Dancing with Myself

The Charles Sheffield series continues.

Some of the stories here I had read before, but I’ve put my notes in from my pre-1997 readings of them.

This one also has science articles.

(Just keeping things straight for the future historians who will, of course, want to know all that.)

Review (1997): Dancing with Myself, ed. Charles Sheffield, 1993.

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Cover by Stanislaw Fernandez.

Out of Copyright” — This story revolves around a clever idea: that in a future where cloning is routine a person’s surviving heirs have copyrights to that person’s genome. Eventually those copyrights lapse into the public domain. This story centers around companies competing in a test-of-concept in which asteroids are launched at Io. The companies clone long dead scientific geniuses whose genomes are in the public domain. The clones provide assistance on various projects. The narrator of the story heads one combine’s teams. His talent is not scientific but in sabotage of the minor and persistent sort which accumulates and dooms a combine’s efforts. Most of the sabotage involves a keen understanding of people for it is revealed, at story’s end, that he is a cloned version of Al Capone (though Sheffield doesn’t explicitly name him). [Peter F. Hamilton also used an Al Capone resurrection in his Night’s Dawn trilogy.] The story’s concept lets Sheffield talk about some of the quirks and talents of those historical scientists who were cloned. Sheffield also points out that cloned scientific geniuses do not always turn out to be valuable. Sometimes the original’s accomplishments owed more to environment than genes. [There was something in the air in 1989, the year this story was first published. It was also the year that Robert Silverberg’s Time Gate was published. It’s historical figures were resurrected via computer simulacra.]

Tunicate, Tunicate, Wilt Thou Be Mine” — This is Sheffield doing a sort of H.P. Lovecraft imitation. As in many a Lovecraft tale, the story is narrated in the first person by a narrator who writes desperately of awful things before some cosmic horror previously viewed closes in for the last time. Here, again as in Lovecraft – notably his “The Colour Out of Space” – the horror is an alien who has crashed on Earth. The alien is much like an earth tunicate, a strange creature combining the features of animal and plant, vertebrate, and invertebrate. Under its influence, the narrator kills his wife and friends. Continue reading “Dancing with Myself”

“The River Styx Runs Upstream”

This week’s weird fiction being discussed over at LibraryThing is Dan Simmons’ first published story.

Review: “The River Styx Runs Upstream”, Dan Simmons, 1982.PTBS1992

This, like Robert Silverberg’s classic “Born with the Dead”, is a resurrectionist story. Whereas that story’s returned dead stick to themselves and are oddly changed and not interested in their former lives, the dead of Simmons’ story function at a much lower level.

The story opens with a thematic statement from Ezra Pound’s “Canto LXXXI”:

What thou lovest well remains the rest is dross

What thou lovest well shall not be reft from thee

What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage”

The story is narrated by a young man looking back to his boyhood, and it starts when he is eight.

His mother has died and been brought back by the Resurrectionist movement. They are somewhat like a church. The boy’s father will be tithing 25% of his income to pay for the resurrection and the group’s activities. Continue reading ““The River Styx Runs Upstream””

The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Vol. 8: Hot Times in Magma City, 1990-95

Review: The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Volume Eight: Hot Times in Magma City, 1990-95, ed. Robert Silverberg, 2013.41deGp06PaL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

The penultimate book in Subterranean Press’s Robert Silverberg series has what you would expect from him: tales of history (alternate and straight), time travel, and urbane protagonists. This time around there’s also alien invasions and fantasies.

As always, a large part of the book’s appeal is Silverberg’s introduction and notes even if you can find all of the stories elsewhere.

Here he ruminates on the difficult birthing of some stories and how only “sentimental oldsters”, beginners, and part-timers bother to practice the art of the science fiction short story these days. The pay rates for short fiction are worse now than when he started his career.

One new motif here is the drug addict as protagonist.

Alcohol was the original drug of choice for the main character of the fantasy “It Comes and It Goes”. Playboy made him change that before publication. He’s back to being an alcoholic of the recovering variety here and keeps seeing a house come and go in his neighborhood, an alluring blonde woman in its doorway. And the males of all ages who go in it don’t come out. He develops an obsession with the house to match his old one with liquor. It doesn’t help when he sees the house in more than one town. Continue reading “The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Vol. 8: Hot Times in Magma City, 1990-95”

The Philosophy of Modern Science Fiction

The look at James Gunn’s Modern Science Fiction: A Critical Analysis continues.

Essay: The Philosophy of Modern Science Fiction51QhTYVGKDL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

So what’s special about 1930? Why does Gunn say that was the approximate year that a new type of science fiction was ushered in? And what defines that new type?

