Saving the World Through Science Fiction

Review: Saving the World Through Science Fiction: James Gunn, Writer, Teacher and Scholar, Michael R. Page, 2017.51jIRlPDtwL

Before I move on to the inevitable quibbles, let me say that anyone who is a James Gunn fan should buy this book. People who are curious about Gunn and his work should buy this.

Actually, since it’s the first and only book about Gunn, there’s not a lot of choice in the matter anyway.

I’ve long thought, even before starting this blog, that Gunn was an author unjustly neglected and that I should write a series on him. However, while I’ve done some posts on Gunn and read all his novels and most of his shorter works, I didn’t make notes on a lot of them. I’d have to do a lot of rereading and make careful notes.

Page has largely saved me the trouble. He says many of the things I noticed about Gunn. He also says many things I didn’t notice. Continue reading “Saving the World Through Science Fiction”

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The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Vol. One: To Be Continued,

Looking back in my posts after posting a review of volume six in this series, I see I hadn’t posted anything on volume one. I suspect that’s because, for whatever reason, I didn’t make notes on the last story in the book.

That makes this a …

Low Res Scan: The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Volume One: To Be Continued, ed. Robert Silverberg, 2006.Robert Silverberg 1

Introduction” — An interesting introduction to this, the first volume in what Silverberg says is the third attempt to collect his stories. Silverberg continues to amaze me with his prolificness while not working weekends and while in college. Here he casually mentions all the stories, as a professional writer (not working weekends but while in college), he sold in the years 1953-58. He says that he will let his mediocre sports and mystery stories languish. Silverberg is unapologetic about being a hack to fund sf projects he did care about. It was only years later that he discovered that the writers he admired, Fritz Leiber, Ray Bradbury, and Theodore Sturgeon weren’t supporting themselves by in the same way. Leiber had an editorial job. Bradbury sold to the high paying slicks. Sturgeon simply lived near starvation — which Silverberg decidedly didn’t. However, he is happy to reprint his early pulp stories which he thinks show compentency and that he has affection for.

Gorgon Planet” — Silverberg justly points out that this, his first professional sale, is nothing special. But it is pretty good for an eighteen year old, and he’s right in showing that he had an early command of effectively linking exposition and dialogue. The plot itself is a lackluster retelling of the Perseus-Medusa myth in a sf context. Continue reading “The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Vol. One: To Be Continued,”

Robots, Androids, and Mechanical Oddities

The PKD series continues with a rather expensive academic book that I loaned out and never saw again.

Don’t loan your books out, kids.

Raw Feed (1989): Robots, Androids, and Mechanical Oddities: The Science Fiction of Philip K. Dick, eds. Patricia S. Warwick and Martin H. Greenberg, 1984.Robots Androids

Introduction“, Patricia S. Warrick and Martin H. Greenberg — Despite the glib and (at least as far as I can tell from my reading of Dick’s work so far) silly assertion that Dick’s war robots are similar to machines planned by the military and the retreading of the now familiar analysis of Dick’s theme (the nature of reality and humanity), this introduction did have two valid observations. [The older Marzaat certainly thinks we have lurched a lot closer to Dick’s killer machines.] The first is that Dick believed that to preserve your humanness you had to forswear allegiance to any ideology, be unpredictable (unlike the machine which is programmed for predictability), unconstrained by predictability. This explains the characterization of Dick’s protagonists whom we are supposed to empathize with. The second is the point that Dick has a definite propensity to confuse the line between human and machine (a crucial element of his Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) with machines being quite human and humans being cold and unempathetic.

The Little Movement” — More of a fantasy than sf story . We never find out exactly where the toy soldiers come from, their larger purpose, or if they are part of a larger plot. This story is not particularly moving, but it does show some Dick characteristics: the dangerous toy whose harmless appearance is deceiving; mysterious, battling forces present in the universe with humans in the middle; and the hint of Dick’s concern with individual perceptions of the world with the in passing reference to the different worlds of adults and children. And, of course, there is a oh-so Dick baroque plot twist at the end.

The Defenders” — I’d heard about this story and read Dick’s The Penultimate Truth so the main plot feature of this story — that robots were faking a war to keep humans underground — was not a surprise. What was a surprise is, unlike in The Penultimate Truth, the robots are not doing this at the behest of manipulative, selfish masters but for altruistic reasons. Ironically, Dick, the anti-authoritarian, sees the initiation of the One World state as good and his characters pragmatically unite to rebuild the destruction and wildly exalt in the possibilities of the future. Unlike the vicious robots of The Penultimate Truth, these robots are kind but firm and view man as needing one final temper tantrum before uniting into one culture. (I don’t buy Dick’s argument that cultures who lose moral goals opt to civil war.) [I’d say it’s when cultures differ on moral goals.]

