Alternate Presidents

A continuation of yesterday’s posting. The theme, tied in with a future posting, will not be alternate U.S. presidents but some more Mike Resnick edited anthologies from the 1990s.

This anthology is actually much better than Alternate Kennedys. The premise is simple: alternate victors in U.S. presidential elections.

Raw Feed (1993): Alternate Presidents, Mike Resnick, 1992.alternate-presidents-2

“Introduction: Playing the Game of What If?”, Mike Resnick — Standard introduction on how book was put together.

The Father of His Country”, Jody Lynn Nye — Not so great alternate history that has Benjamin Franklin as the first president and sort of an eighteenth century media whiz, due to his experience as author and printer, who appeals to the people frequently, making the presidency a more democratic, more modern (in the sense of being like us) institution much to the chagrin of vice president John Adams who likes the more aristocratic, more elite, less populist way of doing things.

The War of ‘07”, Jayge Carr — Tale of how the ambitious Aaron Burr became second president, maneuvers the British into a war in 1807, gives an impetus to David Bushnell’s proto-submarine technology to be developed into a weapon, and successfully founds a dynastic presidency (he marries Napoleon Bonaparte’s daughters and holds on to the presidency long enough to pass it to his beloved grandson, Aaron Burr Alston). While it’s arguable whether pushing submarine technology ahead of the speed it developed in our world is a good thing, other Burr actions seem definitely dangerous – a dynastic presidency – or failures (as compared to our time). In the latter case, it may only cost Thomas Jefferson three million dollars in our world to get the Louisiana Purchase. Burr spends two million on just West Florida and New Orleans. And there are the unexplored consequences of Napleon not being defeated (Wellington dies fighting Americans in Canada). Still, it’s an interesting notion and exploration of easily things could have went very differently in the first 50 years of American history.

Black Earth and Destiny”, Thomas A. Easton — Easton takes an uncommon tack in this story in two ways. First, the turning point of this alternate history is that Andrew Jackson is elected president in 1824. Not embittered by loosing to John Quincy Adams (after striking a deal with Henry Clay even though Jackson beat both in electoral and popular votes) as he did in our history, Jackson thinks of the future. Under the influence of a rumor (I have no idea if this really was a rumor of the time. I’ve only heard reference to it in the song “The Battle of New Orleans”) that the British fired cannonballs from alligators’ mouths in the Battle of New Orleans, he invests in Mendelian engineering which seems to be genetic engineering affected by bacteria “juices”. I liked this alternate scientific history postulated by biologist Easton. The second unusual thing is that in this world, as he did in ours, Carver goes off to Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee University – just as he did in ours (the destiny of the title). Although, in this world, he will presumably do more than just think up new uses for non-cotton crops (as he did in our world) since he has “Mendelian engineering” to work with. Continue reading

Alternate Kennedys

No, I am not doing a tie in to the upcoming U.S. presidential elections.

This will be a set up for a future posting.

Raw Feed (1992): Alternate Kennedys, ed. Mike Resnick, 1992.alternate-kennedys-2

“Introduction”, Mike Resnick — Goes into the myth of the Kennedys and some interesting facts about them: the Kennedy daughters, JFK’s son who died, Bobby Kennedy’s wiretappings, Joe Kennedy Sr’s disgrace as Ambassador to the Court of St. James, the valid contention that the Kennedys were the last politicians (except Ted Kennedy — and even he tries) to control the press.

A Fleeting Wisp of Glory”, Laura Resnick — An amusing and grim post-holocaust fable where the Kennedy Camelot and the Arthurian Camelot are being strangely mingled into a legend that explains the poor state of a post-atomic war future yet gives hope to the survivors by reminding them the world wasn’t always so bad.

