Wool: An intense post-apocalyptic story [Book Review]

Wool Omnibus Edition (Wool 1 – 5) (Silo series)

Wool Omnibus Edition (Wool 1 – 5) (Silo Saga #1)

by Hugh Howey

Publication Date: (January 25, 2012)

Print Length: 550 pages

Publisher: Broad Reach Publishing- Kindle Edition

Read from July 09 to 19, 2014

My Rating: 5 / 5 stars

Description:

“This is the story of mankind clawing for survival, of mankind on the edge. The world outside has grown unkind, the view of it limited, talk of it forbidden. But there are always those who hope, who dream. These are the dangerous people, the residents who infect others with their optimism. Their punishment is simple. They are given the very thing they profess to want: They are allowed outside.”

That was an enveloping post-apocalyptic story! Well, actually a very good start of stories about a post-apocalyptic world in which people live inside a buried vertical cylindrical structure, called the silo. People inside the silo do not know exactly what happened to the world outside; they do not actually know a reality other than the structured life inside the silo. The biggest penalty for them is to leave the silo because the world outside has become quite deadly.

As the story develops itself through the eyes of the characters, we are confronted with many mysteries and questions unanswered, the same questions the characters make themselves. I loved the pace and the suspenseful aspect of the book, in which the author presents a situation, that you have no idea how it could have happened, and then goes on unraveling the story. It is that kind of story that keeps us up at night, somewhat addictive. I was really afraid that towards the end (about 97%) I would face a huge cliffhanger.

But no, it was okay, I had tears in my eyes by the end the book, feeling like a stage has been successfully completed, and every character is ready for the next step. The characters are captivating, the heroine Jules is awesome and I cared a lot about her and her friends and family. It was very easy to create a connection with them. The fact that not all the questions are answered or facts explained right away is, for me, the greatest force of the story. I think maybe the way the author structured the chapters encouraged me to always seek for more, and at the same time, it was okay to give the book a pause because the chapters were not too long. I really enjoyed that pace.

I definitely want to know more about this world and the future of the characters of the series! Highly recommended!

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Robots and compulsory labor

In the introduction of his novel “The Naked Sun” Isaac Asimov wrote about the origins of the word “Robot”, which is very  interesting:

“Mechanical human beings are to be found in ancient and medieval myths and legends, and the word “robot” originally appeared in Karl Capek’s play R.U.R., which was first staged in 1921 in Czechoslovakia, but was soon translated into many languages. R.U.R. stands for “Rossum’s Universal Robots.” Rossum, an English industrialist, produced artificial human beings designed to do the labor of the world and to free humanity for a life of creative leisure. (The word “robot” is from a Czech word meaning “compulsory labor.”) Though Rossum meant well, it didn’t work out as he planned: the robots rebelled, and the human species was destroyed.”

Isaac Asimov, The Naked Sun, pg. 4, loc. 60-64. Kindle Edition

Robot Rebellion scene from R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) 1928-1929

Source: Computer History Museum

The Demolished Man: Book Review

Cover of first edition (hardcover)

The Demolished Man

by Alfred Bester

First Publication Date: 1953

Print Length: 240 pages

Publisher: Byron Preiss Visual Publications (May 28, 2013) – Kindle Edition

Read from September 22 to October 04, 2013

My Rating:  3 / 5 stars (liked it)

Book Description:

“In a world policed by telepaths, Ben Reich plans to commit a crime that hasn’t been heard of in 70 years: murder. That’s the only option left for Reich, whose company is losing a 10-year death struggle with rival D’Courtney Enterprises. Terrorized in his dreams by The Man With No Face and driven to the edge after D’Courtney refuses a merger offer, Reich murders his rival and bribes a high-ranking telepath to help him cover his tracks. But while police prefect Lincoln Powell knows Reich is guilty, his telepath’s knowledge is a far cry from admissible evidence.”

First of all, this book a science fiction classic written in 1953 AND won the first Hugo Award!! You know, Hugo Awards happens annually for the best science fiction or fantasy books, so it is rather important for the genre.

Why I enjoy some “old-fashioned” sci-fi?

Well, all of these classic sci-fis have what I would call the “retro-futuristic” view of things. If you lived in the 50’s, how would you imagine the far future? Well, reading authors from the past can give us a hint. And I think it is fun to analyze the visions of these retro-futures and ask myself if they are still acceptable today or how clever they are.

This book, “The Demolished Man”, is somewhat timeless for me.

The future in question (the 22nd century) is a world in which some human beings developed telepathic powers, called peepers. And these peepers are part of the society exercising their roles normally and working as secretaries, psychologists, investigators and so on. The structure is like this:

“First, the background, Mr. Reich: There are approximately one hundred thousand (100,000) 3rd Class Espers in the Esper Guild. An Esper 3 can peep the conscious level of a mind — can discover what a subject is thinking at the moment of thought. A 3rd is the lowest class of telepath. Most of Monarch’s security positions are held by 3rds.” –Alfred Bester, The Demolished Man, pg. 13, loc. 189-192

“Next, there are approximately ten thousand 2nd Class Espers in the Guild,” the Personnel Chief continued frostily. “They are experts like myself who can penetrate beneath the conscious level of the mind to the preconscious. Most 2nds are in the professional class… physicians, lawyers, engineers, educators, economists, architects and so on.” –Alfred Bester, The Demolished Man, pg. 13, loc. 194-197

“Finally there are less than a thousand 1st Class Espers in the Guild. The 1sts are capable of deep peeping, through the conscious and preconscious layers down to the unconscious… the lowest levels of the mind. Primordial basic desires and so forth. These, of course, hold premium positions. –Alfred Bester, The Demolished Man, pg. 14, loc. 200-202

The plot of the book revolves around a mysterious murder case with a disappearance, involving powerful industrialists of the society. The case is so fantastic that it is known as the first premeditated murder in 70 years. The work of the peepers has avoided these kinds of crimes, until then…

The curious thing is that the main mystery is not who committed the crime, but how, and how to gather enough evidence to prove it. I am not sure whom I would name as the main character, because the narrative starts with one point of view and changes a lot throughout the book.  Well, there is the guy leading the investigations, Mr. Lincoln Powell, who has telepathic powers and is after the main suspect, Mr. Ben Reich. It is like a game of cat and mouse, since Ben Reich is very influential and uses all sorts of alibis and support from others to evade the investigation. Reich does his best to escape from the major punishment that can be inflicted in him: Demolition!

And Demolition is very scary indeed:

“When a man is demolished at Kingston Hospital, his entire psyche is destroyed. The series of osmotic injections begins with the topmost strata of cortical synapses and slowly works down, switching off every circuit, extinguishing every memory, destroying every particle of the pattern that has been built up since birth. And as the pattern is erased, each particle discharges its portion of energy, turning the entire body into a shuddering maelstrom of dissociation.” –Alfred Bester, The Demolished Man, pg. 230, loc. 3512-3515

Looking from this perspective, it is a crime thriller set in a distant future in which we have populated other planets of the solar system, we have super-fast (and efficient) space travel but the morals and motivations of the society are still the same.

Some descriptions clearly date the book, as computers humming, and tapes, and almost nonexistent portable devices (less than I would expect of an advanced future). Sometimes I was intrigued by the characters’ weird behaviors, games (and hobbies), but, hey, it is the future, who knows?

Overall, it is a very curious read, and I was awed at the passages in which we are immersed inside the characters minds with the “telepathic” action (although sometimes I got a little confused…).

The author writing style was a bit unusual to me, but it is creative, in a crazy and delightful sense.

And some final word about the existence of telepathy in the future :

“The world will be a wonderful place when everyone’s a peeper and everyone’s adjusted… But until then, be greatful you’re blind.” –Alfred Bester, The Demolished Man, pg. 225, loc. 3443-3444

Nightfall: book review

Nightfall

by Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg

 

First Publication Date: 1990

Kindle Edition: Spectra (November 9, 2011)

Print Length: 339 pages

Read from September 01 to 14, 2013

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

 

 

 

Book Description:

These two renowned writers have invented a world not unlike our own–a world on the edge of chaos, torn between the madness of religious fanaticism and the stubborn denial of scientists. Only a handful of people on the planet Lagash are prepared to face the truth–that their six suns are setting all at once for the first time in 2,000 years, signaling the end of civilization!

Imagine a parallel universe, in which we lived in a planet that had six suns instead of one. A planet where at least one sun is always visible in the sky, a place where it never gets dark. A planet without night. What would happen if all of a sudden, an eclipse occurs and for the first time in thousands of years the whole planet is unexpectedly dark? Moreover, what if we didn’t know that the sky is filled with stars at night?

Would we be surprised at the day of the eclipse, enjoy the dark sky filled with stars and think how wonderful it is or would we become terrified and loose our sanity?

“Nightfall” is a wonderful “What if…?” kind of story, in which the worse scenario is told, leaving us wondering about the consequences of a total unpredicted change in our scientific beliefs regarding our solar system. In addition, discussing how a powerful religion organization could benefit from this situation, and how it could influence and control people’s beliefs.

The book starts telling us about an archeologist, a scientist, a psychologist and a newspaperman. Slowly, their stories and discoveries connect with each other, converging to the main plot. The imminent threat of total darkness in the planet!

It was a very delightful read, I loved the characters and the ideas explored in the story. The ending was okay, leaving me thinking that humanity always takes the same paths, and the history tends to repeat itself from time to time, no matter what we do. Yes, that was the message of the book for me. Deep inside, I was hoping for something more extraordinary, but I think I understood the point of the authors.

It’s a nice light science fiction discussing science, social breakdown/organization and religion in one package. I gave it 4 stars just because the ending didn’t reach to my expectations, but that just me.

Note: Nightfall is a 1941 short story by Isaac Asimov that was adapted into a novel with Robert Silverberg in 1990.