Plum Rains

A decent respect for readers and book buyers requires I explain why I requested a review copy of this book from Amazon.

Japan, unlike many nations of the advanced Western world, has not been stupid enough to allow a great deal of immigration. They don’t buy that they need immigrants to pay old age pensions or do menial jobs or that large amounts of unskilled labor are going to make them wealthy.

They like their culture just fine. They’re not even fond of ethnic Japanese who didn’t grow up in Japan.

I like Japan’s refusal to embrace ethnomasochism. (Why, yes, that is a mound of Korean noses, and, no, we’re not going to apologize.)

Now, like anything, that can go to extremes as in this book, but I find it preferable to the opposite extreme.

The Japanese, though, have a problem. They’re dying off, births aren’t keeping up with deaths.

So whose going to take care of all those Japanese in their golden years if not immigrants?

Robots, answer the Japanese, and that is the very subject of this, according to its cover copy, “tour de force tapestry of science fiction and historical fiction”.

Review: Plum Rains, Andromeda Romano-Lax, 2018.Plum Rains

This novel centers on two characters: Sayoko, a Japanese woman nearing her centenary (and the attendant media coverage of that birthday), and Angelica, the Filipina immigrant nurse caring for her.

It’s the year 2029. Robot development has taken a “Pause” after the Musk-Hawking 2015 letter warning about the dangers of artificial intelligence. There was the South Korean Sexbot Ban of 2025 and the E.U.-U.S. AI Accord of 2026 (rather short-lived since the E.U. goes into the ashbin of history in 2027). Other regional agreements put similar bans in place.

But it’s just a pause, and that’s made clear when a new model of Taiwanese robot shows up to take care of the rather technophobic Sayoko. It’s was ordered by Itou, Sayoko’s son and employed by METI, according to some the government agency that really runs Japan.

The best part of the book is that robot, Hiro, and his conversations with Sayoko and Angelica. Hiro is not a programmed robot. He’s designed to learn and, particularly, learn about his charge Sayoko. Continue reading “Plum Rains”

Advertisements

“He”

Another look at a story I’ve already covered once, but it was this Deep Ones reading over at LibraryThing, so I thought I’d say a few more things about it and defend Lovecraft on some points.

Review: “He”, H. P. Lovecraft, 1925.Dagon and Other Macabre Tales

I was faint, even fainter than the hateful modernity of that accursed city had made me.

“He” is the second of what I call Lovecraft’s “I hate New York” stories.

It is also, after his “The Silver Key”, written in 1926, the most autobiographical of his stories, a hate letter to New York City and modernity.

The story opens with that cry from the heart of the narrator and continues:

I saw him on a sleepless night when I was walking desperately to save my soul and my vision. My coming to New York had been a mistake; for whereas I had looked for poignant wonder and inspiration in the teeming labyrinths of ancient streets that twist endlessly from forgotten courts and squares and waterfronts to courts and squares and waterfronts equally forgotten, and in the Cyclopean modern towers and pinnacles that rise blackly Babylonian under waning moons, I had found instead only a sense of horror and oppression which threatened to master, paralyse, and annihilate me.

The hero goes on long nocturnal jaunts to find the hidden historical curiosities of Old New York:

tottering Ionic columns and fluted pilasters and urn-headed iron fence-posts and flaring-lintelled windows and decorative fanlights.

Continue reading ““He””

“How Sere Picked Up Her Laundry”

And we return to Alexander Jablokov.

I came across this when reading the July/August 2017 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction.

No, I was not diligently keeping up with my magazine subscriptions, there were other stories in this issue which will be covered in some future posts.

Review: “How Sere Picked Up Her Laundry”, Alexander Jablokov, 2017.How Sere Picked Up Her Laundry

In some ways, Jablokov’s City of Tempest is a return to the type of setting he and other writers used for the shared world Future Boston.

It’s rife with strange alien races, or “nations” as they are called here, and intrigue.

But whereas Boston is a human city estranged by aliens showing up, Tempest is an ancient city, mysterious in origin, rife with aliens, where humans are just another nation.

As far as the aliens are concerned, humans, Oms as they call us, are natural bureaucrats:

This was how a lot of us Oms made our living in Tempest: we’re known for our ability to sit still for long periods and do work that makes other nations want to rip off parts of their own bodies. It was a known fact in the city that, no matter how simple the initial setup, once humans got hold of it, it became a complex, mind-numbing nightmare.

Our heroine Sere Glagolit isn’t a bureaucrat. She specializes, or did until her boyfriend dumped her and took her business, in finding useful and hidden objects in the terraced City of Tempest.

The plot centers around a real estate deal one woman, Mirquell, wants to make with the mysterious aliens known as the Case. She’s acerbic, impatient, and blunt, and was my favorite character. She’s not as rich as she used to be, but she’s better off than Sere, our narrator. Sere offers to find out who actually owns a piece of land to get a fee from Mirquell.

But the plot that follows feels equal part a detective story and a fantasy quest story.

We meet an Extirpator using some really heavy weaponry to get rid of some seemingly insignificant pests. There’s the aliens who go into undesired sexual heat at the smell of bread and other aliens that like to eat their meals on the fly. There’s a spooky alien pet gone feral, and the hunter trying to track it down in the earth of the City of Storms. There’s the aliens who insist on wearing garments to go out into public, garments decorated with lethal amount of heavy metals – and those aliens need to go to a zoning meeting. There’s also the elevator monopoly.

There aren’t really any villains or heavies or vast conspiracies though.

As you would expect from Jablokov, the plot is intricate and its whole interested me less than some of the scenes and characters. Plot threads are wrapped up, but a whole lot of mysteries about aliens and their motives remain.

Despite myself, I did become rather fond of Sere who admits she’s not as smart as she thinks she is, not as observant as she should be.

Jablokov has said he plans to write more about Tempest and Sere’s adventures.

 

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

“Prince Alberic and the Snake Lady”

This week’s reading for the Deep Ones over at The Weird Tradition newsgroup on LibraryThing —

Review: “Prince Alberic and the Snake Lady”, Vernon Lee, 1896.Yellow Book

Vernon Lee was a name unknown to me as was the name behind the pseudonym, Violet Paget.

Based on this story, I think it’s a name I’ll keep in mind.

Lee wrote travel works and on art. About the latter, my favorite literary critic, Brian Stableford, said,

Vernon Lee never saw her supernatural stories as central elements of her literary endeavour–they were always diversions from more serious work–but they have lasted far better than her essays on art, most of which now seem relentlessly dull as well as maddeningly unfocused.

I’m not going to summarize this story. It’s 55 pages in its original form, and, as you might expect from a writer on art, it’s filled with long descriptions, but Lee makes them strongly evocative. Continue reading ““Prince Alberic and the Snake Lady””

Low Noon

Review: Low Noon: Tales of Horror & Dark Fantasy from the Weird Weird West, ed. David B. Riley, 2012.Low Noon

There’s a lot of strange and dangerous places in the weird west, and editor Riley assembles his usual reliable gang of writers to give us a look.

Mesilla in Arizona Territory is a nice town. It’s even got a town character: Old Man Foster. He comes to town once a month, drinks his whiskey, pays for it in gold, and leaves. Except Old Man Foster doesn’t seem to be a likeable old coot. More than once someone followed him home to find out about where he gets his gold. They’re never seen again. Emily Crawford, a talented artist, comes to town looking for her vanished fiancé. Naturally, she and Old Man Foster are going to meet, and Don D’Ammassa’s “Drawn Out” ends on a mysterious note with much revealed about Crawford and Foster’s true natures but not all.

