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”

Alternate Kennedys

No, I am not doing a tie in to the upcoming U.S. presidential elections.

This will be a set up for a future posting.

Raw Feed (1992): Alternate Kennedys, ed. Mike Resnick, 1992.alternate-kennedys-2

“Introduction”, Mike Resnick — Goes into the myth of the Kennedys and some interesting facts about them: the Kennedy daughters, JFK’s son who died, Bobby Kennedy’s wiretappings, Joe Kennedy Sr’s disgrace as Ambassador to the Court of St. James, the valid contention that the Kennedys were the last politicians (except Ted Kennedy — and even he tries) to control the press.

A Fleeting Wisp of Glory”, Laura Resnick — An amusing and grim post-holocaust fable where the Kennedy Camelot and the Arthurian Camelot are being strangely mingled into a legend that explains the poor state of a post-atomic war future yet gives hope to the survivors by reminding them the world wasn’t always so bad.

In the Stone House”, Barry N. Malzberg — Generally I haven’t liked Malzberg’s stories. But he’s done some good work with the alternate president idea. His “Kingfish” in Mike Resnick’s Alternate Presidents was good and this story is too. I don’t know if Malzberg tapped into some conspiracy theories which have the Kennedy family behind the assassination of JFK (I’ve just seen such publications sold but have never read them), but I liked the bizarre notion of ex-president Joe Kennedy, Sr gunning for his president brother JFK. One can argue with the plausibility of an ex-President with Secret Service protection being able to plan the assassination of another president, but the story seems very realistic from a psychological standpoint. I don’t know how closely Joe Kennedy, Sr.’s actions, attitudes, and motives match the same man in our history, but he seemed a plausible mixture of man obsessed with slights to his family and Irish heritage, a man driven to make his sons presidents, and a domineering, inconsiderate, bullying father. Joe Kennedy, Jr. and his relationship to his father seemed quite believable. Junior goes along with all his father’s requests. He sometimes resents his father’s demands but always complies, seldom rebels. JFK is the rebel, the man who breaks free of his father’s psychological grip to destroy the latter’s plan. And, as Junior realizes, there is ambiguity in his assassination of JFK. It may be to please his father, punish JFK’s betrayal. Or it may be to punish his father by killing his president son. There is something to remark on in this story, common to a lot of alternate history story. Authors seem to feel it necessary (perhaps as an inside joke, perhaps just to provide a reference for the reader) to put alternate historical events in places famous in our time. For example, why have Joe Jr kill JFK in Dallas at the Texas Book Depository? Is it really credible to believe that events would have worked out so neatly in another world, that JFK wouldn’t have been a better target (or Joe Jr. had a better opportunity) somewhere else? I think the obvious answer is no, but the ploy is used in alternate history stories for historical reference and irony and reader identification.

The Kennedy Enterprise”, David Gerrold — A funny story of JFK and Bobby Kennedy in Hollywood and an alternate history of Star Trek or, rather Star Track and those associated with it. We also get alternate versions of some famous movies. Some of the better bits: Harlan Ellison as a laidback, compliant (hardly a word associated with Ellison) writer for Star Track; Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner fired from Star Track and replaced by JFK (and other changes are made to the show which make it like Star Trek: The Next Generation; JFK as a bad actor (who never meets Marilyn Monroe). I also liked the irritable, conversational style of this piece. Continue reading “Alternate Kennedys”

What Might Have Been, Vol. 4

The conclusion of the Raw Feed series on the alternate history anthology series.
Raw Feed (1993): What Might Have Been, Volume 4: Alternate Americas, eds. Gregory Benford and Martin H. Greenberg, 1992.Alternate Americas

“Introduction”, Gregory Benford — Benford’s fair appraisal of Columbus and the effects of European contact with the New World.

Report of the Special Committee on the Quality of Life”, Harry Turtledove — It’s not that I disagree with Turtledove’s satirical attacks using the conceit that King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella assembled a commission to look at Christopher Columbus’ proposed voyage to the New World. I agree with all his criticisms on the timidity of modern Americans, their refusal to run personal risks even with the chance of great gain, their obsession with personal safety and alleged environmental hazards, their technological pessimism, their pouring of money and resources into the rathole of social programs instead of space travel. The opponents of Columbus think his success would lead to inflation without more goods and services, but the story is boring and dull and not really even a story.

Ink From the New Moon”, A.A. Attanasio — I liked a few things about this story: its attempt to imitate an Oriental style, some of its humor (America still has the USA but here it’s the United Sandalwood Autocracies, and I liked Europeans being called Big Noses), and the end where the oriental native returns to Europe with Columbus. And I liked the whole idea of China colonizing America first via Buddhists who flee persecution in the Sung Dynasty. (Eventually, they break away from the Empire.) However, I didn’t really like the poetic/mystic ruminations on life and his relationship with his dead wife all expressed in thick, purple quasi-Oriental prose. He talks of falling, after he is hurled into the sky in an explosion, into emptiness, an emptiness that is a new freedom and that all reality floats in, that “mystery is the preeminent condition of human being”, that this freedom is the knowledge of utter loneliness and rootlessness. Is this existentialism with an Oriental face? I know its annoying and uninvolving as an explanation for the narrator to take off with Columbus.

