January 24, 1971 at a science fiction convention held in New York City, I was in the audience listening to Robert Silverberg and Lester del Rey carry on a public duologue on the subject of s.f.  In the course of this, Bob had occasion to refer to some chemical isotope — any chemical isotope — to make some point, and after a moment’s hesitation, said, “Plutonium-186.”

Naturally, when the duologue was over, I accosted Bob, in order to tell him (with considerable glee) that there was no such thing as plutonium-186 and could not be.  Bob did not, however, wilt under this demonstration of his scientific illiteracy but said stolidly, “So what!”

“So this,” said I. “Just to show you what real ingenuity is, I will write a story about Plutonium-186.”…

Having thrown down the gauntlet, Asimov sets out to produce a novel that the sci-fi community agrees is one of the best, and rightly so, original science fiction novels ever written, winning both the Nebula and Hugo Awards for that years best novel; a binary feat reserved for the crème de la crème of the genre’s writers.  Asimov, to add an exclamation point to the awards and his fan’s acclaim, states that this novel is his favorite work of fiction: quite a statement for such a prolific and successful writer.

In the 22nd century everyone is running out of energy, the Earth, red giants, the “Energizer Bunny”, parallel universes: everyone. In The Gods Themselves, a seemingly win-win solution comes from an alien world in a parallel universe; the exchange of mass between their universe and ours, due to the differences in the governing physical laws, creates unlimited and free energy. As usual, altruistic motives do not apply, and the exchange of matter, as it turns out, for the not-so-free energy, will cause the eventual, and uncomfortably soon, destruction of Earth.

The novel is divided into 3 parts; the first part is an Earth perspective with, as Asimov describes, a bluesy “downbeat”, a vision of an alien existence in the second part with another bluesy “downbeat”; and the 2nd part truly does contain some of the most original and imaginative sci-fi narrative ever written, and a third part described from the moon inhabitant’s viewpoint, ending the novel on a jazzy “upbeat”.  “A wonderful read, is The Gods Themselves” claims Yoda, draining the force of its negative energy.

A Short as a Feature – A Drama as a Mystery

Anti Matter (2017)  Rated: NR  Runtime: 105 minutesM AntiMatter 2017

Genre: Drama-Mystery-Science Fiction-Thriller

els – 4.0/10

IMDb – 6.3/10

Amazon – 3.4/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics – 7.2/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience – 4.3/5

Metacritic Metascore – NA/100

Metacritic User Score – 7.5/10

Directed by:  Keir Burrows

Written by:  Keir Burrows

Produced by:  Dieudonnée Burrows

Music by:  Edwin Sykes

Cast:  Yaiza Figueroa, Tom Barber-Duffy, Philippa Carson

Keir Burrows is a celebrated short film director and writer making his feature-length movie debut with Anti Matter; a low-budget, moderately, but mistakenly, cerebral science fiction flick set in the present at England’s Oxford University.  Ana (Figueroa), a doctoral candidate, along with two of her fellow student accomplices: Barber-Duffy as Nate and Carson as Liv, design a protocol to transfer matter from one point to another, instantly, via a wormhole.  After successfully transferring inanimate objects and small life-forms Ana, to guarantee future funding for her research and the subsequent commercial development of instantaneous globe-hopping, transfers herself through the wormhole, after which her mind ceases to retain any new information or memories, thus beginning the mystery of why that happened and how to correct it.

This movie has received fairly positive reviews; this will not be one of them.  The title of the movie is an enigma and a charade, anti-matter does not enter into this story one way or another; it is never mentioned, that I can remember, and wormholes are predicated on the curvature of space-time and negative energy, at least according to the current working hypothesis.  Why name the movie Anti Matter? The title “Negative Energy” certainly would have been more honest and just as good, if not better.  Additionally, the subtitle: “Science and Hell have Come Together”, is also a non-starter, an illusion of horror, likely used in the title and story synopsis only to drum up interest and sales. The only hell is the one contrived by the director and writer to create a mystery that only exists with the viewer, and if the viewer is paying attention, the mystery does not last for long. The acting is abysmal; paying for real actors would have paid big dividends. Liv who plays, unconvincingly, the world’s greatest jerk, making Sean Penn and Don Rickles look like well-mannered saints, hopefully, never sees the glare of another movie set light in her life, and she can rightfully blame the director-writer for her atrocious nature and character development, or maybe not. This is a movie that has all the appearances of a short that was stretched, unforgivingly, into a full-length feature film. Cutting 25 minutes of celluloid, 80 minutes is still a feature film, may have saved this movie but the director’s ambition in creating a mystery-thriller out of a sci-fi drama outran his talent.

If you are into B movies, by all means, watch this film, otherwise take a pass and do something else with your time.

Elephants, Magicians, and Zombies: Oh My

The Fantasies of Robert A. Heinlein by Robert A. Heinlein, published by Tom Doherty Associates, © 1999.

Robert A. Heinlein, the dean of science fiction writers during his lifetime, the first among equals, the first among the 20th century big three: Asimov, Clark, and Heinlein; began his writing and publishing career with short stories and novellas. He first appeared in printB Fantasies Heinlein with a 1939 short story titled Life Line, published in the pulp fiction magazine, Astounding Science Fiction. He published 29 short stories and novellas before publishing his first novel in 1947, Rocket Ship Galileo.  (Heinlein did write a novel in 1939, For Us, The Living: A Comedy of Customs, but it remained unpublished until 2003, 15 years after his death.)

