(Pre-)Golden Age Science Fiction Free Online

The Best Science Fiction Stories: 1950

The Best Science Fiction Stories: 1950 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Instead of continuing to discuss the development of science fiction as a genre of literature, this post is going to talk about resources for finding Golden Age and pre-Golden Age science fiction, whether short stories, novellas or novels, freely available online. In many cases, copyright was never renewed and so much of the literature I will refer to in posts to come (as well as stuff I shan’t mention) can be found on-line cost-free in full, both as texts and audio-files of stories and books being read. Google is your friend in this regard as lists are virtually imposible to keep up to date.

Two of the greatest resources in this regard are Librivox and Project Gutenberg. The former does list short stories and novels, but again such lists will never entirely be up to date. The index for science fiction on Project Gutenberg might be more reliable.

Another good point to make here is that Project Gutenberg is multilingual and so works in a variety of languages can be found.

Posted in editorial comment and discussion, novels, short story collection (same author) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Jules Verne and the birth of science fiction proper

Stylized illustration of a spaceship and the s...

Stylized illustration of a spaceship and the sun, based on the description of the emblem of the fictional Galactic Empire in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series (“The golden globe with its conventionalized rays, and the oblique cigar shape that was a space vessel”). This image could be used as a icon for science-fiction related articles. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first writer I would identify as writing what can be properly termed science fiction is the French author Jules Verne. Admittedly, a case could be made for Mary Shelley who penned the novel Frankenstein, but in my view that masterpiece has more in common with Gothic horror than science fiction. Nevertheless, I would certainly count it as proto-science fiction.

Although as a genre science fiction includes much more than hard science fiction, as a genre I would argue it owes its character and existence to the hard science fiction sub-genre. The reason I make this distinction is simple. Until one had Jules Verne taking the scientific and technological principle of the day and extrapolating them as a basis of stories, modern fantastic stories had not fundamentally distinguished themselves from those which had come before. Yet inherently science fiction in its proper sense is in fact different than other fantastic literature in that it draws on specifically modern notions of “what-if”.

Naturally, the distinction is not hard and fast. For example, Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction novel Dune involves mystical and religious elements. Many of Isaac Asimov‘s Robot stories and novels and some parts of his Foundation series include telepathy. These are typically however put down to powers of the human mind.

Verne started as a playwright and also wrote travel literature. Virtually everything he wrote, to a greater or lesser degree, also reflected social issues. Thus, his science fiction works continue the social consciousness and extent travel literature to more speculative journeys. These fantastic travels had a basis in the technology of the time. For example, experiments with submarines had been conducted by the Confederacy during the American Civil War, a few years before Vingt mille lieues sous les mers was published. Having been trained by Alexandre Dumas who was notorious for his furious production of works, it is unlikely that Verne conceived the idea for the book before hearing of the American or similar experiments. The use of ballistics to create rocketry to go to the moon was an idea also increasingly discussed. Of course, it only succeeded after the idea of using an analog of a gun-barrel was put aside, but otherwise it worked. Rocketry is quintessentially an application of ballistics. Then the novel Le tour du monde en quatre-vingt jours no longer seems to modern readers to be science fiction, but in its time it decidedly was. Verne took the technologies involved to their limits.

For Verne, science fiction was an extension of travel literature and he brought his social criticism into it from the start. Both of these aspects would leave their mark on the genre as it developed, but it was British author H. G. Wells who took the next step.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Science fiction in its time and place

A sience fiction magazine

A sience fiction magazine

Like any literary genre, science fiction is a product of its time and place. As author Frank Herbert (as reported in the book The Road to Dune) quipped, “[A]liens don’t buy books. Humans buy books.” Moreover those books are sold in the here and now, not some fantastic time in future. Thus, science fiction must connect to its readers. Good literature does not preach a theme that the author wishes to get across as a message, but its themes will resonate with each reader– some sees one theme and others perceiving even the opposite theme. Literature like any art form is highly individual while at the same time universal, wherein lies much of the fascination of literature.

Jules Verne

Jules Verne (Photo credit: paukrus)

For now, I am going to skip the obvious but often futile topic of trying to define what science fiction actually is and discuss in broad sweeps where and when it comes from. At this point, science fiction– both original and translations– stories, novellas and novels have appeared in virtually every modern language with a significant literary output. Historically, the dominant languages in which science fiction works originally appear have been English and Russian. Even though the genre started in French with some works of Jules Verne and has some other later notable contributions from authors such as Pierre Boulle, nevertheless science fiction simply had not achieved any

degree of literary respect in French until recent decades. (Even so for example my personal copy of Boulle’s La Planète des singes is packages as children’s literature even though few children or adolescents would understand most of the themes in the book.) At the same time, author Stanislaw Lem has produced classic works of the genre in Polish, and the prolific Perry Rhodan series from German remains a landmark.

