Immortality, Inc. by Robert Sheckley

Genre: Science

Rating: 8/10

Robert Sheckley is one if my favourite short storimortality incy writers, not just limited to science fiction. He just has a truly tremendous ability to present a wonderful idea and spin a story from it in just a few pages. This is a widely held view, indeed Neil Gaiman said, “[He was] Probably the best short-story writer during the 50s to the mid-1960s working in any field.” Sheckley was known to be unpredictable, with a absurd sense of humour, resulting in some wonderful stories of which Immortality, Inc. is one.  It  was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novel.


 

One of the things I most enjoyed with this book was the remarkable concept behind it. Thomas Blaine was driving home one day when he is involved in a fatal collision. Years later he wakes up in a different body to be informed that has died. But that’s not a big deal as he is alive again. For in the year, 2110 science has discovered how to transfer one’s conscience from body to body – resulting in Blaine’s mind being snatched from his time of death to be placed in a vacated body. Along with this it was proven that there is a reality after death. Only problem is that one can only go it if one undergoes long years of spiritual conditioning. Or you could pay money for a rather expensive treatment that stimulates the brain to achieve this conditioned state. You see guaranteed immortality does exist, but it’s controlled by corporations and requires enormous funds. One of these corporations decided to show of their new “point of death” technique with Blaine, planning to use him as a marketing tool. However now that he’s in the future the higher ups have decided against using him. And so he is left to fend for himself in a harsh future where heaven can be bought and suicide is rather fashionable.

There are 3 possibilites when a man dies. First his mind can just explode, scatter, dissipate; and that’s the end of him. Second his mind can hold together through the death trauma, and he finds himself in the threshold, a spirit. Third, his mind breaks during the death trauma, but not enough to cause dissipation. He pulls through into the threshold. But the strain has been permanently disabling. He is insane. And that is how a ghost is born. They’re filled with twisted hatred, anger, pain.

The writting is witty and snappy, thoroughly enjoyable, and is an excellent example of Sheckley’s skill.  The deft, sarcastic dialogue and the many interesting and unpredictable  concepts that the book holds is wonderful and expectedly leads to an enjoyable read.

Corpses shouldn’t be forced to answer questions. Death was man’s ancient privilege, his immemorial pact with life, granted to the slave as well as the noble. Death was man’s solace, and his right. But perhaps they had revoked that right; and now you couldn’t evade your responsibilities simply by being dead.

There is neither happiness nor misery

There is neither happiness nor misery in the world; there is only the comparison of one state with another, nothing more. He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience supreme happiness. We must have felt what it is to die, Morrel, that we may appreciate the enjoyments of living.

- Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Genre: Historical Fiction, AdventureThe Count of Monte Cristo

Rating: 10/10

All human wisdom is contained in these two words – Wait and Hope

This 1200 page tome was published long ago, in 1844 and became one of Alexandre Dumas’s most well known works, with it’s major competition being  The Three Musketeers. It was published in 18 parts over 2 years, making it the 1800 version of a television drama series. And a much loved one also, as this The Count of Monte Cristo is generally regarded as the greatest revenge story of all time. I have to say it has a well deserved reputation.


 

Life is a storm, my young friend. You will bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on the rocks the next. What makes you a man is what you do when that storm comes. You must look into that storm and shout as you did in Rome. Do your worst, for I will do mine! Then the fates will know you as we know you.

There is not much what I can say that hasn’t been said before. It’s highly entertaining and fairly easy to read although you may need to browse over some French history as historical setting is an important part of the plot of the book. The book begins just before Napolean’s return from exile and stretches through the subsequent rule of King Louis-Philippe or to put it another way from 1815 to 1838. Although you can attempt to read the book without any knowledge of the period I would advise you to at least skim through the Wikipedia article.

The difference between treason and patriotism is only a matter of dates.

Edmond Dantes is a 19 years old sailor who is perfectly happy with the world. He has just been made captain of a ship and is soon to marry the love of his life, Mercedes. In the height of his happiness two jealous men decide to frame Edmond as a Napoleonic spy. He’s arrested and brought before the prosecutor Villefort who injustly sentances him to life impronment in Chateau d’If ( a remote island prison). He spends years in the prison and makes friends with  Abbe Faria, a fellow prisoner who is attempting to tunnel out of the prison. Faria inspires Edmond to strive to be better and escape from the prison. Faria begins to teach Edmond his sum of knowledge and, before dying, tells of a great treasure that is buried on the island of Monte Cristo. In time Edmond escapes from the prison, finds the treasure and returns to France as the Count of Monte Cristo, ready to begin his judgement on those who ruined his life. And that’s just the beginning.

