“The Mind Master”

It’s time for this week’s Deep Ones’ reading.

This week’s selection is not really, to my mind and emotions (and isn’t emotion a crucial element here?), weird.

However, when the nominations are put up, I’ll vote for anything I haven’t read before, and I voted for this one.

Review: “The Mind Master”, Arthur J. Burks, 1932.Mind Master

Lee Bentley is a pretty resilient guy.

A bit over two months ago, in the African jungles, he got mixed up with Caleb Barter, one bad, mad genius obsessed with birthing a better world. And he knows just how to do it: smart guys’ brains in ape bodies.

Bentley’s a smart guy, so Barter put his brain into a great ape.

Bentley’s no sissy. He’s a pulp hero, so he doesn’t have PTSD or nightmares. He’s not boozing it up or sobbing in his apartment after his experiences.

After a couple of months of recuperation in England, he returns to his native Manhattan with Ellen Estabrook, his fiancé. Continue reading ““The Mind Master””

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Stealing Other People’s Homework: “The H. G. Wells Problem”

What’s the H. G. Wells problem?

Well, according to Darrell Schweitzer, it’s Wells’ anti-Semitism.

I must admit I wasn’t aware of that aspect of Wells. His love of eugenics and Joe Stalin, yes.

I could quibble with some of Schweitzer’s piece. I will just say that plenty of people in the early 20th century, including Jews, were fond of eugenics

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”

“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.

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.

Year’s Best SF 5

This one mentions a work by Tom Purdom, one of this blog’s pet projects.

Raw Feed (2001): Best SF 5, ed. David G. Hartwell, 2000.Best SF 5

Everywhere“, Geoff Ryman — On first reading, this seems like a pleasant enough, poignant story about a young boy dealing with his grandfather’s death in a utopian future. (As Hartwell notes in the introduction, Ryman is not an author associated with utopias.) Through means never really explained (alternate time tracks in different dimensions of an 11 dimension universe? editing of a life in another dimension?) the sf equivalent of a soul is shunted off to “everywhere”, seemingly to live a past events again. I’m not sure how desirable that would be. I’m also not sure how utopian it is to live in a society of abullients who need a computer to suggest the next recreation activity. Nor will I grant Ryman the hypothesis that a great deal of the world’s problems stem from being not knowing what they next want to do with themselves. Granted, that is a major problem in some people’s lives. More frequently, I suspect, people know what they want to do but can’t, for a variety of reasons, do it. Even assuming a benevolent computer who could surveil you (and not abuse the gathered data), it’s still a creepy idea to be so completely and accurately modeled as to have a electronic nanny suggest the next playtime activity. Ryman recycles an old utopian notion of everybody taking their turn at certain undesirable jobs for “readies” unconvincingly depicted as an alternative to antique money.

Evolution Never Sleeps“, Elisabeth Malartre — This is essentially a hard science, rational, plausible version of all those fifties’ monster sf movies or the revenge of nature films popular in the seventies. In fact, there is an explicit allusion to Hitchcock’s The Birds (as the characters point out, it’s scary because the reason the birds become menacing is never explained, formerly benign creatures becoming threatening) and the suggested title for the movie version of events here is “The Attack of the Killer Chipmunks”. A researcher discovers that chipmunks have began to hunt in packs and become a formidable predator of creatures larger than them. As the title points out, there’s absolutely no reason that the process of evolution has stopped working on current lifeforms. Malartre also points out (and I assume it’s true given that she’s a biologist) that true herbivores are rare. Most animals will eat meat if given the opportunity and that meat is easier to digest than plant food. At the end, it’s clear this new breed of chipmunks is willing to attack man. [Incidentally, this version of the story accidentally omitted the author’s ending. Malartre sent me the ending, but I don’t know what I did with it. And, no, we’re not buddies. She put a notice in Locus that readers could request the ending from her.] Continue reading “Year’s Best SF 5”

Anarchaos; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

Well, I don’t have any bright ideas for a new series of Raw Feeds while I work on writing new reviews.

I saw Gaping Blackbird‘s recent review, so I thought I’d put this one up.

Additional observations are provided by The Westlake Review (I’ve linked to the second half of a two-part review, but the first part is worth reading too), Existential Ennui, and Olman’s Fifty

Raw Feed (1993): Anarchaos, Curt Clark, 1967.Anarchaos

A short novel of bitter irony.

Narrator and protagonist Rolf Malone, a man so short tempered he kills five people for making too much noise at a party, gets our of jail after seven years to avenge the murder of his brother on Anarchaos, an anarchist world based (I assume given the names given) on the writings of anarchist philosophers.

Contrary to the cover blurb – “The only crime was to be killed”, there are absolutely no crimes – or laws – on Anarchaos. The author uses it take some swipes at the philosophy of anarchism, syndicalism, and the social degeneracy that the extreme practice of rugged individualism would allegedly cause.

Realistically people would not live without some form of law – even if just manners, customs, and traditions and not written law. Clark aka Donald Westlake realizes this in one scene where various taxi drivers competing for the narrator’s fare are very polite to each other. “An armed society”, as Robert Heinlein is alleged to have said, “is a polite society.”

His brother, Gar, is the opposite of Malone – cool-headed (Gar thinks he’s too passionless), educated, responsible, well liked by this family. But the brothers are close, and Rolf feels his brother’s death heavily.

As soon as he ventures out of the spaceport on Anarchaos, he murders a taxi driver for his weapons, and I thought I was in for a tale of a man methodically, ruthlessly finding out the murderers of his brother and killing them. But the novel takes an unexpected turn as things rapidly go wrong.

Rolf Malone is shot, sold into slavery for four years (a chilling experience which reduces Malone to a mindless, animalistic level), maimed, escapes only to be rescued by a man he reluctantly kills because he also wants to enslave Malone), and Malone is kidnapped again.

During most of the book, he makes absolutely no progress towards his goal of vengeance. It is only when kidnapped the second time that he, almost at the end of the book, discovers his brother died because of his discovery of a mineral deposit, caught in the crossfire between two off-planet mining companies. The United Commission only assists colonial governments based on real or theoretical governments of the past (a legal invention I liked and which seems realistically bureaucratic and flawed). Therefore, the UC wants to get rid of Anarchaos but is politically foiled by corporations who find the political conditions ideal for exploiting the planet’s fur and mineral wealth.

The man with the violent temper can not work up enough passion to kill his brother’s murderers when he learns their identity. Indeed, he pleads with them to erase his mind and return him to the animalistic mindlessness of their slave camp he escaped from.  As he urgently explains to his captors

“ … I came to this planet, I thought I was hard, I thought I was the strongest there was and it would all go my way, and nothing went my way. I lost every fight. I lost a hand. I learned nothing, and I’m sitting here a prisoner of a man I don’t know, caught up in some sort of problem I don’t understand.”

The problem is, as Rolf discovers, that Gar’s mineral discovery is unknown, its location encrypted in Gar’s personal diary, and both Rolf’s kidnappers and Gar’s old employers (which seem more sinister as time goes on) want that secret. Upon reading a personal passage in which Gar talks of his hopes for what his reunion with Rolf will do for both brothers, Rolf musters the will to kills his captors. Though he strangles them, his attitude is not passionate but dutiful. He comes to think of his brother’s death as “accidental murder” and not a personal act done because of whom Gar was; he agrees with what so many people tell him at novel’s beginning, that it is Anarchaos and its political, social, and economic conditions which really led to his brother’s death.

At novel’s end, a couple of clichés emerge.

There is the ambitious, scheming Jenna Guild, ex-lover of Gar and concubine of Gar’s employer, head of Ice syndicate, who plans on using Rolf to kill said head, Colonel Whistler. Whistler himself says that corporations tend to send their worst employees to Anarchaos as punishment and that he’s no exception. Worst here seems meant in a moral sense and not competence.)

Rolf obliges but only, with Guild’s help (he eventually abandons her), to invoke another cliché: the sf action story that abruptly ends with the hero inciting a sudden political/social revolution/transformation. (The idea isn’t inherently bad. Look at Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination.) Here Rolf gets a hold of some corporate bombs and uses them on United Commission embassies on Anarchaos. This act of terrorism will incite the UC towards one of two things: imposing their government on Anarchaos or pulling out of the planet and taking their economic assistance with them (the bombs destroy a good chunk of banking records) – assistance which keeps Anarchaos alive given its shrinking population. It was not a bad ending, and despite being a common plot device, it’s an act that makes sense given the context and themes of the story. Still, my favorite feature of this story is the transformation of its protagonist, a process unexpected in this kind of story.

 

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