Thursday, July 31, 2014

Review of God's War by Kameron Hurley



Xena, Sarah Connor, Padme Amidala, Honor Harrington, Mara Jade, Max Guevara, Red Sonja, Mena, Arya, Ellen Ripley, Vin, Princess Leia, Trinity, and on and on goes the list of kick-ass female protagonists in science fiction and fantasy.  Each presented to varying degrees of realism, Kameron Hurley thought to add her own to the mix with God’s War—her 2011 debut, and first in the Bel Dame Apocrypha trilogy.  Many reviewers hot on the book’s ‘original approach to gender, religion, and race’, this reviewer is far more skeptical about the actualities underpinning these grand aspects of society.  The novel 100% succeeding in the creation of yet another pulp heroine, whether or not she transcends storytelling to become something original depends on the perspective—or perhaps how much genre the reader has consumed.

God’s War is the brutally bloody and bloodily brutal story of Nyx, government assassin, and, when the need arises, black market mercenary.  The war zone between her homeland Nasheen and Chenja so filled with the remnants of nuclear, biological, and chemical residue, any deserting soldier trying to sneak back into Nasheen is caught and killed by Nyx and other bel dame assassins, a severed head the only proof needed to collect bounty.  War perpetual in Nasheen, all men are sent to the front, women ruling the streets and society.  Asked by the queen one day to run a black ops mission that just might bring an end to the war, Nyx crosses the border into the enemy’s territory with her team of operatives and there, at times with only her strength and will to rely upon, comes face to face with the cycles of internecine violence that have been the impetus of her life. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Review of Then Will the Great Ocean Wash Deep Above by Ian Sales



It is a minority of Americans who are aware the Soviets were first to put man into space.  (See Andy Duncan’s wonderful novella The Chief Designer for an overview of the Soviet space program.)  Even fewer are aware it was the Russians who first put a woman into space—twenty years before the the ‘land of the free’.  Into this unrealized possibility stepped Ian Sales in 2013 to write the third alternate history in the Apollo Quartet, Then Will the Great Ocean Wash Deep Above (AQ3).  Once again balancing hard sf and humanism, the novella imagines what it would have been like were women the first NASA astronauts in space, and in turn reveals a few skeletons from the program’s closet.

Then Will the Great Ocean Wash Deep Above, while continuing the trend of ostentatious titles in the Apollo Quartet, likewise continues the trend of featuring astronauts—thirteen of them to be exact.  Led by the ambitious and stubborn Jackie Cochrane, the Mercury 13, as they are called, are trained for space while American men are off fighting communism in Korea and the USSR circa 1953.  Rosie the Riveter shifting her attention to the heavens, the women prove themselves, through the rigors of simulations, to be up for the task, and one by one are sent on missions of increasing extremes into Earth’s orbit.  Jerrie Cobb, a devout young woman, is perhaps the most dedicated among the thirteen, and through her eyes the reader experiences the wonder of the great beyond, and, disappointment at what befalls Cochrane’s presence in the space program once the war in the East ends.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Review of Echopraxia by Peter Watts



Though far from what one thinks of as typical hard sf, Peter Watts’ 2006 Blindsight was one of the genre’s most cutting edge stories knowledge-wise.  The larger societal mindset still trying to catch up to the implications of modern neuroscience, Watts used fresh data to fictionally present many of the roots of human behavior brain research is uncovering.  The follow-up novel eight years in the making, 2014’s Echopraxia is, at least, worth the wait.  Though lacking a similarly engaging main premise, Watts’ continues with an agenda of hyper-determinism, producing a harsh, challenging look at the mind and its potentials.

Wikipedia defines ‘echophenomena’ as “’automatic imitative actions without explicit awareness,’ or pathological repetitions of external stimuli or activities, actions, sounds, or phrases, indicative of an underlying disorder.”  Echopraxia is the ‘action’ portion of the definition.  Beyond mere hammer-to-the-knee, it refers to the deep, sub-conscious motivations of human behavior, differing worldviews, and the manner in which people respond to the exigencies of life.  These are the areas Watts expands the idea in Echopraxia.  From religion to existentialism, the limits of science to pure fear, a broad array of topics are confronted by one man taken on a trip he wished he could have avoided.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Review of Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett



With the success of The Wee Free Men and A Hat Full of Sky, spunky, pint-sized, witch-in-training Tiffany Aching has proven one of the strongest rays of Discworld sunshine.  Bolstered by the (b)roguish capers of the inimitable Nac Mac Feegle, her development continues in Wintersmith (2006), the third Tiffany Aching story.  Faced with her first boyfriend, once again she must look within herself (her Second and Third thoughts) to see beyond the surface of troubles past and troubles future.

Now thirteen years old, Wintersmith opens with Tiffany apprenticing to Miss Treason, a 113 year old witch whose eccentricity for black cannot compare to the twinkle in her eye and knack for dealing with the locals’ domestic problems.  The pair going to the Night Dance in the early going of the story, Tiffany breaks into dance in an impulsive moment, and in turn breaks the cycle of winter into summer.  The Wintersmith coming to look for her in the aftermath of the debacle, he begins lavishing gifts—as only the Wintersmith can—on the young teen.  His advances becoming stronger, Tiffany must sort out her thoughts to bring warmth back into her life as winter settles in. 
But can she?