While the bulk of Russian science fiction was produced in the Soviet Union and later in Russia, most English (language) science fiction derives from the United States and Great Britain. The Cold War simply cannot be ignored in any meaningful discussion of science fiction as literature. For English science fiction, a couple of good resources are these timelines, first and second. One also has a good timeline for author Jules Verne specifically. Information in English on Russian written science fiction is harder to find, although this Wikipedia entry gives some info.

Yet no discussion of science fiction could be complete without a mention of the fact that science fiction developed from pulp magazines, the “pulps”. The Golden Age of science fiction (in English) is defined by the stewardship of the editor John W. Campbell of the magazine Astounding, who is considered to have demanded a literary standard. His principal competitor, who demanded similar standards, was editor Horace L. Gold of the magazine Galaxy. The plan is to go into more detail in future posts.

Posted in science fiction history | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon

Part 1: The Book Review Proper

Book cover of the edition I read
Book cover of the edition I read

I’ve been away from blogging for a while and that will likely continue for a bit more for the most part. Other things for the time being take priority. Yet I do have plans for this blog. Since so many book-review blogs already exist, I envision coming back to this blog and talking about the development of science fiction as literature and in the context of its time.

In the meantime, I’m making an exception so I can talk about the novel The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon. In spite of what I am going to say, I would still recommend the book, but to me the ending abandons all the character development of the bulk of the book and in this sense short-changes the reader.

The novel tells the story of an autistic man named Lou Arrandale in a near-future setting. He is one of a few highly functional autistic people who received treatments as a child to help them interact with the world independently but whose birth predates the invention of a therapy that eliminates the condition entirely either in utero or in babies. Thus, he is one of the last people to be autistic.

Like good science fiction usually does, this novel reflects the concerns of its time. When I was a boy, I heard of autism as a debilitating condition which was not fully understood and which afflicted a rare few individuals. As the condition has become better understood in recent years, the term has become more broadly applied and pseudo-scientific anti-vaccine campaigns have received enough unwarranted attention to bring the condition into the popular consciousness. Unfortunately, stereotypes of the idiot savant such as portrayed in the movie Rain-Man still dominate the common perception.

The portrayal of autism in the book, which coincides with my own understanding of the condition, can be thought of primarily in terms of information overload. In other words, the brain takes in more sensory input data than it can handle. Difficulty picking up social cues and recognizing faces are associated with this due to an autistic brain not filtering or prioritizing information in the same way that a non-autistic brain does.  Therefore what the hypothesized treatment that the main character, Lou Arrandale, receives appears to do is to train the person to handle the glut of sensory data by processing it more slowly.

The primary narrator of the story is Arrandale himself, albeit occasionally this is supplemented by short presentations of perspectives from other characters. From the beginning, we see Arrandale holding down a good job, socializing and appreciating music. Moreover, we see him grow in self-confidence and abilities as he becomes an expert fencer. We see him use his awareness of patterns to succeed in fencing, his job and other situations. We even see him, slightly socially awkward but no more than many a geek or nerd, as he realizes that he loves a woman named Marjory from his fencing group and indeed that she loves him. They simply have not yet pursued or formalized the budding relationship, but their mutual friends are highly encouraging. In other words, we see the main character as a well adjusted normal individual who is socially labeled as disabled because he autistic, but who in reality is a highly well adjusted individual with a good life and foibles no more severe than anyone else.

The conflict of the book manifests itself primarily in thee ways. First, and most incidentally, a woman at the support center that Arrandale goes to on a weekly basis more out of habit than anything else appears to be jealous of his budding relationship and tries to convince Arrandale that he should only have relationships with other disabled people, presumably meaning especially herself. She is not a very nice person, and Arrandale politely but unequivocally gets his lack of interest across as at the same time he realizes that he really does not need the support center except perhaps once in a great while for things such as legal services.

Line art drawing depicting two people fencing

Line art drawing depicting two people fencing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The second form of conflict comes from a member of his fencing group named Don whom Arrandale thinks of as a friend who is jealous of Arrandale’s relationship with Marjory and of his accomplishments as a fencer. Indeed, Don whose career is not successful, sees the main character as having a better life all-round than he does and, due to his own prejudices against the autistic in particular and disabled people generally (among whom he classes the autistic people in the world of the book), he cannot handle the situation. So, Don gets increasingly hostile and rude to Arrandale. At first, the other members of the fencing group interfere and shield Arrandale but when Arrandale performs brilliantly at his first fencing tournament and learns how badly Don did at his own first tournament, Don feels hmiliated and blames Arrandale for all his problems. He becomes a stalker and gets violent. As readers, we see Arrandale handle contacting the police, the disruption of his normal life and dealing with betrayal in a perfectly normal fashion. Although logically he realizes the person sabotaging his car increasingly violently must be Don, emotionally he does not want to accept that a friend could do something like that to him, and in his mind Don is a friend. Yet when Don attacks him in the end, Arrandale disarms him in an expert fashion and faces the painful truth. We as readers see him going through the normal stages of denial, anger, etc., under finally he reaches acceptance.

Speed of Dark

Speed of Dark (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The primary conflict of the book comes through Arrandale’s work though. He does some sort of math-heavy data analysis which involves looking at things on a computer and discerning useful patterns for a large pharmaceutical company. As part of the work environment, he and his fellow workers in the department, all of whom are autistic, are provided a gym and other facilities to help them cope with the stress. Frankly, that kind of facility sounds to me like an excellent idea whether a person is autistic or not, but it is not offered to other employees. The supervisor of Arrandale’s immediate supervisor, respectively named Crenshaw and Aldrin, decides to illegally pressure the autistic employees into volunteering for an experimental treatment supposedly designed to make them no longer autistic. While Aldrin, the immediate supervisor, objects, he at first feels that he cannot do anything to help. Therefore, we see the main character coping with the issue for himself, and he does remarkably well. Although he considers using the support center to help find legal counsel, he decides that he wants to know more about the situation before doing so. While that seems an odd decision, his reasons are perfectly understandable; he wants to feel in control of the situation instead of being simply a disabled person who immediately has to call blindly for help. He also researches the treatment to find out if it is something he might actually want anyway. Beginning with the information about the research on-line, he then finds the research paper describing the treatment. When he does not understand it all, he uses his autistic abilities to teach himself the biology of the brain in an amazingly short amount of time. He comes to understand the research, its potential dangers and the slimness of the hope it will work as desired. Moreover, he realizes both that taking the treatment would destroy parts of his brain which make him who and what he is and that he likes the person he is. In order words, he comes to rightly view the treatment that Crenshaw would force on him as effectively suicide and decides until the end he is not suicidal. Arrandale and his fellow autistic employees plan to use a lawyer provided by their support center who specializes in relevant law, and the main character has every reason to refuse the treatment, as he seems throughout the book strongly inclined to do until the end. He even uncovers why the company is pursuing the research given how few autistic people remain, although I would have like to have seen this sub-plot more developed.

As the book comes to its climax, Aldrin sabotages what Crenshaw is doing and brings it and its potential legal and PR consequences to the attention of higher management by doing what Crenshaw tells him to do in ways that will expose the whole mess. So, in the end, the company does offer the treatment to its autistic employees but without the pressure of coercion. Once he is no longer pressured into undergoing the treatment, for reasons which come across entirely as a whim, Arrandale agrees to the treatment. Of course it works at least on him but he never pursues the relationship with Marjory, he abandons fencing and his promising tournament career, and he turns his back on all his friends who love and admire him for the person he is. In other words, he takes his great life and flushes it down the proverbial toilet for no apparent reason beyond, “Meh, I want to be normal,” when he has thoroughly debunked that notion for himself already. The ending was not tragic but rather a betrayal of the reader as all character development established throughout the bulk of the novel is abandoned in the end to try to make a point about “embracing the future“, whatever that means exactly. The character we have seen up until that point would never make such a decision, and having him do so simply makes no sense.

Part 2: Society and the “disabled”

In a sense, the above is my review of the book. All that needs to be said for that purpose has been. Until the end which I hated I loved the book and I wanted the natural ending of the story I was reading instead of the tacked on ending I got in reality. Yet I want to make a deeper point that requires going into far more personal detail than I usually would on the internet.

Although I am not autistic, Lou Arandale is a character with whom personally I can much identify. He is a person who is “disabled” only in the minds of some other people, especially those who do not really know him, and he has built a good life for himself. Speaking of myself, I have had from infancy a fairly severe eye condition called nystagmus with associated conditions. In practice, I am effectively severely near-sighted, and while on some days my vision is better than on others, I am always what was termed when I lived in the United States as legally blind. In other words, I cannot safely drive a car. Yet I grew up sailing boats perfectly well. I read avidly and use a computer for much of my day, but my vision gets worse when I’m tired, stressed or need sleep.

This ability to identify with the character is greatly strengthened by his strengths and talents. He uses pattern recognition and manipulation well beyond what would occur to most people to be possible. Since I was a small child, I was labeled as a mathematical genius. I would define math as the study and application of patterns. I have used my ability to perceive patterns to learn physics and math, and I have published research applying mathematical physics to cosmology. Yet I have also used that ability to learn Classical philology and to then develop the skills learned to be able to learn lots of other languages so that I comfortably read novels in numerous languages. As Arandale the character realizes, patterns are everywhere and an ability to recognize patterns can be used as a basis for dealing with virtually everything.

The character also has difficulty picking up social cues, especially those related to faces. Since so often I cannot see  people’s faces in detail, I also tend to miss these kinds of social cues. Yet I am more aware therefore of what I can see such as how a person moves and stands. Liars tend to broadcast to me through their body language what they are unless they are pathological enough to convince themselves they are really telling the truth at least while they’re saying it. Even then, the pattern emerges after a while.

What I am talking about here are the related concepts of compensation and adaptation. Throughout my life, I have avoided being officially labeled as “disabled” and I certainly do not think of myself in those terms. Yet, all my life many people who think of themselves as well-intentioned have treated me that way, and some do even now. For example, I do not know how many times I had people pressuring when I was a child to pray for a cure or making remarks to the effect that I would be handsome if my looks were not ruined by how my eyes look. For me, nystagmus involves not just constant movement of the eyes but an inability to entirely open my eyes and a need to hold my head at an angle so that I can see properly. That way of holding my head and people’s reactions to it probably hurt me socially growing up far more than missing some social cues did. Yet I adapted and found a way to interact with people that works for me. Yes, I married late and during dates did many things I was advised were precisely the wrong thing to do on a date, but in the end I ended up happily married to a woman who makes me as happy as I can imagine anyone doing. In other words, I also have like the character built what is for me a good life.

Like autism, nystagmus while manifested in the eyes is fundamentally neurological. To “cure” me of the condition, one would have to do things to the brain which would inevitably make me no longer who and what I am.

So if hypothetically I could be “cured” of nystagmus and the related conditions, I could not imagine wanting such a thing at such a price. So why does the character in the book who seems in an analogous situation want such a thing? The only explanation I can see is that he has an exaggerated compulsion to be “normal”. Putting aside that literarily this attitude makes no sense for the character, to me it reflects the unconscious bigotry of so many people toward what they call the “disabled”, the “pity” anyone whose abilities are deemed not quite normal is shown. The author is the mother of an autistic person according to the book cover, so she presumably should know better. Yet if she does, it did not come across in the novel; no such point is made as far as I can see. Rather its point seems to be that “disabled” people naturally want to be “normal” so long as they do not lose autonomy over their own bodies. As someone who is not “normal”, I am sick of dealing with people who refuse to see past my nystagmus and I do not need to be “cured”. Hence the end of the book to me is just a slap in the face; the rest of the book deserves better.

Posted in novels | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Songs of Distant Earth by Arthur C. Clarke (the novel, not the short story)

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

While I had initially intended this blog to be discussing primarily classics of the genre of literary science fiction, especially ones I have read previously, what I am finding is that I am mostly addressing books which I happen to be reading at the moment. Thus now I am reading the title novel of this novel, namely The Songs of Distant Earth by Arthur C. Clarke, a novel expanded from the short story of the same name.

The edition I have is that of Voyager Classics, a series purporting to include only classics of the genre. From my scanning of the list of books offered, I would agree that all are classics, but not all by any means are books i would necessarily recommend– even though I don’t see any works by Robert Heinlein on the list. Sadly, while Clarke has a long list of solid classics well worth reading and re-reading, this particular book does not appear to be one of them.

My experience with Clarke is that his early works are outstanding, but his later works can be hit or miss. Like Heinlein, he suffers from the unwillingness of editors to deal with him as they would an unknown author, to the detriment of the quality of works he puts out. Thus, the novel includes an introduction in which Clarke lambasts the lack of realism in TV and movies, naming Star Trek explicitly, noting as supposedly the sole possible quibble with his realism the use of a quantum drive. Yet in reality, this hypothetical technology (while problematic itself) appears to me the least of the problems from the point of view of realism in this novel, a point which I would not have thought about so much had Clarke had the wisdom to remain silent on the matter.

Clarke however did raise the issue of realism. I am willing to overlook the quantum drive which in spite of the papers Clarke references is little better than a modern day perpetual motion machine in that it supposedly it taps the vacuum energy for motive force. Likewise, I can handle his postulation that the solar neutrino problem was a precursor to our sun going nova, because the solution in final form to the problem came only after the first publication of this novel. No, what fantastically departs from any attempt at realism in only the first few chapters are most glaringly:

1. The fact that people from Earth visiting the planet Thalassa speak the same language in the same form such that no translator is needed. Clarke tries to explain this by supposing nonsensically that the advent of broadcasting has caused pronunciation to no longer change. Moreover he does this while at the same time explicitly stating that the planet Thalassa has been out of communication with any other planet– let alone communication regular and pervasive enough to influence language– for a few hundred years. All of which ignores the changes that would be happening on Earth even if somehow it had become entirely monolingual which is unlikely.

2. Thalassa is an atheistic utopia in which Clarke describes virtually all of human strife magically vanishing because the society and its culture and language have no trace (even residual) of religion of any kind. (Of course, they nevertheless speak the same language as the people from Earth.) The tripe of John Lennon’s song Imagine notwithstanding, when religion becomes associated with violence, in the overwhelming number of cases, religion is just being used as an excuse for violence and power-wielding, nothing more; eliminate religions and the violence and power dynamics remain, they just use a different excuse. If religion were the root cause of violence, secularization would have led to reduction of violence. Historically that is by no means the case. By the same token, if one removes the association with violence that sometimes occurs, one does not intrinsically change the nature of religion.

3. Supposedly the planet Thalassa was colonized via robotic seed-ships which chemically built the planet’s entire biological system (including humans) from raw materials found locally. While Clarke passingly acknowledges an association of trauma with the first generations, he then blithely dismisses them even though children built by robots without humans of any kind could not learn everything for which we know human touch is needed, let alone how to take care of the next generation, e.g., breast-feeding young. The trauma would not vanish in the course of seven hundred years; it would be unlikely to entirely vanish in seven thousand years. Yet Thalassa is a utopia where Earthly strife and even disease are unknown until the coming of the Earthmen. When the Earthmen pass a cold onto the president of the planet, doing so is no big deal. A person who has never encountered a cold virus ever would not have an immune system that could so easily deal with one.

4. Finally, on Thalassa, true democracy is practiced and so offices are filled by lot. Yet while emulating the ancient Athenians, Clarke states that the system had never previously been implemented. Of course in ancient Athens, an exception was made for offices requiring special skills, e.g. strategos or military commander of the armed forces. No need apparently exists for such exceptions on Thalassa because a randomly chosen businessman who did not want the job of planetary president does a superb job. Of course within this democratic utopia, the real power rests in the hands of the mayor who is elected and whose unflagging ambition makes it clear she very much wants the job. So the previously ceremonial figure of planetary president is determined by this truly democratic system but the person with actual power is not– while still being the pinnacle of practical democracy.

I just put the novel down and didn’t pick it up again at that point.

Posted in novels | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

I’ve been off-line for at least a few weeks and so have a few books I could review, though I need get back to my blog doing the Odyssey as well. The book I want to start with is hands-down the classic novel by Ursula Le Guin which rightly won her both the Hugo and Nebula Awards, The Left Hand of Darkness. I would like to remind readers of my blog that I often include spoilers.

In the main, I’m not a huge fan of Ursula K. Le Guin‘s work. I read her Earthsea trilogy when that’s all there was to the series, and then read the fourth book when it came out in paperback. Her science fiction interests me more than her fantasy, I’ll admit, and I’ve read a fair few of her short stories. Yet generally her writing strikes me as good rather than great. The Left Hand of Darkness is the exception, albeit not necessarily the only one. This novel epitomizes what is great about science fiction literature as a genre.

Cover of

Cover of The Left Hand of Darkness

The story of the novel describes the culmination of a mission by Genly Ai, a (male) Terran human acting as envoy of the Ekumen (a voluntary association of planets) to the planet Gethen, also known as Winter due to its glacial climate. What makes the planet Gethen unique is that, although like all planets with intelligent life known to the Ekumen it was settled in the remote past by a previous human galactic culture, the people of Gethen are physiologically different than other humans. In particular, Gethenians are androgynous most of the time and only become either male or female temporarily when periodically the sexual cycle which they call kemmer occurs. Moreover, a person from Gethen will be be male sometimes when in kemmer and female at other times in a manner wholly unpredictable for the most part.

