Themes: / slavery / space / bureaucracy / mega-corporations / politics /
A New Beginning is the story of a young woman who is ordered by the courts of Earth to serve as an indentured slave to the corporation that held her college debt. Life as a slave brings her to the brink of suicide and an attempt to kill her tormentor. She is sold to Spacers, who are themselves rebelling against the corrupt control of Earth’s mega-corporations. In space she finds a chance at a new life, a chance to maybe help her sister avoid the same fate, but only if Spacers succeed in gaining their freedom. The course of her life will be determined by the outcome of politics far outside of her control… but she has a chance, however slim, to save her sister and start a new life herself.
In some way, this was a really odd book for me to read. The main character is named Kristin. She works on a space ship as a systems engineer. I work on satellites as a systems engineer. And, honestly, her description is really similar to mine when I was in my early 20′s. So it was seriously trippy to read this at times.
A New Beginning is set in the near future, a future where space travel is common place, as is living in space aboard ships or other space stations. On Earth, it’s a rather bleaker picture of the world today. Corporations have taken over the world, bought out most of the politicians. It’s a society, world-wide, where the class gap is as wide is it can be and only those born into or who marry into privilege have assurance of a “normal” life. The rest are sold into indentured service to pay of their debts, whatever they are; for main character Kristin, this is the price of her college education. It’s also a future where faster-than-light travel has been made possible, but communication–visual and audio (in the form of communiques between spacecraft)–is limited to light speed. I’m not quite sure how that is possible, to be honest, but it sets up some interesting potential so I decided not to worry about it.
As the story starts, a newly formed “Federation,” comprised of those living and working on the ships and stations, those without ties to Earth, decide to break ties with Earth and form their own…well, federation. Think of it like Star Trek. Where once they were tied to Earth, they now consider themselves independent entities, willing and happy to trade with Earth, but not bound by any of their laws–or taxes. This has important ramifications for Kristin Hayes, whose indentured service was just sold from an Earth corporation to a ship in the Federation. She left behind a life of debt and slavery (including sexual slavery) on Earth and, upon joining the ship, was freed. The Federation, her ship The Valiant Lad, bought her indenture contract (along with that of others) and gave her the option to return to Earth as a free woman or to join the Federation, join the ship’s crew. Kristin decided to join the ship’s crew and for the first time in her life, have a real job, earn real wages, and be allowed to be a “normal” person.
Kristin’s story comprises most of the book. There are two story lines (that are sort of broken into 3 in places), one of the Federation officers who are actually coordinating the secession from Earth, and Kristin’s story line, telling of her life, both on and off the ship. Kristin’s story is about 2/3 of this book, though I suspect that this is the first in a series and provides decent setup for the rest of the series. Kristin acclimates to life on the ship slowly, but without much adversity. If anything, it seems that everything is just too easy. She finds friends, support, a job she can do…which is interesting, given the description of how the space-ers grow up and are educated compared with how Earth-ers are raised. Growing up in space seems a lot more intense, it seems that anybody from Earth would be at a significant disadvantage. When the Federation makes new laws, allowing families to be on ships and for crew to “fraternize,” she enters into a relationship with a crew mate fairly easily, despite her emotional scars. Kristin decides that she should use this opportunity to earn money (and save it) so that she can get her sister and her father off Earth, to help them avoid the troubles she had. One way she earns money is by selling her journal as a book; the journal she wrote of what her life was like on Earth as a child and then as an indentured servant for one of the corporations. It became an overnight success (almost literally) and made her into a celebrity. As I said, the only “trouble” I really had with this part of the book is how easy everything was. Kristin had a few small stumbling blocks to overcome, but the narrative made it sound like they were easily triumphed over, so overall she didn’t face much adversity.
Similarly, the second story line–comprising a third or less of the book–seemed….easy. The main thrust is told from two viewpoints, one of the ship captain (Marshall?) who announced the secession, and one of another ship captain (Matthews? A woman, in either event, which was nice) who oversaw some of the battles between the Earth ships and the Federation ships. This is where I think the book truly had a miss. It was odd enough that it was all too easy–the battles were short, sweet, and rarely with any Federation losses–but there was an opportunity for Brummer to capitalize on some interesting tactics, an opportunity lost in this book. As I mentioned earlier in the review, technology has evolved to a point where faster-than-light travel is possible (and used) but faster-than-light communication is not. This means that when battling on a large scale, your information is only as good as your distance (in light years/hours) from the source. This was touched on briefly in Kristin’s narrative. One of her co-workers mentioned that for spare money, he makes games to teach kids about battle tactics and the math used in FTL travel and war. He mentioned that all kids who grow up in space have to learn this, and have to use it…but then, nobody did. In all of the battles, it seemed like the information at hand was “good enough” and that the Federation mostly won without issue. While the battle scenes were mercifully short (nothing drives me up a wall than too much detail on weaponry or super-detailed tactics), they were almost too dry. It seemed, once again, too easy.
Some of the issues with the battle scenes might have been owed to the narration. The narration, while mostly fine, was just that, fine. Nolan didn’t add much excitement or change in tone for any of the scenes. He didn’t use different voices for the characters (except maybe some of the characters on the primary Federation ship–the Freedom?–they sounded like they were lifted from the scenes in Star Trek). The recording itself occasionally echoed or sounded like it was recorded with an unfiltered microphone. It often sounded like there was a low-level hiss in the background, or air flowing. This was noticeable when I used earphones and in my car audio and was occasionally distracting.
All in all, the book wasn’t a bad entry novel for a first-time author, though the science fiction elements were more window dressing than actual story components. I suspect some of the audio issues were due to it not being one of the larger publication houses, and that’s okay. I would recommend this book to someone looking for some light science fiction that frankly isn’t much of a downer (because let’s be honest, a lot of it can be extremely depressing). It will be interesting to see where Brummer goes with this universe. If all the novels end up having this same tone/lack of adversity, it could get boring, but for a first-in-a-series by a new author, it was pretty alright.
Posted by terpkristin.
The SFFaudio Podcast #251 – Jesse, Scott, and Tamahome discuss Up Against It by M.J. Locke.
Talked about on today’s show:
Hardcover, paperback, audiobook, who to blame?, it’s Jo Walton’s doing we chose this book (at the bottom), still a lot of juice in the genre, the ultimate cause, drawing in vs. pushing in, Corner Gas, a new wine bracket, the Radium Age of Science Fiction, Scott’s Goodreads review, Tam’s Goodreads review, 24, the characters, less torture, its more fun if you count the tropes, every trope is in there, including immortality, mimetic fiction (literary realism), Henry James, mimetic fiction in a science fiction universe, tiny infodumps, not one brand new idea, waveface virtual reality, Tonal_Z AI language (Chris Crawford’s Solvesol-interface concept?), in dialogue, Cory Doctorow (Whuffies), Bruce Sterling, Chris Crawford, Bruce Sterling’s Veridians (wow, it’s a whole big thing, design philosophy? manifesto), asteroid miner stories, Heinlein and later, The Island Worlds by John Maddox Roberts and Eric Kotani, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, there’s no newcomer, a generally agreed upon direction our future will be, John Scalzi’s brainpal, more than one kind of SF, rocket ships, the Charles Stross direction, Iain M. Banks, Souvenir by Philip K. Dick, Amish tech, their tech is subservient to their culture, it seems inevitable in our world, the received future, Earth in Up Against It in bad shape, Vancouver shantytowns, Edmonton, this isn’t a utopian book, dystopia, dystopic Earth, why are they in the Asteroid Belt, good world-building, good but not new, nothing new but the idea, incredibly self-aware people is weird (and cool), gene tampering, Oblivion is a good introduction to SF tropes (for people born in the year 2000), the level of SF tropes in movies is very low compared to