1930 was the year Astounding Stories was created.

That was the year when it became clear, albeit slowly, to science fiction sf writers that “industrial, scientific civilization was here to stay and that man must learn to live with it”. “Authors in the main literary stream” may have been still

 . . . yearning and sighing for a return to the safety of the ordered, static civilization where values were firm and fixed and there was no necessity for soul-searching or mental struggle.

Science fiction authors were starting to look for “new viewpoints” and “new answers to new problems”.

Science was to be the answer to man’s problems. Continue reading “The Philosophy of Modern Science Fiction”

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”

The Revenger’s Tragedy

The Jacobean drama series, and the best is the last.

The Revenger’s Tragedy was not written by Cyril Tourner but Thomas Middleton.

This was news to me until I bestirred myself into making a very rare appearance at a theater.

It was a community production in a small theater, but I had to go. It’s my favorite Jacobean drama and performed seldom. (The Duchess of Malfi is the usually performed Jacobean drama.)

In the program notes, it was noted that local professor Peter Murray had established Middleton’s authorship.

Which I hadn’t heard. I knew Murray. He was the professor I had for Shakespeare though not Jacobean drama.

Murray was a chemist who took up English literature after being injured in a lab accident. He was also a former technical writer who was very particular about how your papers were written and final essay exams that had all of us pondering half an hour before we even began writing.

Peter B. Murray also wrote Shakespeare’s Imagined Persons: Psychology of Role-Playing and Acting. I think, though I haven’t read the book, he incorporated some quite useful background material he gave us on the medieval and Renaissance context of Shakespeare’s plays. (For instance, the Hamlet you see is not the Hamlet its first audience saw. To them, human vengeance is not to be sought. And you definitely should not be taking the word of a ghost about things.)

It turns out, besides actually seeing The Revenger’s Tragedy performed, there was something else notable in the performance.

In the cast was one Sara Jane Olson, I think she played the Duchess, who was something of a revenger herself.

Sara Jane Olson was, I’m sorry to say, a North Dakotan gone bad and a wanted terrorist. In 1974, she was a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army and participated in a bank robbery and attempt to blow up some police cars.

And then she disappeared to become housewife, a neighborhood fixture, and community actor, until 1999 when the long arm of the law caught up with her.

You don’t have to check the local theater listings to check out the play. Repo Man director Alec Cox did a modernized movie version which isn’t too bad. It has Doctor Who actor Chris Eccleston as Vindici (so IMDB list’s the name, it’s Vindice in the play).

I’m not the only fan of the play.

For his essay in Kim Newman and Stephen Jones Horror: Another 100 Best Books, Robert Silverberg chose The Revenger’s Tragedy.

Raw Feed (1990): The Revenger’s Tragedy, Cyril Tourner [really Thomas Middleton], 1967, 1971.Revenger's Tragedy

“Introduction”, Brian Gibbons — This is the first critical work I’ve read on this, my favorite, Jacobean play. It mostly concerns the dispute over authorship, the use of motifs drawn from the Dance of Death, and Tourneur’s use of comedy. Gibbons places the play in the farcical Greek tradition of comedy. This I found interesting. What I, as a modern reader, see as very sarcastic and malicious may, in fact, have been intended to be much broader, more slapstick (certainly less punny than Shakespeare) than we generally think. I don’t know enough to have an informed opinion one way or another. It’s just one example of what a reader’s background brings to a work, for better or worse, regardless of the author’s intent. And, of course, another example of the endless debate in literary criticism (at least when literary critics didn’t devote themselves to “signifiers”) is what degree of supremacy the author’s intent should have in interpretation.

 

This is the second (maybe the third) time I’ve read The Revenger’s Tragedy, my favorite, Jacobean tragedy.  Continue reading “The Revenger’s Tragedy”

The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Volume Six: Multiples, 1983-87

Low Res Scan: The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Volume Six: Multiples, 1983-87, ed. Robert Silverberg, 2011.41lNIjJewEL

This anthology significantly overlaps with the first and only volume in the aborted The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg from US publisher Bantam Spectra in 1992. All but two of the 14 stories in that earlier book of 24 stories. Silverberg’s introductory notes have slightly been altered in many cases, particularly to note when the story was somehow used for a later, post-1992 novel.

I don’t have a lot to add to what I’ve said earlier about that collection, so I’ll talk mostly about the two new stories.

