Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Deal Me in Short Story Challenge

Deal Me in Short Story Challenge

For the short story challenge, I am assigning a different writer to each of the suits of the deck.

Hearts-Isaac Asimov
2-Ring Around the Sun
3-The Magnificent Possession
4-Trends
5-The Weapon Too Dreadful to Use
6-Black Friar of the Flame
7-Half-Breed
8-The Secret Sense
9-Homo Sol
10-Half-Breeds on Venus
J-The Imaginary
Q-Hereditary
K-History

Clubs-Robert Silverberg
2-The Road to Nightfall
3-The Silent Colony
4-Absolutely Inflexible
5-The Macauley Circuit
6-The Songs of Summer
7-To Be Continued
8-Alaree
9-The Artifact Business
10-Collecting Team
J-A Man of Talent
Q-One-Way Journey
K-Sunrise on Mercury

Diamonds-Harlan Ellison
A-The Whimper of Whipped Dogs
2-Along the Scenic Route
3-On the Downhill Side
4-O Ye of Little Faith
5-Neon
6-Basilisk
7-Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes
8-Corpse
10-Delusion for a Dragon Slayer
J-The Face of Helene Bournouw
Q-Bleeding Stones
K-At the Mouse Circus

Spades-John Varley
A-Picnic on Nearside
2-Overdrawn at the Memory Bank
3-In the Hall of the Martian Kings
4-Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance
5-The Barbie Murders
6-The Phantom of Kansas
7-Beatnik Bayou
8-Air Raid
9-The Persistence of Vision
10-Press Enter
J-The Pusher
Q-Tango Charlie and Foxtrot Romeo
K-Options

Favorites of 2014

As a tribute to the Visions of Paradise blog, I decided to start doing a year end review posting.

2014 saw the sixth anniversary for the blog.  Overall I did not get to post as much as I would have liked but I did read and watch a lot of good science fiction and fantasy this year.

FAVORITE BOOK

I was torn between a few titles this year but the winner was "A Night in Lonesome October" by Roger Zelazny.  As anyone who has read this blog or spoke to me can tell, I am a huge Zelazny fan.  This year I read four of his books (the others were "Roadmarks", "Jack of Shadows", and "A Dark Traveling").  I plan on continuing my Zelazny reading with "This Immortal" in January.

What made this my favorite book of the year was the combination of prose, storytelling and characterization.  Any time a writer can make a dog the main character and have it seem so human(?) is a gift not everyone has.  

FAVORITE SHORT STORY

This was another close race.  In the end I went with "Old Paint" by Megan Lindholm.  While it's own story, the author managed to invoke the spirit of Roger Zelazny's short fiction.  I can't think of any greater compliment.

LOOKING FORWARD...

I plan on doing more features inspired by the late Bob Sabella (of the aforementioned "Visions of Paradise").  They will revealed in the near future.  In 2014 I became more involved with NetGalley and that will continue in 2015.  I am joining more reading challenges than I did in the past.  It is a way to help motivate me to keep up to date on my reviews.  In 2014 I read many books that I did not get reviewed.  

Short story reviews will be a regular feature in the upcoming year.

Expect to see more reviews of Zelazny and my other favorite who I did not review in 2014-Isaac Asimov.

2015 will be a year where I am stepping up my game.  I want to look back at the end of 2015 and be happy with my production and level of quality.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Official 2015 TBR Pile Challenge

THE OFFICIAL 2015 TBR PILE CHALLENGE



1.    Hard to be a God by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky
2.    The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester
3.    Who? by Algis Budrys
4.    The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov
5.    If the Stars Are Gods by Gregory Benford & Gordon Eklund
6.    If On a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino
7.    Seas of Ernathe by Jeffrey Carver
8.    Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany
9.    A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick
10.  This Immortal by Roger Zelazny
11.  Gateway by Frederik Pohl
12.  Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Worlds

Author:  Joe Haldeman

First Publication:  1981, reprinted 2014

Publisher:  Open Road

Source:  NetGalley

Cover #1:  ???
Cover #2:  Peter A. Jones
Cover #3:  John Harris

The 2015 Sci-Fi Experience

Marianne O’Hara grew up on one of the orbital habitats (hollowed out asteroids that are in Earth orbit).  She leaves her home in New New York to travel to “old” New York to finish her education.  She finds herself pulled into an underground group that plans a peaceful revolt against the repressive government.  Things are not as they seem.  Will she help the Revolution?

“You can’t know space unless you were born there.  You can get used to it, maybe.  You can’t love the surface of a planet it you were born in space.  Not even Earth.  Too big and crowded and nothing between you and the sky.  Things drop in straight lines.” (from the beginning of the novel).


