Beloved Son

And, with this, the George Turner series comes to an end.

As what usually happens, I got distracted in completing my Turner reading. I did read Genetic Soldier, but I made no notes on it, and I have no memory of it.

Raw Feed (1993): Beloved Son, George Turner, 1978.

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Cover by Boris Vallejo.

 

This was, I believe, the first Turner work published in America though, of course, he was well known in his native Australia. It includes most of the themes and features of Turner’s other work I’ve read.

There is the concern with the biological sciences and their awesome power. Here that is manifested in that popular late seventies’ sf topic – the clone – and successive genetic manipulations to create types of supermen. Some clone lines are for developing superior reflexes, memory, and engineering ability. Other, seemingly trivial, (but important to the ultimate plot), test the genetic influences on homosexuality. More bizarre variations and experiments in biology include truncated heads (with the brain in the chest). Of course, as is common in the clone sub-genre, the clones are telepathic and (also common) form sort of a non-violent religion around their natural born progenitor and main character, Albert Raft.

There are the related themes of an overpopulated, polluted, secret, nationalistic world starting a global war shortly after leaving for Barnard’s Star. The war features limited nuclear weapon use but is also fought covertly by some unknown (the identity has been lost after the war) power using biologically engineered weapons against various nation’s peoples and agriculture. (An idea that drives the plot of Turner’s The Destiny Makers as politicians debate whether to cull the world’s population using the same technique.) Continue reading “Beloved Son”

The Destiny Makers

The George Turner series continues with a formatting oddity.

This review was originally published in issue 28 of The Leading Edge. I don’t have a computer file of it; I wasn’t going to try to scan it from the magazine, and I wasn’t going to retype it, so you get a photos of the original submission.

From 1993, that makes this a …

Retro Review: The Destiny Makers, George Turner, 1993.

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Cover by Dorian Vallejo

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Brain Child

The George Turner series continues.

Raw Feed (1992): Brain Child, George Turner, 1991.

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Cover by Thomas Canty

This book truly deserves the distinction of being called a masterpiece. That distinction is almost solely because of Turner’s incredible skill with characterization (making him, in the science fiction field, probably the best in this area along with Philip K. Dick).

Turner’s plot in this novel of genetically engineered superintelligence is (according to my reading of the “Superman” entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction) [that would, of course, be the massive second edition before it went online] typical of the sub-genre of the superman:

  1.  The superman gracefully opts out of human society (the A Group).
  2. The superman has a fatal flaw which is the result of the creation process (the B Group’s death by sudden Alzheimer’s).
  3. The superman can’t stand to live on a planet of ignorant savages (C Group’s suicide).

Continue reading “Brain Child”

Drowning Towers

Well, Joachim Boaz over at Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations had to go mention George Turner.

So, we’re off to a George Turner series.

Raw Feed (1989): Drowning Towers, George Turner, 1987.

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Cover by Ron Walotsky

The original title of this novel was The Sea and the Summer.

Every once in a while comes a book in which structure, style, literary technique, character, and concept come together as a brilliant whole. Turner has written a novel designed to provoke thought about the disasters of the future we may be creating today through complacency.

Turner, in his postscript., specifically states this is not a disaster novel or a cautionary tale.

I respect that since some features of his future seem improbable — specifically massive unemployment due to automation (though Turner does make the valid observation that international economic competition spurs automation and that Third World markets will develop and vanish as markets for foreign dumping of goods). [These days, Turner seems more prescient here.] Still, most of the book exhibits a sophisticated examination of economics and politics.

Turner postulates a political system of patronage and corruption between official and unofficial governments much like the Imperial Roman system. It seem entirely credible as does Turner explanation of how history and circumstances trap people into currents of selfishness and complacency. Continue reading “Drowning Towers”

“SF: The Nature of the Medium”

Rather than write a really long review of Brian Stableford’s Opening Minds: Essays on Fantastic Literature, I’m going to do a post on each essay.

The Lovecraft series will continue in the days I don’t have something new to put up.

Review: “SF: The Nature of the Medium“, Brian Stableford, 1974.Opening Minds

Using the media theories of Marshal McLuhan, Stableford argues that science fiction cannot function like mainstream, realistic fiction and shouldn’t try to.

There is a progression of media for human thought: speech, writing, print, literature, science fiction.

Each member of that progression incorporates its successor. However, it does not retain all the advantages of that successor. The tradeoff is each medium adds something.

In the case of literature, patterns and not “unitary blocks” are transmitted. Cultural information is communicated and not mere “simple classification” (presumably by that he means non-fiction work). The increasing specialization of cultural data brought about literary techniques to best convey the desired patterns.

Non-fantastic literature has developed sophisticated means of presenting that information and making it more dense. It can assume a context known by the reader. Continue reading ““SF: The Nature of the Medium””

28 Science Fiction Stories of H. G. Wells

The H. G. Wells series continues with a look at his short works.

Yes, there are only 25 stories reviewed. I omitted “The Star” which I looked at recently and I’ve also covered Men Like Gods already, and the novel Star-Begotten I’ll be doing a future posting on.

Raw Feed (1996): 28 Science Fiction Stories of H. G. Wells, ed. Groff Conklin, 1952.28 Stories

The Empire of the Ants” — A creepy, frightening story about a race of large, intelligent, tool using ants that began to carve their own empire out of the Amazon jungle. As Wells points out, evolutionary forces threw up an intelligent, tool-using species in us so why not another species even better suited for survival, one that will supplant us? This is another example of Wells’ attacking human (particularly Victorian and Edwardian) smugness and also another example of the perils and wonders inherent in nature. This is another story that fits Orwell’s remark about Wells’ seeing a world subject to change instantly.

The Land Ironclads” — This story’s main claim to fame is its prediction of tanks being invented for military purposes. Wells also has a fairly accurate depiction of future trench warfare in WWI, perhaps based on his readings of the siege of Vicksburg during the Civil War (though I have no basis for that observation). However, Wells tanks are used as a moving platform for rifleman and not artillery, and they don’t use a caterpillar tread but sort of mechanical feet. However, what this story is mainly about is Wells’ point that a seemingly effete civilization of “devitalised townsmen” is capable of beating a force from a rustic culture due to superior science. The “smart degenerates” defeat the “open-country men”.

The Country of the Blind” — This is Wells’ classic allegory about people with superior, more complete knowledge being denounced as insane (and also being handicapped in certain situations). On this second reading, the ending seems ambiguous. Does Nunez live or die at story’s end?

The Stolen Bacillus” — This story reminds me of Wells’ “The New Accelerator” – a basically humorous tale about some invention that does not ignore the serious implications of it but just refers to them in passing. Here the science is bacteriology, and the plot involves a humorous chase to recover a stolen culture – which turns kittens blue. However, there is a decidedly serious undertone here since the theft is by an anarchist determined to gain fame and spread death, and the culture he thinks he’s stolen is Asiatic cholera. Biological-terrorism is certainly not a science fiction idea that has lost interest or plausibility since Wells’ wrote the story. If anything, it has gained both.

The Flowering of the Strange Orchid” — Another typical Wellsian tale – though humorous – of a wonder of nature threatening man. Here a rather dull orchid grower runs across a blood sucking orchid.

In the Avu Observatory” — Another Wellsian tale of people discovering new threats in nature. Here a man in an observatory in Borneo is attacked by a mysterious creature.

A Story of the Stone Age” — I’m not a fan of prehistoric tales, and this seemed, at least for a Wells story, rather pointless unless it was intended to simply show the brutality – and incipient tenderness – that existed in stone age man. It also ends on ironical, fairy-tale like note of hero Ugh-lomi eventually being killed and cannibalized “in the fullness of time”.

Aepyornis Island” — The adventures of a man and the extinct bird he finds (unhatched), befriends, and lives with after being shipwrecked on an uninhabited atoll. Eventually, he has to kill the bird after it attacks him. (It’s about 14 feet in height.) The story is told in a humorous tone and seems to have little point (not that that’s bad, but Wells usually has a point) beyond saying that wild animals have violent instincts which can not be suppressed.

The Remarkable Case of Davidson’s Eyes” — This story operates in one of fantasy/science fiction’s older traditions (I don’t know how old): an adventure in alien dimensions usually rationalized by some mathematical talk of bent space and the Fourth Dimension. [The “Parallel Worlds” entry in the Science Fiction Encyclopedia says it’s one of the earliest tales where a character experiences alternate perceptions of the real world.] Here protagonist Davidson’s eyes are speculated to have entered the “Fourth Dimension” via the influence of a jolt of lightning on an electromagnet. Davidson goes blind in the usual sense of being able to see his surroundings, but he does visually see the landscape of a South Seas island. As he moves about – up, down, side to side – his vision shifts a corresponding amount on the island. Thus his vision sometimes goes underwater or into the blackness of solid ground. Eventually, normal vision returns. This is a neat, entertaining version of the Fourth Dimension tale.

