A Book of Horrors

Just finished listening to the most recent episode of the Coode Street Podcast.

Much more interesting than their usual talk about awards. It featured a interview with Elizabeth Hand about her most recent book, Wylding Hall, the influence of Arthur Machen on her and many other writers, and her interest in depicting artists and the numinous in her work.

It’s just possible I’ll give her Cassandra Neary mysteries a try since it sounds like the series will start to involve matters of the arcane, occult, and ancient sort as it progresses.

My exposure to Hand is pretty perfunctory. I found her “Chip Crockett’s Christmas Carol” pleasant enough, but, not having any childhood memories of a beloved children’s tv show, there was nothing in my background for it to resonate with.

I was unaware, until I looked at her Internet Speculative Fiction database entry, how much critical work she had done since I’m not a regular reader of the Washington Post or The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

The only other fiction I’ve read by her is “Near Zemnor” … and that’s why you get a retro review, from September 18, 2012, of the book it appeared in.

Review: A Book of Horrors, ed. Stephen Jones, 2012.

Book of HorrorsYou can ignore the short introduction which claims this anthology is out to reclaim the label “horror” for scary stories. Not all the stories here are scary. Some aren’t even dark fantasy. And some left me somewhat unsatisfied.

But they all kept me interested. Continue reading “A Book of Horrors”


Another retro review, this time from October 2, 2000.

It’s certainly the most realistic depiction of nanotechnology I’ve seen in science fiction, but then, as McCarthy’s biography on the old Sci Fiction site used to say, “Yes, he is a rocket scientist.”

Review: Bloom, Wil McCarthy, 1998.

Sometime in the mid-twenty-first century, a nanotechnology accident of unknown origin devours Earth and then the moon. The end result, the Mycosystem, is a growing rot feeding on any organic and inorganic material it encounters. Like its fungal namesake, it spreads by spores.Bloom

Riding on the solar wind, these spores cause “blooms” when they enter the human habitats inside Ganymede, Callisto and assorted asteroids. For twenty years, man has survived by developing elaborate “immune systems” to fight the blooms. However, recent blooms show an alarming sophistication and ability to skirt these countermeasures. Armored against “technogenic life”, the spaceship Louis Pasteur departs for the depths of the Mycosystem, Earth and Mars. Its mission is to determine whether the Mycosystem has developed the ability to inhabit new niches in the Solar System. Continue reading “Bloom”

Science Fictional Olympics

Another retro review and, oddly, a relatively popular one.

This one is from September 24, 2000.

My older, wiser self would no longer say 1984 was “the height of the Cold War”. Better candidates would be the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 or 1983 when Yuri Andropov almost nuked us because of, among other things, activity in meat packing plants.

And wrestling promoters did start their own football league — the short-lived XFL.

Review: Science Fictional Olympics: Asimov’s Wonderful Worlds of Science Fiction #2: , eds. Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg, and Charles Waugh, 1984.

Olympic contests between the Soviet bloc and America were often exploited for propaganda purposes, the outcome of an athletic event supposedly saying something significant about the victor’s country. This 1984 anthology, from the height of the Cold War, has several stories built around that notion.Science Fictional Olympics

Tom Sullivan’s “The Mickey Mouse Olympics” and Nicholas V. Yermakov’s “A Glint of Gold” both feature Soviet and American Olympic athletes genetically modified for their events. Sullivan plays the notion for genuine laughs. Yermakov’s story is much more serious and shows the price the competitors pay as propaganda pawns. He also works in a defection subplot. Continue reading “Science Fictional Olympics”

A Thought for My Fellow Book Bloggers

In looking at the latest New York Review of Science Fiction, I see an article by Gregory Benford on “The State of Magazines, 2014”.

David Hartwell is quoted:

The bottom line is that there are literally thousands of published but less than truly excellent fantasy and sf writers now (never mind the self-published) who are desperate not to be judged in comparison with others, especially older and established writers. We all know that is scary. So they deny the existence of any rules, any boundaries, so they cannot be judged. My only answer is, judge them anyway.

Beyond the Doors of Death

I’ve reviewed Robert Silverberg’s “Born with the Dead” before, so I’m going to concentrate on Broderick’s continuation of the story.

