Science Fiction Though the Decades

Monday, January 30, 2012

1972: Entry to Elsehwhen (Brunner, John)

Warning: Contains the worst novelette EVER (3/5)

As a big fan of Brunner's, it would be convenient for me to say that picking up a random Brunner novel should always be an exciting adventure... which would be true 66% of the time, but no sir, never 100% of the time. The same is true for this novelette/novella collection: 66% of it is quite good while the other 33% falls flat... and by flat I mean like paper-thin flat, elephant dung paper that's been compressed by a steam roller then sent to the surface of a neutron star. If you're NOT a hard core Brunner fan then I highly suggest you simply rip out the last 82 pages and leave yourself with a two novelette book worth reading.

Host Age - 4/5 - The rapidly mutating Plague is devastating England, where one victim in ten dies from complications which no two individuals exhibit the same symptoms. When leading research from the Plague's cure becomes destroyed and the investigation can find no sign of entry from the perpetrators, suspicion arise which implicate the recovering astronaut and the current theoretical research into matter transmission. 45 pages --- Only lacking spaceships, Host Age is a Golden Age-style story which combines all other science fiction cliques into one story. The result, contrary to prevalent cliques, proves to be one of excitement, intrigue, and mystery. It's not exactly character-based, but the plot's momentum is quite enough to convey Brunner's craftiness.

Lung Fish - 4/5 - On the way to Tau Ceti II aboard a generation ship, two generations of crew are is silent conflict: the logical Earthborn are taken aback by the unemotional Tripborn. With two weeks left before the arrival, the caretaker-minded Earthborn begin a secret plan to influence the Tripborn to become claustrophobic and eager to colonize the planet. 47 pages --- An excellent plot compounds an interesting juxtaposition of crew sects, but the conclusion feel pressed into an unnatural form.

No Other Gods But Me - 0.01/5 - Coincidental encounters between Colin and Vanessa become increasingly bizarre when they are transported to a strange abode as they huddle for safety from the heavy English rain. Along with a cloaked man stalking them and seeing shadows in their periphery, something clearly isn't natural. During a congregation of a fad religion in the heart of New York, the two are transported again to a parallel world with a psychic overlord, abysmal living conditions, and more telekinetic ability than Colin and Vanessa's earth could ever have... and there's a legless human boy who can fly. 82 pages --- The ONE hope I held onto was that the possibility remained that Colin, the lethargic body-double for a doorstop of a so-called protagonist, would commit suicide for the benefit of fictional mankind and for the well-being of science fiction readers across the globe. Possibly, the worst novella ever produced.

1974: Give Warning to the World (Brunner, John)

The cover is warning enough- Stay Clear! (2/5)
From June 10, 2011

Written in 1974 (the same year as his excellent Total Eclipse) near the end of Brunner's prime, I just couldn't pass up one of his novels even if it had a terrible cover displayed here . Tragically, this novel only had a single edition published by DAW (#112) way back in 1974. This is rather tragic because it follows in the footsteps of another Brunner tragedy entitled The Wrong End of Time (1971), also by DAW (#61). Those footsteps include the scathing 2-star rating... rare for a Brunner novel.

Across the street from slum housing, a police stakeout is watching the habits of the red-headed landlady who is suspected of 'serving' males in Soho district with whips and leather. The house she inhabits is home to a elderly lady in the upstairs and Clyde, a Jamaican actor struck with curiosity about the treatment of the young lady next door to him- Sally. Previous tenants have been disappearing and the police are also onto this but they are unable to connect the landlady/dominatrix to the mystery.

When inventor and deep-thinker Nick is driving down the road, the same beautiful but strange lady bursts into his car seemingly involved in a hallucination. She is taken away by her landlord who then locks her in her room. Though she is dirty and depraved of nutrition, she is continually injected with drugs to keep her sedated and confused. Nick discusses the incident with his doctor friend Tom.

Eventually, all the characters meet each other through one way or another, which stinks of luckiness and coincidence, which, again follows in the footsteps of The Wrong End of Time. It's an unbelievable unfolding of coincidence and the follow through of poor choices borders on agonizing. I was nearly yelling at the Nick 'Go to the police!' and 'Stop drawing grand conclusions to specific degrees!' and yelling to Brunner 'Get on with it!' So, yea, it's bit torturous to say the least. It reads like a run-of-the-mill police mystery/heroic savior type of fiction... but then (there's always a 'but then!' in these types of pulp novels) there's a science fiction twist at the last third when it's revealed the planet Earth is in danger. This screams of B-grade sci-fi film quality! It's pathetic for a Brunner novel.

An almost redeemable aspect of Give Warning to the World is the fifteen pages (10% of the novel) where we learn the entire history of the aliens at hand by the monologue of one character (I hate when this happens). The invention of the alien Yem by Brunner is pretty enticing but the novel's plot just has a terrible flow. I really wish he could have re-written the Yem into a more astute novel. Period.

I knew it was gonna be a stinker, but as a Brunner completest I HAD to read it. Now that I'm down with it, it will go the same way as The Wrong of Time- to the dusty shelves of the second-hand book store where many curious souls will eventually lay eyes on the cover and slip it right back onto the shelf. The cover is warning enough to the world to stay clear of the contents within.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

2012: Blue Remembered Earth (Reynolds, Alastair)

Optimistic tale of humanity's collective potential (4/5)

Reynolds has always set himself apart from other science fiction authors by widening the scope of the plot to the nth degree, by infusing the setting with richness and depth, and by marbling all of this with awe-inducing science and technology. Akin to Revelation Space and House of Suns, Blue Remembered Earth proves he still has the gift for exhibiting unique ideas, penning an intriguing story, and capturing the imagination of the reader. It's not his best work, but it's definitely the great beginning to a surely great series.

At the end of the year 2161, after sixty years of solitude orbiting the moon, the empress to a solar system-wide company passes away. Her genetic legacy includes one pair of grandchildren, Geoffrey, who studies elephants on the African plains, and Sunday, who pursues sculpture in the Descrutinized Zone on the moon, away from the patrolling omniscient eye of the Mechanism. Controlling the interests in the family company are their cousins Hector and Lucas, who have a frosty relationship with Geoffry and Sunday. Once into 2162, the cousins bribe Geoff into traveling to the moon in order to recover the contents of a safe-deposit box once belonging to their wealthy and reclusive grandmother, Eunice. With agreement not to meet his sister when he's on the moon, Geoff breaks this treaty by visiting her enclave in order to unravel the mystery behind the contents of the box: a antique spacesuit glove which holds yet another mystery... colored gems.

