“The Wand of Doom”

New stuff is being written, but it’s going to be awhile before it gets posted, so I’m going to continue the Jack Williamson with one more item.

Raw Feed (2013): The Wand of Doom”, Jack Williamson, 1932.Wand of Doom

I was kind of surprised when this story was proposed for the Deep Ones discussion group over at LibraryThing. I don’t, with the possible exception of Darker Than You Think, think of Williamson as a weird writer. But Williamson wrote a lot of stuff in the earlier part of his career, and this is an sf story with weird fiction imagery.

Essentially this is another “monster from the Id” story, though, of course, it predates Forbidden Planet. Or, more precisely, it’s a monster from the unconscious, here  a childhood, yet also atavistic, terror of spiders which a super science instrumentality manifests. this idea of mental terrors physically manifested is an old horror idea, just the rationalizing instrumentality varies.

Here a scientist finds a way to manifest his thoughts, freezing the energy (as matter is frozen energy) into physical forms but maintained by the fields put out by a dynamo and generator. He not only recreates a version of his lost love — she died before they could marry – but the somnabulent Paul accidentally brings his old nightmare spiders to life. Continue reading

The Stonehenge Gate

Continuing to retrieve Jack Williamson material from the archives.

This one was his last novel.

Raw Feed (2005): The Stonehenge Gate, Jack Williamson, 2005.

This is the latest work from sf legend Jack Williamson, a man whose career spans 76 years. This serial started in the January/February issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact, the magazine founded 75 years ago this year as Astounding Stories so Williamson’s whole career is longer than this venerable magazine. The whole careers of the Big Three (as they were once known — who knows whom younger sf readers would nominate for that position) of Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and Arthur C. Clarke are bookended by Williamson’s works — and, of course, many another sf writer.

This story starts out promising — four college professors, including the narrator (an English professor at a New Mexico college –autobiographical for Williamson), who call themselves the Four Horseman decide, investigate some possible ruins in the Sahara. Continue reading

“The Ultimate Earth”

Digging out a few more Jack Williamson pieces.

Yes, eventually the Lovecraft series will continue as well as new stuff showing up.

Raw Feed (2001): “The Ultimate Earth”, Jack Williamson, 2000.Ultimate Earth

I believe that Williamson first published in 1928, and it’s good to see him still publishing good stories.

This story ricochets about the universe with a scope and pace of the old space opera Williamson wrote early in his career. Yet he also brings in the relatively new sf device of nanotechnology, here “nanobots”.

The plot is set in the far future with an Earth depopulated by cometary impacts and then repopulated by the efforts of a moon outpost – itself later wrecked by an impact. The members of that outpost are cloned.  (They seem to be partially made up of people who left earth right before the killing impacts.)

The clones, raised by a computer, are discovered by archaeologist Sandor Pen who treats them well as children but, as they grow older, he treats them more like scientific curiosities or museum exhibits than as real people. Museum exhibits are exactly what they are as Sandor Pen restores the moon station to its pre-impact state.

Nor does he allow the main base inhabitants to return to Earth. Continue reading

Darker Than You Think

A while back I did a Jack Williamson series and I found a few more related reviews in the archive, so I’m taking a brief detour from the H. P. Lovecraft series.

And I am working on some new material.

Raw Feed (2002): Darker Than You Think, Jack Williamson, 1940, 1948.Darker Than You Think

I originally read this novel because Fortean Miriam de Ford listed it as one of the sf works influenced by Charles Fort.  I see no evidence of that.

Fort is not mentioned or even obliquely alluded to.

I think, amongst other things, Williamson was clearly influenced by the work of Rhine on psychic powers, and the notion that these strange powers (which are mentioned in, partially, Fort’s Wild Talents) may be studied scientifically almost certainly comes from there.

If there is any Charles Fort influence, it may be by way of Eric Frank Russell’s Sinister Barrier.

Both novels were published in John Campbell’s Unknown magazine, Russell’s in 1939, Williamson in 1940.

