Category Archives: Science Fiction

Low-Voltage Horror: Revival by Stephen King

cover imageI’ve been on a Stephen King kick over the past several years, after getting hooked by the audiobook edition of Lisey’s Story (narrated by Mare Winningham) which, like Revival – his latest – was more a dark fantasy that seemed to tap a very personal vein of emotion related to love, marriage, and the wellspring of creativity, than a straight-up horror story. I have a feeling I should have listened to Revival instead of reading it in print, as I found it a bit of a slog until the last 100 pages.

So, Revival is one of those “quiet horror” books that could fall into the category of science fiction or dark fantasy. The author unwinds a slow tale of a fervent evangelist preacher turned mad scientist, but Charles – the man whose hobby of electricity grows into an all-consuming passion – isn’t the main character. The first-person narrator, Jamie, is the main character, which limits the story to what he experiences or finds out. The story starts when Jamie is just a small boy in a large family and the preacher and his family move in next door, and it goes well into his middle-aged years.

Revival is pretty creepy, but in a slow-paced, ambiguous way, with the jolts few and far between as the narrator’s special connection with the preacher ebbs and flows. As a reader, you might not always be sure if the narrator is understanding events correctly or is just having a sad life – a highly creative person (a musician) who spirals down into addiction.

When I got to the ending of Revival, however, the book was redeemed in my mind – instead of making me want to have back all the hours I spent reading, as happened when I finished Under the Dome. (Another of the few Stephen King novels I read in print instead of listening to. Hmmmm.) From now on I’m sticking to the audio editions. (I still have It to listen to, one of these days!)

The audio edition of Revival is narrated by David Morse. Listen to a passage from the beginning of the story on the Simon and Schuster page.

Revival
King, Stephen
Simon & Schuster, Nov. 2014
9781476770383
416 pp.
$30.00

Disclosure: No free copy! I borrowed it from the public library.

Other opinions on Revival:
Book Chatter
Jenn’s Bookshelves
Wensend

a

New Humanity: Dawn by Octavia Butler #diversiverse

diversiversebanner-colGetting my #Diversiverse post in under the wire, I just finished Dawn by science fiction author Octavia Butler this afternoon, the first book in the Lilith’s Brood trilogy.

A More Diverse Universe (#diversiverse for short) is the brainchild of Aarti at BookLust to get everyone reading books by authors of color. Originally it was books of speculative fiction by authors of color, but this year books in all genres count towards the challenge. After reading Kindred by Octavia Butler last year, I had planned on reading Parable of the Sower this year, but decided to buy Lilith’s Brood instead, and only ended up having time to read the first book, Dawn, which leaves Adulthood Rites and Imago left to go.

Here’s how the author herself describes the novel, Dawn, in an NPR essay:

Several years ago I wrote a novel called Dawn in which extra-solar aliens arrive, look us over, and inform us that we have a pair of characteristics that together constitute a fatal flaw. We are, they admit, intelligent, and that’s fine. But we are also hierarchical, and our hierarchical tendencies are older and all too often, they drive our intelligence-that is, they drive us to use our intelligence to try to dominate one another.

As she does in Kindred, published in 1979, in Dawn, published in 1987, the author explores humanity’s characteristics and behavior, especially in captivity and with beings who are different — different in sex, color, language, or even species.

Sadly, Octavia Butler died in 2006 at the age of 58. She was an African-American, female writer of science fiction, which made her unusual. Her books landed on reading lists for Gender Studies and African-American Studies programs, as well as winning the prestigious Hugo (twice). Her obituary in the New York Times mentions that she was something of a loner, and always felt herself to be different from others. This is a quote from the obituary:

“When I began writing science fiction, when I began reading, heck, I wasn’t in any of this stuff I read,” Ms. Butler told The New York Times in 2000. “The only black people you found were occasional characters or characters who were so feeble-witted that they couldn’t manage anything, anyway. I wrote myself in, since I’m me and I’m here and I’m writing.”

There is a spaceship, extraterrestrials, and some really weird stuff in Dawn, but I would compare it more to The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell than to space opera science fiction. Dawn is really about human beings, and speculates about how different human beings might respond to highly unusual circumstances and the loss of their earthly home.

a

Notes from an Alien Assassin: The Humans by Matt Haig @MattHaig1

cover image of The HumansIn The Humans by Matt Haig, an alien from outer space (way, way out in space) has been sent to Earth on a mission to prevent humans from knowing too much, and is sending updates on his progress back to his home world.

“I know that some of you reading this are convinced humans are a myth, but I am here to state that they do actually exist. For those that don’t know, a human is a real bipedal life form of midrange intelligence, living a largely deluded existence on a small waterlogged planet in a very lonely corner of the universe.”

In order to infiltrate the human race and discover who has the dangerous knowledge before it can spread further, this alien assassin assumes the identity of his first victim – Andrew Martin, the Cambridge University mathematics professor who stumbled on the theory that could take human civilization beyond the safe confines of their own universe.

The humor and pathos of the novel comes from the observations about human society that this ultimate outsider makes; his efforts to fit in with Andrew Martin’s colleagues and family without arousing suspicion; and his growing understanding of humans – all reflected in his increasingly subjective reports to his own race. The more the alien interacts as Andrew Martin with the human Andrew Martin’s intimates, especially his wife and son – who were supposed to both be eliminated pretty much immediately – the more he understands that the highly developed civilization he comes from may not be superior in every way, as he had automatically believed when he first arrived on this backwards planet.

Though technically science fiction, I suppose (because of the arrival of a representative from an alien race), the math and science in The Humans is pretty much at the comfort level of a liberal arts major, so I would put it in the category of literary fiction. The theme of the novel – what it means to be human – is more philosophical than scientific.

The Humans is pretty dark, over all, but has a lot of humor and some touching moments, as well. Its Matt Haig’s seventh novel for adults, but it’s the first one I’ve read so I can’t compare it to, say, The Radleys or The Dead Fathers ClubThe Humans reminded me in some ways of Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks and Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, because they also have an outsider as narrator making observations about how humans behave.

Recommended for readers looking for an unusual narrator’s perspective along with thought-provoking social commentary.

The Humans
Haig, Matt
Simon & Schuster
July 2013

9781476727912
9781476727912
304 pp.
$25.00 US, hard.
Disclosure: I borrowed The Humans through the public library.
Other opinions (very good to excellent):
a
a