When Silverberg wrote “Blindsight” in 1985, the news of the infamous Dr. Mengele’s death had just come out. The story also involves a “mad scientist” and illicit human experimentation. There a couple of interesting elements of setting. Silverberg envisioned the breakup of the Soviet Union, and his scientist, Wu Fang-Shui, did his work in Kazakhstan. He also sets the story on a L-5 colony which seems a bit late in science fiction to use such a setting (though William Gibson and John Shirley used it just a couple of years earlier). Silverberg’s L-5 colony has been ruled for 37 years by El Supremo who gets his money by selling protection to criminals fleeing extradition. El Supremo is not keen on his paying clients being found by people looking for them, but that’s exactly what a man called Farkas wants to do. He hires protagonist Juanito, a young fixer, who helps visitors get what they need. Juanito isn’t keen on providing that service. It violates the colony’s one taboo. But Farkas is persistent. He may be missing eyes, but he has “blindsight”, an alternate sense of vision, genetically engineered into him. Silverberg’s plot doesn’t take the obvious turns.

In some sense, Silverberg is a writer of ghost stories. His one great theme is the revival of the dead. You can see it in his many stories of simulacrum of historical personages, time travel, or, as with “Born with the Dead”, the literal resurrection of the dead. Continue reading “The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Volume Six: Multiples, 1983-87”

Higher Education

The Jerry Pournelle series continues with a collaboration with Charles Sheffield. This is an expansion of their story of the same name in Future Quartet and part of the Jupiter series from Tor. That was an attempt to resurrect, in the 1990s, the tradition of the Robert A. Heinlein juvenile novel. All the Jupiter books were unrelated in their stories.

Raw Feed (1997): Higher Education, Charles Sheffield and Jerry Pournelle, 1996.Higer Education

This book was a pleasant if not great read and, I suspect, a great deal like Robert Heinlein’s juvenile novels of which I’ve only read Starship Troopers and, a long time ago, The Rolling Stones. [In fact, I may have read that before Robert Silverberg’s Revolt on Alpha C, but it was the latter novel which gave me a taste for science fiction.]

It’s the story of a youth learning adult responsibilities and a lot of math and science – the authors deliver some good minor science lessons in passing including one on why rings around planets can’t be solid.

The plot of corporate espionage and sabotage (I liked that the saboteur was allegedly from the Black Hills) was, if my memory is correct, added from the novella of the same name. In the short story, protagonist Rick Luban finishes training and his employer tries to recruit him for training Earthside. The novel ends with a similar pitch but after more training.

The main flaw is, given the supposedly even more decadent, ignorant, and violent schools of the future, Rick Luban and the other delinquents of his school seem way too tame in their behavior and lack of profanity (perhaps toned down for a juvenile reader?) to be the problem children of tomorrow. They seem like problem children of the fifties. Continue reading “Higher Education”

War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches

Another review connected to the recent H. G. Wells series.

Raw Feed (1996): War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches, ed. Kevin J. Anderson, 1996.Global Dispatches

“Foreword”, Kevin J. Anderson — An ill-conceived and badly executed conceit for this anthology: that all the stories represent a unified, expanded view of the Martian novel depicted in H. G. Wells War of the Worlds. Anderson would have been better off presenting each story as a particular riff on Wells’ story, not part of a unified suite on Wells’ story.

The Roosevelt Dispatches”, Mike Resnick — Not one of Resnick’s better alternate histories involving Teddy Roosevelt. Essentially, this is about Roosevelt discovering a Martian scout and expressing optimism about the innate American ability to resist Martian invasion.

Canals in the Sand”, Kevin J. Anderson — This story features Percival Lowell (the spiritual godfather, in a sense, of Wells’ Martians and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom) and draws most of its strength by using the historical Lowell – a haughty, Boston Brahmin who spent most of his life as a professional diplomat to Japan and Korea amongst other places – rather than the current conception of him as a crazed astronomer drawing maps of a dying Mars canals. Haughty, rich, strong-willed Lowell spends a fortune constructing an excavation in the Sahara so the (he presumes) peaceable Martians will meet him there thus making him man’s ambassador to them. The Martians do come. Anderson doesn’t explicitly tell us what happens to Lowell when the Martians come, but, having read Wells, we can guess.

Foreign Devils”, Walter Jon Williams — An intriguing, well-done story in which the puppet Emperor (he is under the control of the military faction of “Iron Hats”) and Dowager Empress use the Martian invasion to free themselves from the Iron Hats, the Boxers (the story is set during the Boxer rebellion), and China from foreign influence. The Emperor will use his new power to modernize the hide-bound Chinese state. Continue reading “War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches”