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Escape into summer sci-fi

Summer is prime time for escapist fiction - but as long as you're escaping, why not head for some science, speculation and social commentary as well? Here are a few suggestions for sci-fi escapism in print and on TV:

  • Just last week, we talked about Britain's video surveillance system and the role such systems could play in combating terrorism. Of course, there's a flip side, in the form of a little thing called loss of privacy and freedom. John Twelve Hawks' "Fourth Realm" saga takes that issue head-on, proposing that throughout history, underground cells of mystics and martial-arts types have been doing battle with an Illuminati-style global conspiracy as it labors to build security-cams and computer databases into an all-seeing, all-knowing "Vast Machine." The first novel in Twelve Hawks' planned trilogy, "The Traveler," came out a couple of years ago, and I found it to be a thought-provoking page-turner. Kind of like "The Matrix" meets "The Da Vinci Code." So I'm passing the title along as this month's Cosmic Log Used-Book Club selection.
  • The trilogy's second novel, "The Dark River," went on sale this week, and if you blazed your way through "The Traveler," you'll want to pick this one up to keep the momentum going. The plot plays off pop-culture conceptions about altered states of consciousness as well as the biblical Ark of the Covenant. There's not a whole lot of real neuroscience or archaeology to the tale - but if you want to learn more about those subjects, you can refer to two recently published books: Douglas Hofstadter's long-awaited "I Am a Strange Loop," which delves into the roots of consciousness; and "From Eden to Exile," Eric H. Cline's concise roundup of biblical mysteries ranging from the location of the Garden of Eden to the fate of the Lost Tribes of Israel. It's the opposite of escapist literature: serious scholarship that adds weight to the flimsy foundations of Hollywood's far-out tales. (Yes, even "Raiders of the Lost Ark.")
  • Last weekend, admirers of the late sci-fi great Robert Heinlein marked what would have been his 100th birthday with reflections on his vision for space settlement and exploration - and speculations on how the next 100 years could bring that vision even closer to reality. If you're looking for great sci-fi escapes, Heinlein's works could be just the ticket. Two of his tales - "The Man Who Sold the Moon" and "Stranger in a Strange Land" - have ended up on the CLUB Club list. But let the reader beware: His works resonate with counterculture/libertarian themes that might set your brain working even though it's supposed to be on summer break.
  • Heinlein also plays a part in this summer's TV escapism. One of his short stories, "Jerry Was a Man," has been adapted for an episode in "Masters of Science Fiction," a summer series airing on ABC in August. This episode stars Malcolm McDowell and Anne Heche, and the casts for the other three teleplays are just as stellar. The series' host happens to be a star of a different sort: one of the world's most revered scientists, Cambridge cosmologist Stephen Hawking.

On that note, I think I'll escape for a few days myself and finish reading "The Dark River" as I sit in Seattle's bright summer sun. Do you have your own suggestions for summer sci-fi escapism? Leave your comments right here, and if your favorite becomes a future selection for the Cosmic Log Used-Book Club, I'll send you my copy of "The Dark River" - in the grandest tradition of the CLUB Club.

Regular postings to the Log will resume on Monday.