Thoughts On ‘The Age of Science’ by Frances Power Cobbe

The first reaction that springs to mind about The Age of Science is the surprise that it was written in 1877. The story centres around a futuristic newspaper from 1977, that presumes to inform the people of the previous century of what will come to pass. In Cobbe’s future, science has fought its way to the fore, all but rendering such pursuits as art and religion extinct. It’s an interesting premise and one that certainly hasn’t come to pass. Indeed, in today’s social climate scientific achievements often go unreported in the mainstream media.

While The Age of Science paints a picture of how things could be if we let reason guide us, it also provides a cautionary tale. Among the various news stories provided from the futuristic text is one pertaining to the extinction of most of the world’s wildlife. Had the story been written in recent years we might be compelled to view it in a satirical light as we currently find ourselves trying to forestall the loss of many species. That it was written nearly 150 years ago, when wildlife conservation wasn’t such a big issue, makes it all the more prescient.

The Age of Science also touches on two further topics that would be of interest in our modern world. Firstly, with the #MeToo movement finding voices in women all around the globe, the suggestion that women should not be allowed to read or write is absolutely shocking. With that said, however, we can easily imagine that there are people out there that would like to see such regulations come into play. Secondly, the punishment of the parents for their children’s lack of education is an issue that has modern significance. With many ‘western’ nations putting pressure on parents to ensure that their children are attending school, Cobbe isn’t too far off the mark here. Of course, in 2019 parents aren’t being flogged for this misdemeanour, but the punishments are definitely more severe than one might expect.

All in all, I found The Age of Science to be a thoroughly enjoyable read. Its satirical look at the future was just the ticket after the seriousness of the previous stories was a welcome treat.

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Thoughts on ‘The Diamond Lens’ by Fitz-James O’Brien

Another interesting tale from the A Brilliant Void anthology, The Diamond Lens tells the story of an eager microscopist. indeed, the chap is so eager to advance his studies that he is not even prepared to stop at murder to achieve his ends. Much like The New Frankenstein, The Diamond Lens is told in the first person, giving the reader a better idea of the mind of the main character. To that end, we can see that the murder that is committed is the act of a fanatic rather than that of a psychopath. It’s an odd distinction but I believe it goes some way to ensuring that our protagonist isn’t a detestable human being.

Throughout The Diamond Lens, there is a strong tendency toward detailed description which makes for a slow start to the story. Indeed, it is only when the protagonist is settled in his new abode that the story really gets going. It is odd too that a psychic plays such a large roll in a story that otherwise leans heavily on the scientific. I’m not suggesting that it’s out of place, but merely observing its contrast with the rest of the description.

I must also say that I really enjoyed the ending of the story. That the narrator is now viewed as something of a madman is completely fitting. The ending also provides a neat little bow with which to tie up the whole narrative. Another excellent, and old short story.

Thoughts on ‘The New Frankenstein’ by William Maginn

A very interesting tale this one, even it is based on a misunderstood premise. In this short story, the narrator mistakenly concludes that Victor Frankenstein never embued his monster with a brain. As such, the aim of the ‘mad scientist’ in this story is to go one further than the literary character. When he does so, drawing on the intelligence of Gothe and Shelley to name but two, he finds his monster to be bereft of something that can be considered a soul. As a result, he must travel to Egypt, that land of ancient, spiritual mystery in order to complete his work. Of course, when he begins to mess with such occult powers, everything goes wrong.

The New Frankenstein itself feels like a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster of a narrative. The beginning of the story has a definite feel of classic literature to it – indeed it should have considering it was written in 1837. The latter section then, as the story reaches Egypt, feels like it has more in common with H.P. Lovecraft. I must admit though, that this was my favourite part of the story, as I really enjoy that kind of writing. In all, a wonderful beginning to the A Brilliant Void collection of Irish Science Fiction short stories.

Thoughts On ‘Blood Music’ by Greg Bear

About a month ago I lent a spare copy of Greg Bear’s Blood Moon to a mate of mine and he reported back that it was an extremely weird book. I haven’t had the opportunity to read it myself yet, so I was intrigued by Blood Music when it came to reading an SF short story beginning with ‘B’; and yep, it’s pretty weird. Somewhat akin to a Frankenstein’s monster tale, Blood Music is a story of scientific advancement without consideration of the consequences.