those in SF books, Darwin Elevator, bad physics vs. excellent physics, sugar rocks, there’s no intro character (other than the A.I. pov), Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, collaborative teens, a visual adaptation, Ender’s Game, Planetes, Gravity, Babylon 5 had nothing new, I don’t go to TV SF for new ideas, books are where great ideas, what great ideas haven’t been explored, the news coming out of Eve Online, Steen Hansen, political machinations, gold farming, a simulated universe, a libertarian alliance was trojaned or something, happening to real people, World Of Warcraft, our real future is in leisure, Tam liked it more, nose-piercings, tattooing, the gender neutral pronouns, why would you want a purple nose?, Jesse doesn’t understand trans-humanism, normal readalongs, why didn’t I like this more, Tam liked it fine, hands for feet, chromes and mutes, Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold, not too bright in the brain area, The Integral Trees by Larry Niven, a planetless solar system, a mashup of Doctorow and Heinlein, smile -> erection, Chekhov’s Gun, Heinleinian sex vs. Doctorowian sex, there’s too much going on, an immature writer, Elmore Leonard, “she pillowed her cheek”, nobody pillows their cheeks in Jack London stories, Jane as an older Ripley, an artificial spiritual awakening, too many compromises too much bullshit, an authentically political book according to Staffer’s Book Review, double dealings, the thriller plot, exploring space, what does Scott prefer?, does Scott have a right to review Up Against It?, is it maturity?, 2312, Tobias Buckell’s blog essay about mature reviewers, caveats, “and get off my lawn”, idea fiction, competent but unstimulating, why is The Lord Of The Rings more interesting than Up Against It?, the themes, the next episode of A Good Story Is Hard To Find, Luke Burrage re-reviews A Canticle For Liebowitz, what we do when we do READALONGS (we unpack books), The Odyssey, Community, currently airing TV series have podcasts?, books with allegories, Scott wants it to mean something to him, The Zimmerman Telegram by Barbara Tuchman, WWI, the German ambassador in Mexico, Woodrow Wilson, Tom Clancy, mimetic fiction from the future, a history from the future, history, in some ways Eve Online is much more real than any fiction book, Scott finds value in general fiction, Mario Puzo, Tom Wolfe, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, meaning vs. ideas, horror, Snowblind by Christopher Golden for some alternative horror, The House Of The Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Turn Of The Screw by Henry James, gothic fiction, witchcraft, Supernatural Horror In Literature by H.P. Lovecraft, there’s still potential for Science Fiction, a sequel?, an unneeded sequel, every subsequent milk of a book undercuts it, Dune has been worsened by every Dune that’s come since, Dune Messiah (Scott liked it), the fall of a charismatic leader, a backward casting shadow, Brian Herbert has done what his father wanted by ruining Dune?, why was Up Against It so long?, YA/adult book, George R.R. Martin doesn’t think Scott’s a fan of Hard SF, The Martian by Andy Weir, Phoecea, why are they mining?, there’s no economic reason to do so, was there an economic reason to go to the moon, we need to build a space fleet, no martian resources are unavailable on Earth, the Moon has Helium-3, Tam read Frank Schatzing’s Limit and his eyes are tired, what the frack, (was it ‘Simon pure science fiction like A Darkling Sea‘? we didn’t talk about it but I thought I’d note it)
Posted by Jesse Willis
A six part radio dramatization of The Dispossessed was broadcast on CBC Radio in weekly 1/2 hour installments from June 12 to July 17, 1987 for The Vanishing Point (a long running SF radio drama series). Airing at 7:30pm on Friday nights this serial was based on the 1974 novel of the same name, by Ursula K. Le Guin. Subtitled “An Ambiguous Utopia” it tells the story of the occupants of twin planets, Urras and Annares. A sprawling epic of its era it features tree-planting, dinner parties, copulation, physics, homosexuality, anarchism, social justice, copulation, spankings, propaganda, culture, copulation, pregnancy, babies, famine, revolution, class consciousnesses, politics, and copulation.
Here’s the official plot:
“Shevek, a brilliant physicist, decides to take action. He will seek answers, question the unquestionable, and attempt to tear down the walls of hatred that have isolated his planet of anarchists from the rest of the civilized universe. To do this dangerous task will mean giving up his family and possibly his life. Shevek must make the unprecedented journey to the utopian mother planet, Urras, to challenge the complex structures of life and living, and ignite the fires of change.”
