Category Archives: science fiction

China Travel in Four Days

China is evil according to some of the news reports in America. I’m skeptical since agendas abound.

What I do know is that I found another author to read and he is Chinese: Cixin Liu, the award-winning author of The Three Body Trilogy. I just finished the second of the series, “The Dark Forest” and look forward to the translation of the last book in his series next year.

A book on the philosophy of Confucius is the only other book I remember reading from China.

I may have missed the author’s intentions, but here is some stuff I found interesting in his books so far:

History and evolution of communist forces in China. I started reading up on some of the incidents he mentioned.

Technology holds a positive place in the future of mankind. A different spin on the debate between environmentalists and industry. When technology is held hostage by an alien force, the world may be doomed.

Spirituality has a place. Many of the characters in his books are atheists and they wish they had the ability to believe in something. A piece of the puzzle eludes them even if it is only a comforting piece.

Love lends a hand in solving problems for some of the lead characters.

The humanities, the arts clarify reality. They are a useful tool even in a high-tech world.

A frequent refrain in “The Dark Forest” is, “If I destroy you, what business is it of yours?” Despite the harshness, it is something to contemplate. Historical, societal, and personal concerns alter the meaning of this idea.

The firefly refrain: it is everywhere in the book and thought by different characters. I just love the symbolism.

A spaceship named Natural Selection. What a fun, not too subtle reference. All the names of the earth spaceships are interesting to note.

Cixin’s description of nanotechnology, space stairs, and the potential immensity of a photon brings me a bit closer to getting these scientific concepts into my unscientific mind.

I find it harder to separate fact from fiction in the real world. Statistics lie and so does the mutable Internet. I trust well-written, solidly researched books instead. If nothing else, good fiction and non-fiction books start a conversation in my head. Unravel with a book.

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Stardate: 92161.36

An answer to the disproportionate war being waged by Israel against Hamas exists in Star Trek.

Specifically in the 47 -year-old episode called, “A Taste of Armageddon.”

The starship Enterprise carries a diplomat on a mission to a couple of planets, Eminar VII and Vendikar. The entire crew of the ship stumbles into a kill zone near the planets and is declared dead by a computer that carries on a war-simulation program. Everyone on the Enterprise is told that they must begin to enter a “termination booth” that will promptly vaporize them.

This computer-generated war has been waged for over 500 years. Machines indiscriminately select citizens from the two planets, and the rules of war mandate that they must enter the termination booth and die.

Buildings still stand, infrastructure remains intact, blood and body parts don’t litter the ground. If anyone tries to stop the demands of the computer program, real war must start up again.

The computers end up being destroyed at the end of “A Taste of Armageddon,” and the two warring planets decide to negotiate a peace instead of deal with a truly bloody, messy war.

Today the United Nations Human Rights Council believes that Israel’s response to Hamas weaponry should be more proportional. This old Star Trek episode provides a good model for a more proportionate mideast war. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, could even program computers to kill an equal number of people on each side of the war.

This civilized form of warfare is only fair. Navi, switch on your TV, Star Trek holds a sensible answer to your complaint. Or else it opens up a whole new world of absurd. Take your pick.

Sex on a Cold Day in Winter

Instead of “Sense and Sensibility,” Jane Austen could have named one of her books Sex and Society. Her books explore the way people are defined by their sex and social status. Breaking out of these expected patterns are often insurmountable in her world.

And that’s why Karen Joy Fowler writes in her book “The Jane Austen Book Club” about another book, “The Left Hand of Darkness” by Ursula LeGuin.

The only male member in the book club is a science fiction fan and has never read a Jane Austen novel. The other members of the book club have a low opinion of science fiction even though they don’t read it. He maintains that it can be good literature and suggests the reading of this science fiction book by LeGuin.

And it makes sense. Austen’s books linger over sexual inequalities. LeGuin’s book explores a world where people are not limited by sex or social status because most of her characters are both male and female.

The planet Gethen, or Winter as it is called by an interplanetary group of explorers, is visited by a single envoy from earth. This envoy comes on a mission for the interplanetary group to bring new planets into the fold of 83 planets that are already members.

Winter is in an intense ice age and even the summer is cold and snowy. But what really differentiates Winter from the rest of the planets is the role of sexual relationships in society.

Each person on Winter has the potential to be both male and female. On an average day, they look sexually ambiguous. Sexual desire appears in a monthly cycle which can lead to a sexual encounter. Depending on the chemistry between people during sex on Winter, one will morph into a male, the other a female. The same person can bear a child and be a father to other children. There is no telling what sex role you’ll play during sex.

The people of Winter see the envoy from earth as a pervert since he is always one sex and always capable of sexual activity.

Next time, pay attention when reading a book and the author mentions the title of another book within its pages. You may be surprised at what an interesting tangent the author may be taking you. Austen’s novels create a world in stark contrast to “The Left Hand of Darkness.” The parlor games and dances of Jane Austen are not in this world. And as far as sexual equality, you can’t be kept down by The Man when you are the man and a woman at the same time.

Childhood’s End: A Christmas Story

Alien beings visited earth in ancient times and still influence our lives today.  That’s the buzz on some Discovery and History channel shows. And some people do believe it.

Aliens visit earth in the book “Childhood’s End,” by Arthur Clarke.  The human race seems to recall a visit by these same aliens many, many years ago.

The aliens, also known as the Overlords, come to earth and abolish hunger, homelessness, and war.    Human life is more comfortable, but it comes at the expense of the loss of individuality.  Soon people stop trying to accomplish or create anything and devote all their time seeking out pleasure and entertainment.

An interesting sidebar in the book, Clarke writes that people watch television three hours a day in this future world (late 20th century). This book was published in 1953 so the author could not have possibly known the actual amount of time people would soon be staring at some kind of screen, be it television, computer, cell phone, the list goes on and on.  A new type of screen was probably just invented as I typed this last sentence onto my screen.  By some estimates, people today spend nearly five hours a day watching television.  Before Clarke died in 2008, he surely realized that he underestimated the hours people would spend watching television in the future, let alone the number of hours a day people spend in front of some kind of electronic screen.

After the Overlords arrive, human children develop supernatural abilities and the aliens separate these children from the rest of humankind.  Then people stop giving birth to any more children.  The children that do exist no longer resemble human nature.  They become distant from their families.  Soon they are ready and willing to be whisked off earth by an alien species.

The Overlords try to conceal their appearance at all cost.  When they are finally seen, they resemble the devil with wings, horns, and tails.  The Overlords must have been here before.  Did our ancient religious books record a meeting with this devil from the past?  Do these stories draw on memories of an earlier, less successful meeting with these aliens?  Was it predetermined that they would come back and steal all our children from us?  It turns out the memory came from the future.  Ancient humans had a premonition of the devil to come in the distant future, and identified this future memory with the death of the human race. So these aliens, for a time, kept a low profile, hidden away from humans.

The Overlords do the bidding of higher beings called the Overminds. The Overminds are a pure, intelligent form of energy that travel through space picking up the species that are ready to travel with them.  In the process, the hitchhiking species lose their previous identity and merge with this energy and gain a greater knowledge of the universe.  The existing children on earth prepare for this final exit into outer space.  Almost a Buddhist end of the road to nothingness.

The Overlords are not able to join the Overminds, but they enable other species to merge with these higher beings.  The final step in human evolution moves the children to a higher level of existence.

For an hour after I finished reading this book, I felt it was a grim little novel with a depressing ending.  After that first hour, I changed my mind completely and now believe that it is the ultimate uplifting story.

Without children on earth, humankind will eventually die out.  But isn’t this what the human species has strived for throughout most of it’s history?  An end to earthly strife and a melding with a glorious energy beyond ourselves, our small world.  All things come to an end.  We have a strong impulse to connect with, understand, and finally disappear into something bigger than ourselves.  The Overminds may not be gods, but Childhood’s End gives voice to our ancient and modern spiritual longings.