No Man’s World

 

Low Res Scan: Black Hand Gang, Pat Kelleher, 2010; The Ironclad Prophecy, Pat Kelleher, 2011; The Alleyman, Pat Kelleher, 2011.

Don’t bother reading Pat Kelleher’s No Man’s World trilogy.

Why shouldn’t you read it?

For exactly the same reason you shouldn’t watch one of those well-done science fiction tv series that lasted a season. You get enraptured with the mysteries, the struggles of the characters, and, as you get near the end, you realize, with a sinking feeling, that there is no way all the conflicts and plots and subplots are going to be wrapped up, the mysteries solved. Continue reading “No Man’s World”

Adventures in Reviewer Parallax: The Adventures of Captain Hatteras

On January 22, 2014, I was at a flea market in Texas.

I was in a hurry, and I’d heard the title of this Verne novel, saw it was polar story, so I grabbed it off the shelf without a closer look. I thought I was getting Verne’s sequel to Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.

For the record, that would be Verne’s An Antarctic Mystery.

Review: The Adventures of Captain Hatteras, Jules Verne, trans. William Butcher, 1864, 2005.

Adventures of Captain Hatteras
Cover: “The Explorer A. E. Nordenskiold” by George Rosen

This was Jules Verne’s second novel and the first of his Extraordinary Journeys, a series that continued for 50 years and 63 more books.

It was popular in its day. Four English were done in the 1870s, but Butcher, as the back cover would have it, “the father of Verne Studies”, says none were subsequently done until his.

Real polar explorers found it one of the most accurate pictures ever written of life in the Arctic — or so a footnoted source says.

There’s no doubt Verne turned over a library for this book. He was a devotee of polar exploration though somewhat hampered by not reading English. However, many polar chronicles had been translated from English into French.

The plot of this two-decker novel has the ship the Forward departing Liverpool on April 6, 1860 with Richard Shandon, second-in-command, on board. The captain, whoever he is, will show up later. Shandon is known as a reliable and knowledgeable seaman with experience of Arctic waters. Dr. Clawbonny joins the ship later in the voyage. He’ll be an affable, steadfast character with an encyclopedic knowledge of polar exploration and the polar clime – though most of it is was learned through books. He’s looking for more actual experience. Continue reading “Adventures in Reviewer Parallax: The Adventures of Captain Hatteras”

Middlemarch

Low Res Scan: Middlemarch, George Eliot, 1871-1872.1985fb54723a7a850be5cfda20c5e255

I’m not foolish enough to review an 800 page novel considered a classic and with so much attention already paid it. (I actually don’t know how long it really is. I downloaded an edition off Project Gutenberg and read it on my kindle.)

After hearing Jonathan Steinberg’s lecture on George Eliot and Middlemarch in episode 23 of the Great Courses’ series European History and European Lives: 1715 to 1914, I was curious about the novel. Also, there’s the nagging knowledge (but not guilt) that there’s a gaping hole from my English major days in regards to 19th century English novels.

The final impetus came from the weekly book club discussion on Luke Ford’s political podcast with Luke’s deadpan claim it was only 200 pages and you could read it in a couple of hours.

Is it worth reading? Very much so. I think you could make the claim that Eliot is as insightful, if not more so, about human psychology than Shakespeare. Continue reading “Middlemarch”

Science Fiction Trails #13

It’s time for another weird western review.

Review: Science Fiction Trails #13, ed. David B. Riley, 2018.

Science Fiction Trails 13
Cover by Laura Givens

To be honest, this issue was a disappointment. It was shorter than usual and a higher percentage of stories were ho-hum though there were a couple of bright points from two of the magazine’s old reliables.

I’m afraid the two newcomers don’t distinguish themselves.

Cynthia Ward’s “Six Guns of the Sierra Nevada” is actually a reprint of a story that first appeared 20 years ago in Pulp Eternity Magazine #1. It belongs to a time travel theme running throughout this issue. Carl Rhein seems to have been sent back in time by a shadowy cabal from the future in order to poison future American race relations by wiping out the Robin Hood Gang composed of all blacks. You have to be really good to get me to care about yet another story centering on what I’m told is the cause of all evil – racism, and this story isn’t, and its ending is a trifle murky.

There’s some racism in Paul J. Carney’s “The Warden of Chaco Canyon”, but it’s main problem is just that it’s kind of bland. It takes place in an alternate American West where prospectors have been hunting meteors with “star iron” – sought because of its use in protective amulets and bullets that will penetrate anything. However, the strikes have petered out after five years and prospector Hewitt wants to know why. He falls in with an Indian shaman who has his own ideas about what to do with “star iron”, and there are the ghosts of the town wiped out in the first meteor strike. Continue reading “Science Fiction Trails #13”

Deal or No Deal?

Review: Deal or No Deal?, William Meikle, 2017.Deal or No Deal

Derek Adams is Meikle’s favorite series character. Like Meikle, he’s a Glasgow man. He smokes a lot, drinks a lot, and doesn’t really try for the women. He’s a private eye with old school methods: legwork, a few phone calls, and a lot of talking to the more dubious elements of Glasgow in pubs.

He’s also a magnet for the weird.

I enjoyed Adams’ boozy, cynical, sarcastic voice in The Midnight Eye Files, the most complete collection of Derek Adams tales.

