Book Review: The Hermetic Millennia by John C. Wright

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(This is Book 2 of the Eschaton Sequence, and the sequel to Count to a Trillion, which I reviewed in the past.)

The Eschaton Sequence, these five books published by Tor and written by John C. Wright, are interesting and imaginative. There’s a lot to sort through, and a vast amount of world-building not easily summed up in one blog post about a single volume in the series.

But I’ll do my best.

This book is fantastic for those who don’t mind large swaths of information dumped on you within the first three chapters. Ultimately, I enjoyed it towards the end, finding some of the best writing towards the latter half of the book. Some of the personal accounts, as they were relayed from specific characters’ points of view, struck me as either a A Canterbury’s Tale or Hyperion type of influence (Hyperion was itself influenced by A Canterbury’s Tale). The editing is awful, however, as obvious spelling errors seemed to fly by the editor’s watch; I expected more from Tor for this volume (of which I paid for the hardcover full price to treasure on my shelf).

The Hermetic Millennia is a direct sequel to Count to a Trillion, so if you hadn’t read that one yet, I recommend stopping here. Spoilers ahead! You have been warned. You can skip ahead to where it says “Spoilers Over”.

This book jumped quickly from the mid-third millennia of the first book (2050ish AD?) to the year 10,000 AD (with a couple slight stops on the way). Menelaus is trying to maintain control of human history and evolution while being thwarted by the Hermeticists every step along the way. Multiple evolutionary off-shoots of humanity spring up over time, and the reasons for their specific focuses are explored early on and later in the book. It’s an interesting element.

As far as the characters go, Menelaus himself is as fascinating as he was before, but the Blue Men, the main antagonists in the book, are lifeless and boring. The younger of their group, and a female that’s introduced later, are interesting, but by the time they got development it was too late. Likewise, the Chimerae, the militaristic group of caste-based genetically-created humans, have interesting elements to them, but not enough time to develop and I honestly forgot about the characters, since they faded away in the story over time.

The build up in the book is towards the mystery of the Blue Men as they dig into a tomb of Menelaus’ design, while searching for the person they refer to as “the Judge of Ages”. This is the mythological term for Menelaus himself. All of this builds to the ending of the book, and…

…nothing happens. The planning for an attack, a revolution, goes nowhere. The book just ends. I get that it’s essentially part two of a five part series, but a complete story would have been nice.

Spoilers Over

Despite this, Wright’s writing is on point. He’s a fantastic writer with a great handle on metaphor and imagery. I love the use of dialogue to tell the story, especially in interviews of specific characters.

I would recommend this if you liked the first book.


 

See if you like my other posts!

Book Review: The Voyage of the Space Beagle by A. E. van Vogt

Book Review: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

 

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Book Review: The Voyage of the Space Beagle by A. E. van Vogt

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Older science fiction can be a little tricky. Sometimes you find yourself bored while reading the yellowed pages of an old hard sci-fi novel, or become enamored by the simple pleasures of pulp covers and ray gun wielding heroes.

In the case of The Voyage of the Space Beagle, I found myself fascinated.

Here is a set of basically found stories crammed together in a singular setting: the Space Beagle, a human vessel using futuristic technology (from the 1930’s) to travel through space and explore galaxies.

The book itself is interesting and fun. I’ve found that van Vogt’s writing style is a huge plus to his ability to address philosophical and psychological concepts in science and apply them to specific characters. In this book, the main character is a scientist named Dr. Elliott Grosvenor, a Nexialist.

Nexialism was coined in this book, and it is defined as the science that mixed all other disciplines together to the benefit of the whole. Interestingly, it was almost prescient in its understanding of cross-disciplinary studies, but modern science is still fractured by fields of study.

There are certainly interesting ideas in the book, but ultimately it’s a simple exploration story with several aliens and confrontations. The final story I found the most interesting, with an enemy that has to be read to be believed, and Grosvenor coming into his own finally.

I would recommend this to anyone who likes hard science fiction or older science fiction. It’s definitely a good read!

Writing Philosophical Science Fiction

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My background was originally in philosophy. Science fiction, while my preferred fiction choice, wasn’t what I wanted to do in college. I pushed myself to study philosophy because I found the ideas interesting. Yet, the career prospects were null and the hobbyist possibilities the same.

In thinking about philosophy in science fiction I think about the short story from the July 2017 issue of Apex magazine: The Turing Machines of Babel by Eric Schwitzgebel.

One day I may review the short story, but I mentioned the story on my twitter account. In the mean time, let’s talk about philosophy in science fiction. There are a few possible ways to incorporate a philosophical question:

  • 1. Directly asking the question.

You could, simply, have a character wake up one day and ask, “is there a god?”

It’s been done to death and often feels forced, but it’s a possibility.

  • 2. Indirectly answering the question.

Instead of making your main character or side characters ask the question, have them deal with an outsider who wonders about why they do a certain thing, which is tangentially related. So, instead of asking “is there a god?” you could have an observer watch the characters perform their actions and ask “do they do this for their gods?” Make it assumptive, and instead of answering the question of “is there a god?” we deal with the moral argument for god’s existence, for example.

  • 3. Showing a world where the question isn’t asked.

If you want to explore the question “how do you know what you know?” Then show a world where it’s all just assumed and no one questions themselves. In this way, you create a reality in the mind of the reader that you can explore and confront. How do these characters know what they know? Is that right?

  • 4. Showing a world that explains the question and your answer.

This is how The Turing Machines of Babel did it, in my opinion. The universe was explored in the story, with its explanations and questions all laid out in how the universe was constructed. Coming to that universe was the main character, and everything was explained through his research and understanding.


 

Well that’s a few examples and suggestions. I hope it helps!

Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and check out some of my other blog posts:

Going from Outline to Manuscript

How to Tell if Your Writing is Improving

Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Dodging Derivatives

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Have you ever written a story that you soon realized was clearly lifted from another author’s work? Have you ever come up with an idea only to discover it was actually developed by someone else?

Science fiction is a genre that can easily fall into derivatives. Far too often writers of genre fiction either copy ideas from others without thinking about it, or develop ideas from the same source material.

Here’s 3 tips on how to avoid that:

1. Don’t Just Read the Science 

The “science” part of science fiction is important. But taking all your inspiration from the science periodicals is a recipe for disaster. Every submission season, it’s obvious when a new article came out with an interesting scientific breakthrough, because multiple people write about it!

Try breaking out the philosophy magazines and the histories and classics. Maybe there you’ll find inspiration that other people won’t also write about!

2. Take the Tropes and Twist Them

There are a ton of tropes in genre fiction. Science fiction especially suffers from the same sort of ideas time and again. Whether it’s the “AI will kill us” scenario or the “humans are their own enemy” story, it’s a recurring thing when these plot elements are used so frequently.

Take these ideas, and flip them around! Instead of AI being a killer, make it the one suspected of the murder. In reality, people killed and made the AI look like a murderer on purpose! How about the “humans are their own enemy” story? What would an alien race look like who was worse to themselves than humanity is to themselves?

3. Write Down Your Dreams

This seems silly, but I’ve had so many great ideas in the twilight hours! While I’m on the edge of consciousness, my brain just spits out random ideas and thoughts. It’s helpful to write them down so you have unique images and ideas to work from!


I hope you enjoyed that! Let me know in the comments below if anything else has helped you avoid falling into the “same old, same old”. Thanks!

Good Questions in Science Fiction

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It seems simplistic to say that “good” science fiction will pose a question, but I truly believe that. The greatest scifi books I have ever read has dealt with questions like “what would happen if…”

There is no requirement that scifi ask a question, but I think it helps.

So then, with that out of the way, how do you write good questions?

Oh it’s very easy to have your protagonist muse over the question while sipping coffee. But is that the best way? Maybe it’s best to make the readers pose the question themselves as a result of your writing?

I think the best questions in science fiction are asked by the author and answered by his or her work. That is how you write great science fiction.

Short Story: “The First Robot President”

This story was an exercise to play with the format of short stories. It helps to push your boundaries to play with elements creatively. This wasn’t the best story, and in fact was rejected from everywhere I submitted it, but it’s a nice one so I think it deserves a home on my site.

It’s rough and formatted weird, but I like it still.

-Frank

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The First Robot President – Rough Draft

A Short Term Paper by Jonathan Simmons

For Ms. Geary’s History class

15 August 2503

[Jon, consider changing the title to something more interesting for the final paper – Ms. G]

About Tom Bellows

In 2454 Tom Bellows was the first machine-person to be elected President. He won in a landslide victory after two hundred years of machine-people being thought of as less than human.  Because of his victory, machine-people came to be seen as complete equals to humans, and live and work beside humans on a daily basis.

[The previous sentence is awkward, try to shorten it]

In 2232 the first artificially intelligent machine identified itself [“himself”] as a machine-person, and began to peacefully struggle for acceptance. This machine-person was Rudy the Peaceful, an activist who used video and social media to bring attention to the struggle of robots.

[The term “robot” is useful in the title, but it can be a little offensive if overused; try a term like “android” instead]

Tom Bellows himself was an interesting figure. In 2405, he was a factory worker, building aerospace ships in Missouri. One day he heard his friend talking on the job. This friend was yelled at by their human operators; talking was distracting and could lead to accidents. After continuing to talk, Tom’s friend was damaged by a wrench in his neck.  Under the law, this was not considered assault, since machines were considered property. Tom decided to commit his life to bringing robots together in peaceful unity, like Rudy the Peaceful would have wanted.

[Jon, avoid words like “damaged” when talking about machine-people, it can sound dehumanizing; also stop using the term “robot” and consider using active voice instead of passive. If you need help with that, see me after class]

During the Machine March in 2430, Tom Bellows received recognition for refusing to back away when confronted by police. He peacefully resisted their order to disperse, and the picture of him being arrested with a peaceful look on his android face would go onto [“on to”] be a symbol for the machine rights movement.

After he was released on bail, the Machine Rights Act was passed. It is argued that this act was a response to the fear of machine rebellion, but the machines seemed to be peacefully protesting. The act granted machine-people the status of “people” if they have intelligence. However, the word “intelligence” came to be a [“an”] area of dispute, so the Supreme Court took up the challenge in Welder v. State of Illinois six years later, which determined that intelligence would mean any form of independent reasoning. This meant most machines were protected under the Machine Rights Act, including appliances and vehicles with artificial intelligence.

[Acts of congress always have their years associated. In this case, “Machine Rights Act (2434)”]

Tom Bellows came to be elected into the Missouri state house, the first machine-person in that state to be elected to the legislature.  After one term there, he went on to run for senate but lost. However, he received national attention for that senate run, so when he was appointed as Secretary of Machine Affairs, it was no surprise.

After the Machine Voting Act in 2450, Tom Bellows accepted an appointment as Secretary of State, the first machine-person to hold such an important position. It brought up discussions in the media of what would happen if he had to take over as president.

In 2454, he successfully ran for President under the newly formed MPP, the Mechanized Persons Party. Two things lead to his swift election: the human vote was split between the Founder’s Party and the People’s Progress Party, and the large amount of robots who could vote. He became president with 65% of the popular vote.

[Again, please don’t use the term “robot”, and some of your sentences are running a little long]

A side effect of his presidency was that the machine vote splintered between the two historically human parties and the MPP. This was because President Bellows broke away from the MPP one year into his term. This is important because he said machines deserved to have differing opinions on governance, and found himself agreeing with a lot of the FP platform.

[This is a debatable statement, and switches tenses awkwardly. Also, don’t start a sentence with “this” by itself]

In conclusion, Tom Bellows is an inspiration, and a fascinating figure in human-machine relations. President Bellows’ legacy is one of peaceful progress, and I want to grow up to bring people together like he did. Not only was he a machine rights leader, but a historical figure that was well known for being calm and peaceful. He rejected warfare as a means of keeping control, and attempted to move the country away from violence. Machine-people are all over the country, working beside humans and living their lives with us. Tom Bellows helped this world become a reality.

[This conclusion could use some work, but all in all, good job. I would say this was a solid B paper. Since this is the optional rough draft, clean it up a little and you should be set for an A when I grade it. – Ms. Geary, teaching unit #0012024]