Science Fiction Though the Decades

Thursday, February 9, 2012

2005: Starwater Strains (Wolfe, Gene)

Less than half of the stories are science fiction (3/5)
From September 5, 2011

I became interested in Wolfe because of the Long Sun series. I liked to series but was disappointed by the lack of science in the books. As a science fiction reader, a books doesn't always need to have technology, laser and spaceships, but the Long Sun needed something to counter its' almost fantasy-like elements. When I saw Wolfe had a short story collection with the cover saying "New Science Fiction Tales," I had to find it.

Disappointingly, only about 10 of the 25 stories here have elements of science fiction, with the majority of them containing things like magic swords, mythical sea creatures, folklore, surreal experiences, and possession. I admit, most of it was lost on me. Call Wolfe "clever" or "subtle" but I think he writes for himself rather than an audience. Sometimes you just have to shrug and take each story at face value because you'll have no clue what Wolfe is trying to get across.

Viewpoint - 4/5 - Woodman becomes reality show contestant in the city which he must survive while spending the $100,000 on his person. With viewers watching his every move from his first-person POV and the government wanting to tax him, elusiveness is difficult without cooperation. 39 pages

Rattler - 4/5 - Two rednecks talk about a truck which manifests the spirit (like Carrie) of an old hunting dog. The canine-possessed truck inspires another man to train his new truck to perform new tricks, with predictable results. 7 pages

In Glory like Their Stars - 4/5 - Gabby materialistic yet primitive humans idolize a visiting humanoid alien but their simplicity and relentlessness drive the benevolent being away. 6 pages

Calamity Warps - 5/5 - If your dog dragged home a four-armed, horned shadow, you'd be a little freaked out, too. When the shadow becomes your very own, things become downright odd. 5 pages

Graylord Man's Last Words - 4/5 - Robotic boy sent to his aunt's Biological house where lays a man on his deathbed. His last words are uttered but the boy is unable to compute the sensation. 6 pages

Shields of Mars - 5/5 - Human and alien childhood friends on Mars are the sole caretakers of an air plant, which is about to become decommissioned. A final plea to headquarters is made and the results enliven their spirit. 11 pages

From the Cradle - 5/5 - A young man working in a book store comes into contact with a mysterious, old, brown book which is seemingly basing stories about his life through its fables. 19 pages

Black Shoes - 3/5 - Prior to an oceanside holiday, a professor didn't believe in mythical sea creatures but during a shoeless stroll through the surf, he enters a surreal and confronts his past errs. 8 pages

Has Anybody Seen Junie Moon? - 4/5 A circus muscleman and his love-interest/manager ponder the mysterious properties of the moon, dodge the Feds and seek out the strange lunar material. 11 pages

Pulp Cover - 5/5 - Mid-level manager at a furniture store falls in love with the boss's daughter, who soon marries a stranger... who is stranger than anyone knows. 10 pages

Of Soil and Climate - 3/5 - Imprisoned psychiatrist experiences a fantasy realm inhabited by metaphorical "night people" where we becomes a prince to aid the king's mental illness. 21 pages

The Dog of Drops - 3/5 - After the Bigkill, an intelligent wolf befriends a man and his family. His story is transcribed in what seems to be a thick Scottish or Welsh accent. 3 pages

Mute - 3/5 - Siblings discover their father's house empty except for the mute TV and the corpse in the basement. Upon leaving the house, they jump the fence to only return to the same exact house. 10 pages

Petting Zoo - 4/5 - The government commandeers a T-Rex after a boy grows it himself and unleashes tyranny upon the forest copse and herds of cattle. Now on a diet of tofu, the didactic machines teach children of the era of the dinosaurs. 6 pages

Castaway - 4/5 - Man stranded on planet for 27 years describes to one crew member of an old female who accompanied him on the planet. He reminisces of shared memories of birds and tress; things which the crewmember knows nothing of. 6 pages