I don’t think man was meant to attain happiness so easily. Happiness is like those palaces in fairy tales whose gates are guarded by dragons: we must fight in order to conquer it.

This book is a grand tale of vengeance, intrigue, love, hate, hope and salvation combined with a compelling plot that keeps one  enthralled.  It’s a wonderful book and as it is in the public domain (in the USA) it is therefore available for free at Project Gutenberg,  Google and Amazon. So basically, you can read a wonderful book for free.

How did I escape? With difficulty. How did I plan this moment? With pleasure.

“—All You Zombies—” by Robert A. Heinlein

Genre: Science fiction (short story)

Rating: 10/10

I glanced at the ring on my finger. The Snake That Eats Its Own Tail Forever and Ever… I know where I came from—but where did all you zombies come from?

First point: This is a story about time travel, not zombies.

Though it’s not just a time travel story, it is by far my favourite time travel tale. It is remarkably convoluted, paradoxical and will leave your mind spinning. It’s a remarkably intricate tale that remains out of grasp of the reader’s understanding until the very end, resulting in a immediate take-back and reread. It is a definite classic of science fiction and is perfect for any fan of the genre. And trust me, once you read this story you won’t forget it. Unfortunately I cannot go into any details of plot before encountering spoilers of a sort. The story is only 19 pages long and is definitely worth the short read. In fact you can listen to this story, free of charge, from Escape Pod if you can’t get your hands on an anthology with this in it.

 

The Very Best of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Volume 2 Edited by Gordon van Gelder

Genre: Fantasy, Science Fiction, short storiesThe Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction

Rating: 10/10

Fantasy & Science Fiction is  a magazine that has been publishing short stories for nearly 60 years and during this time it has had the good fortune to showcase many ground-breaking and influential stories. This is the second part of an anthology of incredible short stories edited by Gordon van Gelder (who has won two Hugo’s for Best Editor Short Form). The stories themselves are, purposefully, incredibly varied. Some are funny, others heartbreakingly sad and others thrilling. The common thing across the board is that these are excellent stories. It is an incredible authors and stories. There isn’t much I can say, this is an anthology of some of the best writers and stories of science fiction.


 

All the stories are listed below, and I cannot say that I disliked any of them. I am not going to do a full review of any of the stories now, I am planning to review them separately and later with a link to this anthology. However I am going to make a small mention of my 3 favourite stories in it.

Jefty is 5, by Harlan Ellison is my favourite story from this anthology. It ‘s a thoroughly unusual tale of a boy named Jefty who never grows older than 5, not physically, not mentally and not (oddly enough) chronologically.

“-All You Zombies-“,  by Robert A. Heinlein, is one of the best and most paradoxical time travel stories I have read. This wasn’t the first time I had read it but it has not diminished in the slightest.

The People of Sand and Slag, by Paolo Bacigalupi is sad tale. Far in the future, when humans have perfected augmentation and can essentially live forever. When three humans find a  natural, unaugmented dog they are intrigued and decide to try and care for it.

What I really enjoyed was the range and quality of the stories. Although sharing the same genre the stories were completely different to each other: in tone, style and content. I would also like to note the authors present. Now, this anthology covers the last 60 years so there’s a near definite chance of being introduced to a new writer. It’s an excellent opportunity to be introduced to an author you may never otherwise stumble upon, and you have the added security of knowing that these are all good authors who had success in their field.

Story List

  • The Third Level by Jack Finney
  • The Cosmic Expense Account by C.M. Kornbluth
  • The Country of the Kind by Damon Knight
  • The Anything Box by Zenna Henderson
  • The Prize of Peril by Robert Sheckley
  • “-All You Zombies-“ by Robert A. Heinlein
  • A Kind of Artistry by Brian W. Aldiss
  • Green Magic by Jack Vance
  • Narrow Valley by R. A. Lafferty
  • Sundance by Robert Silverberg
  • The Attack of the Giant Baby by Kit Reed
  • The Hundreth Dove by Jane Yolen
  • Jefty is 5 by Harlan Ellison
  • Salvador by Lucius Shepard
  • The Aliens who knew, I mean, Everything by George Alec Effinger
  • Rat by James patrick Kelly
  • The Friendship Light by Gene Wolf
  • The Bone Woma by Charles de Lint
  • Maneki Neko by Bruce Sterling
  • Winemaster by Robert Reed
  • Suicide Coast by M. John Harrison
  • Have not Have by Geof Ryman
  • The people of Sand and Slag by Paolo Bacigalupi
  • Echo by Elizabeth Hand
  • The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates by Steven King
  • The Paper Meagerie by Ken Liu

This is a fantastic anthology of science fiction and I would strongly recommend this to fans of the genre.

Received before public through NetGalley for review

Not all those who wander are lost

“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.”

- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring