Category Archives: Sci-Fi

Slaughterhouse 5 – Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse 5Title: Slaughterhouse 5

Author: Kurt Vonnegut

Publication Date: 1969

Review Score: 8/10

War prisoner, farther, optometrist… time traveller, these are the different roles of Billy Pilgrim’s life. Captured during the Battle of the Bulge, towards the latter stages of World War II, Billy, a less than heroic Chaplain’s Assistant, ends up with his fellow prisoners in a disused slaughterhouse in Dresden, where they hide out and survive the horrific Dresden Bombing that took the lives of over 25,000 people.

Some years later, Billy, now a successful optometrist, is abducted by the Tralfamadorians, a superior race which takes him to their planet and put him on show in the zoo, forced to live and mate with the famous model and actress Montana Wildhack.

The Tralfamadorians teach Billy about how time is not a continuous motion forward, but each moment continues to exist forever and can be enjoyed at any time. The book follows this line of thinking jumping through Billy’s time line, looking at the war, his abduction and all the major events in his life.

Bitter yet funny, ludicrous yet chillingly real, Slaughterhouse 5 is a moving anti-war novel, a stark examination of the human psyche and even a completely original piece of fantasy fiction. The writing is sharp and powerful, the characters are incredibly real and the ideas that surround this real event are incredibly original.

Do not expect a tangent, coherent piece of literature with a clear beginning, middle and end because you definitely won’t get it here. There is no definitive conclusion, no heroic crescendo, just an excellent piece of writing that definitely deserves to be on the list of 1001 Books to Read Before You Die.

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We – Yevgeny Zamyatin

Title: We

Author: Yevgeny Zamyatin

Publication Date: 1924

Review Score: 8/10

The citizens of OneState live in a glass enclosed city, made completely of straight lines, and are ruled over by the all powerful benefactor. The society is made up of numbers not names and all work in harmony for the greater good. They are We not I.

All seems well in OneState until D-503, a mathematician working on one of the state’s most vital projects, makes an unusual discovery, he has an individual soul! He has feelings for a woman that go against the benefit of the state and he starts to see himself as an individual rather than a cog in the greater machine.

Zamyatin wrote We in 1921 but it was suppressed for over 60 years in his homeland of Russia and only first published there in 1988. Due to its suppression it is less known that many other similar novels, but in fact this is the archetypal dystopian story and was the inspiration for George Orwell’s 1984.

If you like 1984 or Brave New World you will definitely enjoy We, it has less of the Hollywood shine to it, being much harsher and mechanical, but the ideas within it are incredibly inventive, especially considering the period and surroundings it was written in.

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin may not be well known but the concepts within it definitely are and Sci-Fi fans will agree that it is worth its place on the list of 1001 Books to Read Before you Die.

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The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

Title: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Author: Douglas Adams

Publication Date: 1979

Review Score: 8/10

It’s Thursday lunch time and Arthur Dent’s house has just been demolished, the world is about to follow and his best friend has just told him he is an alien. Before he knows it Arthur is hurtling through space, with no home to go back to and no way to get a decent cup of tea. However, things could be worse; at least they have The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and a towel, the most useful item in the universe.

Along their journey the pair encounters the two headed, 3 armed president of the galaxy, a manically depressed robot and a host of other completely zany and bewildering characters and situations.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is one of the most original, funny and downright whacky books I have ever read. The implausible ideas that Adams comes up with can only really be compared to the mad ramblings in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but in space and with aliens.

It is quite a short book and very quick to read, barely taking a breath from one chapter to the next, and although it doesn’t always make a great deal of sense, the story is fantastic, the characters are all instantly likable and it really does have you laughing out loud.

This is not a traditional Sci-Fi novel but it is one of the best I have read, injecting a whimsical playfulness into the story that is so often avoided in Sci-Fi. In fact I think what is most enjoyable about The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the fact that it takes Sci-Fi and just has some fun with it, rather than being completely logical, precise and serious.

