Raw Feed (2000): Starfire, Charles Sheffield, 1999.
I wasn’t that impressed with Sheffield’s Aftermath, the prequel to this book. But here Sheffield writes an excitingly paced book, full of surprises, and with so much of his trademark hard science speculations that, in the discussion of the astrophysics of Alpha Centauri’s supernova and the surprising distributions and characteristics of the resulting rain of atomic particles, not only did I not have a clue as to the work of some of the mentioned physicists, but I didn’t even recognize their names.
Most of the characters from Aftermath are here.
Celine Tanaka, after 26 years, has become president of the U.S. That seems somewhat improbable, but John Glenn became a politician and this is a depopulated U.S., and Tanaka is a survivor of the Mars expedition.
Wilmer Oldfield, another survivor (we get no mention of what happened to the other two survivors of the expedition that were left behind in the Argos Cult in the first book), is here too. He and the semi-feral, rude, but very brilliant Astarte Vjansander, point our further evidence that the supernova was deliberately induced and its rain of strangely arranged particle emissions aimed deliberately at Earth and will arrive sooner than expected. (She has to be a genius to teach herself math and physics while a solitary survival of the supernova’s destruction in northern Australia) . Continue reading “Starfire”→
Raw Feed (2000): Aftermath, Charles Sheffield, 1998.
I thought this was going to be a post-apocalypse novel about life on Earth after Alpha Centauri goes supernova. But it’s clear that, except in the setting itself, Sheffield doesn’t have much interest in writing a true post-apocalypse novel.
There are multiple viewpoint characters apart from some brief opening scenes in which three characters, who we, of course, never see again, die to show us the opening effects of the supernova. This is a standard technique of the suspense blockbuster, and Sheffield here seems to be trying to write in that style since the hard science he is known for is at a minimum.
There are no scenes of desperate violence for precious resources, no calculation of whom is fit to live and die, no bands of marauders, none of the bread and butter scenes that the usual (and enjoyable) post-apocalypse story has.
The part of the novel I liked best was the part I expected to like least: the plot involving the brilliant scientist – and serial killer – Oliver Guest. My original fears that he seemed to be an imitation of Thomas Harris’ infamous Hannibal Lector were partly realized. He is brilliant and cultured with peculiar motivations to kill. Most of the information about him comes from his secret diary – which he explicitly acknowledges is meant, as all diaries are, to be read by someone else someday. Continue reading “Aftermath”→
”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”→
”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”→
“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”→