The series works best at longer lengths, but, while this is only novella, it’s long enough to put Adams’ voice in your head and provide a satisfying tale.

And it’s an old story: selling your soul to the Devil.

The usual bargain is a soul for wealth, knowledge, or sex. Here it’s three beers and a packet of crisps.

At least that’s the story Fraser McDougall, Adams’ latest client – and a well-paying one he is – tells him. And McDougall wasn’t the only who sold his soul thirty years ago in a drunken night at the pub. Continue reading “Deal or No Deal?”

Operation Antarctica

In the depths of last winter, I read this one on the heels of Infestation.

Review: Operation Antarctica, William Meikle, 2017.Operation Antarctica

I liked this S-Squad novel better than Infestation, and for almost exactly the opposite reasons.

The squad, with an all Scottish contingent this time, gets sent in to Norway’s slice of the Antarctic to see why there are signs of activity around an old Nazi base there.

What that they find, as you might guess from the cover, is Nazi ice zombies and a flying saucer. And a menace first encountered by occult detective Thomas Carnacki. (I have no idea if Meikle worked in a free standing Carnacki tale of his since I’ve never read any of his Carnacki pastiches or any of the original Carnacki stories by William Hope Hodgson.)

I thought the setting a bit less atmospheric than the Arctic wastes of Infestation, but I liked the squad’s supernatural enemy here more than the giant bugs of the earlier novel. Bullets prove a lot less use than magic.

It’s 138 pages of straightforward action. I suppose I shouldn’t expect any treacherous S-Squad superiors or turncoat team members in future installments, but that’s ok. Meikle has come up with a winning formula to devour between reading longer books.

 

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

Infestation

Having read some short stories from William Meikle and his Derek Adams trilogy, I decided to pick this one up.

It’s the first in what is currently a four part series (and more on the way) about the S-Squad, a series described by Meikle at his website as a tribute to several things –

50s big-bug B movies, Alistair MacLean books and movies, Aliens, and Dog Soldiers are all rattling around in there.

I’m not that big on the big bugs, but I am very fond of Alistair MacLean and particularly fond of his stories of spies and intrigue in cold places: Ice Station Zebra, Night Without End, and Where Eagles Dare.

Review: Infestation, William Meikle, 2017.Infestation

When a British commando unit drops into the frozen Canadian wastes west of Baffin Island to see what a mysterious Russian ship is doing in Canadian waters, it doesn’t take long to discover the carnage left behind by the cover creature.

Not all six members of the S-Squad are going to make to the end of Meikle’s story, and battling those critters through about a 100 pages doesn’t leave any room for a double agent – which I expected to see in a tale inspired by Alistair MacLean.

The opening, in a deserted fishing village at night, was atmospheric, but, to be honest, the critters didn’t do much for me. I did appreciate, being interested in geology, the origin story Meikle gives them.

Meikle does a nice job with the physical details. Cold water, however shallow, can kill quickly.. Fingers uncovered quickly become too numb to fire weapons. A character is half blinded from operating a cutting torch.

While I wished for some human treachery added to the giant bug plot and found the bugs eviscerating but not very emotionally invigorating, I am interested in more adventures of the S-Squad.

 

 

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

“Pest House”

The James Gunn series continues.

Review: “Pest House”, James Gunn, 1996.c87e19c4f9c12b7596945497167434f414f4141

This was Gunn’s 64th story. Michael R. Page’s Saving the World Through Science Fiction puts the composition date at 1957. As of the 1996 publication date of The Unpublished Gunn, Part Two, it was his last unpublished story. Page says it was also the last piece of fiction Gunn wrote until the late 1960s.

This was a story aimed at the “slick” science fiction magazine market. Gunn defines that market as having

a more general theme, a setting in the not-too-distant future, and an idea that did not present serious difficulties for an unsophisticated readership.

Like “Jackpot for Julie” and “The Man with One Talent”, I don’t discern any flaws that would have made its publishing questionable. Page says the story would have undoubtedly been published if the science fiction magazine market had not collapsed in the late 1950s. Continue reading ““Pest House””

The Martian in the Wood

Review: The Martian in the Wood, Stephen Baxter, 2017.Martian in the Wood

This novella is a pendant on Baxter’s The Massacre of Mankind.

Like that novel, it’s told by Julie Elphinstone, ex-sister-in-law of Walter Jenkins, the man we know as the narrator of The War of the Worlds.

Besides references to that novel, Baxter works in another work by Wells and uses the concept of an old forest as a repository of memory similar to Mythago Wood (a novel I know only by reputation) by Robert Holdstock to whom the story is dedicated.

On July 7, 1907, as Jenkins is wandering about the ruins of London with its Martians dead in their tripods, another Martian cylinder lands in Homburgh Wood, an ancient forest untouched by the last glaciation of England.

The story depicts the effects of having a Martian in Holmburgh, particularly on Nathan Gardner, an orphan of the war who was nearby when the Martian landed. The increasingly long time he spends in the wood, often returning after weeks looking haggard and bedraggled, concerns his sister Zene. Nearby farmers are concerned with the dearth of wildlife and strange weather. When a local man disappears, things come to a head with Zena and Jenkins heading into the wood to see what’s going on. Continue reading “The Martian in the Wood”