First to Fight

Continue reading “First to Fight”

Ice Reich

As I said in my review of Available Dark, I don’t read a lot of straight up mysteries and suspense novels these days. (Though, when I was young, I read almost all the Alastair Maclean oeuvre.)

However, I did read one in January 2001 and reviewed it.

I understand Mr. Dietrich has won a Pulitzer and has gone on to great success with his Ethan Gage series — which looks interesting but opportunity costs make it unlikely I’ll ever read them.

Review: Ice Reich, William Dietrich, 1998.Ice Reich

I wanted to like this novel. I wanted a lurid tale of Nazis in the Antarctica, up to no good with a super weapon or maybe establishing the beginnings of that secret base that, according to an old Police Gazette issue, Hitler fled to after the war. When I found out that Dietrich grafted a fictional plot on to the actual 1938 Nazi expedition to the frozen continent, I was fine with that too. I always wondered what they were up to down there.

Bush pilot Owen Hart takes up a Nazi offer to return to Antarctica, site of a former expedition whose failure some blame him for. Ambitious Nazi Jurgen Drexler has talked the Nazi hierarchy into leading an expedition south to stake Third Reich claims in the Antarctic and research the feasibility of whaling there, whale oil being a strategic war material. In December 1938, the expedition departs. Besides the usual support types of sailors and pilots, the expedition includes Drexler, Hart, a sinister Nazi doctor, some SS alpine troops for muscle, and one Greta Heinz, “polar biologist”. Heinz’s possesses questionable qualifications. She’s Drexler’s girlfriend, not a noted scientist.

The book starts slow. Things don’t start to take off until over a hundred pages into the book with a violent encounter between the Nazis, bent on asserting their territorial claims in southern waters, and a Norwegian whaling vessel. Crippled in the encounter, the ship limps into the bay of an island where the grisly effects of a new plague organism are on display. Continue reading “Ice Reich”

No Truce with Kings and Ship of Shadows

Ship of Shadows

Given the recent interest in my Fritz Leiber reviews, I decided I’d post my last retro review for Leiber: “Ship of Shadows”, the flipside of Poul Anderson’s “No Truce with King” in one of those Tor Doubles from the 1980s.

There’s still a lot of Leiber I haven’t read yet.

From September 12, 2010 …

Review: No Truce with Kings/Ship of Shadows, Poul Anderson/Fritz Leiber, 1989.

Two classic works that have stood up well.

Anderson’s tale follows Colonel Mackenzie of the Army of the Pacific States of America as civil war breaks out in the wake of the president usurping power. Decades after a nuclear war, the inheritors of the United States of America – rather like the European kingdoms after Rome’s fall – are feudal, vie for power, and hope to recapture the technological and, perhaps, political glories of the past. Anderson’s knowledge of history was deep, and he frequently mined it for plots. Here elements of the Middle Ages, the Rennaissance, and many a civil war show up. But, with the Espers, a religion that promises the development of man’s latent psychic powers, something new in human history may have been brought into the mix. Hints may be found in the source of the title – Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The Old Issue“.

Pastoral, tragic, fast-moving, it’s Anderson at his very best.

Leiber’s story is something markedly different. (Though, for those looking for the hidden meanings behind the pairings in the Tor Doubles, I could suggest that Leiber and Anderson were friends, these were both Hugo winning stories, and both deal – on varying scales – with political struggles.)

The setting is a spaceship; Spar, the protagonist, is just a man who wants some teeth and better eyes. Old Doc says he may be able to use some old technology to give those to him. But then Spar gets involved with Crown, the local gangster. Oh, and people keep disappearing – maybe due to vampires.

With the surprise ending, the unconventional hero, and the story’s lowlife, spacefaring setting, this story is still fresh and different. Its brand of future sleaze, space travel, and odd argot reminded me somewhat of Leiber’s “Gonna Roll the Bones” from the same period.

Recommended for Leiber fans and those who like generation starship tales.


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

Available Dark

As I’ve briefly argued before, reviewers of all sorts generally like to pretend that they are always clear-headed, wide awake, and undistracted when reading the stuff they’re reviewing.

So, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ll say that I read the first two installments in the Cass Neary series over a couple of days while hanging out at the in-laws and going to a wedding.

Having finished Generation Loss about midnight and being out of town, I didn’t head over to Uncle Edgars or the library to get the sequel. I went the instant gratification route and bought the Kindle edition off Amazon and finished that one quickly too. (The third in the series, Hard Light, is set to come out next year, and Hand has said she plans a fourth and, maybe, a fifth novel.)

Now, I don’t know how either stacks up to modern crime fiction. My relation to crime fiction is about the same as most people’s relation to science fiction: I only know what I see in the movies.

And, while I’m at it, I suppose I should admit I have a fondness for cold settings and a fascination with the landscape and geology of Iceland – though, alas, my only exposure to the country is a few hours spent in the Keflavik airport.

