The Passengers by John Marrs

The passengers

 

The Passengers by John Marrs paints a scary picture of the future and I began to wonder whether this could actually happen one day as driverless cars become more advanced.

As I read it reminded me of those debates we had at school – about a hot air balloon which is losing height rapidly and will soon crash because it is overweight. The solution is to get rid of some of the passengers to enable the others to survive. Each passenger has to put forward a persuasive case as to why they should survive.

In The Passengers driverless cars have been developed to Level Five, with no steering wheels, pedals or a manual override option. A Hacker has taken over control of the cars, set them on a collision course, and tells each passenger that the destination they programmed into their GPS has been replaced with an alternative location. In approximately two hours time they are going to die. They are trapped inside unable to contact the outside world.

Meanwhile Libby Dixon has been selected for service on a Vehicle Inquest Jury, assessing liability for accidents involving driverless cars. Libby hates the way these cars are becoming the norm and she has reason to do so – but we only discover why much later on the book. So she is not comfortable with what she is forced to do and is determined to challenge decisions when she doesn’t agree with the other jurists’ verdict. The Hacker interrupts their proceedings and they are told that only one passenger can be saved. They have to talk to each passenger before deciding who is to be saved. In addition the whole thing is being broadcast and the public also has a vote. The passenger with the most votes will be spared when the cars collide.

This raises all sorts of issues as details of each of the passengers lives are made public – but are they all what or who they seem?  The passengers are: a TV star, a pregnant young woman, a disabled war hero, an abused wife fleeing her husband, an illegal immigrant, a husband and wife – and parents of two – who are travelling in separate vehicles and a suicidal man.

The tension rises, as the passengers’ private lives are exposed and moral and ethical questions about race, gender, immigration, religion and age are all scrutinised. I was expecting a particular twist in the plot and it came – but not when I thought it would! There were plenty of twists and surprises to follow before the book came to an end.

The Passengers is a shocking book. I found it riveting, even if it is preposterous, and sinister with a frightening view of the future that may not be that ridiculous. It kept me glued to the page right to the end.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 21081 KB
  • Print Length: 406 pages
  • Publisher: Ebury Digital (1 April 2019)
  • Source: I bought it
  • My rating: 5*

The Time Machine by H G Wells

This morning the clocks went forward – does that mean we lost an hour? Quite by coincidence yesterday I read The Time Machine – it seems apt!

The Time Traveller has gathered together a group of his friends, who have names such as the Psychologist, the Editor, the Provincial Mayor and so on. First of all he treats them to an explanation of time – of how it is the fourth dimension, ‘with Time as only a kind of Space.’ He then tells them that he intends to explore time in a machine he has invented that transports him back and forth in time.

And to prove it he travels to the future – specifically to the year 802,701 where humanity has evolved into the Eloi, who are pretty little childlike people, strict vegetarians who live above ground and the Morlocks, bleached, obscene nocturnal beings who live underground. Their society is divided between these two – industry being carried out underground by the Morlocks and the Eloi above pursing pleasure and comfort.

On his return he describes his adventures. He was:

 … in an amazing plight. His coat was dusty and dirty and smeared with green down the sleeves; his hair disordered, and as it seemed to me greyer – either with dust or dirt of because its colour had actually faded. His face was ghastly pale; his chin had a brown cut on it – a cut half-healed; his expression was haggard and drawn, as if by intense suffering. … He walked with just such a limp as I have seen in footsore tramps. (page 15)

Whilst describing what happened to him the Time Traveller comments on the society he encountered. At first he thought it was a social paradise, but soon he realised the truth, that the perfection of comfort and security had actually resulted in the weakening of society with no need to struggle for survival or for work. And the truth about the relationship between the Eloi and Morlocks was devastating!

