“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”→
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”→
“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”→
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”→
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.
Recently Paul Fraser of the SF Magazines blog commented on my review of Keith Roberts Pavane. Since I’m busy working on a log series of posts that I won’t put out until they are all done, it seemed like the time for . . .
A strangely compelling story, slow moving at first but rapidly paced after the “Kitecaptain” section.
It’s a combination of medieval-like religion in the Variant Church, seemingly Taoism in the Middle Doctrine, and Victorian-type tech (early autos, kites, and steam tractors). I would have liked to have seen more explanation of the religions.
Roberts managed to pull off shifting viewpoints and central characters
Still, the ending was disappointing.
While saving all the major woman characters of the novel (Kerosina’s human corruption in need of salvation via loving understanding, Tan equaling Innocence, Velvet equaling Beauty) may have been a philosophical statement, it seemed more like contrivance to avoid Aldiss “decent sense of despair” than a believable outcome.
I did like the post-apocalypse litanies concerning cruise missiles and ICBMs. More on the mutants in the Badlands would have been nice. Continue reading “Kiteworld”→
I’m not resuming my James Gunn series yet, but I happen to come across this story in a recent issue of Analog.
Review: “The Little Sailboat”, James Gunn, 2019.
This is a “Probability Zero” story. That’s an Analog feature of short-short stories. Many are humorous. Some, like this one, are fabalistic or outside of Analog‘ usual scope of hard science fiction.
Gunn, in Crisis!, was operating in science fiction guru mode. This is Gunn operating in, unfortunately, in sort of an Elijah mode.
A man builds a sailboat in his driveway. However, the driveway is “hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean”.
Since this story is sort of a combination of “The Little Engine That Could” and the building of Noah’s Ark, the sailboat is personified as “the Little Sailboat”, and neighborhood boys mock the Little Sailboat as they pass.