The Ganymede Club

More Charles Sheffield.

Another retro review.

This time from September 22, 2003 …

Review: The Ganymede Club, Charles Sheffield, 1995.Ganymede Club

It’s five years after the Great War that killed nine billion people in the Solar System, but violence hasn’t ceased. It’s just returned to the traditional forms of individual murder for profit and paranoia
.
The targets in question are haldane Lola Belman, a therapist trained in the aracana of the mathematical underpinnings of the brain, psychotropic drugs, and medicine, and her patient who seems to be suffering a severe bout of false memories.

Unlike its prequel Cold As Ice, there are not a lot of neat scientific concepts here. The plot is not driven by scientific exploration and corporate and political intrigue but mostly by the suspense of the characters trying to figure out things the reader knows already, specifically who’s trying to kill them and why. And those characters are generally a more interesting lot than those in the earlier novel. The only overlap in the cast is with the best character: the Bat, an obese and extremely private genius who delights in solving all sorts of puzzles from scheduling conflicts in the spaceship transportation network to murder. Here we see him twenty years earlier in his career.

Essentially, if you like a good, suspenseful science fiction tale with a bit of hard science, this novel is for you. Sheffield has created, in these books, a universe of adventure, discovery, and intrigue about 90 years in the future. Each stands alone, and the books can be read in any order.

 

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

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The Road to Science Fiction, Volume 5

I strongly recommend James Gunn’s six volume The Road to Science Fiction anthology series as a good look at the history of Anglophone science fiction. In the sixth volume, foreign language science fiction is covered.

However, I only reviewed this volume.

A retro review from September 2, 2003.

Review: The Road to Science Fiction, Volume 5: The British Way, ed. James Gunn, 1998.Road to Science Fiction

Several novels are excerpted here. And one prominent one isn’t: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein which Gunn argues is a transition from the gothic but not yet fully in the camp of self-aware science fiction. Lt. Col. Sir George Tomkyns Chesney’s The Battle of Dorking is the first of those future war novels written by politicians and military men determined to influence public policy. Edwin A. Abbott’s Flatland, still in print, is a charming tale of life and culture in a two-dimensional world. That incomparable giant of science fiction, Olaf Stapledon, is represented by a selection from Star Maker, narrated by a “cosmical mind” who views the life of the universe. (Though oddly, in this volume, Gunn barely mentions his importance to the genre. For that, you must consult volume two.) The title for the section on Richard Jeffries After London; Or, Wild England is “The Craving for Catastrophe”. It is a pastoral tale of a simpler life after an unexplained disaster has befallen the country.

That craving shows up in several more tales. Killer smog hits the city in Robert Barr’s 1892 story “The Doom of London.” “The Great Fog” of H. F. Heard wipes out worldwide civilization. Life gets extinguished on an alien planet in Arthur C. Clarke’s much anthologized “The Star.” “The Nature of the Catastrophe” in Michael Moorcock’s story of that name is never really explained. An amalgam of newspaper excerpts and fiction, this story unfortunately shares the oblique prose and loose setting of his Jerry Cornelius novels. Not readable in its own right, it still gives you some idea of Moorcock’s influence on the New Wave. Tanith Lee’s “Written in Water” is a last woman on Earth tale. The world that may be destroyed by an artist in J. D. Beresford “A Negligible Experiment” is our own. The disaster of John Wyndham’s “The Emptiness of Space” is a personal one. Its hero has survived a spell in cryonic suspension and fears his soul has left his body.

As you would expect, the anthology is full of several famous names. Continue reading “The Road to Science Fiction, Volume 5”

Year’s Best SF 3

I’ve read and liked most of David Hartewell’s Year’s Best SF (which is no longer published) but reviewed few of them.

Here’s one.  A retro review from July 28, 2003 …

Review: Year’s Best SF, ed. David G. Hartwell, 1998.Year's Best SF 3

The one piece of dross comes from an unexpected source: William Gibson and his story “Thirteen Views of a Cardboard City“. It’s a minute, camera-eye examination of a cardboard structure in a Tokyo subway and obviously inspired by J.G. Ballard’s work. I detected no point to the series of descriptions, or, indeed, anything of a fantastical or science fictional nature.

Nancy Kress’ “Always True to Thee, in My Fashion” gives us a witty satire with a world where the seasonal variations of fashion cover not only clothes but also your pharmaceutically modulated attitudes.. The caged dinosaur of Gene Wolfe’s “Petting Zoo” represents not only the lost childhood of the story’s protagonist but a vitality lost from the race of man. Tom Cool gives us “Universal Emulators” with its future of economic hypercompetition that has created a black market for those who impersonate, in every way, the few employed professionals. In effect, the emulators grant them an extra set of hands. Its plot and characters would have done Roger Zelazny proud.

The voice of past science fiction writers echoes through many of the anthology’s best stories. Jack London’s The Sea Wolf provides the inspiration for Michael Swanwick’s “The Wisdom of Old Earth“. Its heroine realizes, despite whatever dangers she overcomes guiding posthumans through the Pennsylvania’s jungles, she will never bootstrap herself into being their equal. H.G. Wells looms over Robert Silverberg’s “Beauty in the Night“. Its child hero undertakes the first successful assassination of the brutal aliens that have occupied Earth, but his reasons have more to do with his oppressive father rather than the aliens’ behavior. John C. Wright’s “Guest Law” is a welcome return to the flashy decadence of Cordwainer Smith’s fiction. Its hero, a slave-engineer, watches in disgust as his aristocratic overlords corrupt the customary requirements of hospitality to justify piracy in deep space. Gregory Benford’s “The Voice” responds to Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Here the convenience of implanted intelligent agents, hooked up to a computer network, led to literacy fading, and not a repressive regime of firemen. Benford agrees with Bradbury about literacy’s value but also undercuts him on the supremacy of writing as a means of communication. Continue reading “Year’s Best SF 3”

Stealing Other People’s Homework: Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos & the Death of Science Fiction

Terence E. Hanley over at his Tellers of Weird Tales takes a look at a 1960 fanzine. Its title asked Who Killed Science Fiction? And just how long is it going to take to die?  Perhaps science fiction’s death is like that movie trailer cliché for period dramas — “It was the death of innocence.”  Exactly how many times in the 20th century did innocence die? Or, maybe it’s like all those 1950s’ predictions of massive unemployment due to automation: right in character, wrong in timing.

Tentaclii has a long and very informative look at all the dimensions of Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos in a review of a book by the same name. Yes, Grandpa’s sex life is covered.

Lightless

Like The London Project, this is a crime story with female protagonist in a total surveillance society.

I’m not doing a theme. The gods of Amazon Vine demanded a prompt review of this one.

Review: Lightless, C. A. Higgins, 2015.Lightless

Things are claustrophobic in the Solar System of a few centuries hence.

There’s room, plenty of room. Man lives on Earth, Luna, Mars and various planetoids and moons.

People used to live on Saturn’s moons too – before they rebelled against the System, and it killed them all.

Rebellion persists, though, in a shadowy figure, the Mallt-y-Nos, and her organization.

When stowaways Leontios Ivanov and Mattie Gale are captured aboard the System’s supersecret spaceship the Ananke, System security agent Ida Stays is sent aboard to interrogate Ivanov. She is convinced he knows who Mallt-y-Nos is.

The best part of the story is Higgins skillfully filling in the backstory mostly through those interrogation sessions.

She restricts herself, for most of the book, to three viewpoint characters: Ida, Ivanov, and the story’s heroine, engineer and computer scientist Althea Bastet.

There is a claustrophobic feel to the story because we never leave the Ananke and because the characters are always cautious about the emotions and thoughts they express because, like everywhere else humans live in the Solar System, they are watched by the System.

The various plots and subplots come together perhaps too neatly at the end, but I particularly liked the final chapters.

The overarching problem with Higgins’ story is vagueness. Continue reading “Lightless”

The London Project

After finishing Elizabeth Hand’s Available Dark, I looked around the review pile for something vaguely similar by way of a mystery or detective story.

And so I wound up with this. It’s relatively recent release though my notes don’t tell me when I got it from the author or how. I think it was through LibraryThing.

The production values are decent for a self-published effort.

Review: The London Project, Mark J. Maxwell, 2014.London Project

The old Max Headroom tv show used to say it was set five minutes into the future.

This story feels like it’s set two-and-a-half minutes into a future London.

It’s the sort of surveillance state we are building for ourselves. In exchange for information and convenience and lots of free high tech including flat, rollup computers that even provide tactile virtual reality, Londoners let themselves be surveilled for the benefit of private marketers and government security agencies – all subject to bureaucratic oversight of course. It’s all courtesy of the Portal Corporation

So how did a dead girl end up on a subway track in a city where almost every square meter is under observation?

That’s the central mystery heroine Detective Sergeant Louisa Bennett must solve.

The twists and turns the book’s plot will take often are predictable.

Does Louisa’s divorce cause problems? Will her children be endangered by her investigations? Will her partner survive to the end of the story? Is her old boss, now in Portal security, a friend or foe? Will the two cases Louisa is investigating end up being linked? Who is the mysterious entity behind the breaches in Portal’s data security.

I was hoping for some local color, a nostalgic return to a city I haven’t visited in years. But there was little of that outside of the opening in Soho and deserted London zone one of the founders of Portal hangs out in. Little more than names of streets and neighborhoods is given.

The villain’s motives are kind of confused and, frankly, unbelievable.

But there’s stuff to like too. Continue reading “The London Project”

Resurgence

I won’t bore you with all the reasons you’re getting another retro review.

Charles Sheffield is one of those authors I’m fond of. I’ve even read most of his work, but I have not reviewed that much of it.

From July 28, 2003 …

Review: Resurgence, Charles Sheffield, 2002.Resurgence

In the fifth novel of the Heritage Universe, the Builders, those aliens who scattered around huge, occasionally useful, sometimes deadly, artifacts about our part of the galaxy, have competition. Another force is destroying their work and sucking the heat and life out of entire solar systems.

Troubleshooter Hans Rebka, obsessed Builder scholar Darya Lang, the shady team of Louis Nenda and Atvar H’sial, their strangely loyal slaves, the exuberant and impatient E. C. Tally (an embodied computer), and Ethical Counselor Julian Graves again find themselves exploring the Builders’ works and speculating as to what they mean.

This may be the most humorous book of the series, and the characters are at their most interesting. The action set pieces in frozen solar systems are inventive and suspenseful.

This is not a good entry point for the series, though. You’ll want to follow the enigma of the Builders from the beginning starting with Sheffield’s Convergent series and then Transvergence.

And, unfortunately, with Sheffield’s death, some Builder questions will remain unanswered.

 

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