Science Fiction Though the Decades

Thursday, December 24, 2015

1975: No Doors, No Windows (Ellison, Harlan)

Macho stories of suspense, but mostly machismo (3/5)

There are 173 pages of stories in this collection in addition to an indulgent and often straying 32-page introduction. Ten of these pages are scattered with comments about the involved stories, but like the remaining 22 pages in the introduction, the words course through the relevant and the irrelevant like a slalom skier between gates. Way too much digression to read through, so I had to skim and skip much of it… comments that also ring true for many of the introductions for the stories in Dangerous Visions.

What starts as a collection of suspense, borderline terror, and dread soon tapers off into repeated tales of sexism: women who are emotionally unstable, women portrayed as victims or sex objects (or both, in some cases)—in the end, women are just convenient vehicles to convey the manliness of the male characters. I don’t often rant over this kind of thing, but it is prevalent throughout the collection. Case in point:

A lot of us are reconstructed sexists. We ain’t perfect. Sometimes we call you chicks, and sometimes we call you baby, and there are even some who still slip up once in a while and call a woman a broad.

But we do the best we can.

A lot of us learned the hard way about women, that you aren’t the chattel we thought you were, what we were taught you were through two thousand-plus years of tradition and bad novels by men. But we learned, and we’re still learning. And it isn’t that easy for some of us who were brought up macho.

But we do the best we can, dammit!

And maybe it’s only fitting that some of us, the biggest offenders, get back some of the shit treatment we gave out. And maybe it isn’t.

So get the fuck off our case. Learn which of us are the unreconstructed enemy and which of us are allies. And stop treating us like meat, the way we treated you for so long.

Otherwise, the best you’ll ever get from us is a nasty, pointless, frustrated FUCK YOU, BITCH! (185)

I’ve read only five pieces of Ellison’s SF work--“The Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World”, “Life Hutch”, "Count the Clock That Tells Time", "On the Downhill Side", and "The Song the Zombie Sang" (w/ Silverberg)--so this collection is my first exposure to him as a writer at large. Hopefully, I’ll enjoy the other collection on my shelf much more—Paingod (1965). There’s always been so much praise thrown at Ellison, so I’m eager to see where all that praise originates… for me, it’s certainly not from No Doors, No Windows.

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The Whimper of Whipped Dogs (1973, shortstory) – 4/5
Beth is a simple notational choreographer from an all-girls’ school in upstate New York, now residing in the big, impersonal of New York City. Having witnessed her first murder, Beth still hasn’t adapted to the urban social environment of rat-eat-rat existence, and her first sexual encounter in the city reaffirms this. Thereafter, the vicious city brings out the animalistic nature of her being. Her helplessness in the urban environment peaks when she confronts a thief, but to whom can she turn? 20 pages

Eddie, You’re My Friend (1975, shortstory) – 4/5
Through a autobiographical monologue, one man confronts his life-long friend named Eddie. Through the thick and the thin of their relationship—mainly thick though with the narrator on the receiving end of the misery, shame, and pain—he still considers Eddie to be a friend. After elementary school fights, high school party no-shows, university plagiarism, and adulthood adultery, the narrator sticks to Eddie, though the reason for the confrontation is that he needs one last sympathetic favor. 5 pages

Status Quo at Troyden’s (1958, shortstory) – 4/5
After eight years of daily routine in his city apartment, Mr. Huggerson is set upon this same routine as he lives out his remaining elderly days in the urban bachelors’ apartment building. The room, however, is paid for by his son who has recently come into some business troubles. When Mr. Huggerson receives his son’s monthly check, the amount isn’t enough to cover his rent and upkeep. With his routine threatened, he confronts the brusque landlord and, in a fit of brief rage, strikes him down, for better or worse. 13 pages

Nedra at f:5.6 (1957, shortstory) – 2/5
Paul Shores has been a professional photographer for decades. He’s shot some of the most famous women in the world, both clothed and unclothed. He also takes daily life pictures of the city, like on one fateful day. On that day, he spies Nedra on a park bench in all her pulchritudinous, sexual glory—a woman like he has never seen before. She quickly agrees to having her photo taken in the park, at his studio, and in the nude. After a lusty session on the bed, he begins to develop the prints that are without the image of Nedra. 9 pages

Opposites Attract (1957, shortstory) – 4/5
Erwin Beltman has a hobby that he likes to develop by himself yet he likes to share the results with other. In his ripe old age, many would turn to gardening or literature, but Erwin has a passion for making pipe bombs and placing them in public areas. The press and police dub him a “mad bomber” but he isn’t mad at all, he insists—he’s just a hobbyist, an enthusiast. His identity remains secret, but one day a lady spies his pipe for what it is and follows him during the proceeding days; Erwin has a plan to rid himself of her. 11 pages

Toe the Line (1957, shortstory) – 3/5
Having been in prison for the third time, Eddie tells the warden upon leaving that his days of lifting cars is over. As he returns to the real world, he gets a job at a place where he knows the trade: a mechanic. His intentions are nefarious though as he also returns to his old retinue of thieves. Eddie, bent on not getting caught and pulling in a decent profit, has just the plan to look legit: use the shop’s tow truck. After learning the ropes, all the lifting goes without a hitch, until a murder is pinned on him. 10 pages

Down in the Dark (1967, shortstory) – 3/5
Kenneth has the idea in his head to hunt in javelina in the desert with the topic of weapons that he discusses at the bar with Griff. Griff quickly agrees to guide the hunt after seeing Kenneth’s wife. Then, after dinner and drinks—when Kenneth passes out—Griff further agrees to two more things: a late-night tryst with Ivy, the wife, and a taking part in the eventual murder of her husband. With thoughts an being the predator far away, Kenneth becomes the human prey in the desert cave. Griff and Ivy both take different aims. 9 pages