Both novels feature a broad battle between humans and non-humans, Russell’s Vitons and Williamson’s witch-people, with the evidence of those battles showing up in human psychology and odd events. Continue reading

Year’s Best SF 2

The alternate history series continues with some qualifying stories buried in this review.

Raw Feed (2001): Year’s Best SF 2, ed. David G. Hartwell, 1997.years-best-sf-2

After a Lean Winter”, Dave Wolverton — This is the second time I’ve read this story, the first being in its original appearance in the War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches, ed. by Kevin Anderson. I still liked its story of Jack London, during the Martian invasion depicted in H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, hiding out in the Arctic and watching a bloodmatch between dogs and a captured Martian. This time, though, (after reading Michael Swanwick’s “The Wisdom of Old Earth”, seemingly inspired by London’s The Sea Wolf), I was reminded that this is not only a clever use of London in the context of the central idea of alien invasion but also a further reworking of his theme of blood struggle in life and evolution.

In the Upper Room“, Terry Bisson — I originally read this story in its first publication in Playboy. I didn’t like it then, and I didn’t like it the second time around. It was not interesting. It wasn’t an insightful story about lingerie fetish or any other type of sexual fetish. It wasn’t erotic. It wasn’t satirical — at least not in any way that mattered.

Thinkertoy“, John Brunner — It was a nice surprise to see one of John Brunner’s last stories here. It was written for the Jack Williamson tribute anthology The Williamson Effect. According to his introductory notes, Hartwell says Brunner died before he could write the afterword for the story, but Hartwell speculates that it was inspired by Williamson’s “Jamboree”, a story I have not read. That may be true, but I also was reminded of Williamson’s classic “With Folded Hands” since, like that story, we have a man coming across a vendor of wonderful robotic merchandise, robots which eventually turn out to be very sinister. Here a widower buys the remarkable Tinkertoys which are clever, highly adaptable robots which can (rather like Legos) be assembled into several different shapes and do all sorts of wonderful things: answer the phone in several, customizable voices with Eliza-like abilities to keep the conversation going, integrate various household electronics, serve as worthy opponents in various games, and household inventory control. His withdrawn son, traumatized by the death of his mother in an auto accident, takes a real shine to the toys and programs them for all sorts of things, helped by his older sister. The protagonist finds out that the chips used in the Thinkertoys were originally designed as a Cold War weapon. They were to be dropped behind enemy lines to conduct various acts of subtle industrial sabotage: jam electronics, loosen valves, start fires, and mess up bearings. The children eventually use the toys to try and kill their father (The cold, impatient, malicious intelligence of the children reminded me of those in Brunner’s Children of the Thunder.). As to why, they explain, simply, “He was driving.”, referring to the auto accident that killed their mother. Continue reading

The Best of Jack Williamson

A retro review from June 21, 2013.

Review: The Best of Jack Williamson, ed. Jack Williamson, 1978.Best of Jack Williamson

With most science fiction authors, a 50-year retrospective, from 1928-1978, would be the capstone of a career. But this is Jack Williamson, the iron man of science fiction, and he had another 28 years of writing and life left in him. This collection shows off his versatility and, oddly, his social prescience and early genre use of certain ideas others were to pick up.

It seems to have been almost required in the Del Rey “Best Of” series to start things off with the featured author’s first story, and this collection is no exception. Here that’s “The Metal Man” which is nothing special, an A. Merritt style story of extraterrestrial wonders found in obscure corners of the Earth, here Mexico. Williamson admits to, in this version, having written out the more florid prose of the story’s first appearance.

Dead Star Station” has a space pirates, an orphan, and a cranky and unappreciated inventor, and something like a neutron star, the titular Dead Star. It’s kind of a science fiction analog of a sea story with Dead Star Station serving as sort of a lighthouse for ships navigating the Orion Passage, a danger zone of meteors and gas attracted by the star’s colossal gravitation. Continue reading

The Humanoid Touch

I’m working on new stuff, so you are getting a retro review from June 9, 2013.