The Vanishing Point – The Dispossessed
Adapted from the novel by Ursula K. Le Guin; Dramatized by David Lewis Stein; Performed by a full cast
6 Episodes – Approx. 3 Hours [RADIO DRAMA]
Broadcaster: CBC Radio
Part 1 |MP3| Jun. 12, 1987
Part 2 |MP3| Jun. 19, 1987
Part 3 |MP3| Jun. 26, 1987
Part 4 |MP3| Jul. 03, 1987
Part 5 |MP3| Jul. 10, 1987
Part 6 |MP3| Jul. 17, 1987
Podcast feed: http://huffduffer.com/tags/vpdispossessed/rss
iTunes 1-Click |SUBSCRIBE|
Gary Reineke as Shevek
Music by Marsha Coffee
Part 1 of 6:
Part 2 of 6:
Part 3 of 6:
Part 4 of 6:
Part 5 of 6:
Part 6 of 6:
Posted by Jesse Willis
Mack Reynolds is an SF author who needs more attention. Unfortunately his non-public domain works, the majority of his work, are languishing, orphaned. Escape Pod has paired this less than stellar novelette with an excellent narrator, Corson Bremer, but even so it’s a less than stellar representative example of Reynold’s most thoughtful societal thinking. Expediter merely hints at the kinds of things Mack Reynolds could do. Come to think of it, what we really need is an expediter to make the still copyrighted works of Mack Reynolds available as ebooks (and audiobooks).
By Mack Reynolds; Read by Corson Bremer
1 |MP3| – Approx. 1 Hour 22 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Podcaster: Escape Pod
Podcast: October 28, 2013
His assignment was to get things done; he definitely did so, Not quite the things intended, perhaps, but definitely done. First published in Analog, May 1963.
Podcast feed: http://escapepod.org/podcast.xml
Here is the |ETEXT|.
And I’ve assembled a |PDF|.
Posted by Jesse Willis
The Scarlet Plague
By Jack London; Read by Drew Ariana
Approx. 2 Hours 13 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Dreamscape Audio
Published: August 20, 2013
Themes: / Science Fiction / San Francisco / Plague / Post-Apocalypse / Disease / Philosophy / Politics / Class Conflict /
The year is 2013 and plague has struck. Not a wannabe killer like SARS or the Spanish flu, but a tsunami type devastation that swallows every living thing, check that, every person, in its path. Its nickname is the red death because at its arrival the first thing that happens to the infected person is they start sporting a red face – like a beacon for everyone else around them to – RUN. The next thing that happens is they die. Well a little more goes on in between, numb feet, numb hands, a heart so numb it stops. All within an hour, or a few hours if the person is lucky/unlucky enough to have it drag out that long. Then for fun what’s left of the numbed, red faced, ex-person, immediately starts decomposing, falling apart before the eyes of anyone still around to witness it, practically shooting decomposing germs into the air like a plant shooting its spores. There are two classes of people, the ultra rich and everyone else. As the ultra rich jump into their airships to get as far away as possible, they just carry death with them – first class. Everyone else simply falls down and dies where they are. The devastation’s full name is Scarlet Plague. Sixty years into the future when the very few last contenders of what was once the mighty human race hear tell about it, they can’t even decipher what scarlet means because language (like life) has degraded to the point of only holding on to what’s necessary. Scarlet is red. Counting only needs to go as high a ten. The squiggles on money and books are meaningless, but that’s of no consequence because neither books nor money are in use anyway. Apologies, I’m getting ahead of myself. About 160 years ahead.
The Scarlet Plague by Jack London, published in 1912 is about the plague that will strike 100 years from his time, told from a perspective 60 years hence by the last man alive who’s ever seen an airship or read a book. 2013, a hundred years into the future for Jack London, is today and yesterday, this week. Hearing this story now, is like what it was to read (or re-read) 1984 in 1984. Sort of surreal. Interestingly 1984 is a year that was mentioned in the story of the plague. Did George Orwell choose that year with a tip of his hat? Probably. I’ve heard George was a fan.
