Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Philip Jose Farmer
G. P. Putnam, 1985 (my hardcover copy is a first edition)
Size: Medium (my copy has 320 pages)
Theme: Future society
Narrative: third-person
Main character: Jeff Caird
Recommended minimum age: Young adult
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES

This story takes places in the future, where overpopulation (a problem we already have today) has led society to two major and interrelated evolutions. The first was technical; the development of a kind of quantum suspended animation that works for both living things and inanimate objects, which is termed (not very fanciful, in my opinion) stoning. The second was societal, namely, each person now lives only 1 day per each 7 real time days. They spend the other 6 stoned, and do not feel any effect of time going by.

Taking place more than 1500 years from now, a new type of crime has appeared: daybreaking (refusing to obey the 1-in-7-days basic societal premise). Other major transgressions include littering, even beyond what a radical environmentalist would expect. And in this universe, a select few live outside the normal rules. Keeping in secret a drug that extends life expectancy substantially, some of them live 7 different lives, one per day. Jeff Caird is one of them, and arguably, the one where the concept of having 7 personalities has taken a greater hold. In the brink of having his secret exposed because of a couple of criminals with a personal grudge towards him, his different personalities will each have to try to act in their own days to save the day.

The novel follows Jeff Caird, in each of his roles, and each chapter of the book is a different day. Although that was surprising in the beginning, and I even had some slight doubts I would enjoy this style, it ends up working very well, as the different plot strands start intertwining and crossing each other as the plot evolves. The characters are well developed, and despite being very radically different for a single mind to have spawned them, an adequate explanation is provided. The fundamental concept itself is very innovative (in fact, I was eager to read the book), and the story is told in a unique way. It has a fast pace, with a lot of action, and reads very nicely from start to end (character development is probably the aspect I felt less happy with). The ending is quite interesting and leaves things sufficiently open for a sequel; which does exist. However, I was a bit put off by the seemingly ordinary world waiting for us in the millennia to come. Technology, aside from the stoning effect, has evolved very little, and even the society changes seem to me shallow in face of the huge time gap.

Aside from the little bit of violence and sex, I would recommend this book only for young adults since it seems to me that meaningful details of the plot, particularly the implications of such a different society on human psyche will be very difficult for someone very young to appreciate. Overall, I enjoyed the book and will likely read the others in this series.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Childhood’s End

Arthur C. Clarke
Del Rey, 1953 (my copy is from Del Rey, 1987)
Size: Short (my copy has 212 pages)
Theme: Alien races
Narrative: third-person
Main character: Stormgren and George Greggson
Recommended minimum age: Teenager
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES

Childhood’s End follows a very basic yet interesting concept: what if a powerful alien culture, instead of arriving to Earth to conquer the planet, nor to peaceful establish a cooperation with humans or inviting them to a large federation of planets, instead arrived to demand that the human race starts behaving. Interfering the least possible with small scale decisions, and allowing each individual to follow their own convictions and religion, the aliens dictate some major changes for humanity. Yet, they refuse to show themselves. Thus, for many years, rumors spread and, in some, distrust grows. What motivates the aliens? How far and how long will they drive the fate of humanity, and for what ultimate purpose?

As usual, Clarke delivers a robust story, where scientific details are not ignored. The plot includes a little interstellar travel, multiple alien races at different evolutionary stages (up to near-omniscience), psychic phenomena, and more. There are only a few characters of some importance, but they are well explored and convincing. The novel is short, yet provides a complete story, with sufficient detail to leave the reader satisfied (even if possibly desiring the book was several times longer). The narrative is fluid and essentially focuses on a few major events along its several decades of time span. It is divided into three key stories, and each essentially has its own main characters. Very little is explained of the aliens throughout the entire book, and only one of them is featured prominently.