Review: Available Dark, Elizabeth Hand, 2012.Available Dark

This is, except in its villain, is a more satisfying novel than its predecessor, Generation Loss.

There are more bodies, a trail of them across the northern lands of Finland and Iceland, as Cass Neary, leaving her New York City home before Maine law enforcement can question her more closely about events in the earlier novel, accepts a dodgy commission by a sinister Norwegian nightclub owner. He wants some “esoteric” photographic prints authenticated. They turn out to be beautifully composed crime scene photos, the secret, early art of a now famous fashion photographer.

There’s more weirdness as Cass seems, as the novel progresses, to be more than just an “amoral speedfreak crankhead kleptomaniac murderous rage-filled alcoholic bisexual heavily-tattooed” photographer of the damaged, dead, and dying. She has a wyrd and a purpose. Continue reading “Available Dark”

The Great War: Breakthroughs

No, it’s not Hew Strachan continuing his mammoth World War One history.

It’s an alternate history — which doesn’t usually get included in my World War One in Fantastic Fiction series.

I’m not even sure why I’m bothering to post this retro review from January 7, 2001. It’s a book in the middle of a long Harry Turtledove series. I did not write proper reviews of all of them.

But when has that stopped me before?

And I am presumably off working on new stuff.

You can get a briefing on the series at the Harry Turtledove Website run by Steven H. Silver.

Having read a lot more World War One history since I wrote this review, I would no longer say tanks were the sole factor in ending the stalemate on the Western Front.

Review: The Great War: Breakthroughs, Harry Turtledove, 2000.

BreakthroughsWith the third book in the Great War series, Turtledove brings his alternate WWI, if not the series, to a close.

There’s nothing really startling here as far as alternate depictions of military technology or history. The peace treaty imposed on the Confederacy is obviously modelled on the Treaty of Versailles — and has an even greater potential for cheating. Politically, of course, a victorious Germany on the Continent has profound implications for the future. As in our history, armored breakthroughs end the stalemate of trench warfare. Here the idea comes from an unlikely source: George Armstrong Custer, whose single notable quality, for good or ill, is aggressiveness. A noted variation from our timeline is an earlier linkage of air power with naval power.

But the real attraction of the book is to find out what happens to the characters we’ve followed in earlier books. Some benefit in unexpected ways from war. Some suffer. And some don’t survive the war. Some carry on the fight after the armistice, and others begin to prepare for what they believe will be another war between the United States and the Confederacy.

The most interesting development is that one embittered Confederate veteran seems on his way to becoming a Hitlerian figure in the series’ future.


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

Stealing Other People’s Homework: Fritz Leiber, the Vituperative Review

Just because I can — and because I thought my regular readers might be interested, I’m starting a new, occasional feature: Stealing Other People’s Homework.

That’s a fancy name for links you might be interested in (and I may still need to read carefully.)

First up, Teller of Weird Tales has a multipart series about Fritz Leiber’s part in developing the modern weird tale.

Second, should we book bloggers rediscover the art of literary “slashing“?

Non-Stop, or Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

While I’m off …. let’s pretend I’m off reading, researching, and writing up new content, here’s another retro review.

This one has been mentioned more than once here, so you might as well see the original.

From January 6, 2001 …

Review: Non-Stop, Brian Aldiss, 1958.Non-Stop

Written as response to Robert A. Heinlein’s Orphans of the Sky, a novel he felt lacking in emotion, Aldiss’ novel is a classic generation starship tale.

The idea that their universe is the inside of a giant spaceship is known but derided in the Greene tribe. They’re a barbarous lot. They destroy books whenever they find them. The Teaching, a Freudian inspired religion with its talk of id and ego, values full and immediate expression of fear and anger lest the repression of those emotions curdle into neurosis. A nomadic lot, they seal off the hallway they live in, moving the barricades when they exhaust the “ponics”, plants that abound in the ship’s corridors. Their power stems from a cache of weapons found two generations ago. Continue reading “Non-Stop, or Adventures in Reviewer Parallax”

Generation Loss

Inspired by a recent Elizabeth Hand interview, I went out and read her Cass Neary mysteries.

I was hoping for mysteries with weird elements, strange cults, and the occult.

And that’s exactly what I got. So, if your tastes run to that kind of thing, I highly recommend both.

I’ll first post reviews of Generation Loss and Available Dark and then do a follow up post for both books because there’s lots to talk about for those who don’t mind spoilers. [Update: I’ve changed my mind on this and will, I hope, being doing an essay for Innsmouth Free Press on some aspects of these novels. The piece is now up at Innsmouth Free Press.]

Review: Generation Loss, Elizabeth Hand, 2007.Generation Loss 2

Say you’re a late 40s burnout, burdened by few ethics and no plans, with no lovers or friends, working a dead end job, fueled by drugs and petty theft.

Your one great talent is sensing the damage in others and devouring its final results, with your ancient Konica camera, like a crow eating road kill. The results were the pictures in the suitably titled Dead Girls, the book the briefly made you famous decades ago.

Then fate – or something just as sinister – gives you a chance to make some cash and meet an old idol, the reclusive photographer Aphrodite Kamestos.

So Hand sends her hero, Cass Neary, in the early years of our new century, off to a Maine in the beginnings of winter and already beset by economic depression and the decidedly mixed benefits of being discovered by rich outsiders.

Against a backdrop of meth heads and posters for missing people, she’ll meet the natives, the ones who still have some hopes of escape and the ones who have given up, and the transplants, mostly the remnants, like Aphrodite, of Oakwind, a failed 1970s commune.

Cass’ voice is distinctive, nihilistic yet capriciously caring, a pilgrim seeking the beautiful in bleakness and death. She’s the acquaintance or relative you don’t mind hearing from on occasion – as long as you can view the chaos of their life from afar.

And Cass goes, on that Maine coast and on its islands, from being a tagalong historian of death to its companion as she meets the very damaged survivors of Oakwind.

The end may seem a trifle too hopeful, the resolution a bit, as Hand slyly notes, Thomas Harris-ish, but the trip is bracing as an arctic gust. Hand shows, in her descriptions of junk palaces, abandoned statuary, and various photographs, that she’s good enough to need way less than the proverbial 1,000 words to equal a picture.

And who knew Mircea Eliade’s The Sacred and the Profane could be used so well in a thriller?


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

Orphans of the Sky, or Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

And even more Heinlein.

A retro review from December 19, 2000.

Review: Orphans of the Sky, Robert A. Heinlein, 1963.

Orphans of the SkyThis may not be the first generation starship tale, but it’s probably the first where the passengers have forgotten that they’re in a ship and that its corridors and rooms are not the universe.

This novel combines the story of Galileo with political intrigue and military conquest, all aboard a starship that has lapsed into feudalism after a mutiny in the crew long ago. After the mutiny, people forgot not only their mission to travel to Far Centaurus but that there was a universe outside the ship’s hull. Books are still around, but physics and astronomy are treated like elaborate allegories by the “scientists” and not realities. Barbaric muties roam the upper decks, and cannibalism is not unknown, infanticide a common practice.

Scientist novitiate Hugh Hoyland plays the Galileo role. He is captured by two-headed mutant Joe-Jim and, when he’s not playing checkers with either of the twins, has the run of their library and the benefit of their intellects. It’s from that unlikely source that Hoyland learns the truth about the ship and the world outside.

And he begins to form a plan to complete the mission.

First published in 1941 as two short stories, “Universe” and “Common Sense”, this story still entertains with its heroism, intrigue, and action. They are, chronologically, also the last short stories in Heinlein’s Future History.

There are additional thoughts on the book over at Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations.


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

Skye Object 3270a

This was one of the first review copies I got through LibraryThing, and the first time I read Linda Nagata.

I was impressed, and this is not the last time you’ll see me reviewing her work.

Incidentally, she has a complete trilogy coming out in the next few months.

A retro review from April 9, 2012 …

Review: Skye Object 3270a, Linda Nagata, 2011.

In this young adult novel, fourteen year old heroine Skye Object 3270a (the awkward moniker refers to the astronomical designation given to the drifting lifeboat she was discovered in) is found to have “puzzle pieces” in her blood, building blocks for a plague that could wipe out Silk, her home in space. SkyeObject_ebook_600x800

While Skye’s blood contains a potentially lethal infection, Nagata’s story has spliced, into the usual literary base pairs of the juvenile, aka young adult, sf story, a more benign packet of information: a collection of memes designed to rewrite the tastes of young readers.

I refer to the usual formulaic elements of the young adult story. There is the group of teens, sometimes cunning and sometimes rather clueless in the operation of the physical and social worlds: Skye, orphan and wild girl who has spent a lot of time under the surveillance of cute companion/robot/pet/city-designated overseer Ord and who lives with the city’s oldest citizen; her friend Zia, slightly older than Skye with parents who grow the octopoid lydras, creatures genetically engineered for construction work in the hard vacuum in space; the boisterous Buyu, would-be planetary explorer and victim of unrequited interest in Skye; Devi, a sixteen year old suffering from an overprotective mother who has cloned him from a brother dead far in the past. It will come as no surprise that young romance crops up between Devi and Skye. Adults are, of course, rather clueless to the threat to Silk.

You will note, I didn’t say these are clichés. I am not a fan of the young adult stories or, generally, stories with young protagonists, but I liked this story. I found the teen characters realistic and not annoyingly plucky or unrealistically competent. Continue reading “Skye Object 3270a”