The Man With the X-Ray Eyes & Other Stories From the Front

I had never heard of this book until I read David R. Langford’s “World War One” entry in the Science Fiction Encyclopedia:

Frøis Frøisland’s Fortaellinger fra fronten: Solidt halvlaeder (coll 1928; trans Nils Flaten as The Man With X-Ray Eyes and Other Stories from the Front 1930) includes sf and horror among its wartime tales.

There is surprisingly little information about this book on the Web of a Million Lies.

John Clute, in his “Froisland, Frois” entry in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, says:

More correctly given as Frøis Frøisland (1885-1930). Norwegian journalist and writer whose Fortaellinger fra fronten: Solidt halvlaeder (coll 1928; trans Nils Flaten as The Man With X-Ray Eyes and Other Stories from the Front 1930) is a volume of tales about World War One, several being sf or Horror, including the title tale, about an American soldier whose war wound activates his x-ray vision.

A Google search for the collection’s English title turns up a couple of bookseller descriptions and two brief contemporary reviews.

I’m somewhat skeptical that either Langford or Clute has read this collection or any of the booksellers listing it. (Though I wouldn’t actually bet on it with Clute. He’s not generally in the habit of speaking about books he hasn’t read.) The reason? There really isn’t much of what we call horror (in the literary genre sense) or science fiction in this book. There are eight fiction pieces with only the titular one being obviously fantastical and one borderline case.

Which, I guess, means pretty much anything I say will be quoted in term papers for decades.

Actually, I hope people go out of their way to contradict me. That might mean this book would be reprinted, and I could actually own it because the lowest price I’ve found for it now is $168. I don’t even spend that much on big reference books. As it is, I had it from the library for a brief time.

Review: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes & Other Stories From the Front, Frois Froisland, translated Nils Flaten, 1930.Man with Xray

The dust jacket for the English language edition of this book has a quote from O. E. Rolvaag: “The first work of art to shed a ray of romance on the War.” (Rolvaag was a Norwegian immigrant at one time famous for his novel Giants in the Earth. These days I suspect he’s probably forgotten outside of the Dakotas and Minnesota — areas he lived and set his novels.)

“A ray of romance on the War”? I think I know what Rolvaag met. There is an element of that in the sense of exotic settings and events. There is an air of the travelogue about Froisland’s book.

The book’s core is eight stories, but they are introduced by a four part and fully realistic (and, from what I could determine, almost completely verifiable) history of “The Front”.

Froisland voices the book as if he is speaking to us and begins “They talk about the front, oh yes, the front — “. Continue reading “The Man With the X-Ray Eyes & Other Stories From the Front”

Quin’s Shanghai Circus

Quin's Shanghai Circus

My notes tell me I got a review copy, via NetGalley, of this book on July 17, 2013.

I’m sure the folks at Open Road Media will be happy to know that, while the reviewing mill at MarzAat grinds exceedingly slow, it grinds exceedingly …

Well, perhaps not fine. There’s a lot going on in this novel. I’m not sure, after about a month, I totally understand the relationships between all the characters. That’s appropriate because one of Whittemore’s themes is “relationships can be quite complex. Quite complex when we look into it.”

One of the advantages of the Web of a Million Lies is that you can steal the work of others — or, if you prefer, draw upon the wisdom and insight of others.

So, in that spirit, I’ll refer you to others if you want a more detailed description of plot than what I’ll give in my review:

  • Jeff Topham’s review from 2003
  • Jerome Charyn’s review from New York Times Book Review, 1974.
  • A Time magazine article, circa 1974 from one J. S.

Quin’s Shanghai Circus was the first of Whittemore’s five novels, published from 1974 to 1987. None sold well though there were some favorable reviews. Old Earth Books mounted a resurrection operation on Whittemore’s reputation in 2003. (Whittemore died in 1995.)

It worked — at least in gaining critical favor. Gary K. Wolfe favorably reviewed all of Whittemore’s work in the March 2003 issue of Locus. Jeff VanderMeer wrote about Whittemore’s influence on him in 2002.

