Man in His Time; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

Since I don’t have anything new to post right now, I’ll respond to a mention of this collection on Classics of Science Fiction. And a reminder unusually relevant with this one — Raw Feeds come with spoilers.

Raw Feed (2001): Man in His Time: Best SF Stories, Brian Aldiss, 1989.MNNHSTMBST1989

Introduction” — Aldiss talks briefly about how he was influenced by the first Shakespeare play he read, The Tempest, and how the short story, unlike the novel, has no hero and, again unlike the novel, is never about the search for truth but features a truth of the author’s. Aldiss, responding to a critic’s remark that his stories don’t as much explain as mystify, sees mystification as a tool to reveal the truth that we do not know everything about the universe.

Outside” — This story is dated 1955 (It’s unclear if that’s a date of composition or date of publication.), so it’s possible that it may have been inspired, if Aldiss saw the magazines they were published in, some of Philip K. Dick’s earlier work (he is an acknowledged fan of Dick), specifically the Dick story “Imposter” which has published prior to 1955. On the other hand, it’s possible he came up with the idea for this story all by himself or was inspired by A.E. van Vogt, Dick’s model for some of his earlier stuff. The story here, a man sharing a house with some other housemates, a house that none of them ever leaves, that none of them even has the desire to leave though they can’t see out of it (and get their supplies from the “store”, a small room by the kitchen), and the man eventually discovering that the house is an observatory where humans observe captured, would-be alien Nititian infiltrators (they kill humans and shape themselves into exact replicas), and the man discovering that he is, in fact, one of those Nititian, is pretty Dickian.  The protagonist was so passive because Nititians tend to adopt themselves to the psychological coloration of the humans around them. In this case, a human observer in the house was in the passive, watching mode.

The Failed Men” — An interesting story, a witty look at the uncleavable union of culture and language. The humans of the 24th Century, called the Children by those of that future, are roped into the Intertemporal Red Cross mission made up of humans from many different periods in the future, to save the bizarre, strange case of the Failed Men, a culture of the 3,157th century. They are deformed in shape, and have, for some unknown reason, buried themselves in the Earth. They literally have to be dug out to help them. The 24th Century protagonist, and his comrades from the same century, find the Failed Men so disturbing that psychiatric hospitalization is required. There are hints that some action of the ancestors created the Failed Men, but no one can be sure. No one has been able to fathom the motives for the path they took.  It may have been religious or a failed attempt at transcendence. The Failed Men are no help in explaining their action. Their language is a melange of abstractions, some seemingly redundant, some seemingly contradictory — at least, to a non-native speaker. Continue reading “Man in His Time; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax”

The Camp of the Saints

Essay: The Camp of the Saints, Jean Raspail, trans. Norman Shapiro, 1973, 2018.

Would you kill to preserve civilization? Specifically, would you kill defenseless children, women, and men to preserve civilization?

That is the question posed by Raspail’s novel, surely the most significant science fiction novel written in 1973 and certainly still the most talked about.

The novel’s theme is encapsulated by a remark of the French president in a radio address as Easter Sunday becomes Easter Monday:

cowardice towards the weak is cowardice at its most subtle, and, indeed, its most deadly.

We’ll return to that radio address later.

Reading this book, to say nothing of liking it and agreeing with its message, is enough to get you denounced and used as a weapon against you if you are a politician. In the month since I read this, that indeed happened to one American politician. You can do the experiment yourself. Do a Google search using “The Camp of the Saints” and “Raspail” and look at the first 12 pages. Three quarters of the entries will use words like “hateful”, “lurid”, “despicable”, and, of course, “racist” to describe the book.

Originally, I was going to do a three-part series on this book: the story, reactions to it, and the validity of its projections. Frankly, I didn’t think most people would want to read that nor would I change any minds in the related moral and political arguments.

So, I’ll mostly describe the book and conclude with some brief thoughts on its relevancy and place in science fiction.

You’ll get a better sense of the book here that any other place online I think.

Continue reading “The Camp of the Saints”

The Wanting Seed

This novel first came to my attention on the MPorcius Fiction Log and, recently, it was the subject of a discussion by Kevin Michael Grace on the Luke Ford YouTube channel.

Could two such sources be wrong in telling me it was worth a look? No.

So, before I dropped in on the Luke Ford discussion, I thought I’d read it.

I’ve been going back and forth about not reviewing everything I read, but there were some things I wanted to say on this one.

But I’d have to do at least a plot synopsis and explicate some of the major themes.

And then I realized I could just leech off MPorcius work.

Thus was born a new category of post: the parasite review.

Which means, in this case, you need to read MPorcuis’ post first.

Wanting SeedParasite Review: The Wanting Seed, Anthony Burgess, 1962.

In 1959, Anthony Burgess was wrongly diagnosed with brain cancer and given a year to live. Not wishing to leave an impoverished widow, he wrote five novels in the next year. One of them was this novel.

That may explain some of its faults and, for me, a somewhat inconclusive ending. Burgess himself said, “it needed to be longer in the oven … but I needed money”.

Like MPorcius, I think this a satire and not a serious effort at extrapolative prediction.

According to the Science Fiction Encyclopedia, it stands near the beginning of science fiction novels about overpopulation. My favorite overpopulation novel is Harry Harrison’s extrapolatively dishonest Make Room! Make Room!. Oddly, Burgess accused Harrison of lifting the cannibalism theme of The Wanting Seed for the film adaptation of Soylent Green. In fact, according to Harry Harrison’s essay “A Cannibalized Novel becomes Soylent Green” in Omni’s Screen Flights, Screen Fantasies, says cannibalism was put in the script by the film’s producers and his contract forbid him having any input with it.

So what is Burgess satirizing? Continue reading “The Wanting Seed”

No Man’s World

 

Low Res Scan: Black Hand Gang, Pat Kelleher, 2010; The Ironclad Prophecy, Pat Kelleher, 2011; The Alleyman, Pat Kelleher, 2011.

Don’t bother reading Pat Kelleher’s No Man’s World trilogy.

Why shouldn’t you read it?

For exactly the same reason you shouldn’t watch one of those well-done science fiction tv series that lasted a season. You get enraptured with the mysteries, the struggles of the characters, and, as you get near the end, you realize, with a sinking feeling, that there is no way all the conflicts and plots and subplots are going to be wrapped up, the mysteries solved. Continue reading “No Man’s World”

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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Star-Begotten

Review: Star-Begotten: A Life Lived in Science Fiction, James Gunn, 2017.51CAqNyrFQL._SX348_BO1,204,203,200_

Even James Gunn didn’t live all his life in science fiction, and the parts of his autobiography about his life outside that world are as entertaining and lengthy as the rest.

Of course, Gunn is a noted science fiction writer who first published in 1949 and has had new work published in 2018. He was the first to treat science fiction as an academic subject. He taught the craft of writing it for many years. He also was the man behind the Science Fiction Lecture Film series which filmed presentations of noted science fiction writers. You can find clips on YouTube and purchase the series from the Center for the Study of Science Fiction including one of Gunn interviewing Rod Serling.

But this autobiography gives you a sense of the man and something of his times.

It was a life, he acknowledges, governed by chance. One was meeting the woman he was married to for 65 years, Jane Anderson. It might not have happened if he hadn’t left college after his junior year in 1943 when we was finally called up for the Navy Air Force which he volunteered for shortly after World War Two started. Another chance event altered the trajectory of that Navy career when an unusually calm day, a condition in which Cadet Gunn was unused to, caused him fail to slow a plane while landing it solo for the first time. He became a washed-out aviator trainee. Continue reading “Star-Begotten”

Kaleidoscope

The alternate history series continues with a Harry Turtledove collection that, of course, includes a lot of alternate history.

Raw Feed (1994): Kaleidoscope, Harry Turtledove, 1990.kaleidoscope

And So to Bed” — I appreciated this story more upon a second reading. The first time I liked the basic idea of this alternate history – that Samuel Pepys, in a world where Neanderthals were never supplanted by modern man in the New World, develops the theory of evolution. On a second reading, I appreciated more Turtledove’s technical skill in reproducing, via diary, Pepys world (and, I assume, style though I never read Pepys) with wit.

Bluff” — A story based – with acknowledgements – on the ideas of neurologist Julian Jaynes’ The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of Bicameral Mind. Jaynes postulated (so I gather from Turtledove’s summation and the intro that says Jaynes liked the story) that primitive man was not truly conscious (defined by psychologist Helga Stein in this story, as being aware, of manipulating mentally metaphorical representations of objects and ideas) and operated on pattern recognition and habit. (Not as silly as it sounds. As Turtledove points out, complex activities like typing and playing a musical instrument are best done unconsciously.) When a novel situation presents itself, the right side of the brain generates auditory and visual hallucinations – often interpreted as gods and dead ancestors speaking. An earth survey mission finds an entire alien civilization at the Bronze Age level built by unconsciousness aliens. But just as Jaynes’ theory has consciousness developing when things get to complicated, so it is starting in this culture with alien soldier Tushratta. Consciousness first begins in merchants and soldiers who deal with strangers who hear other gods’ voices; gradually, they realize that these strangers have inner selves and begin to think of their inner self. A casual poker game with Tushratta and the humans ends in the corruption of the alien culture, the emergence of tyranny, and the beginnings of Tushratta’s consciousness. He is introduced to the idea of bluffing and, its close relation, lying. Turtledove makes a valid point that lying – consciously holding an image of reality and then constructing a distortion of it for social presentation – is a quintessentially conscious act.  (I was reminded of Harry Harrison’s West of Eden where an intelligent dinosaur character is amazed by, and cunningly uses, the human idea of lying.)  Tushratta, at story’s end, is plotting his rise to power via the idea of “bluff”.  An intriguing story that puts to good use an interesting scientific theory.

A Difficult Undertaking” — Basically a pun story set in Turtledove’s alternate Byzantine fantasy universe of the Empire of Videssos (and, on the basis of this story, I’m not eager to read them); allegedly, this story is based on an incident from Byzantine Princess Anna Commena (Turtledove does, after all, have a PhD in Byzantine history) about a soldier escaping a siege by appearing to be dead and transported across enemy lines in a coffin.  Continue reading “Kaleidoscope”