Reading my first science fiction book

I just finished reading my first science fiction book!

Up until three years ago, I really only read non-fiction books (e.g. The Power of Habit, Outlier) with the single purpose of expanding my intellectual knowledge.  I read to increase my depth in a subject (e.g. programming) or read to pick learn about an entirely new subject (e.g. locksmithing). However, I’ve come to realize, after my wife pursuaded me to read the Harry Potter novels, that I can read for fun — no pressure to soak in new information.

So, about six months ago, my Italian colleague (who wears a heavy beard) from Dublin flew over to Seattle, where the Amazon headquarters lives.  While he was in town, I suggested that, since he’s an avid reader, we swing by my favorite local, Seattle book store: The Elliot Bay.

Elliot bay bookstore in Seattle
Elliot bay bookstore in Seattle

So after work one day, we made plans to hit the book store so I launched the Lyft app (sorry, no Uber for me since reading Susan Fowler’s post that revealed the company’s rampant misogynistic culture) and popped in the destination address.

When we arrived at the bookstore, we scattered in different directions. While mindlessly sauntering, I recalled a memory of me visiting (about 8 months ago) my team’s office located in Dublin in order to ramp up as a new hire.  One afternoon, I was sitting next to my colleague and on next to his laptop sat a thick, six inch novel — a science fiction book, the front cover painted with emerald green.

So, back to the book store. While we were walking up and down the various aisles at Elliot Bay, I leaned over and asked him if he could recommend me a science fiction book, a genre I was unfamiliar with and a genre that, up until that point, I had zero interest in. As if he was born for this very moment, he scuttled over from the poetry aisle over to the science fiction section and began scanning the shelf, his index finger running horizontally along the books, his focused eyes rapidly reading the titles. And then, he stopped.  He gripped a tiny blue paperback, the title boldly printed with: Caves of Steel.

Front cover of Caves of Steel
Front cover of Caves of Steel

I ended up purchasing the book but maintained my low expectations.  I had always imagined that science fiction was too abstract, a genre rammed with plots and story lines that disconnect from anything resembling reality.  I preferred literary novels — To kill a mockingbird, Boys in the boat; novels that capture the human struggle.  Science fiction is just unrealistic, right?

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I absolutely fell in love with the book (and the genre) and blasted through it within a couple days.  Although the book centered around robots, the plot was not so farfetched. In fact, reading page after page, I found myself empathizing with the main character, Elijah, a police detective who laments working with his robot partner and who fears that one day, he’ll be automated out of a job.

The book was written and published in the 1950s and the author — Asimov, the defacto father of robots — paints such a realistic picture of the dystopian future, a future not so out of the question, considering that I currently live in a modern day dystopia: net neutrality was killed in the US today. Furthermore, after finishing up the first book in the series — I’m now on to the second book, The Naked Sun — I can better understand how Elon Musk’s vision (immigrate to outer space) was shaped by Asimo.

In short, if you think that science fiction only appeals to a certain group of people, do yourself a favor and go pick up one of Asimov’s books (e.g. iRobot, Caves of Steel) and I promise you that you’ll lose yourself in the plot, in the writing, in science fiction.

 

 

Reflections on 1984

Working the normal nine to five job leaves little time for personal reading, which is why every morning, as soon as I situate myself on the bus, I immediately rip out a book from my backpack and read.  I guard this meager time like a gambler and his poker chips. Without these short thirty minute rides to and from work, I wouldn’t have been able to finish 1984.

But I did.

Flipping to the final page, uttering the final line of 1984, left a gaping hole in my stomach. A profound sense of loss.  It’s rare for a book, or anything for that matter, to leave me devastated.  I just sat there, on the couch, with the book folded over my lap, staring into space. Contemplating.

OBrien’s systematic interrogation — broken down into three concrete phases — destroyed Winston mentally, emotionally, and physically.  By the time Obrien had finished with Winston, he was only a “shell of a man”.

Big brother won.

On the plus side, though, the timing of reading the book could not have been more perfect. Had I been forced to read this in highschool (it’s not uncommon for this book to be compulsory reading), my unprepared mind would not have been able to process Orwell’s distopia .  With the global surveillance programmes revealed (thank you Edward Snowden) is the idea of big brother that out of the question ? I think not.

You know when you are reading, mid paragraph, and you stumble across a unexpectingly beautiful sentence?  Here’s one of my favorite quotes, when Winston has an empiphany, in the final scene, as he’s being painfully tortured:

Perhaps one did not want to be loved as much as to be understood

I’m returning 1984 back to Billy, my book shelf, with plans on re-reading the book. It’s definitely worth a second read.