It’s easy to read, a lot of fun and, in my opinion, well deserving of its place on the list of 1001 Books to Read Before you Die.

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Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

Title: Brave New World

Author: Aldous Huxley

Publication Date: 1932

Review Score: 5/10

The year is 2540 and the world is not as we know it, the controllers have come up with the perfect society, through a combination of reproductive technology and neo-Pavlovian sleep learning. There are no families, no parents, no individuality, people are bread in laboratories and through sleep recordings taught to live harmoniously within society.

Bernard Marx has had all of the conditioning and knows how he should live, but still finds himself craving solitude and loneliness and not wanting to participate in this perfect society. With these questions swimming round his mind he decides to travel to one of the few remaining savage reserves, where the old ways of life are still practiced, but will this trip solve any of his problems?

For those of you who follow this blog more regularly, you probably know that the Sci-Fi novels tend to be among my most favourite, and so when starting out with Brave New World I was very excited! Now, the first part of the novel definitely lived up to my expectations, as the futuristic world that Aldous Huxley has created is a stark realisation of what could be possible in the future, with the perfect society seeming creepy and void of all real human emotion.

However, as soon as the main characters come into the frame and go to the savage reservation I found myself enjoying the book less and less. Firstly, it seems illogical that in a society so far advanced and aimed at getting rid of the family idea would for no apparent reason keep one small reservation where it is still practiced.

Further still, in a world where everyone is conditioned to be embarrassed and ashamed of the old family ideas it seems even more illogical that they would let people go to these reservations and interact with these savages, potentially undoing years of neo-Pavlovian conditioning.

Obviously, all of this is needed as it forms the main crux of the story, but I find it difficult to enjoy a book when something as big as this is just blown over with no real explanation or reasoning, especially in a world or perfect order and control.

The futuristic world that Aldous Huxley has created is incredibly interesting and a work of genius, but the series of events he places within it are, for me, not worthy of it. It is definitely deserving of its place in the history of Sci-Fi literature but as a story I didn’t think it lived up to its billing.

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Journey to the Centre of the Earth – Jules Verne

Title: Journey to the Centre of the Earth

Author: Jules Verne

Publication Date: 1864

Review Score: 8/10

The year is 1863 and a learned German professor by the name of Von Hardwigg has just gotten his hands on an ancient Icelandic manuscript by the famous Snorri Sturluson, but for the life of him he cannot decipher it.

After days of intellectual torment struggling with the mysterious writings, the professor’s nephew and protégé cracks the code and discovers the secret of the great Snorri Sturluson. At first he cannot bring himself to tell his uncle of the meaning of the note but eventually he has to relinquish and the professor discovers that Snorri Sturluson has written of his journey to the centre of the earth through volcanic tubes.

And now, knowing of this great voyage completed by Sturluson the professor is determined to follow his footsteps and reach the centre of the earth. Although against the journey, believing it to be impossible, the professors nephew is soon dragged along on this crazy adventure in which the 2 men, plus a trusty Icelandic guide by the name of Hans, delve deep into the earth’s crust through a maze of volcanic tunnels and encounter an underground forest, gigantic sea monsters and teeter on the brink of starvation.

After thoroughly enjoying Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days I was extremely eager to read Journey to the Centre of the Earth and I am glad to say it lived up to my expectations! Verne’s writing style is effortless to read, his characters are thoroughly intriguing and his ideas are beyond comprehension. Although written nearly 150 years ago Journey to the centre of the Earth is still highly energised, exciting and relevant for a modern audience.

I wouldn’t say that Journey to the Centre of the Earth is as good as Around the World in 80 Days, but it is still a great book and well deserved of its place on the 1001 Books to Read Before you Die list.

