The Mind Pool

The Charles Sheffield series continues with a . . .

Raw Feed (1997): The Mind Pool, Charles Sheffield, 1993.

Cover by David B. Mattingly

Introduction” — Sheffield explains that this is a revision of his 1986 novel The Nimrod Hunt which, he frankly admits, was greatly influenced by Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination.

The Mind Pool — This is Sheffield’s attempt to imitate Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination. As he says in his introduction, Sheffield makes no attempt to imitate Bester’s wonderful style and is not capable of doing so. The lack of Bester’s prose style may explain why this story was not particularly engaging when I read it nor memorable.

To be sure there are plenty of baroque, Bester-like elements though Bester seems to not only show the influence of The Stars My Destination but also Bester’s The Demolished Man. The element of personality disintegration and reconstruction, epitomized by the Demolition of the latter novel, is the major theme. It is echoed in the novel’s end with the fate of two major characters, the brain-damaged Luther Brachis and the catatonic Esra Mondrian, facing possible reconstruction in the Sargasso Dump.

The submergence of individual personality into the Mind Pool is another example of this as are the alien Tinker Composites. Closely allied to this theme is the idea of personal transcendence a lá Gully Foyle in The Stars My Destination. Chan Dalton experiences this in the Tolkov Stimulator as do the participants of the Mind Pool. Continue reading “The Mind Pool”

Georgia on My Mind and Other Places

The Charles Sheffield series continues.

Raw Feed (1997): Georgia on My Mind and Other Places, ed. Charles Sheffield, 1995.GRGNMYMNDN1996

Introduction” — Short, no nonsense, no-frill introduction for a collection of stories ranging from “silly to personal and serious.”

The Feynman Solution” — This is a fantasy. The mechanism of time travel is never rationalized beyond the point of artist Colin Trantham saying he’s a sort of positron which physicist Richard Feynman described as an electron traveling back in time. The story involves Colin, suffering from a brain tumor (the major scientific interest of the story is the descriptions of cancer therapies, their successes, methods of operation, and failings) and seeing visions of increasingly ancient and mostly extinct life which he draws with his usual precision. The relationship between Colin and his paleontologist sister Julia and his oncologist James Wollaston (eventually Julia’s lover) was well handled. The Tranthams, like Bey Wolf in Sheffield’s Proteus novels, love to quote all kinds of things from Samuel Johnson to movies. I suspect Sheffield does this too.

The Bee’s Kiss” — Like Sheffield’s “C-Change”, this story involves aliens who are concealing things. A very skilled voyeur is forced by a tyrant (after the voyeur is caught spying on him) to spy on some enigmatic aliens, the Sigil. It turns out the aliens have become alarmed after learning humans use sexual reproduction. The Sigil are asexual and use a parasitic means to reproduce like Earth’s sphinx wasp. This story has good psychological insight into a voyeur. Continue reading “Georgia on My Mind and Other Places”

“The Intoxicated Years”

This week’s weird fiction.

Review: “The Intoxicated Years”, Mariana Enríquez, trans. Megan McDowell, 2015.045149511X.01._SX142_SY224_SCLZZZZZZZ_

Enríquez gives us a familiar plot setup: the ups and downs, the conflicts and friendship among three teenaged girls.

Except these teenagers are thoroughly unlikeable, and they take teenage callousness and self-centeredness to unusual levels.

The story starts in Argentina in 1989, and I would suspect Enríquez, who was a 16 year old Argentinian that year, is more reporting than inventing with her characters.

It’s a time of electrical blackouts and runaway inflation:

Our mothers cried in the kitchen because they didn’t have enough money or there was no electricity or they couldn’t pay the rent or inflation had eaten away at their salaries until they didn’t cover anything beyond bread and cheap meat, but we girls – their daughters – didn’t feel sorry for them. Our mothers seemed just as stupid and ridiculous as the power outages.

This is not going to be a story of family reconciliation and daughters learning new respect for their mothers. It’s not even, really, about friendship – just a collapse of attachments and social relationships down to the singular trio, the coven, of the three main characters. Continue reading ““The Intoxicated Years””

Dancing with Myself

The Charles Sheffield series continues.

Some of the stories here I had read before, but I’ve put my notes in from my pre-1997 readings of them.

This one also has science articles.

(Just keeping things straight for the future historians who will, of course, want to know all that.)

Review (1997): Dancing with Myself, ed. Charles Sheffield, 1993.

Cover by Stanislaw Fernandez.

