News of the Black Feast and Other Random Reviews

Low Res Scan: News of the Black Feast and Other Random Reviews, Brian Stableford, 1992, 2009.

No, I am not going to review a collection of Stableford’s book reviews.

However, I will briefly note a few I found especially interesting.

His introduction notes that book reviews are mostly fillers that few people read. But authors do, and he apologizes for being hurtfully frank in some.

Continue reading “News of the Black Feast and Other Random Reviews”

“Insoluble Problems”

Review: “Insoluble Problems: Barry Malzberg’s Career in Science Fiction”, Brian Stableford, 1977, 1995.

This essay has a 1979 postscript concerning Malzberg’s then new novel Chorale

Malzberg once thought that only science fiction could save literature. But he also came to think that sf let 98% of its ideas and their implications on the table. (Malzberg expanded on this in his essay “Thus Our Words Unspoken” in the September 1992 issue of Amazing Stories.) 

To Malzberg the future is to sf what “fornication” is to porn, the Old West to the western, and the past to historical fiction: it’s just a convention against which the main story plays out. (Isn’t the fornication in porn the story?)

Malzberg came to resent having to compete against other types of sf.

Malzberg didn’t want to write stories about problem-solving (i.e. “hard SF”). He wanted to use sf to write about the anxieties of living in the modern age and about the resulting alienation. (I’m not sure whether Malzberg’s theme of alienation explains Robert Silverberg’s interest in him or whether it’s just friendship). Problems aren’t always solved in Malzberg’s fiction. Maybe they can’t be solved or only partially solved with a compromise.

Continue reading ““Insoluble Problems””

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”

Clans of the Alphane Moon

And the PKD still continues.

Raw Feed (1990): Clans of the Alphane Moon, Philip K. Dick, 1964.Clans of the Alphane Moon

This was an enjoyable Dick read.

It’s bizarre story of a vicious marriage was enjoyable, skewed, and, at times, horrific. This broken relationship, desperate writer, scheming plot (perhaps too much), insane character novel is typical Dick.

True, Dick doesn’t do enough with the very interesting idea of a moon of insane people, intrigues too much with Bunny Hentmann and the CIA in the middle part of the novel, but the slime mold, the obsessive ideas of murder and sadism, and a working society of madmen make a delightful read.

We Can Remember You For Wholesale:  An Afterword to Dick’s Clans of the Alphane Moon“, Barry N. Malzberg — This is the first Malzberg criticism I’ve read. Though he was Dick’s friend (so I gather), I disagree with some, but not all, of his contentions.

I disagree with Malzberg’s statement that the novel makes no sense. Nor do I agree that Dick’s stories aren’t serious explorations of painful, disturbing emotions and relationships or that his novels are somehow intended to “self-destruct”. Dick was never a terribly popular writer with the majority of sf readers. Dick did not emotionally cater to his readers. Continue reading “Clans of the Alphane Moon”

The Early Novels of Kathe Koja, Part Five: Strange Angels

strange-angels

The Cipher, Kathe Koja, 1991, 2012.

Bad Brains, Kathe Koja, 1992.

Skin, Kathe Koja, 1993.

Strange Angels, Kathe Koja,

Kink, Kathe Koja, 1996.

The Early Novels of Kathe Koja: Strange Angels.

Strange Angels, Koja’s fourth novel, is something of a transitional novel, and the last of her early novels where characters go on a journey of transformation and do not emerge from the fire unscathed. Madness or death is the price paid for their obsessive quests. Continue reading “The Early Novels of Kathe Koja, Part Five: Strange Angels”

Out on Blue Six; Or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

Review: Out on Blue Six, Ian McDonald, 1989.out-on-blue-six

There are several problems with this story of a failed utopia 453 years after “the Break” that brought our world to a close, but the main one was that McDonald’s prose and conceptions are untethered to the historical, cultural, and geographical realities he must extrapolate from in his rightly acclaimed later novels set in various parts of the world like India, Brazil, and Kenya.

The plot follows the adventures of Courtney Hall, cartoonist, whose satiric work runs afoul of the Office of Socially Responsible Literature of the Compassionate Society. She eventually finds herself in an underground kingdom and on a quest to go beyond the wall outside the city. The parallel plot follows Kilimanjaro West, an amnesiac man who shows up in that city and falls in with Kansas Byrne and her guerilla theatre troupe of the Raging Apostles. Of course, he has a destiny.

As is his wont, McDonald samples a bunch of cultural artifacts and mixes them into his story. I detected the Statute of Liberty, Mutant Ninja Turtles, Exorcist the movie, Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination, Alice in Wonderland, and the movie Brazil. Continue reading “Out on Blue Six; Or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax”

Some Parallax Views on Kathe Koja

No, I’m not quite done with Kathe Koja. I just ordered a Kindle copy of her Strange Angels, so I’ll be reviewing that at some point. (Another parallel to my Ambrose Bierce series in that I found just one more title I wanted to look at after I thought I wrapped it up.)

So I did some research on other perspectives — meaning things I either didn’t think of or expressed less well — on Koja’s early works.

However, before returning to Koja again, I will first be reviewing — and it won’t be a happy review — an early novel by a certain famous Irish science fiction writer.

Websites

Will Erickson’s Summer of Sleaze: The Alternative Horrors of Kathe Koja is a stylish look at Koja’s The Cipher and Bad Brains.

A look at the rise and fall of Dell’s Abyss line of horror in the 1990s discusses Koja in that context. It cites the emphasis on body horror and interior life in Koja’s fiction as well as her reliance on characters involved in various triangles.

In an April 2002 interview, Barry Malzberg said this in passing about his collaborations with Koja:

I had what I call a ‘great autumnal run’ between 1990 and 1993, publishing about a hundred short stories (alone and in collaboration with Kathe Koja), which I think are the best work I ever did.

Locus Material

But metaphor can be thin stuff, while Koja’s book is rich with the minutiae of life, precisely down to earth as she depicts the horrible futility of entanglement with the medical system, the sad detritus and odd little triumphs of life on society’s margins, the weird, isolated world of long highway journeys.

Faren Miller’s review of Bad Brains in the January 1992 issue of Locus

Edward Bryant is my all time favorite book reviewer, and the only one I’ve seen that could be funny and accurately summarize a work.

In his review of Bad Brains in the February 1992 issue of Locus, he is explicit about a theme less acknowledged in Koja’s work: the failure to communicate:

Austen’s failure as a portrait artist seems to be linked to his inability to depict his clients in any way they consider realistic. Communication has failed; Austen simply hangs up his brushes.

Miller, in a December 1992 review of Skin, said:

The sexuality may be ‘modern’ (butch, hip, punk, whatever), but the tragedy dates back to Shakespeare, complete with a disguised Iago type driving the plot toward the bitter end.

Yes, I called Malcom in that novel an instigator, manipulator, and agitator. It would have been simpler to call him an “evil counselor”. It’s not like I haven’t read enough Elizabethan and Jacobean drama not to know the type or term.

In his review of Skin in the April 1993 issue, Ed Bryant even mentions David Skal’s Antibodies in passing. Perhaps I subconsciously remembered that coupling when I wrote “Breaking the Skin”.

Selected Short Fiction of Kathe Koja

Essay: Selected Short Fiction of Kathe Koja

Another summer and fall and winter taken up with charting an author featured at the local Arcana “dark fantastic” convention.

In 2014, it was the dead Ambrose Bierce. In 2016, it was Kathe Koja who is still very much alive and a novelist and a playwright and theatre producer.

I’ve already covered four of her early novels, but Koja has written numerous stories since her 1987 debut. The “selected” of the title means my diligence did not extend to moving boxes of magazines in the home archive to access every Koja story I had, so I looked at her stuff easily at hand in the house and online.

This post will cover stories appearing in various anthologies and magazines.

skin-deepI didn’t revisit “Skin Deep” (Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction, July 1989) after reading it in 1994. According to my less than completely helpful notes, it seems to be another tale of sexual obsession and, perhaps like Koja’s Skin, The Cipher, and Kink, a fatal quest for transcendence. A man takes an alien lump of flesh as a lover. This commentary on the power of sexual desire – strange and unexplained, a force of nature – is the story’s main strength, relayed through vivid, creepy imagery. Ultimately, the alien absorbs him and kills him. It’s the death of his body. However, his consciousness is melded with hers. Body dead but desire achieved.

