Mars — The Red Planet

Since Mick Farren came up over at Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations, I thought I’d post this.

In case you’re interested, I just finished all the first drafts of a long series of blog posts, and I hope to start posting the final versions soon.

Raw Feed (1991): Mars — The Red Planet, Mick Farren, 1990.

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Cover by David Schleinkofer

I bought this book because I couldn’t resist the title and cover blurb: “Glasnost was dead, and the cold war on Mars was heating up…”.

I hadn’t read any Mick Farren before and didn’t know what to expect.

The book was competently done. Farren, particularly in his delightfully baroque spacesuits, is obviously trying to do a cyberpunk novel on Mars. He even borrows John Shirley’s terminology of ICE — intrusive counter-electronics.

Farren knows his science, doesn’t over plot, packs in lots of plausible description that makes Mars seem like a plausible Old West, and paces well and uses lots of dialogue, some humorous.

But Farren is an essentially derivative writer. Besides Shirley, there is an explicit reference to Stephen King’s The Tommyknockers (the malevolent influence of a buried spaceship is used here) and, I think, to King’s Misery (two characters remark on the disappearance of King in the mid-nineties — his car wrecked in a Colorado snowstorm but no body was ever found). The mind parasites mentioned in the last chapter are perhaps based on Colin Wilson’s novel of the same name which I’ve never read it. [I did review it later.]

At first, I thought Farren’s serial killer and his mental entity were merely a conventional metaphor for psychosis but, since this is sf, Farren decided to literalize the metaphor. Continue reading “Mars — The Red Planet”

Georgia on My Mind and Other Places

The Charles Sheffield series continues.

Raw Feed (1997): Georgia on My Mind and Other Places, ed. Charles Sheffield, 1995.GRGNMYMNDN1996

Introduction” — Short, no nonsense, no-frill introduction for a collection of stories ranging from “silly to personal and serious.”

The Feynman Solution” — This is a fantasy. The mechanism of time travel is never rationalized beyond the point of artist Colin Trantham saying he’s a sort of positron which physicist Richard Feynman described as an electron traveling back in time. The story involves Colin, suffering from a brain tumor (the major scientific interest of the story is the descriptions of cancer therapies, their successes, methods of operation, and failings) and seeing visions of increasingly ancient and mostly extinct life which he draws with his usual precision. The relationship between Colin and his paleontologist sister Julia and his oncologist James Wollaston (eventually Julia’s lover) was well handled. The Tranthams, like Bey Wolf in Sheffield’s Proteus novels, love to quote all kinds of things from Samuel Johnson to movies. I suspect Sheffield does this too.

The Bee’s Kiss” — Like Sheffield’s “C-Change”, this story involves aliens who are concealing things. A very skilled voyeur is forced by a tyrant (after the voyeur is caught spying on him) to spy on some enigmatic aliens, the Sigil. It turns out the aliens have become alarmed after learning humans use sexual reproduction. The Sigil are asexual and use a parasitic means to reproduce like Earth’s sphinx wasp. This story has good psychological insight into a voyeur. Continue reading “Georgia on My Mind and Other Places”

The 1000 Year Reich and Other Stories

Yes, it’s an actual book review of a title I committed myself to 25 months ago. I haven’t done a similar review in 10 months.

The reviewing mill of MarzAat grinds slow. Whether it grinds fine or even produces anything useful you will have to decide.

The mill’s scheduling is also erratic. This book wasn’t even the next in the chute, but I found myself limited to what was on the kindle one day, so I started it.

It came from NewCon Press whose offerings I’ve reviewed in the past: Dark Currents and David Hutchinson’s collection Sleeps with Angels. And I’ve enjoyed them. However, even my blogger conscience was starting to feel guilty about asking for any more of their offerings without reviewing what I had been given.

In fact, the next “new” title I will be reviewing is Simon Morden’s At the Speed of Light, also from NewCon Press.

Review: The 1000 Year Reich and Other Stories, Ian Watson, 2016.51wwhW8SFKL

I’ve enjoyed the Watson I’ve read before. There was the amusing bit of recursive science fiction in his “The World Science Convention of 2080” (fan experiences in journeying to the event in a world where technology has regressed). There was “The Great Atlantic Swimming Race” (the link takes you to James Gunn’s The Road to Science Fiction #5: The British Way so we haven’t escaped all Gunn references), a rumination on LiveAid charity stunts. A versatile writer, he turned in a couple of effective Lovecraftian bits with “The Black Wall of Jerusalem” and “The Walker in the Cemetery”. I enjoyed what seemed to be a witty takeoff on J. G. Ballard’s Concrete Island in the short story “Long Stay” in a collection edited by Ian Whales, also associated with NewCon Press.

However, against my enjoyment of those short works, is The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction’s description of his novel The Embedding as a novel about perception molded by language with “erratic quicksilver shiftiness”. That doesn’t seem my thing, so I’ve read none of his novels. Continue reading “The 1000 Year Reich and Other Stories”

Stealing Other People’s Homework: “The H. G. Wells Problem”

What’s the H. G. Wells problem?

Well, according to Darrell Schweitzer, it’s Wells’ anti-Semitism.

I must admit I wasn’t aware of that aspect of Wells. His love of eugenics and Joe Stalin, yes.

I could quibble with some of Schweitzer’s piece. I will just say that plenty of people in the early 20th century, including Jews, were fond of eugenics

Stealing Other People’s Homework: “Russell Kirk and the Haunting of Piety Hill”

Russell Kirk

I’ve been reading SD Tucker’s two part series on Russell Kirk in Fortean Times“. It’s part of his “Strange Statesman” series.

The installments mostly look into the strange occult beliefs of various politicians and political philosophers. Kirk, however, was more than a political philosopher. (Jerry Pournelle considered Kirk his political mentor though Pournelle definitely did not share Kirk’s anti-technology views.)

He was a noted a writer of weird fiction, fiction that demonstrated the synthesis of his political and occult beliefs. He was a friend of Ray Bradbury.

Kirk biographer Bradley J. Birzer looks at the professional and thematic relationships between Kirk and Stephen King and how Kirk’s paranormal experiences showed up in his fiction.

Explorers of the Infinite

The Lovecraft series, sort of, with a book I read because it contained some material on Lovecraft.

Raw Feed (2005): Explorers of the Infinite: Shapers of Science Fiction, Sam Moskowitz, 1957, 1963.Explorers of the Infinite

I read this book now for its chapter on H. P. Lovecraft. (I had read the chapter on Edgar Allan Poe years ago as research for an English paper.) There wasn’t a whole lot there that I didn’t know except for the letters from other writers about Lovecraft and the stories of others inspired by Lovecraft.

Moskowitz’s great strength is the uncovering of a lot of obscure stories and others. His particular interest is tracing the treatment of certain technological and scientific ideas which is a valid school of sf criticism though I think it’s a mistake to think, and I don’t think Moskowitz does, to think sf exists to prophesize.

Most of the chapters are titled with the name of a science fiction author and were originally published in sf magazines. However, most chapters end by connecting a particular author — as well as more obscure authors — to the subject of the next chapter.

As with most sf criticsm, it makes me want to read a lot of this stuff.

Moskowitz sums up a lot of work including non-English language stuff. However, describing Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as combining the travel tale, utopia, and “science story” makes me wonder about the accurateness of those descriptions. I’ve read Frankenstein twice and recall no element of the utopian in it.

I found the chapters on Hugo Gernsback; M. P. Shiel; Lu Senarens aka Frank Reade, Jr; Edgar Rice Burroughs; Philip Wylie, and Olaf Stapledon of particular interest.

Moskowitz details Gernsback’s importance as an inventor as well as publisher.

M. P. Shiel’s work, especially The Purple Cloud, seems interesting.  The plot descriptions seem to bear out Brian Aldiss’ remark, in his Billion Year Spree, that, “if ever there was a racist, it was M. P. Shiel.” Jewish Moskowitz simply lets Shiel’s work speak for itself in its anti-Semitism.

Frank Reade, Jr had an amazing career in its early start, prolificness, and financial success. Verne was an admirer. I never paid attention to the dates before, but Reade’s adventures started in 1876 with The Steam Man of the Prairies by Edward F. Ellis, a dime novelist (Senarens continued the series to great success); therefore, its steam man and horse (imitated by Jules Verne in his The Steam House, which I have read) is sort of contemporary steampunk.

I was surprised to see how many of Burroughs novels were written to compete with his many imitators in setting and story.

Moskowitz’s covers the popularity of Wylie as both a fiction writer and, in his attack on “Momism”, a social critic.

Olaf Stapledon’s career as fiction writer and philosopher is nicely covered.

 

Reviews of more works touching on Lovecraft and his legacy are on the Lovecraft page.