In addition he had soon realised that he had gone into the future particularly ill-equipped – without anything to protect himself, without medicine and without anything to smoke, or even without enough matches! And no camera:

If only I had thought of a Kodak! I could have flashed that glimpse of the Under-world in a second, and examined it at leisure. But, as it was, I stood there with only the weapons and the powers that Nature had endowed me with – hand, feet, and teeth; these, and the four safety matches that still remained to me. (page 69)

I was struck by Wells’s descriptions of the divisions in society between the Haves and the Have-nots and the conditions of the working class as a result of industrialisation in his own time, citing the new electric railways, the Metropolitan Railway in London, the subways and underground workrooms and restaurants:

Even now, does not an East-end worker live in such artificial conditions as practically to be cut off from the natural surface of the earth?

Again, the exclusive tendency of richer people – due, no doubt, to the increasing refinement of their education, and the widening gulf between them and the rude violence of the poor – is leading to the closing, in their interest, of considerable portions of the surface of the land. About London, for instance, perhaps half of the prettier country is shut in against intrusion. (page 62)

So, The Time Machine, which was first published in 1895, is a work of imagination and an early example of science fiction, but it is also a commentary on late 19th century society and a vehicle for H G Well’s views on socialism and industrialisation.

It’s a book I’ve had for a couple of years and so qualifies for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge and after I finished it I realised that it also fits in the ‘Time’ category for the What’s In a Name? Challenge too.

2014 Sci-Fi Experience Wrap-Up

Carl’s Science-Fiction Experience came to an end on 31 January. I enjoyed it much more that I anticipated and whilst I’d thought I’d give it a go, reading one book, I ended up Sci-Fi Experiencereading four:

  1. The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham €“ review 3 December 2013
  2. Stowaway to Mars by John Wyndham €“ review 16 December 2013
  3. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell €“ review 7 January 2014
  4. The Uncertain Midnight by Edmund Cooper €“ review 11 January 2014

I used to read a lot of science fiction many years ago but hadn’t read much recently. I began by reading The Midwich Cuckoos, first published in 1957, and then remembered that we had some old sci-fi books in a box up in the loft, none of which I’d read, so I had several more books to chose from.

Apart from Cloud Atlas, these are all old books, and very different from Cloud Atlas. My favourite is Stowaway to Mars, even though it’s so very dated – it was first published in 1936. I enjoyed it immensely. Another plus is that all four books are ones I’ve owned for years and thus have reduced my huge TBR Mountain!

My thanks to Carl, for hosting this Experience, which has encouraged me to go back to reading science fiction!

 

The Uncertain Midnight by Edmund Cooper

Cath’s list of her favourite books of 2013 included Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C Clarke, which reminded me that we have a copy of that book and I haven’t read it. It was up in the loft in a box of sci-fi books we’ve owned for years and I decided to get it down from the loft and read it. However, when I opened the box, Edmund Cooper’s The Uncertain Midnight looked more enticing and so I read that book – Rendezvous with Rama will have to wait a bit longer before I get round to it.

D and I aren’t sure how long we’ve had this book. He read it years ago at a time when he was reading lots of sci-fi books. It was first published in 1958 and our copy is a 1971 edition, so we’ve probably had it since the early 70s!

In the Foreword Cooper wrote that it was his first novel, which was published in America as Deadly Image, but he preferred his original title. In 1971 Cooper acknowledged that he wrote it a long time ago:

It was before the Space Age, before the development of lasers, before it was possible to give a man a new heart.

I like it because of that; it’s low on technology and high on philosophy. It’s not set in outer space, but firmly on Earth  – but Earth in the 22nd century, a world run by machines, androids, who have taken over the burdens of work and responsibility, a world where the humans are required to spend their lives in leisure pursuits, but are subject to ‘Analysis’ (brain-washing) if the androids think they are maladjusted .

John Markham emerges in 2113 after spending 146 years in suspended animation, frozen deep under ground after an atomic holocaust had devastated his world. In 2113 not all humans were happy to leave everything to the androids. Known as Runners these humans believed in ‘human dignity, freedom of action and the right to work’. Markham struggles to adapt and this raises the question of whether the androids could be said to be alive – leading to discussions about the definition of life, the difference between determinism and free will, and eventually leading to war between the androids and the Runners.

I thought it was fascinating.