Mysterious Dave Mather, who he last heard about in this blog when he was hanging around with Wyatt Earp, is on the “Trail of the Brujo” in a story by Matthew Baugh. The Brujo’s soul is the body-switching survivor of a man Mather’s famed ancestor Cotton hung once. A couple of centuries of living and sadistic pleasures have started to lose their luster, but the Brujo just can’t check out. His soul belongs to the Devil, and he doesn’t intend on dying. Mather and the beautiful madam of a Dallas brothel join forces to combat the Brujo. A memorable and entertaining story. Continue reading “Low Noon”

“The Demon Pope”

This week’s weird fiction being discussed over at LibraryThing.

Review: “The Demon Pope”, Richard Garnett, 1888.

I had never heard of Garnett before reading this story.

I wouldn’t call it weird fiction, but then I’m not sure how I would define weird fiction.

It is, as the Encyclopedia of Fantasy entry says, a work of “English Literary Satanism”.

It starts out seeming to be yet another deal-with-the-devil story of which there are certainly hundreds, probably thousands. And it is a deal-with-the-devil story or, rather, negotiations with the devil.

The story opens in ca 961AD with theology student Gerbert and the devil discussing the sale of Gerbert’s soul. The devil wants to buy it. Gerbert doesn’t want to sell.

The story’s unexpected twists start right away with the rebuffed devil offering an unusual deal. He will give Gerbert 40 more years of life. At the end of that time, he will ask Gerbert “for a boon; not your soul, mind, or anything not perfectly in your power to grant”. If Gerbert denies the request, whatever it is, he goes to Hell. Continue reading ““The Demon Pope””

The High Crusade; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

I’m reading Pat Kelleher’s No Man’s World trilogy, a well-done tale of British Tommies from the Western Front of 1916 to an alien world. (And, when finished, it will go to the bottom of the long list of reviews to be written up.)

It put me in mind of this, the first version I know of a story putting human soldiers from human history into war on an alien world.

Raw Feed (1992): The High Crusade, Poul Anderson, 1960.High Crusade

A really fun book in which the plucky, bold Sir Roger de Tourneville not only repels the invading Wergorix from Earth but, through bluff, boldness, and intrigue builds a star empire.

This book reminded me of a couple of stories though with very different outcomes. 

The first is the story of King Arthur. The affair (never sexually consummated) between Sir Owain and Lady Catherine and the betrayal (unsuccessful) of Sir Roger reminded of the affair between Lancelot and Guinevere (Lancelot, like Sir Owain, is charming).

The ability of the low tech Englishmen to thwart the Wergorix (no metal to be radar visible, masters at hand to hand combat and sieges, crossbows in space) reminded me of the struggles of the fighter jet pilot to best WWI aircraft in Dean McLaughlin’s “Hawk Among the Sparrows”. Military tactics and technology evolve to fit a certain environment. The victory is not always won by the high tech forces. Sir Roger has a nice bit when he says

“ … while the engines of war may change through the centuries, rivalry and intrigue look no subtler out here than at home. Just because we use a different sort of weapons, we aren’t savages.”

It’s the guile of Sir Roger (though he modestly says he’s “no master of it … no Italian”) that wins the day.  ‘

I was reminded of historian William MacNeill’s thesis that Europe came to dominate the world because of the fierce, prolonged struggle between its different states, a struggle not duplicated elsewhere where one power soon came to be supreme. [This is put forth in his The Pursuit of Power.] This novel is sort of a forerunner to MacNeill’s thesis (which may not be original). (Did the Italians become Machiavellian master of intrigue because they were balkanized so long?)

I liked the humor when aliens interpret Christianity and other aspects of mediaeval culture as being signs of possibly advanced powers, and I liked the English complaining about the barbarous aliens with their lack of wood carving and ornamentation. Brother Parvus was unintentionally witty in his unsureness as to the righteousness of Sir Roger’s cause (and whether congress between man and alien is bestiality).

I also liked the comparison between the breakup of the Roman Empire and the Wersgorix Empire.

Parallax perspective on this is provided by Vintage Novels.

 

More fantastic fiction is indexed by title and author/editor.