Vinland the Dream”, Kim Stanley Robinson — This isn’t really an alternate history but a rumination on the study of history, history’s meaning and social value. I liked the central premise: that an unknown hoaxer (and I liked that his identity and character are never truly known) in the early 19th century created the elaborate illusion, through forged documents and fake archaeological sites, that there was a Viking presence in the New World. Robinson’s usual experimentation with style is here. The story is structured on the lines of a scientific paper. But I disagree strongly with the underlying philosophical message (similar to that in John Carr’s What Is History?) that history is ultimately unknowable, that it is less important that certain historical “stories” are true or false than that “certain qualities in the stories … make them true or false”. This is history as myth and propaganda and edifying and cautionary literature. Fictions can have some deep truth or edifying moral or pragmatic warnings. But history, as imperfect as it is, as provisional as the knowledge of the past is, isn’t the place for willful lies whatever the purpose. Just because the noble pursuit of the historian sometimes becomes tainted with willful lies or unknowing errors isn’t a reason to abandon the quest for the ideal.

If There Be Cause”, Sheila Finch — An overly long, usually dull alternate history based on the presumption that Francis Drake landed (as near as I can figure out) around San Francisco Bay and influenced the local tribes. Specifically, they instill in them a hatred for the soon-to-be-encroaching Spanish and teach them the rudiments of firearms and making wine. This story has one of those young woman (it could just as easily been a young man) learning to take her place as a shaman and learning the hard responsibilities of leadership. Here she oversees a war against the Spanish and kills her lover from another tribe who helps the Spanish and callously lets them kill her brother, “hard destiny” as the story calls her role.

“Isabella of Castile Answers Her Mail”, James Morrow — I didn’t hate this story unlike all the other Morrow I’ve read. I even liked a few things in this tale of culture shock as Columbus time-travels to modern New York. Columbus is horrified by the grotesque imagery of the “idol” of the Statute of Liberty, her inscription, seeming to point to human sacrifices in the pursuit of libertinism. Columbus is horrified at the sexual mores of his native Cuban New Yorker guide. He is also horrified at his guide’s brand of Catholicism, and the presence of wealthy, respected Jews in New York. However, there is the usual liberal tendencies of Morrow, here manifested by a comparison between New York’s homeless and the persecuted Jews of Columbus’ Spain.

Let Time Shape”, George Zebrowski — Like Zebrowski’s “The Number of the Sand”, this densely philosophical story considers a Panoptican civilization where all the variations of history are studied. Everything — fact, fiction, supposition, the human genome – is fed into a vast computer used to study history, and, here to place the observer in the virtual presence of a significant historical personage. All this in an attempt to find the crucial people of history, the variants which really are significant. Here Zebrowski envisions Christopher Columbus meeting a very superior (seemingly at about a twentieth century level) New World founded by the refugees from Carthage. They’re still bent on destroying Rome and its spiritual heir of the Holy Roman Empire. England has a secret alliance with the Carthaginians. The ambitious Columbus, smarting at the insults and delays caused by the Spanish aristocracy, sides with the Carthaginians in attacking the “Spanish-Italian empire”. It’s an interesting premise, but Zebrowski also manages to link the story to the spiritual plight of an unnamed observer in the Panoptica and his civilization itself. If I am reading the story right, the observer’s civilization is trapped in a psychic and spiritual dead-end, decadent. Their recent history consists of watching similar observers in other timelines, of standing aside from history, creeping along at a trivial pace, longing for a quantum transformation but unable or unwilling to find the means in all the observed histories. It’s no wonder the historian thrills to his vicarious possession of Columbus, that he longs to shape history too. But he is not one of history’s rare, finite (in an infinity of variants) significant personalities. A lot of good stuff here: alternate history and far future ennui.

Red Alert”, Jerry Oltion — Essentially a joke story with Red Wing, Sitting Bull, and Geronimo as fighter pilots combatting other pilots like George Armstrong Custer. There’s also the clever pun of the title and non-lethal coup missiles (air to air) used by the Indians. It’s too long too be carried by its jokes, and its too implausible. We’re not only asked to believe a level of American technology accelerated a hundred years ahead of our timeline but that Indians developed a scientific culture that matched that rate.

Such a Deal”, Esther M. Friesner — This is essentially – as befits Friesner – a joke story with a gruesome final punchline. Its humor was sustained throughout but not really enough to make me laugh out loud often. The story itself involves Columbus being financed by Jews and bringing back a contingent of Aztec warriors from the New World to help Spanish Jews overthrow Ferninand and Isabella and stop the Inquisition.

