Like his earlier book Do Not Resuscitate, Ponticello’s prose reads like a less-angry Vonnegut. However, in The Maiden Voyage of the Destiny Unknown, he gets wilder and funnier.
Two hundred million years in the future, the sun is about to engulf the Earth, so a spaceship filled with people is sent out towards a likely star in order to save the species.
The outrageous situations and badly-behaving people on the spaceship are entertaining as hell, and are nicely balanced with an occasional thoughtful perspective from the narrator, a non-interfering alien observer.
The Maiden Voyage of the Destiny Unknown is bold and fun, and I found myself eagerly waiting for the next time I could get back to reading it.
Recommendation: Buy it. The bright yellow spine pleases me whenever I see it on my shelf.
Flowers for Algernon is a beautiful, human book, with a little science fiction thrown in.
It examines morals and ethics without getting preachy—it’s a surprisingly easy read for such a thoughtful and deep book.
There are a few juicy scenes in it, which is why it’s occasionally removed from school libraries in Texas.
Flowers for Algernon is told through progress reports written by a low-IQ person who has an operation (we never learn the details) that quickly increases his IQ to genius levels. Unfortunately, his social and emotional skills do not increase at the same rate, and this causes hurt feelings all around.
Recommendation: Buy it. Seeing this on my shelf gives me a moment of pause, a two-second meditation, like briefly floating in a deep but safe ocean, before getting on with my day.
Despite the title, this isn’t about 9/11. The three books in this collection were written in the sixties. They don’t feel like sixties books, though—these could easily have been written today.
The only humans left on Earth are on a single island, in a single city. There’s another city on the mainland, but a strange radiation barrier appears, dousing that city in radiation and locking the people on the island off from the rest of the planet.
There’s an enemy that may or may not exist beyond the barrier. An escaped prisoner finds himself in the middle of the radiation, but perfectly healthy. He meets Neanderthals and mind-reading giants as he tries to get home. Things get much weirder.
There’s an enjoyable strangeness to these three books. They’re a great combination of advanced technology, unintended consequences, and good old political intrigue.
While some of the dialogue was unrealistic, the stories are interesting, well-crafted, and smart as hell.
Recommendation: Get it at the library. It’s a damn good read, but not necessary for a shelf.
If, before sitting down to write 1984, George Orwell had decided to candy-flip (ingest LSD and ecstasy simultaneously), he might have ended up with something like Memoirs Found in a Bathtub.
Panda Ray is a rare beast: a fun and weird adventure for kids where there is no Chosen One. Thank God. I’m a little tired of the Hero’s Journey.
The City & The City is a noirish crime novel with some wonderfully inventive world-building, but its flat, wooden characters kept me from ever connecting with the story.
In The Drowned World, the sun’s become too hot (130°F on a good day), and the cities of the world are submerged. Humanity is now collected down in Antartica or above the Arctic circle.
(This was written in 1962, so way before the current climate change troubles.)
Revelation Space is a sprawling, hard-SF tale with enough original ideas for three thick novels. Seriously, it’s overflowing with the stuff. And it’s written by a guy with a PhD in astronomy, so all the science feels solid.
It’s got aliens, artificial intelligence, megastructures, colonized planets, ancient mysteries, cyborgs, big-ass spaceships, intrigue, betrayal, and murder. Reads don’t get much more satisfying than this.
Recommendation: Buy it or get it at the library. Then read the other four Revelation Space books and buy the box set when it comes out (this is my current plan).
I learned about author Iain M. Banks when I was in San Francisco, swing dancing with a woman, who recommended him to me during a twirl. I paid her back by executing a successful “death drop” dance move on her. Amazingly, she did not end up with a cracked skull.
The Algebraist is not one of Banks’ popular Culture stories, taking place only a couple thousand years in the future instead of ten thousand, but it’s still fun.
Do Not Resuscitate is a story told by the aging Jim Frost, who’s being harassed by a daughter with control issues to get his brain downloaded and backed up. As he considers what this means about the impermanence of death, and how much he doesn’t agree with it, he tells the story of his life. He’s seen a lot of the world go to pot while transporting red coolers for a mysterious boss.