Out of Copyright” — This story revolves around a clever idea: that in a future where cloning is routine a person’s surviving heirs have copyrights to that person’s genome. Eventually those copyrights lapse into the public domain. This story centers around companies competing in a test-of-concept in which asteroids are launched at Io. The companies clone long dead scientific geniuses whose genomes are in the public domain. The clones provide assistance on various projects. The narrator of the story heads one combine’s teams. His talent is not scientific but in sabotage of the minor and persistent sort which accumulates and dooms a combine’s efforts. Most of the sabotage involves a keen understanding of people for it is revealed, at story’s end, that he is a cloned version of Al Capone (though Sheffield doesn’t explicitly name him). [Peter F. Hamilton also used an Al Capone resurrection in his Night’s Dawn trilogy.] The story’s concept lets Sheffield talk about some of the quirks and talents of those historical scientists who were cloned. Sheffield also points out that cloned scientific geniuses do not always turn out to be valuable. Sometimes the original’s accomplishments owed more to environment than genes. [There was something in the air in 1989, the year this story was first published. It was also the year that Robert Silverberg’s Time Gate was published. It’s historical figures were resurrected via computer simulacra.]

Tunicate, Tunicate, Wilt Thou Be Mine” — This is Sheffield doing a sort of H.P. Lovecraft imitation. As in many a Lovecraft tale, the story is narrated in the first person by a narrator who writes desperately of awful things before some cosmic horror previously viewed closes in for the last time. Here, again as in Lovecraft – notably his “The Colour Out of Space” – the horror is an alien who has crashed on Earth. The alien is much like an earth tunicate, a strange creature combining the features of animal and plant, vertebrate, and invertebrate. Under its influence, the narrator kills his wife and friends. Continue reading “Dancing with Myself”

Proteus in the Underworld

The Charles Sheffield series continues.

Raw Feed (1997): Proteus in the Underworld, Charles Sheffield, 1995.

Cover by Gary Ruddell

 I got the impression that Sheffield, listed as the main science advisor in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars and Green Mars, wanted to do a Martian novel of his own. As with the Robinson Martian trilogy, this novel features two groups in conflict over what to do with Mars. Old Mars wants to terraform Mars. It’s opposition wants to alter man for Mars with form-change equipment – a technology of human will and the subconscious altering the human form via biofeedback that figures as the centerpiece of the Proteus series and seems to link it with the McAndrew series. Sheffield not only deals with the surface of Mars but also the Underworld, a series of natural caverns underneath equatorial Mars.

The story involves the seeming failure of the “humanity test” given to human children. (Failure to pass it gets the child killed and sent to the organ banks.) It has failed to detect “feral” and definitely non human forms.

The character of the now retired Bey Wolf (ex-head of the Office of Form Control and hero of the series) was ok, and I liked his many quotations. Likewise, I found his distant relative Sandra Wolf Dearborn acceptable. I didn’t even mind their romance at novel’s end. The plot of who is sabotaging the humanity test kept me turning the pages. Continue reading “Proteus in the Underworld”

The McAndrew Chronicles

The Charles Sheffield series continues.

Raw Feed (1997): The McAndrew Chronicles, Charles Sheffield, 1983.

Cover by Vincent di Fate

 Introduction” — Sheffield notes his confusion at separating the science from the pseudoscience be encountered as a teenager reading science fiction. He says no stories in this book violate current scientific theories.

First Chronicle: Killing Vector” — Introduction of the absent-minded and brilliant physicist McAndrew and his work in kernels (charged, rotating Kerr-Newman black holes). The McAndrew name and kernels seem to link this story to the Proteus Universe of Sheffield’s. A terrorist being transported on the ship McAndrew works on is sprung by his confederates though his plan goes very awry (he’s booted out of the universe) because of his incomplete knowledge of physics. The terrorist Yifter is head of the Hallucinogenic Freedom League which kills a billion people by putting hallucinogens in many of the water supplies of the world. This seems to point to a conception date for this story of sometime in the seventies [publication in Galaxy magazine in 1978, actually]. References to bio-feedback machines regenerating lost limbs, the central technology of the Proteus stories, are also mentioned made here.

Second Chronicle: Moment of Inertia” — McAndrew invents a balanced drive spaceship capable of traveling at 50g acceleration. The trick is not generating that much power. It’s accelerating that quickly and keeping the passengers alive. McAndrew uses a moveable disk of superdense matter to cancel out the acceleration forces with gravity (the equivalence principle of Einstein). However, during the ship’s trial voyage, the disk gets stuck so McAndrew can’t decelerate safely. The narrator of the senses (his friend and occasional lover) saves him. [No, 22 years later I no longer have any idea of what the “narrator of the senses” means. I don’t have the book in front of me.] Continue reading “The McAndrew Chronicles”

Proteus Combined

And it’s more Charles Sheffield.

Raw Feed (1994): Proteus Combined, Charles Sheffield, 1994.

Cover by Barclay Shaw

An omnibus of Sheffield’s Proteus series.

Sheffield is known as a hard sf writer and has written some good hard sf – he’s certainly got the technical background for it.

However, I suspect (like James Gunn’s The Immortals) this story owes more to some fanciful playing with dubious, but popular notions of biomedicine than real science. Here Sheffield takes the 70’s notion of biofeedback to a bizarre level: the human form can actually be changed with the help of computerized biofeedback.

In Sight of Proteus, Sheffield develops the idea while wending a way through a complicated plot involving secret and illegal form manipulation for the benefit of man and space travel and alien contact.

There are catalogs that cater to fashion in forms, form change to prolong life, illegal forms that hero Bey Wolf searches out for the government, and conflict over the use of forms (“spacers” don’t like them), and the redefining of humanity as someone who can use biofeedback equipment at an early age.

I liked the plot element with some humans – under the influence of illegal form change equipment – being contaminated with Logian viral DNA and changing into aliens. Loge – and I have no idea if the purported pre-1975 science listed is real – is the planet that supposedly existed (according to Bode’s Law and evidenced by the asteroid belt and the calculated origin point of some comets) between Mars and Jupiter. Aliens lived on it as evidenced by transuranic elements. Continue reading “Proteus Combined”

Brother to Dragons

Joachim Boaz and I were briefly discussed Charles Sheffield over at Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations. After checking, I realized there were a lot of Sheffield works I’ve read but never posted about.

So, while I’m working on new stuff, you get . . .

Raw Feed (1993): Brother to Dragons, Charles Sheffield, 1992.

Cover by Stephen Hickman.

 This book has an absurd premise: that just before the twentieth century ends the Quiebra Grande, the Great Crash, brings down the world economy. [Seems a lot less improbable after 2008, doesn’t it?]

Scientists and technologists of all sorts are locked up in concentration camps built on toxic waste dumps while the richest families, the Royal Hundred in America, preserve their status.

The cause of this economic catastrophe? Pollution, we’re told – high-sulfur coal burning, nuclear reactor meltdowns, poisoned oceans, and “quadrupled background radioactivity”, stripped topsoil, and the ever popular decaying infrastructure. [And it’s still decaying according to what I see walking about.] Exactly how these things led to economic collapse of long duration we’re never told or why things were allowed to deteriorate so far. Increased medical costs? Reduced productivity? [IQ decline? A Turchinesque collapse due to unmanageable complexity?]

But, if you allow the silly premise, this is a very exciting, fast moving novel set in a world that reminds one of a Third World country or, as a reviewer noted, a Dickens novel (orphanages, street people, the Royal Hundred). Continue reading “Brother to Dragons”

The Furies

Another Keith Roberts post while I work on new stuff.

Raw Feed (2004): The Furies, Keith Roberts, 1966.

Cover by Paul Lehr.

A merely ok disaster novel.

I mostly got the feeling that, with the invasion of the aliens who take the form of giant wasps, I was reading some obscure (a quality that often shows up in regard to Roberts) metaphor about industrialism.

I note also that a pastoral England, a theme of the two other Roberts novels I’ve read, Pavane and Kiteworld, shows up here, in his first work.

I don’t think it really worked to combine two disasters: huge earthquakes as the result of nuclear weapons testing (though I never got the feeling Roberts was doing a critique of nuclear testing — it mostly just seemed a convenient device) and an alien invasion. Nor did Roberts ever really deal much with depicting (apart from a good scene where a man is murdered when he tries to stop an escape from the wasp camp) the drama of social breakdown a la John Christopher.

I thought the part with the guerilla war against the wasps went on too long. Continue reading “The Furies”


This week’s weird fiction.

Review: “Neithernor”, Richard Gavin, 2015.Dark

A strange, Robert Aickmanesque story (it appeared first in the tribute anthology Aickman’s Heirs) that was effective despite it’s many mysteries.

There are three themes in the story: parasitism, social isolation, and the idea of art being channeled by an artist from a mysterious force outside themselves.

The narrator, possesses a “holey” memory in great evidence in his description of his relationship with his fiancé Cara. He doesn’t even remember proposing to her.

The main story involves the narrator, Forrest, and his relationship with his cousin Vera.

He takes pains to emphasize he only met his cousin once, when he was ten at a Thanksgiving dinner. But she will become a central presence in the story when Forrest learns, when checking out a dingy art gallery run by a rather sinister old man (his chest is described as being like an overfed pigeon’s) to possibly get a story idea for his arts column in the local newspaper, that Vera has become a reclusive artist of strange collages made of copper wire and human hair. Continue reading ““Neithernor””