Monday, November 29, 2010

"The Night Has 999 Eyes" by Roger Zelazny

First Printing:  Double:  Bill, 1964

On the list of Roger Zelazny stories, this ranks near the bottom. The language is as excellent as a reader has come to expect from this author. Unfortunately the story itself reads like a fragment of another story that he started but didn't finish.  Since this appeared in a fanzine instead of a prozine, I guess the editors did not care for this story fragment.

If you have to read everything Roger Zelazny wrote (like me), pick it up and give it a try. It does not take long to read. If you are looking for good Zelazny short fiction, I would recommend looking elsewhere.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

"With Morning Comes Mistfall" by George R. R. Martin

First Printing:  Analog, May 1973

Sometimes, an author comes along who really connects with you. George R. R. Martin is one of those authors when he is writing short fiction. I have not read enough of his novels to see if this is true of them.

“With Morning Comes Mistfall” contains all of the traditional Martin tropes.
• A castle in an improbable place.
• An alien world with mysteries
• Mists, fog and other atmospheric conditions that help set the mood
• A character who does not belong in their world (similar to Roger Zelazny’s)

In this world, the mists fall in the morning and rise at dusk. So the world is either fogged in or dark. It makes it hard for explorers to map this world.  Various visitors have died in the valley. Rumor has it that they were killed by a mysterious native race. A group comes with the equipment needed to the mystery once and for all. Of course this upsets the owner/builder of the castle who gets most of its clients from people who want to see if they can spot the natives. Either way, this mystery will be solved. The owner laments that
humanity does not need to solve every mystery. The story is told from the point of view of a reporter who sympathizes with the owner.

Is it good to know the answer to every question? This is the main theme. When you read a story that is this good, it is easy to see the author’s point. It is a story that I will re-read in the future. This was my second time to read it.

In my opinion, I too felt sad at the end of this story. The universe is a sad place when the mystery is gone.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

"The Stainless Steel Leech" by Roger Zelazny

First Printing:  Amazing Stories, April 1963

From looking at this cover you would never know that it contains a Roger Zelazny story.  Later in his career they would put his name on it if he wrote a letter to the editor.  The reason for this was probably because it appeared under the pen name "Harrison Denmark".  His early stories for Amazing appeared under this name.  At the time, readers speculated that "Harrison Denmark" was really Harry Harrison who was living in Denmark at the time.  The name of this story added fuel to this rumor since Harrison was writing the "Stainless Steel Rat" stories.

Zelazny liked working in the science fantasy field.  In this story he combines the traditional end of humanity and robots who inherit our legacy with the fantasy element of vampires.  This is common for the author.  One example would be the combination of alternate worlds with magic in his Amber series.

The mixture works in this story.  The robots inheriting the world from humanity as been done before.  The twist with the vampires is what makes this story different.  When Zelazny does something like this, I don't find myself questioning him. He somehow makes it work.  Part of the success of this endeavor is the way he focus' on the loneliness and friendship experienced by a robot who is an outcast and a vampire who lives in a world where humanity has dies out.

This is another in the long line of recommended Zelazny short stories.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Final Circle of Paradise by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

Before I review this book, I should explain my reading habits.  Back in the early days of my science fiction and fantasy reading (around 1971), I would devour any book I got my hands on.  Granted back then the books were closer the novella length but I would read a 150 page book in 2 days maximum.  If a book did not appeal to me, I did not worry about it.  I would be moving on to another book shortly.  Eventually, I started to build my personnel collection through used book stores and trips to the local newsstand.  Thus my first to be read stack was built.  Then I reached a dilemma.  I wanted to read all of them at the same time.  My solution became reading multiple books at the same time.  I would break from reading novels when the new magazines arrived.  I regularly read Galaxy, Analog, F&SF, and Amazing.  Later, I would add that new magazine-Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine (and for a short time the Adventure magazine from Asimov’s) to my magazine stack.  So this normally amounted to reading 3 novels plus assorted magazines at the same time.  When a story started to loose my interest, I would put the book down and go to the next one.  At some point I would pick the book back up and finish it.  This has worked well for me.  Some people say they would be confused if they bounce between multiple books but I always thought of my reading habit as being similar to watching television or reading comic books.  I never had a problem keeping the characters and events straight with other media so why would I have a problem with reading books the same way.  Let’s be honest here.  How many people have followed Star Trek through all of the various incarnations?  Do the fans of the original series still recall the stories they watched in the 70s?

Flash forward to 2010.  I am now approaching the half century mark.  My reading habits still include reading about 3 books at the same time.  I still break for the new magazines when I pick them up.  My to be read stack has exploded over the years.  It is now around (I have not counted lately) 300 to 400 books.  New books are constantly trying to fight their way into my book cases.  Realistically speaking, I am never going to read all of the books I would like to.  If I stopped picking up new and used books, I could get caught up.  I don’t plan on that so I have one other alternative.  I am being more discriminating on what I am reading.  If I reach the third to half way point and a story has not caught my attention, I will stop reading it.  In some cases I might be missing out on a good ending but I think my reading time is better spent moving on to another book.

Now I finally get to “Final Circle of Paradise” by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky.  I remember seeing the DAW Books ads for various Strugatsky books.  Somehow, I never found them.  “Final Circle of Paradise” was the first one I found in a used book store.  Non-english science fiction has always fascinated me.  Based on what I have heard, the Strugatsky's are some of Russia's top sf authors.  The risk with translated novels is the quality of the translation.  Since I don't read Russian, I have to assume that the translator did a good job.

Unfortunately, this read as a very boring travelogue for the first half.  The protagonist wanders around the city.  That is the main plot of the first half.  He does not do anything except visit different parts of the city.  This can be alright if the environment is unique or fascinating.  This one is neither.  It ruined the story for me.  When I am a third of the way through a novel and it has done nothing to catch my attention, it rarely gets a good review.  Unless you are a have to read every Strugatsky novel, I would avoid this one.  I will not write them off based on this one book.  I think the next one I read by them will be "Roadside Picnic".  I have heard many good comments on it.