Beyond the Doors of DeathThis isn’t the first time Robert Silverberg has been involved in one of these modern projects where a contemporary practicing writer expands or continues a classic work. He expanded three stories of Isaac Asimov into novels: Nightfall (1990), The Positronic Man (1992), and The Ugly Little Boy (1992). In 1989, he wrote “In Another Country“, sequel to C. L. Moore’s “Vintage Season”. (The 1990s saw several of these pairings including ones by Gregory Benford with Arthur C. Clarke and Harry Turtledove with L. Sprague de Camp.)

As far as I know, this is the first time Silverberg gets to play the role of master with his work setting the tone and standard for an “apprentice”.

I know little about Broderick’s work except for The White Abacus which I liked — but then I would be predisposed to liking a pairing of Jacobean drama and science fiction. He seems equally at home with general literature and science fiction, and, as a futurist, conversant with some cutting edge speculations of science and technology. He’s even written what looks to be a cautious argument for the existence of psychic powers.

He also seems, based on his review of Patrick Nielsen Hayden and David Hartwell’s Twenty-First Century Science Fiction, firmly enthused about future technology and thinks science fiction exists to be a vaccine for future shock.

Review: Beyond the Doors of Death, Robert Silverberg and Damien Broderick, 2013.

Robert Silverberg’s “Born with the Dead”, written in 1974, is a justly celebrated classic of science fiction. In a near future where the dead are “rekindled” and form a separate society of their own, a man obsessively seeks to understand and know his dead wife’s new existence. An icy parable of such precisely controlled tone and so lacking in rationalizing technology or science babble that it has as much the flavor of a weird story as of science fiction.

It has been widely anthologized, and the first half of Silverberg’s introduction to this book is taken from the story’s appearance in The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Volume 4: Trips. The second half talks about how Damien Broderick’s sequel, “Quicken”, came to be written. Silverberg made only three alterations in his story. Apropos to updating a 40 year old story, he changed two dates from 1993 to 2033 and the name of an airline.

Broderick picks up the story of the newly dead Jorge Klein. He becomes sort of an apostle of the Dead to the world of the warms as tension mounts. The dead, rich, freakish, and seemingly true immortals are resented and feared and fetishized. Continue reading “Beyond the Doors of Death”

Disaster in Korea

In honor of Memorial Day, here’s a retro review from February 3, 2001.

My father-in-law served in this war though the events covered in this book took place before he got there.

Review: Disaster in Korea: The Chinese Confront MacArthur, Roy E. Appleman, 1989.Disaster in Korea

Roy Appleman started working on this book when he was a combat historian in the US Army during the Korean War and continued into the 80s. By examining military records and interviewing many of the participants at all levels, he brings a great deal of detail to bear on a narrow focus: the experiences of the United States Eighth Army (with attached Turkish, British, and South Korean units) in the Korean War from November 24th, 1950 to December 26th,1950.

That detail can be mindnumbing at times, especially for a life-long civilian like me. A large portion of this book is taken up with such details as when x platoon detached from Company Y to occupy Hill Z. Appleman tries to be as clear as possible and substitutes organizing his history around units for a straight chronological telling of events. On occasion, he stops to remind us what is happening elsewhere simultaneous to the events he is covering or backtracks to place things in context. There are plenty of maps, many of them detailed, but the book could have used even more.

The book doesn’t start to get really interesting until about half way through when Appleman takes up the harrowing retreat of the 2nd Infantry Division from Kunu-ri. This account, even more than the rest of the book, is drawn from post-combat interviews since most of the official records were lost. It tells of an approximately six mile retreat, done by some units at night in subzero temperatures, down a narrow road while under enemy fire from both sides. It is an example of confused command, bad coordination between units, and courage and cowardice. Continue reading “Disaster in Korea”

Forever Free

This retro review of the very disappointing sequel to Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War is from September 19, 2000.

Review: Forever Free, Joe Haldeman, 1999.

Forever FreeIt’s been twenty-some years since the last survivors of the Forever War set up home on Middle Finger which serves as sort of a genetic preserve run by the smug and superior clone groupmind known as Man. William Mandella, wife Marygay, and many of the other old veterans are getting tired of their relatively primitive life on that planet. And they find Man disconcertingly alien and fear that the clones will someday decide to rid themselves of their inferiors. They hatch a plan to fly a starship fast enough to take advantage of relativistic effects and return to Middle Finger 40,000 years in its future. A future where they hope Man will be absent or have evolved to the point of leaving them alone.