Year’s Best SF

Yes, I am well aware that the countdown is going backwards on all these Hartwell anthologies I’ve been posting reviews of. Like the previous ones, this has alternate history material.

Raw Feed (2001): Year’s Best SF, ed. David G. Hartwell, 1996.years-best-sf

Think Like a Dinosaur“, James Patrick Kelly — Hartwell, in his introductory notes, says this story is part of a dialogue about Tom Godwin’s “The Cold Equations”. That’s true. It does involve the killing of an innocent to balance some equations, here the obscure equations involved in quantum teleportation of humans to an alien world. However, the story, in its plot of birth and death via teleportation, has echoes of Algis Budrys’ Rogue Moon. This story is more emotional than Godwin’s tale. The narrator, a person counseling skittish people on how to handle the teleportation process, kills, rather gleefully, one of his charges. He learns to “think like a dinosaur”, like the alien Gendians who are the ones who insist on the equations being balanced in their teleportation process.

Wonders of the Invisible World“, Patricia A. McKillip — I’m not really sure what the point of this story was. Most of it concerns the narrator’s interaction, as a time traveling researcher, with Cotton Mather (the story’s title is an allusion to a work of Mather’s) as part of a project to investigate the imagery of primitive, “Pre-Real” (presumably as in “virtual reality”) peoples’ mind. At first, the narrator seems appalled by both the poisonous uses that Mather puts his rather impoverished imagination to yet sad by the lack of imagination by most adults in her world. Yet, she’s appalled by the atavistic imagination of her boss. The narrator seems to reach the conclusion, at story’s end, that the powerful computer tools of her age enable a much healthier imagination for her son — though that imagination may be lost when he gets older. Why a library of pre-conceived icons and notions should necessarily mean greater imagination among the youth is not really explored — though it probably would. And McKillip definitely doesn’t explain why this imagination should suddenly be lost in the narrator’s society when people reach adulthood. It seemed like more of an excuse to comment and criticize Mather than anything else.

Hot Times in Magma City“, Robert Silverberg — Once again Silverberg proves why he’s a master. He takes a rather hackneyed idea, Los Angeles threatened by volcanic eruptions, and breaths new life into by sheer technical skill and a little technological extrapolation. (To show what a hackneyed idea this is, about two years after this story was published, the movie Volcano came about — about Los Angeles threatened by an eruption.) Silverberg has the great metropolis threatened by a whole series of magma eruptions. The technical skill of the story comes in telling it in a chatty, present-tense style and, perhaps even more importantly, who he selects as the heroes: a bunch of drug addicts sentenced to mandatory community service. They fight the magma upwellings in special suits. Silverberg handles those action details well. But it’s the addition of their interactions, the flaws and quirks that made them addicts, and their attempts at self-rehabilitation through their work fighting magma, that make the story special. Continue reading “Year’s Best SF”

Charles Fort: The Man Who Invented the Supernatural

A retro review from May 28, 2012:

Review: Charles Fort: The Man Who Invented the Supernatural, Jim Steinmeyer, 2008.Charles Fort.jpg

The influence of Charles Fort on popular culture isn’t that of some seeping, hidden stream percolating out of the depths of history to mysteriously water modern ideas. It’s more of a shaded river whose twisting path abuts a surprising number of cultural vegetation. The subtitle is a bit of marketing hyperbole. As Steinmeyer himself notes, Fort said the word “supernatural” had no place in his vocabulary, no meaning. But his peculiar works, four bizarre mixtures of satire and philosophy; compendiums of strange events and sometimes whimsical, sometimes sinister, sometimes absent explanations, known as The Complete Books of Charles Fort: The Book of the Damned / Lo! / Wild Talents / New Lands, are an important source stream for the torrents of writing on the paranormal the 20th century saw, Berlitz and von Daniken, ufology and raining frogs. His works are explicitly referenced in horror fiction as long ago as H. P. Lovecraft and as contemporaneously as Stephen King and Caitlin Kiernan. His ideas show up in the film Magnolia and an actual character in the recent movie The Whisperer in Darkness. He even gave us the word “teleportation”. And, of course, his name lives on in that indispensable journal of oddities, The Fortean Times.