The Fantasies of Robert A. Heinlein is a collection of 8 short stories and novellas written between 1940 and 1959, illustrating why he was selected as the first Grand Master, in 1974, by The Science Fiction Writers of America.  The line between fantasy and sci-fi is a fine one: the majority of these stories have one foot in each realm with the scales tipping towards the fantastic. I had read all these stories individually many years ago, and I enjoyed them then, but they are still fresh and fun to read today, maybe more so, since they are all packaged together, chronologically, allowing the reader to assess Heinlein’s progression as a writer and story-teller through the years. Below are the short stories and novellas contained in this compilation.

Magic, Inc., © 1940, with an alternate title of The Devil Makes the Law. Magic, Inc. makes the rules until Amanda and Archie take charge.

–And He Built a Crooked House, © 1940. You may run out of time when building your house or maybe your house will run into time.  The title to story was a spoof on the English nursery rhyme:

There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile.
He found a crooked sixpence upon a crooked stile.
He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse,
And they all lived together in a little crooked house.

They–, © 1941.  Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean your mentally ill.

Waldo, © 1942, written under the pseudonym of Anson MacDonald. Anson was Heinlein’s middle name. Magic makes the world go around.

The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag, © 1942. Artistic endeavors usually need some touch up paint.

Our Fair City, © 1948.  It’s hard to dance with a whirlwind when you have crooked feet.

The Man who Traveled in Elephants, © 1957.  A good life, a few good friends, great beginnings. Heinlein considered this his best story.

“–All You Zombies–“, © 1959. Punctuation-wise, word-wise, a strange title; you need to read a few words short of the end to figure it out.  While you are reading, Ella Fitzgerald may be appropriate background music; spring, …time, can really hang you up the most.

Everyone Gets An Upgrade

The Atlantis Gene (The Origin Mystery, Book 1) by A.G. Riddle, published by A.G. Riddle; © 2013B Atlantis Gene

The Atlantis Plague (The Origin Mystery, Book 2) by A.G. Riddle, published by A.G. Riddle; © 2013

The Atlantis World (The Origin Mystery, Book 3) by A.G. Riddle, published by A.G. Riddle; © 2014

Science Fiction is replete with original, creative and amazing stories of the future and future’s past; Herbert’s feudal future checked by a hulking nematode in his Dune series; Asimov’s stories of future doom and mitigation in the Foundation series; Card’s tales of adolescent potency and adult deception in his Ender’s series. RiddleB Atlantis Plague‘s Origin Mystery trilogy is not one of these original and creative stories.

The trilogy explores an alternate history of mans origins, portending a simple plot of who controls who and for what purpose, but quickly gets lost in extraneous details and insignificant sub-plots.  Reading Riddle is the printed expression of ADHD, character development is stunted and dribbled out in brief disconnected chapters that come back together eventually, after they have slipped from your memory, only to bifurcate again; sub-plots within sub-plots within plots, tentacles going everywhere and nowhere, impulsively going off on tangents to explore another unnecessary point. B Atlantis World

Originality and gifted writing does not live in this book.  Most of the topics and plots have been done before and usually better. Dialog and narrative are 1 and 2 dimensional.

…Dorian rushed forward and struck Ares, killing him in one blow. The Atlantean hadn’t expected it, and Dorian fought like a feral animal with nothing to lose.

Striking one blow and fighting like a feral animal are not congruent actions.

…Dorian rushed forward, killing Ares again…The cycle repeated twelve times, and twelve dead bodies, all Ares…on the thirteenth resurrection, Ares stepped out and held up his hands…Dorian rushed forward and killed Ares again.

Occasional changing up the verbs keeps the monotony away and Live Die Repeat, the movie, already did this scene – creatively better.

Steven King’s greatest achievement, The Dark Tower series is a captivating and deliciously fun 5000 pages of dystopian fantasy that will go down as one of literatures greatest creative endeavors. The punitive sin in the entire series was the creation, the introduction of a new character, Patrick, the destroyer of Mordred, in the last 100 pages of the series, solving King’s plot dilemma with an eraser.  Riddle pulls the same amateurish stunt towards the final chapters of his trilogy, introducing the god-like Sentinels, a deceitful writing ploy, but thankfully it euthanized the tale.

Riddle should have kept this to a single volume, forcing a simpler, crisper plot line.

God Will Come When We Become Gods

Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke, published by Harcourt, Brace & World; © 1953

B Childhood's EndArthur C. Clarke, or imposing proper reverence, Sir Arthur C. Clarke, was an avowed atheist, dancing, contradictory, with the concept of God through all his great works; notably Childhood’s End, 2001: A Space Odyssey, 2010: Odyssey 2, 2061: Odyssey 3, and 3001: The Final Odyssey. At times he was adamant about his beliefs, “I don’t believe in God or an afterlife”; and on other occasions absolutely flippant, “Any path to knowledge is a path to God—or Reality, whichever word one prefers to use.”; which is remarkably similar to his third law; any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

His chosen god-given paradise was that of an evolutionary, transcendent transformation to a higher order; not necessarily a gift from an omniscient being but that certainly is a conceivable end point of several of his utopian narratives.

Childhood’s End begins with humans not worthy of traveling further into that celestial ether but our progeny are trainable to receive that gift. Earth is taken over by a race of space aliens known as the Overlords, that have come to suppress our worst instincts and desires, prepare and guide us, towards the enlightenment of the Overmind.

Childhood’s End is considered Clarke’s greatest novel and he certainly thought it his best, and it definitely sent him on a trajectory to further explore concepts of transcendence in later works culminating in his hugely successful Space Odyssey series.

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