Earth in the year 2162, as stylized by Reynolds, is one of African prosperity born from decline of the unmentioned Western nations and where humanity is recovering from the symptoms of a century of global warming. Pages 148-149 outline a post-warming earth, where sea levels had risen and were combated with seawalls, where the Sahara had extended its arid grip upon the continent, where depopulation had been enforced, where where humanity now derives its energy from deep-penetration geothermal tap and solar arrays spanning the globe, efficient transmission accomplished by superconducting cables. Once ill-weather regions of the earth now harvest grapes and produce fine wines, such as Patagonia, Iceland, and Mongolia. In contrast to this great human revival to calamity, there has been an unheard of decline in crime because of the nearly worldwide Mechanism, which uses algorithms to predict human behavior... each person with an augmentation connected to this incorruptible sentinel:

"Murder isn't impossible, even in 2162... Because the Mechanism wasn't infallible, and even this tirelessly engineered god couldn't be in all places at once. The Mandatory Enhancements were supposed to weed out the worst criminal tendencies from developing minds... it was inevitable that someone... would slip through the mesh." (278)

The plot has a feel similar to Chasm City and The Prefect, where a mystery is unraveled step-by-step in order to find the nexus of "what it all means." Jumping from the shadows of Kilimanjaro, to the lunar cityscapes, to the underwater expanse of the Panspermian Initiative, to the still inhospitable Martian atmosphere, and beyond... the scope of action on these and other settings is enough to please any space opera fan. Chuck in a few wholesome bits of orbital technology, mind transference technology, and a few spaceships - bam, what more could a hard sci-fi fan long for?

Plot aside, there is a core of characters which is tightly woven, numbering around six. It's easy to keep track of the ongoings, but when you start to toss in some far-flung family lineage, some transient personages, some representatives of human sects, and some semi-sentient corporal golem figures... you may need to keep a list if you're going to take more than three days to read this tome. A tome it may be, but it's not without its peppering of poetic prose:

"It was mid-afternoon and cloudless, the sky preposterously blue and infinite, as if it reached all the way to Andromeda rather than being confined within the indigo cusp he had seen from space." (154-155)

Nor it is without its share of humor, if you know your history of Mars in fiction: one character thinks the Martian city of Robinson is named after the novel Robinson Crusoe. The dialogue is less than airy at times, something Reynolds has been guilty of ever since Revelation Space. At times it's dry and recapitalizing. There's more swearing here than in his other novels, which is fine by my. Again, one more fault I found is a similar in fault to Chasm City: the unraveling is too convenient, the timing too auspicious, the clues too quickly understood, the backpedaling too awkward (i.e. the Phoboes Monolith).

It's not as preciously crafty as The Prefect or as expansive as Redemption Ark (my favorite Revelation Space novel), but Reynold's doesn't disappoint with Blue Remembered Earth- an optimistic tale of humanity's collective potential on the earth we live and on the orbiting bodies we will settle, develop, and prosper upon.

2011: The Departure (Asher, Neal)

Body count trumps page count (2/5)
From September 20, 2011

I've read nearly everything in the Asher catalog from the blazing guns and gore of The Skinner (along with the proceeding Voyage and Orbus), the shoot'em up fiesta of Gridlinked and (along with the proceeding four Cormac novels) and the razzle-dazzle action of Prador Moon (and the other Polity novels and stories) - all totally twelve books. The Departure is my unlucky thirteenth book by Asher. This is NOT a prequel to the Polity universe but it does share some of the same technology.

Asher does one thing and he does it well - action. He's done it again and again and again and again. He's become a one-trick pony IMHO. It's the ONLY thing he does now: guns and guts in space, guns and guts on Spatterjay, guns and guts in orbitals, guns and guts everywhere else. The Departure is everything BUT that... now we guns and guts on EARTH! How's that for a change!

After the year 2120 there are 18 billions people on the earth, thousands more in orbit and 163 colonists on Mars. The formation of an authoritative world government has the people's freedom suppressed, the appetites unsated and their anger piqued. Using 90% of the planet's revenue simply to maintain the global dictatorship, the availability of food, power, water and even space is severely limited, except for those who hold the seats of power or are deemed to be a Societal Asset. Everyone else is declared as "Zero Asset" and are largely ignored, gunned down, gassed or trampled by mobs, looters or stampedes.

The Departure has a fantastic beginning. The first hundred pages felt like Asher was going in a new direction, something along the dystopia lines of mystery/noir akin to Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon): a lone man (Alan Saul) infiltrates government compounds, assuming the identities of VIPs, murdering key staff and uncovering secrets all the while attempting to become closer to his one-time torturer- Smith. With his memory largely destroyed by the torture process, his escape remains a mystery to him but some things slowly come to light as his equally as mysterious internal AI outlines his life before and after the escape two years prior. Occasionally shifting scene to Mars, a rebel uncovers a message from Earth announcing that no Mars missions will be made to relieve the staff and they must live on their own for the next 20 years, even though a 5-year expectation would have slim chances of survival. Marshalling forces, colonists and scientist Var launches attacks on the Earth-sanctioned government and their lackeys.

Eventually, the original plot lapses into all too familiar territory as the body count begins to escalate, the weapons become more profuse through the pages and the string of coincidences becomes a tad bit too ridiculous. If you thought the gridlinked Cormac had number-crunching power to hack systems, just WAIT to you read all the fanciful things Alan Saul can do. If you thought the offal peeling off the walls in Orbus was gory, just you WAIT for all the zero-gravity brain splatters, oozing shotgun-created orifices, decapitating headshots... the list seems to never end, ad nauseum. Throw in a cast of one-dimensional characters and *poof* you have yourself the most over-the-top Asher novel ever produced! The extent of characterization of Alan Saul can be summed up in one or two lines: he was a genius, he had a girlfriend, he has a sisters and now his hobbies include dismemberment, impaling and vindictiveness.

It's all WAY over the top. Nearly every page features a gun of some sort or a corpse (usually the prior resulting in the latter). The most notable scenes include shooting a woman point-blank in the face and bowel-releasing corpses lining the space station. By Saul's hand alone, the body count must reach something along the lines of 500. Add in the rest of the bodies which seems to explode, decompose, fester, whither or ignite in his presence, then the total is scores of millions. Over the top? Oh, quite so!

