Category Archives: Book Reviews

On Isaac Asimov’s Robot, Galactic Empire, and Foundation Series

Earlier this year I had been reading a lot of non-fiction and felt a need to balance out my reading with some fiction. I had noted in my list of books to read Asimov’s Foundation, and downloaded it for my Kindle. Very quickly I was consumed by the world created in this story: a rich and fascinating vision of a possible future history of mankind. After reading through the first book, I looked online and found that Asimov had connected up three different series of books: the Robot series, the Galactic Empire series, and the Foundation series.

Having read the first of the original Foundation Trilogy, I continued my way through the trilogy, then through the sequels, then the prequels. Afterwards, I began with I, Robot and moved through the Robot series and ended with the Galactic Empire series. I think if I were to do it all over again, I would start from the Robot Series and go chronologically through the Foundation series.

I loved the I, Robot short stories and the criminal/mystery character of the Robot series. The short stories were very thought provoking; I enjoyed the small twists and turns that came up as the ethical and moral issues of robots/technology and culture were explored. The books that featured R. Daneel Olivaw and Elijah Bailey were exciting and fun, and I found myself very much attached to the characters by the end.

Of the fifteen books, I found the Galactic Empire to be the least compelling (though, still enjoyable reads). They had less cohesion, being separate and mostly unrelated stories, and I felt the stories were a bit more predictable or not quite as polished.

Of the Foundation Series, I found the original trilogy to be extremely solid. I enjoyed how the events unfolded and the vision of a galactic empire in decay and new Foundation rising developed. I found the prequels exploring Hari Seldon to be fun but perhaps not as tightly written, and I thought the sequels were good, though I felt a bit disappointed with the ending in the final book. (Somehow, it felt like it didn’t quite answer the questions it raised.)

Overall, it was interesting that Asimov spent time to connect these series together. I think he was mostly successful in doing so, and imagine I will spend time to read through all of the books at some later point in my life. I do think a lot the ideas he explored are as relevant today as when he wrote them, and would gladly recommend these books to others. In the end, they were a joy to read and inspired many thoughts.

Solaris – Stanisław Lem

I finished reading Stanisław Lem’s Solaris this weekend and was just so completely drawn into the work.  The Solaris ocean, the idea of encountering life that existed truly outside of human experience, the exploration of man’s coming to some terms with understanding what it is, and through it learning something of themselves… I had seen the 1972 Tarkovsky film adaptation some time ago, but remembered very little of it except that I thought it somewhat surreal.  I’d like to revisit the film now, and perhaps even watch the 2002 version as well.  
One of the things that I am still thinking about now is the ocean as something somewhat unaware of the humans, something that is reacting to but only mildly curious of them.  Something that just is, going on about itself, and the humans there observing, pondering. It made me think too of music, one that was not in dialogue with an audience, but something that moved along freely in time, existing, simply being, and an audience there as observers, listening and pondering the piece. In this the piece could move along in its own time, by its own set of rules, perhaps ones by which listeners may or may not understand.  
I think the music I have found most connection with has had these kinds of qualities. A co-existence in space and time, breathing and moving along, unaware of those around.  A freely living sound. 
I imagine I will revisit Solaris more than a few times in my lifetime.  I thoroughly enjoyed the book and am still very much deeply contemplating it…

Death and the Senator – Arthur C. Clarke

Wow… I just finished a fantastic short story by Arthur C. Clark, Death and the Senator. (The full story is available at that link.) The story of a Senator facing death, and through it, facing his own life was incredibly rich for me. I was impressed by the character’s conquering of his ego, as well as the realizations he makes that transform him to one who in the end was able to sincerely appreciate and admire the time and life he had to live. 

I think there is a lot to be learned from this story and I will look forward to revisiting it again in the future.

Pirx the Pilot – Stanisław Lem

I recently had a fantastic time reading both "Tales of Pirx the Pilot" and "More Tales of Pirx the Pilot" by Stanisław Lem. The stories were excellent in their sheer adventure as well as their thoughtfulness.  One of the aspects of these stories that stuck on my mind was how human the characters were.  By this I mean that the people of the story all had the same issues humans have today, that despite being in the settings of space and on other planets, they still had many of the same existential questions and daily struggles that are found in life today.

(This is something that I’ve enjoyed so much about Lem’s work that I have read(as well as in the stories of Ted Chiang), that the technological or fantastical aspects of the stories are not so much the center of the story, but rather they serve a much larger story that involve a broader human story. I think the speculative fiction and fantasy texts and shows/movies that I’ve most enjoyed all exhibit these qualities.)

I also found myself quite impressed that these stories of Pirx not only solicited these very probing questions for me, but that they were also highly entertaining adventures as well!  So far of the texts by Lem I have read I have very much enjoyed their thoughtfulness as well as their entertainment and humor, and I am already looking forward to reading more of his works.

Memoirs Found in a Bathtub – Stanislaw Lem

I have just finished reading Stanislaw Lem’s “Memoirs Found in a Bathtub” and found it quite a story.  At first I thought I felt it had a certain connection with the insanity of Catch 22, amused by the humor and nonsense. However, as the story developed, I found that the insanity wasn’t insane after all, but rather that every detail in the story was very well crafted and connected to form its own inner logic within an insane world, and that what started off as simply amusing became deeply troubling and thoughtful.  I would say more, but perhaps best to simply read Lem’s thoughts as well as a fragment of the text on the official Lem site.

This was the first story I read by Lem, and I am certainly looking forward to reading more of his work!

Stories of Your Life and Others – Ted Chiang

A few weeks ago I was at the library and had realized that it had been a very long time since I had read any fiction.  I had been watching the original Star Trek series online though, and since I had been happening to stand in the new Science Fiction section, I picked up a book by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter entitled “Firstborn”.  I had gotten quite into it and took it with me to Utah, where the person I stayed with ended up being quite a Science Fiction fan.  He made some great recommendations and on one of the nights there I had read Ted Chiang‘s “The Story of Your Life” and was hooked. Just fantastic!

Well, after Utah I had finished reading “FirstBorn” (it was just alright in the end for me; I thought the story built up very well but when it came to the big action of the book I thought it was a bit rushed and could have been a little more dramatic; overall an okay read), I went to the library and picked up Ted Chiang’s “Stories of Your Life and Others“, a collection of short stories including “The Story of Your Life”.  Each story was excellent, and I appreciated the many different approaches to writing stories he had taken, as well as the many interesting thoughts and ideas he had explored in his work.  Thoroughly enjoyable and exceptional!

In looking for more information, I found more of Ted Chiang’s works on a free speculative fiction website that also included links to some of his stories that were in the book. 

I’m certainly enjoy reading Science Fiction and I think I will continue to read SF as my primary reading. I checked out a book my Stanislaw Lem from the library Saturday and am looking forward to diving into it next. I am looking forward to exploring Science Fiction further, discovering more stories and authors and enjoying the wonderfully interesting thoughts on life as we do and do not know it.