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Science Fiction Happening Now

Bionic people? Yeah, we’re working on that.

Check out the book I’m reading, We Have the Technology: How Biohackers, Foodies, Physicians, and Scientists Are Transforming Human Perception, One Sense at a Time by Kara Platoni.

We Have the Technology by Kara PlatoniI’m on the third chapter, Vision. Platoni starts the chapter with the man who has “the Model T” eye. He’s one of a few people in a medical clinical trial with an electronic eye implant that helps him see. He only sees black, white, gray, and flashes of light, but that’s more than he could see for the prior 17 years.

Since I’m not in the field, I didn’t know a fifth taste had been identified and added to the four I knew. Besides sweet, sour, bitter, and salty, we also have umami or savory. (School kids may know this now, but the newest sense became official long after I got out of school.) That’s in the Taste chapter. Platoni has chapters on the five basic senses, then moves on to what she calls the Metasensoory Perception – time, pain, and emotion.

Her final section, Hacking Perception, moves firmly into the world that once was only in science fiction. She discusses virtual reality, augmented reality, and new senses. People have augmented their senses for centuries with devices – glasses and watches are a good example. Here we will find the people who go further – watch out for those bionic people I mentioned.

I’m only about a quarter of the way through this, but We Have the Technology is fascinating. If you want to see science fiction becoming real science, read Kara Platoni’s book.

(And yes, I do read some nonfiction.)

Link to Amazon.com Books

Book Review: Lock In by John Scalzi

Lock In by John ScalziDo you like good science fiction? Do you like a good mystery? If either of those questions is yes, don’t miss Lock In.

In the first week on the job, FBI agent Chris Shane gets involved in a case that has everything – money, power, politics, protests, personal control, vendettas, and personal substitutes. Shane is a third stage Haden’s syndrome patient – the body is locked in place in a medical cradle while the conscious inhabits a robot body.

Read more…

Great Science Fiction/Fantasy Authors

 

Ender's Game by Orson Scott CardIt’s no secret that I love good (and bad, I have to admit) science fiction and fantasy stories. Today I came across a list of authors (41) who have had at least 3 Hugo nominated novels. I haven’t read something by all of the authors, but definitely by most of them. This is a list any sf/f reader will appreciate.

Authors with at Least 3 Hugo-nominated Novels

Reading Oddities

 
Every once in a while I find myself reading books with connections that I doubt someone else sees just because of what I pick up when. This is one of those times.

For my RL book club we are reading Helen Simonson’s general fiction novel Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. It’s about an older, retired Engglish gentleman who knows what’s honorable, proper, and right. He knows what should or shouldn’t be done – within the culture he has always known. Then he finds he is attracted to Mrs. Ali, the Pakistani English widow who owns the local store. Although she was born and raised in England, she is still foreign to the neighbors because she’s different. The Major learns a lot about himself and his neighbors in this gentle novel as he turns from what he “always knew” to what he knows is right. I finished it last week.

In contrast, I am now reading a tween to young adult futuristic dystopic science fiction novel called The Boy From Ilysies by Pearl North. It is one I received for review after I had enjoyed the first book in the series, Libyrinth. Po, the main character, is the only man in the Libyrinth from a matriarchal country. He now lives among people who consider all of themselves equal Other men around him come from a patriarchal society. Po keeps making cultural mistakes. He doesn’t understand the others’ cultural mores, nor is it easy for him to believe he is equal to a woman. He keeps deferring to them even when they don’t want that. Po has to learn a whole new way of living – a new culture. (Of course, since this is a young adult adventure book as well, he has to end up on a quest to save the Libyrinth.)

The odds of anyone reading and mentioning these two books in the same breath are slim to none. Yet here I am, struck by their similarities. When life around us changes, we must adapt or break. Both Major Pettigrew and Po must change their thinking and adapt to improve their own lives. They are both products of their culture, breeding, and upbringing.

I hope there’s not a lesson there I’m about to have to learn…

Studying Science Fiction and Fantasy

 
Grimm’s Fairy Tales
Alice in Wonderland
and Through the Looking Glass
Dracula
Frankenstein
The Invisible Man and The Island of Dr. Moreau
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s and Edgar Allen Poe’s short stories
Princess of Mars and Herland
The Martian Chronicles
The Left Hand of Darkness
Little Brother

That is a short list of Who’s Who in fantasy and science fiction over the past 300 years or so. That is also the syllabus for the Coursera Science Fiction and Fantasy online course I’m taking right now. It is taught by Eric S. Rabkin, a professor of literature at the University of Michigan. All the Coursera classes are free and taught through respected universities.

First, I have to admit I’m out of the study habit. No, I’m not getting a grade or college credit for this course. Even so, I want to pass on the pass/fail scale. It means reading a novel (or the equivalent) each week. I have read most of these books. But a few are new to me. Although I know the basic story, I hadn’t read Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I’ve read The Invisible Man, but not The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells. I’d read all of the Poe short stories assigned, but hadn’t read any of Hawthorne’s short stories before this – only his novels. Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland is the only novel in the group that has never crossed my SF radar at all. I also haven’t read anything by Cory Doctorow, let alone Little Brother.

There is the challenge of a novel a week – plus a short essay, plus judging four (or more) essays by other students. There are also discussion forums and video lectures that are posted after we submit our essays. Silly me, I still want to read other things as well.

I quickly gave up on And the Ladies of the Club by Helen Hoover Santmyer. It’s 1000 plus pages, and is the book by real life book club is discussing next week. I still listen to books in the car and at work, so have kept up my mysteries. I still read a romance novel for a while before bedtime as well. So yes, I’m still getting a lot read.

It is very interesting, though, to re-read these books in a different light. Now I have to evaluate them – or some aspect of them. I’m reading them with a different mind set. I knew when I read Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness the first time that I missed a lot. This time through, though, I’m seeing other interesting things. For example, it is written from the point of view of two outsiders who are trying to work together by the end of the book. I hadn’t thought about it before, but that is a different perspective and puts the book in a whole new light. Will my essay next week be about that? Who knows, because I’ve discovered other things as well. Re-reading a classic or loved novel is always enlightening. It’s even more so when you concentrate on the subtleties you missed the first time.

I’ve enjoyed the challenge. I’m also looking forward to reading books I don’t have to think about, just enjoy.

If you need a school fix without the challenge of the classroom, check out Coursera. The classes are free and range over more than 100 topics.

Another Science Fiction Master Missing

 

Currently I’m reading/listening to Harry Harrison’s The Stainless Steel Rat’s Revenge. This is rip-roarin’ fun spies in space.

This morning I’ve learned Harrison has died. I was lucky enough to see him once at the LA Times Festival of Books a few years ago. He wrote a lot of good books, from fantastic space opera, to young adults invasions, to short stories, and everything in between in science fiction. Pull one of his books out and have fun.

Rest in Peace, Master Harrison.

Redshirts Redux

 

redshirtsAfter I finished Redshirts on the plane, the gentleman sitting next to me observed that I must have liked the book. (I kept chuckling out loud.) I asked him if he knew scifi culture or Star Trek. He didn’t. I was able to explain just enough for him to understand my appreciation. We had a nice chat after that. He works with a small theater company in Portland. His only connection with the world of science fiction or fantasy is through there. They’re putting on Ursula Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness at the end of their season. Since I’ll be reading that for the Coursa class I’m starting, I asked more questions. It looks like I’m going to try to return to Portland next May so I can see it. Scalzi gives an entertaining ride to the reader. The three Codas at the end tie up some of the stories that are necessarily left hanging during the storyline itself. Laugh at yourself and have a rolicking time with Redshirts.

Redshirts

 

If you were at ComiCon last weekend or are a Star Trek fan or keep up with pop culture science fiction trends, you know about John Scalzi’s newest book, Redshirts. I finally got my signed copy (my store was getting them signed while Scalzi was at ComiCon last weekend) and started reading it yesterday.

I was laughing out loud by page 50 because Scalzi nailed so much of the dramatic genre so well. I especially keep laughing at the lieutenant who “almost dies” every time he goes on an away mission, then is miraculously cured within a week or two so he can go on another away mission and have it happen all over again. Over the years I have made lots of jokes about the healing properties of television serial heroes.

I’m flying out of town tonight and hope to finish the book by the end of the plane ride. It’s a hoot.

Locus Awards Nominations

 

Locus, the magazine of the Science Fiction and Fantasy field, has announced their nominations for the Locus awards. I’ve actually read two of the novels on the list – wow! Check out the nominations.

Locus Award FinalistsThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

From the Fantasy Novel category, I’ve read the excellent Among Others by Jo Walton. From the First Novel category, I’ve read The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – a book I highly recommend.

Of course there are other books on the list I want to get to. Sigh, once again – so many books, so little time…

Further Education

 

Have you heard of Coursera yet? This is from their website:

We offer high quality courses from the top universities, for free to everyone. We currently host courses from Princeton University, Stanford University, University of California, Berkeley, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and University of Pennsylvania. We are changing the face of education globally, and we invite you to join us.

One of my coworkers pointed it out to me, including a 4 week class on the current state of healthcare. That class tempted me. Then I looked over the curriculum. I found the class I have wanted for a while.

Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World

 Ten weeks, starting in July, I get to immerse myself into a wonderful genre. The timing is great for me as well – between book club meetings. August is our month to choose books for the following year, so that gives me some extra reading time. (OK, we’re reading And Ladies of the Club in September – but I can get it in there, I’m sure.)

I wish I knew the reading list for the class. I’ve already read the two mentioned, and look forward to discussing The Left Hand of Darkness. I wonder what else we’ll be reading. Expect to hear more once I start the course.