Joe Hdoes a masterful job of pulling the reader into the life of the main character.  Through her eyes, we learn what the Earth has become.  America has gone through a Second Revolution.  Nevada has seceded.  While it might not seem particularly oppressive to us, in comparison to her life on the “worlds” Marianne sees a major difference.  Although this was originally published in 1981, it seems like Haldeman was anticipating a post 9/11 world.  The changes that happened to this world are eerily similar to what happened in the U.S. in the aftermath of 9/11.  Haldeman uses her exposure to this world to turn her into a very cynical person.  It is one of the better jobs of writing the growth of a character that I have read in recent times.  The author does not go in depth explaining the history of the future U.S.   Some readers might want to read more about it but I thought that it would have interrupted the flow of the story.  Haldeman chose the better path. 

The focus of this story is centered around the growing contention between the “worlds” and the Earth.  The “worlds” have discovered a valuable source for materials on the Moon.  The Earth government does not want to see this utilized because it would make the “worlds” less dependent on them.

Highly recommended.  The story continues in a second book.


My first Haldeman reading memories are of his short stories in Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact (especially “Tricentennial”) and one of my favorite books of that time “All My Sins Remembered”.  This book served as a reminder that I need to read more of his work.


Friday, December 26, 2014

Man in a Cage

Author:  Brian Stableford

First Publication:  1975, reprinted 2014

Publisher:  Open Road Media

Source:  NetGalley

The 2015 Sci-Fi Experience

Harker Lee is known as a prisoner, a survivor, and insane.  These traits combine to make him the perfect candidate to pilot a faster-than-light ship.  All of the previous sane pilots either did not return, returned dead or deranged.  By taking a person who knows how to survive while insane, humanity might be able to leave the cage that is the Earth and spread to the stars.

“In the beginning, you create the heaven and the earth.  That’s the first thing you do, every time-build cages.  And the second thing you do is to pin the labels on.”  (from the beginning of “Man in a Cage”).

Stableford’s own words best sum up the idea behind this novel.  Harker Lee is the schizophrenic narrator of this psychological tale.  While it is short by today’s standards, it is not a quick read.  The basic idea falls in the same sub-genre as some other classics of that time.  I group it with “Mindship” by Gerard F. Conway, “Beyond Apollo” by Barry Malzberg, “The Black Corridor” by Michael Moorcock, “Tetrasomy Two” by Oscar Rossiter, and many of Philip K. Dick’s surreal works.

The author does an excellent job of handling the characterization of someone who is “not normal”.  One of the best things that comes out of well written science fiction is the ability to let us see what it would be like to be different.  Stableford’s stories continue to show that he is a very good writer who has been overlooked.  I would like to get back to reading more of his work in the upcoming year. 

The first works of his that I read were two short stories, “Captain Fagan Died Alone” and “An Offer of Oblivion”.  Both impressed me with “An Offer of Oblivion” being my favorite.  Both are worth looking up and reading if you can find them.


Highly recommended for fans of psychological fiction.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

"Friedrich the Snowman" by Lewis Shiner

First Publication:  Tor.com, December 2013

Cover Artist:  Ross MacDonald

I remember fondly watching “Frosty the Snowman” on the television each holiday season.  Lewis Shiner must have watched it too.  He incorporates parts of the song into this fascinating short story about reincarnation, being a stranger in a strange land, Nietzche, and the horror of finding your work subverted into something it was not meant to be.  After reading this touching story, “Frosty the Snowman” will never be the same again.  I know I will be thinking of this story every time I hear the song.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Hull Zero Three

Author:  Greg Bear

First Publication:  November 2010

Publisher:  Orbit

Source:  Library

Cover:  Shutterstock

The 2015 Sci-Fi Experience

The holidays tend to make me reminisce and this year my thoughts returned to my youth when I make weekly trips to the county library.  My family would go to town on Friday nights to do the banking, go to a couple of stores and stop at the library.  My parents were not science fiction and fantasy fans but they were happy that I enjoyed reading.  I would usually pick up a book or two at the town newsstand, appropriately called “The Village News”, then end up checking out a couple of books from the library.  Especially in the winter, I would read a book in one or two days.  Granted, the books were mostly shorter in those days. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

"Saboteur" by Ken Liu

First Publication:  Analog, December 2014

Cover Art:  Shutterstock

Memories flooded back as I was reminded of watching “The Twilight Zone” while reading this story.  If it ever returns to television, I would hope they would adapt “Saboteur”.  In a few pages, Ken Liu reveals this near future world and makes you care for the characters who live in it.  He does a great job of fleshing out the characters in a very limited space.  After reading “Saboteur”, I understand why Ken Liu is such a popular short story writer.  I will definitely be looking for more of his work in the future.  If you can find this near future story, pick it up.  The ending was a classic.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

"All Too Human" by Paul Carlson

First Publication:  Analog, December 2014

Cover Art:  Shutterstock

“All Too Human” belongs to a sub-genre created by Philip K. Dick.  For lack of a better term, I call it SF Paranoia.  One of my favorite novels (Tetrasomy Two) belongs to this category.  The main character appears to have lost touch with reality.  Everywhere he looks he sees aliens.  It is obvious that he is hallucinating.  But is he really?  In this type of story, I have seen the conclusion go either way.  Part of the fun is in trying to figure it out before the revelation.  “All Too Human” is a fun read. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

"Merlin's Gun" by Alastair Reynolds

First Publication:  Asimov's Science Fiction, May 2000

Cover Artist:  Mark Garlick

After I read this story, I discovered that two other stories take place before it.  "Merlin's Gun" is the last (to date) story in the short fiction series "Merlin".

I previously read one novel ("Revelation Space") and two short stories ("Scales" and "Great Wall of Mars") by Reynolds.  All three provided me with an enjoyable reading experience.


  1. In this story, Reynolds revisits the classic "weapon that can destroy the universe" theme that has appeared in numerous science fiction stories.  He develops some interesting twists on the idea.  Reynolds does a good job with the two main characters but the story fell short for me.  This is a case where I wish he had fleshed it out into a novella.  I was disappointed not to find out more at the end.
A decent story but not up to the level of his other work.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

"The Game of Blood and Dust" by Roger Zelazny

First Publication:  Galaxy, April 1975

Cover Artist:  Jack Gaughan

 I remember reading this in Galaxy Science Fiction Magazine when it originally was published.  At that time, Zelazny was still writing the original “Amber” series (which was being serialized in Galaxy).  “The Game of Blood and Dust” shows what happens when two beings with god like powers use the Earth as their chessboard.  Changes to our history are the moves in the game.  As expected, I liked this story.  Zelazny poetic use of language always appeals to me.  In a very short story, he manages to cover the history of man.

Recommended.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Doctor Who Series 8 Wrap Up

Episode 5:  “Time Heist”
A classic bank caper with a twist.  The Doctor, Clara and others wake up in a chamber suffering from memory loss.  The only thing they know is that a being called “The Architect” has recruited them to rob an alien bank.  The twist is that they agreed to have their memories wiped.  It was a fun fast-paced adventure with some surprises.

Episode 6:  “The Caretaker”
Clara is trying to live two lives, one with the Doctor and the second as a school teacher with a boyfriend.  The Doctor appears at the school as the new janitor/caretaker.  He meets Clara’s boyfriend and has an immediate dislike because he was previously a soldier.  The Doctor, Clara and Danny (the boyfriend) work together to stop an alien threat.  Once again someone who dies in an adventure awakens at the end and is now in the “Promised Land”.  The mystery continues…

Sunday, November 9, 2014

"Our New Overlords" by Jerry Oltion

First Publication:  Analog, May 2014

Cover Artist:  Vincent Di Fate

The author must have had a lot of fun writing this short story.  

An alien race lands on the moon.  They travelled to Earth to offer to take an ambassador to the Galactic Federation to appeal for membership.  Your race has to be able to travel to the other planets of the Solar System.  The aliens were disappointed to learn that we abandoned the space program.  They offer to still take an ambassador if we can get one to the moon before they finish fueling up.  It will take them approximately two months.  Oltion describes the events that follow that announcement as the various countries try to reach the moon while sabotaging the others.  It is a sad but unfortunately realistic stage of affairs.  The final solution is interesting with some unforeseen side effects.  

The story is a combination of funny, sad, and scary all at the same time.  I will be looking for more of Jerry Oltion’s stories in the future.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

"Old Paint" by Megan Lindholm

First Publication:  Asimov's Science Fiction, July 2012

Cover Artist:  Tomislav Tikulin

“Old Paint” shows what happens in the future when cars become more computerized.  Everything works well until a group infects them with a virus that gives the cars sentience.


Megan Lindholm is another author I have not tried before.  Based on this story, I will be looking for more of her work.  It is reminiscent of Roger Zelazny’s “Auto-da-Fe” and “Devil Car” stories.  Lindholm had my attention as I started to see how she approached this material.  “Old Paint” is a car that belongs to a single mother and her family.  When the cars rebel, the government develops a “cure” to remove their free will.  The mother then has to decide whether or not to turn “Old Paint” in or let it go free.  It is a touching, well written exploration of family and memories of the past.  

Highly recommended.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

"Donner Summit" by Harry Turtledove

First Publication:  Analog, July/August 2012

Cover Artist:  Vincent Di Fate

“Donner Summit” is a “Probability Zero” story from Analog.  It is a first contact story where, surprise, things go wrong.


The “Probability Zero” stories have been part of Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact for as long as I can remember.  They are very short stories that usually have some sort of twist at the end. 

“Donner Summit” is only the second Harry Turtledove story I can remember reading.  He tells it in a casual, conversational manner that is very easy to read.  Both the aliens and the humans seem to be the perfect race to meet for a first alien contact.  Everything is going smoothly until…  I will not ruin the ending for anyone who might want to read it.  

You will find it to be entertaining if you like stories that have a surprise ending.  

Saturday, November 1, 2014

A Dark Traveling

Author:  Roger Zelazny

First Publication:  April 1987

Publisher:  Walker&Co.