Pride in the Profession (1966, shortstory) – 3/5
A good old-fashioned lynching was Matthew Carty’s prime motivation to become a hangman. One just doesn’t become a hangman, however, in Matthew’s eyes; the execution is an art and a science. Through his life, he dabbles in physics, geometry, biology, and woodwork so that he can better understand and better execute the intended prisoner. He earns a reputation in the states where hanging is still a method of execution, which culminates in his assignment to hang Dr. Kolles. Unlike other cases, Matthew is compelled to meet the soon-to-be-dead prisoner. 13 pages

The Children’s Hour (1958, shortstory) – 3/5
Each of the thirty years that followed WWII were fraught with violence, racism, assassinations, tension, and murder; petty escalations broke out in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Even after the establishment of the UN and the International Police, conflict still ruled the world as it sat on the precipice teetering toward apocalypse. When tensions shattered on 3 June, 2975, the UN held an emergency session that was interrupted by strange guests and their strange warning: kids saying that the wars had better end or else they would leave. 7 pages

White Trash Don’t Exist (1956, shortstory) – 3/5
Charles is a bit slow but he has perseverance on his side. His menial job of moping up the diner is punctuated by verbal abuse and threats from the local head honcho—Herm Cressman. Charles’ safety is uncertain when he’s tipped off that Herm intends to entrap Charles into making a move on his mistress, who’s also a waitress at the diner. Charles evades every compromising situation, but finds a lull in resistance at the girl’s home. When Herm finds out Charles finds himself on the run. 13 pages

Thicker Than Blood (1958, shortstory) – 3/5
Roger married Felice for her money but has never seen any of it from her stingy family. As a result, his less-than-competitive linoleum shop is sinking and he finds very little in his life on which to cling. His step-daughter is a tolerated nuisance to the marriage, but Roger has a plan to turn his poor fortune into true fortune: fake a kidnapping, forge a ransom note, stash the girl away, and await the cash to keep him afloat. All looks good for Roger: typewrites, tape, rope, and an old barn. What could go wrong? 10 pages

Two Inches in Tomorrow’s Column (1965, shortstory) – 3/5
Benny is a shallow guy, and like a crab that lives in hole and hunts in the shallow water, he takes easy prey and lives on the water’s edge, metaphorically speaking. He’s been sleeping with a columnist recently so that it’ll pay off by her writing about his infamous boss’s new Hollywood club. That same article came out the following day, so Benny prepared his parting break-up letter for the soon-to-be-stilted columnist. When she confronts him about his shallowness, she’s oh-so-cool… then he grabs on edition of her paper. 7 pages

Promises of Laughter (1969, shortstory) – 2/5
Both Denny Zucker and Holdie Karp have had successful writing careers in the sense that they both acknowledge each other’s talent and appreciate each other’s skill; however, Denny is one who pushes hard for his own work and feels it’s fair to push just as hard to find work for his woman. When his woman doesn’t take kindly to a hand-me-out, she tells a sob story of her rise to fame, after which Denny vents his frustration about being a suppressed chauvinist with right, damn it, rights! 9 pages

Ormond Always Pays His Bills (1957, shortstory) – 2/5
Hervery Ormond—of the well-connected Ormond Construction Company—has had the same dull yet productive secretary for six years. No one really questioned his choice, nor would anyone really question her disappearance after shooting her three times in her office. She had snooped in his office, found and forced open the locked cabinet, then discovered his less-than-honest dealing in concrete for the government. With knowledge of the poor concrete, so she becomes encased in the same concrete and cast aside. 6 pages

The Man on the Juice Wagon (1963, shortstory) – 2/5
Stopping at a circus and witnessing a girl being whipped, Harry Fischer takes action: He rescues the girl, gets in his rig loaded with nitro, and darts off while being chased by henchmen. When he jackknifes the truck in a tunnel to kill his pursuers, the hero and victim frolic in the hay, only later to discover that they are still being chased. The proceeding chase reveals the girl’s motivations, her relationship with her father, Harry’s connection to the same man, Harry’s own motivations, and his unwillingness to help the girl any further. 18 pages

Tired Old Man (1975, shortstory) – 3/5

Billy Landress is an author of moderate success who has just finished a full novel with less than a half the heart. He considers himself a pretty hot author and loathes the invitation to attend a “writers’ club” where dried up writers, so-called writers, and wanna-be writers fill the space between the walls, yet the space is void of talent, in Billy’s eyes. He shuns everyone but is intrigued by an old man who soon probes with deep questions and analysis. The brief conversation strikes him, but Billy’s unable to name or place the man as he has disappeared. 13 pages

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Lazy Book Reviews of November 2015

#70: Pastwatch (1996) – Orson Scott Card (3/5)
This book was given to me by one of my graduate professors. I’m hesitant to the extreme to accept a SF book recommendation (from anyone, really), but he was the professor who most inspired me, so I took his recommendation to heart. Unfortunately, admiration for my professor aside, I just didn’t enjoy the premise of Pastwatch. So, in the far-future, scientists have developed a machine capable of peering into the past. Historians use this to peep into the personal lives, weather patterns, and state of nature in the far past. They gather loads of data, but later an improvement is created with improved resolution. When historians return to previous sites (e.g. Columbus’s plight near Portugal), they see more than they could have ever dreamed. When they know that tampering with the past is possible, they set it upon themselves to undo their own history. It’s not a bad story, but the slant is a bit much: (1) the history of the world hinged on Columbus’s discovery and treatment of the New World and (2) Christianity becomes the driving force for all the is good with the New New World.


