Beyond the Fall of Night

Since I recently brought up Arthur C. Clarke’s The City and the Stars, I thought I’d also mention Clarke’s earlier version of the story and Gregory Benford’s sequel.

Raw Feed (1991): Beyond the Fall of Night, Arthur C. Clarke and Gregory Benford, 1990.BNDFLLFN1990

My reactions to this book follow three veins: comparing Part 1, Clarke’s “Against the Fall of Night” with the expanded version The City and the Stars, Benford’s sequel to Clarke’s novella in its own right, and the combination as a whole.

As an alternative to The City and the Stars, I liked the latter better than “Against the Fall of Night”. The novel gave full rein to Clarke’s mournful vistas of an ancient Earth where man huddles fearfully. The novella has the same feel but Clarke simply doesn’t have as much space to portray these emotions. Also the novel had many interesting details, notions, and speculations: the psychological and social effects of no new births in Diaspar — just recycling of personalities with undesired memories edited out — and immortality, the instant creation of desired forms of matter (for role-playing games and much else), the sex games of Diaspar’s inhabitants and their evolved state, the mysterious Jester and the more mysterious matter of Alvin actually being born not recanted, the creation of the Mad Mind and Vanamonde (dealt with here but not in as great detail), and the religion of the Master and the enforced silence of his robot servant to spare him embarrassment. The mere length of the novella lessens the tone and emotion that goes so far in making the novel a classic.

I’m not sure if Benford’s addition really stands alone, but I liked it. From what I’ve heard of his novels (I’ve only read his collaboration with David Brin in Heart of the Comet), this story has his characteristic concern with man’s evolution and his place in the vaster evolution of life and intelligence. The vistas of millennia are reminiscent of Olaf Stapledon I suppose, but this part reminded me most of the bizarre future of Brian Aldiss’ Hothouse. Benford’s life forms are just as bizarre, even more rationalized (particularly the creatures whose consciousness exist in the magnetic fields of the galaxy), but less well described. Which is just as well. Benford’s creatures are too vast, too alien to be minutely described like Aldiss’. They can just be suggested. Continue reading “Beyond the Fall of Night”

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”

“Pest House”

The James Gunn series continues.

Review: “Pest House”, James Gunn, 1996.c87e19c4f9c12b7596945497167434f414f4141

This was Gunn’s 64th story. Michael R. Page’s Saving the World Through Science Fiction puts the composition date at 1957. As of the 1996 publication date of The Unpublished Gunn, Part Two, it was his last unpublished story. Page says it was also the last piece of fiction Gunn wrote until the late 1960s.

This was a story aimed at the “slick” science fiction magazine market. Gunn defines that market as having

a more general theme, a setting in the not-too-distant future, and an idea that did not present serious difficulties for an unsophisticated readership.

Like “Jackpot for Julie” and “The Man with One Talent”, I don’t discern any flaws that would have made its publishing questionable. Page says the story would have undoubtedly been published if the science fiction magazine market had not collapsed in the late 1950s. Continue reading ““Pest House””

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”

Modern Science Fiction

This summer’s project seems to be James Gunn.

I’m only going to do a brief review of this book. Following a pattern similar to what I did with Brian Stableford’s book of critical essays on science fiction, Opening Minds, I’ll have some thoughts on individual chapters and do separate blog posts on them.

I’ll also be looking at some Gunn short stories and will comment on how they relate to Gunn’s theories.

Review: Modern Science Fiction: A Critical Analysis, James Gunn and edited and annotated by Michael R. Page, 2018.51QhTYVGKDL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

Anybody interested in science fiction criticism will want to pick this one up. It’s the first real critical study of contemporary science fiction.

Its only predecessors are J. O. Bailey’s Pilgrims Through Space and Time (a doctoral dissertation from 1933 and published in 1947) and Marjorie Hope Nicolson’s Voyages to the Moon from 1948. But Bailey, a Victorian scholar, concentrated on works from that period and barely looked at pulp magazines. Nicolson’s work was only about a certain type of science fiction.

Gunn’s thesis is from 1951 and addresses what he terms science fiction in the realistic mode and definitely looks at contemporary works.

His sample drew from the pulps and also from five reprint anthologies.

What is peculiar to Gunn’s work is his emphasis on plot types, and he gives a schematic classifying them all. In the foreword, science fiction scholar Gary K. Wolfe, who was put on his lifetime vocation by encountering parts of Gunn’s thesis when it was reprinted in Dynamic Science Fiction, remarks that this reflects Gunn’s work as a writer. A science fiction writer could use this thesis to think about story generation, and Gunn gives his advice on which plots are and are not worth pursuing. Continue reading “Modern Science Fiction”

Gunslingers & Ghost Stories

I’ve read a lot of weird westerns lately. Most of them were, like this one, from Science Fiction Trails which seems to specialize in them.

Review: Gunslingers & Ghost Stories, ed. David B. Riley, 2012.Gunslingers and Ghosts

You get exactly what you would expect from the title: stories combining gunfighters and ghosts.

The majority of these 11 stories go past acceptable and into being memorable or well-done examples of typical ghost story motifs.

A couple of the standout stories were from series.

Joel Jenkins “Old Mother Hennessy” features his Indian bounty hunter Lone Crow. Here his partner is Six-Gun Susannah, a very quick draw with a gun if not a very good shot. In tracking down the vicious Hennessy boys to their mountain lair, they come across the graves of their victims. At the end of the trail is the beautiful and witch Mother Hennessy, the worst of the lot. As is usually the case in the Lone Crow series, Jenkins effectively mixes credible gunplay, magic, and characterization. Here Susannah pines away, in her unrequited love, for her partner.

Laura Givens “Chin Song Ping and the Hungry Ghosts” is a follow up to her “Chin Song Ping and the Fifty-Three Thieves”. Ping is a charming character given to romantic impulses and possessing equal parts of naivete, ignorance, and cunning. Here he gets involved hauling dynamite, and he and his partner camp for the night in the infamous Donner Pass. What better place to find hungry ghosts? And a band of Mexican bandits complicates things. Continue reading “Gunslingers & Ghost Stories”

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”

The Plain Truth and British Science Fiction Writers

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I’ve got plenty of reviews to write and a post-migraine brain only fit for web-surfing.

So …

You get a personal, elliptical bit of trivia about the Worldwide Church of God, Herbert W. Armstrong, and the uses two British writers of the fantastic made of them. I’ve mentioned the church in passing, and I assure you that a web or Wikipedia search for either the church or the man will give you some strange and scandalous reading.

And one Sir Terry Pratchett (whom I’ve never read) shows up on page 23 of the March 2015 issue of The Journal: News of the Churches. Pratchett’s novel Feet of Clay transformed the church’s magazine, The Plain Truth, into a magazine called Unadorned Facts.

Before Pratchett, Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius novel A Cure for Cancer used a long excerpt from The Plain Truth, an article titled “Infection Exposed”, in his psychedelic collage. (Page 251 if you have the old Avon paperback omnibus The Cornelius Chronicles from 1977.) I’m not a big fan of the Cornelius books but that allusion endeared that one to me.