Back to Jack. What did he get right? What did he miss? Commercial airships? Instant wireless communication? Check, check. About 8 billion people planet wide? Check. The ultra rich and everyone else, hmmm, not that far off the mark, probably pretty close considering he was most likely exaggerating a little to make a point. The work didn’t actually feel like science fiction, it felt contemporary, the section that describes this part of the century anyway. Like his projection to 2073 started from here, not from a century ago. Because the today part of the story is so right, it makes the rest of the story worse.
Not worse as in it’s a bad story. It’s an excellent, superbly imagined, tangible story. Worse in regards to how Mr. London judged the human condition. 60 years from now, 160 years from when the book was written, James Howard Smith or Grandsir, is telling his three grandsons the story of the plague. A story that was in great demand 20 or 30 years before, is quickly becoming lost – now of passing interest to two of the boys, and of real interest to only one. For one thing Grandsir’s sentences are way too complicated, especially when he goes off into his memories and starts speaking as he used to do when he was professor of English literature at Stanford. Speech has become staccato and minimalist, the niceties of language having died off with everyone that had time for that sort of thing. The other problem is the things Grandsir talks about make no sense to the boys. Cities, cars travelling by air, exchanging things with money, wasting time with written markings, all of it is so outside of what the boys know it might as well be make believe. The ramblings of a deranged, lost, old mind. With an estimated world population of less than 500, life has become a question of survival. If you want to eat then you have to go out and kill yourself some dinner. Grandsir calls his grandsons savages. When he was a boy (one of his constant refrains) there were those who gathered food and those who ordered its gathering. His progeny has been reduced to food gatherers. Interestingly Grandsir’s still got them gathering food for him. Old habits die hard I guess.
So why was this professor of classical literature spared to help re-forge humanity? No reason. One in every few million just didn’t get red faced. Maybe death momentarily blinked as it passed them by or got distracted by the particularly amusing scene of the mountains of bodies piling up at its feet. A couple of feeble minded, the very richest most splendid woman in America, a violent, vile, wife beating chauffer who made himself her husband, our friend the professor – just a few random cards in the deck. Life’s like that. You build your magnificent cities, you spend your time creating art and pondering the great questions, and life responds by carelessly wiping itself out. Careless in that it doesn’t quite finish the job. But no matter, because life will make its way forward again.
And now we come to the worst part of the story. It’s not the plague and what happens in the aftermath. The author makes it clear that ultimately, in the long run, humanity will rally back. They’ll rebuild and create again. The worst part is what Mr. Jack London sees after that.
Drew Ariana who read the story in this recording did a good job. My only issue was the character voice he assumed for Grandsir. I didn’t have a problem with the voice, the problem was, so much of the story was told using this voice it became a little distracting. Otherwise, an easy, pleasant listen.
By the end of the book, awash in dystopia, I was seeing a little red. Too delightful not to share, here’s a little red (or Scarlet) for you. “All man’s toil upon the planet was just so much foam. He domesticated the serviceable animals, destroyed the hostile ones, and cleared the land of its hostile vegetation and then he passed and the primordial flood of hostile life rolled back again, sweeping his handy work away.”
Posted by Maissa Bessada
Talked about on today’s show:
Jenny is not an economist, a Heinlein vibe, God Emperor Of Dune, The first half of this book is talk, a terrible novel but an interesting book, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, the distancing narrators, 700 years into the future, the audience is for seven hundred years in the future (or is that six hundred), prizefighting, grub = food, the purpose of the footnotes, The Sleeper Awakes by H.G. Wells, Avis Everhard, alternate history, Michael Bishop, an underground book, an underground society, that Buck Rogers stuff, Armageddon—2419 AD by Philip Francis Nowlan, exchanging socialism for the Yellow Peril, Asgard, Seoul, set in the year 419 B.O.M. (Brotherhood of Men), A Thousand Deaths by Jack London, The Island Of Doctor Moreau, predictions, war with Germany, a surprise attack on December 4th, William Randolph Hearst, war economy as a solution to national surplus, Trotsky’s letter to Jack London, London had good reason to be a socialist, work conditions and natural disasters, a chaotic time, Jackson’s arm, race vs. class, Jack London’s racism, The Heathen by Jack London, the dog stories, class consciousness, grinding out the middle class between the 1% and the people of the abyss, The Shadow And The Flash by Jack London, manly overachievers, oligarchy doesn’t use race to divide people, do you want you fruit to be picked or not?, Japanese segregation in California classrooms, Canadian politics, Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John Steinbeck, ‘temporarily embarrassed millionaires’, the quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln:
“I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country… corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower, “the military-industrial complex”, Eugene Debs, why was The Iron Heel not more popular?, The Black Hundreds, Das Kapital, Marxian fan-fiction, ‘social evolution is exasperatingly slow’, sooo sad, Marx’s essay on Napoleon III, a Darwinian model, do we live under an oligarchy?, government regulation (anti-trust and child labour laws), why socialism didn’t take hold in the early 20th century USA, Larry Summers, the Chilean cover of The Iron Heel, Salvador Allende, a novel read by revolutionaries, Science Fiction within the novel, the aesthetic end, the role of religion, the God of the Oligarchs, mostly air with a little bit of vertebra, Chicago, religious revivals and the apocalypse, Azusa Street Revival, the 1906 San Fransisco earthquake, William Randolph Hearst, Patty Hearst, John Waters, Cecil B. Demented, personal charisma and bulletproof arguments, Everhard is a porn star name, Benjamin Franklin, London’s didactic reading, Marx’s surplus theory of value, economy is not a science, power wins, the French Revolution, the Commonwealth of England, George Orwell’s review of The Iron Heel, 1984 is in The Iron Heel, coincidental dates, London’s insight into fascism, too much love from the strong and not enough love for the weak, Eric S. Rabkin, unmanning, ‘designed to be crucified’, father figures are destroyed, the chapter titles, The Call Of The Wild, a powerful beast is unmanned, builds up and builds through interaction with others, a sated king, a dominant primordial beast, The Sea Wolf, reading London is like a shot of adrenalin to the heart, surplus value, colonialism, the machine breakers, the trusts did not advertize, consumerism, Paul Krugman, petty bourgeoisie, the genocide of Chicago, the Paris Commune, gothic wooing, We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, Looking Backward: 2000-1887 by Edward Bellamy, the education of the oligarchy,
“They, as a class, believed that they alone maintained civilization. It was their belief that if ever they weakened, the great beast would ingulf them and everything of beauty and wonder and joy and good in its cavernous and slime-dripping maw. Without them, anarchy would reign and humanity would drop backward into the primitive night out of which it had so painfully emerged.”
excusing colonialism, the white man’s burden, ignoring the starving masses, the Roman Empire, steampunk, Lloyd Blankfein “doing God’s work”, Margin Call, oppositional films, “The Social Network deeply hates Zuckerberg and the online world”, Nine Inch Nails, Michael Douglas, Wall Street, the cleaning lady, why isn’t The Iron Heel more generally appealing to SF readers?, British Space Opera vs. American Space Opera, Commune 2000 A.D. by Mack Reynolds, a broken utopia, job cash vs. job love, the social end of SF, the storytelling technique doesn’t attract, the unsuccessful revolution, Winston Smith’s diary, looking back when writing doesn’t have the same power, the Goldstein Book, brainwashing, the bomb in congress, spy and counterspy, Starship Troopers is a series of lectures punctuated by gunfire, Frank Herbert, “a raving genius”, doing Dune (and Dune Messiah), Chilton Books, the boot crushing the human face forever, the leaky suspense, a Norton critical edition, how to record The Iron Heel, the footnotes are problematic, a crazy wild marvelous book, WWI, WWII, Metropolis, armoured cars or tanks, The Last Man by Mary Shelley, a terrifying future found in a cave written on leaves, A Journal Of The Plague Year by Daniel Defoe, The Scarlet Plague by Jack London, Idiocracy, The Marching Morons by C.M. Kornbluth, on Lenin’s deathbed he was read Jack London, The Cold Equations, To Build A Fire, The Empire Strikes Back,
“The cold of space smote the unprotected tip of the planet, and he, being on that unprotected tip, received the full force of the blow.”
cosmic and Lovecraftian, as snug as a Jedi in a hot tauntaun, Robert Sheckley, Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky.
Posted by Jesse Willis