Cloud Atlas: The Book and The Movie

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell:

A reluctant voyager crossing the Pacific in 1850; a disinherited composer blagging a precarious livelihood in between-the-wars Belgium; a high-minded journalist in Governor Reagan’s California; a vanity publisher fleeing his gangland creditors; a genetically modified ‘dinery server’ on death-row; and Zachry, a young Pacific Islander witnessing the nightfall of science and civilisation €” the narrators of Cloud Atlas hear each other’s echoes down the corridor of history, and their destinies are changed in ways great and small. (Copied from David Mitchell’s website.)

Over the Christmas period we watched the movie, Cloud Atlas and I was surprised at how good I thought it was. In the past I have not appreciated movies based on books, but as I hadn’t read the book (despite beginning it several times) I wasn’t influenced by it and could watch the movie with a completely open mind. It is fantastic – a kaleidoscope of visual delights, the scenery, the settings and the costumes are blazes of colour and drama. It made me want to read the book because some of the dialogue was difficult to follow – words spoken quickly and not clearly and in a sort of abbreviated English (we put the subtitles on!) and there are many changes of scene and storylines as the movie switches backwards and forwards between the six stories, sometimes only showing short scenes.

So after watching the movie I read the book.  Cloud Atlas covers a time period from the 19th century to a post apocalyptic future. It is an amazing creation (‘amazing‘ is a very overused word, but in this instance very apt), at times confusing and at times brilliant. I think seeing the movie first was for me the best way to enjoy it. Where the dialogue and plot were confusing in the movie they were clearer in the book – where each separate story is dealt with in much more detail and I could read the dialogue in the post-apocalyptic episodes slowly and take it in more easily.

But the movie really brought the whole thing alive for me and captured my imagination. I think the book is over-long, at times I began to count the pages of each section wanting it to finish – it’s not a book to read quickly; it requires patience, but on the whole I enjoyed it. I liked the change in style, suited to each time period, moving between straight narrative and letters and journal entries, encompassing historical fiction, thriller and sci-fi.

The main difference between the book and the movie is the structure – the book sets out each story in some detail, whereas the movie streamlines each one and moves quickly between them at times overlapping the dialogue. The beginning and the ending are different, with scenes in the movie that are not in the book. The actors play several roles, which actually helps identify their characters and some of the characters in the book don’t appear in the movie. So, really the book and the movie are two different creations – that complement each other.

Cloud Atlas is about good and evil, about truth and greed – for power and money – and love; it’s about freedom and slavery, about the value of the individual; and about morality and evolution, civilisation and savagery. It’s a powerful book and if it wasn’t so long I’d read it again!

Stowaway to Mars by John Wyndham

Stowaway to Mars by John Wyndham writing as John Beynon, was first published in 1936 as Planet Plane (Newnes Limited, London), then serialised in the periodical The Passing Show as Stowaway to Mars, where it was described as:

an epic serial of the greatest exploration of all … by the man who writes half a century ahead of all the others.

It is set in 1981 when an international prize of £1,000,000 was being offered to the first man to complete an interplanetary journey. Dale Curtance, a British millionaire adventurer takes up the challenge and builds a rocket, the Gloria Mundi. With his crew of four men he blasts off from Salisbury Plain, his destination the planet Mars. Once free of the Earth’s atmosphere they discover a stowaway, a woman, Joan Shirning, the daughter of a professor! She has a strange tale to tell of a machine that her father found, which they believe came from Mars. Having landed on Mars they encounter what appears to be a planet occupied by ‘intelligent self-contained machines’. They claim Mars to be part of the British Commonwealth of Nations, a claim later disputed by the Russians when a second rocket lands.

My copy was published in 1972, with a foreword  stating how right John Beynon was in anticipating the international rivalry for the space race.