In the Stone House”, Barry N. Malzberg — Generally I haven’t liked Malzberg’s stories. But he’s done some good work with the alternate president idea. His “Kingfish” in Mike Resnick’s Alternate Presidents was good and this story is too. I don’t know if Malzberg tapped into some conspiracy theories which have the Kennedy family behind the assassination of JFK (I’ve just seen such publications sold but have never read them), but I liked the bizarre notion of ex-president Joe Kennedy, Sr gunning for his president brother JFK. One can argue with the plausibility of an ex-President with Secret Service protection being able to plan the assassination of another president, but the story seems very realistic from a psychological standpoint. I don’t know how closely Joe Kennedy, Sr.’s actions, attitudes, and motives match the same man in our history, but he seemed a plausible mixture of man obsessed with slights to his family and Irish heritage, a man driven to make his sons presidents, and a domineering, inconsiderate, bullying father. Joe Kennedy, Jr. and his relationship to his father seemed quite believable. Junior goes along with all his father’s requests. He sometimes resents his father’s demands but always complies, seldom rebels. JFK is the rebel, the man who breaks free of his father’s psychological grip to destroy the latter’s plan. And, as Junior realizes, there is ambiguity in his assassination of JFK. It may be to please his father, punish JFK’s betrayal. Or it may be to punish his father by killing his president son. There is something to remark on in this story, common to a lot of alternate history story. Authors seem to feel it necessary (perhaps as an inside joke, perhaps just to provide a reference for the reader) to put alternate historical events in places famous in our time. For example, why have Joe Jr kill JFK in Dallas at the Texas Book Depository? Is it really credible to believe that events would have worked out so neatly in another world, that JFK wouldn’t have been a better target (or Joe Jr. had a better opportunity) somewhere else? I think the obvious answer is no, but the ploy is used in alternate history stories for historical reference and irony and reader identification.

The Kennedy Enterprise”, David Gerrold — A funny story of JFK and Bobby Kennedy in Hollywood and an alternate history of Star Trek or, rather Star Track and those associated with it. We also get alternate versions of some famous movies. Some of the better bits: Harlan Ellison as a laidback, compliant (hardly a word associated with Ellison) writer for Star Track; Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner fired from Star Track and replaced by JFK (and other changes are made to the show which make it like Star Trek: The Next Generation; JFK as a bad actor (who never meets Marilyn Monroe). I also liked the irritable, conversational style of this piece. Continue reading

The Thyme Fiend

full_thymefiend

Review: The Thyme Fiend, Jeffrey Ford, 2015.

Fourteen year old Emmett Wallace has a problem after spending the hot, dry days of August biking the roads of rural Ohio in 1915.

He needs thyme tea to keep nightmares away at night.

And, after exploring an abandoned farm and finding a body in a well, he’s going to need it to keep the daymares away too. The sight of the skeletal Jimmy Tooth haunts him.

Despite Emmett’s age, the rural setting, and a hot summer in the early years of the 20th century, Ford isn’t doing another Ray Bradbury takeoff.

That cover image is a striking one. Nascent love shows up, and the climax is unexpected and … lacking a complete explanation as to how a certain character gets from point A to point B.

The residents of Threadwell, Ohio are well drawn.

The story even takes a stab at the old problem of many horror stories that reviewer Ed Bryant once noted: exactly how all this is going to be explained to the authorities at story’s end. (And sometimes that explanation would be a better story.)

A well done modern weird tale.

If you don’t want to read it online, you can buy it from Amazon like I did.

 

(All right. Maybe I just like skeleton stories.)

 

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

 

Before … 12:01 … and After

We’re back to the Fedogan & Bremer series.

Raw Feed (2005): Before … 12:01 … and After, Richard A. Lupoff, 1996.before-1201

Foreword: About Dick Lupoff“, Robert Silverberg — Silverberg talks about how singularly unlucky his friend Lupoff is in his relationships with publishers; several of them collapsed right after or right before publishing work they bought from Lupoff. Silverberg also disputes the notion that Lupoff, known for his many pastiches, is a “hitchhiker on the creativity of other and greater artists”. His pastiches are, he says, complex experiments and his non-pastiche is greatly varied in style and theme.

“Introduction: How I Learned to Read” — Lupoff provides an autobiographical account of his life with accounts of his days writing for radio, in the US Army, working as a technical writer in the computer industry, a fan magazine writer and publisher (with his wife), and an account of his fiction career.

Mr. Greene and the Monster” — Lupoff’s earliest story that he has record of. It’s a slight tale of a part-time sf writer being transported back into a simpler, pulpier time more in keeping with his style. He sells a story to one “Hugo Burnsback”. The story ends with the story disappearing from the magazine it is to be in. Probably more of an ironic joke than a rumination on temporal censorship. Continue reading

“The Autobiography of J.G.B.”

I came across one more J. G. Ballard item in my archives.

Raw Feed (2009): “The Autobiography of J.G.B.”, J. G. Ballard, 2009.autobiography-of-jgb

A sort of combination of a Ballard story and autobiography. In something out of one of his stories, the protagonist, B, wakes up to find everyone gone. Leaving his Shepperton home (where Ballard lived), B roams as far south as Brighton and Dover and eventually goes to France. He finds nothing, stockpiles food, guns, and gasoline and proceeds to get down to his work uninterrupted.

 

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

A Night Without Stars

Yes, it’s something new. There’s been some thick books read around here lately.

This one came from Amazon Vine.

Frankly, the review was banged out quickly. There’s some additional thoughts and observations with spoilers at the end.

Review: A Night Without Stars, Peter F. Hamilton, 2016.night-without-stars

It’s a night without stars on the planet Bienvenido because it’s far from the rest of galaxy, so far that the only sun in the sky is the one its planets revolve around.

It’s a solar system inhabited by members of the races doomed unsuitable for communion with the aliens that created the Void, that vast bubble of altered timeflow and physics busted up by industrialist Nigel Sheldon at the end of The Abyss Beyond Dreams.

Don’t worry if you’ve forgotten all you’ve read in Hamilton’s other Commonwealth novels or never read any at all.

Hamilton quickly brings up you to speed. In the first 41 pages, we get reacquainted with dictator Slvasta, obsessed with ridding Bienvenido of the Faller menace — nasty, irredeemable aliens who digest and mimic (except for the blue blood) a planet’s lifeforms. Except Bienvenido has discovered it’s sharing the solar system with an even nastier alien menace, the Prime from Pandora’s Star and Judas Unchained. Laura Brandt, from Abyss, dies yet again.

And we’re off to the usual compelling Hamilton mix of detectives, spies, revolutionaries, fanatics, astronauts, politicians, nasty aliens and naïve young people thrown in the mix. Masks will drop, factions will plot, alliances will melt away and reform. (The sex in this one is actually fairly low key and short.) Continue reading

Shadows Over Innsmouth

One of the many books I’ve read and hope to review shortly is Darrell Schweitzer’s collection Awaiting Strange Gods from Fedogan & Bremer.

I haven’t done any weird fiction postings lately, so I thought I would post what little I have on other books from that publisher.

They’re relatively easy to come by in my part of the world since I have access to two specialty bookstores, Uncle Hugo’s and Dreamhaven Books, and Fedogan & Bremer started out in Minneapolis. These days it’s headquartered in Nampa, Idaho, but one of the shareholders still lives around the Twin Cities and keeps the above stores stocked with them — and genially urges the titles on me when I run into him in those stores.

Raw Feed (2004): Shadows Over Innsmouth, ed. Stephen Jones, 1994.shadows-over-innsmouth 

“Introduction: Spawn of the Deep Ones”, Stephen Jones — Brief history of the story that is at the center of this accretion of tales: H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”. I was surprised that, unlike most of Lovecraft’s famous tales, it was not first published in Weird Tales, but in a small (only 150 were ever actually printed though 400 were planned) hardcover published by Lovecraft’s friend Frank Utpatel. It’s now highly collectible. The story did finally show up in Weird Tales but only in the January 1942 issue, some five years after Lovecraft’s death.