The Preserving Machine” — A light hearted story (with a black statement) showing Dick’s love of music. I fully agree with music being a wonderful, terribly fragile product of culture. [No, I’m not sure what younger self meant by “terribly fragile” — subject to the availability of technology? musicians?] I liked the fantastic notion of a machine turning music into animals (with oddly appropriate results including the final scene of the Beethoven beetle building a mud hut). Yet the story has a odd, rather depressing theme if I’m interpreting it right: the beautiful products of man’s cultures — the art, ethics, philosophy — are all fragile and, like living forms, respond to evolutionary pressures of the environment and mutate into unrecognizable forms. Dick’s depressing conclusion seems to be that art is doomed. He ties this into a curious religious point: that God must have felt humiliation and sadness at seeing his creation in the Garden of Eden respond to evolutionary pressure. A strange conclusion I’m not sure I agree with. But I do agree culture is fragile.

Second Variety” — If you read enough Philip K. Dick, you begin to become familiar with some of the turnings of his mind, anticipate his plot twists. That was partially the case here. I did immediately suspect the first David (with the disturbingly lethal Teddy bear) of being a crab. Towards the end I suspected Tasso. However, Dick still managed to catch me by surprise with Klaus being a crab, and I thought Dick was going to be sneaky and simply have no second variety crab — have the implication of the second variety’s existence be a plot to demoralize both sides and create general paranoia. Speaking of paranoia, this had some fine, powerful moments of such on a par with John Carpenter’s The Thing. The plot of robotic soldiers slaughtering humans while disguised as such reminding me of another movie: The Terminator (at least as much resemblance as Harlan Ellison’s “Soldier”). [Harlan Ellison famously sued director James Cameron which is why later prints of the movie acknowledge the works of Harlan Ellison.] Dick did a very effective job of describing the bleak, post-nuclear landscape and the violence, confusion, and rush of combat. Clearly the crabs are a stark example of Dick’s theme of thanatos: they are animal-like creatures utterly dedicated to destroying life, the ultimate realization of the Frankenstein theme, a weapon turned against both sides. They may, has Major Hendricks implies, have unrealized potentialities they will realize after the war, but we don’t see them. Indeed, the fact, like all other life forms, they’ve taken to killing each other seems a good thing at story’s end. However, that introduces an ambiguous note: are the crabs just another life form (they certainly are creepy) albeit made of metal? Has man introduced them only in his folly? Or has he served as a creator, passing man’s torch on (probably not a valid reading given Dick’s stated use of the robot/android metaphor)? Tasso does say we always did nice work. Irony or gratitude from created to creator? Ah, that Dick ambiguity. I do not, incidentally, see Tasso — as the story notes state — as a prototype for Dick’s consuming female. The characterization isn’t very similar.

Imposter” — A line from Blade Runner (though not scripted by Dick it accurately conveys his sensibilities) kept coming to mind when reading this: “How can it not know what it is?” Despite the rather telegraphing title, knowledge of Dick’s plotting proclivities, and a vague knowledge of this story from reading past criticisms, this story still caught me by surprise at the end. I thought, all through the story, that Spence Olham was a robot but, at story’s end when the real Olham’s body is first thought to be the robot’s, I thought he was human. Dick gets you whatever your original preconception was — a typical feature of his stories. I thought the portrayal of a self-deceived machine feeling unjustly persecuted was poignant. I also found it ironical that self-knowledge was what finally triggered the U-Bomb. A notion occurred to me that the robot could be a metaphor for all those evil people who really, truly don’t feel they’re evil, a threat, and are being persecuted.

Service Call” — This is one of those stories about a visitor from the future who can’t even really be questioned because human culture has changed so much. I liked this story a great deal. The idea of eliminating war (an extreme manifestation of disagreement) by imposing ideological (of whatever flavor) conformity is ironic given Dick’s values. He hated war, but he also hated conformity. This story has some of the moral ambiguity of Dick’s “The Last of the Masters“: good achieved at perhaps too high a cost. The idea of having a machine, willingly buying it, to insure your ideological conformity is both scary and funny (“Why be half loyal?”) and great entertainment. The end, with the swibble consortium securing their past, was unexpected.

Autofac” — Another very good story in which Dick invests his machines with animal-like qualities. Here the autofacs (I was reminded of the delightfully crazed autofac — the only part of the novel I really remember — in Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny’s Dies Irae.) plan, war (like the crabs in “Second Variety” waging war on each other seems a major step in becoming another lifeform), and reproduce. This is another story of Dick’s where people try to thrust off oppression, succeed, and don’t get the expected results. Rebellion, good, evil are not clear cut things in Dick’s life. There is also an intriguing element of satire: the factories of production protecting themselves, reproducing, serving humans second, an economic system perpetuating itself. Given Dick’s view and economic separation) from the conspicuous consumption of the fifties, this is an outsider’s disapproving look at that cultural phenomenon (this story was written in 1956). I also thought Dick’s description of the bleak, blasted landscape and the many trappings of the autofacs was quite effective.

