The Fantasy Hall of Fame

An unproductive day new writing-wise, so you get a retro review from June 12, 2009.

Review: The Fantasy Hall of Fame, eds. Robert Silverberg and Martin H. Greenberg, 1983.Fantasy Hall of Fame

The reputations of some of these stories and that of their authors may have waned in the 26 years since this anthology was published. None of the stories are bad though a few aren’t that special. The stories were selected in a manner similar to the Silverberg edited The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One. Attendees of the World Fantasy Convention chose stories to honor that were published before the convention begin doing their annual awards.

The stories are arranged chronologically, and the first is Edgar Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” (1842). This classic tale of a plague, mysterious colors, and death coming to a cloister of aristocrats is the grandfather of all those far future tales of decadents on a dying Earth. Poe influenced the prose and poems of Clark Ashton Smith, but the influence isn’t very evident in the latter’s “The Weird of Avoosl Withoqquan” (1932). It’s a story of an avaricious man who hears an ominous prophecy from a beggar he snubs. Smith’s Zothique series, very definitely a series of far future decadence, is not represented here directly, but it’s certainly echoed in Jack Vance’s “Mazirian the Magician” (1950), part of Vance’s Dying Earth series. In a story full of Vance’s exuberant palette of colors and exquisitely named magic, a sorcerer determines to possess a woman who has avoided him.

Of course, Poe was not just an inspiration but an idol to Smith’s friend, H. P. Lovecraft. He is represented here by “The Silver Key” (1937). It’s an odd choice, perhaps dictated by its length. There is nothing wrong with the story. Featuring Lovecraft’s alter ego Randolph Carter, it’s Lovecraft’s most autobiographical work. Carter, a man in his thirties, goes on a quest to find his way back to the world of dreams – and its innocence – that he knew as a child. There are many better Lovecraft stories though. Lord Dunsany was an influence on Lovecraft’s dream tales, and he’s represented here by “The Sword of Welleran” (1908). A wry tale of a city no longer defended by its legends and full of humor and despair and perverse emotion. Dunsany’s oddly syntaxed voice is probably still unique in fantasy. A lesser influence on Lovecraft was Ambrose Bierce. He shows up here with “An Inhabitant of Carcosa” (1886), a short, eerie tale of life after death in a far future land. Continue reading “The Fantasy Hall of Fame”

Sherlock Holmes in Orbit

I read the Sherlock Holmes stories in grade school, enjoyed them, and haven’t returned to them sense.

I haven’t felt the need to seek out the many sequels by other others or most of the tv or movie adaptations. (Though I am very fond of the Jeremy Brett series of about 30 years ago.) There’s even a well-regarded series by a local architecture critic and historian, Larry Millett, which bring Holmes to Minnesota.

Still, I have stumbled across a few fantastic additions to the Holmes universe.

Decades ago, I read Robert Lee Hall’s Exit Sherlock Holmes which reveals Holmes and Moriarty as clone brothers from the future. Geoffrey A. Landis’ “The Singular Habits of Wasps” is an excellent science fiction story though it uses the hero-villain pair-off so many authors do: Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper. I’ve read Peter Cannon’s insertion of Holmes into the Cthulhu Mythos, and you’ll eventually be getting a review of the anthology around that whole theme, Shadows Over Baker Street.

I read this anthology, though, solely for the William Barton collaboration — which did not disappoint.

A retro review from October 5, 2008.

Review: Sherlock Holmes in Orbit, eds. Mike Resnick and Martin H. Greenberg, 1995.Sherlock Holmes in Orbit

Resnick’s introduction talks a bit about the film and literary additions to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes’ canon including some attempts to put the detective in a science fictional or fantasy context. While he says he required each story in this original anthology do that, even that requirement is not honored.

There are tales where Holmes is simply the exemplar of rationalism. Vonda N. McIntyre’s “The Adventure of the Field Theorems” mixes, not for the last time in this anthology, Holmes and Watson up with Arthur Conan Doyle. The most clever thing in this story is the title. The “field theorems” are crop circles which show up in the late 19th century and are, suggests Doyle, an attempt by the spirit world to communicate with us. Holmes as debunker of the supernatural shows up in Frank M. Robinson’s “The Phantom of the Barbary Coast”. It makes good use of a San Francisco location and the tragic circumstances of Irene Adler’s sister, Leona.

There isn’t even alleged paranormal activity in William Barton and Michael Capobianco’s “The Adventure of the Russian Grave”, but it is one of the best tales in the book and makes very good use of Professor Moriarty’s training in astronomy. Continue reading “Sherlock Holmes in Orbit”

Hitler Victorious

The reading continues to outpace the writing, so you get another retro review. This one’s from June 21, 2008 …

I suppose I should apologize for more Nazis. But I’m not going to.

Review: Hitler Victorious, eds. Gregory Benford and Martin Harry Greenberg, 1986.Hitler Victorious

The weakest stories in this anthology think they can just evoke that modern totem of evil, the twisted cross of the swastika, mix it with some vengeance and moral retribution insufficiently provided by our universe, and have an affecting story. Sometimes, in an ostensible collection of alternate histories, the actual historical speculation is pretty sparse..

The worst of the lot is from the normally reliable Greg Bear. His “Through No Road Whither” has SS officers from an alternate 1985 Germany get their just deserts after crossing the path of a Gypsy woman. There is almost no explanation for this alternate timeline, no exploration of its details. The ghosts of fetuses experimented on by a death camp doctor come back to wreck justice in Howard Goldsmith’s “Do Ye Hear the Children Weeping?”, but it’s not as moving as it wants to be and we learn little about this world except that Nazi genocide proceeded apace and, somehow, America fell under Nazi rule. Editor Gregory Benford at least provides something of an interesting alternative in “Valhalla” which has the Third Reich only surviving till 1947 — but that’s long enough to complete its plans of racial extermination. But the inhabitants of another timeline asserting their jurisdiction over Hitler and his pending judgement are little more than empty wish fulfillment. Continue reading “Hitler Victorious”

Far Frontiers

Yes, another retro review.

This one from May 19, 2001 and obviously before someone suggested I might want to limit those online paragraphs to four or five lines.

Review: Far Frontiers, eds. Martin H. Greenberg and Larry Segriff, 2000.Far Frontiers

Built around a liberal definition of frontiers, this anthology of original stories not only has stories about space exploration and life on harsh colony worlds but also stories about death and dreams and transformation. None of the stories break new ground, but most keep you entertained as they roam around old plots.

Two stories hold little interest. “The Cutting Edge” by Janet Pack handles the details of its technology plausibly and realistically, but, at this point in time, a story about using nanotechnology just to remove a brain tumor seems stale. “Home World” by Marc Bilgrey features the old story of a frontier couple threatened with the encroachment of the civilization they originally fled.

The vast bulk of the stories are entertaining examples of old ideas well done. It was nice to see geology, a little used science in science fiction, providing the clues to an alien artifact in Kathleen M. Massie-Ferch’s “Traces”. Continue reading “Far Frontiers”

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 “Star Colonies”

First to Fight

Continue reading “First to Fight”

Science Fictional Olympics

Another retro review and, oddly, a relatively popular one.

This one is from September 24, 2000.

My older, wiser self would no longer say 1984 was “the height of the Cold War”. Better candidates would be the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 or 1983 when Yuri Andropov almost nuked us because of, among other things, activity in meat packing plants.

And wrestling promoters did start their own football league — the short-lived XFL.

Review: Science Fictional Olympics: Asimov’s Wonderful Worlds of Science Fiction #2: , eds. Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg, and Charles Waugh, 1984.

Olympic contests between the Soviet bloc and America were often exploited for propaganda purposes, the outcome of an athletic event supposedly saying something significant about the victor’s country. This 1984 anthology, from the height of the Cold War, has several stories built around that notion.Science Fictional Olympics

Tom Sullivan’s “The Mickey Mouse Olympics” and Nicholas V. Yermakov’s “A Glint of Gold” both feature Soviet and American Olympic athletes genetically modified for their events. Sullivan plays the notion for genuine laughs. Yermakov’s story is much more serious and shows the price the competitors pay as propaganda pawns. He also works in a defection subplot. Continue reading “Science Fictional Olympics”

Tin Stars

Sloth, indolence, sickness, and working on another review for Innsmouth Free Press mean you get another retro review.

It’s a robot book and a August 26, 2000 retro review.

Review: Tin Stars: Isaac Asimov’s Wonderful World of Science Fiction #5, eds. Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg, and Charles Waugh, 1986.

“Robots in Judgment” was editor Asimov’s preferred title for this anthology since the stories cover more ground than just robot detectives.Tin Stars

Oh, there are robot detectives here all right. Asimov’s famous human and robot detective team of Lije Baley and R. Daneel Olivaw are here for their only short story appearance, “Mirror Image.” The murderous mobile law enforcer of Ron Goulart’s “Into the Shop” captures the same criminal — again and again. A robotic Sherlock Holmes, his Cockney-rhyming robot dog, and a Watson of mysterious origins investigate the case of a possibly mad industrialist on a future greenhouse Earth in Edward Wellen’s “Voiceover”.

Wellen also gives us an interesting, proto-cyberpunk story, “Finger of Fate”, with its hard-boiled, if immobile, computer who prowls databases and public records to solve his cases. The machines of Harry Harrison’s “Arm of the Law” and Harlan Ellison’s and Ben Bova’s “Brillo” are not exactly detectives but robot cops, and each must deal with police corruption and the difference between theoretical law enforcement and carrying a badge in the real world of humans. “Brillo” also deals with blue collar fears of being replaced by machines. The tin stars of Larry Niven’s famous “Cloak of Anarchy” supervise a Free Park where anything except physical violence goes — until an artist decides to put his political ideas into effect and disable them. Stephen R. Donaldson’s “Animal Lover” is a cyborg federal cop sent to investigate a hunting preserve with an oddly high body count of hunters. Continue reading “Tin Stars”