Icefire

The brief Garfield Reeves-Stevens series end with a work written with his frequent collaborator and wife Judith.

I don’t read a lot of thrillers techno- or otherwise these days — though in my youth I read most of the Alistair Maclean catalog. It’s a matter of opportunity costs and not that I don’t like them.

However, around Christmas one year I found myself in a crowded house and needed to read something not requiring careful attention.

Raw Feed (1998): Icefire, Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens, 1998.Icefire

I read this very marginal sf technothriller (it’s set no more than 8 years in the future) because I’ve admired some of Garfield Reeves-Stevens’ works.

It was a combination suspense thriller and disaster novel. New Zealand and Hawaii get hit but not, unfortunately, the west coast of the US. I liked the idea of using nuclear weapons to collapse the Ross Ice Shelf and create a giant soliton to devastate many of the Pacific Rim economies and create a better situation for instigator China. It’s a return, after a century, of the Yellow Menace to popular fiction though I’m sure this is not the first to revive the Chinese menace – a plausible menace, and certainly there have been Japanese menace novels.

The main attraction of technothrillers seem to be the intricate description of technologies, usually of a military or intelligence variety, and, to a lesser extant, the inner workings of government military and intelligence units. Here, besides a well done calculation on the solition’s effect, we get SR-71s, Cheyenne Mountain, Harriers, and nukes. A lot of technothrillers like made up technology, and we get that here with seemingly too good satellite reconnaissance, a supersonic transport, a neat stealth sub, and the real use for Project HAARP (pinpoint manipulation of the electromagnetic field anywhere on Earth, EMPs to order).

There were a few faults. It seems required (early Frederic Forsyth novels seem the exception) that suspense novels feature romance renewed (as here) or blooming fresh. It was bad enough Cory Rey, oceanographer and expert in fluid dynamics, just happened to be on site without being the ex-lover of co-hero Mitch Webber (unusually cautious for a SEAL). Still, the authors don’t overplay this subplot. (Though we get a developing romance between Major Bailey and her subordinate.) Also, the fate of Charles Quincy Abbott was a bit ambiguous. I assumed he committed suicide. He’s an interesting villain in that he’s not a traitor or dishonorable. He is a representative of the culture of secrecy that, if the novel has a serious point, is the target of this novel. To further his own ambitious and anti-Chinese policy, he first fails to think nukes have been detonated in the Antarctic (though the authors went to Antarctica, this novel doesn’t much convey a sense of place like Kim Stanley Robinson’s Antarctica) then keeps the news away from the President and other members of the military. The President, never named, seems to be something of a Clinton stand-in complete with a troubled relationship with the military, though he ultimately comes across, in a brief scene, as a decisive and heroic. Another President unnamed but associated with the word “prudent” (Bush) is fondly remembered. Many lives are lost as the result of this, and he is removed from command. I was surprised how quickly the book started. No desperate race to stop the nukes here – the nukes are detonated early.

 

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

Stealing Other People’s Homework: “No, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Is Not Unexpectedly Timely”

Handmaid's Tale

About the only reason I find to go over to Bloomberg View is for Megan McArdle’s column.

Here the English major turned econ writer reverts to old form with a look at Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

City of Endless Night

Review: City of Endless Night, Milo Hastings, 1920.City of Endless Night

Yes, I was walking in Utopia, a nightmare at the end of man’s long dream – Utopia – Black Utopia – City of Endless Night – diabolically compounded of the three elements of civilization in which the Germans had always been supreme – imperialism, science and socialism.

It’s the year 2151. The German state, after sweeping through Eurasia and the Middle East in the Second World War which began in 1988, has been pushed back to the Armoured City of Berlin. The Ray, a weapon that calcifies bones, keeps the armies of the World State at bay. Aerial bombing cannot harm the vast underground fortress, the Black Utopia, which holds 300 million Germans.

But one man, Lyman de Forrest, a student of German culture and language from Chicago, penetrates its upper depths, impersonates one of its chemists, and learns its secrets. But should he destroy it with his knowledge? Or attempt to bring it into the larger family of the World State?

Hastings’ novel is an astonishing novel on several levels. Continue reading

Nighteyes

I’ll continue with the Garfield Reeves-Stevens series.

This one also came to my attention via an Ed Bryant review in Locus.

Raw Feed (1990): Nighteyes, Garfield Reeves-Stevens, 1989.Nighteyes

Reeves-Stevens does a competent job of synthesizing ufology and alien abduction accounts into a plot of future humans snatching humans to save them from genetic stagnation and some of us from death in a mysterious apocalypse that seems to be an alien invasion (only a band of humans in New Zealand survives). It is the vagueness of this future war and apocalypse that is annoying.

The second letdown in the novel is that the subject matter of alien abduction is such a well-worked vein that even Reeves-Stevens’ skill can not bring it completely to life. The created mythology of ufo snatch raids is a synthesis of ideas about ufos, ideas largely known already. The novelty is gone. Reeves-Stevens brings the body of speculations to life, but it’s a weak life.

 

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

Bloodshift

I’m writing up a long post (on a very interesting dystopia from 1920 if you must know), so you get old stuff.

I wouldn’t have picked this one up if I hadn’t seen a favorable review of it by the late Ed Bryant in Locus.

Raw Feed (1990): Bloodshift, Garfield Reeves-Stevens, 1990.Bloodshift

It must be said this book has almost no characterization or, in the case of hitman Granger Helman, we have the clichéd hitman with a heart of gold who fell into his job by accident and rationalized his acts by assuring himself he’s just killing scum — which he probably is. There is also the obligatory romance between vampiress Adrienne and Helman.

But where else can you find a conspiracy of vampires, a secret cadre of ruthless Jesuits, and renegade vampires? I loved this book.

Reeves-Stevens exhibits a keen understanding of science and the world of espionage. His plot of several organizations working at cross-purposes for the same goals because they don’t communicate seemed very plausible for government, especially in its intelligence apparatus. I liked a lot of the plot twists and ideas: the Mafia using their own mortuaries as both legitimate fronts to launder money but also handy crematoriums; the Conclave inculcating psychosomatic superstition into Christianity hence the common vampire superstitions regarding holy water and the cross; the society of vampires where prospective members are kept around as food so the Conclave does not make a mark in the outside world by hunting; a centuries old cadre of ruthless, fanatical Jesuits dedicated to fighting a secret war with the vampirical Conclave; references to a banking scandal in Martinique and the murder of Pope Clement XIV; sunlamps and rocket launching missiles used on that final, great assault on the vampire stronghold; Helman finding out — in a sinking, depressing revelation — that he did not have to worry about the Conclave blackmailing him over his murders since they were all done with the tacit approval of the U.S. government; CIA front companies so successful they contribute a major portion of the agency’s funding; and the last, the neatest, the coolest plot twist of all — the Nevada Project whose side job it is to quell the real truth about cancer: that it’s an accelerating mutation in mankind which will kill most of them off except for the mutant vampire yber who are the next stage in human evolution.

Reeves-Stevens comes perilously close to doubletalk when he speaks of the m-virus being incapable of being contracted through the lungs after it’s already been contracted but that it still can, after the bloodshift of the title, be picked up by cellular receptors in the trachea and intestinal tract. (Perhaps I missed something.) Continue reading

Science Fiction in Old San Francisco: Into the Sun & Other Stories

My brief series on Sam Moskowitz’s Science Fiction in Old San Francisco series concludes.

This one takes a look at the work of Robert Duncan Milne.

Raw Feed (1998): Science Fiction in Old San Francisco: Into the Sun & Other Stories, ed. Sam Moskowitz, 1980.Science Fiction in Old San Francisco

“Introduction”, Sam Moskowitz — Basically a recapitulation of Milne’s career from the first volume in this series.

Into the Sun” — I know for sure this isn’t the first disaster story of sf or proto-sf. Mary Shelly’s The Last Man was earlier, and there may be earlier disaster or post-apocalypse stories [for instance, Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion from 1839]. Still, this is one of the first, and I suspect it was the first in a long line of sf writers trashing their hometown though Milne was actually a Scotch immigrant, but he was writing in a San Francisco venue for a San Francisco audience. The story roughly prefigures Larry Niven’s “Inconstant Moon” with the Earth’s rotation slowly bringing disaster. In Niven’s story, it was the heat of a sun gone nova. In Milne’s story, the sun flares up due to a comet hitting it. Milne’s science was logical. You can fault him for actually envisioning a mere comet causing a disastrous solar flare or the relatively simple atmospheric dynamics (simple but violent), but I’m not sure that Milne wasn’t using the best astronomical and meteorological understanding of his day. You can argue with the atmosphere heating up enough to melt metal too. Still, this is definitely an sf story with solid science and an early exploration of a popular sf theme.

Plucked From the Burning” — A sequel to Milne’s “Into the Sun”, this story isn’t as good. The narrator of the earlier story survived and landed in Tibet where the story starts. There are detailed descriptions of a devastated San Francisco (even more disaster porn for the local readers than in the first story) and China. These scenes reminded me of the latter parts of H. G. Wells’ later The War of the Worlds. That similarity was heightened when the narrator leads an expedition from Tibet to San Francisco (I wonder if this was the first story to feature a wide ranging tour of a trashed out world) and finds a couple of miners, spared from the cataclysmic heat of the first story, digging for gold in the ruins of Frisco. They reminded me of Wells’ mad artilleryman in The War of the Worlds. The story ends with a very brief (the last two paragraphs, basically) description of the utopia (without laws or religion) formed by the Tibetan monks who rescued him. It seems implausibly tacked on. Continue reading

Great Plains Geology

Review: Great Plains Geology, R. F. Diffendal, Jr., 2017.Great Plains Geology

The Great Plains of America only seem a boring and flat expanse if you haven’t lived in them, as I did in my earlier life, or only travel in certain parts of them.

University of Nebraska geologist Diffendal is out to convince you otherwise.

What the Great Plains are, where they are, is a matter of some dispute. Diffendal includes a map with 50 different versions of the Great Plains. They range from the Sierra Nevadas in the west to past the Mississippi River Valley, from north of the Arctic Circle to Mexico. Diffendal’s definition extends from Alberta and Saskatchewan in the north down to a nick out of Mexico, the Rocky Mountains in the west but excludes the eastern parts of the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas and includes little more than the panhandle of Oklahoma, and parts of Texas. (My wife thinks Diffendal excluded Iowa just out of typical Nebraskan hostility to her native Iowa.)

Diffendal’s boundaries largely follow John Wesley Powell’s boundaries of the area and seems to be based on two requirements: land covered by the Cretaceous Western Interior Seaway and not glaciated in the Pleistocene.

Diffendal starts with a concise summary of the geologic history of the area. Diagrams, maps, and a glossary make this accessible to a newbie to geology. There is diagram laying out the eras of geologic history including known periods of glaciation and impact events from comets and meteorites. (The Precambrian/Proterozoic Eon has certainly been delineated a lot more since I was introduced to historical geology 30 years ago.)

Then Diffendal takes on his road trip of 57 sites that includes every Canadian province and U.S. state in the Great Plains except Oklahoma. (I was rather disappointed he drew his Great Plains boundary west of the Oklahoma’s Arbuckle Mountains.) Diffendal has photos of each site and notes its geological, paleontological, historical, and archaeological interest.

As you would expect from his center of operations, Diffendal finds a surprising amount to see in Nebraska. As a South Dakotan partisan, I think he should have included Spearfish Canyon and the Needles. An example of the book’s humor at Mount Rushmore: “ . . . four U.S. presidents may distract your eyes and thoughts from the important thing here, the geology.”

One benefit of this broad treatment of a large area is that, unlike the more detailed and focused “road trip” geology books I have covering certain states, Diffendal helps you see the broad geologic context of things.

Diffendal throws some appendixes in on the different zones of the Great Plains, the scientific history behind certain geologic concepts, and a worthy guide to traveling the area. (Don’t ignore his warnings about suddenly variable weather and deserted roads.)

I got this book as a review copy from NetGalley, but I liked it well enough that I’m going to buy a hard copy to take along with all the other geology books I take on road trips.

 

More reviews of nonfiction books are listed in the review index.

Science Fiction in Old San Francisco: History of the Movement from 1854 to 1890

Sam Moskowitz showed up in some of my reading lately, so I thought I’d post reviews of a couple of his books I mentioned in passing in my Bitter Bierce series.
While I’m a bit leery of a book that mentions the Black Hills of North Dakota and Rod Steiger’s The Twilight Zone, this was still an interesting book. I took away a few things from it.

First, further information on the role that newspaper hoaxes played in early American sf or proto-sf.

Second, that there really was a community of San Francisco writers who published in numerous San Francisco publications and mostly set their stories, not surprisingly, in Frisco. The constant referrals to each others’ works shows a clear beginning of the genre awareness necessary to say that sf existed as an “invitation to form” then. There was also a generous helping of foreign sf and fantasy, including Jules Verne, published in these same magazines and newspapers. I found it interesting that many writers, foreign and American, referenced to Edgar Allan Poe as the father of the new genre that was to become sf. He certainly inspired Verne if not Wells. Poe, as a writer (and I never noticed this point) created stories of the fantastic without the supernatural. Poe, under the “invitation to form” definition of sf, may have a pretty strong claim to founding sf.

The Frisco writers may have influenced Wells since their work was sometimes reprinted over seas. William C. Morrow may have been the inspiration for the idea and eponymous character of Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau. Moskowitz’s main emphasis is on the career of Robert Duncan Milne, a Scottish-American (a very well-educated remittance man and drunk) who, from 1881 to about 1899, has a very good claim to being the world’s first full time sf writer.

Continue reading

Winter Tide; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

Having read Emry’s The Litany of Earth, I was curious and trepidatious about reading this one when Amazon Vine offered a review copy.

The trepidation turned out to be justified.

(An alternate perspective, though agreeing on the slow pacing, is at Battered, Tattered, Yellowed, & Creased.)

Review: Winter Tide, Ruthanna Emrys, 2017.Winter Tide

For a book full of talk about blood, this novel is remarkably bloodless.

There’s blood drawn for magic spells. There’s the blood narrator Aphra Marsh sees in the “interior sea” of the bodies of those she communes with her in the Aeonist rites. There’s the blood of wounds.

What there isn’t is the blood of H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. This book doesn’t just eviscerate the Mythos. It bleeds out the paranoia and wonder of Lovecraft’s stories to present a tepid story with a checklist of characters unsurprisingly and resolutely, right down to a concluding insinuation of one character’s lesbianism, drawn from Social Justice Casting.

Set a year-and-a-half after the events of Emrys’ The Litany of Earth, Aphra is approached by Spector, an agent of the United States government, concerned that Soviets will gain access to magical secrets. He recruits Aphra to help him stop possible Soviet use of magical techniques in the fraught Cold War year of 1948. Continue reading

The Litany of Earth

Every Wednesday over at LibraryThing, the Deep Ones group discusses a work of weird fiction.

This story was discussed a little over two years ago, and most people liked it better than me.

Normally, I don’t blog about the readings (though I will be doing a future review on an annotated edition of  J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla”), but this novella is available for sale separately.

It’s also relevant to Emrys’ follow up story, Winter Tide, which I’m writing a review of.

It will not be a good review.

Raw Feed (2015): The Litany of Earth, Ruthanna Emrys, 2014.Litany of Earth

An interesting update of the Cthulhu Mythos treating them as a “modern day” (the story is actually set after World War Two) religion, the Aeonist faith.

This story plays off the end of H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” with the inhabitants of that town hauled off to concentration camps.

The narrator of this story was taken to such a camp where she met interned Japanese-Americans.

When she gets out, she gets a job at a bookstore. She is approached by a Federal agent who (in a very obvious allegory to those who think that Islam is not bad except in the hands of some extremists) wants her help to infiltrate such dangerous groups of Aeonists.

The narrator has no love of the government. Her mother died, held in the desert away from the nurturing sea, while being experimented on to find the Deep Ones weaknesses. Continue reading