The Plattner Story” — This story is closely related thematically to Wells’ “The Remarkable Case of Davidson’s Eyes”. Both feature displacement into the Fourth Dimension. Here a school teacher enters the Fourth Dimension via a chemical explosion in the lab. When he emerges, the external and internal features of his body have reversed symmetry, e.g. his heart goes from the left to right and his hands switch places. His adventures in the Fourth dimension have a creepy, vaguely proto-Lovecraftian feel to them. The “Other World” has dim, buildings that resemble sepulchers. It is inhabited by “Watchers of the Living”, creatures of human-like heads and “tadpole-like” bodies. They keenly watch the bright reflections of our world and protagonist Plattner speculates they are the dead who watch the consequences of their influence in the living. (A neat idea.)

The Argonauts of the Air” — A somewhat humorous story of the first powered, heavier-than-air flight, and its tragic consequences. I assume it was written before the Wright brothers made their historic flight. [The story was published in 1895.]

The Story of the Late Mr. Elvesham” — A competently told tale of body switching (involuntary) by an old philosopher hoping to avoid death. (The story ends on a farcical note with the young victim committing suicide, and the philosopher dying in a traffic accident.) There is enough talk of mathematical symbols and psychology to probably provide a science fictional rationale.

In the Abyss” — An effective story about the discovery of an intelligent race on the deep sea floor. (In retrospect, Wells’ bathyscaphe seems needlessly complicated with its clockwork and weights suspended by cords.) Wells provides a wonderful image of cities built with the wreckage of ships and the bones and skulls of their crew. To them, humans are gods that occasionally fall from above bringing useful artifacts, and protagonist Elstead is particularly revered for his brilliantly lit, alive presence and bright ascent.

Under the Knife” — The hallucinations of a man being operated on. At first, it seems like a post-life experience (proving the notion is an old one) but then is revealed to be just a hallucination. This story seems to have little point other than to show the vast scales of time and space in the universe.

The Sea Raiders” — Story of a group of newly-discovered octopi preying on humans.

The Crystal Egg” — Story of a mysterious crystal egg that is sort of a television transceiver to a world of intelligent, bird-like aliens on Mars. The story gets some humor from storekeeper Mr. Care being berated by his wife. Did this view of a small business owning family come from Wells’ youth?

The Man Who Could Work Miracles” — A fantasy of man who suddenly finds he can work miracles but gives the talent up when his miracles have disastrous, unintended consequences. This is a humorous story in which Wells tells the reader that he was “killed in a violent and unprecedented manner” by one of Mr. Fotheringay’s miracles.

Filmer” — This is another of Wells’ tales dealing with heavier than air flight (not strictly true since Wells postulates a hybrid lighter and heavier than air vehicle in which the volume – and, therefore, the density – of the air bags can be changed for control purposes like a fish ascends and descends using an air bag) and was written, I assume, before the Wright flight of 1903. [The publication date was 1901.] This is actually a character study in a shy, nervous scientist successfully obsessed with developing powered flight. (Wells interestingly has the principle tested on a radio controlled model first.) It is assumed by the public he will pilot the first powered flight. He is terrified to but wants to please his girlfriend. Ultimately, he commits suicide as a way out of the dilemma. Perhaps Wells was making a comment on the fragile personalities often behind great scientific discoveries and inventions.

A Story of the Days to Come” — This is a sequel of sorts to Wells’ “A Story of the Stone Age” (Stone age man Uyu is mentioned in both) and is an impressive story that reminded me of several other sf works. Critics have rightly noted (I don’t know the publication date of this story) [it’s 1899 so after 1895’s The Time Machine] that this story of the travails of a couple’s courtship and marriage depicts a polarized society reminiscent of the origins of the Eloi-Morlock split in Wells’ The Time Machine. Poor workers live in serfdom to the Labour Company and inhabit the gloomy lower levels of a vast city while rich people inhabit the sunny heights. This depiction of polarized class societies has made a modern comeback in Nancy Kress’ Beggar series and George Turner’s Drowning Towers and The Destiny Makers. When Mwnes and Denton go to the city’s lower levels, I was reminded of the former Turner novel. When the couple tries to live in the country and discovers they are not suited for a primitive rural life, I was reminded of the couple fleeing their city in the novel Logan’s Run. The public ways lined with human and electric billboards and mirrors reminded me of some cyberpunk visions of media saturation. Each section opens with some sociological predictions of the future in (I assume) the vein of Well’s non-fiction Anticipations. Wells’ predictions at the beginning of the century for increased urbanization made possible by new transportation technology and necessary for the industry proved correct. I liked the brief bit showing that medical men hope to build a utopia (shades of Wells’ later preoccupation). I also liked the cynical prediction of commercial religions with their banal tenets and easy penance.