The Shadow Over Innsmouth“, H. P. Lovecraft — This is either the second or third time I’ve read this, one of my favorite Lovecraft stories. This time I noticed a couple of new things. First, it is interesting that this story, perhaps even more than Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, is an example of the passive, scholarly hero. There is action here when the narrator flees Innsmouth and when he reveals to the authorities what he has seen, but the main horrors of the town are revealed by others: a railroad agent in Newburyport, a young man from outside of Innsmouth working at a national chain’s grocery story there, and Zadok Allen, a 90 year old man who remembers the beginnings of the horror in Innsmouth. It is their dialogue, rather than any efforts on the part of the narrator — who is, after all, just passing through the town — that reveal details of the horror’s past and present. Rather than histories and diaries like in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, this story’s revelations are through history but oral history. The narrator’s moonlit glimpse of the shambling horrors that threaten man’s existence is just a confirmation of what he’s been told. The second thing I noticed is the details of Lovecraft’s visions. We usually think — because of his characteristic adjectives and habit of having heroes (this story is no exception) faint or go mad at the moment of ultimate revelation — of Lovecraft as a vague writer. Here his descriptions of Innsmouth are rather detailed. After reading Tim Powers say he carefully generated his plots and outlines using techniques developed by Lovecraft, I wonder if he actually drew up a map of Innsmouth. (I didn’t pay close enough attention to know if the narrator’s journey makes sense and is consistent.) I did see remnants of the Old Ones’ magic that Brian Lumley uses in his Cthulhu tales in the magic the Kanakys’ neighbors use. The story, written in 1931, strikes a modern note with its opening talking about massive government raids, and secret internments in “concentration camps” (not yet a consistently pejorative term — for that matter, a magic symbol of the Old Ones is described as resembling a swastika) as well as the “complaints from many liberal organisations” about those internments. In some ways, this is the archetypal Lovecraft tale: an alien race threatening man’s existence, miscegenation, possible madness, and a hero discovering his tainted blood. I thought the moment of supreme horror was Allen saying: “Haow’d ye like to be livin’ in a taown like this, with everything a-rottin’ an’ a-dyin’, an’ boarded-up monsters crawlin’ an’ bleatin’ an’ barkin’ an’ hoppin’ araoun’ black cellars an’ attics every way ye turn? Hey? Haow’d ye like to hear the haowlin’ night arter night from the churches an’ Order o’ Dagon Hall, an’ know what’s doin’ part o’ the haowlin?” Continue reading

Lost Continents & the Hollow Earth

The Hollow Earth series concludes with a retro review from August 21, 2011.

Review: Lost Continents & the Hollow Earth: I Remember Lemuria & the Shaver Mystery, Richard Shaver and David Hatcher Childress, 1988.lost-continents

Ever since I heard about the Shaver Mysteries in The Visual Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, I’ve wanted to read them. Deranged robots, “deros”, hanging around in Earth’s caverns using degenerate tech from an old civilization to corrupt a modern world? Sign me up!

Well, the experience of actually reading two of Richard Shaver’s “true” accounts of life in the past proved less exciting.

The dullness of most of “I Remember Lemuria” — seemingly, according to Childress’ rather sketchy details in his accompanying essay “The Shaver Mystery“, a 1948 book reprint of the first Shaver story “I Remember Lemuria!” from the March 1945 issue of Amazing Stories — reminds me of the typical utopian novel. Our narrator, one Mutan Mion, who inscribed his stories on metal plates for Richard Shaver to find, is a not very talented artist sent to Tean City for better education. Mutan is an ordinary man living in Sub-Atlan which is in the hollow earth beneath Atlantis. There he not only meets the love of his life, the “variform” Arl of purple fur, a tail, and cloven hoofs, but encounters an atmosphere of paranoia and fear as one of the Titans – humans unpoisoned by the sun and who continually grow in body and brain, wisdom and intelligence, throughout their life – is killed and another hints at a plot to overthrow the government. (Shaver ignores most of the consequences of this biological peculiarity of continual growth, but he does note that this world’s buildings have no roofs.) Continue reading

The Hollow Earth

Obviously, the Hollow Earth series is continuing.

Raw Feed (2005): The Hollow Earth: The Narrative of Mason Algiers Reynolds of Virginia, Rudy Rucker, 1990.hollow-earth 

I didn’t care for this novel very much.

First off, I’ve never been keen on the lost race/primitive alien culture story which is what you get when the narrator and Edgar Allan Poe reach the Hollow Earth.

Second, I was bored by all the details of that Hollow Earth. I didn’t even bother to follow all the details of the central Anomaly and Mirror Earths. Rucker’s afterword says it is a description of an Einstein-Rosen bridge which is also mentioned in Rucker’s non-fiction The Fourth Dimension.

The only thing I really liked about the book was its description of the alternate Poe as a con-artist and counterfeiter and how bits of Poe and his language (particularly “Berenice” and The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym) are worked in to Rucker’s story.

 

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

Reviews of Poe-related material is indexed at the Poe page.