To Serve the Masters” — This is another one of Dick’s many stories with an ambiguous ending. The robots may have been irrationally destroyed by man because of religious fanaticism or they may have truly been a threat to man. There is a hint, as the story’s introduction says, that the former is true with the brutality of the humans. There is little more to this story than Dick’s well-crafted (the injured robot was rather poignant) ambiguity and plot twists.

War Game” — This is another of Dick’s lethal (well, here only subversive) toy stories.  The idea of a Monopoly-like game that manipulates people psychologically to facilitate economic conquest via surrender was interesting, but Dick didn’t sufficiently work out the details of how the game could do so. Maybe Dick’s point was the power of games to shape world views.

The Electric Ant” — I disagree with Warrick’s and Greenberg’s contention that this is the most important and powerful short story in Dick’s corpus. I can think of better stories in this anthology alone. It certainly is, as they say, quintessential Dick, but this story has several problems which make it a prime example of Dick’s thematic obsessions imperfectly realized in a story. Dick entirely ignores the question of pre-destination which logically arises from the plot. If all of Garson Poole’s stimuli are punched on tape then all of his stimuli is predetermined. Also Dick, in the act of expressing his theme, ignores the idea of blocked perception not being the same as the unperceived object not existing. Dick, I believe following the path of Hume (but I couldn’t say for sure being woefully ignorant of philosophy) equates unperceived with non-existence. Also, someone had to construct Poole so there is an objective reality somewhere. This story exhibits too much ambition on Dick’s part. He tries to incorporate too much of his philosophical concerns at the expense of the story which is interesting but ultimately a failure.

The Exit Door Leads In” — A strange, at times funny, story by Dick of a college of the future where the moral and psychological education of an individual is even more important than vocational knowledge. (The idea of an institution conducting secret moral and psychological tests is hardly a new one in sf.) You kind of feel sorry and depressed at Bob Bibleman’s (an obvious bit of symbolism, the Bible being the ultimate manifestation of institutionally encoded morality) fate. Dick makes us empathize with him and then assigns him back to the dump mercilessly. In most sf stories of this type, the protagonist passes the secret test. Bibleman disappoints Mary Lorne and gets the cold approval of a robot at story’s end. When the test was revealed, I thought Dick was going to go for a typical — for him — ending and make you wonder if the Panther Engine was real and Bibleman’s expelling a retaliation or if the stated facts were true.

Frozen Journey” — A fitting end for the anthology. This story of a man wracked by guilt and plagued by an increasingly inaccurate perception of reality seems a spiritual autobiography of Dick in his last years. [Let me repeat that Tim Powers, who knew Dick in his last years, said he was definitely not crazy.] Victor Kemming’s life of fear and anxiety, of spiritual visitations, of agony over his complicity in the death of a bird (a pointed reminder of how Dick valued life), seems Dick incarnate. The story is quite sad in its depiction of psychological deterioration and severed relationships. Like Dick’s life, it is poignant and blackly funny.

 

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

The Craft of Science Fiction

This is something of an oddity and not the type of book I’ve reviewed before.

It’s mostly a how-to book for would-be science fiction writers but also includes some interesting perspectives on the art by its contributors. Of course, a lot of the professional advice is outdated since the book is 41 years old now.

With Jerry Pournelle’s passing, I’m posting it now since he was a contributor, and I’ll be interrupting the Lovecraft series to post some more Pournelle material from the archives.

As usual, I’m still working on getting new reviews out.

Raw Feed (1987): The Craft of Science Fiction: A Symposium on Writing Science Fiction and Science Fantasy, ed. Reginald Bretnor, 1976.Craft of Science Fiction

“Foreword”, Reginald Bretnor — It is billed as advice from experienced writing veterans.

SF:  The Challenge to the Writer”, Reginald Bretnor — Nuts and bolts on some basics needed to practice sf craft including some knowledge of science, more intimate knowledge of sf and mainstream literature. Bretnor urges mastering basic story elements like characterization and dialogue. He recommends books to read and compiling own reference library as well as knowing how to use well a public reference library (and to know its staff).  He advises how to avoid errors by avoiding explicit details when possible and thoroughly check facts.

Star-flights and Fantasies: Sagas Still to Come”, Poul Anderson — Like most essays in this book seem to be (at cursory glance), this is interesting as criticism as well as how-to advice. Anderson’s definition of a saga is larger than life story of a non-introspective character who wants to do something. In addition, a saga must have the right feel as far as language goes. Anderson names some of his candidates for sf epics (L. Ron Hubbard’s Final Blackout, Jack Williamson’s Darker Than You Think and The Humanoids, A. E. van Vogt’s Slan and The Weapon Makers and World of A; Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore’s Fury) and why he classifies things as he does is revealing. Anderson also (and I agree) says the saga is only one of many legitimate fictional modes. He also makes the valid point that sf (and maybe fantasy) is the last refuge of the outward turning hero. Other hallmarks of epic sf are (according to Anderson) bold language, a hero bending fate (or refusing to be bent). Anderson also gives interesting details on how study of Olaf Stapledon helped him in writing Tau Zero. Continue reading “The Craft of Science Fiction”

Countdown to Midnight

It’s Bobbie Burns’ birthday. Grandpa MacDowall would not be happy I’m not doing anything to celebrate it.

Sorry, instead of something Burns related material, you get this, a continuation of the Norman Spinrad series.

Raw Feed (1991): Countdown to Midnight: Twelve Great Stories About Nuclear War, ed. H. Bruce Franklin, 1984.countdown-to-midnight

Nuclear War and Science Fiction“, H. Bruce Franklin — I read this book after reading Peter Collier and David Horowitz’s Destructive Generation which included a perhaps apocryphal story about leftist Franklin saying he was taking up scuba diving because the revolution will need frogmen. I wanted to read it when I’d be most sensitive to Franklin’s insinuation of politics into the collection. Franklin talks about the early (pre-1945) sf depiction of nuclear weapons and the feedback between sf and science, and vice versa, in the development of these weapons. (Franklin has also written an entire written book on this subject.) That part’s interesting, but Franklin’s politics began to show. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg become “alleged” spies. Franklin makes the patently false claim that the U.S. did not warn Japan prior to using the first A-Bombs. In fact a warning and appeal to surrender were given before each of the two detonations. Various military officials, including Eisenhower, are quoted as stating that the A-Bombs were unnecessary. Their saying this does not automatically make it true. The claim, probably partly true, that A-Bombs were used to have a better bargaining position with Russia is made. The tacit assumption here is that Russia was no real threat to U.S. or world freedom when the opposite was proved true before and after WWII. It is alleged that the U.S. could have ended nuclear terror by destroying its bombs when only it had some. This ignores other nations’ research efforts which had, or would have, started and the effect of spies like the Rosenbergs. [To say nothing of all the other Soviet agents who had penetrated the Manhattan Project.] Franklin sees no difference between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. The U.S. is chastened for its efforts to maintain superiority in nuclear weapons. Franklin apparently choses to ignore Soviet post-WWII belligerent imperialism. Its disarmament efforts are sincere while evil America threatens the whole world, in Franklin’s eyes, by not capitulating. Franklin also cites the hard to believe assertion that American military thinkers were convinced each technological advance in nuclear weapons systems would lead to permanent superiority. I doubt they were ever that naïve.

To Still the Drums“, Chandler Davis — This very political story (circa 1946, I suppose the title’s “drums” are war drums) has not dated well. It involves a soldier stopping a military plot to involve the U.S. in a war — with atomic weapons much like ICBMS — against Congressional wishes. This story cites the old chestnut that preparing for war and building weapons ultimately leads to war and the use of the weapons, not necessarily consciously but almost as an inevitable social dynamic and metaphysical precipitation. More than forty years of atomic cold war has proven this supposition wrong as has the almost universal restraint in the use of chemical and biological weapons. As for Congress being a naïve dupe of alleged militaristic technophilia for nuclear weapons, that most definitely is not true. Congress has often said no to new nuclear weapons systems. Continue reading “Countdown to Midnight”

The Write Off Post

I’ve reached the blogger equivalent of bankruptcy

The blogging obligations have piled up the last five months. As other bloggers have noted, sometimes the books and stories slip out of your mind, and it’s not worth going back to them.

No sunk cost fallacy here.

Not even a real effort to firmly grasp an author’s arms to stop their slide into the pit of obscurity. At best, a half-hearted, weak snatch at their sleeve going by.

Sorry. Some of them deserved better.

This isn’t a rundown of everything I’ve read lately. Some of the books are going to get the usual treatment.

(After reading this whole post, you may think I should have went with a constipation metaphor.)

Low Res Scans: Awaiting Strange Gods: Weird and Lovecraftian Fiction, Darrell Schweitzer, 2015.

I Am Crying All Inside and Other Stories: The Complete Short Fiction of Clifford D. Simak, Volume One, ed. David W. Wixon, 2015.

Future Crime: An Anthology of the Shape of Crime to Come, eds. Cynthia Mason and Charles Ardai, 1992.

Dinosaur Fantastic, eds. Mike Resnick and Martin H. Greenberg, 1993.

Alternate Warriors, ed. Mike Resnick, 1993.

Alternate Outlaws, Ed. Mike Resnick, 1994.

I never actually intended to do a full review of Darrell Schweitzer’s Awaiting Strange Gods: Weird and Lovecraftian Fiction. A lot of plot synopses would give a bad impression of the varied tones and emotions of Schweitzer’s work.awaiting-strange-gods

As Pete Rawlik noted in his review in issue 329 of the New York Review of Science Fiction “a trope that Schweitzer often repeats, that of an unwilling companion who is constantly drawn back into the company of a more dominant personality whose story must be told.” In the context of a story not included here, “A Servant of Satan”, Schweitzer refers to this as “what I call the Old School Chum story, which I’ve written several times. The narrator tells of some remarkable person he met in his youth, who led him on an improbable, frightening adventure …”. That structure is used in several of the stories.

It should be noted that, unlike many writers, Schweitzer, though he has been writing critical works on Lovecraft since 1976, took up Lovecraftian Mythos tales only recently in his career.

And “Mythos” as in mythology is the appropriate term. Schweitzer uses the pantheon of Lovecraft’s aliens as we use the gods of classical myths – handy symbols, shorthand and fodder for stories that can venture very far in tone and subject from Lovecraft. It reminds me of what I recall Alan Moore saying about using DC Comic characters as ready-made symbols when he took over writing for Swamp Thing. (Though it could have been Neil Gaiman and The Sandman. Do you really think I’m going to take the time to fact check in this posting?)

Schweitzer uses Lovecraft for purposes of horror, but awe and terror are not the only emotions in his stories using the Gentleman from Providence’s fiction.

Thus the teenage lovers of “Innsmouth Idyll” are in a Ray Bradbury-flavored coming of age and mutation story. The adults of “Class Reunion” return to the Orne Academy (as in Simon Orne of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward) in a story that sets off middle-aged regrets about lost opportunities against the secret occult purposes their parents have committed them to.

Original to the anthology is “The Head Shop in Arkham”. Sure things end horribly, but things are amusing on the way with references to Poe and underground comics. Human-like resentment seethes behind the words of the ghoul-narrator in “The Warm”, a parallax on Lovecraft’s “Pickman’s Model”.

Schweitzer isn’t content to riff on Lovecraft exclusively. He has created his own weird town of Chorazin, Pennsylvania – home to a long lived cult. It shows up in “Why We Do It” and “Hanged Man and Ghost”.

Several stories feature young, threatened protagonists or absent fathers. A young girl can break dimensional barriers with a scream to escape in a story with a horror plot and non-horror joy, “Sometimes You Have to Shout about It”. A young orphan boy is brought to the house of an English relative in “The Runners Beyond the Wall”, another story related to The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. The survivor of an abusive family meets “the stone man” who guides him into alternate dimensions but not away from his despair in “Howling in the Dark”.

Schweitzer shows his historical interest – though, unlike S. T. Joshi’s introduction, I don’t find his historical erudition all that remarkable even for a pre-Internet age – in “On the Eastbound Train”, which fuses elements of Robert W. Chambers The King in Yellow, Lovecraft, and Byzantine history, and “Stragglers from Carrhae” which is narrated by a Roman legionnaire wandering the desert with a fellow survivor of that crushing Roman defeat. Medieval Europe in the era of the Crusades is the setting of “The Eater of Hours” which seems to be part of a series featuring the extraterrestrial Chronophagous.

Schweitzer is a skilled borrower of other authors’ voices and themes. “Ghost Dancing” is a Cthulhu Mythos story run through Donald Westlake.

One of the best stories belongs to no series: “The Corpse Detective”.  A bit of Kafka (the narrator, a private detective, says “the investigation is not going well”) in a story set in the Dark Place, a land of the dead. But the dead are vanishing, becoming undead, and the Minister of Dreams hires the narrator to investigate.  It’s a conservative world of tropism and habit where politeness prohibits mention of the sensual world of the living the inhabitants remember to varying degrees.

Definitely worth a look if you are interested in modern weird fiction.

i-am-crying-all-insideI feel bad about the next short-shrifted author: Clifford D. Simak. Open Road Media has finally released all his short works. (Don’t make the mistake I did and buy a paper copy. I’m not at all sure their multi-volume publication of Simak’s short fiction will get paper editions.)

Chris over at Battered, Tattered, Yellowed, & Creased has been taking a close look at them, and I urge you to check his site out. I really hope someday to thoroughly cover Simak’s work, but it’s not going to be now.