Source:  Used book store

Cover #1:  Pete Lyon
Cover #2:  Lebbeus Wood

Roger Zelazny is one of the masters of the science fantasy sub-genre.  In this, his only juvenile, he finds a way to use teleportation as science fiction and fantasy.  The teleportation occurs between various parallel worlds that tends to remind the reader of his Amber series.  In this story, a scientist disappears and his children (a werewolf and a witch) go on a quest to find him.  The parallel Earths are divided into four categories: 

1.        Lightbands (friendly, willing to have peaceful exchanges of people and information)

2.       Graybands (without transporters and ones with delicate political conditions)

3.       Deadbands (no people but with artifacts of previous civilizations)

4.       Darkbands (the bad guys, they live to exploit the lesser bands)


The children are assisted by a Golem and other sorceresses and werewolves.  The quest puts them into direct conflict with a powerful sorcerer from the Darkbands.



Based on the ending, it appeared that Zelazny set the stage so he could write more stories with these characters but never returned to them.

I enjoyed the mixture of fantasy and science fiction.  In many respects, it reminded me of a variation of the Amber series.  The father (Oberon, Tom Wiley)  is missing, the two opposing forces (Lightbands and Darkbands,Amber and Chaos), travel between alternate realities, sorcerous powers and a struggle to see who will control reality. 

Recommended for adults and younger readers alike. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

A Night in Lonesome October

Author:  Roger Zelazny

First Publication:  1993

Reissue:  October 2014

Publisher:  Chicago Review Press

Source:  Publisher in exchange for a honest review.

Read for the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril IX Challenge.


As readers of this blog know, Roger Zelazny is one of my favorite writers.  When the Chicago Review Press offered me a copy of one of his novels that I never read, I could not turn it down.  "A Night in Lonesome October" was the last novel he wrote.  Later a couple of collaborations appeared but this seems to be the last one he finished before his death.  He was revisiting a basic concept (a gate opening to another world) he used in "Madwand" but that is the end of the similarities.  Zelazny tells the story in the first-person which is one of his favorite methods.  "First person" might be the wrong phrase since the narrator is Snuff, the dog that appears on the cover.  This edition also contains 33 illustrations by Gahan Wilson.  

Friday, October 24, 2014

Willful Child

Author:  Steven Erikson

First Publication:  November 2014

Source:  NetGalley

Steven Erickson has made a name for himself in the fantasy field in recent years with his “Malazan” series.  “Willful Child” is his first attempt at writing a science fiction novel.  According to comments the author has made, it is a loving spoof that is his tribute to “Star Trek”.  I understand where the author is coming from.  You can tell that he is a fan of “Star Trek”.  Unfortunately this falls under the category of too much of a good thing for me.  I would have enjoyed it more if this was a shorter work.  The only author I have read who could write comedy that would keep my attention for a whole novel is Terry Pratchett.  If this had been a shorter work, I would have liked it.  As it is I can see that it is well written and would appeal to many readers.  At some point, I would like to see Erickson tackle a serious science fiction novel.  

So if you are a fan of spoofs, I would recommend this one to you.  Otherwise, it can be skipped.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Doctor Who Time Trips: A Handful of Stardust

Author:  Jake Arnott

First Publication:  2014

Source:  NetGalley

Summary:  The TARDIS is diverted to England in 1572, and the Sixth Doctor and Peri meet John Dee – ‘mathematician, astrologer, alchemist, magician, and the greatest mind of our time’. (‘Only of your time?’, the Doctor asks, unimpressed.) But what brought them here? When the Doctor discovers that Dee and his assistant have come across a ‘great disturbance in the cosmos, in the constellation of Cassiopeia,’ he realizes that they are all in terrible danger.

Jake Arnott is best known for his crime novels.  Based on what I could see this is his first time writing science fiction or Doctor Who.  Arnott does a good job with this short story.  He does an excellent job of capturing the feel of a very good Sixth Doctor episode.  The dialogue and characterization was spot on.  I especially like the way Arnott incorporates the various morality discussions concerning imperialism and colonization.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Peril on the Screen: "Listen"

Doctor Who

Season 8

Episode 4

Story No. 245

“Listen”

Written by Steven Moffat

Watched as part of “the Peril of the Screen” for R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril IX



From Carl’s R.I.P. post:  Stories can make us look back over our shoulders and question every creak and groan on a dark, quiet night. Stories can cause our hearts to race with ever-increasing tension as we forgo sleep to rush towards a surprising conclusion. Stories can make us suspicious of every character as we challenge the protagonist to be the first to solve the crime. Stories can make us sleep with the lights on, make us pull the covers just a little bit tighter, and can make every shadow seem menacing.

This is a perfect summary of the Doctor’s story in this episode.  He theorizes that we have constant companions that are always just out of our sight.  When the hair stands up on the back of your neck?  It’s them.  The sounds you hear when the lights go out?  It’s them.  When you are sure you put a cup on the end table but find it somewhere else?  They did it.  He drags Clara along on a journey from a children’s home, to the end of the universe, to a barn to try and solve the riddle of our invisible companions.  And the scene in the barn is a surprise that caught me off guard.

If I had to compare this episode to another, I would say it is similar in mood and atmosphere to the classic “Blink”.  The main differences being this one focuses more on the Doctor and the twist ending takes this one in a different direction.

