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Review: “Solaris (1961)” by Stanislaw Lem (5 Stars)

An interplanetary philosophical oceanic alien acid trip—to funk your mind with.

Psychological depths are plumbed in this novel from a deeply philosophical conviction. The result is a fresh narrative that neither disintegrates into a rote thriller nor loses itself in esoteric meanderings. The concept explored seems simple at first: alien contact. Humans have at long last discovered an organic living life form on another planet. However, after years of theories and failed experiments mankind has been unable to breach a dialog of communication. The result is maddening, discouraging, and a disturbing enlightenment into the human condition.

This book’s prose is fairly easy to digest despite the original author’s misgivings with the currently available translation in English. There are various eye-opening complex descriptions of the exotic alien and its puzzling behaviors which easily lend themselves to rational theory, but fail utterly when such hypothesis bears out. This is all history and a firm bolstering to the future universe created for this story. I’m not one who normally relishes hard science, but all the same I found myself wading swiftly through these heavy parts in search of the imaginative details of description that painted beautiful pictures of the scientific research efforts that surrounded the mysterious alien being; something altogether different and best-described as a myriad organism akin to an oceanic brain on a planetary scale with significant cosmic weight.

There are few characters, but they serve the story well with their various perspectives, needs, and wants. They wrestle with themselves and each other in their desire to both understand and reject what they experience. Although this is no religious story, their crisis is spiritual in many ways. It’s an esoteric journey trampling across a cascading backdrop of universal dimensions. Nothing can be known for certain and nothing can be dismissed outright. Even madness is uncertain.

Do not be fooled, however, this work is not so vague and ponderous as I allude. The protagonist’s arc is firmly grounded in a concrete dilemma that is personal, relatable, and anything but alien. He must face his own self and the terrible regrets of a life once lived–even though he is far from his home on an alien planet in an unfamiliar environment.

I find it particular genius when an author can take the idea of creating an alien in a particularly different way and make the experience completely immersive without a sense of artifice or tool. This is a challenge of deceptive difficulty and the effort here delivers in every aspect, story point, and description from beginning to end.

There is just enough of everything in this rather short book, whether it is science or philosophy or fantasy or literary angst. The historical elements and scientific theories all feel authentic and unique. The stakes are real and very individual with consequences that could have echoes across the entire universe. It’s the adventure of a mind on a quest across the galaxy. Our understanding of each other is challenged, our understanding of ourselves is challenged, and our understanding of the universe is challenged. For what—we may never know; and yet, we know that we must forever pursue these questions that seem to have no answer. That somehow the price of being human in an otherwise alien universe requires it so.

Podcast: If you enjoy my review (or this topic) this book and the movie based on it were further discussed/debated in a lively discussion on my podcast: “No Deodorant In Outer Space”. The podcast is available on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Tune-In Radio, Stitcher, Google Play Music, YouTube or our website (www.nodeodorant.com).

Episode Link: https://nodeodorantinouterspace.wordpress.com/2019/04/16/review-solaris-stanislaw-lem

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Posted by on April 16, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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Review: “Perchance to Dream: Selected Stories (1952-1960)” by Charles Beaumont (4 Stars)

Even though I know there’s going to be a twist, I still wonder how the author is going to flip things at the end.

Beaumont was one of the main writers contributing stories to Rod Serling’s scifi/horror anthology television series “The Twilight Zone.” In this select collection there are a number of short stories that were originally published in various magazines and then later adapted for the television series. There are also other non-twilight-zone stories, which reflect the author’s other interests including his love of cars and jazz music. It’s a fairly eclectic collection from an author who died too young from a strange ailment, but who put noteworthy material during his relatively short career.

Beaumont’s writing is decidedly perfect for the Twilight Zone. It’s no wonder that he fit into Serling’s vision so well. He has short straightforward pose that seeks out an inevitable twist to tie off its conclusory or sometimes ambiguous ending. While reading this book I came to expect things would be flipped on their head at some point, yet I thoroughly enjoyed wondering and waiting in anticipation for the author to perform his magic. The narratives ultimately did not feel predictable as I read them, despite my expectation.

Another thing of note, was that despite the age of these stories they all seemed fairly contemporary and relevant for the most part. This was probably due in part to the author’s inclination to skim deeper into areas of social commentary as he sped us along with his prose. These stories felt ripe for adaption into Twilight Zone episodes even though they were written for magazines first. This tendency to explore themes like environmentalism, colonialism, conforming versus individualism, spirituality and doubt, nostalgia, and dying with dignity–make the narratives more universal and timeless. It also made the twists at the end feel less like clever tricks and more a complimentary part of the greater theme being touched upon. Yet, for the most part everything was done in an entertaining way and without coming across as preachy. Beaumont was probably a bit of an adrenaline junkie and full of get up and go (on a personal level)—it seems he expected no less from his stories.

While most of the writing moved along in an entertaining way with occasional reflective views about the greater human condition, there was also more subtle efforts of craft. Beaumont was able to build and maintain with expert control, an impending and faltering sense of dread or fear in some of his characters which made for authentic and lasting pieces that were memorable after having consumed them.

These stories were a joy to read. The collection is fairly varied, but does glow with a certain Twilight Zone nostalgia through much of the writing. It’s also very easy and a pretty quick read. Highly recommended for those looking for some thoughtful entertainment, and doubly so for those of familiarity with the iconic television show that this writer was a part.

Podcast: If you enjoy my review (or this topic), this book and the movie based on it were further discussed/debated in a lively discussion on my podcast: “No Deodorant In Outer Space.” The podcast is available on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Tune-In Radio, Stitcher, Google Play Music, YouTube or our website (www.nodeodorant.com).

Episode Link: http://nodeodorantinouterspace.wordpress.com/2019/03/19/review-perchance-to-dream-charles-beaumont

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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Review: “Perchance to Dream” – Charles Beaumont

Review: “Perchance to Dream” – Charles Beaumont

New podcast book review episode!!

No Deodorant In Outer Space - podcast

PODCAST:

S4E3B – Perchance to Dream (book)*

SHOW NOTES:

Wherein we discuss classic Twilight Zone writer Charles Beaumont and six stories of his turned into memorable episodes. I’m joined by returning guest, indie filmmaker, Mike O’Reilly (YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/TheMoreilly318); oil painter, Andres Sercovich (Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ahserco/); and book reviewer, Kaelin O’Reilly (Kaelin Reads YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3r-oumDi_CsMoFH4-vTqSA). We recorded this podcast in-between attending lectures and film viewings at the annual Wildwood Film Festival (https://www.wildwoodfilmfestival.com/) that takes place in Appleton, Wisconsin where Mike was screening his short film drama “Volatile” later that night.

During our recording Andres talked about his interests in artificial intelligence themes and the consciousness of mankind which come up in “In His Image,” or the touching reflections of a life-lived found in “Song for a Lady.” Kaelin felt the social commentary on society in “The Beautiful People” both intriguing and disturbing and…

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Posted by on March 19, 2019 in News

 

Preview Episode (Perchance to Dream)

Preview Episode (Perchance to Dream)

New podcast preview episode !

No Deodorant In Outer Space - podcast

PODCAST:

S4E3P – Preview Episode (Perchance to Dream)

SUBJECT MATTER:

“Perchance to Dream: Selected Stories (1952-1960)” by Charles Beaumont a/k/a Charles Leroy Nutt (select short stories)

The profoundly original and wildly entertaining short stories of a legendary Twilight Zone writer, with a foreword by Ray Bradbury and an afterword by William Shatner

It is only natural that Charles Beaumont would make a name for himself crafting scripts for The Twilight Zone—for his was an imagination so limitless it must have emerged from some other dimension. Perchance to Dream contains a selection of Beaumont’s finest stories, including seven that he later adapted for Twilight Zone episodes.

Beaumont dreamed up fantasies so vast and varied they burst through the walls of whatever box might contain them. Supernatural, horror, noir, science fiction, fantasy, pulp, and more: all were equally at home in his wondrous mind. These are stories where lions stalk the plains…

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Posted by on March 5, 2019 in News

 

Review: “Never Let Me Go” – Mark Romanek

Review: “Never Let Me Go” – Mark Romanek

New podcast film review episode !

No Deodorant In Outer Space - podcast

PODCAST:

S4E2M – Never Let Me Go (movie)*

SHOW NOTES:

Wherein Dan Gonzalez and Margret O’Reilly rejoined me late at night from a Chicago skyscraper to explore this faithful and tonally similar adaptation of the book. Our conversation pointed out how the movie was uniquely subtle from a sci-fi perspective, and yet more revealing and advantageous for grounding the viewer in the setting and world. We also recognized that the film focused more on the “love-triangle” aspect of the book, but couldn’t quite decide on why. Margret was particularly impressed with the Japanese aesthetics the director incorporated into the film, which complimented the narrative well. The meaning of the title was explored as well as a few of the more obvious differences between the two works–in particular we discussed the changes in the scene from which the title originated. Ryan and Margret got into the existential dilemmas of clones…

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Posted by on February 26, 2019 in News

 

Review: “Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro (4 ½ Stars)

A touching wail uttered into the emotional void that dwells between those frayed wires which hold together the complex relationship between the individual, community, and society.

The story is told by the protagonist (Kathy) in reflection of her past experiences and relationships, primarily those surrounding her two friends Tommy and Ruth. The setting of this tale lies somewhere between bleak and dystopian and idyllic and romanticized. This is due, in part, to the shifting perspectives as Kathy moves the narrative through her childhood experiences at a special boarding school and then on into adulthood and the greater world at large.

The book does not easily fit into any genres (as critics have noted). There are elements of science fiction, abject horror, and a more main stream coming of age tale. However, one theme that is woven into all the prose is a subtle, but insistent pace bolstered by continual promises of things to be revealed. Quite literally, in fact, as the protagonist-narrator will pretty much explicitly state that there is this thing coming up that she will tell you about next after she tells you something else first. Then, as promised, the new information is provided in the next chapter. At which point a new carrot is deftly waggled before the reader’s eyes toward the next prize. Yet, all the while we are aware that something is not quite right and that our worst fears will be realized before the end. Still, we go on. Working toward that uncomfortable satisfaction.

This is both frustrating and masterful. Especially with the light touch in which it is done. The parts that maddened me were in the voice of the character. The first-person style utilized by the author did well to establish a compelling tone and believability for the character. It suited the coming-of-age aspect of the book. We get a real feel of who these characters are (especially the main three), their motivations, their traits. All of it is very fleshed out and plants you right into the heart of the story which is a push-me-pull-you relationship entangled with love and friendship. It’s very nuanced and lacking in the usual melodrama that might be found in this type of book. On the flipside I felt that the character’s voice somewhat laborious at times when she would tell me about what was going on, tell me how she was going to tell me how she felt about it, say how she felt about it, and then sort of echo her thoughts on the subject. It wasn’t quite like that, but there was something repetitive in the way the character’s voice was used where she kept explaining how she was going to explain things. Just tell me! Stop telling me that you’re going to tell me all about it—I’m reading this thing, aren’t I? Perhaps, though, the dialog between the different characters could have been distinguished a little more to alleviate this concern? Now, I will freely admit some of my frustration was only due to the fact that I was fully engaged with the story and urgently looking to read more and know more. So, in that sense it all worked.

Science Fiction plays a role in this story as does horror. Again, the relationship the narrative has with these genres is subtle and perhaps tenuous. However, I feel it is there. They both permeate the background and behind-the-scenes elements that are propping up this world. And “propping” up the world is probably a good description of this. This is a book this is decidedly not deep in genre values. The world created by the author is essentially our world (somewhat in the vague future). Very little is painted to bolster up the science fiction aspects and create a cohesive world that stands on its own. To his credit the author does just enough to keep within the subtle tone which runs its course throughout the entire book. In that way, the book succeeds quite well. The sci-fi and horror aspects are splashed in for coloring and to highlight the primary story element which is the three-way relationship of these characters and how they care about each other in a world that has trouble caring about them.

It’s difficult to go into specifics for this book without spoiling the reveals. However, I will say that these do not really hit you over the head like a clever twist ending might. There is a building morose sort of tone that floats the plot toward its conclusion. Likewise, the horror is not overwrought. The horror lies more in what is not said, rather than what is said. Yet, there is a strength in all this un-saying that the author accomplishes—a universal strength which is demonstrative of what makes up good writing. In the same way that say, George Orwell painted a curious and time-tested novel with “1984.”

By using the familiar story of three young friends who grow up trying to navigate the complexities of love and caring and life and death without any kind of manual to guide their decisions, the author gets us focused on how we as people, as communities within communities, within a society, treat each other. The difficulty of marrying competing values. Balancing individual needs against societal needs. How we all may look out for each other or instead ourselves. What is important and what is not. And, of course, the futility of it all as life gets on. These are deep questions which are delicately woven into the fabric of this tale.

The strength in this story is the interrelationship of the three main characters and the author knows this. He focuses on them and brings in other characters or events as needed to show them go through a life lived. Through happy times, sad times, difficult times and easy times. It all feels familiar, yet what is going on in the background is not. And that, is what serves to highlight the real tragedies and joys of life.

Podcast: If you enjoy my review (or this topic), this book and the movie based on it were further discussed/debated in a lively discussion on my podcast: “No Deodorant In Outer Space.” The podcast is available on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Tune-In Radio, Stitcher, Google Play Music, YouTube or our website (www.nodeodorant.com).

Episode Link: https://nodeodorantinouterspace.wordpress.com/2019/02/19/review-never-let-me-go-kazuo-ishiguro

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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Review: “Never Let Me Go” – Kazuo Ishiguro

Review: “Never Let Me Go” – Kazuo Ishiguro

New podcast book review episode !!!!

No Deodorant In Outer Space - podcast

PODCAST:

S4E2B – Never Let Me Go (book)*

SHOW NOTES:

Wherein returning guest Daniel Gonzalez (“The Martian” (S2E10) and NDIOS voice-over announcer Margret O’Reilly join me in a discussion of melancholy and ill-fated love juxtaposed against a subtle horrifying dystopian reality. We discuss the author’s cross-cultural biography, its probable influence on the temporal themes explored in this novel. Dan pointed out how different this novel is for the themes and genres it touches upon when compared to recent coming of age dystopian books like the YA works “Divergent” (S2E3) and “Hunger Games.” This work goes in a different direction of somber reflection and acceptance rather than revolution. As we got into the various character motivations and muted tensions underlying the narrative structure we all came up with a deeper appreciation for the work despite our general agreement that it starts slow and we began reading (for…

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Posted by on February 19, 2019 in News