Review: The Humanoid Touch, Jack Williamson, 1980.Humanoid Touch

This novel is a reminder of the short novels that masters of science fiction like Williamson used to write.

Williamson wroughts a new twist on his humanoid menace, those robots who efficiently and implacably stifle humanity while carrying out their Prime Directive “to serve and obey and guard men from harm”. Theirs is a menace that can be seen as warning of dire consequences from well-intentioned technology or a political allegory for well-intentioned totalitarianism. In either case, if you think of this series as sort of intellectual horror, this novel shows a change in the behavior and motives of the monster, but, to fully appreciate the horror of the monster, you should read the earlier novel The Humanoids. Here, in a couple of scenes where they talk with humans, the humanoids take on the air of earnest communists defending their subversions or of creepy inquisitors really concerned with the fate of those they are about to inflict pain on.

The plot is something like a young adult science fiction story. Young Keth, growing up on the poor world of Kai, attempts to earn the affections of his distant father, the leader of the Lifecrew. Once a powerful and influential organization on a world settled by humans fleeing the smothering attentions of the humanoids, now the Lifecrew’s warnings of ongoing humanoid menace and possible humanoid infiltration of the neighboring world of Malili, also settled by humans though of a mutated sort, seem ridiculous and outdated. But, of course, the humanoids do show up, and Keth takes up his father’s struggle. Continue reading

The New Space Opera

Posting this retro review will be one of the few productive things I did today.

From July 18, 2009 …

Review: The New Space Opera, eds. Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan, 2007.New Space Opera

What is “space opera”? The introduction succinctly and accurately calls it romantic adventure science fiction told on a grand scale. It then traces the history of the sub-genre from its stirrings in the 1890s to its full-fledged birth in the 1920s to its nadir in the 1960s and 1970s, when the New Wave made it unfashionable, to its rebirth, while American authors were developing cyberpunk, at the hands of the British in the 1980s and 1990s.

For that grand scale, I’d specify vast scales of time and space and weaponry. The fate of species – their lives or at least their sanity and cultural viability – should be at stake and not some mere individual’s happiness or survival. Some of the stories in this collection are good but not space opera. Some are both. But there aren’t enough good stories of any type to give this collection a higher rating. [I gave it three stars at Amazon.]

The following stories fall in the unsuccessful and not even space opera category. The setup for Gwyneth Jones “Saving Timaat”, the narrator helping in the negotiations between representatives of two warring groups, the one cannibalistic predators on the other, is good, but the emotional connection of the narrator to the cannibal chief and her motivations are too oblique. James Patrick Kelly’s “Dividing the Sustain” is a would-be comedy of manners about a courier aboard a ship of communist colonists and the steps he takes to get close to the captain’s estranged wife, subject of an unaccountable infatuation, and to avoid getting “stale”, a consequence of longevity treatments. Not at all interesting.

Nancy Kress has put out some wonderful work, particularly when she engages in speculating about the consequences of biotech. However, her “Art of War” seems just a writerly exercise in developing the title phrase into a story and playing around with the cliché of stern military father (here a stern military mom) and a disappointing son. The story’s war between alien Teli and humans and the place each species’ art plays in the struggle just didn’t have the grand feel of space opera. Continue reading

Year’s Best SF 3

I’ve read and liked most of David Hartewell’s Year’s Best SF (which is no longer published) but reviewed few of them.

Here’s one.  A retro review from July 28, 2003 …

Review: Year’s Best SF, ed. David G. Hartwell, 1998.Year's Best SF 3

The one piece of dross comes from an unexpected source: William Gibson and his story “Thirteen Views of a Cardboard City”. It’s a minute, camera-eye examination of a cardboard structure in a Tokyo subway and obviously inspired by J.G. Ballard’s work. I detected no point to the series of descriptions, or, indeed, anything of a fantastical or science fictional nature.