#71: Down to Earth (1967) – Louis Charbonneau (2/5)
Intriguing by Joachim’s damning review of Down to Earth, I went against Joachim’s advice and picked up two of Chabonneau’s novels. I read The Sentinel Stars earlier this year, but it was a predictable romp through familiar territory. The premise of Down to Earth sounds pretty enticing, but the follow-through is mediocre, just like The Sentinel Stars. In an isolated planetary base where a couple and their two children live, things mysteriously begin to go awry. Soon, they discover that only an outside force must be making the base of funny and the occasional glances of the perpetrator point the finger at the woman’s ex-husband, who is now a deranged stalker. The circumstances of his maniacal behavior are veiled, yet the horror is always realistic to the family. There are a number of wrenches thrown into the plot: the boy’s self-identity, the palliative effects of the base to those away from Earth, and the maniac’s motivations. In the end, however, a predictable series of events occur and culminate in an equally as predictable ending. Dark though it may be at times, the pride of having a nuclear family wins out in this trope on obvious hero versus obvious villain.


#72: Earth’s Other Shadow (1973) – Robert Silverberg (3/5)
After disliking, to some degree, all of the Silverberg novels I’ve read, I errantly decided to stick to his short fiction, which I haven’t received very warmly either –I’ve only enjoyed two stories: “Good News from the Vatican” (1971) and “Flies” (1967), the latter included in this collection. From this collection, four of the nine stories are either amusing (“Ishmael in Love”), poignant (“Flies”), amusing and poignant (“To See the Invisible Man”), or relevant (“The Song the Zombie Sang”). The remaining five stories feel like half-efforts (“How It Was When the Past Went Away”) or whims (“Something Loose is Wild” and “Hidden Talent”). The least striking of the nine stories are “To the Dark Star” that features a pointlessly bickering pair of humans and “The Fangs of the Trees” that compares a fifteen-year-old to being a ripe fruit ready to be picked and even compares her breasts to apples twice… she’s the fruit in the family tree. [full review]


#73: Secret Visitors (1957) – James White (1/5)
This was James White’s first novel and it read like an amateurish attempt at pulp SF. He had been writing short SF for four years, some of which was pretty good (“In Loving Memory” [1956] and “The Conspirators” [1954] among the best). Of course, James White wouldn’t be James White without the medical slant, and this novel also includes that: A human doctor is mixed up in a case of, what seems like, alien espionage. And here is where the dominoes of pulp begin to fall: humanoid aliens, espionage, space ships, the secret to eternal life, a bizarre alien species, a pretty girl, a space battle, and the nail in the coffin—the final paragraph: “He [the doctor] was thinking about Kelly [the cute humanoid], and wondering what the marriage ceremony was like on Harla” (155). It has everything but a damned robot or lasers. This is the worst novel of James White that I’ve read, but then again I haven’t had the opportunity to read Galactic Gourmet (1996).


#74: The Wasp Factory (1984) – Iain Banks (4/5)
Iain Banks is the author I’ve re-read the most: Walking on Glass (1985), Consider Phlebas (1987), The State of the Art (1989), The Algebraist (2004)... and now The Wasp Factory (1984). I’ve read the entirety of his SF collection but I must say I much prefer his non-SF work more. I now own all of this work (even Poems [2015]). The Wasp Factory was Banks’ first novel and much of his later themes can be found throughout: bridges, islands, worship, gender with characters including a mentally unfit man, an emotionally repressed man, and the down-to-earth sidekick. The novel entails a history of disturbing memories of an isolated childhood where very little supervision or guidance was lent, resulting a seventeen-year-boy/man who indulges in his own creation of religion, or how he deals with the world he lives in: fortunetelling with a wasp-killing factory, communion with a dog’s skull, and protectionism with driven stakes topped by decapitated animal heads. Though he had murdered three relatives when he was very young, murder is no longer part of his growth as an adult.


#75: Survival World (1971) – Frank Belknap Long (0/5)
This book must have been written in three days and passed by an editor who had never written their own name. It’s such a blocky, unnecessary mess of garbage that the author’s whims were put onto the page to please a 9-year-old boy with Tourette’s and ADD. From an attempted assassination, to a time machine, a trident-like weapon, a ship blowing up, a time jump to a lush jungle, a snake bite, some fire, a big gun, and some uncivilized people; there’s absolutely no direction, no reason… no reason for the thing that happened to have happened and no reason to pen such a trope-laden piece of garbage. I mean, 10% of the book is about speculating the possible consequences of fucking snakebite, which passes quickly enough and onto the next meaningless sequence of so-called events. Even the writing is bad as the author makes terrible analogies, similes, and heavily overuses the annoying comparative phrase “not unlike”. A primary school yearbook is more interesting that this novel, but so it the back of a tube of toothpaste, the instructions for using a voltage converter, and reading a menu printed in hieroglyphics.


#76: Marîd Audran 1: When Gravity Fails (1987) – George Alec Effinger (4/5)
My first reading of When Gravity Fails was back in 2009. The general plot has always remained with me even though I only gave the book a 3-star rating. Now six years later, I became curious why it had stuck so clearly in my head and why I didn’t push it to a 4-star rating. I hate the feeling that I had missed something. With a 10-day holiday looming, I decided to pick up When Gravity Fails and its sequels—A Fire in the Sun (1989) and The Exile Kiss (1991)—in order to immerse myself in the “wry, black and savage” underworld of the Budyaeen. Much like my initial reading, I felt the mind-altering mods and daddies, mood-altering blue triangles and sunshines, and body-altering sex changes a tad overused, so it became repetitive. But the general debauchery of the city gives way to a more savage nature through Audran’s unwilling sacrifice of his own fears. Far-flung espionage, brutal cyberpunk, and the nitty-gritty of urban life are among the reasons to sink yourself into Effinger’s trilogy.

