Year’s Best SF 4

The alternate history series continues though there are only two stories in this book that fits that description.

Hartwell’s series is the only one I followed fairly consistently apart from Brian Aldiss and Harry Harrison’s Best SF series which was started me reading science fiction regularly.

Raw Feed (2001): Year’s Best SF 4, ed. David G. Hartwell, 1999.years-best-sf-4

Market Report”, Alexander Jablokov — I like Jablokov, but I didn’t think this story was good enough to be included in this anthology (of course, I didn’t read all the sf short fiction published in 1998). Still, on skimming the story again after reading it, I appreciated it more. It has a wry humor about it with its portrayal of retired suburbanites hanging out in a planned community which they’re planning to restock with Pleistocene flora and fauna and the women have primitive rites in its jungles, and the narrator’s parents, members of that community, try to comprehend his job as a spotter of self-defined groups that need to be marketed to. At first glance, the story doesn’t seem to be about much apart from its near-future extrapolation of sociological-based marketing and Pleistocene hobbyists. But, with its plot of a man finding a home amongst parents he’s spent a lifetime trying to understand, to “catch” the meaning of their conversation and the same narrator getting over a failed marriage, I suspect Jablokov was trying to do a sf imitation of John Cheever or John Irving, writers, I believe, Jablokov has expressed an admiration for. However, not being sf writers, my exposure to them has been minimum.

A Dance to Strange Musics”, Gregory Benford — This is a brilliant, austere, unsentimental, humbling, Stapledonian, classic sf tale. Its classicism is that it’s pure hard sf, a detailed working out of a surprising ecosystem in our galactic backyard — the Alpha Centauri star system — and little emphasis on individual characters (though Benford does put in some wry bits about how scientists relate to one another). The plot progresses from one hard sf wonder to another. A vast, elevated lake is found on a planet in the star system. It seems to be formed in the remnants of a crater and literally floats kilometers above the surface, the power to do so coming from the piezoelectric forces generated by tidal stresses from the three suns in the system. The planetary system is covered by tile-like creatures who constantly move about, dancing to “strange music”. Eventually, it’s speculated that their movements (they, and the whole ecology of the planet, feed off electrical energy rather than chemical energy) represent some giant, planetary computer at work. A manned probe into the atmosphere finds, before the pilot dies, surprising levels of electrical power and a sort of memory in the system. The giant, floating lake turns out to be a giant laser system which periodically sends messages to other star systems. More die exploring the planet, learning that the tiles feed on electricity and exchange, in sophisticated protocols, data with each other, and that planet fires off messages into space not intended for man. The first expedition descends to the planet but not before they realize that the lifeforms on the planet are engineered, that the intelligent life there has either left for space or engineered themselves into the tiles. Another expedition is sent from an Earth where people live in the “disposable realities” of computer created environments. They meet odd, disconcerting facsimiles of the first expedition. The facsimiles are a disturbing group mind with facial expressions that flicker at precise intervals and who each speak separate words in their sentences while inviting man to join their Being Suite, their bodies precisely spaced in a hexagon. The humans are appalled by what they see and, out of fear, do not go to the surface. They don’t know if the first expedition was seduced or raped into becoming part of the Being Suite. The second to last paragraph has a classic passage about the unknowability of the universe, its forever closed community of sentience: “It is one thing to speak of embracing the new, the fresh, the strange. It is another to feel that one is an insect, crawling across a page of the Encyclopedia Britannica, knowing only that something vast is passing by beneath, all without your sensing more than a yawning vacancy. Worse, the lack was clearly in oneself, and was irredeemable.” A classic sf statement, a classic sf tale. Continue reading “Year’s Best SF 4”

Stealing Other People’s Homework: Ron Goulart’s Cheap Thrills — Retro-Forteana

If you’ve come across the name Ron Goulart the chances are it was as a historian of 20th century popular culture – comics and pulp magazines in particular. But Goulart was a poacher as well as a gamekeeper, churning out over a hundred short and easy-to-read novels of his own (the small selection that I’ve…

via Ron Goulart’s Cheap Thrills — Retro-Forteana

DAW 30th Anniversary Science Fiction Anthology

Another retro review while I work on something for another outlet.

From January 12, 2010 …

Review: DAW 30th Anniversary Science Fiction Anthology, eds. Elizabeth R. Wollheim and Sheila Gilbert, 2002.DAW 30th Anniversary

Apart from the introductions by Wollheim and Gilbert covering Donald A. Wollheim’s contributions to American publishing culminating with his founding of DAW Books, there’s nothing that makes this book stand out from DAW’s many other anthologies except it doesn’t have a theme. The ratio of good to adequate to bad stories is pretty standard – not nearly high enough for a celebration of 30 years of quality publishing. That’s probably inevitable for a group of all original stories, but this anthology, which features installments in several DAW series, also doesn’t serve as much of an enticing sampler of DAW’s goods.

The two stand out stories are Tad Williams’ “Not With a Whimper, Either” and Ian Watson’s “The Black Wall of Jerusalem”. Williams’ story is told through newsgroup exchanges as various users try to figure out what is behind several disruptions of communications and utilities. It’s a worthy and ambiguous addition to a science fiction tradition of sinister machines including Jack Williamson’s “With Folded Hands”, Harlan Ellison’s “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream”, and, especially, Frederic Brown’s “Answer”. Watson’s story is surprisingly Lovecraftian in structure and theme. Its poet narrator is troubled by dreams he’s been having since returning from Jerusalem where he went for inspiration to write a William Blake style work of religious mysticism. There he encountered the Black Wall, a gateway that pops up in different parts of the ancient city, and goes beyond it to investigate the lethal beings of another dimension. Continue reading “DAW 30th Anniversary Science Fiction Anthology”

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”

The Future Is Now; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

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I was beginning to question my taste, my abilities as a “critic”.

Do I just like anything I read? Sure, I read slow and not as much as I like so I’m somewhat careful what I chose, but still …

The Future Is Now has reassured me that I have retained some powers of discernment. Its execrable collection of stories cleared my palate and reminded me what crap tastes like. Continue reading “The Future Is Now; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax”