I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

So far I have been doing write ups on books that I enjoy reading. I’m interested in the world of Scientology and of course Clarice Lispector so I have posts concerning them and I have also written posts on other books I find interesting and I think you should also consider that you may have not been aware of. Which leads me to I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. In many respects this is quite a famous book, has had a film adaptation made (albeit which diverted quite a bit from the book). So why am I doing a post on it? Well I think this book is prescient in respect to what it portrays. Fear, ignorance and (though not a virus) bacterial infections that has a massive affect on the world after war and unrest.

I Am Legend.

There are vampires in this story but it isn’t really about vampires, there is elements of science fiction with respect to a future world but this is not really about science fiction. This is more about how we see the world of Richard Neville, he appears to be in the last man alive in world full of vampires. At night they harass him in his fortified house and by day he looks out for food and other supplies and hunts the vampires. We see his loneliness and depression as he remembers his loved ones and plays his music from a different time.

As the story develops he realises that not all the vampires are ruthless killers and are upset with the fact that he is killing their loved ones. He meets one vampire he gets attached to but again it is too late. To him they were the horrible monsters to them he is the bogeyman, he has become a legend.

When I said that this book was prescient I was also referring to the fact that Neville does what he does based on his own experiences not being made aware of the thoughts of the vampires before it’s too late. That ‘not all’ vampires are mindless killers. Just like in the real world, we fear and belittle that which we do not understand. You would only have to look at the insults on social media and that some people only surround themselves with people of the same opinion creating echo chambers and refusing to even consider why some people think in a particular way. If there is anything that I have learnt from I Am Legend is that nobody what you do, you have to try and understand the consequences of your actions. Are you doing the right thing. Try to understand. As stated by a character in the book ‘I know you were just as much forced into your situation and that we were forced in ours’. We need to understand people’s reasons for doing things in order to find a better way.

[Published in 1954, this edition on Kindle by Gollancz 2010]

RUR: Rossum’s Universal Robots by Karel Kapek (translated by Paul Selver and Nigel Playfair)

Before cyberpunk and Asimov, before Star Trek and the film Metroplis there was the play Rossum’s Universal Robots by Karel Capek. The play premiered in Prague in 1921 and introduced the world to the word ‘robot’ (other words had been used). The thoughts and questions raised in the play have been pondered and mediated on ever since almost a century later with respect to robots and artificial intelligence.

The SF Masterworks publication’s cover is little misleading in that the robots themselves are not mechanical.

The play looks at themes with what we have come expect with respect to the relationship of humans and robots. The ethical treatment of robots, what happens if the creation and advancement of robots goes too far, when robots rebel and become self conscious, when they start to glitch. What I was surprised by with respect to the play was that Capek looks at what would happen not just if the humans went too far, but if the robots did as well. Capek also looks at how far an organisation would go to satisfy shareholders for the sake of profit, so there is a little pop at capitalism to a certain point there. The main company in the play never question what the buyers of their robots do with them before it’s too late. We also get to see the worries of the robots when they realise they can’t create other robots. We read about the concerns of being treated like slaves (origin of the word ‘robot’ has its roots in the word ‘slave’ in the Czech language)

It is a relatively short play, there’s four acts and an epilogue with a form of introduction of what’s going on, the problems that arise and a conclusion which see the world change drastically. The Robots in Capeks play are mechanical robots but organic ones like the replicants in Blade Runner for example, as they are designed to be more human they become to behave in that way. I wanted to read this play because despite being a fan of science fiction myself, I never really knew much about it. I heard a mention of it on the TV show QI about where the word ‘robot’ came from and there is a reference to it in the video game Deus Ex: Mankind Divided which is also set in Prague where of course the play originates but other than that. Capek had also written a novel War With the Newts which has some similar themes as RUR and other science fiction works which I want to have a look at in future.

Karel Capek from what I’ve read lived a fascinating life, coming from what was then Czechoslovakia and lived through the interwar period but sadly passed away in 1938 before the world took major a turn for the worse, the only solace if any that could be gained is that the Nazis did not get to him before he died.

