Rendezvous? Yes, Please

Over the past few years, I have become increasingly fascinated by our solar system. While it isn’t necessarily surprising given that I’ve been a science fiction fan my whole life, my taste in speculative fiction has consistently run toward the everyday: A normal person thrown into extraordinary situations. Think Billy Pilgrim’s time-hopping, or the kids who are are terrorized by the unknowable “It” in Stephen King’s eponymous classic. But hard science fiction, especially based here in our local star system… well, that’s a new one. My wife says that it is because I now work at NASA, but that can’t possibly be it. (Yeah, I know: Irony doesn’t work well in print.)

One of the best recent examples of just such an excursion across Sol’s landscape is a novel that I had not read until 2017: Arthur C. Clarke’s classic Rendezvous with Rama. While definitely short on character development, this is one of those novels where the setting itself, the massive and enigmatic starship Rama, is a character in and of itself. (Like a lot of classic science fiction, women are not treated fairly… FYI.)

The geek in me was held fast to Clarke’s accurate science and engineering, and the little kid in me was in awe of this massive “big dumb object” that has suddenly invaded our space. What was the purpose of the circular ocean? Why did it have three giant cones at one end? Why was there a mechanical crab sent for clean-up duty? Why was there an artificial flower growing (!) out of a matrix of metal rods?

And then that poor kid, Jimmy Pak, peddling his skybike along the zero-gravity axis of that beast of a spaceship. Even though I didn’t know diddly shit about Jimmy as a person, I kept pulling for him. Would he make it? What would he find? If he crashed, how would they ever rescue him?

The real reason for this fascination, as I said, was Rama itself. For a big honking spaceship that did nothing more than come into the solar system only to leave again, it sure left a lot of mysteries behind (Ramans do everything in threes). And think that it is that aspect of the novel — the unknowable — that is the reason that Rendezvous with Rama fascinates me so.

If you like space science and engineering, you really can’t go wrong with Clarke.

I’ll give it 8 out of 10 mechanical crabs.

Zero Drama – The Blackout Series, Book 2

I have never liked The Acapocalypse; it’s always seemed so… final. By extension, I don’t like post-apocalyptic science fiction. I did, however, Bobby Akart’s first novel, Zero 36 Hours, a try since it was set in the nearby (to me) town of Nashville and involved characters that were pretty much in my own demographic (although the family was more conservative and religious than I am). But, the price was right: free. And to the author’s credit, I was left wanting to read more about the family and their plight.

So I bought the sequel. And, well… yeah.

The second book of The Blackout Series picks up where 36 Hours left off, with the world having been plunged into darkness by a solar flare. The first novel did a fantastic job of building suspense and endearing you to the normal (if affluent) American family that has to suddenly become doomsday preppers. Here in this second novel, their prepping has paid off a little too well: The HOA of their neighborhood finds out about their supplies and threatens to loot them to share the goods. Colton, Madison and Alex do a good job of thwarting their antagonists, and even get on the good side of the HOA, which seems to have become the de facto government of their suburban Nashville neighborhood. Things get a little weird toward the end, though, when the neighborhood has to fight off a looters coming from Nashville proper. The looters were Black, a gang from Nashville proper. I have to admit, that gave me pause: Why bother injecting race into the novel? Why couldn’t they have simply been a gang? There was no character development, so their race had no bearing on their part of the story; they were simply there to shoot at the family’s neighborhood. I found that weird.

So it’s hard to review either of these novels without saying a word about the author’s constant injection of his conservative political beliefs, which seem to be rooted in the suffocating conservatism of the 1950s. While Akart certainly has plausible deniability by writing in an intimate 3rd person POV, it’s not hard to guess where Akart falls on the political spectrum: He loves the military (the government) but hates FEMA (also the government). During 36 Hours, I found this aspect of the story amusing. I even guffawed once. After all, there are lots of conservative families in the affluent areas of Nashville, so it made sense. But as the story continues in Zero Hour, this kind of politicking becomes tiresome.

To Akart’s credit, though, he was able to craft three solid characters that I cared about. And he created a scenario that is unbelievably frightening if you stop and think about it. It’s one of those “end of the world” scenarios that I would seriously wonder whether I would want to survive <shudder>. Nonetheless, the suspense was good, but not as good as its predecessor. I’ll give it 5 out of 10.

Tentacle

A few weeks ago many of us fell in love as the story broke of a free-spirited little New Zealand octopus named Inky, who made his way out his aquarium, ambled across the floor of the research lab, and snaked into a small drain pipe that led to his ancestral home in the Pacific Ocean. Many of us, smitten by a cephalopod of such serious purpose, wonder about his whereabouts, his healthcare, his forwarding address.

Less than a week ago I was talking to an overbearing acquaintance about my latest novel, and mentioned that the book’s primary antagonist is a savage nightmare with tentacles like those of octopi. The acquaintance, concerned by my lack of fundamental biology and spelling, jabbed a finger in midair.

“You couldn’t be more wrong,” he said. “An octopus has arms, not tentacles. And the plural of octopus is octopuses, not octopi.”

He huffed, stomping off.

I puckered my lips, pondered this. Since he was probably correct, I decided that, like a good protagonist, I had to take action. Since Jack Parker and I are the gods of our mythical world of Newtonia, I have decided to create octopi in its oceans. And you know what our octopi possess? Tentacles.

That’s the beauty of being a guy who tells lies for entertainment: I can do whatever the hell I want. Just like Inky.

Peace,

Keith

Wanna read more about Newtonia? Read MADNESS RISING, available for Kindle.

Copyright (c) 2016 Keith Parker