Saturday, August 25, 2007

Summer reading report

So I'm back from the family summer break (maybe more of sometime later) and I thought I'd pass on a few comments about the books I read.

Like Newt Gingridge I enjoy reading a good science fiction novel or two, so I wondered round the local book shop - too late in the day for Amazon - and picked up the above two books. Helix (Eric Brown) as the synopsis looked interesting and Greg Bear as I have often enjoyed reading his books and they tend to make use of some of the more extraordinary possibilities that modern science itself offers up (Blood Music is a good example).

What I wasn't expecting was the similarity in key theme between them both. I'll try to avoid any plot spoilers, beyond those normally present at the back of the book, but if you are thinking of reading either then come back afterwards to compare notes.

Science Fiction oddly tends to be about the present more that about the past. For example you can see the anxieties of a series of generations in the TV star trek series. By author projecting forward you see their views of society more clearly.

I should have read the small print on Eric Brown - he writes a monthly SciFi column for the Guardian every month - that's why I've never heard of him. A left wing perspective is very evident through the novel - with the global warming/Gia catastrophe swallowed whole, but on the new world he explores the evil is presented by a religion he calls "The Church" - not very subtle. This seems to be used to explore the constraining and limiting damage that religion can provide, whilst at the same time the faith of another alien group (lets call them the insect buddists / hippies) is given a great press. But the irony at the end is that the whole system only works by virtue of the controlling and planning of "the builders", much as socialism is used to shepherd, constrain and tell people what is good for them. Right wing ( as so described in the book ) religion is wrong, left wing control and cohesion and associated religion is right. Maybe that's a deliberate contradiction, but I'm not so sure. However - I enjoyed the book and wouldn't want to put anyone off reading it.

Greg Bear's Quantico, named after the FBI's training base in Virginia, is built on a mixture of post 9/11 US politics with the FBI becoming everyone's favourite whipping boy and the true and feasible horror of bio terrorism. Again religion plays its part. There is little positive to be said for the any faiths out of* Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism or Islam ( in fact Christianity is not properly mentioned - though it does feature). The infighting between US agencies is all to believable. Incidentally Bear also, as he has in other books, seemed to hint at a knowledge of Britain that is much greater than you might expect for a US author.

Quantico is deeply disturbing as its not based so far in the future and its not all that wild on the science fantasy side. For the sake of us all I hope the government has this one covered - though that would be against the current run of play.

But between the two books the common theme is the impact of religion, not always positive. That perhaps reflects well how society is feeling about itself right now.

* NB I've expanded the list of religions from the book to keep some mystery for the reader.

Update: Just found this interview from The Daily Show with Greg Bear around the subject of the book. Its worth watching in its entitiy - if only to get an idea of how the Americans are really trying to look ahead and engadge outside the usual suspects to understand the treats of terrorism. What the betting this doesn't happen in the UK ?

No comments: