The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Volume Seven: We Are for the Dark, 1987-90

I’ve never entertained the idea of reviewing all the works of Robert Silverberg. That would be a colossal undertaking given his volume of work even in science fiction.

But I do seem to have reviewed a lot of Silverberg’s short fiction.

And I read some more this past summer with more in the pipeline to review.

Low Res Scan: The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Volume Five: We Are for the Dark, 1987-1990, ed. Robert Silverberg, 2012.We Are for the Dark

It’s a low res scan because I’ve looked at many of the ten works here before and don’t have much to add on re-reading.

Three of the pieces are novellas.

This time around “In Another Country”, Silverberg’s variation on the themes of C. L. Moore’s “Vintage Season”, reminded me just how many stories of his play with the motif of rich time traveling tourists (and, here, definitely white) from the far future visiting the past: “Sailing to Byzantium”, Up the Line, “The Far Side of the Bell-Shaped Curve”, and “When We Went to See the End of the World”. Granted, “Sailing to Byzantium” has super sophisticated reconstructions of the past, but it feels like time travel. “When We Went to See the End of the World” inverts the theme with near future time travelers.

Silverberg’s introductory notes for the story reveal his admiration of Moore. As to the story itself, this time I noticed Thimiroi, alone of the time travelers, finding beauty in the flat, discordant, unplanned beauty of the unnamed city of the late 20th century. To him, it’s the energy of a people who have survived the brutal horrors of that time. Continue reading “The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Volume Seven: We Are for the Dark, 1987-90”

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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.

Miskatonic University

The Lovecraft series continues with some modern takeoffs on his fiction.

Raw Feed (2005): Miskatonic University, eds. Martin H. Greenberg and Robert Weinberg, 1996.Miskatonic University

A Letter from the President to Incoming Students“, Stefan Dziemianowicz — An attempt, in keeping with the theme of the anthology, to introduce newbies to the Arkham/Miskatonic references in H. P. Lovecraft’s works.

Kali Yuga Comes”, Tina L. Jens — For me, this story was not only marred by the gratuitous swipes at James Watt and the Reagan administration by the narrator but also her usually unfunny wisecracks. The mixing of Kali (complete with rather incongruous interludes of third-person narrative in the Kali-killing sections) with Lovecraft didn’t work very well. The use of conventional mythologies in his work was something Lovecraft usually tried to avoid. It weakened his “The Horror at Red Hook” and only the inclusion of alternate dimensions and higher mathematics caused it to work in his “The Dreams in the Witch-House”).

Teachers”, Mort Castle — This story is not a tribute to Lovecraft but a bittersweet tribute to Castle’s friend, Robert Bloch — not only a one time protégé and correspondent of H. P. Lovecraft’s but a comic writer on occasion. Upon his death, Bloch, here Robert Blake (the name he is known by in Lovecraft’s “The Haunter of the Dark”) has earned immortality and gets to join the faculty, including Edgar Allan Poe and Lovecraft (the other authors I didn’t recognize), in teaching man at Miskatonic University. Oddly, enough this is the second story (out of two) in the anthology which makes a contemporary political reference — here a reference to Bill Clinton lying about sex. Continue reading “Miskatonic University”

The Best Japanese Science Fiction Stories

Since the recent Kaiki posting generated some interest, I thought I’d get out this Raw Feed while I worked on new material.

Raw Feed (1989): The Best Japanese Science Fiction Stories, eds. John L. Apostolou and Martin H. Greenberg, 1989.best-japanese-science-fiction-stories

“Foreword”, Grania Davis — An account by one of the consulting editors on the book’s genesis and the translation of the stories.

“Introduction”, John L. Apostolou — A brief overview of the genre in Japan (it started surprisingly early with, as in many other places, the translation of Jules Verne and progressed, not surprisingly — especially in Japan — with military/future war sf), its character there (surprisingly unconcerned with technology and the future — it is caught up in the present and future and social commentary), and its major practioneers.

The Flood”, Kobo Abe — It’s pretty clear this story of “workers and poor people” being turned into a strange, unruly, unpredictable liquid that travels en masse, diverges into individual forms, and threatens rich folk is an allegory for class struggle and, like most Japanese sf I’ve read (not very much at all — one story or two) concerned with individualism (a natural stance for an author) versus conformity. Abe seems to take swipes at the vagaries of Japanese media, the ineffectiveness and isolation of Japanese politicians, nuclear energy. I liked the humorous bit with Noah yelling at people (a swipe at capitalism given the socialistic/Marxist flavor of the story) to get off his boat.  This story can in no way be called sf despite some scientific jargon. Continue reading “The Best Japanese Science Fiction Stories”

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.

 

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It Came From The Drive-In

Another spin off of my weird western series.

Raw Feed (1997): It Came from The Drive-In, eds. Norman Partridge and Martin H. Greenberg, 1996.It Came from the Drive-In

“Introduction”, Norman Partridge — Introduction written around the conceit that the reader is entering a drive-in.

Talkin’ Trailer Trash”, Edward Bryant — A rather pointless story seemingly about America’s changed race relations since the ‘50s with giant chiggers standing in for blacks. I suppose Roger Corman’s occasional use of such metaphors explains the dedication to him.

10585”, Sean A. Moore — Enjoyable story – basically a modern updating of the movie The Blob crossed with zombie movies. I particularly liked the can-do veteran Ted Mack.

Big Bust at Herbert Hoover High”, Jay R. Bonansinga — Enjoyable and absurd story of an adolescent fixated on female breasts and their lingerie accompaniments. Thanks to one of those convenient nuclear accidents at his father’s work, the lad finds himself fused and joined to his girlfriend’s left breast – a fate he comes to gratefully accept. I liked the image of the girl’s left breast supplanting the boy’s head a lá the movie The Fly. I also liked the voice of actor Russ Tamblyn epitomizing cool.

’59 Frankenstein”, Norman Partridge — An amusing modern version of the Frankenstein in which the boy monster, tired of yet another condescending speech by the doctor after the boy asks for the car keys, throws his creator to the alligator in the basement. After striking out in his creation – a car cobbled together from other cars, the monster encounters the previous owner of one of his arms. The man graciously helps the monster after a car accident and then returns to imprison Dr. Frankenstein who has been mangled after the attacks of the monster and alligator and get another arm. Humorous and gruesome with genuine suspense and not just camp or absurd humor. Continue reading “It Came From The Drive-In”

What Might Have Been, Vol. 4

The conclusion of the Raw Feed series on the alternate history anthology series.
Raw Feed (1993): What Might Have Been, Volume 4: Alternate Americas, eds. Gregory Benford and Martin H. Greenberg, 1992.Alternate Americas

“Introduction”, Gregory Benford — Benford’s fair appraisal of Columbus and the effects of European contact with the New World.

Report of the Special Committee on the Quality of Life”, Harry Turtledove — It’s not that I disagree with Turtledove’s satirical attacks using the conceit that King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella assembled a commission to look at Christopher Columbus’ proposed voyage to the New World. I agree with all his criticisms on the timidity of modern Americans, their refusal to run personal risks even with the chance of great gain, their obsession with personal safety and alleged environmental hazards, their technological pessimism, their pouring of money and resources into the rathole of social programs instead of space travel. The opponents of Columbus think his success would lead to inflation without more goods and services, but the story is boring and dull and not really even a story.

Ink From the New Moon”, A.A. Attanasio — I liked a few things about this story: its attempt to imitate an Oriental style, some of its humor (America still has the USA but here it’s the United Sandalwood Autocracies, and I liked Europeans being called Big Noses), and the end where the oriental native returns to Europe with Columbus. And I liked the whole idea of China colonizing America first via Buddhists who flee persecution in the Sung Dynasty. (Eventually, they break away from the Empire.) However, I didn’t really like the poetic/mystic ruminations on life and his relationship with his dead wife all expressed in thick, purple quasi-Oriental prose. He talks of falling, after he is hurled into the sky in an explosion, into emptiness, an emptiness that is a new freedom and that all reality floats in, that “mystery is the preeminent condition of human being”, that this freedom is the knowledge of utter loneliness and rootlessness. Is this existentialism with an Oriental face? I know its annoying and uninvolving as an explanation for the narrator to take off with Columbus.

Vinland the Dream”, Kim Stanley Robinson — This isn’t really an alternate history but a rumination on the study of history, history’s meaning and social value. I liked the central premise: that an unknown hoaxer (and I liked that his identity and character are never truly known) in the early 19th century created the elaborate illusion, through forged documents and fake archaeological sites, that there was a Viking presence in the New World. Robinson’s usual experimentation with style is here. The story is structured on the lines of a scientific paper. But I disagree strongly with the underlying philosophical message (similar to that in John Carr’s What Is History?) that history is ultimately unknowable, that it is less important that certain historical “stories” are true or false than that “certain qualities in the stories … make them true or false”. This is history as myth and propaganda and edifying and cautionary literature. Fictions can have some deep truth or edifying moral or pragmatic warnings. But history, as imperfect as it is, as provisional as the knowledge of the past is, isn’t the place for willful lies whatever the purpose. Just because the noble pursuit of the historian sometimes becomes tainted with willful lies or unknowing errors isn’t a reason to abandon the quest for the ideal.

If There Be Cause”, Sheila Finch — An overly long, usually dull alternate history based on the presumption that Francis Drake landed (as near as I can figure out) around San Francisco Bay and influenced the local tribes. Specifically, they instill in them a hatred for the soon-to-be-encroaching Spanish and teach them the rudiments of firearms and making wine. This story has one of those young woman (it could just as easily been a young man) learning to take her place as a shaman and learning the hard responsibilities of leadership. Here she oversees a war against the Spanish and kills her lover from another tribe who helps the Spanish and callously lets them kill her brother, “hard destiny” as the story calls her role.

“Isabella of Castile Answers Her Mail”, James Morrow — I didn’t hate this story unlike all the other Morrow I’ve read. I even liked a few things in this tale of culture shock as Columbus time-travels to modern New York. Columbus is horrified by the grotesque imagery of the “idol” of the Statute of Liberty, her inscription, seeming to point to human sacrifices in the pursuit of libertinism. Columbus is horrified at the sexual mores of his native Cuban New Yorker guide. He is also horrified at his guide’s brand of Catholicism, and the presence of wealthy, respected Jews in New York. However, there is the usual liberal tendencies of Morrow, here manifested by a comparison between New York’s homeless and the persecuted Jews of Columbus’ Spain.

Let Time Shape”, George Zebrowski — Like Zebrowski’s “The Number of the Sand”, this densely philosophical story considers a Panoptican civilization where all the variations of history are studied. Everything — fact, fiction, supposition, the human genome – is fed into a vast computer used to study history, and, here to place the observer in the virtual presence of a significant historical personage. All this in an attempt to find the crucial people of history, the variants which really are significant. Here Zebrowski envisions Christopher Columbus meeting a very superior (seemingly at about a twentieth century level) New World founded by the refugees from Carthage. They’re still bent on destroying Rome and its spiritual heir of the Holy Roman Empire. England has a secret alliance with the Carthaginians. The ambitious Columbus, smarting at the insults and delays caused by the Spanish aristocracy, sides with the Carthaginians in attacking the “Spanish-Italian empire”. It’s an interesting premise, but Zebrowski also manages to link the story to the spiritual plight of an unnamed observer in the Panoptica and his civilization itself. If I am reading the story right, the observer’s civilization is trapped in a psychic and spiritual dead-end, decadent. Their recent history consists of watching similar observers in other timelines, of standing aside from history, creeping along at a trivial pace, longing for a quantum transformation but unable or unwilling to find the means in all the observed histories. It’s no wonder the historian thrills to his vicarious possession of Columbus, that he longs to shape history too. But he is not one of history’s rare, finite (in an infinity of variants) significant personalities. A lot of good stuff here: alternate history and far future ennui.

Red Alert”, Jerry Oltion — Essentially a joke story with Red Wing, Sitting Bull, and Geronimo as fighter pilots combatting other pilots like George Armstrong Custer. There’s also the clever pun of the title and non-lethal coup missiles (air to air) used by the Indians. It’s too long too be carried by its jokes, and its too implausible. We’re not only asked to believe a level of American technology accelerated a hundred years ahead of our timeline but that Indians developed a scientific culture that matched that rate.

Such a Deal”, Esther M. Friesner — This is essentially – as befits Friesner – a joke story with a gruesome final punchline. Its humor was sustained throughout but not really enough to make me laugh out loud often. The story itself involves Columbus being financed by Jews and bringing back a contingent of Aztec warriors from the New World to help Spanish Jews overthrow Ferninand and Isabella and stop the Inquisition.

Looking for the Fountain”, Robert Silverberg — As always for Silverberg, this is an engaging, clearly written story. There is humor here of a subtle sort. The Fountain of Youth turns out to be a misnomer. It’s a cure for impotence. The narrator likes to constantly say “Trust me: I was there.” The central idea isn’t humorous, in fact poignant. A group of Frankish crusaders is blown off course, across the Atlantic, and on to the shores of Florida. They intermarry with the natives, convert them to Christianity. The crusading zeal is kept alive by the tribe until Ponce de Leon arrives looking for the Fountain of Manly Strength. They take him to it, though in retrospect the narrator believes they may just have been offering baptism. In return, Ponce de Leon is to bring them ships so they can go free Jerusalem. When he doesn’t return (no one believes he found the Fountain of Youth so he can’t sell the water he takes from the fountain) with the ships, the tribe fiercely turns on other Europeans they regard as false Christians.

The Round-Eyed Barbarians”, L. Sprague de Camp — De Camp takes a very obvious (and surprisingly little used) turning point in history. Unlike our timelines where the Chinese launch seven expeditions using sophisticated ships and compasses in the early fifteenth century under the Ming dynasty and then mysteriously, suddenly stop, they continue with their expeditions in this alternate history. Eventually colonists from this China meet their technological inferiors with European explorers following in the wake of Columbus. However, most of this story concerns itself with culture clash. I suppose that’s an obvious thing to consider given the setup, but I’d have liked more long term exploration of the premise.

Destination Indies”, Brad Linaweaver — This was a disappointment, especially after the author’s excellent novel Moon of Ice. This entire story with Columbus’ rival the Dark Duke, Atlanteans, and the constantly abused narrator who is also Columbus’ Loyal sidekick (he graduated from St. Pedro’s Academy for Loyal Sidekicks) reminded me of the Raiders of the Lost Ark like movie in that novel. It was humorous and captured the flavor of a serial with its suddenly exploding volcano and ending of “To be continued indefinitely”, but it also represents an increasing corruption of the alternate history concept. While this story could be construed (though I don’t see any evidence of this) as an historical drama from a bizarre alternate timeline or a piece of fiction from an alternate universe. But its easier to just see it as an absurdist fantasy that happens to use historical characters in way that is not at all derived from an extrapolation of historical divergence. More and more alternate history writers seem to be writing fables and absurdist fantasies using history as inspiration and characters, but not using the sub-genre for rigorous (or not so rigorous) extrapolation, as a fictional lab for talking about the importance of technology, accidents, personages, and social forces in history.

Ship Full of Jews”, Barry Malzberg — Just when I thought I could get to like Malzberg’s alternate history, he writes this piece of crap that doesn’t work on any level. The story has Christopher Columbus taking a ship full of deported Jews to the New World along with a ship full on converts under the control of Torquemada. In Malzberg style, there are a lot of internal monologues with Columbus that detail his ambition and lust for Isabella. There seems to be some implication that Torquemada intends to literally offer the Jews as sacrifice in the New World as a sanctification. There also seems to be some implication that Columbus is, as one Jew says, “in the control of larger forces”. There seems to be the darker implication that the New World will not become a place of freedom in this world but will be a grim place founded in blood by the fanatical Torquemada, a very different New World. The trouble is that Malzberg’s prose is so muddled that none of this is made clear enough to derive a true thematic statement from or even a clever plot.

The Karamazov Caper”, Gordon Eklund — I liked a lot of things in this story: its grim tone, its grim setting (Alaska is not a site often used in alternate histories), its murder investigation plot, its alternate history involving Russian exploration of Alaska, another subject little discussed in fiction or non-fiction. The turning point is Pope Innocent VIII being murdered in this time line and his successor institutes a “Reign of Ignorance and Dread” that kicks off a genocide of the Jews and the Germans killing Indians of the New World. Columbus, being a Jew, is killed after returning from the New World and further voyages there are banned. Bering is credited with discovering the New World, and its personages. Trotsky is a police investigator for the Czar). However, Eklund throws it all away with his ending. He never really explains why the Indians killed two babies and ate their hearts. Is it revenge for German atrocities in America? If it is, why does Trotsky go along with the cover-up? Out of sympathy for the Indians?

The Sleeping Serpent”, Pamela Sargent. One of the best stories in this book. This book simply postulates a Mongol Empire that got bigger than in our world and endured. The plot involves a Khan’s son coming to the Empire’s holdings in America, forming an alliance with the Iroquois and their confederates. He regards the Indians with special reverence as his genetic relatives – they came via the Asian landbridge – and because they embody what he regards as original Mongol virtues unlike the decadent Empire. The son breaks away from the Empire to form his own Khanate. This story makes me heartily thankful the brutal Mongol’s did not endure. However, the story’s narrator makes clear the Indian’s style of government is more democratic than Mongol tradition, and that the new Indian allies may be tainted by the new warfare the Mongols bring. The story is lean (despite its length), engaging, and thought provoking in the effect the Mongol’s might have had on history.

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