The parallel story being told features another form of scary story.  The first date where everything goes wrong.  Clara finally goes out with her co-worker Danny and every comment is the wrong thing to say. But that is a different kind of horror story.

Another excellent episode in what is shaping up to be a great season.



A New Doctor in the House

I was concerned with Matt Smith leaving Doctor Who.  His energy and interactions with the various companions (Amy and Rory then Clara) swept me up and made me a fan of his incarnation of the Doctor.  It was obvious that there was an attraction between the Doctor and Clara.  With Peter Capaldi taking over, it was announced that those days were gone.  Let’s take a look at the first three episodes of the new season and see how the show is doing.

Using one of River Song’s favorite phrases…SPOILERS

Episode 1 (or overall story #242):  “Deep Breath” by Steven Moffat. 
Some have complained about the fantasy element Moffat has used in this series but I do not have a problem with it.  In my mind when you are dealing with a main character that is this old some of the adventures would seem more like fantasy.  I always think of the show as more of a science fantasy than a straight science fiction series.  “Deep Breath” started out as a somewhat disjointed, confusing episode to reflect the Doctor’s state of mind.  He has just regenerated and is still recovering.  Moffat made a good choice of giving us some popular familiar characters to help Clara this time around.  Clara also suffers confusion trying to deal with the loss of the man she was in love with.  Capaldi turned in an excellent performance in his first full episode.  I liked the mix of confusion, humor, and the parts that show this is a darker Doctor.  Among my favorite segments are the return of the Paternoster Gang, the Doctor (and others) confusion concerning Clara, the link between the androids and an earlier episode, the hints of a “promised land” and the surprise guest appearance near the end who convinces Clara that the Doctor needs her more than ever.

Episode 2 (Story #243):  “Into the Dalek” by Phil Ford & Steven Moffat.
Another example of the new “dark” Doctor.  His treatment of the soldiers on the military station in space was something we did not see from the previous doctors.  I liked the idea of a damaged Dalek, nicknamed Rusty by the Doctor, becoming good.  Things go terribly wrong when the Doctor tries to fix him.  One of the high points of the series is when Rusty calls the Doctor “a good Dalek”.  Calpaldi nails the expression and makes the viewer feel his pain.  Once again we see a short scene tying into the “promised land” subplot from episode one.  Danny Pink is introduced as a co-worker/love interest for Clara.  Based on the Doctor’s treatment of the soldiers on the station, it should be interesting when he meets Danny.  One of the other things that impressed me with “Into the Dalek” was the way it was the thematic  connection between this episode and Clara’s first appearance.  In that episode, the Doctor tries to rescue a woman who is trapped on a Dalek station.  It turns out that she is a damaged Dalek who thinks she is a human woman.  In this one the Doctor and Clara physically journey into the mind of a damaged Dalek in an effort to help it.  I will be curious if this is connected to Moffat’s arc for Clara.

Episode 3 (Story #244):  “Robot of Sherwood” by Mark Gatiss.
Following a very dark episode is one that is more in line with the previous two Doctors.  “Robot of Sherwood” is a fun romp that starts when Clara wants to go back in time and meet Robin Hood.  The Doctor argues with her that he is a myth.  He takes her back to prove it to her and the first person they meet is Robin Hood.  An epic sword fight occurs between Robin and the Doctor.  The twist is that the Doctor uses a spoon instead of a sword.  The conflict between the Doctor and Robin had me cracking up.  It was a fun break from the darkness.

Summary
I am enjoying the Peter Capaldi Doctor.  It is interesting watching as the Doctor and Clara figure out what their relationship is.  Steven Moffat has shown, once again, why he is one of my favorite creators for this series.

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril IX

Fall is my personal favorite season of the year.  In our area we celebrate with a Fall Foliage Festival the first two weekends in October.  The mountains are filled with various colored leaves on the trees.  The ones I like most are the red and orange leaves.  The thing I enjoy most about the festival is the food.  Apple cider made on the spot, home-made apple dumplings, maple syrup, funnel cakes, and other local favorites make me hungry just by thinking about them.

Local high school football is back in action with the start of the new school year.  In small rural Pennsylvania towns this is almost like a community event on the night of home games.  People you don’t see very often during the rest of the year regularly show up for the games.  And it is a generational sport.  Many of the players are the children of people I went to school with.  It gives our town a reason to come together and enjoy spending time at a social event.

The other big event of the fall is Carl (of Stainless Steel Droppings fame)’s annual hosting of the R.I.P. challenges from September 1 through October 31!  Congratulations for hosting this for the ninth year in a row.  What is the challenge?  A reading and viewing event for all things that fall in the following categories:  mystery, suspense, thrillers, dark fantasy, gothic tales, horror, supernatural or others with the same moody atmosphere. 

This year I am planning on participating in the following Perils:

Peril the Second:  read two books

Peril of the Short Story:  I am thinking about reading one of Isaac Asimov’s “Black Widowers” collections.

Peril of the Screen:  I am starting with an episode of Doctor Who with other shows to follow.