I don’t know how successful Old Earth Books was in terms of sales on Whittemore’s books, but, in 2013, Open Road Media attached the marketing electrodes up to Whittemore’s corpus and tried to revive his reputation again via e-book editions.

I remain agnostic on Whittemore’s worth.

I read his Sinai Tapestry in 2004. In my notes, I said it was “a picturesque novel with nothing much at the core”. That was my reaction to this one too, so I still don’t know if I’ll tackle the rest of the Jerusalem Quartet, as the series of Whittemore’s last four books are known.

Review: Quin’s Shanghai Circus, Edward Whittemore, 1974.

Tuneless, masterless

Come the acts of memory,

A Shanghai circus.

So, one character in this novel ponders before the apocalyptic end of Quin’s Shanghai Circus, a fake event in the middle of this novel.

There are two things you need to know about this novel.

It has no quotation marks.

It’s a spy’s novel, specifically a spy with a sense of drama.

And that’s what Whittemore was: an ex-CIA case officer who took up being a novelist. Continue reading “Quin’s Shanghai Circus”

The Ghost of a Review of White Mars

Hindenburg

Oh, the humanity!

I know I promised a review of Brian Aldiss’ White Mars. I know I promised to compare it to Finches of Mars.

I just can’t. I just can’t make myself argue and list its politics. I just can’t talk about its literary values.

Two Martian utopias. Two bad Martian utopias. I just … I just can’t.

I can’t make myself go back. I can’t relive it.

Glimpses really. Just glimpses.

A consortium of Europeans, Asians, and the U.S. send a bunch of scientists and their aides to Mars to science and look for the Omega Smudge. Things collapse on Earth. A moving mountain shows up. A new consciousness arises in the Crusoe Martians. Time travelers show up.

I can steal.

I can steal others’ work.

This article says its a response to Kim Stanley Robinson and tells you its place in the history of 1990s works on Mars.

John Joseph Adams puts in the time line of Martian novels.

John Clute and David Pringle say it’s “narratively congested“.

I can let Paul Wesson, theoretical physicist, discuss its shortcomings.

I can’t do a review though.

I can rant.

About the cheap, teleological mysticism of stating the universe “needs consciousness  to fully exist”.

That environments are not “sacrosanct”. There’s no Big Man, Big Woman, Big Alien in the sky who sad so. Impersonal forces may punish your trashing of the environment, but no Cosmic Priest made that rule.

That particle physics is the only boring science there is.

That Aldiss indicts the “folklore of interplanetary” science fiction and names Edgar Rice Burroughs, Leigh Brackett, and Kim Stanley Robinson as co-conspirators.

That you can’t complain about nations being bad and yet think that local values should not be subsumed by global culture. Nations are what keep and preserves local values.

That the Martian society of no money still looks like it has something that does the same thing as money.

That the ending is as utterly implausible as H. G. Wells’ magic utopia-by-comet-gas In the Days of the Comet.

A MOVING SENTIENT MT. OLYMPUS!, Oh, excuse me, Chimborazo.

But I can not review this book.

I can be kind.

Aldiss and Penrose at least spare us the curse of most utopias — some smug person condescendingly saying “As you know, that’s always been a problem. But here …” (“Or you f’ing retard, of course it’s a problem!!)

A few characters are more than names.

I like the idea of ending universal suffrage.

I agree antibiotic resistance is a problem.

Women maybe would like to be alone for birthin’ those babies.

But I can not review this novel.

I can be a bureaucrat.

I can give you little bullet points for these two books:

  • Aliens: White Mars ludicrous, Fin … (oh, just F and M. My fingers don’t want to even make extra strokes for this book.) Anyway, plausible aliens for F.
  • Corrupt Institutions: W — all those countries, F — Universities and Colleges (Oh, sure Aldiss doesn’t seem to realize, at least in America, that both are perfect monopolies, jack up their costs above inflation, price fix, get the Feds to keep the student loans a’coming, and the bankruptcy laws to keep those payments from stoppin’)
  • Problems: yeah, climate change for both and the usual gripe about capitalism and not spending enough on education and welfare. (You might want to check out what the UK did with all those oil funds from the North Sea yet its underclass persists. Americans can check out the Kansas City experiments.)

But I can’t rant any and respond any more. These books will influence no minds anyway.

I can’t review this book.

I can write rotten doggerel about it but not a review.

I will not put it in a box.

I will not talk about it a lot.

I cannot join the refrain

When these Martians complain.

The characters are too many,

The crawling mountain too funny.

The talk of particles and sentience

Bored me, left me without patience.

Scientists get to play

While others have to pay

No god for Mars, but Mars a temple

Because red worship is so simple.

For God there is no apologetics,

But worship for Nature’s aesthetics.

 A Modern Utopia was nary so dull

Though its spine was crammed more full.

But I can not review Brian Aldiss’ and Roger Penrose’s White Mars from 1999.

 

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

Romance on Four Worlds

There are few books I am super eager to read. I’ve got a zillion reading projects going on and pick the next book more on plans and associations than moods.

However, when I saw that Tom Purdom’s collection of future Casanova tales had been collected, I was … pleased. And it got moved up pretty quickly on the reading stack … though I didn’t beat Paul Di Filippo’s review out. But then he’s a professional reviewer, and I’m an amateur (in, perhaps you will conclude, every sense.)

It’s a decent review with a good description of the four stories’ background and plot, I’ll cover some of that, but, in my afterthoughts, I’ll concentrate more on critiques and comparing the book to other Purdom stories.

First, though, as per the usual drill, is the quick, short, off the cuff (meaning without consulting my betters like Di Filippo) first thoughts on the work followed by more details and spoilers.

Review: Romance on Four Worlds: A Casanova Quartet, Tom Purdom, 2015.

A literary sonata.Romance on Four Worlds

The themes: the rapturous duets of lovers, the pursuit of love, and the technological discordances that threaten both.

From the forests of a Mercury habitat to the Kuiper Belt, Joseph Louis Baske devotes his life, like his 18th idol Giacomo Casanova, to the pursuit of women. Not merely the physically beautiful, but the competent, the intelligent, the graceful for beauty has many manifestations. The thrill of Joe’s consummation may last only 45 minutes … or years, but a fleeting emotion of such power is still a real emotion.

His secret, he tells one of the many men who asks about it, is not the sex he offers. It is the talk, the companionship, his concentration and fascination, treating his lovers as real women with “desires and needs of their own”. Continue reading “Romance on Four Worlds”

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”

Reading Bitter Bierce: Bierce and Science Fiction

If you look up some standard reference works on science fiction, you will see a few Bierce tales mentioned. They always mention “Moxon’s Master” (1909), an early robot story, and “That Damned Thing” (1898), an early invisible menace story.

Robert S. Coulson’s entry on Bierce in the James Gunn edited The New Encyclopedia of Science Fiction mentions both as well as “The Realm of the Unreal” which I’ve already discussed. 

The Bierce entry, authored by Peter Nichols and John Clute, in The Science Fiction Encyclopedia mentions several weird tales I’ve already discussed using the justification that “the speculative environment they create is often sufficiently displaced to encourage the interest of sf readers”. But they also mention “John Smith Liberator: (From a Newspaper of the Far Future)” aka “John Smith” (1873), “For the Ahkoond” (1888), and “The Ashes of the Beacon: An Historical Monograph Written in 4930” (1905) which is a radical revision of “The Fall of the Republic: An Article from a ‘Court Journal’ of the Thirty-First Century” (1888). I will be talking about all these stories in future posts except “John Smith” and “The Fall of the Republic”, neither of which I’ve gotten my hands on yet.

For now, though, I want to briefly talk about Bierce’s place in science fiction as an editor, critic, cheerleader and, in a sense, imitator. Continue reading “Reading Bitter Bierce: Bierce and Science Fiction”

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”