This isn’t the first work from a major publisher on Fort. Damon Knight, the science fiction writer, did the worthy biography Charles Fort: Prophet of the Unexplained in 1970. But this has several advantages, besides availability, over Knight’s work. Not only does this work have photographs, but it also has numerous quotes from Fort’s earlier writings before 1920’s The Book of the Damned as well as the reactions, in private and in reviews, to those works. There are also selections from Fort’s unpublished autobiography Many Parts. This edition helpfully sets these quotes off in italics which further makes this a handsome production. After an unhappy childhood under a domineering and sometimes violent upper-middle class father, Fort left home at 17; worked as newspaper reporter for about three years; bummed about America, South Africa, Canada, and Britain for a couple of years; and returned home where he married, in 1896, Anna, a woman four years his senior. For the next 12 years, Fort and Anna lived poorly, supported by numerous stories, mostly of a realistic nature and noted for the verisimilitude of their dialogue and setting, that were published in several well-known magazines of the time. These brought him to the attention of Theodore Dreiser who was to become a lifelong friend. Dreiser used his growing reputation and fame to get Fort’s first novel published: The Outcast Manufacturers. Steinmeyer presents some interesting selections from this comic yet realistic novel of slum dwellers – usefully drawn from the Fort’s own impoverished circumstances. Continue reading “Charles Fort: The Man Who Invented the Supernatural”

The Monk

In 2006, I decided to read the works referenced in H. P. Lovecraft’s Supernatural Horror in Literature.

I did make it through most of the Gothic novels he mentioned except for the American gothic novels of Charles Brockden Brown. I didn’t review most of them though you will get a review of Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho at some point.

I did read the notorious William Beckford’s Vathek. Unfortunately, when I was in Bath, England, I didn’t get a chance to see his architectural folly Lansdown Tower.

And I agree with Lovecraft that Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer is the best of the Gothic novels he covers. (Though, from Lovecraft’s letters,  he doesn’t seem to have actually been able to get his hands on the whole novel, just excerpts.) You won’t be getting a review of it from me though.

As for the rest of the weird fiction Lovecraft mentioned, I’ve read a surprisingly large amount of it under the impetus of the Deep Ones reading group, part of LibraryThing’s The Weird Tradition discussion group.

 A retro review from June 5, 2006 . . .

Review: The Monk, Matthew Lewis, 1796.Monk

It’s no coincidence that the opening epigraph of Lewis’ one and only novel is from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. Both works have pillars of public moral rectitude collapsing after encountering their first major temptation of carnality. Monk Ambrosio figures in for a penny, in for a pound, and starts the slide from mere sex to murder, incest, despair, and damnation.

Lewis’ streamlined prose abandons the detailed descriptions of Gothic architecture and Alpine vistas favored by his model Ann Radcliffe. And, in a plot of not two but four frustrated lovers, he crams many a gruesome incident and image. No Radcliffean rationalism for Lewis. Despite frequent criticms of the superstition of Spain during the Inquistion, this plot revels in the supernatural with curses, ghosts, Bleeding Nuns, Wandering Jews, and the Prince of Demons himself.

Yet, despite the melodrama, there is an air of psychological realism in how Monk Ambrosio rationalizes his escalation of evil. Perhaps more disturbing is the mind of Matilda, his first lover, and her willingness to advise and aid his evil even after he has sexually spurned her. Continue reading “The Monk”

A Book of Horrors

Just finished listening to the most recent episode of the Coode Street Podcast.

Much more interesting than their usual talk about awards. It featured a interview with Elizabeth Hand about her most recent book, Wylding Hall, the influence of Arthur Machen on her and many other writers, and her interest in depicting artists and the numinous in her work.

It’s just possible I’ll give her Cassandra Neary mysteries a try since it sounds like the series will start to involve matters of the arcane, occult, and ancient sort as it progresses.

My exposure to Hand is pretty perfunctory. I found her “Chip Crockett’s Christmas Carol” pleasant enough, but, not having any childhood memories of a beloved children’s tv show, there was nothing in my background for it to resonate with.

I was unaware, until I looked at her Internet Speculative Fiction database entry, how much critical work she had done since I’m not a regular reader of the Washington Post or The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

The only other fiction I’ve read by her is “Near Zemnor” … and that’s why you get a retro review, from September 18, 2012, of the book it appeared in.

Review: A Book of Horrors, ed. Stephen Jones, 2012.

Book of HorrorsYou can ignore the short introduction which claims this anthology is out to reclaim the label “horror” for scary stories. Not all the stories here are scary. Some aren’t even dark fantasy. And some left me somewhat unsatisfied.

But they all kept me interested. Continue reading “A Book of Horrors”