Slow Lightning & “The Longest Voyage”

The look at the Future Boston shared world series looks at the expansion of Steven Popkes’ “The Egg” and, since it was the other half of this “dos-a-dos”, a Poul Anderson story — which has nothing to do with Boston.

Raw Feed (1992): Slow Lightning, Steven Popkes, “The Longest Voyage” by Poul Anderson/Slow Lightning by Steven Popkes, 1991.TORDOB30

The first part of this short novel was Popkes novella “The Egg” which I’d read before and liked. The rest of the story wasn’t as good though it did fill in some details of this universe.

Structurally the story is very interesting.

It’s three episodes (the first being “The Egg”) which could stand alone. However, the episodes are set chronologically out of sequence, and characters from the preceding ones often show up as minor characters in the next one.

In “The Egg”, orphaned Ira Bloom and alien nanny Gray are the main characters.

In the second story, Ira’s parents are the main characters and the tale of Gray’s discovery is told. The story ironically ends happily though the reader knows both of Ira’s parents will soon be killed in a labor dispute.

The last story tells how Ira’s aunt and mother became orphans. Continue reading “Slow Lightning & “The Longest Voyage””

“The Egg”

The Alexander Jablokov series takes a sidestep into the shared world of Future Boston, a series he worked in. So, I’m going to cover several works in that universe.

Raw Feed (1989): “The Egg“, Steven Popkes, 1989The Ring of Memory

I wasn’t looking forward to reading this rather bland titled story by an author I’ve never heard of.

However, I enjoyed it, especially the alien sapient Gray and the centaur Bishop, a very strange, cannibalistic alien of equal parts savage voracity and refinement.

I would have liked to know more of Gray’s history. Is he a biological construct?

I also would have liked to know if the ghosts of Ira’s parents had a clearer explanation: real ghosts, telepathic projects of Gray, or Ira’s fantasies? Perhaps I’m too stuck in my fantasy/sf pigeonholes.

Many elements of this story were pretty standard: union strife, Sara Monahan’s obsession with her long gone husband (I spent most of the story wishing she’d snap out of her habitual distrust), Ira’s anger at Gray and his parents, Jack’s vandalization, and the temporary spurning of Sam. These may be verities of the human conditions but they’re also cliches, even if well done as here, in the storyteller’s catalog. It’s a dilemma: realistic situations depicted over and over again or more original, bizarre, less realistic psychocharacter drama?

Still, I liked this story more than I thought and did enjoy it.


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

River of Dust

The Alexander Jablokov series continues.

Raw Feed (1997): River of Dust, Alexander Jablokov, 1996.River of Dust

This is part of the same Jablokov future history as his Carve the Sky and precedes that novel.

Jablakov seems better at shorter lengths, and I think, after reading this novel, I know why.

What seems subtle and sketchily worked out as per the length restrictions of short story or novella comes off as too obscure or too cryptic to work at novel length.

This seems particularly true for some of the characters in this novel.

Rudolf Hounslow is sometimes characterized as mad in the book, but this conclusion is never really justified.  Yes, he seems a charismatic leader who often, perhaps inadvertently on a subconscious level, inspires others to take the violent actions he is too hidebound, indecisive, irresolute to take, but he doesn’t seem mad. Nor is his political philosophy ever really explained. Thus we have no idea why it is so appealing. His “Pure Land School” seems a combination of Neo-Confuscianism and stoicism but is never really explicated.

Assassin and ex-prostitute Brenda Marr is a cipher. Her rage and affinity for the Pure Land School is never explained. Her actions propel most of the novel’s events, and I suspect Jablokov is making a statement about how history is a combination of noble and petty motives with the ultimately unknowable motives of a few producing a cascade of events. Continue reading “River of Dust”


This week the Deep Ones discussion group over at LibraryThing tackled a Nathan Ballingrud story.

Review: “Sunbleached”, Nathan Ballingrud, 2011.North American Lake Monsters

I wasn’t pleased when, six words into this story, I found out it was a vampire tale.

Fortunately, Ballingrud gives us a real old school vampire.

Sometimes, Ballingrud reminds us, the other really is dangerous, lethally dangerous, and a menace to humanity.

The vampire stalks through today’s fiction trailing behind it centuries worth of symbolism and reeking of both the blood of the slaughterhouse and the musk of a lover’s bed.

Having a vampire show up in a story long ago stopped meaning anything consistent about what to expect. Love bites to ripped out throats, seducers to ambushers, princes to proles – the modern vampire exists not on a spectrum but in a multi-dimensional space. Even taking blood is not strictly required to be assigned to the category.

Ballingrud’s vampire claims, with the very first words of the story, its kind are “God’s beautiful creatures”. Continue reading ““Sunbleached””

“Above Ancient Seas”

The Alexander Jablokov series continues.

Raw Feed (1993): “Above Ancient Seas”, Alexander Jablokov, 1992.Above Ancient Seas

With his “The Death Artist”, this is probably my least favorite of the Jablokov stories I’ve read.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with it.

The future it depicts on a colonized, metal poor world is interesting though I found the lack of explanation as to how one family supplanted the other in territory and status annoying.

Jablokov says that a failure to properly bury a dead family member would show a weakness that would be exploited by other families. What kind of weakness? While the physical journey to bury the dead seems annoying, it isn’t shown as particularly difficult – even granting that the four member family sticks together even though two could have probably done the job. Jablokov tells us that the funeral is a test of

strength, stamina, and solidarity … an indication that the family could … maintain … its holdings

but he doesn’t show this concept in action. Continue reading ““Above Ancient Seas””

Master of Chaos

I can’t think of another time I’ve bought a book the very day I knew it was out and read it immediately.

That’s what I did with this one.

Review: Master of Chaos, David Hambling, 2018.Master-of-Chaos-001-low-res

It’s madness, modernism, Egyptian secrets, and racial hygiene in the latest Harry Stubbs adventure.

It’s 1925 and ex-boxer and bill collector Harry Stubbs, our narrator, is now an agent for the sinister Estelle de Vere, “Our Lady of the Holocaust” as another of her coerced agents calls her. Stubbs accepts her service in exchange for her not harming his family. De Vere, as he says, has a quite literal scorched-earth policy when dealing with humans suspected of alien contamination. Her TDS supposedly stands for Theral Development Service, but he thinks it has other names like Tribus Dies Syndicate. Continue reading “Master of Chaos”

A Deeper Sea

The Alexander Jablokov series continues with an expansion of an earlier Jablokov work into a novel.

Raw Feed (1993): A Deeper Sea, Alexander Jablokov, 1992.Deeper Sea

I didn’t like this novel version as well as the novella version of the same name.

The dolphins – the best part of this novel and the novella – are just as obnoxious, petty, irritating, and sexually perverted as in the original novella. They, in fact, seem more vicious here as do the philosophical orcas: drowning sailors when no one’s around and saving them dramatically when someone is.

But their motives seemed diffused by the novel’s length.

Their religion only comes across has half understood, an unclear motivation for driving whale Clarence on the rocks and for orcas taking an interest in dolphin messiah and God’s Remora Weismuller.

Jablokov does a nice job in evoking the phrases of a dolphin language as well as their obsession with hierarchy, sex, and eating. After all, with no opposable thumbs and no fire, there’s not a lot for them to do. And the idea of a dolphin language that mimics the echoes of real objects is a great idea.  The act of echoing, in dolphin mythology, is an act of creating and describing the world. Continue reading “A Deeper Sea”

“Living Will”

The Alexander Jablokov series continues.

Raw Feed (1991): “Living Will”, Alexander Jablokov, 1991.Living Will

A very poignant story built around a simple premise: what if you could encode a simulation of your personality into a piece of software and let it make the decision when a disease had changed you so much (here Alzheimers) your old, encoded self wouldn’t want to go on living and burdening others and would tell you to kill yourself?

Jablokov deals with this painful philosophical and emotional issue well and also does a nice job with the relationship between the protagonist and his wife.

Another rendition of one of Jablokov favorite themes: death.


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

“The Place of No Shadows”

The Alexander Jablokov series continues.

I’ll return to this story at another time since it’s part of the Future Boston shared world series Jablokov wrote some stories for.

Raw Feed (1991): “The Place of No Shadows”, Alexander Jablokov, 1990.Place of No Shadows 

This story’s main flaw is that it’s too short.

Ostensibly, the story’s main conflict is whether Lester Kronenbourg can talk Chris Tolliver, zoologist/student of alien physiology, into joining him in an institute to define man’s place in a strange universe full of aliens. That universe is well symbolized in a stinking Boston that’s become an interstellar port full of strange, sometimes sinister aliens.

As with the cultural conflicts of human’s history, the alien/human meeting has produced poignant, silly, sometimes tragic attempts at human imitation (sometimes even radical surgery) reminiscent of Melanesian Cargo Cults and pathetic American Indians.

This is well portrayed in the subplot of Gavin Mercour, graduate student in Systematic Physiology. Mercour turns on his alien spiritual teacher who promises to let Mercour see the world — via telepathy — as he does. The experience — a view of the universe unorganized by chronological sequence or surface appearances — is senseless. Mercour’s hope that each alien has a unique insight, a light, to illuminate the world,is dashed, and he is murdered (petrified alive by the sinister alien Targive with their obscene technology of twisting living matter to their ends).  Continue reading ““The Place of No Shadows””