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The War of the Worlds – H.G. Wells

Title: The War of the Worlds

Author: H.G. Wells

Publication Date: 1898

Review Score: 5/10

The night after a shooting star is seen streaking across then night sky from Mars, the villagers of Horsell Common discover a large crater in which lies a metal cylinder. Not long after this, Martians emerge from the pit and although they are greeted with a white flag and general curiosity, they soon start to kill all of the locals with a devastating heat ray that destroys all in its path.

Soon more cylinders arrive and the Martians start to build gigantic killing machines which tear through London wreaking havoc and killing all of those who stand in their way. Scared, dumbfounded and only having basic defences the human race looks to be on the brink of extension, but the Martians may have underestimated the resilience of Earth to foreign invaders.

Looking back over the synopsis I just wrote, the first thing I realise is that this book sounds so much more exciting than it actually is! The premise for this novel is fantastic, especially when you take into account that it was dreamt up over 100 year ago when Sci-Fi was in its infancy, but the delivery is just not that great.

For starters, we are taken through this novel by a narrator, who is recalling what happened to him during these events, and so we already know before starting that the humans come through this attack and are not wiped of the face of the planet, meaning that we are only really in it for the ride and to find out how the humans destroy the seemingly invincible Martians.

Secondly, although the ideas in this novel are amazingly original for the period it was written in, the actual events in the book do not do justice to the original idea and often fall flat, either being predictable or just not that exciting.

Finally, I don’t mean to spoil the end of the book for those who haven’t read it, but let me just say that the way the Martians are defeated is very disappointing and is almost as bad as “and then I woke up and it was all a dream!” ending in an abrupt and lack lustre manner.

What I find odd is that a lot of people view The War of the Worlds as H.G. Wells greatest novels, but having read The Time Machine and The Island of Doctor Moreau I can honestly say that this has been my least favourite of his so far.

The War of the Worlds will always be regarded as one of the greatest ever Sci-Fi novels, and given how progressive and mind blowing it was at the time I can understand this, but as an actual novel, rather than an idea, it is not all that great.

Although if you disagree with me please let me know, I would love to hear why!

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The Time Machine – H.G. Wells

Title: The Time Machine

Author: H.G. Wells

Publication Date: 1895

Review Score: 7/10

One night at a gathering at his house, a Victorian scientist tells his guests of how he has invented a time machine. Obviously no one believe the young man and so to try and prove that time travel is possible he first shows them a scale model of his machine which he sends into the future.

Still not convinced, the scientist invites the men to come to dinner again next week and once they are again all gathered he emerges from his laboratory, tired and dishevelled, ready to regale his guests with the story of his time travelling adventure.

The scientist then takes his guests, and the reader, on a journey into the future, to the year 802,701 AD, where he first discovers a peaceful, calm and beautiful society, where a small, simple elf like race of people, known as the Eloi, play all day and live in peace with each other.

This at first strikes the time traveller as a wonderful society, until he discovers a second branch of our once great humanity, that live underground, feed of human flesh and have hidden his time machine. The Morlocks are a disturbing, ape like race, which the time traveller must confront in order to secure his machine and get back to his own time.

Given that the time traveller himself is telling this story in his own dining room, after the events have occurred, we know from the outset that he must find a way to get back to the Victorian age. However, although this does at first take some of the drama out of the book you will soon find yourself so wrapped up in the tale of his adventure that it becomes a fleeting thought and does not stop you from experiencing the highs and lows of his journey.

What’s more, as with War of the Worlds and the Island of Doctor Moreau, Wells has been able to come up with remarkably original ideas in The Time Machine that are still ingenious by today’s standards, despite being written over 100 years ago.

As with his other novels I am surprised at how much he Wells able to fit into such a small book and my only wish is that it had continued for a second adventure, perhaps into the past or less distance into the future.

This is the 1 of 3 books H.G. Wells has on the 1,001 Books to Read Before you Die list and, in my opinion, they are all well deserving of their place. This is once again a fantastic read for anyone who loves Sci-Fi or just great storytelling.

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