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!

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.