RUR surprised me in that the themes and thoughts that Capek writes about are still written today, to compare it to anything it is like piece Bauhaus furniture from the 1920s. Despite the decades that have past, it still feels somewhat modern.

The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu (translated by Ken Liu)

Most of the science fiction works I have read have been dominated almost entirely by Europe and North America so it would be nice from time to time to come across works of science fiction from other parts of the globe to see a different perspective. I had to look no further than The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu from China. The Three Body Problem is no space opera, it’s more of the hard science fiction you would get from the likes of Arthur C Clarke and even then you could argue it’s harder than that.

This is part one of a trilogy but I thought I would do the books separately on the grounds that each book appears different to the other and I have only skimmed through the third one.

The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu. I was quite impressed by the English edition by Tor Books

The Three Body Problem starts during the Chinese Cultural Revolution but most of it takes place in the present day (2000s in this case). There is a number of characters in this book and things start to develop when one of the characters gets a job with the Chinese state and manages to make contact with aliens. What was interesting was that the first alien response suggests that the aliens are not a united force, they pretty much say ‘you shouldn’t of brought us to your attentions, some of us aren’t that nice’. After this occurs, over the years strange things start to happen.

I won’t go into too much detail about the story other than to say scientists start to die suspiciously, realities get manipulated (one person starts to see a countdown through his vision which he can’t explain). A weird MMORPG video game appears that has some link to the events and then once the cat is out of the bag the humans take sides on if we should welcome the aliens or not. Through reasons explained in the book, although the invasion is yet to occur, they are definitely on to the people of Earth and they admit to us that they will be on the way and it’s up to the humans to get ready for this. Already as I am explaining it to you, there is so much going on as the story progresses.

The Three Body Problem being a work of hard science fiction has some fascinating science that I had to look up to understand (The Three Body Problem itself being one of them) and I can understand for some readers that it may not be the most appealing thing but for me gave me some depth to the story. The dialogue in the story is intelligent and we get to see how some thoughts and opinions of characters are made. Though I don’t think this is for everyone, but for those who will like it will not be disappointed. We do not see the aliens in this book but we do see the results of their actions and the impending doom they wish to bring and how it affects everyone.

The Three Body Problem is a very intelligent work of Science Fiction and in noway does it insult its reader. Although part of a trilogy it could easily stand alone as being one good piece of work (arguably like the original space opera Star Wars) it can easily work on its own without the need of the others. I urge you to give this one a look if you haven’t done so already.

Preserve by B. Barbour

Here’s one I’d like to bring to your attention if you’re into your cyberpunk that I found on my Amazon Kindle. Preserve has all the tropes you would recognise for a cyberpunk story. There’s the high tech low life, street samurai (called ‘shadows’ in this tale), ruthless corporations, a megacity and the use of AI. We also get to read about how the natural environment has changed in this near future world.

The main plot of Preserve without wanting to give too much away is that a young girl gets kidnapped by the mysterious Preservation Society, Seth reacts by wanting to help rescue her in some way and then goes in the process of doing so. Along the way the Seth gets help from former associates, does his own investigating and takes on some sinister characters.

Preserve by B Barbour

Another trope we see which is not necessarily found in cyberpunk but is the protagonist who was a former elite warrior of some sort who has left his past behind him but goes back into the game (so to speak) to achieve some objective. In this case we meet Seth a former Shadow (like a gun for hire for corporations) who lives in a rough part of town running a bar. Seth also has a prosthetic arm (like Ratz in Neuromancer). The action takes place in Triton, a floating city in the ocean originally built as some form of utopia (think Upper Hengsha in the video game Deus Ex: Human Revolution)

As this is only a novella there is only one plot line to follow with some brief mentions of what the world of Preserve is like and there are a limited set of characters, the characters we do meet however, all have some depth to them and the story itself kept me gripped which you would expect when there is only one major plotline to follow. The only criticism if you can find any is that it is quite short and I wanted to know more of the world.

There is scope for the world created by B Barbour to be built on with more stories should they choose to do so. B Barbour definitely knows their cyberpunk. I am not aware of any other works if there are any from the author there only being a brief biography on Amazon that I could find.

Again anyone who has even the slightest interest in science fiction will enjoy this one. It is a well written, neat, straight read.