For the majority of the story, the narrator is a passive observer as his friend slowly undergoes a metamorphosis thanks to something he has injected himself with. As interesting a concept as this was, I was waiting for everything to go wrong by the end of the tale, which it ultimately did. Those last few paragraphs, after the confrontation in Vergil’s, happen extremely quickly and seem at odds with the patient explanations that came before. This could, however, be a clever way to show how the ‘invaders’ are evolving, becoming quicker at distributing information and achieving their goals.

Ultimately, I can’t decide whether I felt for the narrator of the story. Perhaps it was because I was outside the story, but it was evident that things were going to go wrong. You could say that he was looking out for his friend, but the description he gives of Vergil from the start of the story didn’t suggest to me that they were all that close. In the end, I feel he was just as negligent as Vergil, though it is sad that his wife gets dragged in on the whole thing despite being oblivious to everything that’s been going on.

Thoughts On ‘An Alien Agony’ by Harry Harrison

Also published under the title The Streets of Ashkelon, An Alien Agony is an interesting short story, to say the least. Throughout the prose, it’s abundantly clear that the author, or at least his main character, has no time for organised religion. Our protagonist is a self-confessed atheist who finds himself on a planet of beings (Weskers) who live a fairly literal, logical existence. As a result, the metaphysical is something that is completely foreign to them.

When a missionary by the name of Father Mark arrives on the planet, the natives face a cultural upheaval that causes them to question the existence of God. Unable to reconcile the concept of faith within their literal framework, they endeavour to use the ‘scientific method’ to reach a satisfactory conclusion. Blinded by their newfound knowledge of the Bible, they enact a gruesome finale to the story, resulting in a sad and disheartening final scene between Garth and one of the natives.

When I started An Alien Agony I enjoyed it for what it seemed to be; a standard science-fiction tale about an explorer on a distant planet. As the story continued, new elements piqued my interest but I can’t say that it was really jumping out at me. The ‘philosophical’ discussion between Garth and Father Mark was interesting but didn’t offer anything new to the debate, just rehashing old arguments on a new planet. That last scene, however, was extremely powerful as it causes us to question just how beneficial introducing religion to a seemingly utopian society is.

Happy Orktober!

October is finally here and with it hopefully the new Orks Codex from Games Workshop. Over the last year or so, I’ve gathered together a nice little collection of Ork models that I’m eager to get onto the tabletop. With the new codex looming I’ve been reluctant to play Orks over the last few months so it’ll be great to finally get to use them. Of course, I’ve decided to be a little mad and do a horde Ork army so I’ve still got plenty of models to paint. That said, I have kicked off Orktober by getting some of these models started. I primed twenty-three models earlier today with four now with their flesh-tones finished and a further five with their flesh bases done. I’m not going to stress myself out by setting a goal of models to paint, but I am hoping to break the back of the work that needs to be done by the end of the month. I’ll be trying to reward myself by allowing myself to paint a Killa Kan or Deff Dread every 15-20 infantry models though.

 

Welcome to the…Dungeon

It’s been five or six years since I properly got into tabletop gaming, and in that time I’ve had the opportunity to both GM and play in a number of roleplay campaigns. Last night, at the invitation of some friends who’d recently started a campaign, I played Dungeons & Dragons for the first time, and it was an interesting experience.

In the interest of balance, they suggested that I immediately skip the few levels they’d earned over their previous few sessions and so I joined in as Tarien Pureriver, 3rd level Elven Druid. Much of the start of the session was taken up trying to explain why Tarien had followed the party into a previously unknown cave, but once that was sorted it was time for action. Or it would have been if my character was any good in a fight. While I was creating Tarien I tried to play toward his backstory as a hermit, so all of his spells are those that might help someone survive alone in the wild; not particularly useful when the gribblies come a knocking. In the end, though, he wasn’t the most useless character, and his gruff responses and general attempts to reintegrate with society made for an entertaining session. On to the next one!