The Magic Shop” — Gentle fantasy about a magic shop that sells real magic.

The Valley of the Spiders” — Another of Wells’ tales about strange lifeforms – here large spiders that ride the wind via bundles of their webs. There is an element of class struggle and aristocratic exploitation in the conflict between the party of three pursuers beset by the spiders.

The Truth About Pyecraft” — A fantasy about an obese man’s attempt to lose weight. He’s all too successful at losing weight but not his ugly volume. Wells does a good job evoking the character of a club bore in the obese man.

The New Accelerator” — As James Gunn notes in his critique [in his The Road to Science #2: From Wells to Heinlein] of this story, this is a light-hearted use of a new technology – a drug that speeds up the metabolism greatly. Yet Wells, in the conversation between the narrator and the inventor of the New Accelerator, considers in passing some of the drug’s many uses for good and ill. Wells expresses his typical attitude that change, however much feared or unpredictable, will happen when his narrator, at story’s end, says the drug will be sold in a few months “ … and, as for the consequences – we shall see.”

The Stolen Body” — A tale of astral projection and possession. As in his “The Plattner Story”, Wells’ presents an alternate dimension full of mysterious inhabitants, malignant entities waiting to snatch the bodies vacated by astral travelers. I liked the idea that these entities are “the rational souls of men … lost in madness … “

A Dream of Armageddon” — I suspect, given the description and nomenclature used for “flying machines”, that this story was written prior to 1903. [It was published in 1901.] It also features a common feature of Wells’ early fantasy and sf story – transport mentally to another dimension. Here we are clearly to believe that the dreamer actually lives vicariously in the future. Wells’ theme of a man who may very well doom civilization in order to live with his lover fits in well with his call for utopian reforms in later years. Wells seems to think his future diplomat should lead the selfless life of the samurai of Wells’ A Modern Utopia. This point is further driven home by having the diplomat and his lover die in the resulting war.

 

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

Heavy Weather

The Bruce Sterling series continues.

Raw Feed (1994): Heavy Weather, Bruce Sterling, 1994.Heavy Weather

The contrasts and similarities between this and Sterling’s 1988 novel Islands in the Net are interesting.

The earlier novel was set in 2022. This novel is set nine years later in 2031.

Both novels feature a contemporary social concern hovering over their worlds. In Islands in the Net, it was the “Abolition” of nuclear weapons as befitting a novel of the nuclear-obsessed Eighties. In Heavy Weather, the effects of the much touted Greenhouse Effect loom over the novel’s milieu. (The title refers to not only the disturbed, violent weather of the Greenhouse world but also its political/social turmoil.)

Both novels heavily feature the economic effects of the information age. Data pirates featured heavily in Islands in the Net. Here, Sterling postulates other adverse effects of the information age. The U.S. “State of Emergency” in 2015 nationalized all data, and software in general has little value since it can be copied so easily. (Sterling also postulates that software and computer circuits so complicated that computers design them and no human really understands them.). “Unbreakable encryption, digital authentication, anonymous remailing, and network untraceability” have destroyed any governmental – indeed any human – control over the economy with “all workable standards of wealth … vaporized, digitized, and vanished”. Taxation becomes impossible. Vast amounts of black-market money (from untaxed work and crime) comes to the surface, and market forces set up private currencies (of course, historically they have existed). Continue reading “Heavy Weather”

Three from Larry Niven

Tales of Known Space Neutron StarCrashlander

“I have to admit,” I said to Mr. Niven, “while I’ve read most of your collaborations with Jerry Pournelle and liked them, I’ve never actually read a whole book done written just by you.”

“Well, I’m pretty good alone,” he replied

The occasion was Minicon 50, a rare visit to a science convention for me. Mostly I went to see some of the other guests of honor, Michael Whelan and Tom Doherty, but my wife wanted to see Larry Niven. While I had certainly read Niven solo pieces through the years in various anthologies and magazines, I had never actually read any of his collections.

So, I took three off the shelf – Tales of Known Space: The Universe of Larry Niven (1975), Neutron Star (1968), and Crashlander (1994) – and was in the midst of reading the first when I briefly talked to Mr. Niven before a panel appearance of his. All three are part of Niven’s Known Space, one of the many series I’ve grazed in without entirely consuming. In this case, I first encountered Niven with “Neutron Star” in the late 1970s in one of those anthologies of Hugo winners.

No reviews follow, just impressions, criticisms, and spoilers. Continue reading “Three from Larry Niven”