Tauran representatives and Man put obstacles in their way, but old human cunning wins out, and they embark for the future. But things are just getting under way when very odd things began to happen. Antimatter begins inexplicably disappearing from their ship. And even odder things have happened to the people back on Middle Finger and Earth . . . Continue reading “Forever Free”

Dealing in Futures

Another retro-review (with no Nazis), this time from September 18, 2000.

Review: Dealing in Futures, Joe Haldeman, 1985.

Haldeman’s second short story collection has not only science fiction but also horror, poetry, and Haldeman’s only sword-and-sorcery tale.Dealing in Futures

It starts off strong with two stories set in Haldeman’s Confederacion universe, most notably used in his novel All My Sins Remembered. A team of anthropologists are unpleasantly surprised when their seemingly peaceful alien subjects become murderous. Haldeman constructs a grim, suspenseful story from the first person narratives of people fleeing for their lives across an alien world. Much less serious is “A !Tangled Web” about linguistic and cultural confusions during a trade negotiation with aliens. These aliens have an elaborate and hilarious repertoire of self-deprecating phrases.

Haldeman’s prose often has wit and irony in even his most serious novels but that aspect of his work really livens up “Seven and the Stars” despite its worn plot of a science fiction writer meeting a real alien.

Horror of the traditional and supernatural sort is featured in “Manifest Destiny”, an interesting tale mostly set in Mexico during the Mexican-American War, and “Lindsay and the Red City Cross”. The latter is set in the unpleasant, sinister bazaar of Djemaa El Fna in Marrakesh. The story was inspired by an unpleasant trip Haldeman took to Morocco though his luck there was obviously better than his protagonist. Continue reading “Dealing in Futures”

Finches of Mars

I don’t hate Brian Aldiss. In fact, he was one of the people who brought me to science fiction.

When I was a teenager, the high school library had a conveniently walled off collection of science fiction. In it were some of the volumes of the Best SF: series Aldiss co-edited with Harry Harrison. They led me to a lot of new writers — even if I didn’t like or even understand all the stories.

And I liked his Billion Year Spree and all those anthologies he edited, especially Galactic Empires volumes one and two.

I’ve even liked about half the novels of his I’ve read — though the key there is read.

Well, I did … until White Mars and this one. Now that ratio is certainly skewed.

Because I had to write it quick for Amazon, you get my first swing at Finches of Mars.

The methodical beatdown of it and White Mars comes later.

Review: Finches of Mars, Brian W. Aldiss, 2015.

The only good thing you can say about this novel is that it’s better than White Mars. Essentially, this is a rewriting of that 1999 utopian novel co-written with Sir Roger Penrose.Finches of Mars

This may be advertised as an environmental dystopian novel with Earth a mess from war, global warming, bee colony collapse, overpopulation, environmental disaster, antibiotic resistant bacteria, and ignorance. Humanity’s colony on Mars, improbably run and sponsored by a consortium of universities, the United Universities, may be threatened by women being unable to give birth.

This, though, is ultimately a utopian novel. The Martian colony is about Mankind Achieving a Renewed Society. Continue reading “Finches of Mars”

The Proteus Operation

Yes, it’s more Nazis.

It wasn’t planned that way. It’s just the way it happened.

A retro review from September 12, 2000 …

Review: The Proteus Operation, James P. Hogan, 1985.

Financed by a rich oligarchy losing their power and influence in a prosperous and peaceful 21st century, Project Overlord decides to create a world more to its liking. A world in the past, a world where Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party are more than just obscure players in German political history.The Proteus Operation

They succeed, and the novel opens in 1974 with an America grimly preparing to fight the final battle against the Nazi menace which spans the globe. The Proteus team — commandos, physicists, and politicians from that doomed world — travels back to 1939. There they will attempt to reshape history with political manipulation and atomic weapons.

Hogan not only does a nice job of building an alternate timeline which diverges from ours in 1930’s Germany, but he also details the history of Nazi aggression in our world and constructs, through the Proteus team’s efforts, a secret history of our timeline. Or is it? Hogan, establishing the mutability of history, keeps the reader guessing as to the outcome of what seems to be our past. Continue reading “The Proteus Operation”