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 “DAW 30th Anniversary Science Fiction Anthology”

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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 “The Wealth of Nations”

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 “A Fiery Peace in a Cold War”

The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Volume Two: To the Dark Star, 1962-69

A retro review from February 20, 2012 …

Review: The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Volume Two: To the Dark Star, 1962-69, 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 “The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Volume Two: To the Dark Star, 1962-69”

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 “Deep Black Beyond”