“Obeying an inalienable law, things grew, growing riotous and strange in their impulse for growth.”
“Life was everywhere, life on a formidable scale. But the increased solar radiation that had brought the extinction of most of the animal kingdom had spelt the triumph of plant life. Everywhere, in a thousand forms and guises, the plants ruled. And vegetables have no voices.”
Brian Aldiss does some funky things with physics and nature in Hothouse. He has the Sun expand its intensity. He has the Earth with one side permanently facing the Sun, one side not. And he has insect webs connecting the Moon and Earth. Oh, and did I mention the fact that plants rule the world and humans have become a minor, hunted species?
Once you’ve got all that down, the plot follows simply along. Mostly it’s the tale of Gren, one of the few human males on the planet, his relationship with morel---a sentient fungus that exists in symbiosis with him---and his journey to find out what’s really going on with the Earth, Sun, and Aldiss’ crazy physics. Otherwise, the book is really a fantastical romp through Aldiss’ imagination. He invents plants, insects, and the directions of human evolution.
I must admit that I grow tired of Aldiss’ fantasies at times and a few sections of the book were a real slog for me. On the other hand, the book is generally beloved, as is Aldiss. So you don’t have to take my word as final on the issue.
"I'm glad I'm not bisexual. I couldn't stand being rejected by men as well as women."—Bernard Manning
Venus Plus X by Theodore Sturgeon (1918-1985) has a relatively simple narrative. A young man named Charlie Johns awakens in a world called Ledom, scooped up by the inhabitants (also called Ledom) with a device he takes for a time machine. The Ledom tell Johns he’s been brought to Ledom to judge their society. And as he does, Johns has progressively more shocking discoveries about the place and the people. The whole thing then wraps with a shocker ending that I personally guessed in advance, though that didn’t diminish my (continuing) evaluation of the book.
The biggest shock comes to Johns early on: the Ledom are all hermaphrodites. They possess both the ability to inseminate and become pregnant—something that Johns is surprisingly cool with for a man from 1960. The Ledom culture is also quite advanced. I was particularly drawn to their education device, called a “cerebrostyle,” which can both record knowledge and implant it directly into the brain. Johns receives a schooling on the whole history of sex, gender, and reproduction in “homo sap” versus the Ledom (by the way, have you looked at that word backwards yet?) in a matter of moments, for example.
But Johns’ story in Ledom isn’t the only narrative in the book. Sturgeon alternates these chapters with a series of vignettes of a 1950s nuclear family wrestling with the differences and similarities between men and women. Readers may be a little perplexed by these scenes, until the end of the book when we find out...
I honestly don’t know how I feel about Sturgeon’s novel. I’ve been trying to think of it in context. In 1960, the sexual revolution hadn’t happened yet. Science fiction novels were often still boring boys adventure fantasies. And the complex unraveling of sex and gender that came with the New Wave and Ursula K. LeGuin’s masterpiece The Left Hand of Darkness was still a few years away. So I applaud Sturgeon for his adventurous storytelling relative to the time. I also found the novel to be extremely readable, and it only took me a couple of sittings to read it from cover to cover. On the other hand, I found something lacking in the book, and I haven’t been able to put my finger on it. Somehow, I just wanted it to be more.
Availability This second Sturgeon novel on Pringle’s list is in print through the good graces of Random House.
Curiosity got the better of me, and I actually went and paid to see the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still. Considering my last adventure at the movie theater, I probably should have known better. But it was both not as bad as I expected and far worse. Granted, I thought I’d hate it. But in the end, the first half of the film I found intriguing. The second half? Like a drill slowly burrowing into my brain as the second hand on my watch moved backwards.
This “reimagining” of Robert Wise’s 1951 classic exchanges the fears of earthly war mongering for environmental devastation. Klaatu’s race/organization/whatever doesn’t fear what humans will do to each other, but to the precious resource that is a planet able to support life. In the original, Klaatu is sent with robot guardian Gort to warn humanity that its destructive nature (and development of nuclear arms) will ultimately force the rest of the universe---the civilized part that is---to destroy it. Klaatu in the current film comes without warning to destroy humans right now. Humanity is inherently destructive to the environment, he decides. Though after a little squishiness, he’ll see that there is “another side” to us later in the film.
The Good. 1. I actually liked Keanu in this film. He was able to pull off a foreignness in his portrayal that made “first contact” believable. In the original film, Michael Rennie’s Klaatu becomes more and more human. We never make the mistake of thinking the same about Keanu’s Klaatu. There is a distance between him and the human characters throughout.
2. The premise of an advanced civilization’s concern over the environment. There’s ample belief in the scientific community that few planets like ours exist. That an advanced civilization would consider this planet as a resource that far outweighs the moral implications of genocide seems plausible.
3. The morality of Klaatu’s civilization. On the other hand, that this “advanced” civilization chooses to destroy humanity instead of sharing technology and helping us along is interesting. Though Rennie’s Klaatu threatens humanity with destruction at the end of the film, he is sympathetic to its primitive state throughout. Keanu’s Klaatu doesn’t have any patience for us. His civilization seems to have a sense of entitlement. I found this interesting to ponder.
4. The technology of Klaatu’s civilization was fascinating. Gene manipulation, biological interface with electronics, and organic metal. Truly awesome.
The Bad. 1. Why does every Hollywood film have to have a cute fatherless/motherless child?
2. If this other civilization is so concerned about the environment over everything else, why does a little weepiness from the previously mentioned cute child cause Klaatu to reevaluate wiping humanity out? So a kid cries about his dad, does that really mean we won’t burning this baby down with greenhouse gases, plastics, and overpopulation? I say torch the humans.
3. Everything after Klaatu meets with Dr. Barnhardt. If you do see this film, when John Cleese leaves the screen, LEAVE THE THEATER.
4. I still don’t see why this film had to be remade (or “reimagined”). The original is a piece of art from a certain period. It forever belongs there. There was nothing about it that needed to be updated or reinterpreted. Please, Hollywood...please start producing some original screenplays.
My journeyman life of wealth and fame began in the Hoosier State (we’re proud of it, folks), and my codes have read IN, MO, PA, A-Wien. Currently, I’m installing cybernetic implants to improve my vision, hearing, and memory. That’s of course when I’m not shapeshifting and taking the form of a grizzled brown bear in the timber forests of Southwest City. All of this is made possible by my very useful and lucrative M.A. in Comparative Religion (I highly recommend graduate school to everyone). But that’s enough about me…who the heck are you?
I’ve been looking for direction in life too long. Here, there, here, there, especially with reading. So I’ve turned to editor/theorist/critic David Pringle as a guide. In the mid-80s, Pringle released a series of essays in book form called “Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels: An English-Language Selection, 1949-1984.” Following Pringle’s book, which starts with “1984” and ends with “Neuromancer,” I’m reading every title in chronological order.
The bicycle is the perfect form of transportation. It’s clean, easy, and fun. It’s also the most efficient form of transportation. I believe in efficiency. One day, there will be bicycle boulevards in St. Louis. I hope I live to see that day. Until then, I will settle for the meager trails and bike lanes the city currently has to offer.
I believe in St. Louis. It has the infrastructure in place to once again be a major city in the United States. It already has wonderful people, delicious restaurants, and my wife...so I suppose I won’t be leaving anytime soon.