Monday, November 23, 2015

1999/2012: Crystal Silence (Fujisaki, Shingo)

Dense in pages and science with soft impact (3/5)

This is the last book in my trove of from Kurodahan; it’s also the densest of the bounty, which includes the Japanese novels Aphrodite and Administrator, the Japanese collections Speculative Japan 1 and 2, as well as the Serbian themed-collection The Library. The last book of the speculative bunch—Crystal Silence—can also be described as hard science fiction, which is a delineation from much of Japanese science fiction that tends to teem with sub-dermal layers of pulsing culture or warm analogy; on one finger, I can name the one story what deviates from the norm: Koshu Tani’s “Q-Cruiser Basilisk” (1984). Crystal Silence feels as straight forward as many western science fictions of similar ilk: heavy on the science content with a number of token stereotypes to round it out.

Crystal Silence seems to be Fujisaki’s first Japanese publications in fiction, be it of short or long work. The novel is also the only translated work written by the author.

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A transnational distrust has been brewing on Mars since its initial colonization, but now that an ancient and biological artifact has been discovered in the ice mines of the north pole, tensions are at an all-time high and distrust is running deep. Saya Askai is a bio-archeologist in Japan, who studies the Jomon period of ancient Japan, yet is recruited to Mars to study the ancient organism. The relation is vague but she accepts while leaving her beau Keren beyond on Earth. Little does she know, Keren is actually a pawn—yet becoming a greater threat like a rook, queen, or knight—in a bigger scheme dictated by Wild West, which is a weapons manufacture with an interest in keeping humans—on Earth and on Mars—in a perpetual state of warfare. When bombs burst and bullets fly, Saya is trapped on Mars at the same time mysterious forces begin to envelop the habitations of each nation. As the forces progress, so too do Keren’s awareness of his powers and Saya’s vulnerability.

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Mars is presented in the typical fashion in which countries have their own colonies (America, India, China, Australia, Japan, to name a few). The first-tier nations—those who actually colonized Mars first—have access to richer resources and tend to passively strangle the second-tier nations—those who came after the rush. Two chokepoints are under strict control: the orbital platform and the ice fields on Mars’ northern pole, where the stage is set in the novel,

Because of these tensions among the tiers, military power is brought in to maintain the peace but also to act as a layer of defense. When these same power-suited soldiers act on the offense at the northern pole, tensions become strained beyond their usual stress, which is only hampered by the mysterious and intangible domes that seem as if they are constricted the space around her colony. People and supplies can be sent through these domes, but what is there cannot leave: drive as they may, they never reach the dome’s periphery.

Soon it’s discovered that the domes have something in common with another post-husk-finding at the pole: the crystal flowers that alter their weight and fragility. Though this seems impossible by the nature of physics, the flowers are mere curiosities at best. It takes everyone a while—which is surprising—to connect the flowers, the domes, and the husks; obviously, something funny—and only one man is laughing—is happening on Mars and no one knows what may result. But that same laughing man is also the one who hopes to gain most from the confusion, friction, and fright.

The initial connection between the alien biological husks and the ancient yet earthly work performed by Saya is so tenuous, so unlikely that it really fails to hold together through the hundreds of pages. Even at the conclusion, I felt that the connection was never solidly made, so it began to flatten out even among the action of the closing scenes. Further, the reason for the husks’ existence where they are and how they’re placed isn’t explained satisfactorily, either.

While the majority of the novel occurs on Mars, the most progressive past of the novel is Keren’s cyberpunk-esque escapades through information systems on Earth, on Mars, and in the Wile West corporation. Through Saya’s eyes, Keren is merely a boy longing after her, but Keren sees the world through very different lenses, lenses that no human could ever quite comprehend. His association with Wild West goes deeper than revenge; it goes further than his yen for Wild West’s destructions, too, as he has put it upon himself to save two of the most important things in his life: Saya and humanity.

So, to conclude, the novel starts off with a shallow and tenuous correlation between an ancient Earth people with the hollow remains of what seems to be alien food, then it swells to become a Mars-based strife between warring nations and incomprehensible alien technology, and in the background looms some cyber warfare between in an individual and a corporate, between planets, and, later, within something even more incomprehensible.


Fujisaki’s Crystal Silence is a welcome addition to the very limited family of hard Japanese science fiction outside of manga or anime; however, what it boasts in speculation outweighs any nuances, metaphors, or analogies about whatever may lie under the dense husk of its hard science fiction. For those who enjoy the romp of action on Mars and cyberspace, this may be for you.

Monday, November 16, 2015

1973: Earth's Other Shadow (Silverberg, Robert)

Some with significance, some significantly lacking (3/5)

After disliking, to some degree, all of the Silverberg novels I’ve read (3 stars for Hawksbill Station and 0 stars to The World Inside, among others), I decided to stick to his short fiction, which I haven’t received very warmly either (2 stars for all the stories in Next Stop the Stars and 2 stars for “Hot Times in Magma City”); I’ve only enjoyed two stories: “Good News from the Vatican” (1971) and “Flies” (1967), the latter included in this collection.

Four of the nine stories are either amusing (“Ishmael in Love”), poignant (“Flies”), amusing and poignant (“To See the Invisible Man”), or relevant to me (“The Song the Zombie Sang”). The remaining five stories feel like half-efforts (“How It Was When the Past Went Away”) or whims (“Something Loose is Wild” and “Hidden Talent”). The least striking of the nine stories are “To the Dark Star” that features a pointlessly bickering pair of humans and “The Fangs of the Trees” that compares a fifteen-year-old to being a ripe fruit ready to be picked and even compares her breasts to apples twice… she’s the fruit in the family tree.

Something Wild is Loose (1971, novelette) – 3/5
When six men leave an alien planet with their cargo heading for Earth, they unknowingly take an invisible alien stowaway. Invisible and displaced, the alien tries to psychically make contact but their minds are unreceptive while awake. When it contacts a human in sleep, the telepathic touch triggers horrible nightmares and sleeplessness. Once on Earth, it continues trying to contact telepathically, only to scare, maim, or kill each contact. One hospital notices a pattern with the hospital, link it with the flight from the planet, and simply want to help. 34 pages

To See the Invisible Man (1963, shortstory) – 4/5
Having given the cold shoulder to his fellow urbanites once too often, the same man is dealt the sentence of invisibility for one year. This invisibility is not physical in nature, however; it is a legal/social taboo in which he is forbidden by others to simple be recognized. At first, he relishes in the naughty tricks and common misdemeanors can he get away with, but he slowly realizes that eye-to-eye and flesh-to-flesh contact makes a human what they are. The lesson of invisibility strikes deep, ever after the release from his sentence. 12 pages

Ishmael in Love (1970, shortstory) – 4/5
The dolphin with the unit-structural designation of TT-66 previously didn’t have a formal “name” until the ravishing Miss Lisabeth Calkins gave him his new name: Ishmael. Ishmael, however, isn’t just any dolphin; he’s also very handsome for his species, the foreman of the Intake Maintenance Squad for a Seawater Recovery Station, and happens to have a very large vocabulary—his interest soon turns to love. While still naïve about matter of the heart and a different species, his quick thinking saves the station, yet still can’t find a way to Lisa’s heart. 13 pages

How It Was When the Past Went Away (1969, novella) – 3/5
Paul Mueller is a sonic artist whose budding financial venture left him deeply in debt and contemplating foreign sanctuary. The Amazing Montini has the remarkable and marketable talent of total recall, namely from books and conversations. Nate Haldersen lost his entire family in an air disaster eleven years ago during an extra-marital affair; now, his guild-ridden self sits in a psych ward. These citizens, and almost all, of San Francisco are about to partially lose their memory from drinking the drugged tap water… for better or for worse. 62 pages

To the Dark Star (1968, shortstory) – 2/5
On the cusp of death in its billion-year life, a dark star smolders within the darkness of its external shell. Going to watch its collapse are a small-headed alien, a strapping woman from a heavy planet, and a standard Earth male. Inevitably, the opposing sexes are at each other’s throats and trading verbal spars while the alien is calm and acts as a mediator. When the times comes to choose someone to navigate the probe to land on the dark star, the two troublemakers choose each other; a stalemate is born, then things begin to escalate. 12 pages

The Fangs of the Trees (1968, novelette) – 2/5
Holbrook’s orchard of trees—they’re trees, just trees he tells himself—are close to bearing their fruit; Holbrook’s female relative—she’s his niece, jus his niece, he reminds himself—is also bearing the fruit of her body at the ripe age of fifteen. When his thoughts aren’t on his niece’s breasts, his concern for his orchard opens to the plague of “rust”, a disease that is spread among animals, plants, and among planets. When he finds the rust on his carnivorous, tentacled trees, his niece’s love for their nature has Holbrook at an impasse. 23 pages

Hidden Talent (1957, novelette) – 3/5
Having been trained in telekinesis and having been found that his powers were exceptional, Davidson was made to take a flight to a psi-less planet where he can learn to control his powers rather than use his powers for everyday tasks. On Mondarran IV, his motivation for not using his telekinesis is simple: If he is seen using it, the people will thing he is a witch and kill him by burning him at the stake like a witch. He takes a job as a farmhand yet loathes the hard work. Later, outside the farm and roaming the forest, he discovers a pyrotic who knows how to adapt to a psi-less world. 21 pages

The Song the Zombie Sang (1970, shortstory) with Harlan Ellison – 4/5
A great pianist dies and, with him, his spark for creativity and life itself. But capitalism and science know a way to maintain his body and most functions even after death, so much in fact that the same dead pianist is able to perform his great music. Before each performance, he is switched on and after each performance, he is just switched off—so this has continued for fifteen years. One fan/fellow artist is demoralized by his zombie-like performances that lack of that old spark, so she seeks him out to lash out. 14 pages

Flies (1967, shortstory) – 4/5

After an implosion in space, all are decimated inside but only the one person outside—Cassidy—is simply killed. His skull and strands of flesh occupy space until the golden ones—of unknown origin—rebuild Cassidy, awaken him, tell him they’ve made him more sensitive to his fellow humans, and sent him back to Earth. Once there, he visits his three ex-wives: the first, a bed-ridden recovering addict; the second, a well-to-do housewife with an exotic pet; and the last in her seventh month of pregnancy. Acting on each ex-wife, Cassidy transmits each emotion back to the golden ones. 10 pages

Monday, November 2, 2015

Lazy Book Reviews of October 2015

#64: Crystal Silence (1999, 2005/2012) – Shingo Fujisaki (3/5)
Of the Japanese SF collection I own, Crystal Silence takes the prize for being the largest tome of them all. Though only 344 pages, the book’s dimensions are mildly intimidating and the text is dense (comparable to Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space or Ian McDonald’s River of Gods). A transnational distrust has been brewing on Mars since its initial colonization, but now that an ancient and biological artifact has been discovered in the ice mines of the north pole, tensions are at an all-time high and distrust is running deep. Saya Askai is a bio-archeologist in Japan, who studies the Jomon period of ancient Japan, yet is recruited to Mars to study the ancient organism. The relation is vague but she accepts while leaving her beau Keren beyond on Earth. Little does she know, Keren is actually a pawn—yet becoming a greater threat like a rook, queen, or knight—in a bigger scheme dictated by Wild West, which is a weapons manufacture with an interest in keeping humans—on Earth and on Mars—in a perpetual state of warfare. When bombs burst and bullets fly, Saya is trapped on Mars at the same time mysterious forces begin to envelop the habitations of each nation. As the forces progress, so too do Keren’s awareness of his powers and Saya’s vulnerability.

