Cthulhu’s Reign

Retro Review (2012): Cthulhu’s Reign, ed. Darrell Schweitzer, 2010.

This anthology’s theme is grim and simple. As predicted — and prevented in many of H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos stories, Cthulhu and the Old Ones once again dominate Earth.

Rape, transformation, and religion are themes that show up in several stories.

On a metaphorical level, a sort of intellectual rape – the forcible introduction of unwelcome, devastating knowledge into the mind – occurs in many a Mythos story. But, in two stories, Cthulhu commits a literal rape. A group of survivors find themselves trapped and experimentally winnowed down in an Italian necropolis after Cthulhu’s return in Ian Watson’s chilling, first person narrated “The Walker in the Cemetery“. In John R. Fultz’s “This Is How the World Ends“, an Iraqi War veteran finds himself holed up in a mine as a horrible transformation is wrecked on the world outside.

Not exactly rape, but a gathering of horrible knowledge anyway, is the theme in Brian Stableford’s “The Holocaust of Ecstasy“. In this story, full of imagery that owes more to Clark Ashton Smith than Lovecraft, a biology professor from Miskatonic University, finds himself reincarnated into an alien ecosystem. Of course, Cthulhu’s return is a time of transformation, and many stories take up that theme. In Jay Lake’s “Such Bright and Risen Madness“, a resistance movement secretly meets on a blighted, chilling Earth to hear of a new weapon which may free them from their masters, the Old Ones. Slowly transforming from “Innsmouth Syndrome”, the narrator feels the almost forgotten stirrings of sexual desire when he meets the plan’s architect. But he also encounters a figure from his past in a brilliant tale of despair and resolve. The hero of Mike Allen’s “Her Acres of Pastoral Playground” inhabits a zone relatively safe from the Cthulhian horrors outside, but cosmic chaos still intrudes in unwelcome changes to his wife’s body.

Continue reading “Cthulhu’s Reign”

The 1000 Year Reich and Other Stories

Yes, it’s an actual book review of a title I committed myself to 25 months ago. I haven’t done a similar review in 10 months.

The reviewing mill of MarzAat grinds slow. Whether it grinds fine or even produces anything useful you will have to decide.

The mill’s scheduling is also erratic. This book wasn’t even the next in the chute, but I found myself limited to what was on the kindle one day, so I started it.

It came from NewCon Press whose offerings I’ve reviewed in the past: Dark Currents and David Hutchinson’s collection Sleeps with Angels. And I’ve enjoyed them. However, even my blogger conscience was starting to feel guilty about asking for any more of their offerings without reviewing what I had been given.

In fact, the next “new” title I will be reviewing is Simon Morden’s At the Speed of Light, also from NewCon Press.

Review: The 1000 Year Reich and Other Stories, Ian Watson, 2016.51wwhW8SFKL

I’ve enjoyed the Watson I’ve read before. There was the amusing bit of recursive science fiction in his “The World Science Convention of 2080” (fan experiences in journeying to the event in a world where technology has regressed). There was “The Great Atlantic Swimming Race” (the link takes you to James Gunn’s The Road to Science Fiction #5: The British Way so we haven’t escaped all Gunn references), a rumination on LiveAid charity stunts. A versatile writer, he turned in a couple of effective Lovecraftian bits with “The Black Wall of Jerusalem” and “The Walker in the Cemetery”. I enjoyed what seemed to be a witty takeoff on J. G. Ballard’s Concrete Island in the short story “Long Stay” in a collection edited by Ian Whales, also associated with NewCon Press.

However, against my enjoyment of those short works, is The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction’s description of his novel The Embedding as a novel about perception molded by language with “erratic quicksilver shiftiness”. That doesn’t seem my thing, so I’ve read none of his novels. Continue reading “The 1000 Year Reich and Other Stories”

Terminal Cafe

Since I’m working on a review of another Ian McDonald novel, Out on Blue Six, I thought I’d bring out this.

Raw Feed (1995): Terminal Cafe, Ian McDonald, 1994.terminal-cafe

A very impressive novel both stylistically and intellectually.

McDonald does more with the implications of nanotechnology than anyone except Greg Bear in Blood Music (taking a wide definition of nanotechnology). McDonald goes right to the heart of nanotechnology’s attraction: its potential to offer immortality. (McDonald calls the notion that “the first thing we get with nanotechnology is immortality” Watson’s Postulate after sf writer Ian Watson who set him straight on nanotechnology’s core importance.)

He bases the central idea of his book around an obvious notion: resurrecting the dead. MacDonald envisions an expensive process of resurrection paid for by making the resurrected dead (simply referred to as the dead) indentured servants with no legal rights or legal existence (nevertheless, they exist in a shadow economy connected to the land of the willing). Like the androids in the movie Blade Runner, the dead are primarily the product of one man, Adam Tessler, and linked to one corporation, Tessler-Thanos. Like the dead of Robert Silverberg’s “Born with the Dead”, the dead of this novel often feel little connection to the family, friends, and lovers of their previous life. As in Blade Runner, there is a fatal meeting between a band of dead from space (androids from space in the movie) and their creator. [In Traveler of Worlds, Robert Silverberg said of this novel, referring to its original UK title, “McDonald did do a version of ‘Born with the Dead’, a brilliant reworking of it called Necroville.”]

MacDonald creates a vivid world of wonderful imagery described with wit as he shows some of the more outré results of widespread nanotechnology running the gambit from virtual reality “bodygloves” (MacDonald has a real knack for creating plausible future jargon slang, and words) which hook molecular feeds up to the body’s optic nerves, inner ear, and the olfactory part of the brain) to shapechanging prostitutes and people engineered to live underwater or glide through the world to dinosaurs analogs running amok over the California landscape. (They are escapees from a disastrous Walt Disney project – the resulting lawsuits shut the company down, one of my favorite background bits.) His depiction of war in the nanotechnology age, while brief, was convincing and well thought out. The only objection I had to his depiction of how nanotechnology would work is I think the speed of some of the processes he depicts is exaggerated, and he seems to forget that all these processes require energy and the dumping of waste heat. Continue reading “Terminal Cafe”

The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Volume 3

The outside project has been sent off to an editor, so the new reviews should be more frequent. There’s certainly a backlog of titles I’ve read.

For now, though, you get another retro review.

This one is from May 6, 2010.

Review: The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Volume 3, ed. George Mann, 2009.Solaris Book of New Science Fiction

The third and final in this artistically, if perhaps not commercially, successful series doesn’t disappoint. There are no truly bad stories, just a few that didn’t do much for me. Most I found good and one truly memorable. Mann lives up to his writ of widely varied stories that diverge from near future dystopianism.

Curiously, many of the stories seem twinned, thematically or in images or feel, with other stories. The “gothic suspense” of John Meaney’s “Necroflux Day” with its story of family secrets in a world where fuel and information are stored in bones is also conveyed, better, in the gothic “A Soul Stitched in Iron” by Tim Akers. The latter story has an aristocrat, fallen on hard times, tracking down a putative murderer that’s upsetting a crime lord’s plans. That murderer happens to be an old friend of the protagonist, and the killer’s motives involve subterranean secrets that underlie the status of a noveau riche clan. Meaney’s story didn’t do much for me. Akers interests me enough to that I’m going to seek out his Heart of Veridon set in the same city.

Alastair Reynolds’ “The Fixation” and Paul Cornell’s “One of Our Bastards Is Missing” are both, loosely defined, alternate history. Reynolds’ story has a scientist restoring the Mechanism, very much like our Antikythera Mechanism – an ancient clockwork computer. In her world, while the Romans found no practical use for the Mechanism, the Persians did and founded the predominant power of the world. However, other universes are also interested in their versions of the Mechanism and prepared to vampirically leach its information structure from other universes to facilitate a complete restoration. The central idea is interesting, but the alternate history speculation is at a bare minimum. Not even really alternate history but an annoying, distracting mélange of medieval European, Renaissance, and 19th century politics, Cornell’s story features personal teleportation, so called “Impossible Grace”, that binds the solar system together and greatly complicates the balance of power in the royal houses of Europe. For me, its plot of political intrigue was ruined by the story’s capricious use of history. Stephen Baxter’s “Artifacts” is Baxter in his deep cosmological mode. Its scientist hero, provoked by the religious ideas of his father and early death of his wife, ponders why our brane (if I understand the concept correctly, a cluster of universes) has time flowing in one direction and the consequence of death. His discovery oddly echoes the theme of Reynolds’ story, but I also liked the story’s near future Britain noticeably not affected by any Singularity and poor enough to have to recycle computers for rare metals. Continue reading “The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Volume 3”

DAW 30th Anniversary Science Fiction Anthology

Another retro review while I work on something for another outlet.

From January 12, 2010 …

Review: DAW 30th Anniversary Science Fiction Anthology, eds. Elizabeth R. Wollheim and Sheila Gilbert, 2002.DAW 30th Anniversary

Apart from the introductions by Wollheim and Gilbert covering Donald A. Wollheim’s contributions to American publishing culminating with his founding of DAW Books, there’s nothing that makes this book stand out from DAW’s many other anthologies except it doesn’t have a theme. The ratio of good to adequate to bad stories is pretty standard – not nearly high enough for a celebration of 30 years of quality publishing. That’s probably inevitable for a group of all original stories, but this anthology, which features installments in several DAW series, also doesn’t serve as much of an enticing sampler of DAW’s goods.

The two stand out stories are Tad Williams’ “Not With a Whimper, Either” and Ian Watson’s “The Black Wall of Jerusalem”. Williams’ story is told through newsgroup exchanges as various users try to figure out what is behind several disruptions of communications and utilities. It’s a worthy and ambiguous addition to a science fiction tradition of sinister machines including Jack Williamson’s “With Folded Hands”, Harlan Ellison’s “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream”, and, especially, Frederic Brown’s “Answer”. Watson’s story is surprisingly Lovecraftian in structure and theme. Its poet narrator is troubled by dreams he’s been having since returning from Jerusalem where he went for inspiration to write a William Blake style work of religious mysticism. There he encountered the Black Wall, a gateway that pops up in different parts of the ancient city, and goes beyond it to investigate the lethal beings of another dimension. Continue reading “DAW 30th Anniversary Science Fiction Anthology”

The Road to Science Fiction, Volume 5

I strongly recommend James Gunn’s six volume The Road to Science Fiction anthology series as a good look at the history of Anglophone science fiction. In the sixth volume, foreign language science fiction is covered.

However, I only reviewed this volume.

A retro review from September 2, 2003.

Review: The Road to Science Fiction, Volume 5: The British Way, ed. James Gunn, 1998.Road to Science Fiction

Several novels are excerpted here. And one prominent one isn’t: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein which Gunn argues is a transition from the gothic but not yet fully in the camp of self-aware science fiction. Lt. Col. Sir George Tomkyns Chesney’s The Battle of Dorking is the first of those future war novels written by politicians and military men determined to influence public policy. Edwin A. Abbott’s Flatland, still in print, is a charming tale of life and culture in a two-dimensional world. That incomparable giant of science fiction, Olaf Stapledon, is represented by a selection from Star Maker, narrated by a “cosmical mind” who views the life of the universe. (Though oddly, in this volume, Gunn barely mentions his importance to the genre. For that, you must consult volume two.) The title for the section on Richard Jeffries After London; Or, Wild England is “The Craving for Catastrophe”. It is a pastoral tale of a simpler life after an unexplained disaster has befallen the country.

That craving shows up in several more tales. Killer smog hits the city in Robert Barr’s 1892 story “The Doom of London.” “The Great Fog” of H. F. Heard wipes out worldwide civilization. Life gets extinguished on an alien planet in Arthur C. Clarke’s much anthologized “The Star”. The Nature of the Catastrophe” in Michael Moorcock’s story of that name is never really explained. An amalgam of newspaper excerpts and fiction, this story unfortunately shares the oblique prose and loose setting of his Jerry Cornelius novels. Not readable in its own right, it still gives you some idea of Moorcock’s influence on the New Wave. Tanith Lee’s “Written in Water” is a last woman on Earth tale. The world that may be destroyed by an artist in J. D. Beresford “A Negligible Experiment” is our own. The disaster of John Wyndham’s “The Emptiness of Space” is a personal one. Its hero has survived a spell in cryonic suspension and fears his soul has left his body.

As you would expect, the anthology is full of several famous names. Continue reading “The Road to Science Fiction, Volume 5”

Lord of the Green Planet

Emil who?Petaja-LordGreen

I didn’t know either. I’ve even seen the name on Ace Doubles at a local used bookstore. I would have guessed, given that I live in an area with many of them, that he was a Finn. John Clute’s Science Fiction Encyclopedia entry on Petaja confirms he was an American of Finnish descent.

It also mentions that his best known work is a science fiction series based on the Finnish epic poem, the Kalevala. Ian Watson was later to do a two book series based on that work too: Lucky’s Harvest and The Fallen Moon. But, of course, Watson’s and Petaja’s series weren’t the only thing inspired by that Finnish saga. One J.R.R. Tolkien was a fan of it too. Thus, in some sense, Finland’s influence on modern Anglophone fantasy is rather like Jamaica’s influence on global popular music — way out of proportion to its size. Continue reading “Lord of the Green Planet”