The Fat Magician - 3/5 - An American pens a letter while being stranded in an Austrian city which is home to an almost mythical figure from WWII - a giant of a magician hiding persecuted peoples from the Nazis. 10 pages

Hunter Lake - 3/5 - Mother and daughter search for an elusive lake by questioning a specter-like elderly lady, an even more elusive elderly man and an Injun woman. 11 pages

The Boy Who Hooked the Sun - 3/5 - A short tale explaining why the seasons change. 3 pages

Try and Kill It - 5/5 - Nocking an arrow, the hunter takes aim on a passing doe but demurs. Later, a rush of wildlife bursts forth but still stalls... then takes aim on a grizzly, which can break aluminum arrow shafts. 21 pages

Game in the Pope's Head - 2/5 - A quartet of players are playing a mixed menagerie of games simultaneously. Reality keeps shifting and it is somewhat of an idea of someone's personal hell. 6 pages

Empires of Foliage and Flower - 1/5 - Reminiscent of the Long Sun series but with more of a fantasy slant... couldn't get through even half of it. 26 pages

The Arimaspian Legacy - 3/5 - Astronomer and obsessive book collector discovers secrets in the sun's spots and excitedly tells his childhood friend of the discovery. 5 pages

The Seraph and Its Sepulcher - 4/5 - Missionary to a recently extinct alien race receives a researcher from the Motherworld light-years away. The researcher aims to study the religious records, the ancient sites and anything the Father has. 15 pages

Lord of the Land - 3/5 - Folklorist interviews an old man at a farm, who speaks of a soul-sucking shadow-like being. With the interviewer interning at the ranch, odd occurrences must... occur. 16 pages

Golden City Far - 2/5 - A boy experiences life set on the cusp of reality and fantasy - real, imaginary or psychotic? 45 pages


  1. I love Wolfe, but agree that it would be nice to read some more "hard" science fiction by him. Of course, Wolfe is a very religious person and so we have to expect supernatural elements in his work, and one can argue that most of the stuff in the Sun books that seems "magical" is just technology too advanced for the reader and the characters to really understand.

    Have you read any of the stories from the collection, _The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories_? I think you'll find a higher proportion of science fiction to fantasy in that collection. "The Doctor of Death Island," for example, is about technological breakthroughs and how they change society, and I think "Tracking Song," "Seven American Nights," "Death of Dr. Island," and "The Hero as Werwolf" are all pretty "sciency," and very good.

    I have to agree with most of your assessments of the stories in _Starwater Strains_. For example, "Try and Kill It" is so brilliant it makes me wish Wolfe wrote more of these sorts of action-adventure tales, and I was terribly disappointed in "Golden City Far," one of the lamest things I've ever read by Wolfe.

    1. The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories (thanks for the additional info) is on my list, even though his stories seem to be hit-or-miss. LOL, glad we see eye-to-eye on "Try and Kill It" - that story really grips me by the huevos... then there's "Golden City Far" which, yes, was head-shaking-ly lame.

  2. I agree with MPorcius, "The Island of Doctor Death etc." has a lot higher science content and is well worth looking into.

    Though, it's interesting; I read "Book of the New Sun" before "Book/Long Sun," and thought Long Sun had a much stronger science-y/SF feel. Granted, it's buried under Wolfe's antique language, and from the slanted viewpoint of characters living under Clarke's third law.

    I was tempted to pick up "Starwater Strains" since I'm a huge fan of Wolfe, and seeing most of the stories in it were at least decent got me interested again. The only Wolfe that disappointed me (thus far) was "Pandora by Holly Hollander;" went into it straight from New Sun and was sad to find it was just magical realism.

  3. I haven't read the New Sun series but I did really enjoy the Long Sun series. The first two books (5-stars and 4-stars, respectively) set such an awesome scope, but in typical Wolfe style, the details get ignored as he writes in a circumventing manner. Would have LOVED to have experienced more of the guts of the generation ship, but was left with a pretty solid story in the last two books (both receiving 3 stars).