Installment Plan” from 1959 is one of those anthropological stories (why are those aliens acting so weird?) common in 1950s and 1960s science fiction. Simak is best remembered for his dogs-and-robots novel City. This story cuts out the dogs but the human-robot relationship is described in terms of man and dog. A team from Central Trading is sent to a planet to make a trade deal with the local aliens who have a herb, podar, which is the perfect tranquilizer. (Don’t get smug about 1950 Americans and their tranquilizers. We consume a lot more prescription psychotropics today.) An interesting ecological detail is that humans have tried to cultivate the herb, but only some protozoan on the aliens’ planet allows it to grow there. The robots of the story have skill modules they swap out of their bodies according to the task at hand.

But it’s what happens at the end to the story that makes it memorable and another version of Simak’s wariness about capitalism.

I have to admit that the main point of interest for me in Simak’s “I Had No Head and My Eyes Were Floating Way Up in the Air” was finding out what was considered cutting edge, taboo breaking science fiction by Simak when he wrote this for Harlan Ellison’s never published anthology The Last Dangerous Visions. Like Simak’s “Desertion”, it has a man transformed into an alien form. A new body requires new goals, new drives, new urges right? Not to mention new thoughts and emotions. Our hero is very definitely not grateful for his transcendence.

Simak had a fondness for time travel and “Small Deer”, set in a geologically accurate version of Wisconsin’s past, is a fine example. It’s a tale of a mechanical genius and his idiot savant friend building a time machine to watch the dinosaurs.

Simak’s “Gleaners”, from 1960, seems partially an answer to T. L. Sherred’s famous “E for Effort” from 1947. The latter story imagined the documentation of the historical past made possible with time travel causing international chaos when cherished historical myths are overthrown. Spencer, the protagonist of Simak’s story, specifically rejects the notion that his time travel agency, publically chartered Past, Inc, is going to undertake a similar project with religion. What it does do is retrieve lost artifacts and genealogical research for wealthy patrons. But political pressure is starting to be brought to bear to change that policy. There are also nice asides on the psychological toil on Past, Inc’s temporal agents as they spend years in the future, with no ties beyond vacations, to their home time.

Ogre” with its sentient, musical plants, a possible plot to subvert human civilization, and an annoying, rules spouting robot accountant was also a standout story. I’m usually a sucker for “vegetable civilization” stories.

The collection has an example of one of Simak’s western stories too.

Open Road Media is not collecting Simak’s stories in the order they appeared which is probably a good thing.

And next we have three anthologies from the early 1990s. As to why I was reading so many 1990s anthologies now, I will come to in another posting.

Future Crime turned out to be a surprisingly enjoyable anthology. Also surprising was that four of the twelve reprints were either from Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. That was ok with me. When I was young and wasn’t reading science fiction yet, I used to read Ellery Queen’s regularly.future-crime

Standouts (or, it must be admitted, stand out in my memory after three months) were several.

Isaac Asimov again churned out, with 1976’s “The Tercentenary Incident”, another paean to rule by technological elite. It turns on whether the president of the World Federation is or should be a robot. It all seems even more divorced from political plausibility 40 years later when centralization and elites do not seem to be doing too well in managing the world.

I was an admirer of John Shirley’s cyberpunk work of the 1980s, particularly his A Song Called Youth trilogy, but I had forgotten how good and serious and grounded in plausible tech (as far as contemporary science went) it was. “The Incorporated”’s hero senses part of his memory has been wiped and learns it was because he developed a “Media Alarm System” which detects “special interest distortion” in the news.

Orson Scott Card’s “Dogwalker”, from 1989, was his celebrated foray into cyberpunk. Now it’s suspenseful and gripping enough, but I suspect a lot of its acclaim came from the damaged nature, a perpetually thwarted puberty, of its narrator, the Password Man.

I’ve long heard of Harry Harrison’s “I Always Do What Teddy Says”, and it was enjoyable with its bunch of discontents in a future near-utopia plotting its overthrow via a child’s toy.

As you would expect, a fair number of these stories turn on speculative technologies and the world they created, so it’s not unexpected that, if you’re one of these people who don’t like dated science fiction, you’ll find their worlds, lacking our internet or the mobile devices that became so prevalent, stale after their near quarter century ago appearance.

One story that surprisingly isn’t as dated as you would expect is C. J. Cherryh’s “Mech”, original to the book. Set in a future Dallas, it involves a police call about an assault at an upscale apartment building. If rewritten today, it would involve drones and robots, but here one of the responding officer’s serves as a human sensor platform with his partner combining his feed with other data. The ending surprisingly opens the story into much broader political concerns.

Also original to the collection is George Alec Effinger “The World as We Know It”. It’s part of his Budayeen series with the same narrator as those novels. Do I remember much of its plot? No, but then I don’t remember much of the Budayeen novels’ plots. I just remember liking the world and narrator’s voice. Same here.

Alan Dean Foster is probably one of science fiction’s most enthusiastic world travelers and often giving to setting his stories in parts of Earth that don’t often show up in Anglophone science fiction. “Lay Your Head on My Pilose”, also original to the anthology, isn’t at all fantastic and involves a womanizing con man embarking on a new scheme in South America.

I’ve read a fair number of Mike Resnick’s anthologies. He tends to have a stable of writers he goes to again and again.

dinosaur-fantasticI’m not sure why I bought Dinosaur Fantastic – perhaps some temporary paleontological enthusiasm (I’m more interested in straight geology).

I was expecting, frankly, a lot of time travel stories and dino resurrection stories a la Jurassic Park, and there are certainly stories in that category. But a surprisingly number aren’t either, and that led to a relatively rich theme anthology.

However, if I would have thought about it for a bit, I should have realized how many metaphorical and symbolic uses our culture puts dinosaurs to.

Capitol punishment via mind transference to the Jurassic is the idea behind Robert J. Sawyer’s “Just Like Old Times”.

Time travelers introducing dinosaurs to Ancient Rome is only the beginning of a sort of wacky alternate history in Robert Sheckley’s “Disquisitions on the Dinosaurs”.

Gregory Feeley’s “Ways of Looking at a Dinosaur” surprised me. Normally, I’m not keen on metafiction and Feeley’s piece is that. It combines rumination on the symbolism of dinosaurs while spinning off several mini stories on the theme. However, it was one of my favorite pieces. However, it gets points taken off for the mealy mouth piece of pc rhetoric of “… the nineteenth century discovered that the Earth was hundreds of millions of years old”. No, it wasn’t “the nineteenth century”. It was European scientists.

Sure you know where Frank M. Robinson’s “The Great Dying” is going with its contemporary research into the possibility of a dinosaur plague, but it’s a sure-footed and enjoyable journey.

Bill Fawcett’s “After the Comet” is exactly what you would expect, but I enjoyed it, and it reminded me of the old writer of animal tales, Frank Ernest Thompson Seaton.

The speculation that St. Columba encountered the Loch Ness monster is the idea behind Laura Resnick’s “Curren’s Song”. Another story with particular historical resonance, for a 1993 anthology, is Jack Nimersheim’s “The Pangaean Principle” with is ex-Soviet scientist hero and ruminations on vanished worlds geological and national.

Nicholas A. DiChario’s “Whilst Slept the Sauropod” is a fable like story of an isolated island with its own dinosaur.

David Gerrold’s “Rex” is a nasty combination of domestic troubles and household dinosaurs – miniaturized T-Rexes to be specific.

And anyone with a fondness for conspiracy theories will love Roger MacBride Allen’s “Evolving Conspiracy”. Chock full of conspiracy theories, the one it’s most concerned with is the very grand and very encompassing evolutionist-Communist conspiracy.

As you could probably tell in my reviews of the Mike Resnick edited anthologies Alternate Presidents and Alternate Kennedys, I was frequently annoyed by purported alternate history stories that don’t pick up the heavy speculative burden of what a change in history would mean. Rather they do the far easier moment of change. And that moment of change often isn’t very interesting or plausible. (As part of my generally slipshod approach to this posting, I am not going to critique the finer points of the alternate histories either.)alternate-warriors

However, in reading the introductory notes to one of the stories, I realized that Resnick really never intended for all the stories to be serious alternate histories. These books use historical figures for jokes and odd juxtapositions.

Alternate Warriors is the least interesting of the two. As you might expect, we get a lot of stories that rely on the startle factor of Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King, Jr, Mother Teresa, Albert Schweitzer, and St. Francis of Assisi as warriors.

Still, there are some high points.

Resnick’s own “Mwalimu in the Squared Circle” centers on a real, if obscure, historical story. General and President-Elect-for-Life Idi Amin Dada of Uganda challenged Julius Nyerere of Tanzania to a boxing match to settle the war between their two countries. The challenge is accepted here.

Yes, Michael P. Kube-McDowell’s “Because Thou Lovest the Burning Ground” is a Ghandi gone bad story – gone Thuggee as it happens, but it’s atmospheric and has details on the Kali worshippers.

Maureen F. McHugh’s “Tut’s Wife” is a serious, moody look at what its heroine must do to preserve the Kingdom of Egypt. Judith Tarr’s “Queen of Asia” is a well-done look at how Persian Queen Sisygambis confronts Alexander the Great. Mercedes Lackey’s “Jihad” is a plausible seeming look at T. E. Lawrence’s conversion to Islam.  However, essentially, these are “how things changed” stories which end with the reader being invited to speculate how history will develop – as if the same questions couldn’t be spurred by regular history books.  Both Tarr’s and McHugh’s stories end with their heroines seeking marriages not seen in our history. Essentially, that’s just stretching out the moment-of-change concept and not a real alternate history

Marilyn Monroe has connections to Castro and Che Guevera in Jack C. Haldeman’s II “The Cold Warrior”. Despite not being much interested in the Kennedys and Marilyn, I liked this depiction of Monroe as spurned Commie agent.

