Vintage Science Fiction Month: Second Variety by Philip K. Dick

Vintage Science Fiction Blog Challenge badge. It shows a rocket ship against a red background. There is a bubble city in the background. Vintage Science Fiction month takes place every January, and has a few guidelines:

 – read, watch, listen to, or experience something science fiction / fantasy that was created in 1979 or earlier

 – talk about it online sometime in January

 – have fun

If any of my readers are also interested in participating this month, let Little Red Reviewer know about your posts if you’d like them to be included in her official roundups. 

Today I’m going to be blogging about “Second Variety,” a science fiction novelette by Philip K. Dick about what happened to the Earth and the few remaining humans on it after a nuclear war erupted between the Soviet Union and the United Nations.  This tale was originally published in 1953, but many of the themes in it still feel fresh nearly 70 years later.

Click here to read “Second Variety” for free. Everything after this sentence and in the tags of this post contains spoilers for this story, so reader beware! 

Second Variety by Philip K. Dick book cover. Image on cover is of a stylized, human-shaped flame holding the Earth. The first thing that grabbed my imagination when I was reading this tale had to do with the destruction of the natural environment. There was so much devastation everywhere the characters looked.

It briefly reminded me of the massive forest fires currently burning in Australia. Just like in our world, the lion’s share of the suffering was shouldered by innocent living beings – human and otherwise – that were never given a choice in the matter. It was utterly unfair.

While this is a story about war, it’s not a war story. The biggest battles have long-since happened by the time we meet the main characters, and the addition of a new enemy has already thrown both sides off-kilter. The exhaustion of fighting an enemy that never needs to sleep or fulfill other human needs also added a new twist to this post-apocalyptic world.

There were actually times when I felt a little sorry for the robots. Yes, they were attacking humans…but they weren’t the ones responsible for causing such severe environmental damage that Europe and vast swaths of North America were no longer able to grow any food at all. They were just following the orders they’d been given by their creators.

With that being said, I still loved the plot twists involving the robots and what they were capable of doing. They technically weren’t alive, but they sure acted like it. Not only did they repair themselves when broken, they paid close attention to what was left of human culture and looked for any weaknesses they could find and take advantage of. That’s not something I’d normally expect from a robot!

As someone who has read a ton of post-apocalyptic and robotic science fiction, I figured out where this story would probably end up pretty early on. That isn’t a criticism of the piece, though. It wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of other authors were influenced by Mr. Dick’s writing style kind of like modern authors have written things that echo the Harry Potter series or various Margaret Atwood novels.

This repetition and evolution of ideas is common in all genres. It will be interesting to see if any of my fellow scifi fans had the same reaction to this story, especially where the ending is concerned.

Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge: Books I Can’t Wait to Read in 2020

Hosted by Long and Short Reviews.

Click here to read everyone else’s replies to this week’s question and here to see the full list of topics for the year.

There are plenty of books I’m curious about, but I can think of only one upcoming release that genuinely excites me at this point. (The year is still young, so this will almost certainly change over time!)

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins book cover. Image on cover is of a gold mocking jay sitting on a branch. There is a target sign behind it.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (Hunger Games Prequel) by Suzanne Collins.

I’m thinking about rereading the Hunger Games trilogy before the prequel comes out in May. Here’s hoping that the prequel is well done and answers everyone’s questions about how Panem was created in the first place.

Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Discoveries I Made in 2019

Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

Let’s see how many things I can add to this list. The prompt for this week said “these could be books, authors, blogs, websites, apps, products, etc.,” so I’m going to try to be creative with it.

The Art of Darkness.

This is a bookish Halloween blog that I love. They have a weekly roundup of links that have introduced me to so many new authors and random literary things.

Header for the Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge. Image shows a laptop sitting on a wooden desk and the WWBC logo.

The Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge.

This is a fun blog hop put on by Long and Short Reviews. The topics last year range from favourite characters to recipes to books you’d recommend to people who liked a certain genre.

Open Mic Nights at My Local Library 

I don’t know how many – if any – I’ll be attending this year, but it was pretty amazing to listen to other people read their own work, share a favourite poem from a famous writer, sing, crack jokes, and otherwise explore the wide world of literature and the arts last year. If your community has a library, I’d definitely recommend checking to see if they have a similar event (and asking them for one if they don’t).

It’s such a wonderful way to spend an evening and get to know your community better.

Folklore Thursday

If you’re on Twitter, #FolkloreThursday happens every Thursday. Their website or Twitter account generally share the specific themes ahead of time. Past topics have ranged from the food to children to winter holidays.

I’ve learned about so many legends and traditions from the folks who run it and highly recommend it to anyone who loves fairy tales, folk tales, or anything similar to that.