Nancy Kress’ “Always True to Thee, in My Fashion” gives us a witty satire with a world where the seasonal variations of fashion cover not only clothes but also your pharmaceutically modulated attitudes.. The caged dinosaur of Gene Wolfe’s “Petting Zoo” represents not only the lost childhood of the story’s protagonist but a vitality lost from the race of man. Tom Cool gives us “Universal Emulators” with its future of economic hypercompetition that has created a black market for those who impersonate, in every way, the few employed professionals. In effect, the emulators grant them an extra set of hands. Its plot and characters would have done Roger Zelazny proud.

The voice of past science fiction writers echoes through many of the anthology’s best stories. Jack London’s The Sea Wolf provides the inspiration for Michael Swanwick’s “The Wisdom of Old Earth”. Its heroine realizes, despite whatever dangers she overcomes guiding posthumans through the Pennsylvania’s jungles, she will never bootstrap herself into being their equal. H.G. Wells looms over Robert Silverberg’s “Beauty in the Night”. Its child hero undertakes the first successful assassination of the brutal aliens that have occupied Earth, but his reasons have more to do with his oppressive father rather than the aliens’ behavior. John C. Wright’s “Guest Law” is a welcome return to the flashy decadence of Cordwainer Smith’s fiction. Its hero, a slave-engineer, watches in disgust as his aristocratic overlords corrupt the customary requirements of hospitality to justify piracy in deep space. Gregory Benford’s “The Voice” responds to Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Here the convenience of implanted intelligent agents, hooked up to a computer network, led to literacy fading, and not a repressive regime of firemen. Benford agrees with Bradbury about literacy’s value but also undercuts him on the supremacy of writing as a means of communication. Continue reading

Star Colonies

Another retro review, this time of one of the many theme anthologies DAW books has done through the years.

Like most of them in my limited experience, the vast bulk of the stories are mediocre with one or two good ones.

From May 15, 2001 …

Review: Star Colonies, eds. Ed Gorman, Martin H. Greenberg, and John Helfers, 2000.Star Colonies

Exploring and colonizing the stars is the theme, a classic science fiction idea. But only a couple of stories here have any chance of becoming classics. Many are bland and mediocre .
Two classic science fiction tales, A.E. van Vogt’s “Far Centaurus” and Arthur C. Clarke’s “The Sentinel, provide the inspiration for a mediocre story and a bland story. The mediocre one is Robert J. Sawyer’s “The Shoulders of Giants” with a starship racing to a frontier already settled by humanity. The bland story is Eric Kotani’s “Edgeworld” with its discovery of an alien artifact.

Also on the bland side are Jack Williamson’s “Eden Star”, with family conflicts played out on a planet with light-worshipping aliens, and Edo van Belkom’s “Coming of Age” about colonists who discover that their children are doomed to permanent pre-pubescence. The weakest story, in terms of originality, is the entirely predictable “Full Circle” by Mike Resnick and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Even humor can not save this old plot about futilely trying to get rid of one noxious pest by importing another.

On the marginally interesting edge of the spectrum are Paul Levinson’s “The Suspended Fourth”, about a planet where birdsong may hold the key to avoiding disasters, and Alan Dean Foster’s “The Muffin Migration”, another of those stories where colonists rue ignoring the natives’ advice about the local fauna. Dana Stabenow’s “No Place Like Home” has a few plot holes but its black humor and mean-spiritedness make up for it in a tale weighing the relative values of human life and that of alien bacteria.

Both Allen Steele’s “The Boid Hunt” and Tom Piccirilli’s “I Am a Graveyard Hated by the Moon” are character centered stories. The Steele tale is a deadly coming of age story and an examination of courage before and during a hunt for alien predators. Piccirilli’s mixture of virtual reality, nanotechnology, characters who think they’re gods, and landscapes haunting characters doesn’t quite work but is an enjoyable story reminiscent of Roger Zelazny. Continue reading