DAW 30th Anniversary Science Fiction Anthology

Another retro review while I work on something for another outlet.

From January 12, 2010 …

Review: DAW 30th Anniversary Science Fiction Anthology, eds. Elizabeth R. Wollheim and Sheila Gilbert, 2002.DAW 30th Anniversary

Apart from the introductions by Wollheim and Gilbert covering Donald A. Wollheim’s contributions to American publishing culminating with his founding of DAW Books, there’s nothing that makes this book stand out from DAW’s many other anthologies except it doesn’t have a theme. The ratio of good to adequate to bad stories is pretty standard – not nearly high enough for a celebration of 30 years of quality publishing. That’s probably inevitable for a group of all original stories, but this anthology, which features installments in several DAW series, also doesn’t serve as much of an enticing sampler of DAW’s goods.

The two stand out stories are Tad Williams’ “Not With a Whimper, Either” and Ian Watson’s “The Black Wall of Jerusalem”. Williams’ story is told through newsgroup exchanges as various users try to figure out what is behind several disruptions of communications and utilities. It’s a worthy and ambiguous addition to a science fiction tradition of sinister machines including Jack Williamson’s “With Folded Hands”, Harlan Ellison’s “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream”, and, especially, Frederic Brown’s “Answer”. Watson’s story is surprisingly Lovecraftian in structure and theme. Its poet narrator is troubled by dreams he’s been having since returning from Jerusalem where he went for inspiration to write a William Blake style work of religious mysticism. There he encountered the Black Wall, a gateway that pops up in different parts of the ancient city, and goes beyond it to investigate the lethal beings of another dimension. Continue reading

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Prophets

A retro review from November 20, 2009.

Review: Prophets: Apotheosis: Book One, S. Andrew Swann, 2009.Prophets

This novel has just about everything I want in a space opera: lost colonies, political intrigues (here the Caliphate and Roman Catholic Church vying for control and influence in the worlds of human space – a space that includes the human/animal chimeras called moreaus), vividly described violence, forbidden technologies (genetic engineering of humans, nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence), espionage, and subversion.

Swann’s style strikes just the right balance with his physical descriptions – cinematic but not too long to slow the plot down. And I liked every chapter having an epigraph from sources historical and fictitious. This is a continuation of Swann’s work in his moreau/Confederation universe and is chronologically the latest story but don’t worry. Swann provides enough background explication so that, if you’ve never read the Moreau series or the Hostile Takeover trilogy – or, like me, it’s just been a long time since you read them, you won’t be lost.

Actually this novel reminded me a lot of a stripped down version of Peter Hamilton’s Commonwealth Saga: a human political order with its internecine squabbles is threatened by an invading force willing to do anything to alter that order. However, Swann’s universe is never as utopian as Hamilton’s world.

 

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

The Wealth of Nations

A retro review from November 14, 2009 …

Review: An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith, 1776.Wealth of Nations

What more is there to say about a book that’s been around 233 years? That’s considered to be the founding text of modern economics? Written by a man who has organizations and lectures named after him, whose name is synonymous with free markets?

Well, the following is a list of things not generally talked about – in my casual exposure to economics – in regards to this work.

Smith, not surprisingly for a man of the Enlightenment, was a blank slate guy. The philosopher, we’re told, differs from the porter “not so much from nature, as from habit, custom, and education”. Smith’s professional progeny, with less justification and an autistic-like inability to model human nature, has largely kept the notion of people as malleable economic units whose value can simply be altered by some inputs of education.

This is a book on the wealth of nations, not an argument for how trade is going to pacify the world and render borders obsolete as is the gospel sometimes preached – for at least a hundred years – by advocates of globalization. While Smith acknowledges that wealthy countries make great trading partners, he also notes their wealth makes them “dangerous in war and politics”. (He also makes a not entirely unconvincing argument for standing armies being necessary. Part of it rests on the general efficacy of the specialization of labor.) Continue reading

A Fiery Peace in a Cold War

A retro review from October 28, 2009 …

Review: A Fiery Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon, Neil Sheehan, 2009.Fiery Peace

Sheehan started out to write a history of the Cold War and its attendant arms race and then came across the story of Bernard Schriever, a man largely forgotten though he arguably played as large a role in space development – manned and unmanned, military and civilian – as many more celebrated figures such as his fellow German immigrant Werner von Braun (though Schriever immigrated when he was six). Fortunately, many of the major figures were still alive to interview when Sheehan started his project in 1993, and their personal recollections – as well as the traditional sources of the historian like other books and government documents – make this story of how America’s intercontinental ballistic missiles were developed fascinating.

What Schriever contributed to that task was not so much technical expertise – though he did have formal training as an engineer – but a knack for human engineering, for finding and leading and retaining the right people in his quest to develop the ultimate deterrent. His people developed new rocket fuels, scrapped von Braun’s designs for missile bodies, retooled Air Force procurement policies, developed new methods of project management and design, convinced a president to make their job the highest national priority, and, in one instance, produced fake intelligence to overcome Pentagon inertia. Schriever’s leadership also laid the groundwork for the manned exploration of space by NASA – literally in the development of Cape Canaveral. Continue reading

The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Volume Two

A retro review from February 20, 2012 …

Review: The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Volume Two: To the Dark Star, 1962-1969, ed. Robert Silverberg, 2007.To the Dark Star

Just buy the book, buy this whole series whether you’re only curious after hearing Silverberg’s name or if you have some of his collections and novels or if you’re a hardcore Silverberg collector.

Yes, with the exception of “(Now + n, Now – n)”, all these stories seem readily available in cheaper versions – theme anthologies, award anthologies, best of the year anthologies, and, of course, many of Silverberg’s own collections.

So why should you pay for this expensive, limited edition collection (or even the cheaper Kindle edition)?

Well, if you’re new to Silverberg, it’s a way of sampling the variety of this amazingly prolific and protean author via some nice, handsome editions without the repetition you’d get by collecting Silverberg’s previous collections. Continue reading

Angel Time

I will be doing many things this holiday weekend. Blogging is not one.

So, you’re going to get five retro reviews.

This is the first, and it’s probably the last time I’ll read Anne Rice.

From October 9, 2009 …

Review: Angel Time: The Songs of the Seraphim, Book One, Anne Rice, 2009.Angel Time

Since this is the first of her novels I’ve read, I didn’t come to this book with any expectations or resentments about Rice’s recent change of subjects or themes.

This book suffers from several problems. The first is that its setup – a modern hitman recruited by his guardian angel to undertake a mission into medieval England – hints at an intriguing, violent story that never materializes. Malchiah, guardian angel to protagonist Toby O’Dare, seems to think Toby is ideally suited for this mission. I remained unconvinced. O’Dare’s contributions seem to be his beautiful, graceful appearance which renders him credible enough to attempt a deceit to save the Jews of Norwich, England. To be sure, Toby has also read extensively about the time. But Rice seems to cheat a little by giving him linguistic abilities which he hasn’t earned unless we’re dealing with an implicit gift of tongues. The second problem is that the characters all sound alike when narrating their tales be it Toby O’Dare or Malchiah or the Jewish woman Fluria. The third problem is that, for a tale involving an assassin and a threatened massacre of Jews in England, it’s remarkably ungrim and beautiful – in fact several figures are described as beautiful or graceful: Fluria, Meir, Godwin, Toby, Malchiah, even the mysterious Right Man (who may head a government assassination bureau). Granted, that constant emphasis on beauty and grace is sometimes an advantage in conveying the visual attraction of the Catholic faith, and Rice depicts some of the nuances of Jewish-Christian relations in the Middle Ages. But it is too much beauty when depicting the fallen human world.

The fourth problem is that the story is too long. Rice writes some nice sentences, has some truthful, insightful bits in her internal monologues and then dilutes the effect by being too wordy. Finally, the ending is contrived, a revelation to Toby too neatly mirroring another character’s dilemna.

The book ends with a hint of more Toby adventures to come. I didn’t hate this novel. But I didn’t find Toby’s adventures intriguing enough to want more.

 

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

Deep Black Beyond

I am still off working on new stuff — and, yes, progress is being made.

That means you get old stuff. Not too old, in this case from February 19, 2012.

I got a review copy of this collection through LibraryThing.

Review: Deep Black Beyond, Annie Bellet, 2011.Deep Black Beyond

Bellet is a writer who has published in traditional venues, though only “No Spaceships Go” seems to be a reprint, so this set of five stories is free from amateurish mistakes.

Unfortunately, for me, most of these stories never rose above the generic and two, honestly, puzzled me.

Despite a concluding revelation of interstellar intrigue and revenge, which should be more interesting than it is, “Pele’s Bee-Keeper”, with its space shuttle crash, possibly by sabotage, and the rescue of its protagonist by a mysterious woman, never grabbed me.

“The Memory of Bone” has a central idea, which if, taken seriously, has a goofiness which reminds me of a bad pulp story from the 1930s. I suspect its narrator, a spaceship captain in the brig and on her way to a court martial, is of the unreliable sort. Another peculiar story was “Beneath the Ice and Still”. Involving a frozen maiden found by a man in the ice of an alien world, it’s more like a setup for a story that never comes. I suspect another crazy protagonist. Continue reading

The Man in the High Castle

I can never remember my opinion of Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle: great novel or a disappointing alternate history that foundered in unsatisfying metaphysics. (An alternate history featuring an alternate history that is our world doesn’t to me, unlike many, seem that significant.)

After watching the first three episodes of Amazon’s series inspired by the book, I decided to look up my review.

My 1989 self is not very helpful in clarifying things. (And this is not a start of Philip K. Dick postings — though I have read many of Dick’s novels.)

And 1989 self misleadingly implies I’ve read all of Shirer’s work — which I haven’t.

Man in the High Castle

Raw Feed (1989): The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick,

A wonderful, intriguing, and at times enigmatic novel.  Dick, as usual, exhibits his remarkable powers of characterization.  Here he largely uses the technique of entering into a character’s thoughts.  Often we go along rather like a character until we come across a jarring, despicable thought.  The portrayal of antique dealer Robert Childan.  We like him just fine until we find out he approves of genocide against the Jews.  Even Reinhard Heydrich has his good side in working against attacking the Japanese.  Julianna Fink is one of Dick’s rather neurotic women who must almost obsessively flit from man to man (her husband has some unkind things to say about women’s “babyish” nature and extreme craving for attention — perhaps Dick’s unhappy experience with women is reflected here).

As usual, there are one or too entirely good major characters, and here, as often in Dick’s work, one is a craftsmen, Frank Fink.  The other is Mr. Tagomi.

One of the major strengths of this novel was showing the many facets of the relationship between conquerors and the conquered:  Dick portrays the admiration, revulsion, and mystification suffered under the yoke of the Japanese and Germany.  Dick provides succinct and true portrayals — usually uncomplimentary — of Japanese and German (again an unflattering reference to Germany) national character. Continue reading

Briefing, Scolding, Questioning

Cheap Science Fiction Reference Books

More than a few of the bloggers I read and regular visitors to this site (sometimes the same crowd) like old science fiction and might find old reference books on science fiction interesting. I’m talking about books from publishers like Greenwood Press — expensive and really only intended for libraries.

Well, enough time has passed that libraries are starting to get rid of them. Their loss might be your gain.

In the past year, I’ve picked up all but one of John J. Pierce’s critical works. (He’s still working on the subject and posts infrequently on his blog.)

And, when I was in the bookstore selling off a seven volume history of the Prussian Empire, I came across another: Science Fiction Writers: Critical Studies of the Major Authors from the Early Nineteenth Century to the Present Day, ed. E. F. Bleiler from Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1982. It was all of $10.

There are articles on various authors from a variety of scholars. Some are expected: John Clute, Peter Nichols, Brian W. Aldiss, Malcolm Edwards, and Bleiler himself. Brian M. Stableford has several, but I have many of his lit-crit collections from Wildside Press, so many of these are not new to me.

Other names I either didn’t expect in this context or are new to me: John Scarborough, James L. Campbell, Sr, John R. Pfeiffer, Willis E. McNelly, Robert E. Myers, Charles L. Elkins, Ronald D. Tweet, L. David Allen, Chris Morgan, Gardner Dozois, John B. Ower, Richard Finholt, John Carr, L. David Allen, Marilyn J. Holt, and Susan Wood. Colin Wilson shows up not only with the expected essay on H. P. Lovecraft but also A. E. van Vogt.

As for subjects, all are defensible and familiar except for the name Luis Philip Senarens covered by Bleiler. Favorites of mine omitted are James Gunn and Charles Harness, but I think that’s defensible.

Fritz Leiber

Speaking of Bleiler, the modern incarnation of his old employer, Dover Books, has started a series called “Doomsday Classics“. One of the reprints is Fritz Leiber’s The Night of the Long Knives.

And There Arose a Generation Which Did Not Know …

Over at the Coode Street Podcast awhile back, Kristine Kathryn Rusch talked about an upcoming anthology, Women in Futures Past. Motivated by bizarre claims she would hear from writing students about women (or the lack thereof) in science fiction history, she has undertaken an educational mission.

But why does she have to? Why does this kind of ignorance exist among the most connected people in the world?

Back in the 1970s, when I started reading science fiction as a poor student in a backwater town in South Dakota, I knew about these authors — even if I couldn’t get my hands on their books. My high school library had The Visual Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. In the post Star Wars years, I managed to pick up a cheap, but new, copy of Encyclopedia of Science Fiction edited by Robert Holdstock. It also mentioned women science fiction writers besides Ursula K. Le Guin. So did Baird Searles’ paperback A Reader’s Guide to Science Fiction. So did James Gunn’s The Road to Science Fiction series.

I seldom, if ever mention, “diversity” issues. But even I bought, in the 1990s, three landmark anthologies on women in science fiction: Jean Stine and Janrae Frank’s New Eves: Science Fiction About the Extraordinary Women of Today and Tomorrow and Pamela Sargent’s two-volume Women of Wonder anthology.

Bought them and read them.

So why does the generation that grew up with huge amounts of data available with the twitch of fingers on the keyboard as opposed to a drive to the library or weeks long wait for loaned or purchased books know so little about this subject? Is the internet age or modern education destroying their curiosity?

The ignorance Rusch cites is among self-professed fans, neigh would-be writers.

I wish Rusch well on her project. If she has enough new material I don’t already have, I’ll probably buy the book.

I’m genuinely puzzled why it’s needed though. The digital age reducing the mental habitat of Arthur Koestler’s “library angels“? Overbooked schedules allowing less time for casual curiosity? Shortened attention spans? Still, we are talking about the age of the hyperlink.

I guess, as Merlin remarked in John Boorman’s Excalibur, “For it is the doom of man that they forget.”