The radical future earth is kind of interesting but is largely overshadowed by the continual killings. I mean, I expect that sort of thing from an Asher novel but it seems like he's not going to grow as an author and produce anything intellectually substantial, like spin-the-wheel-and-choose any Iain Banks novel. The dystopia in the 498 pages just doesn't engage the reader the least bit- it's just a maniacal killing spree on par with a Rambo movie. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

1967: Garbage World (Platt, Charles)

Superb setting fizzles with steamless plot (3/5)

Charles Platt has written a smattering of novels and short stories from the 60s to the 80s; none of which have been out-right successes, save for a handful of 1970s Prometheus award nominations and a John W. Campbell award nomination. I've only read one other novel by Charles Platt: The City Dwellers back in March, 2010. His writing in that novel never struck me as memorable and only tidbits of flashbacks about the plots reoccur to me. Because of the author's elusive span of work, I was interested in one of the more popular items in his bibliography: the rather generically titled Garbage World.

Rear cover synopsis:
"Life on the small asteroid Kopra, the dumping ground whose sole function was to receive specially packaged waste material from surrounding pleasure worlds, was harsh and dirty. Carefully avoided by Off-Worlders for centuries, Kopra and its rough and ready, filth encrusted inhabitants suddenly became the object of extraordinary interest to officials from the United Asteroid Belt Pleasure World Federation [UABPWF]. What happens when the two opposing cultures meet; the super-sanitary citizens of the Pleasure World and the filthy underfed villagers makes an adventure as exciting as it is bizarre."

Oliver Roach is an Observer and Recorder of Data under the direction of a pompous Minister from UABPWF (Zone 2). Oliver's mission is to simply assist the minister in disseminating information about the planned temporary evacuation of the planet for ten days, as the gravity generator keeping the planetoid together is in need of replacement. The once modestly-sized asteroid 100 year ago has since become a dumping ground for garbage from the entire Federation. Now, the asteroid is piled 10-miles deep of ecru sludge, jagged protuberances, and radioactive debris. Once the temporary evacuation is complete, the Koprans can return to their malnourished, alluvial, squalid but still quite happy existence.

Oliver works for Minister Larkin, whose "pride is too great and his mind is too inflexible" (121) yet must span the bridge between the opposing cultures. His unwillingness to adapt to the crude local ways is countermanded by the impudent mannerisms of the local headman, Isaac Gaylord. Once superficially soiled, Oliver allows the dankness to penetrate his thinking, too. With the assistance of a mud-covered love interest, Juliette Gaylord, Oliver becomes accustomed to the filth which surrounds him and joins the Gaylords on a mission to contact the nomads on the asteroid for evacuation. Oliver soon learns that the mission could have been a fateful one because of the minister's ulterior motives for the planetoid's fate.

I found the civilization living on the garbage planet of Kopra to be most interesting. They are scavengers by 100-year nature, living off the, sometimes perfectly good, unwanted items of so-called more civilized planets (draw comparisons here with Western mass consumption). When the fanciful Pleasure Federation drops in and says, "Hello, we need to change your planet. Get off it!" then the garbage inhabitants get a bit upset. Eve though they've regressed to "the drinking, the dirt, the dancing and the debauchery" (33) they still have some positive qualities about them: family, utility, and pragmatism.

The planetoid of Kopra requires a sense of suspended belief, where rain is "thick and viscous, a sickly yellow-brown color. Particles of dirt float inside the amber liquid. It trickles slowly over his skin like foul-smelling syrup." (81-82) The gravity is only 0.75 earth standard and the sheer amount of rubbish which lays in a 10-mile deep strata is impressive. Yet still, the humans adapt and live off the land, scavenge for food scrapes, amass sentimental hordes of junk, brew moonshine, and generally get on with gettin' on. It's wholly admirable, in a rather hygienically decadent way.

Much like the forgetful prose found (or not found) in The City Dwellers, the drive behind the plot is non-existent. It sadly plods along amidst a great setting with semi-likable characters but it never gains much steam; I'd hardly call is exciting like the synopsis mentions. Even the so-called climax of the plot is more of a mild ascent to a temperate plateau followed by a lethargic waving of pyrotechnic sparklers.

If there's one more Platt book to keep an eye out for, it'll be his 1991 John W. Campbell award nominated book The Silicon Man... but everything else by Charles Platt seems to be as mediocre as the two novels I've read. Little hope for anything spectacular to come out of Platt, but if my 120+ book collection ever becomes in need of replenishment, I may look his way once again.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

1978: Vertigo (Shaw, Bob)

Induces empathy and predictability (3/5)

This is only my second Bob Shaw novel (the first being Ground Zero Man) but I can already draw parallels between the two, and hopefully extend this assumption with his other works. Ground Zero Man was special for its empathetic characterization of mathematician Hutchman and his coping with the knowledge that could save or destroy the world. The general outline may seem hokey but Bob Shaw's gift for characterization carries the reader through the novel. This is exactly the same case for Vertigo: a turmoiled man is empathetically characterized and he must confront his demons to save the day.

Rear cover synopsis:
"Rob Hasson was an Air Patrolman, one of the best, until the day someone jumped him in mid-air and sent him hurtling into a fall that should have killed him. Now his mind, still tormented by memories of the shrieking air and rushing ground, protects his patched-together body by refusing to let him fly again. And what use to anyone is an Air Patrolman who's afraid to fly? Rob Hasson thinks he's a coward. No one could have foreseen the chain of events that would prove him wrong."

In a world where flying with CG belts (counter-gravity devices) is the norm for personal transportation, once Air Patrolman Rob Hasson must bear the burden of not being able to become airborne again due to his healing spine. Expected to testify a trail concerning his plummet to earth, Rob enters a witness protection program and subsumes the alias of Rob Haldane, a fictional cousin to a Canadian city reeve in Tripletree, Alberta. Once in Canada, Rob experiences the small town life with its small town characters and its general contrasts with the life he is use to in England. His host, Al Werry, is also a mentally shattered man who believes he lacks human emotions and surrounds himself with a narcissistic girlfriend, her crabby mother, a blind son from his prior marriage, and his mafioso so-called friends.

While convalescing, Rob's mental ailments manifest themselves in physical weaknesses: back spasms, ulcers, and acute anorexia. His shyness for being in the social limelight has him secluding himself in his bedroom, avoiding petty dialogue, and being submissive to the oppressive personalities. A chance encounter with a Chinese herbal store clerk puts Rob on the correct path for recuperation, with a daily diet of yeast powder and ginseng. The physical regeneration of his ailments bolsters healing for his low self-esteem, too. When Rob finds his true self, changes can then be made in the psyche of Al Werry and his crumbling family life.

The above summery highlights Shaw's skill at characterization in Vertigo. Nearly every factor found in the plot builds upon the personalities of either Werry or Hasson. When you understand their situations, you understand the men and their actions. The turmoiled Hasson is a character to root for when you see his hermetic isolation rear its head: "It was much better to lie curled up in a womb-cave of eider and to submerge his mind in the dreaming of other men's dreams." (128) Then there's Weery's self hate reflected in his speech: "I don't really exist. I go around in my uniform most of the time because when I;m wearing it, I can convince myself I'm the city reeve. I haven't even got a sense of humor... I don't know what's funny and what isn't. (125-126)

The progressively predictable plot is secondary to the importance of building up the two men's characterization. In the town of Tripletree there is a 400-meter tall derelict hotel, named Chinook, owned by the mafioso friend of Werry. Teenagers from all around like to squat in the hotel, take empathetic-inducing drugs, and perform illegal aerial maneuvers in the sky above the city. The plot is brought back to the Chinook hotel again and again, which foreshadows some disaster which ONLY Rob Hasson can attend you (you can bet on that). The predictability of the novel is a let down, but Bob Shaw's determination to not make everything so flowery is a good off-set. There are some tense scenes between Hasson and Werry's girlfriend and mother, Hasson and the blind son, and Hasson and the mafioso. Neither does Shaw shy away from asides of humor or snippets of death.

If you're looking for a snazzy plot, this here ain't no rodeo, son. But if you like to delve into the lives and minds of a few self-hating, downtrodden men, then this would be the Louve of Loathing. Shaw definitely had a knack for kneading the souls of weary men into empathetic characters. With Shaw's Orbitsville, One Million Tomorrows, and Fire Pattern still on my shelves, I'm eager to experience the written work of Shaw again.

1971: Ground Zero Man (Shaw, Bob)

One man as fulcrum between human survival or nuclear destruction (4/5)
From September 1, 2011

Ground Zero Man (alternatively titled The Peace Machine) comes from a long lineage of fiction revolving around the fear of nuclear destruction, Purple-6 (1962) and Level 7 (1959) to name just two. Ground Zero, however, takes a different spin on the same issue- yes, the fear of nuclear destruction is real... but what is you had the power to force disarmament or detention? Hutchman, our protagonist, holds that power.

A humble mathematician for a missile development company, Hutchman proverbially stumbles upon an equation which causes the excitation of neutrons in nuclear devices, which he calls "making the neutrons dance to a new tune." With this dangerous knowledge, our sheepish scientist begins to construct his device amid concerns from his employer and especially his irrationally jealous wife. Squandering his fortune on the device and his time from work, Hutchman soon sees himself as the fulcrum of a massive seesaw bent on survival or destruction. With diagrammed letters being sent out people of influence, the stage has already been set. If he can stay alive till noon on November tenth, his one decision will change the fate of mankind.

Guffaw you may at the near absurdity of the general plot, the reader can identify and empathize with the twists of fate Hutchman is dealt (his work, his wife, the police, etc). With the best intentions at heart, the ignorant world doesn't seem to understand his undying passion for justice. His plea for the disarmament of the devices is seemingly the only option besides the detention of the same devices -- an assured destruction for every country with nuclear weapons.

Shaw has a gift for language at times, which makes the reading a sheer pleasure: "...he looked downwards through angular petals of glass." (Corgi edition, page 75) or "water droplets crawled along the side-windows like frantic amoebae." (Corgi edition, page 56). His flare for the description of the minute is in contrast to his detail for some greater plot details. This is the main reason for the book being 4-stars rather than 5-stars; some events in the plot are too abrupt, jerky, hastily through in. There are a few spy elements which rise with a fortissimo but only to disappear like the tidal ebb. Red herrings to mislead the reader? It would take an additional 40 pages to the 160-page novel to dull the acuteness of the occasional sforzando.

It's my first Bob Shaw novel so perhaps this kind of thing his "his thing." He's definitely shown his skills in Ground Zero and his other novels may be of interest to me (Ragged Astronauts and The Ceres Solution among them).

Monday, January 16, 2012

2008: Pump Six (Bacigalupi, Paolo)

Florid eeriness compounds dark details (5/5)

I've previously read Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl and was pretty floored by the amount of setting detail. Bacigalupi carries on with this talent in his short stories, where detail is inlaid into every story: detail about a characters meticulous action, the refinements of a futuristic city, or the superfluous catalog numbers found in an instruction manual. Compound this talent for detail with the eeriness of his dark visions and you'll find that this collection has a different feeling to it that other collection out there... Pump Six is even darker than the apocalyptic collection in Wastelands. Full marks for this collection! I hope to see more fiction being produced about the ever-so diverse city of Bangkok!

Pocketful of Dharma (1999) - 4/5 - Beggar Boy in Chengdu, China steals a pair of expensive specs from a dead man and is given a blue data cube by the killers so he can deliver it. Thinking the cube has value, the takes it to the same shady buyer who is just as interested as the beggar as to what the data cube holds and why people are willing to kill for it. 24 pages

The Fluted Girl (2003) - 3/5 - The fragile figure of a servant stows herself above the manor's pantry, keeping away from the fief and her up-coming dinner party, where she and her sister will be the artistic spectacle. With her male friend Steven already being served as sweetmeats, will she use Steven's last gift as an escape from her indentured life? 23 pages

The People of Sand and Slag (2004) - 5/5 - Heavily modified truly omnivorous humans in an animal-less world discover a dog amidst their chemical wasteland and adopt it as their own after debating on whether or not to just eat the nuisance. 19 pages

The Pasho (2004) - 4/5 - A cross-cultural monk on his hometown retreat clashes with his grassroots grandfather of Jai heritage. Having received his monastic training in Kali, the religious/cultural/geographic neighbor, his grandfather resents his son's customs, his family partaking in Kali traditions, and the village slowly becoming more Kali-like. 24 pages

The Calorie Man (2005) - 3/5 - An Indian migrant ekes out a living upon the Mississippi river, just south of the fertile lands where the mega-corporations hold a monopoly on patented strains of grain which feed the world. A mission to retrieve a genehacker is undertaken in order to escape the tragic calorie/joule cycle. 29 pages

The Tamarisk Hunter (2006) - 4/5 - Lolo uproots water-absorbing plants on a per-plant basis for the Californian government but his secret is that he plants the same trees he uproots. Despite the water stipend, he thinks his subterfuge has gone unnoticed until some Guardis show up at his camp. 13 pages

Pop Squad (2006) - 5/5 - Cop shoots three kids point blank in the face and is left with the lingering reminder of a stuffed dinosaur, which he sues to track down the "collectibles" store. Being 150 years old with rejuvenation, I guess the process doesn't make the heart any softer but it does harden one's logic circuits. 25 pages

Yellow Card Man (2006) - 5/5 - Tranh was once a corporate fatcat but has since been dethroned and nows merely survives on the streets of Bangkok, where work and food are hard to come by. When confronted by the riches and gluttony of a man once under him employment, Tranh uses the loathing as a stepping stone to recapturing success. 33 pages

Softer (2007) - 5/5 - Johnathon is experiencing a certain euphoria in finally knowing that he has found freedom in knowing how his future will unfold. Unfortunately, this future doesn't include his wife Pia, who he just asphyxiated with a pillow and nows bathes with her in the bubble bath. 12 pages

Pump Six (2008) - 4/5 - The literate sewer technician is being awoken by his idiotic partner who says that the pumps are failing. They discover that the pumps are over a century old, that the maintenance logs have been ignored, and that the manufacturer has ceased to exist. Amid fornicating "trogs" and frolicking students, Max goes to the university in search of a real engineer. 31 pages

2008: Wastelands (Adams, John Joseph [editor])

How social creatures deal with the loss of society... and gasoline (3/5)
From March 7, 2011

A collection of apocalyptic stories this is not, rather it is a collection of post-apocalyptic stories during a time when this is all the rage among readers of fiction, (thank you very much Cormac McCarthy). As a science fiction reader, I have read a number of post-apocalyptic novels in my time (Ballard's The Drought, Stewart's Earth Abides, Wyndham's Day of the Triffids, Frank's Alas Babylon and hearty handful of others). So, the material is nothing new to me but I haven't been exposed to the short story side of the sub-genre. Much like all other collections about plot specific stories, the stories are hit and miss.

If the reader is looking for entertaining ways in which humans will perish from the planet, this really isn't it. If the reader is looking for ways in which humans cope with the aftermath of mass tragedy, this book really isn't all that either. But like a good collection of stories, it DOES have the entertaining bits, the humanistic bits and also the humor of human folly.

The End of the Whole Mess (Stephen King-1986) - 5/5 - Elder brother to a genius writes his parting words before he succumbs to the disease unknowingly beset by his brother with only the best intention at heart: to save the world. 19 pages

Salvage (Orson Scott Card-1986) - 3/5 - Mormons assist a salvager in probing the temple for the legendary promise of golden riches, as the salvager was told by other reliable truckers along the highway stretch. 15 pages

The People of Sand and Slag (Paola Bacigalupi-2004)- 5/5 - Heavily modified truly omnivorous humans in an animal-less world discover a dog amidst their chemical wasteland and adopt it as their own after debating on whether or not to just eat the nuisance. 15 pages

Bread and Bombs (M. Rickert-2003) - 3/5 - Neurotic post-trauma small town is leery of the immigrant neighbors with their goat cart with bells but the local children see an invitation for learning the truth, albeit at the expense of their parents' worrisome hearts and conniving minds. 11 pages

How He Got in Town and Out Again (Jonathan Lethern-1996) - 3/5 - A transient and his galfriend stumble upon and agree to enter in the trader's dealing, whose only service for sale is a city-wide tournament of will and endurance for thirty-two contestants who experience cyberspace, with its promises of fulfillment and its lure of alternate realities. 19 pages

Dark, Dark Were the Tunnels (George R.R. Martin-1973) - 4/5 - A mutant subterranean human scouts the upper levels of the earth for secret passages while a excavation crew from Luna open a cave and find intriguing hints of an underground civilization, but when the two groups meet each others physical limitations, words have no meaning. 13 pages

Waiting for the Zephyr (Tobias L. Buckell-1999) - 2/5 - Girl wants to leave the family wind farm for the hope for a better life aboard the ship of the traveling traders... the end. 5 pages

Never Despair (Jack McDevitt-1997) - 4/5 - A duo of explorers traversing eastern America lose a fellow traveler and debate as to whether to return home or trek on when one of them is approached by a historic apparition in a derelict amphitheater, but to each of the dialoguers is a history of incomprehensibility. 9 pages

When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth (Cory Doctorow-2006) - 4/5 - The keepers of internet equipment outside of Toronto are hermetically sealed when bio-terror strikes the globe and the group strive to keep the net alive, form a cyber-government and come to terms with having to breach the seal and meet their fate on the earth. 31 pages

The Last of the O-Forms (James Van Pelt-2002) - 3/5 - A post-global-bio-agent attack freak show conductor and his babyish 12-year old financer daughter stop in a town where the Mississippi holds a troublesome brew of its own. 11 pages

Still Life with Apocalypse (Richard Kadrey-2002) - 4/5 - Menagerie of images from the dreamscape of the author: `The sky is mostly a swirling soup of ash... the government wants us to help gather up the remaining body parts... a dissatisfied citizen had gutted an auditor... they're dragging another horse from the canal.'3 pages

Artie's Angels (Catherine Wells-2001) - 4/5 - Teen-aged academic achiever is the leader and hero of a ghetto in a secluded bubble in Kansas, where the rich lead their lives to escape the Earth and the poor merely hope to live through the day. 11 pages

Judgment Passed (Jerry Oltion-2008) - 4/5 - After twelve years on a space mission to visit another planet, the crew arrive back on Earth to read in the newspapers that second coming of Jesus and the great Judgement was held four years ago, with no one left on the face of the planet, which is mixed bag of blessings for the crew. 19 pages

Mute (Gene Wolfe-2002) - 3/5 - Siblings take a bus to their father's house, only to find his TV on mute and his corpse in the basement... and kind of find themselves in a closed universe. 9 pages

Inertia (Nancy Kress-1990) - 3/5 - Communicable disease colony houses three generations of victims, the oldest of which is being interviewed by a doctor from Outside who is untouchable to the disease and also needs a promise from the younger victims to help the rest of the world bent of destruction. 21 pages

And the Deep Blue Sea (Elizabeth Bear-2005) - 3/5 - Very reminiscent of Damnation Alley, a messenger must across a radioactively hot zone to deliver a medical parcel but is met midway by her debtor who tempts her to forget her mission in order to cancel her debt. 15 pages

Speech Sounds (Octavia Butler-1983) - 3/5 - The mental center for language formation and language understanding have been destroyed by a plague, but some aspects of everyday life still manage albeit with difficulty, frustration and confusion. 11 pages

Killers - (Carol Emshwiller-2006) - 2/5 - America is at war at her home turf and one village is only left with four men and where the women get on with getting' on except for someone, possibly the protagonists brother or perhaps not, is on a murder spree. 9 pages

Ginny Sweethips' Flying Circus (Neal Barrett, Jr.-1988) - 3/5 - An attempt at a humorous post-apocalyptic situation but really just a silly mix of silliness along the lines of `a taco and sex circus troupe take their wares to a village, keep their profit of gasoline and get a repair at the next town over but fail to adhere to the repairman's advice and find themselves at the mercy of underwriters. 15 pages

The End of the World as We Know It (Dale Bailey-2004) - 5/5 - The one-in-the-same narrator and character has a knowledge of all the apocalyptic novels and avoids setting himself in-line with the cliché, misses his wife, likes a good gin and tonic, enjoys the country home he's squatting in and reflects upon all of our personal apocalypses. 13 pages

A Song Before Sunset (David Grigg-1976) - 4/5 - Ex-pianist and now scavenger rediscovers his love for music as he searches out his old grand piano in the abandoned theater and later hears about an attack on houses of art by vandals but remains diligent as he tunes his piano for a grand return to the art. 9 pages

Episode Seven (John Langan-2007) - 4/5 - A detailed account of two survivors of a pollen invasion/monster attack/deadly virus who, by night lead a normal life and sleeping and standing guard and by day they battle against the baddies in an epic struggle between good and evil. 21 pages

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

1967: The Mind Parasites (Wilson, Colin)

Intellectual manifesto in sci-fi disguise (3/5)

Colin Wilson is largely a non-fiction writer, penning books about mysticism, philosophy, and crime. Some elements of the uninspired, dry academic-type, non-fiction writing finds itself in the science fiction piece, The Mind Parasites. The sheer amount of pseudo-science, wild logic ending at wild conclusions, and very dated science makes some of the book hard to read. The reader has to suspend not only belief, but also suspend knowledge that Wilson wrote this book on reflection of his own believes on the matter... so it's a fictional book enshrouded by Wilson's pedantic tenacity.

Rear cover synopsis (Bantam, 1968):
"Power... that took one man to track its direction from the signs left by history... that has enslaved mankind from the beginning... that holds humanity from its birthright of total consciousness... that keeps each of us penned in a private prison of fear... that demands our extinction rather than surrender. What human dares defy the terrible power of The Mind Parasites."

Gilbert Austin is on-site at an excavation of some ruins which lay buried two miles under the Turkish soil. Prior to this, his fellow intellectual friend Karel had committed an unsuspecting suicide and left a seemingly rambling document about aliens plaguing the minds of humankind. Austin begins to find a truth in this and senses the malevolent forces of the mind-dwelling aliens himself. He then confides in another archaeologist/historian, Reich, who also experiences the demons in the depth. Together, they combine psycho-kinetic forces to battle with the beings while recruiting only the most intelligent, open-minded people on earth to train. Steadily amounting to nearly thirty people, who have trained to descend into their cerebral nebula, the Mind Parasites attack the weakest of the newly trained and kill them off one by one. It becomes obvious to Austin and Reich that an more subtle, reclusive, and thoughtful approach to the defeat of the Mind Parasites must be taken.

It's an excellent premise which is bolstered by the unique format of having no chapters at all in the 181 pages of the nearly pure narrative. The first ten pages is a solid transcription of a fictional tape recorded by the same Gilbert Austin and the remaining 170 pages are supplements from his autobiographical notes. This sort of "found footage" documentation in a novel is an interesting way to present a story, but it's typically laden with idiosyncratic spieling and impertinent details... much as the case of the first sixth of this novel: it's a pompously narrative, lengthy history of Egyptian, Hittian, Mayan, and Greek civilizations.

Beyond this first sixth, lays the remaining five-sixths, which is rich (in one sense) with detail, speculation, and extrapolation. As mentioned above, this novel is infused with Wilson's own speculation upon why mankind has morally declined and artistically failed since the year 1780 (when the Mind Parasites first clutched at humanity's collective cranium). It's nearly a diatribe because Wilson seems to be scolding humanity for being lazy minded, as if Wilson sees himself as an intellectual elite (this is further confirmed towards the end of the novel when it seems like Wilson is aiming for his "superiorly intellectual characters to government the world in a sort of technocracy). And it's also nearly a manifesto, although not political, calling on people to "awaken" to their internal senses.

Gilbert Wilson, amid the rambling passages and more-than-I-care-for details, actually does has a gift for constructing sentences which are imbued with his sense of greatness he's trying to write about: "The body is a mere wall between two infinities. Space extends to infinity outwards; the mind stretches to infinity inwards." (38) Some passages read like meditative epiphanies, others like quantitative analysis. Keep in mind that The Mind Parasites is a science fiction novel by a non-fiction author... whereby I whinge.

By 1967, a large collection of excellent science fiction had already existed (Brunner, van Vogt, James White, Alidss, and Anderson among my favorites); The Mind Parasite had to compete with other 1967 sci-fi novels including John Brunner's Born under Mars, Brian Alidss' Cryptozoic!, and Kenneth Bulmer's Behold the Stars. While the speculation in The Mind Parasites was the main draw, the speculative science portions of the book are irksome: rocket plane, neutron dater, electro-comparison machine, moon rocket, and cosmic ray gun. Then there are the words which must have been inspired by Asmimov's atomic-heavy Foundation: atomic blaster, atom gun, atomic missile, atomic war, and atomic pistol (no peaceful uses of the atomic washing machine are to be found).

There are scientific errors abound regrading the moon, Venus, and Mercury but the trespasses are forgivable given the publication date. If you suspend your knowledge of science and stomach a hearty portion of an author's diatribe/manifesto in a science fiction context, then you'll find The Mind Parasites to be a unique read. As for more fictional Colin Wilson novels, I'll be taking my chances with other authors lining my bookshelves. The Mind Parasites is a keeper, but with much reservation about reading it again any time soon.

1982: Gemini Rising (Filbrun, J.S.)

"Found footage" review of an underground disaster (3/5)
From May 3, 2011

The single edition of the single novel produced by the author J.S. Filbrun... it was destined to become lost among the bookshelves, forgotten about mere weeks after printing, perhaps best used to prop up a slightly lean-to table or to keep a pesky door ajar. I was suckered into buying it for one dollar as the rear cover synopsis was pretty good:

"THE TIME: Tomorrow. THE PLACE: Project Gemini, a top-secret, ultra-sophisticated scientific base a thousand feet below the Texas earth. THE MENACE: An unknown terror rampaging through Gemini, blasting a path of destruction through level after level of computers and crew. THE THREAT: In four hours, unless a daring man-and-woman team of counter-saboteurs can stem the tide of death, Project Gemini will self-destruct, [underlined] and the whole Earth will perish..."

Sounds pretty epic, eh? Though the 179 pages did imbue a rather mundane suspense, it failed to really grab my attention as it started off entirely on the wrong foot. Page one contains a rather overdone eleven-line quote from the Book of Revelations, proceeded by two pages of factual material about the underground base and the next nineteen pages contain one grisly death, two forceful sex scenes and one boob grope.

Thereafter, all which was semi-calm in the underground base comes to a halt as an explosion rocks the ground level, electrify goes on the fritz, communications are non-existent and some heinous facts come to light about the secret project 1,196 feet below the Texas earth. A team of six people back their way to the sub-basement in order to deactivate a binary bomb which threatens to destroy the base in six hours, twenty-seven minutes and four point seven seconds. For a super-classified, super-secure and super-sophisticated base like this, there seems to be an awful lot of air ducts which render the base as porous as a sponge. Predictably, like a bad thrasher film, the team gets knocked off one-by-one in one grisly manner or another. Admittedly, it was a nice change of pace to see something unfold so predictably.

As bad as the beginning was, it was a bittersweet delight to reach the conclusion just two hours after starting the book. You could just throw your brain away when reading this one. The suspense that occurs in the plot is tamed by the reader's knowledge that the heroes comprise of a frail-bodied man and a busty vixen. Picturing the two against the shadowy threat lurking in the darkened corridors put a smile on my face rather than an ounce of adrenaline in my veins. Suspenseful? Hmph.

The one redeeming quality of this book was the computer BRUCE, which had a witty intelligence when conversing with the short-tempered human operators. It didn't play a important role in the end, or even in the middle, but it was a nice addition of comic relief when, otherwise, the book would've been a total stinker. Edit Another redeeming factor, which actually made me put it back onto my bookshelf, was that the book was written in a sort of "found footage" montage where a computer was reconstructing through it's sensors' data what took place. Interesting.

I would recommend buying this novel in a second-hand bookstore if you can find the correct spare change in the lend-a-penny jar... or if you just really love a cheap, cheesy one-off pseudo-suspense novel... or the unique "found footage" aspect of the book, which makes it a keeper.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

1976: Parric 1 - The Shadow of Alpha (Grant, Charles L.)

Holes in synopsis, gaps in the plot (3/5)
From October 20, 2011

Rear cover synopsis:
"Introducing Parric: an ordinary civil servant being ground up in a mill of paperwork, who is given a chance to work on an experimental government project- to live secretly in a town entirely populated by androids- who very existence, if it were known, would disrupt society- something the repressive society does not want.

But Parric is happy in his secret village, protected by a force-field from outsiders, in contact with only a few others in similar positions in other secret villages. Protected, until war breaks out and civilization outside calls in the horrifying Plaguewind. Then the experimental androids, affected by the plague in strange ways (when the silliest quote occurs, "Do you have any trouble with singing androids?"), become killers! Parric must escape his village, then trek across the desolated countryside, in danger from the surviving mobs of plague victims, to the control center of the secret android project, in an attempt to join other men in starting a new civilization."

This is a poorly executed synopsis is flawed in a number of ways. Firstly, it fails to mention exactly what Alpha is... it's a starship which Parric was once interested in joining but has since left on its voyage to the stars. Parric is oddly obsessed about the mission and continually refers to the possible fate of the starship, but no actual details about the starship are given. It's obvious that it's important to the main character, Parric, but how is the reader able to relate when Alpha is merely a word rather than a plot fixture?

Secondly, the synopsis fails to mention Parric's visitors to his secret village- a conversationally evasive journalist and her photographer. In the village proper when the plague hits the nation, the three of them dodge, at first, wacky androids who develop a taste for human death (exactly how or why- again, no details) and escape the village with their lives to head for some form of safe civilization.

Not only are there holes in the synopsis, but there are also gaps in the plot. The three of them witnessed the plague beginning to change the androids but they were unsure if they had contacted the same plague. Considering the tiny village size and the 100% infection of the functional androids, it should have been 100% obvious that they were indeed infected... yet they took the chance to escape and become exposed outside the force-field. Yes, the force-field...

The force-field is semi-permeable. It allows air to pass through but when a human enters it supposedly trips an alarm. Yet when rocks and stick and logs are tossed through the field, it takes a while before the alarm is tripped. If a human can pass, hence tripping the alarm, then it doesn't actually KEEP anyone out. It also allows bullets to pass through... so what exactly does the force-field keep out?

The Shadow of Alpha is quite a rather poor, yet strangely intriguing read and a shallow beginning to a possibly deep trilogy, where Ascension and Legion follow. I'm interested in how the Alpha starship fits into the scheme of things. Will Parric rebuilt society for the arrival of the crew? Will androids kill everyone? Will force-fields actually force anything from entering?

1977: Parric 2 - Ascension (Grant, Charles L.)

Lurks in the Shadow of "The Shadow of Alpha" (3/5)
From January 5, 2012

Ascension is the sequel to Grant's The Shadow of Alpha and takes place 58 years after Franklin Parric had escaped his dome, his job, and the Plaguewind which destroyed much of the world's population and turned nearly all androids into murderous machines. Ascension is the story of Franklin Parric's grandson Orion Parric, son of Dorin Parric and brother to Mathew Parric.

Rear cover synopsis:
"Dorrin [sic] Parric is dead, and his son Orion has sworn to avenge him. But first he must run a gauntlet of human assassins, blood-crazed androids and aging, paranoid dictators. Petty tyrants rule the few straggling settlements where mankind holds out against the darkness. Time and again Parric eludes the strange traps set for him by the forces of decay. But his luck is running out. At the end of the road is Philayork, a bewildering metropolis wracked by far and evil. Whatever had killed Orion Parric's father was also waiting for him in the ruins of earth's last great city."

The Shadow of Alpha set the stage of the apocalypse, where humans died by the millions and the human that did live were hunted down by the crazed androids, which the Plaguewind altered. The only sanctuaries left to humans were force-field reinforced domes and the remote enclaves of well-armed Hunters. Orion's father Dorin set upon a mission with William Dix (the same unaffected android friend of Franklin Parric) to visit the once grand city of Philayork to see what was left of humanity and its once miraculous technologies. However, Franklin was killed in mysterious circumstances and was carried back to Central by Dix. Orion has taken it upon himself to seek out the same city and murder the man who spilled his father's blood.

The synopsis is a tad extreme, highlighting the action sequences when in reality, the novel is written with an interest in exploring what has happened to the world outside the protective dome of Central. Grant writes of how nature has recovered from the Plaguewind and how humans must herd flocks of birds to their fields of grain in order to control the insects. He also explores the ruins of Philayork, where windows have been shattered, moving walkways have been torn up, stores of food have been ransacked, and heaps of clothing mark the place where people have died in situ. While his descriptions aren't as vivid as what my imagination has concocted for the year 2247 A.D., he gets the message across that the world has taken an ugly turn for the worse. While there aren't' many "human assassins" and
blood-crazed androids" found in the 220 pages, the action which does take place is often the duck-and-shoot kind of action... nothing worth mentioning.

Characterization was weak in the prior novel, but Grant seems to have taken in interest in developing his characters in Ascension. Orion is a bitter man, always on the edge of an angry outburst whose rage sometimes gets the bets of him: "The dispassionate manner of their conversation grated, an impersonal abrasive that made him want to grab for the nearest tree and yank it out by the roots." (25) He also has an internal sense of sarcasm which grates him into stinging internal dialogue: " supplications for libations for Parric's godlike intrusion. The voice was dead. Rising from a dead space." (21)

One problem with The Shadow of Alpha was that the spaceship Alpha was only ever mentioned in passing; no detail of the mission or the importance ever cropping up. Alpha became a symbol of hope for Franklin Parric, establishing within himself a need to resurrect humanity for the return of the crew of Alpha. Likewise, Orion Parric maintains Franklin's desire to rid humanity of its barbarous ways so that the crew of Alpha can return to a civilized society. While this symbol of hope continues, so does the absence of any explanation of what Alpha is or what it was sent out to do.

Ascension is an interesting contrast to The Shadow of Alpha but, like its predecessor, it may have set a pretty good scene but failed to really create a plot which ties in directly to the lumbering giant which is mentioned in both books- The Alpha. A series isn't really a series when sequences, characters, and objects are chronologically separated and nearly forgotten about. Book three of the series (according to ISFDB) is also the last... Legion. How will Grant organize his sequences, characters, and objects to culminate into a finale?

1979: Parric 3 - Legion (Grant, Charles L.)

Without immediacy, the series lurches ahead... or does it? (3/5)

The first two books in the Parric series, (1) The Shadow of Alpha and (2) Ascension, were fair reads taking place with fair characters but the entire setting felt entirely urbane. An apocalyptic PlagueWind kills most of mankind in 2189 and turns the androids into killing machines (sounds like a great scenario, a little hokey yet still a little interesting) but the sense of immediacy was never present, like the end of the world was very important because there was hope. That "hope" was taken in the form of a spaceship named Alpha, which set off for a mission to the star and has yet to return. Franklin Parric in 2189 saw the Alpha as a source of hope, Orion Parric, his grandson, also saw Alpha as a source of hope in 2247, and yet again with Orion's brother Mathew in 2257 - the Alpha has a very strong symbolic nature to the Parric family but, like the lack of immediacy of the setting, there's a lack of reason behind the emotional draw to the spaceborne craft.

The reader was introduced to Orion Parric in Ascension and Orion's brother, Mathew, was mentioned in passing. In Legion, Mathew Parric takes center stage. Rear cover synopsis:
"The village had been called Town Central, where people learned to live with androids, and androids learned to live like humans [reader can refer to Charles Grant's 1979 Nebula Award winning novelette "A Glow of Candles, a Unicorn's Eye "]. It had been an experiment to bolster a dying population, and it might have worked, given the chance. But there was the Plaguewind. And there was the Dying..."

Legion takes place 68 years after The Shadow of Alpha. Still, there are androids who roam the lands and attack humans with a thirst for blood, an agenda for dismemberment. Outside the force-fielded domes are Hunters, who live off the land as the did before the Plaguewind. Town Central is recruiting nearby villages into their collective so they cab begin to understand the dire need for androids, but the Hunters remain skeptical and stand juxtaposed with Central. The death of Mathew's family in a recruitment village years ago is largely blamed on a Hunter leader named Quilly, yet Mathew has become morose, lacking any motivation for revenge. Still, ContiGov decide to send Mathew and a team out into the wilderness to confront Quilly's anti-android agenda... or just have the bugger assassinated.

Alas, things are never as simple as they seem. Somehow messages are being relayed from Central to Quilly, no facts about the killings have ever been uncovered, and the personage of Quilly remains as mysterious as the whereabouts of Alpha. There is a spy amongst Mathew's crew; is it the dwarf, the giant, the ex-Huntress, the ever present android William Dix from the time of Franklin Parric, or female confidant Marla? Whichever way subterfuge leads the pack, the destination is... umm, destined for Philayork, where Orion Parric has remained all these years under the pipe dream of Alpha's triumphant return.

Charles Grant may disappoint with the immediacy of the plot, but he doesn't let the reader down with a smattering of randomly poetic passages describing the rich, yet richly unexplored surroundings: "Her laughter matched the breeze that tugged a their hair, the sleeves of their shirts loose and billowing." (23) and "There was a moon. A grass-spiked dune. A wind that blew fresh with the storm now gone." (163) and "The air helped. It was lightly chilled, nearly brittle, kept at bay the languid temptation that heat would have promised." (181)

Grant also breaths life into his one sympathetic character, Mathew, with these passages: "It was, he thought, much like a knife-walled maze that bled him as he solved it. But once solved... the exit by no means the last door or salvation." (167) and "And in sleeping, fought to dream; and in dreaming, remembered nothing. If there were demons, he ignored them; if there were solutions, he didn't recognize the. And if there were promises, he didn't hear them." (180)

The third novel of the Parric series ends on a rather nebulous note, much like its predecessor Ascension did. It's all rather open-ended with wide plot gap to fill since The Shadow of Alpha. Questions linger... Where the bugger is Alpha and when the bugger will it return? Will civilization be re-established by the ever-so altruistic Parric family? Will physical contact be made with anyone overseas or can no one pilot a boat anymore? These questions remain.

*Cue dramatic music and nefarious laughter* There ARE no more books in the series! *laughter turns maniacal* In the preface of Legion, Charles Grant outlines a further two novelettes and three novels involving the Parric family with mentions that they are "not yet written". Legion was published in 1979 and the author passed away in 2006 - no follow-ups to the Parric series was ever pursued. I find the matter of the eternally lost Alpha a far bit distressing... it's lost forever in the realm of literature, only to remain a figment of the author's imagination and the Parric's seemingly genetic memory of its former greatness.

(I have emailed Charles Grant's wife in hope of receiving manuscripts or plot outlines for the remaining books... but she is still going through the deceased author's office. Fingers crossed!)