Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Tag: sci-fi

The Empathy Box

What’s on the menu today? Something delicious. I finished reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? By Philip K. Dick this morning and I am aching to tell you about it. But how do I do so without spoiling it for you? Hmm…

I’ll start by saying that I loved this book more than I thought I would. I LIKE science-fiction, but I’m not a die-hard fan (not the movie, the adjective). I am starting to get a good picture of what kind of sci-fi I enjoy most, the kind that deals with people and what they will do with technology in the future. Sci-fi that is more focused on technological advances, getting deep into what things will look like and how it might change how we live, isn’t my thing. I get bored.

In fact, I get bored with technology today. People and how they interact is where my interest lies. I’m starting to see a pattern in my reading…cool.

And that’s exactly what this book was about, what it means to be human. That doesn’t change over time, not really. What we define as human may change. I mean, we used to think anyone that lives outside our borders, people that don’t live the way we do or look like us, weren’t actually human in the same way were. That has evolved quite a bit and continues to do so.

The way we treat animals has also changed and will probably keep changing. But what about our machines? Interesting idea, isn’t it?

In the interest of not giving too much of the story away, I’ll leave you with one quote and a few thoughts about it as it relates to today.

This book was set in 2021 and written in 1968, and the internet and social media were not invented yet. It’s always fun to read science fiction set in our own time. Where is my flying car?!

“But an empathy box,” he said, stammering in his excitement, “is the most personal possession you have! It’s an extension of your body; it’s the way you touch other humans, it’s the way you stop being alone.”

And then again later in the book, “It would be immoral not to fuse with Mercer in gratitude,” Iran said. “I had hold of the handles of the box today and it overcame my depression a little – just a little, not like this.” “You hardly ever undergo fusion; I want you to transmit the mood you’re in now to everyone else; you owe it to them. It would be immoral to keep it to ourselves.”

The empathy box sounds like social media, doesn’t it? When you put your hands on it, you’re connected to all other humans. You feel what they feel and a sense of connection with others lifts your spirits, supposedly. In the story, it’s not always true, but they think it is and keep going back to it. It’s a religious experience. What’s really going on, I’m not sure. It’s part of the story that left me a little confused.

But relating it to now and my own life, I see social media in the same way. I’m in a bad mood, so I share my sadness, hoping another human will reach out and soothe my heart. Something wonderful has happened, so I share that in the hopes that someone out there will be lifted in my joy. See? We’re all connected. Isn’t this great?

Sometimes. My mind keeps going back to something that happened earlier this week. I went hiking with my sons and it was outrageously fun and the scenery…wow. I never imagined that I lived in such a beautiful place. We came around a corner and the valley below, the cliffs ahead, the clouds hiding the tops of the mountains spread out before us. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

And I didn’t stop, breathless, and stare. I didn’t take it all in and feel it. I took a picture and moved on. I had to have that to share with those who can’t make this trip, those that can’t walk or climb, those that are busy with their own lives in their own towns.

Empathy. See? I want to share my joy so that others may have some. Connection, with practical strangers. But at what cost?

Taking a picture to remember the spot isn’t the problem, neither is wanting to put it in my virtual scrapbook. It’s that I was more preoccupied with making sure I had something to share with others than taking the whole moment in and actually being there.

Something needs to change. The empathy box isn’t making me feel connected, it’s taking me away from now. I’m missing the whole thing and I have been for a long time.

I took it, I may as well share it, right?
Near Lake Jennings in San Diego, California.

You guys! Guess what! It’s April and that means I have written and posted something every day for three whole months! Milestones, man…they’re important!

Where am I going? I have no idea, but I’m enjoying the ride. Are you?

Gothic Fiction Turns Steam Punk in this Gem

You heard me right, my friends. I could not help but see this gothic fiction made into a movie with Will Smith as Rupert. I’m imagining a combination of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Wild Wild West here, complete with flying machines and tunnels through mountains to bring all the riches of the kingdom to port.

gothic fiction

This blog typically isn’t about the story as much as what it brings to mind. Life skills, relationships, parenting, politics, history, philosophy, all come into play as I write from quotes that catch my attention. In a fiction read, things run a bit little different, especially with my final thoughts on the book. I try not to give too much away. I don’t want to ruin it for you, so read with caution. If you’re one that doesn’t want to hear anything about the story other than what’s given in the title and inside cover, maybe this is the post to skip.

Short version: I loved this book. It was surprisingly easy to read for a book written over 100 years ago. And the story…oh my heart…beautiful. If you love Dracula and/or H.G. Wells’ style sci-fi, this is a great read. Now…stop reading right here if you don’t want to know more. You’ve been warned!