That’s one version of real world love – sexual obsession leading to physical destruction. But it’s also a metaphor for the old “man and woman cleaving together” idea, two minds and two bodies becoming one. So, you might also consider this another example of Christian imagery showing up in Koja’s fiction.

Many of these stories came from theme anthologies so Koja, weird fiction author, isn’t the only thing on display here. Koja, in a 1998 interview, said she wrote for such anthologies if the theme was “interesting and sufficiently broad to allow room to maneuver and play”. Continue reading “Selected Short Fiction of Kathe Koja”

Stealing Other People’s Homework: Interview with Kathe Koja

kathe-koja

By pure coincidence, I see on ISFD.org that today is Kathe Koja’s birthday.

Best wishes to her.

It would have been nice to put up my two planned installments on some of her short fiction  … but I’m still working on it.

In this old Omni Online interview from 1998, which I also coincidentally found today, she talks about the themes of obsession, transcendence, and transformation in her novels.

And I know at least one follower of this blog will be interested in her collaborations with Barry Malzberg.

And, yes, I will be reviewing her sole collection, Extremities.

Alternate Presidents

A continuation of yesterday’s posting. The theme, tied in with a future posting, will not be alternate U.S. presidents but some more Mike Resnick edited anthologies from the 1990s.

This anthology is actually much better than Alternate Kennedys. The premise is simple: alternate victors in U.S. presidential elections.

Raw Feed (1993): Alternate Presidents, Mike Resnick, 1992.alternate-presidents-2

“Introduction: Playing the Game of What If?”, Mike Resnick — Standard introduction on how book was put together.

The Father of His Country”, Jody Lynn Nye — Not so great alternate history that has Benjamin Franklin as the first president and sort of an eighteenth century media whiz, due to his experience as author and printer, who appeals to the people frequently, making the presidency a more democratic, more modern (in the sense of being like us) institution much to the chagrin of vice president John Adams who likes the more aristocratic, more elite, less populist way of doing things.

The War of ‘07”, Jayge Carr — Tale of how the ambitious Aaron Burr became second president, maneuvers the British into a war in 1807, gives an impetus to David Bushnell’s proto-submarine technology to be developed into a weapon, and successfully founds a dynastic presidency (he marries Napoleon Bonaparte’s daughters and holds on to the presidency long enough to pass it to his beloved grandson, Aaron Burr Alston). While it’s arguable whether pushing submarine technology ahead of the speed it developed in our world is a good thing, other Burr actions seem definitely dangerous – a dynastic presidency – or failures (as compared to our time). In the latter case, it may only cost Thomas Jefferson three million dollars in our world to get the Louisiana Purchase. Burr spends two million on just West Florida and New Orleans. And there are the unexplored consequences of Napleon not being defeated (Wellington dies fighting Americans in Canada). Still, it’s an interesting notion and exploration of easily things could have went very differently in the first 50 years of American history.

Black Earth and Destiny”, Thomas A. Easton — Easton takes an uncommon tack in this story in two ways. First, the turning point of this alternate history is that Andrew Jackson is elected president in 1824. Not embittered by loosing to John Quincy Adams (after striking a deal with Henry Clay even though Jackson beat both in electoral and popular votes) as he did in our history, Jackson thinks of the future. Under the influence of a rumor (I have no idea if this really was a rumor of the time. I’ve only heard reference to it in the song “The Battle of New Orleans”) that the British fired cannonballs from alligators’ mouths in the Battle of New Orleans, he invests in Mendelian engineering which seems to be genetic engineering affected by bacteria “juices”. I liked this alternate scientific history postulated by biologist Easton. The second unusual thing is that in this world, as he did in ours, Carver goes off to Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee University – just as he did in ours (the destiny of the title). Although, in this world, he will presumably do more than just think up new uses for non-cotton crops (as he did in our world) since he has “Mendelian engineering” to work with. Continue reading “Alternate Presidents”