It was Resnick’s introductory notes for Beth Meacham’s “One by One” saying it was “a true alternate history” that tipped me off that these anthologies are, by and large, not real alternate histories.

Meacham’s story is probably the best in the book charting into our time the consequences of a different life for American Indian Tecumseh. It’s tale of irredentism in which the Alliance Warriors Society continues the Two Hundred Year of the Shawnee Alliance with the European invaders. Perhaps inspired by Balkan events at the time of the writing, it still, with its Army Counter Terrorism units operating in several parts of America, seems contemporary and, for me, a fictional (though I doubt Meacham intended this) argument that whites and Indians could never equally and peacefully inhabit North America.

Dishonorable mention for the book goes to David Gerrold’s “The Firebringers”, a cheap, implausible, and bad literary collage depending on odd juxtapositions. We not only get some tired arguments about the immorality of using the A-Bomb and with the following characters:  President Cooper, Bogey the bombardier, General Tracy, Drs. Karloff and Lorre, Colonel Peck and Colonel Regan, and Captain Fonda, etc.

alternate-outlawsAlternate Outlaws is even less a real collection of alternate histories, but it is at least unchained to the cheap ironies and paradoxes of humanitarians and pacifists turned warrior.

Pride of place actually goes to David Gerrold’s “What Goes Around”. Charles Manson’s the subject here, still criminal, but a different sort of criminal. An alternate Harlan Ellison shows up under his pseudonym Cordwainer Bird.

The only real clue to the identity of the heroine of Beth Meacham’s “A Spark in the Darkness” is a back cover blurb about Helen Keller as a safecracker.

Thomas Paine lives a much shorter life, and dies in England, in Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s “Common Sense”.

The James Gang goes straight and play a large role in early Hollywood westerns in Allen Steele’s “Riders in the Sky”.

Frank M. Robinson puts his knowledge of pulp and early science fiction history to good use with “One Month in 1907” which features Hugo Gernsback, affectionately known as “Hugo the Rat” by some early pulp writers.

Walter Jon Williams’ plays it straight in “Red Elvis”, the cover story. Nicholas A. DiChario’s “Giving Head” features Sigmund Freud trying to learn what makes the Red Baron so good at what he does.

Most of the rest of the stories are extended jokes, and I gazing at the table of contents again only brings back memories of a few after reading them only a couple of months ago. (And I can’t be bothered to go into the details of others.)

Comrade Bill” from John E. Johnston III is about a certain ex-President. “Good Girl, Bad Dog”, from Martha Soukup, features a certain famous canine gone rogue. As for the rest, well, I remember a lot of jokes but specifics have already faded from my mind in the less than two months since I read the book.

 

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

The Big Book of Jack the Ripper

No, I’m not a Ripperologist. I do not (often) go to Casebook.org.

But I don’t have to be a Ripperologist to know about Jack the Ripper, and neither do you. Never being caught and writing (maybe) those taunting letters to the police gave him a posthumous infamy not attained by those more vicious.

I’ve rarely gone out of my way to read about the Ripper – no nonfiction beyond some articles, a single novel and some short stories. All those, except for Robert Bloch’s The Night of the Ripper, were encountered by chance.

Ripper movies are another matter, but I don’t do movies at this blog. (For the record, my favorite Ripper films are Time After Time and Jack’s Back.)

So why did I ask Amazon to send me a review copy of an 864 page book on the subject?

Mostly because I didn’t have a copy of Robert Bloch’s “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper” in the house, and we were discussing it on the Deep Ones discussion group at LibraryThing. And I am mildly curious about the Ripper.

Review: The Big Book of Jack the Ripper, ed. Otto Penzler, 2016.big-book-of-jack-the-ripper

Yes, it’s a big book, 864 pages, 11 non-fiction pieces and 41 pieces of fiction, and there’s no way I’m going to mention every single entry. (And, while it’s just barely manageable in print form and nicely laid out in double columns, you may want to spare your wrists the effort and go for the kindle edition. There are no illustrations.)

This book should satisfy everyone interested in the Ripper killings. The non-fiction pieces provide the context and introduction to the historical murders. Obsessive collectors on Ripper material will find new Ripper material here. (Though I note only one parenthetical mention of a suspect I find credible, American doctor Francis Tumblety.)

The first 136 pages are taken up with the historical details of the Ripper murders and the wake he left in criminology. Continue reading “The Big Book of Jack the Ripper”