#65: Guardian (2002) – Joe Haldeman (3/5)
This is the seventh Haldeman book I’ve read, including but not limited to his collection Infinite Dreams (1978) and his novels The Forever War (1975), Camouflage (2004), and Old Twentieth (2007). Some of his work is modern and penetrating while some of the others are tepid Golden Age ideas wrapped in the garb of modernism resulting in a fairly flaccid story—Camouflage and Guardian. Most of the story is a narration of the detailed life of Rosa Coleman, from her privileged life in South during the Civil War, through the turbulent years of her marriage and motherhood, on through her deserting her husband with their child to seek a better life westward. As a biography, the story would be interesting as it stirs together a rich history with a captivating narration, yet the disappointing twist in it all is the very point which drew the reader—the SF angle. This point is cursory and brief, very much like an after-thought and predictive blobs stuck in the text prior to the big revelation. As the conclusion states, “consider it fiction, or even delusion”; the reader should also consider another option: mediocrity.

#66: Point Ultimate (1955) – Jerry Sohl (3/5)
Jerry Sohl is a man of local fame—local meaning Midwest Illinois rather than central Thailand. Though entering and leaving the world in California, Sohl was a writer for the Panagraph newspaper in Normal, Illinois in the 1950s. At that same time, he wrote science fiction, mainly between 1952 and 1960 before turning his attention to writing for TV and movies; during that time, he wrote nine novels and ten short pieces of SF. In Point Ultimate, he even makes a coy reference to his time in Normal: “Now if we only had a place to wash up and a good meal, we’d be back to normal” (140). This is more obvious in the context of the novel, which takes place almost entirely in Midwest Illinois (a place I was born and raised). At a time when the Soviet Union had already ignited their own nuclear bomb, when China fell to communism, and Korea was lost in a stalemate, Sohl’s novel was published highlighting this fear of over-control by the Soviets. After the bombs fell on America, the Soviets moved in and took control from the population that couldn’t control themselves, thereby instituting rigid laws on marriage, births, and the derelict idea of “pursuit of happiness” while spreading a plague that forces all—well, almost all—to have monthly boosters. Emmett, however, is immune and seeks to rebel against the dictatorship. On his escape from home, he runs across all the right people and falls into all the right situations so that he can find the true source of underground rebellion. All in all, it’s a good glimpse at Cold War paranoia (as SFEncyclopedia has stated) but it’s it too forced and, thereby, predictable.

#67: Neanderthal Planet (1969) – Brian Aldiss (2/5)
I’ve read seven of Aldiss’s novels and have been quite happy with six of them (barring Finches of Mars). This is the fourth collection of his that I’ve read and, like the other three, there’s a mix of the good and bad, the satisfying and the bizarre. In Neanderthal Planet, there are only four stories but judging from the quality, it’s better that the collection isn’t any longer. Three of the stories feel half-cocked, like they were dead-ends to novel-length ideas that fizzled. Sometimes, the stories feel like a patchwork of stories sewed together with the thread of desperation. The only coherent story is “Intangibles, Inc.”, which is speculative in nature but not sci-fi. This is a heartwarming story (those words I use sparingly) of motivation. The rest of the stories… bleh. (full review)

#68: Artery of Fire (1972) – Thomas N. Scortia (3/5)
Secondhand bookshops are great for impulse buys. I don’t check databases or check reviews when browsing the shelves—I savor the surprise of whether the book will be good or bad… sometimes it’s both. I picked up Scortia’s Earthwreck (1974) and wasn’t exactly bowled over, but I was intrigued by one curious thing: gay innuendos. It’s like Top Gun: Once you’re aware of it, you’ll start seeing it everywhere. Scortia’s collection Caution! Inflammable! (1975) was equally as middling. And once again, this novel, Artery of Fire, is just as mediocre. It was his fist published novel after seventeen years of publishing shorter work. On the face of it, this novel is hard science fiction about a beam of manmade ionized elements that are shot to the moon from Pluto in order to solve Earth’s energy problems. When tachyons come into play, the past, the present, and the future begin to intertwine. Meanwhile, the creator of the beam has percolating conflicts with nearly everyone, including his ex-lover who has visited him on a tour of the facilities. Once castration was mentioned in the text (p.41), relating to ending the project, I knew what Scortia was driving at (p.189-190). And there are three mentions of pubic hair: pages 28, 45, and 151 (relevant).

#69: Future Makers (1968) – Peter Haining (editor) (3/5)
You know when collections highlight well-known authors on the cover to get people interested in the content, only to find that the best stories are by none of the popular authors? This collection is a little bit like that as ALL the stories are by popular authors: Leinster, Asimov, Sturgeon, Bradbury, Heinlein, Clarke, Sheckley, and Aldiss. The hitch? All stories are early examples of each author’s work and sometimes even the first published story. In the eyes of the reviewers from yesteryear, all these stories may have been great, but I feel that only half of them have aged well. Where Leinster’s story was reputed to be “one of the funniest stories to ever appear in Science Fiction” (11), I felt it was simple slapstick humor more than anything. It would have been an interesting collection if it were compiled solely of first publications, but it’s a bit scattered; even the lengths are uneven with Aldiss’s novella taking up half of the book. (full review)

1968: The Future Makers (Haining, Peter)

Distinguished authors: token rather than significant stories (3/5)

You know when collections highlight well-known authors on the cover to get people interested in the content, only to find that the best stories are by none of the popular authors? This collection is a little bit like that as ALL the stories are by popular authors: Leinster, Asimov, Sturgeon, Bradbury, Heinlein, Clarke, Sheckley, and Aldiss. The hitch? All stories are early examples of each author’s work and sometimes even the first published story. In the eyes of the reviewers from yesteryear, all these stories may have been great, but I feel that only half of them have aged well. Where Leinster’s story was reputed to be “one of the funniest stories to ever appear in Science Fiction” (11), I felt it was simple slapstick humor more than anything. It would have been an interesting collection if it were compiled solely of first publications, but it’s a bit scattered; even the lengths are uneven with Aldiss’s novella taking up half of the book.

The Fourth Dimensional Demonstrator (short story, 1935) – Murray Leinster (2/5)
Three things are on Pete Davidson’s mind: his possible inheritance from his scientific experimenting uncle, his sociable fiancée named Daisy Manners, and his fiancée’s pet kangaroo names Arthur. When his late uncle’s servant, Thomas, shows Pete the pride and joy of his uncle’s laboratory, Pete has something else on his mind. When the machine seemingly replicates a burnt match, Pete first puts in coins, then cash, and jewelry. His luck runs out, totally, when Daisy, Arthur, and the feds arrive simultaneously. 14 pages

The Weapon Too Dreadful to Use (short story, 1939) – Isaac Asimov (2/5)
Karl, from invading Earth, is the son of a man high in the councils of the Planetary President while Antil, from suppressed Venus, is the hereditary noble for the planet’s largest tribe. Together as friends, they enter the museum/tomb of Ash-taz-zor, they discover a hidden door that houses a Venusian relic of, according to Antil’s translation, unimaginable power; thus they leave as future enemies. When the time comes for their head-to-head, Karl gives Earth a fair yet vague warning; Antil, however, is ready for a fight. 18 pages

Abreaction (short story, 1939) – Theodore Sturgeon (3/5)
A man on a bulldozer knows one tacitly—his job. Letting his hands and feet guide, his body knows what to do while he doesn’t even recall his own name. in the conflict of his existence, he feels that everything is familiar, as if he remembers forgetting before. Just then, he’s ethereally transported from an artificial sight into that of a desert where a shiny-clothed man informs him of his long-ago curious past. Trying to help, he allows the bulldozing man to remember. 13 pages

The Piper (short story, 1943) – Ray Bradbury (4/5)
Kerec is thought to be thelast Martian alive, according to the Jovian overlords who have conquered and colonized Mars. Returning to Mars in some official capacity, Kerec is eager to rediscover his roots in the physicality of his planet. As he plays his flute, a sympathetic echo reaches him; intrigued, he follows its source to a cave where the devolved Martians eke out a so-called existence. He also sees that they’re drawn to his music as much as the Jovians are, which may be a benefit to himself and his kinfolk. 17 pages

Columbus was a Dope (short story, 1947) – Robert Heinlein (3/5)
Appleby is the chief engineer for Earth’s first interstellar voyage named Pegasus. While chatting with a steel merchant and a precision instrument supplier, Appleby remains firm in his belief that the project is worthy and noble even though it’ll be sixty years long. Perhaps it’s the copious alcohol clouding the steel merchant’s judgment, but the argument steers toward Columbus sailing to the New World and all it applies to: part progress, willpower, and adventure; and part stupidity mixed with the spirit of mankind. 5 pages

Castaway (short story, 1947) – Arthur C. Clarke (4/5)
Cast from the sun—its fiery home—a single denizen is placed in the cold cosmic void away from the tight atoms and warm pressure of the sun. Luckily, he lands in the atmosphere of the watery planet not too distant from the sun, where he lies atop the unfamiliar density of water awaiting some form of familiar life. Just over the water making way across the ocean, a military plane spots on its radar a curious huge shape in the water. They near to investigate but watch the web-like mass slowly dissolve. 8 pages

The Hour of Battle (short story, 1953) – Robert Sheckley (4/5)
Upon mankind’s first meeting with the telepathic aliens on their home planet, Richard Everest was there in person. His first thoughts were of alarm but quickly polarized into friendliness; his shipmate recognized the trouble and flew immediately back to Earth. That was years ago and now humankind has a ring of defense near Mars’ orbit awaiting with telepathic detectors—infallible—,guns pointed outward—deadly—,and each manned by three humans—bored, curious, and still bored. Their “what if” scenarios are all too interesting. 7 pages

Equator (novella, 1958) – Brian Aldiss (3/5)

After generations of crossing space from Alpha Centauri, the Rosks have approached Earth practically begging for a place to settle; a base on the moon and part of Sumatra are chosen for them to inhabit. Ap II Dowl is the dictator of the newly founded colony who no one trusts—neither human nor Rosk. Murray is a man recruited to sneak to the Rosk’s moon base, only his small band of men is attacked by the aliens. The repercussions shake Murray as he finds himself in a case of double-sided espionage on Sumatra. 82 pages

Sunday, October 25, 2015

1970: Neanderthal Planet (Aldiss, Brian)

Previously unpublished stories from 1970, with good reason (2/5)

I’ve read seven of Aldiss’s novels and have been quite happy with six of them (barring Finches of Mars). This is the fourth collection of his that I’ve read and, like the other three, there’s a mix of the good and bad, the satisfying and the bizarre. Last Orders (1989) was an utter hodgepodge of material, unlike a mosaic because it wasn’t beautiful, but more like underside of a wooden school desk with scattered wads of multi-colored gum… it wasn’t pretty. The Book of Brian Aldiss (1972) wasn’t nearly as scatterbrained, but still held true to the bell curve of quality. A better collection is The Saliva Tree (1973), which has a much better selection. In Neanderthal Planet, there are only four stories but judging from the quality, it’s better that the collection isn’t any longer.

Three of the stories feel half-cocked, like they were dead-ends to novel-length ideas that fizzled. Sometimes, the stories feel like a patchwork of stories sewed together with the thread of desperation. The only coherent story is “Intangibles, Inc.”, which is speculative in nature but not sci-fi. This is a heartwarming story (those words I use sparingly) of motivation. The rest of the stories… bleh.

Neanderthal Planet (novelette, 1970) – 2/5
The robocratic authoritarian rule of the world has saved the remnants of humanity and wildlife after the human-driven Nuclear Week. Now, all are kept in a zoo, yet the intellectuals are allowed to colonize planets like Nehru II, which is exactly where Anderson is headed. On that mysterious planet, previous intellectuals have gone and visited but nothing has been heard back. Anderson’s mission dictated by the robots is to find out and return, but the manlike apes may hinder his progress. 48 pages

Danger: Religion! (novella, 1970) – 3/5
Humble historian Meacher is recruited by a parallel universe traveling man by the title and name of Captain Apostolic Rastell of the Matrix Investigation Corps. In a bid to save his own and all other parallel worlds, Meacher is taken to Rastell’s world where Edinburgh is the capital of Europe and where religion runs rampant while slavery is rife. With fellow “extra-matricials”, they revolt against the Church to free the slaves, or so Meacher thinks. Back in his home universe and hometown, he’s neither safe nor well-informed. 62 pages

Intangibles, Inc. (novelette, 1970) – 4/5
Arthur and Mabel are newlyweds and eking out a living with Arthur’s menial labor. Their love feels hollow with neither of them particularly set toward any goals, but all this changes when a wizened man with a beat-up truck enters their house. His truck—with Intangibles, Inc. painted on the side—holds only the intangible, which he also offers to the couple. As a test of Arthur’s willpower, he places two shakers on the table’s edge. As the weeks and years pass, Arthur finds he has both the will and the power… all thanks to those two shakers teetering on the table. 25 pages

Since the Assassination (novelette, 1970) – 1/5

The president of the United States was assassinated behind closed doors while being alone with a document in front of him; two things are missing from the scene, however: the document and the assassin. The former Secretary of State contemplates philosophy on his state but gets something more substantial as the current Secretary of State (and his skydiving wife) visit: men living once living on the moon have different circadian rhythms out of sync with earth time… and the vague yet earth-shattering project simply known as Project Gunwhale. 48 pages

Friday, October 2, 2015

1977: Monsters & Medics (White, James)

Pretty good novel amid so-so shorter stories (3/5)

The cute alliterative title to the collection would make one believe that the collection is based on White’s Sector General series when, in fact, it’s wholly outside of it. This is a good thing as the series tends to get tedious quite quickly with its repetitive gags, alien classifications, tepid love story, and predictable conclusions to minor emergencies.

Though White is know for his Sector General series, it’s been his other material that has impressed me. His novel Escape Orbit [var: Open Prison] (1964) seems to have been fashioned on the short story “Dogfight” (1959) found in this collection; Escape Orbit is a great step-by-step procedural of how planet-bound captives plan their escape. Four other notable non-Sector General novels are The Watch Below (1966), Tomorrow is Too Far (1971), The Dream Millennium (1974), and The Silent Stars Go By (1991). Each mark the more serious side to the writer than the camp delivery of most of the Sector General series.

Monsters & Medics is a five-story collection that includes a full novel—Second Ending—along with two novelettes and two short stories. The novel in the collection is, thankfully, the best among the bunch. It’s a grim look at being the last man on earth and how to cope with looking forward to humankind’s prospective return to the planet is it’s at all possible… and if it’s not, then how? The other four stories are well-written but lack the punch or maturity as with Second Ending.

Second Ending (novel, 1962) – 4/5
Ross was diagnosed with incurable leukemia in 2017 and placed in Deep Sleep until a cure could be found. When he finally awakens, there isn’t anyone there to greet him but only a stationary facsimile of his old doctor colleague to inform him that he’s been cured. As he snoops around the empty hallways, he discovers that the current year is 2308. When he comes across the robotic Ward Sister, his knowledge of the world becomes singular: he’s the last person left, five miles safely underground, and king of the barren wasteland that was once Earth. 91 pages

Counter Security (novelette, 1963) – 3/5
In the basement of the department store Hardware and Dobbs, something strange is happening: each night, someone goes into the toy storage and mutilates one of the dolls in the same manner. This is Mr. Steele’s main grievance but the missing power tools and god in the stairwell also irk him. Tully is the security guard charged with staking out the entrances and exits and to ultimately find the culprit. Being a heavy science fiction reader, his mind is prone to extreme circumstances, which may just save him this time, actually. 22 pages

Dogfight (novelette, 1959) – 3/5
When Earth humans first engaged in war with the humanoid Semrans, the alien’s war computer tended to be much more powerful than the human’s R1. Proceeding models—R2 to R6—just didn’t meet the needs of the military as too many casualties had be wrought. In charge of the newest and most victorious computer RK9, Henson is actually a spy for the Semrans yet even he doesn’t know the secret to the great machine’s success, yet he does know that it’s progressively senile. 25 pages

Nuisance Value (shortstory, 1975) – 3/5
Barlcay may be in his sixties, but he’s still on a perpetual quest to find the truth behind his father’s death fifty years prior. The story went that his astronaut father took a plane over the sea without enough fuel yet another rumor said that he defected to the Russians. When modern society went to pot and anarchy reigned, Barclay maintained his hunt. He made allegiance and followed leads—which led to some state secrets—and ultimately to the receptive administrator named Citizen Conlon. 21 pages

In Loving Memory (shortstory, 1956) – 4/5
The planet of Phoenix was discovered by to a recent human survey ship and named as such because of its long, fiery summer on its approach around the sun. It’s soon discovered that the planet is inhabited by an ancient colony of evolved humans who have adapted to the dramatic seasons, only the planet is doomed as it’s bound for the sun. Ever the altruists, the humans offer each of the inhabitants a shot to standardize them to galactic norm, yet one lovely girl refuses, breaking the heart of her human lover and linguist. 13 pages