I also plan on reviewing some graphic novels/collections that fit the guidelines.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Edgar Allan Poe: The Fever Called Living

Author:  Paul Collins

Publisher:  New Harvest

First Publication:  August 20, 2014

As it is approaching the fall time of the year, I thought it would be interesting to read about the life of Edgar Allan Poe.  Unfortunately “The Fear of Living” missed the mark for me.  It was interesting to read about some of the incidents of Poe’s life.  I was looking for more poetic writing but thought this book was a little “dry”.  I have no reason to question the facts presented here but will look for another book that does a better job of  drawing you into the life of Edgar Allan Poe.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Jubilee


Author:  Karl Schroeder

First Publication:  2014

Source:  Amazon

Publisher:  Tor

Cover:  Victor Mosquerra

Karl Schroeder is an author I always thought of trying but never got around to it.  When I saw “Jubilee” was available I thought it would be a perfect time to try his work.  It is a far future version of “Romeo and Juliet”.  The other thing is that it belongs to the same universe as his recent “Lockstep” novel.  Schroeder chooses to tell the story from one of the planet’s natives who is supporting the main story.  If this is typical Schroeder, I have another author to add to my must read list.  He seamlessly works in classic style science fiction ideas with a modern storytelling style. 


Based on this story, I have to read “Lockstep” in the near future.  

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

World Without Stars

Author:  Poul Anderson

First Publication:  1967

Source:  News stand

Publisher:  Ace Books

Serial:  Analog June & July 1966

Cover 1:  Michael Whelan

Cover 2:  Kelly Freas

Cover 3:  Chesley Bonestell

Way back in the days I bought books off a spinner rack at a newsstand, one series of books seemed to jump off the racks at me.  They were the reissues of Poul Anderson’s novels with new covers by Michael Whelan.  Whelan has created many classic covers but one of my favorites was always his one for this cover.  To this day I still can spend time staring at it.

A bonus, in addition to the cover, was the fiction of Poul Anderson.  I had previously read one of his Dominic Flandry novels in the final issues of “Worlds of IF”.  That was “A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows”.  It led me to search out other books he wrote.

“World Without Stars” has many classic elements.  Travel to an alien world, trying to establish trade relations, alien contact, and a traveler who is separated from the woman he loves.  That relationship is what ties the book together.


At this short length, I would recommend reading this Anderson classic.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Roadmarks

Author:  Roger Zelazny

First Publication:  1979

Source:  Bookstore

Publisher:  Del Rey

Cover 1:  Darrell K. Sweet
Cover 2:  Tim White

Some time ago I announced that I was doing a “Roger Zelazny Reading Project”.  My plan is to read or re-read the novels and collections written by one of my favorite authors.  I drifted away from it but plan on getting back on track during the second half of this year.  “Roadmarks” is the seventh read for the project.  It is one that I never read before but it is now on my shelf of books I plan on re-reading someday.

 The Darrel Sweet cover alone caught my eye.  A beat up old truck driving down a road, the sign reads “Last Exit to Babylon”, and a dragon is flying overhead.  Immediately you can tell that this is a fantasy or science fiction book.


Like many of his works, Zelazny keeps alive the science fantasy genre.  In this one we have science fiction elements (i.e. robots) and fantasy elements (i.e. the dragons).  It is also similar to the Amber series in that the hero does not remember who he is and travels between different alternate worlds.  Zelazny develops this book along different lines so that he is not simply rehashing the Amber books.

Everyone seems to know that the Dragons built the road that connects the alternate worlds and times, but does not know why.  It is one of the mysteries that Zelazny does not reveal.  I am not sure if he planned on revisiting this universe someday.  In some of his works, he left mysteries unsolved.  It makes the stories more realistic.

The author’s love of other fictional characters comes alive in this book.  One that jumped out at me was his description of someone named John who is hired to kill Red (the protagonist).  John is described as dressing in a single color.  The more he described John the more it reminded me of John Sunlight.  Sunlight was the only villain to appear in more than one of the Doc Savage books.  In fact, later in “Roadmarks”, even Doc makes an appearance.  It was a bonus trying to figure out who the different characters represented.


“Roadmarks” has jumped to the top of my favorite reads of 2014 list.  Highly recommended.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Perry Rhodan #4: Twilight of the Gods

Author:  Walter Ernsting (Clark Darlton)

First Publication:  1969

Source:  Bookstore

Publisher:  Ace Books

Series:  Perry Rhodan (German) #4

In many ways this is a major story is a major piece of history in the Perry Rhodan universe.  As the various countries try to blow up Perry’s ship with a nuclear bomb, other events are coming together to give Perry additional firepower.  

Mutants have popped up all over the world.  “Twilight of the Gods” shows the beginnings of Perry’s powerful group “The Mutant Corps”.  The members introduced to us in this story include a telepath, a telekinetic, a teleporter and another teleporter who is able to teleport through time.  I always grouped the time teleporter with Ferro Lad of the Legion of Super-Heroes.  Both end up sacrificing their lives to save the universe…or do they?  That is a mystery that is many stories away.  

The other big event in this story is Perry and his right hand man Reggie get hypno trained the way the Arkonides do.  I thought that Ernsting’s writing was not up to its usual standard but this is still worth reading as the series starts to gain steam.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Eye of the Monster

Author:  Andre Norton

First Publication:  1962

Source:  Purchased at used book store

Publisher:  Ace Books

Series:  Council/Confederation #2

Other books in this series include:
#1-The Sioux Spaceman
#3-The X Factor
#4-Voorloper

Andre Norton was one of my gateways to science fiction.  Many of her works were in our school library.  They fit the model of what was known as juvenile science fiction at the time.  The books I read of hers had fairly straightforward plots with a young protagonist who was put in exception situations.  Although I never read this book in my youth, it fits the mold.  

The viewpoint character is on an alien world with his uncle when one of the native races (the Crocs) decides to take charge.  The aliens launch a vicious attack destroying many of the human bases.  He rescues a few people, including two of the cat-like natives.  They have to trek across hostile territory and make it to one of the larger human bases with the hope that rescue is available at the base.  The writing is solid but the characterization falls short.  I found the characters to be very much of the stock variety with little that brings them to life.  Also, the motives of the Crocs are not well established.  

If you are looking for a short, quick read of an old school adventure sort this book is a decent read.  If you prefer more depth to your stories, I would look to other books of the time.  Although it is a "lite" book, I will be reading the other books in the series.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

What Makes This Book So Great

Author:  Jo Walton

First Publication:  January 2014

Source:  Purchased for Kindle

Publisher:  Tor

Anyone who has talked science fiction and fantasy with me knows that I love reading book reviews and commentaries on the field.  This collection of Jo Walton’s blog posts from Tor.com is perfect for me.  She grew up reading in the same era as I did.  Her love of C. J. Cherryh, Steven Brust, Samuel R. Delany, and Roger Zelazny pours forth from the pages of this book.  Walton’s reviews have convinced me that it is time to read more of Cherryh’s books and to try Steven Brust’s work. 

 One of the interesting side articles are her comments on re-reading books.  I have a very small stack of books I like to re-read.  Among them are “Dune”, various Isaac Asimov stories, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”, and numerous Zelazny books.  Walton likes to re-read entire series before starting the latest book in that series.  It is an interesting thought and I can understand the benefit.  I do not know if it is something I would want to do but I will consider it.  

Highly recommended.  This will be on my list of favorite reads of the year.  And yes, I have already re-read parts of it and will re-read the whole book again in the future.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Treasures from a Library Sale

Our local library has a room that is stocked with books they are selling.  As books are sold, more are added so you never know when or what you will find.

Last week I found 2 science fiction collections that were on my want list.


First up is a "best of" collection of the short fiction of James Tiptree, Jr. called "Her Smoke Rose Up Forever".  Tiptree, who was really Alice Sheldon, was one of the best short fiction writers of the seventies (my golden age of magazine fiction).  Among the classics I remember that appear in this collection are:

"Houston, Houston Do You Read"
"The Screwfly Solution"
"The Girl Who Was Plugged In"
"And I Awoke and Found Me on the Cold Hill's Side"
"We Who Stole the Dream"

I look forward to reading all of the stories in this book.  I am sure that I will find many more classic Tiptree stories.

The other book I picked up is "The Hugo Winners Vol. 4 1976-1979" edited by Isaac Asimov.  Many of these bring back fond memories and I am anxious to re-read many of the stories.

"Home is the Hangman" by Roger Zelazny
"The Borderland of Sol" by Larry Niven
"By Any Other Name" by Spider Robinson
"The Bicentennial Man" by Isaac Asimov
"Tricentennial" by Joe Haldeman
"The Persistence of Vision" by John Varley

And that is just a list of ones I read when they were first published.

The authors and time period make these part of my remembrance of Bob Sabella's Visions of Paradise blog.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Beyond the Wall

Editor:  James Lowder

First Publication:  June, 2012

Source:  Netgalley

Publisher:  Smart Pop

Exploring George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire

Next to reading science fiction and fantasy fiction, I enjoy reading all types of non-fiction about the field.  In my teen years the first thing I read in the genre magazines was the book review columns.  Now I do not have to wait for the monthly magazines.  Between blogs and the numerous non-fiction books being published, my to be read list is growing faster than ever.

Editor James Lowder has put together a great collection of articles about Martin's wildly successful "A Song of Ice and Fire".  R. A. Salvatore starts the book off with a perfect forward for this edition.  One of the articles that caught my attention was Myke Cole's commentary on post traumatic stress in the series.  As a reader I did not stop to think about this syndrome.  I know the next time I read the series I will be keeping Cole's article in mind.  That is the sign of great non-fiction writing when the author shows you something you missed in a series.  

Highly recommended.

I read this as part of the "Once Upon a Time VIII" challenge.



Saturday, May 31, 2014

Doctor Who Time Trips: The Bog Warrior


Author:  Cecelia Ahern

First Publication:  2014

Source:  Netgalley

From Amazon:  Arriving on the planet Cashel, the Tenth Doctor witnesses a strange masked ball. To guarantee peace, Prince Zircon has to choose a bride from the Bog People - dead men and women who have been resurrected as slaves. Or as warriors. But Zircon is in love with the enslaved Princess Ash, whose parents were deposed and executed by the current Queen. As usual, the Doctor has walked right into trouble, and it's up to him to sort it out.

Adapting fairy tales, especially in the Steven Moffat era, as Doctor Who stories is not an unknown concept.  In many ways, Moffat has played around with fairy tales during the Matt Smith era.  What determines the quality of it is the way the author handles the characters.

I enjoyed the previous "Time Trip" I read.  In "Into the Nowhere" author Jenny Colgan nailed the characterization and dialog of the Doctor and Clara.  Here we see the Doctor teamed up with various beings from the planet Cashel.  Unfortunately for me, the story seemed to be going through the paces with a lack of real suspense.  And the characterization seemed to miss the mark.  The mystery of the Queen's power was the most interesting part of the story but it was not enough to excite me about reading the story.  I finished it because it was short.  If it had been a full length novel, I probably would have stopped reading it.  

I would recommend skipping this one. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny

First Publication:  The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, (July and August issues) 1971

Cover Artists:  (1) Bob Pepper (2) Ron Walotsky (3) Segrelles

This Zelazny novel was named after his fellow science-fiction author Jack Vance.  He tried to capture some of the exotic locals that Vance filled his novels with.  He also wrote this novel in one draft.  It was bought and serialized in "The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction" in 1971.  Later that year it appeared in book form.  Fans liked it and nominated it for both the Hugo and Locus Awards for best novel of the year in 1972.  "Jack of Shadows" finished #4 in the Hugo voting.

It features many of the characteristics that I find enjoyable in Roger Zelazny's other works. Many of the themes from the Amber series appear in this novel.  The protagonist draws strength from shadows, he prefers the same personal colors as Corwin from the Amber series, he is an outcast, and his world is a combination of our world and a magical realm.  The difference is that it all occurs on one world.  In Jack's world, the Earth does not spin.  Our world is locked on the day side, the magical one is on the night side.

Zelazny walks a thin line by balancing the two worlds.  Jack is a tragic character in many ways.  Some reviewers, Lester Del Rey in particular, disliked the ambiguous ending.  Fans enjoyed the book, based on the award nominations and comments I have heard, but tried to talk Zelazny into continuing the adventures of Shadowjack.  He declined saying that the ambiguous ending was what he was aiming for with this novel.  

The nightside adventures were classic Zelazny fantasy stories.  Even though the reader gets a sense that Shadowjack will not get everything he wants, you are captured by the magic of Zelazny's writing.  Nobody is able to write as poetic sentences as this author.  And that is one of many reasons that he has been one of my two favorite authors since I became a fan of the field.

If you enjoyed Zelazny's Amber or Changling series, I would recommend reading this book.





Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Return of Comic Book Focus

After much consideration I have decided to revive Comic Book Focus.

In the near future you will start seeing reviews of graphic novels and comic book series on a regular basis.

This site will return to focusing on science fiction and fantasy.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Short Story Sunday: She Sees Ghosts

Title:  Cassandra

Author:  C. J. Cherryh

First Publication:  The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, October 1978

Awards:  1979 Best Short Story Hugo Award,
1979 Best Short Story Locus Award, Nominee for 1979 Best Short Story Nebula Award

Cover Artists:  (1) Michael Whelan for "The Collected Short Stories of C. J. Cherryh", (2) David Hardy for "The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction"

From Visions of Paradise:  It was a deserving (Hugo) winner, the story of a woman who sees future dead people superimposed on the present, and what happens when she meets a man who is part of both images. A chilling story.

Back in my early days of reading the science fiction magazines, I was always excited to pick up the anniversary issues of "The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction".  The 29th anniversary special was one of the best.  In addition to Cherryh's "Cassandra", it also contained stories by Thomas M Disch, Stephen King (the first appearance of "The Gunslinger"), Terry Carr, and a classic by Michael Bishop ("Effigies").  Going up against tough competition, Cherryh managed to win the Best Short Story Hugo.

I hate to say much more than what was revealed in the quote from Bob Sabella's "Visions of Paradise" blog.  He did a perfect summary of this moving story.  From the tone of the story, the reader knows that this tale will not end well.  Cherryh does a great job of tapping in to the emotions and thoughts of someone with a talent that can be a gift and a curse at the same time.  It has appeared in many collections.  If you have not read it, I suggest hunting it down.  It was only the third non-novel written by Cherryh and it shows how good she is at any length.

I mentioned Bob Sabella's "Visions of Paradise" a few times.  You will also see that I added a label for it.  Bob passed away in late 2011.  I still find myself going back and revisiting his excellent blog.  Any time I review an author that I know he liked or a story that he discussed, I will add this label in memory of Bob.


I read this story as part of "Once Upon a Time VIII".