 

Dangerous Voyage: A Review of Europa Report

Film poster for Europa Report. Image on poster shows an astronaut standing on an icy plain in Europa while Jupiter looms overhead.Content warning: Found footage and mental illness. I will be discussing these things later on in this post.

Europa Report is a 2013 science fiction film about an international group of astronauts who are sent on an expedition to Jupiter’s fourth largest moon, Europa, to see if they can find any evidence of life there.

This story expects its audience to already know the basics of how space exploration works and what astronauts would realistically hope to accomplish on a mission like this one.

While the plot definitely does meander into places that are beyond the scope of our current understanding of other parts of our solar system, I classified it as hard science fiction and would suggest spending some time reading about real-life spaceflights and NASA’s tentative plans to explore Europa before watching this film to anyone who doesn’t already have a basic understanding of these things already for reasons I’ll explain in my review below. (Both of those links are nonfiction and 100% spoiler-free).

I should note that this was shot as found footage, so there is shaky camera work in a few places. This is a technique that has made me a little nauseated when it happened in other films. While it didn’t bother me in this one, I still thought it would be best to make note of it for anyone who has a more sensitive stomach.

Characters

Daniel Wu (left) as William Xu
Captain Daniel Wu (left) as William Xu. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

 

Captain Wu was the level-headed leader of this crew who was excited to see Europa regardless of what they discovered there.

 

Anamaria Marinca as Rosa Dasque
Anamaria Marinca as Rosa Dasque

 

Rosa was the pilot and archivist. A risk taker at times, she signed up for this mission because she wanted to go “faster and farther than anyone else before.”

 

Michael Nyqvist as Andrei Blok
Michael Nyqvist as Andrei Blok

 

Andrei was the chief engineer. He was highly skilled at his job but found the living accommodations on the Europa One to be less than ideal, especially once he began to deal with his emotional reaction to something difficult that happened earlier on in the mission. My fan theory was that he was a deeply introverted man who struggled to find enough peace and quiet in such tight living quarters even before that experience occurred.

 

Karolina Wydra as Katya Petrovna
Karolina Wydra as Katya Petrovna

 

Katya was the science officer. Her background was in marine biology and oceanography, but she was ironically scared of flying when she signed up for this mission. She was adventurous and yearned to fulfill the crew’s mission and discover life on Europa.

 

Sharlto Copley as James Corrigan
Sharlto Copley as James Corrigan

 

James was the engineer. He’d left behind a wife and young son to go on this mission and often spoke of how much he missed them.

Christian Camargo as Daniel Luxembourg
Christian Camargo as Daniel Luxembourg. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

 

Daniel was the chief science officer. His friendship with James provided a few lighthearted moments in an otherwise serious tale.

My Review

Don’t let the introduction to this post deter you from giving this film a try if you’re unfamiliar with the topics it covers. While it does expect the audience to come with some prior knowledge of spacecrafts and space travel, the storyline was well written and fascinating.

“The Europa One Mission was the first attempt to send men and women into deep space. For over six months the world watched every moment.”

All of the characters had spent years gaining the education and experience necessary to be eligible for this sort of history-making mission. Since this was a plot-driven story, there wasn’t a great deal of time spent exploring their backstories. I did learn enough about them to become emotionally attached, though.

As mentioned in the content warning and character description, there is a subplot about Andrei’s struggles with his mental health. All of the astronauts had been taught about the dangers that this mission could pose to their mental health, from the effects of Zero G to the natural consequences of living in relative isolation for so long. I appreciated the way the filmmakers handled this topic.

While I can’t discuss the incident that contributed to this character developing a mental illness without giving away spoilers, it was handled sensitively. There was nothing salacious about it, and it fit into the storyline perfectly. Honestly, I could very well have had the same response if I’d been in his shoes. This is something I’d be happy to discuss in more detail privately with anyone  who asks for it.

The camaraderie between the six astronauts was well documented and provided a nice contrast to all of the scenes that went into detail about the various scientific studies they were conducting and the many things they needed to do to keep their ship in good shape.

Katya exploring Europa
Katya exploring Europa. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Some of the most exciting scenes were obviously the ones that showed what happened after the astronauts arrived on Europa.

They had a long list of samples they wanted to take from the ice and sea beneath the ice.

What would they find there? How would the readings of this moon taken from Earth compare to what it was actually like?

I had so many questions about this part of their journey, so I was thrilled to see what happened after they arrived and began analyzing everything. Yes, there were certain acronyms and references mentioned during this portion that weren’t explained to the audience. Some of them could be figured out from context clues. Others might require searching online for viewers who aren’t already familiar with this stuff.

Honestly, I think doing a little of research is well worth figuring out exactly what characters are talking about when they’re testing a sample of water or discussing how to fix a damaged portion of their vessel. While that may make this film a little less accessible to the average viewer than it would otherwise be, I thought writing it that way was the right choice. Actual astronauts wouldn’t pause to explain every technical term they used, after all!

To share one final note, the plot was shared out of chronological order in certain scenes. Everything you need to know is included if you pay attention, and the reasons for filming it this way will become clear if you stick with it.

This was something I had a wonderful time watching. I highly recommend it to anyone who is willing to put a little effort into piecing everything together.

Europa Report is available on Apple TV.

Haunting Secrets: A Review of The Lost Ones

Book Cover for The Lost Ones by Anita Frank. Cover shows white outline of woman at top of staircase. There is a large picture window behind her and stylized leaves decorating the rest of the cover.

Title: The Lost Ones

Author: Anita Frank

Publisher: HQ (Harper Collins)

Publication Date: 2019

Genres: Fantasy, Mystery, Gothic, Horror, Paranormal, Historical

Length: 400 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Blurb:

Some houses are never at peace.

England, 1917
 
Reeling from the death of her fiancé, Stella Marcham welcomes the opportunity to stay with her pregnant sister, Madeleine, at her imposing country mansion, Greyswick – but she arrives to discover a house of unease and her sister gripped by fear and suspicion.

Before long, strange incidents begin to trouble Stella – sobbing in the night, little footsteps on the stairs – and as events escalate, she finds herself drawn to the tragic history of the house.

Aided by a wounded war veteran, Stella sets about uncovering Greyswick’s dark and terrible secrets – secrets the dead whisper from the other side…

In the classic tradition of The Woman in Black, Anita Frank weaves a spell-binding debut of family tragedy, loss and redemption.

 

Review:

Content warning: Death of a child. 

Some secrets refuse to stay hidden.

As the blurb and the content warning mentioned, one of the subplots of this tale involved what happened to a house in the years following the sudden death of a child there. That child’s identity and reason for death were things that were revealed much later on in the plot, so I won’t go into any detail about them here. What I will say is that this tale spent a great deal of time exploring how grief not only changes over time but can stick with someone long after their loss. The family who experienced this loss weren’t the only ones who were grieving. I loved seeing how the other subplots involving grief were interwoven with this one. Not all of them were quite as dramatic, but they worked together beautifully.

What made me give this book a 3.5 star rating was the behaviour of the characters, especially Stella. She’d been intelligent enough to qualify as a nurse in World War I, and yet she continually made choices that I struggled to understand even while knowing that she’d suffered a terribly tragedy while abroad. Her lack of common sense astounded me at times, especially when it came to how she responded to phenomena that had no rational explanation. The occasional lapse of judgement is totally understandable, but there were times when I found it hard to take the plot seriously because of how often she rushed into dangerous situations without thinking things through first. This was a flaw that was repeated with some of the other characters as well, including ones that had lived at Greyswick long enough to that there was something dangerous lurking there.

The treatment of the female characters was handled nicely. We’re still a long ways off from ending sexism, but it was much more insidious in 1917. Women from every social class dealt with it, and there were very few laws to protect them from harmful stereotypes about what they were capable of and how they should be treated if they stepped outside of a narrow range of acceptable behaviours. This isn’t something that a lot of gothic novels address, so I was pleased to see it get so much attention here even though I also cringed at the way women’s hormonal states or “feeble” minds were used as an excuse to avoid getting to the bottom of what was causing so much havoc at Greyswick. It was historically accurate, though!

Despite these issues, The Lost Ones was a deliciously chilling read that I’d recommend to anyone who loves Gothic literature or haunted houses and doesn’t mind suspending their disbelief for a while.

3 Things I Love About Walking in a Winter Wonderland

This post is the final instalment of a four-part series I’ve been slowly working on about walking during each season of the year. Click on the links in this sentence to read about the things I love about spring hikes, summer strolls, and autumn hikes. Winter is my least favourite season. The  cold temperatures, short… Read More

What I Read in 2019

In January of 2013, I began blogging once a year about everything I’d read that previous year.  This tradition began when my dad asked me how many books I’ve read in my entire lifetime. I couldn’t begin to give him an answer to that question, but it did make me decide to start keeping track… Read More

The 2020 Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge Topics Have Been Released

Happy New Year! Long and Short Reviews has released the list of topics for their second year of Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge posts. There isn’t a topic for today, but I will be participating in it again beginning next week. If you can’t read the graphic above, here is the list of prompts and the… Read More