Genly Ai is not the first person from the Ekumen to come to Gethen, although he is the first to do so openly. As such, he came aware of the Gethenian physiology and knowing the local language, as well as something of the culture. Naturally that knowledge is incomplete but Ai is intellectually aware of this fact. His emotional awareness of things is really another matter altogether.

Not surprisingly the novel fundamentally addresses the role of gender and to a lesser extent sex in human society and human interpersonal interactions. Particularly the novel addresses the issues involved in a manner which possibly only science fiction can do. Le Guin is careful as well not to postulate simply aliens who are either neither male nor female or both male and female, depending on one’s point of view, because aliens would be simply other. Instead the author deals with humans who are neither/both male nor/and female as seen through the eyes of a fallible human being, Genly Ai, envoy of the Ekumen.

The second viewpoint character is a Gethenian known as Estraven (his surname) who starts the novel as prime minister of Karhide, a kingdom which is one of two major nations in the area of the planet where Ai has come. He (to apply the gendered pronoun Ai uses throughout) has been the benefactor of Ai at court and is the only Gethenian to truly believe Ai. The proofs that Ai has that he is in fact alien to Gethen physiologically and that the ship he arrives in was not built on Gethen, the result of examinations by experts from Karhide, have ultimately been obtained with the help of Prime Minister Estraven.

While Ai attempts as envoy to be respectful and accepting of Gethenian culture and society, in many ways he simply does not get much of the culture he has been immersed in for a couple of years and which he had previously studied. The concept of shifgrethor for example, which is a local form of honor and dominates much of interpersonal interactions, fundamentally eludes him. He also thinks of the Gethenians as being effectively neuter most of the time, rather than as being both male and female. Moreover, Ai never guesses his own danger arising from the political realities on Gethen.

Estraven sees the potential for Gethen of what the Ekumen has to offer and acts as Ai’s protector throughout, even after Estraven loses his own political position. Readers such as myself accept until virtually the end Ai’s implicit assumption that Estraven’s motivations are purely political and therefore platonic. Only when Estraven effectively commits suicide in a society where doing so is anathema did I suddenly rethink what had been happening throughout the book, both the actions of Estraven and of Ai himself. I would call this a classic story of unrequited love, a love unrequited not because it not mutally felt but because one person is unwilling to acknowledge it. For Genly Ai is a heterosexual male and he thinks of Estraven either as male too or as sexless, however much Ai knows Estraven is in fact both male and female. As one can see, while not explicit, homosexuality is all a theme throughout the book at some level. For me at least, this novel is a book to be read a second time before one can fully appreciate it.

Posted in novels | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove

The Guns of the South

Image via Wikipedia

I just finished reading the title novel, The Guns of the South by science fiction author Harry Turtledove. The novel offers a different and more modern take on the notion of an alternate history in which the Confederate States of America won their war for independence from the United States than Ward Moore‘s classic Bring the Jubilee. Like the latter book, this one involves time-travel which changes the past. Specifically present-day South African white supremacists from the radical group Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) who have stolen an experimental time machine supply the Confederate forces with AK-47s and plenty of ammunition for them (plus other supplies like dried foodstuffs) in 1863, relatively shortly after the battle of Gettysburg. The reason that the white supremacists do this is because they have an anachronistic idea of an independent Confederacy as a white supremacist’s paradise. Moreover they apparently hope that the CSA will then support apartheid and thus change the present reality of their own country as well.

Harry Turtledove, who according to the book’s short biographical sketch has a doctorate in history, confronts the issues raised by the scenario head-on in a plausible and interesting manner. One may not always agree with his take on the situation in the South at the time, but Turtledove’s take is within the argument bounds of plausibility. Without denying that the attitudes of the time are decidedly racist by today’s standards, Turtledove portrays a world in which the racism is ubiquitous but at the same time is generally not associated with actual hatred the way that the AWB’s ideas are. Conflict arises when in dealing with the aftermath of the war, the CSA– and especially the lead character General Robrt E. Lee– realize that the black people that the Union soldiers freed cannot realistically be re-enslaved and that slavery as an institution has been wholly undermined.

Posted in novels | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments