Sunday, September 6, 2015

Anthopology 101: Reflections, Inspection, and Dissections of SF Anthologies

Author:  Bud Webster

First Publication: August 2010

Publisher:  Merry Blacksmith Press

Source:  Kindle

Challenge:  42 Challenge 2015

I have always been a big fan of science fiction anthologies.  Among the ones I have read are Donald Wollheim and Terry Carr “World’s Best SF”, many of Groff Conklin’s classic collections, Roger Elwood’s “Continuum” series, and Roy Torgeson’s lesser known “Chrysalis”.  One look at my shelves show many rows of unread anthologies.  My Kindle contains all 18 volumes of David Hartwell’s “Year’s Best SF” and the last 3 of Gardner Dozois’ “The Year’s Best”.  I was counting down the days until volume 32 of Gardner’s series was released today.  One of my many goals is to start reading more anthologies.  Only time will tell if I am successful.

 That brings me to this book. Periodically, I enjoy reading a non-fiction book about science fiction.  When I saw this one I had to pick it up.  I bought and downloaded the Kindle and was hooked.  Bud Webster’s collection of essays he wrote about the history of the science fiction anthology was a fun trip through time to revisit favorites from my younger days.  The short articles made for great reading and filled me in on the history of some classics.  I hope that Webster will continue and write more along this line.

Highly recommended for fans who want to learn more about the subgenre.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Star Trek: The Original Series: Shadow of the Machine

Author:  Scott Harrison

First Publication:  March 2015

Publisher:  Pocket Books

Source:  NetGalley

Cover Artist:  ???

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One of my favorite Next Generation stories was the one that showed how Picard dealt with being turned against the Federation by the Borg.  It showed him returning to Earth and visiting his brother’s family.  Many times we see a big event but do not get to see how the characters deal with the repercussions.  “Shadow of the Machine” is done in a similar style.

The crew returns to Earth after the first movie encounter with V’Ger.  The Enterprise needs repairs and it is the perfect time for shore leave on the homeworld.  As Scott Harrison shows us, the crew is not perfect.  Take a look at how things go wrong for Sulu when he visits his daughter.  Kirk is hesitant about visiting his nephew (who is struggling with the death of his father).  I give Harrison high marks for capturing the voice and personality of the various characters.  While the stories are not a threat to the Federation, they are very important to the crew.  It is the personal stories he touches on that make this one of my favorite Trek books of recent years.  And the shorter length is perfect for this story.

I will be looking for more stories by Scott Harrison.  Highly recommended.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Slow Bullets

Author:  Alastair Reynolds

First Publication:  June 2015

Publisher:  Tachyon Publications

Source:  NetGalley

Cover Artist:  Thomas Canty

42 Challenge 2015

The author is one of my favorites of the “new space opera” movement.  His “Revelation Space” series is a favorite of many readers.  Which reminds me that I need to get back to reading it.  So far, I have only read the first book.  I have read a few of Reynolds’ short stories that were very good.  “Slow Bullets” is a novella published by Tachyon Press.  At 192 pages, it is more the length of many of the science fiction books I read in the seventies.  The novella is one of my favorite story lengths.  It has more meat to it than the short story but is not overly padded to reach the massive length of many of today’s novels. 

“Slow Bullets” features Scur from the “Revelation Space” series.  She is a soldier at the end of the war when she is captured by a sadistic enemy, injected with a slow bullet, and left to die.  The slow bullet was created as a futuristic dog tag that can be destroyed and kill the soldier.  Her enemy puts it on a path to slowly make its way to her brain and painfully kill her.  Scur wakes up on a spaceship and that is when this adventure begins.  Her tormentor is also on the ship which helps set the stage for the conflict.

Reynolds’ tells the story from Scur’s point of view.  The reader is not sure if she is a reliable narrator or not.  While not as good as “Great Wall of Mars” it is still a very good story.

Highly recommended.

Missing in Action

Yes, I have been missing in action.  Or, more appropriately, missing “in-action”.  Due to some health issues I have not been able to type, it has been a struggle being able to type enough to get through a work day.  Now, with physical therapy and medicine, I am getting back to being able to type some at night.  Hopefully I will be back to somewhat close to normal in the next couple of months.  On the bright side, I have been reading more than ever.  So you will start seeing reviews appear again.

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A picture of  the sound at Duck, North Carolina taken by my son Joel

Last week we spent at the Outer Banks in North Carolina.  It was a great time to unwind and rest while spending quality time with the family.  One of the afternoons, I caught the end of one of the original Star Trek movies.  This made me realize that I missed reading the original series books.  So it was off to the bookstore and I picked up three consecutive books from last year.  And once I finished two books that I was reading (reviews coming shortly), I started on the first of these called “Devil’s Bargain” (a Star Trek:  Original series book) by Tony Daniel.

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Very Best of Kate Elliot

Author:  Kate Elliot

First Publication:  February 2015

Publisher:  Tachyon Publications

Source:  NetGalley

Cover Artist:  Julie Dillon

42 Challenge 2015

I enjoy reading anthologies, fiction magazines, and single author collections.  Whenever I see a "Best of..." collection it is on my radar.  "Best of..."  collections are a great way to try out an author that I have not read before.  The first tme I heard of Kate Elliot, the pen name of Alis Rasmussen, was with the publication of her book "Jaran".  And yes "Jaran" and its sequels are now on my to be read stack.  

The fiction stories are very good.  I found them to be good character studies built around interesting plots.  The list of fantasy stories selected for this volume are:

The Queen's Garden
Leaf and Branch and Grass and Vine
Riding the Shore of the River of Death
The Gates of Joriun
Making the World Live Again
With God to Guard Her
A Simple Act of Kindness
To Be a Man
The Memory of Peace

My Voice is My Sword

Also included is a new story in her "Crossroads" series that is called "On the Dying Winds of the Old Year and the Birthing Winds of the New".

The stories are top rated but what caught my attention were the non-fiction essays.  Elliot does an excellent job of covering the role of women in fiction in addition to what it is like to write about fully realized females in a traditionally male dominated market.

And the cover by Julie Dillon is out of this world.  She is an amazing artist who needs more recognition in the field.

Highly recommended.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

"Someday" by Isaac Asimov

Magazine:  Infinity Science Fiction
First Publication:  1956
Cover Artist:  Ed Emsh

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First Line:  Niccolo Mazetti lay stomach down on the rug, chin buried  in the palm of one small hand, and listened to the Bard disconsolately.

Niccolo Mazetti has an old fashioned bard that he is ashamed of.  Old models tell variations of fairy tales and only have audio capabilities.  The new models incorporate video and use modern storytelling.  His friend is considered a higher intelligence and offers to do an upgrade on Niccolo's bard.  But the bard might be more than it appears to be.

"Someday" appears to reflect Asimov's thoughts concerning video media such as movies and television.  Radio might be more advanced than it is given credit.  Storytelling combined with your own imagination can make a story more spectacular than what is shown on a screen.  The combination of the twist at the end, the story taking place in basically one room, and a small cast would have made this a good candidate for a "Twilight Zone" episode.  

I highly recommend this story.  A great short tale by the "Good Doctor".

Side note:  Due to one small reference, this story is part of the Multivac universe where Asimov placed a lot of stories.  They dealt with a super computer that helped to run the world.

Other notable authors in this issue were Harlan Ellison, Damon Knight, Randall Garrett, and Robert Silverberg.  Ellison's story was part of his "Earth-Kyba War" series.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Man in the High Castle (Pilot Episode)

The Big Debate

Up until the time I left for college, I only had one friend who read science fiction and fantasy.  We drifted apart and do not stay in contact.  But in college I met, and eventually became a roommate with, my second science fiction and fantasy friend-Terry Kissinger.  We still talk and email on a regular basis.  Most years we meet up at conventions.   The first friend and I had similar tastes in authors.  We both liked Isaac Asimov.  To a lesser extent he also liked Roger Zelazny.  When I met Terry, in many ways I had found a kindred spirit.  In addition to those authors, his favorites were Frank Herbert and Philip K. Dick.  We spent many hours debating who was better.  We had similar debates in comic book authors.  I was a Marv Wolfman fan while he preferred Chris Claremont in the heyday of the X-Men and Teen Titans.  Our friendship is such that we both like all of the authors I named but we liked to debate which was the best.  During our debates, Terry introduced me to the work of PKD (Philip K. Dick).  In many respects, PKD is an amazing writer who seems more popular now than ever before.  Although I have read "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" three times and enjoyed it every time, I still have many of his novels to read.

A Short History

Despite having published 44 novels and roughly 121 short stories.  Unfortunately, for him, his stories did not start earning big money until after his death.  Since then 11 movies have appeared based on his work (Blade Runner, Total Recall, The Adjustment Bureau, Next, Paycheck, and others).  More are in the works included an Disney animated production of his short story "The King of the Elves", a live action adaptation of UBIK, and the television series I am getting around to discussing.

Through a Glass Darkly

Many moons ago, I remember being mesmerized by Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner".  It was a loose adaptation of "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?".  The stories were different but Scott gave us a great movie, in my opinion.  Skip ahead to 2010 when rumors came out that Ridley Scott was working on a BBC production of "The Man in the High Castle".  It ended up with Amazon's new production company as part of the 2015 Pilot Season.  The pilot debuted last week to very good reviews.

I watched it over the weekend and would love to see it become a series.  Scott is working with Frank (X-Files) Spotnitz.  Spotnitz wrote the pilot.  The basic idea of it being an alternate history where the Axis won World War II is still there.  Nazi Germany controls the eastern part of the United States, Japan the west coast, and a neutral zone is the buffer between them.  One of the main characters is given a copy of a news real film (the story takes place in the 60s).  The film shows our history.  Some in the story think it is a fantasy propaganda piece.  Others think differently and are willing to kill to get it.  

New York City in "The Man in the High Castle"
The pilot does a great job of establishing the characters while telling a compelling story that starts to reveal this world to us.  I recommend watching the pilot.  If, like me, you enjoy it you will be voting to continue the series.


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Thursday, January 15, 2015

"Shattered Like a Glass Goblin" by Harlan Ellison

First Publication:  1968
Cover Artist:  Paul Lehr

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First Line: "So it was there, eight months later, that Rudy found her; in that huge and ugly house off Western Avenue n Los Angeles;  living with them, all of them;  not just Jonah, but all of them."

"Shattered Like a Glass Goblin", on the surface, is about a man named Rudy who gets out of the army on a medical discharge.  He goes in search of the woman he is to marry.  Meanwhile, Kris has moved to a house filled with drugged out people.  Kris will not leave so Rudy joins the group.  The rest of the story graphically describes Rudy's descent.  Are the people strung out on drugs...or are they something else?

Monday, January 12, 2015

"The Callistan Menace" by Isaac Asimov

First Publication:  April 1940
Cover Artist:  Binder

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First Line:  "Damn Jupiter!" growled Ambrose Whitefield viciously, and I nodded agreement.

The Story Behind the Story

The first story written by the "Good Doctor" (Asimov's nickname) was named "Cosmic Corkscrew".  It was rejected, put in a drawer, and lost during one of the times he cleaned up his desk.  By the time it was rejected, he had already written a second story that he called "Stowaway".  He personally took the story to John W. Campbell's office on July 18, 1938.  According to his diary he received the rejection letter on July 22.  But something was different with this one.  " was he nicest possible rejection letter you could imagine."  Campbell told him that the idea was good and the plot was decent.  The dialog and handling were professional but it had an air of amateurishness.  Asimov was told that he just needed some more experience.  This fired up the author.  While "Astounding" was the king of the market, he decided to go to the next best markets ("Amazing Stories" and "Thrilling Wonder Stories").  It was promptly rejected.  Asimov had meanwhile moved on to writing a third story that would quickly go to publication.  The story received a couple of more rejections and it would have died except the science fiction magazine market experienced a boom time.  

New magazines started to appear.  One such magazine, "Astonishing Stories", was edited by a young 20 year old fan who happened to be a friend of Asimov's.  That young fan's name was Frederik Pohl.  On November 17, 1939 Pohl accepted "Stowaway" for the second issue.  Pohl was famous for changing names of stories so "Stowaway" became "The Callistan Menace".  Other famous authors who appeared in this issue are Clifford D. Simak and C. M. Kornbluth.

One of the main characters was named after Isaac's brother Stanley.

The Story

"The Callistan Menace" is a well told tale.  It has what is considered a staple of the field.  Multiple missions have been sent to Callisto.  None have returned.  The latest group is put together and are in transit when they discover a stowaway.  A young boy named Stanley hid on the ship so he could go on an adventure in space.  

The crew lands near one of the previous missions.  Exploratory missions are sent out and disaster strikes.  I don't want to spoil the story for anyone who wants to read "The Callistan Menace" so I will not reveal what happens.  All I will say is that the crew's salvation rests on the shoulders of the young stowaway.

I cannot argue with Campbell's assessment.  It is a professional story that seems to be missing something but is worth reading.  The easiest way to buy it is to pick up the collection "The Early Asimov, or, Eleven Years of Trying".  

If you are a fan of Asimov's work, I would definitely recommend hunting down a copy of this collection.  It is interesting to see him develop as a writer.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Walkers on the Sky

Richard Hescox
Author:  David J. Lake

First Publication:  December 1976

Publisher:  DAW Books

Source:  Used book store

Cover #1:  Richard Hescox
Cover #2:  Roy Ellsworth

Series:  Book 1 of the "Breakout" series.

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From the back cover:  
Sometimes the sky held only clouds, but at other times it could get quite busy.  It could be full of sailing ships or bands of mounted warriors or even single figures strolling carefully across the empty air.

From the viewpoint of those below they were either apparitions or gods, but in any case to be ignored.

From the viewpoint of the sky walkers, those below were neither phantoms nor gods, yet certainly always beneath their notice.

Both viewpoints were wrong.

Because the time had come when one of the sky walkers was going to do the incredible-fall through.  And when that happened, all hell was going to break loose.  And did!

It's not fantasy.  It's science fiction, and you never read another novel like it!

Why did I read this book?

I am a fan of the old DAW yellow spined books.  Donald Wollheim was one of the first editors I started following.  He seemed to find and publish many authors I enjoyed.  He was the first book publisher to print the works of C. J. Cherryh among many other favorites.

"Gorgon Planet" by Robert Silverberg

First Publication:  Nebula Science Fiction, February 1954
Cover Artist:  Bob Clothier

Second Publication:  Super Science Fiction, October 1958
Cover Artist:  Emsh

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First Line:  "Our troubles started the moment the stiffened corpse of Flaherty was found, standing frozen in a field half a kilometer from the ship."

"Gorgon Planet" was a typical story of the early 1950s.  An exploratory mission to another world brings about the mysterious death of one of the crewmen.  The rest of the crew has to solve the mystery.  

Would I recommend this story to other readers?  Without a doubt.  Why?  Because it holds a place in the history of the field.  "Gorgon Planet" was the first science fiction story by Robert Silverberg to be published.  As such, it holds an honored position in the history of the field.

The history of the story is interesting.  It was first accepted in 1953 by Harry Harrison (of the "Stainless Steel Rat" fame) for one of two magazines he was editing.  Both magazines ("Rocket Stories" and "Space Science Fiction") went out of business before Silverberg's story could be published.  Fortunately, a Scottish science fiction magazine edited by Peter Hamilton accepted it.  So Silverberg's first appearance in a science fiction magazine was delayed until the February 1954 edition of "Nebula Science Fiction".  In 1958 it was reprinted in the October 1958 issue of "Super Science Fiction".  The editor changed the title to "The Fight with the Gorgon".  In addition to it was another Silverberg story, a short story by A. Bertram Chandler, and the issue closed out with one by Harlan Ellison. 

Little did the editors know at that time that Robert Silverberg would become one of the top writers in the field.  Thankfully they recognized his talent and helped to launch a long career.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Happy Birthday, Isaak Yudovich Ozimov

Way back on January 2nd, 1920 one of my all time favorite writers was born in Russia.  Isaak Yudovich Ozimov's name was changed to Isaac Asimov when his family moved to the United States.  He went on to write hundreds of books and short stories.

Asimov wrote many classic stories that I either have read or will re-read many times during my lifetime.  Some of my favorites include the Foundation trilogy, the Robot books, the Galactic Empire books, "The Gods Themselves", "The End of Eternity" and many others.  This year, I am re-reading his early fiction that is collected in "The Early Asimov".  A great way to study the early years is to read the legendary "Before the Golden Age" collection.  Asimov weaves stories from his life around the reprints.

Imagine my surprise when it was announced that a new science fiction magazine was being named after him.  When the first issue hit the stands, it did not feature a spaceship or futuristic venue on the cover.  It featured many well known authors in the first issue but it ended up being a story by an unknown named Herb Boehm that is probably the best known from that issue.  "Air Raid" was nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula awards.  It turned out to be the work of John Varley who had another story in that issue.  It became a magazine that I would devour as each new issue appeared on the news stand.

In memory of this great author, I am reading the first story in "The Early Asimov" today-"The Callistan Menace".  I hope that you will take the time this year to read some of his works.