It’s been a while since I zoomed through a book this quickly; eleven hours of reading in five days. The old cliché comes to mind, “I couldn’t put it down!”

What I thought, based on the author, the title, and the cover art, would be gothic fiction, turned into an H.G. Wells style sci-fi novel about halfway through and I was thrilled to death with the effect. It was beautiful.

Back to that cover art for a moment. I don’t really think it does the book justice. Who decides these things?

The first half was exactly what I expected to be reading in gothic fiction. Who was this mysterious shrouded woman that came only in the night? Why is she sleeping in a clear crypt in the church during the day? Why did his uncle send him there? Did he know about this? What’s going on?

I won’t tell you. You’ll have to read to find out.

But about halfway through the book changes, you find out the reasons and then it goes into the founding and building of a nation, political alliances, and the creation of an air force (yes, in 1909, a few years after the Wright Brother’s got off the ground).

The setting of this gothic fiction is the Balkans and there’s much talk about keeping the Turks out and alliances with Britain, Austria being upset by her neighbors, etc. It was written just before the start of the first World War, so the influence of the political climate is definitely there. It would have made the book even better if I knew more details about that era. I’m not very well-versed in it, but I have far more knowledge than I did coming out of college when I believed that World War II and the Nazi’s just popped out of nowhere.

One complaint, though. I think he could have ended the story one hundred pages earlier. I don’t think we really needed to get into the details of the new kingdom. It got tedious. But maybe if you read it back when it was published you wouldn’t have thought so. It reflected much of what was going on in Europe at the time. I’d like to read some commentary on this book, if I can find it, to know more.

This is another book that I’m glad I stumbled across. And it wouldn’t have been found if I hadn’t been browsing physical books. The organic way to find books (and movies) just doesn’t happen for me via the internet. THIS is something that needs be fixed before I can embrace a hermitage fully!

A side note before I go: I’ve made one big change in my reading habits this year, I’ve started taking far more notes while I read. In the past I’ve found myself devouring a book only to discover that I can’t remember much of the story once I finish reading. To fix that, my reading notebook is filled with quick summaries of what I read the past hour, story notes.

This is my fourth book doing this, and it’s really helping. Once I finish reading, I tally up how long it took me to read it, and then scan over my notes. It feels much more cemented in my mind and it’s much easier to write my final thoughts to you. The real test will be to see how long the details of the story will stay in my mind. When someone asks me, “Hey, this looks interesting. What’s it about?” Maybe I’ll be able to say more than, “I loved it!”

Hop back to “Stoker’s The Lady of the Shroud” for more posts inspired by this book.

H.G. Wells, You Old So-And-So!

H.G. Wells drawing
Inside Cover of my Ace Edition

I’m not sure why this drawing is printed on the inside cover of my H.G. Wells book. It looks like strange tank my sons would have drawn when they were kids. The weapons vehicle that he described most in this book was a helicopter like thing.

In the immortal words of “Men on Books,” hated it!

“Hated it” is too much, really. I just never got into it. I’m not a big fan of H.G. Wells at all. His books are filled with descriptions that never capture my imagination. His narrative follows the action and scene more than the feelings and motives of the character. I’m not saying they’re bad books. My boys and my husband love them. They just aren’t my cup of tea, I guess.

The part I found so strange was that Graham never seemed to understand that he was being used by both sides. He had slept for two-hundred years and by some strange sequence of events he actually hadn’t set in motion, he awoke to be the “owner” of more than half the world. Money had been invested in his name while he slept and had multiplied. Since he never died, only slept, when he awoke all that money went to him.

But how would anyone expect him to manage things after being out of the loop that long. He didn’t know anything. So much had changed. You could say that human nature hadn’t changed in that amount of time. He could have used his knowledge of humanity to get up to speed and manage well, but he didn’t have much when he went to sleep. He was just your average Joe, not a leader of men. I just didn’t get it.

Maybe I’m missing something. This is one of those times that I’d love to hear other people’s take on this book. I did a quick search for commentary but didn’t find much.

There were things I did enjoy in the book, though.

He described television, in 1899. “It was exactly like the reality viewed through an inverted opera glass and heard through a long tube.”

And “He clung to his anger – because he was afraid of Fear.”

Ah, yes, I know the feeling and I’m sure it’s what drives many people throughout the ages. It’s also something others use to gather crowds of followers and start wars. Charismatic leaders use people’s fear and say things like, “Those are the people that are ruining things! We must destroy them!” I used to think that didn’t happen often but I’m starting to see I was very wrong. It’s happening again, right now.

“You will be expected to say something,” said Ostrog. “Not what you used to call a Speech, but what our people call a Word – just one sentence, six or seven words. Something formal. If I might suggest – ‘I have awakened and my heart is with you.’ That is the sort of thing they want.”

You mean a Tweet? That seems to be all anyone wants to hear from our leaders these days. Don’t give me whole ideas and thoughts. A simple one liner that I can interpret to mean whatever I want and can easily re-tweet or share.

“Thence, too, flashed the world-wide messages, the falsehoods of the news-tellers, the chargers of the telephonic machines that had replaced the newspapers of the past.”

He called them “babble machines.” We call it tv news and social media.

“I want reality not realism.”

Reality: The quality or state of being actual or true.

And

Realism: An inclination toward literal truth and pragmatism.

Reality is the physical world you live in. Realism is the book or movie about it. I agree with Graham. I’d like more reality and less realism. I’d like to live and breathe in the actual world, not see it on tv or read about in in books. Sometimes, that is. If I could see reality through my screen or in print, instead of someone else’s interpretation of reality, that would be nice.

By the way, I love this old, mass-produced book by Ace Books, probably published in the early 70’s. It has an ad for cigarettes in the middle, and originally sold for 75 cents.

When was the last time you saw an ad for cigarettes in your book?

Yes, there were some archaic and racist ways of thinking in this book. There were references to the “yellow peril” and “negros.” Socialism was a main theme, or really the lack of socialism. Graham had hopes for bright Socialist future, one that Marx promised moving through Capitalism would bring, but he found something very different. I’m sure someone out there has written much about that.

Old sci-fi and dystopian fiction is interesting because it sheds light on where creative people believed the world was headed. Sometimes they get so close and then so far away from where history takes us. This one wasn’t one of my favorites, but it wasn’t a waste of time. If I had infinite time, I’d go back and read it again after I read a few other books. A better grasp on H.G. Well’s politics would be helpful.

Go back to my first post about this book, “When the Sleeper Wakes: New Read” You’ll find links to my other posts there as well.

Songmaster by Orson Scott Card: New Read

Songmaster by Orson Scott Card

“Songmaster” by Orson Scott Card will be the third book I’ve read by Card, the first being, of course, Ender’s Game. I read that long before the movie. The whole family read it and we loved it. It scared the crap out of us, and we all cried and yelled about it as we read. When we heard that a movie was going to come out, and Harrison Ford was going to be in it, there was much rejoicing.

The second one was the second book in that series. I never finished it. It was just too … weird? I’m not sure I have a word for it. This book is, so far, similar in weirdness.

I’ll be honest, I’m not huge fan of sci-fi. I know…geez! But I have enjoyed the classics in the past.

I saw this book by Card in the pile of freebies, so I picked it up and put it on my TBR shelf. I started reading it yesterday and I’m not sure I like it. I just don’t care about the characters. I haven’t found any that I can relate to or sympathize with, no connection.

My problem with sci-fi, and a lot of fantasy, is the settings and situations can get so far outside of what I know of my own world, that I can’t picture the scene. And then, when the characters follow suit, I just can connect with what they are feeling. It’s like watching a thriller tv show where you just don’t care which character dies next.

I’ll keep reading Songmaster, though. I want to know why this boy was kidnapped and how he will sing the world to destruction. That’s just weird, see? Maybe I’m not in the right frame of mind?

And what’s up with Card and his obsession with very young children put into impossible (usually horrible, violent, and abusive) circumstances to save the world? This boy was kidnapped at two or three years old and raised into a very strict cult (to my thinking) that schools children into singers that serve mankind. I’m not sure how or why. They seem to be raised to be entertainment slaves.

The boy in Songmaster is about six or seven years old when he is sent to serve his new master and will retire around fourteen, to spend the rest of his life inside the cult supporting and teaching other very young children.

It’s all so strange. Let me know if you’ve read this one. I’d love to hear someone else’s opinion. Maybe I’m missing something deeper to the story.

…sigh…

I just did a quick search to see if I had written about Ender’s Game in the past but found something terrible. Another confirmation that I only remember a tiny fraction of what I read. I have read a third book by Card in the past and loved it, “Enchantment.” THAT was a beautiful book!

To read my final thoughts on “Songmaster,” read “Can Tyranny Bring Peace in the Long Run? A Book Review”

My Favorite Isaac Asimov Quotes Are Popping Up All Over the Place!

I find Isaac Asimov quotes popping up all over the place lately, and not just his words, but his ideas. The Gods Themselves is one of my favorite sci-fi books.

Isaac Asimov quotes on a desert background.

I’m trying something a little different with this book. I’ve pulled some of my favorite quotes from The Gods Themselves. If you’d like to read it, you can find it at Thriftbooks.com, but be sure to come back and comment about what you thought of it!

Usually, while I read, I make small notes and underline things that have caught my attention. Then I go back through the book and find something that sparks my thinking still and I write about that. It’s like a writing prompt. The thoughts that the quote trigger may not have anything to do with the story itself or the author’s intentions. They are my thoughts.

Lately, like the past few weeks, I’ve been going back through the book page by page and creating a list of the things I noted if they still stir a feeling or thought in me. Then I go through that list and write a post focused on one quote at a time.

I’ve been in a bit of a writing slump lately and falling behind my intended posting schedule. So, because I’m self-employed and I’m constantly preaching that we should all be paying closer attention to ourselves and following our own leads, I’m doing just that. I clearly have set myself up to accomplish too much, too quickly.

I’m pulling back with this book and writing one post about all the Isaac Asimov quotes that I found interesting the second time I thumbed through The Gods Themselves. Fiction generally triggers fewer ah-ha moments for me anyway, and this sci-fi book was far more technical a book than I’m used to reading, so there are fewer quotes that I felt drawn to anyway.

Without further ado…the first quote.

“It’s a mistake to suppose that the public wants the environment to be protected or their lives saved and that they will be grateful to any idealist who will fight for such ends. What the public wants is their own individual comfort.”

True on so many fronts. If we all really wanted to protect the environment, we’d turn off our electronics, grow our own food, dismantle our cars, and never travel outside walking distance again. But that would suck, wouldn’t it? What we want is to look like we’re trying to protect the environment by making other people and companies pay for it, making laws and regulations for other people to follow, while every day we run down to the organic grocery store that is twice as far as the regular one, in our air-conditioned Prius that uses electricity created by burning coal, to get our individually wrapped frozen organic quinoa meal that was shipped to the store from overseas.

What’s the alternative?

“Do you know what the Pump means to mankind? It’s not just the free, clean, and copious energy. Look beyond that. What it means is that mankind no longer has to work for a living. It means that for the first time in history, mankind can turn its collective brains to the more important problem of developing its true potential.”

That’s the premise of Star Trek right there and why I love the show so much.  A world where energy is unlimited by our current physical universe would mean scarcity was gone. And scarcity is what causes many problems for humans. It wouldn’t solve all the issues though, as you can see in Star Trek. Evolution has created many ingrained pathways in our collective brains. We would still fight over territory, sex, and just plain greed for what others have even though we could all have some.

But just think of it. A world where using energy held no consequences for anyone, anywhere. We could make whatever we want and as much of it, go where we wanted to go, create until our hearts content without ever taking anything from anyone else.

There are ways we can get a taste of that right now. There are some resources that never run dry. Love is one of them.

“As the old saying had it: Everyone either admitted doing it or lied about it.”

What is it that you’re lying about not doing?

“She hadn’t the vaguest notion at first of what was so queer and so funny about wanting to know.”

This took me right back to high school, college, and many times still today. Why is it so odd to be curious and engaged in the world around you? Why do we shun those that question what everyone around us seems to take for granted? Insecurity?

“On Earth, we are unmanned by our longing for a pastoral past that never existed; and that, if it had existed, could never exist again.”

Pastoral: portraying or suggesting idyllically the life of shepherds or of the country, as a work of literature, art, or music

Life on earth in the past was never idyllic. It has always been harder to stay alive than it is today. Do not fool yourself.

“The easiest way to solve a problem is to deny it.”

You know that joke? “I don’t have a drinking problem. I drink. I get drunk. I fall down. No problem.” That’s the first thing that came to mind. We need to look at our lives and think. If something isn’t working for you, even if everyone else around you thinks it’s great, it’s a problem for you. You have to change things for you. That’s the only way to live honestly and happily.

“You don’t beat refusal to believe in a frontal attack.”

This last one is my personal favorite and one I think the whole world should consider at the moment. Belief is far older a system and much stronger than your science. Leave people alone. You’re making everything worse.

That doesn’t mean you have to stop doing your science and studies. You can change your own thinking and share your discoveries as much as you want. But every time you get up in someone’s face and attempt to force them to think your way, you create more violence in this world.

Show others your way through living your own life out loud, the way you see fit. And let others do the same. You catch more flies with sugar.

Isaac Asimov quotes are comfort food to me. If anyone could time travel, it would be him. His ideas keep coming back, reaching out from the past like a warning.

I posted about The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov back in February when I started reading it. Go back and take a look at my first thoughts on it and let me know what you think.

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