Stowaway

Stowaway to Mars is a novel of its time, the male crew members discuss what should be done with their stowaway – they can’t just chuck her overboard, as they would a man! They have a condescending attitude to women thinking that her ‘highest duty is motherhood’. She can be creative, concentrate on producing children rather than machines, because women :

simply have not got the imagination to see the machines as we see them, but they have the power to be jealous of them. … There is nothing good they can say for it. It’s noisy, it’s dirty, it’s ugly, it stinks: and anyway it’s only a jumble of metal bits – what can be really interesting in that? (page 98)

There is a lot of discussion about The Machine and its relationship with Humanity, what it means and what use is made of it. Man’s survival depends on his adaptability and must be willing to break with the past. The reason to venture into space is thought to be to make us wiser, to seek knowledge. Wyndham refers to earlier science fiction writers, such as J J Astor’s Journey in Other Worlds, written in 1894 where he states that ‘the future glory of the human race lies in the exploration of at least the Solar System.’ And Dale and his companions speculate about what they will find on Mars:

It’ll be amusing … to see which of the story-tellers was nearest the truth. Wells, with his jelly-like creatures, Weinbaum, with his queer birds, Burroughs, with his menageries of curiosities, or Stapleton, with his intelligent clouds? And of the theorists, too. Lowell, who started the canal irrigation notion, Lutyen, who said that the conditions are just, but only just, sufficient for life to exist at all. (page 67)

Even though this book is so obviously dated and contains quite lengthy sections theorising about machines, and the existence of life on other planets, I did enjoy it immensely. I really liked the descriptions of Mars, including its history and the reason for the construction of the canals, and the interplay between the characters, although some of them are only sketchily drawn and I couldn’t distinguish between them very easily.

The book ends on an intriguing note, referring to a subsequent tale. To say more would spoil the ending, at least it would have done for me. I don’t think Wyndham actually wrote a sequel, although there is a short story, Sleepers of Mars which deals with the Russians left  stranded on Mars.

John Wyndham’s (1903 – 1969) full name was John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris, and he wrote under several different pseudonyms – John Beynon, John Beynon Harris,  Wyndham Parkes, Lucas Parkes and Johnson Harris.

I’ve had this book for a few years, so it qualifies for Bev’s Mount TBR Challenge and it is the second book I’ve read for Carl’s Science Fiction Experience. It was a really good read and it has got me so interested in finding out more about the history of science fiction itself!

The Sc-Fi Experience: The Midwich Cuckoos

Sci-Fi Experience

Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting the 2014 Sci-Fi Experience beginning on
December 1st, 2013 and ending on January 31st, 2014. Carl is inviting readers to:

a) Continue their love affair with science fiction
b) Return to science fiction after an absence, or
c) Experience for the first time just how exhilarating science fiction can be.

There are no set numbers of books to read, no pressure, you just get to read what you like, be it one book or twenty: it’s up to you.

I think I fall into the second category. I used to read a lot of science fiction many years ago but these days I only read one or two now and then. As it happens, now is one of those rare occasions as I’ve recently read The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham, first published in 1957.

Book Description from Amazon

In the sleepy English village of Midwich, a mysterious silver object appears and all the inhabitants fall unconscious. A day later the object is gone and everyone awakens unharmed €“ except that all the women in the village are discovered to be pregnant.

The resultant children of Midwich do not belong to their parents: all are blonde, all are golden eyed. They grow up too fast and their minds exhibit frightening abilities that give them control over others and brings them into conflict with the villagers just as a chilling realisation dawns on the world outside . . .

The Midwich Cuckoos is the classic tale of aliens in our midst, exploring how we respond when confronted by those who are innately superior to us in every conceivable way.

My view:

The story is set in an ordinary village, with a village green and a white-railed pond, a church and vicarage, an inn, smithy, post office, village shop and sixty cottages and small houses, a village hall, and two large houses, Kyle Manor and The Grange. A very ordinary village where not much goes on, which makes what happens there even more extraordinary.

It’s a product of its time and is dated in the way it portrays women – for example, comments about the female mind being empty because of the dullness of the majority of female tasks and focusing on the shame of being an unmarried mother. Maybe there is too much philosophising and discussion about topics about collective-individualism, morality, the nature of God and evolution. But even so the level of tension and fear rose as the children grew and revealed their powers and not having seen the film version I had no idea how it would end.

Actually, I really enjoyed The Midwich Cuckoos more than I thought I would. It’s eerie and very chilling, a story of alien invasion and the apparent helplessness of humanity to put up any resistance.