Looking for the Fountain”, Robert Silverberg — As always for Silverberg, this is an engaging, clearly written story. There is humor here of a subtle sort. The Fountain of Youth turns out to be a misnomer. It’s a cure for impotence. The narrator likes to constantly say “Trust me: I was there.” The central idea isn’t humorous, in fact poignant. A group of Frankish crusaders is blown off course, across the Atlantic, and on to the shores of Florida. They intermarry with the natives, convert them to Christianity. The crusading zeal is kept alive by the tribe until Ponce de Leon arrives looking for the Fountain of Manly Strength. They take him to it, though in retrospect the narrator believes they may just have been offering baptism. In return, Ponce de Leon is to bring them ships so they can go free Jerusalem. When he doesn’t return (no one believes he found the Fountain of Youth so he can’t sell the water he takes from the fountain) with the ships, the tribe fiercely turns on other Europeans they regard as false Christians.

The Round-Eyed Barbarians”, L. Sprague de Camp — De Camp takes a very obvious (and surprisingly little used) turning point in history. Unlike our timelines where the Chinese launch seven expeditions using sophisticated ships and compasses in the early fifteenth century under the Ming dynasty and then mysteriously, suddenly stop, they continue with their expeditions in this alternate history. Eventually colonists from this China meet their technological inferiors with European explorers following in the wake of Columbus. However, most of this story concerns itself with culture clash. I suppose that’s an obvious thing to consider given the setup, but I’d have liked more long term exploration of the premise.

Destination Indies”, Brad Linaweaver — This was a disappointment, especially after the author’s excellent novel Moon of Ice. This entire story with Columbus’ rival the Dark Duke, Atlanteans, and the constantly abused narrator who is also Columbus’ Loyal sidekick (he graduated from St. Pedro’s Academy for Loyal Sidekicks) reminded me of the Raiders of the Lost Ark like movie in that novel. It was humorous and captured the flavor of a serial with its suddenly exploding volcano and ending of “To be continued indefinitely”, but it also represents an increasing corruption of the alternate history concept. While this story could be construed (though I don’t see any evidence of this) as an historical drama from a bizarre alternate timeline or a piece of fiction from an alternate universe. But its easier to just see it as an absurdist fantasy that happens to use historical characters in way that is not at all derived from an extrapolation of historical divergence. More and more alternate history writers seem to be writing fables and absurdist fantasies using history as inspiration and characters, but not using the sub-genre for rigorous (or not so rigorous) extrapolation, as a fictional lab for talking about the importance of technology, accidents, personages, and social forces in history.

Ship Full of Jews”, Barry Malzberg — Just when I thought I could get to like Malzberg’s alternate history, he writes this piece of crap that doesn’t work on any level. The story has Christopher Columbus taking a ship full of deported Jews to the New World along with a ship full on converts under the control of Torquemada. In Malzberg style, there are a lot of internal monologues with Columbus that detail his ambition and lust for Isabella. There seems to be some implication that Torquemada intends to literally offer the Jews as sacrifice in the New World as a sanctification. There also seems to be some implication that Columbus is, as one Jew says, “in the control of larger forces”. There seems to be the darker implication that the New World will not become a place of freedom in this world but will be a grim place founded in blood by the fanatical Torquemada, a very different New World. The trouble is that Malzberg’s prose is so muddled that none of this is made clear enough to derive a true thematic statement from or even a clever plot.

The Karamazov Caper”, Gordon Eklund — I liked a lot of things in this story: its grim tone, its grim setting (Alaska is not a site often used in alternate histories), its murder investigation plot, its alternate history involving Russian exploration of Alaska, another subject little discussed in fiction or non-fiction. The turning point is Pope Innocent VIII being murdered in this time line and his successor institutes a “Reign of Ignorance and Dread” that kicks off a genocide of the Jews and the Germans killing Indians of the New World. Columbus, being a Jew, is killed after returning from the New World and further voyages there are banned. Bering is credited with discovering the New World, and its personages. Trotsky is a police investigator for the Czar). However, Eklund throws it all away with his ending. He never really explains why the Indians killed two babies and ate their hearts. Is it revenge for German atrocities in America? If it is, why does Trotsky go along with the cover-up? Out of sympathy for the Indians?

The Sleeping Serpent”, Pamela Sargent. One of the best stories in this book. This book simply postulates a Mongol Empire that got bigger than in our world and endured. The plot involves a Khan’s son coming to the Empire’s holdings in America, forming an alliance with the Iroquois and their confederates. He regards the Indians with special reverence as his genetic relatives – they came via the Asian landbridge – and because they embody what he regards as original Mongol virtues unlike the decadent Empire. The son breaks away from the Empire to form his own Khanate. This story makes me heartily thankful the brutal Mongol’s did not endure. However, the story’s narrator makes clear the Indian’s style of government is more democratic than Mongol tradition, and that the new Indian allies may be tainted by the new warfare the Mongols bring. The story is lean (despite its length), engaging, and thought provoking in the effect the Mongol’s might have had on history.

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