Review of A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett



Terry Pratchett’s 30th Discworld novel, called The Wee Free Men, introduced the world to the amazingly irascible, irreverently lovable Nac Mac Feegle.  Oh, and Tiffany Aching.  The lessons the nine-year old girl learned dueling with the Queen of Fairyland important, they were, however, not the whole story.  Returning to the character for the 32nd novel, A Hat Full of Sky is the second Tiffany Aching story, and just as successful as the last.

Now older (eleven years old) and wiser (a survivor of the fight with the Queen), Tiffany is ready to take the next step in her education toward becoming a witch.  Leaving her beloved Chalk and fields of sheep behind, she goes to study with the duplicitous Miss Level, an older witch living in the forest some distance away.  All going well in Tiffany’s first days with Miss Level, a strange spirit called a hiver comes to haunt the land, however, dogging Tiffany’s steps.  The Nac Mac Feegle aware of it too, they prepare themselves for a trip—Jeannie laying geas on them to protect Tiffany.  Arriving too late, they, and Miss Level and Grany Weatherwax, must find a way to help Tiffany, or at least give her a way to help herself from the hiver.

Review of The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett



The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents is perhaps the most unique story of Discworld.  It is also the series’ first YA title.  Opening a new door for Pratchett in the setting, it was apparently a wide one as he opted to write a second YA novel, The Wee Free Men.  Like Maurice, The Wee Free Men is a book that can easily be enjoyed by the young and old alike.  Tailoring the perspective rather than content, he uses a Snow White and the Seven Dwarves motif to introduce a playground-sized heroine with strong will, the delightful Tiffany Aching.

The Wee Free Men opens with nine-year old Tiffany playing by a stream near her parents’ farm in the Chalk, a very rural region of the Disc.  A basket floats by, but turns out to be a boat oared by a mouthy, mini-blue man covered in tattoos and speaking in a strong Scottish brogue.  He shouts a quick warning to her, but just as quickly floats on.  A strange green creature attacking from the rushes soon thereafter, Tiffany heads home to get her frying pan and some bait to take the creature out.  Her little brother Wentworth unwittingly occupying the role of the latter, she soon regrets the choice as he is stolen away by the Queen of Fairyland in the aftermath of the fight.  A rescue needed, the little blue men return to help Tiffany—perhaps offering more than is needed—to get her brother back.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Review of The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood



It’s is Alicia Ostriker, in her wonderful collection of essays Dancing at the Devil’s Party, who writes “the true poet is necessarily the partisan of energy, rebellion, and desire, and is opposed to passivity, obedience, and the authority of reasons, laws and institutions. Daring to deconstruct one of the most dearly held myths of the Western world, Margaret Atwood’s 2005 The Penelopiad is certainly a tango step or two with the one with the pitchfork tail.  Taking The Odyssey and turning it on its head, from comedy to tragedy, Atwood gives readers Penelope’s side of the story.

Narrated from Hades, The Penelopiad is a recounting of Penelope’s life from beyond the grave.  Atwood utilizing not only The Odyssey but also Robert Graves’ monumental The Greek Myths as well as other historical material, the woman’s recollection of her life covers not only her time with Odysseus (or at least waiting for him), but her childhood, demise, marriage, relationship with her son Telemachus, relationship with her father, and relationship with her maids—maids hung by Odysseus and Telemachus.  So while a sympathetic character arises from the shadows of history, there remain others whose light is diminished.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Review of Solaris Rising 3 ed. by Ian Whates



In my wild mind, I often compare the job an editor has sequencing stories for an anthology to a band sequencing songs for an album.  New bands often lump their better songs toward the beginning, hoping to cash in on the splash, while the more experienced tend to use different tactics to evoke a desired response.  One such tactic is to follow up a solid opener with a bit of mediocre material before laying on the good stuff—an easing into the music as it were, such that the last impression leaves the best impression.  While reading Ian Whates Solaris Rising 3: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction (Solaris, 2014) this strategy took shape in my mind, and as the last several stories were absorbed, I was convinced as to the tactic.  But then again, the beauty of science fiction anthologies is that everyone walks away with a different opinion of what was good and what wasn’t… 

Solaris Rising 3 opens on a strong note: “When We Harvested the Nacre- Rice” by Benjanun Sriduangkaew, which is the story of Pahayal and a woman she finds laying half-dead in a puddle near her home.  War raging between Pahayal’s land and a neighbor, she isn’t surprised to learn the woman, named Etiesse, is a soldier.   But it isn’t until the two visit a weapons’ museum and an attack takes place that Pahayal learns exactly what kind of soldier Etiesse is.  The line of story playing out steadily and evenly, with ripples of poetic prose here and there, Pahayal’s tale, for as minimalist as it is on the surface, tugs subtly at something deeper, more emotional, and certainly more anthropological.  Set in an intriguing setting where the ocean lies just a meter beneath the soil and ethereal, unearthly creatures emerge from pools in the night, “The Goblin Hunter” by Chris Beckett has a wonderfully described backdrop. Set in his Lutania world, a young woman is tasked with keeping the locals under control as they needlessly hunt and kill native species for reasons of superstition.  Beckett’s agenda an obvious one—and one that, in fact, should be propagated further, I remain, however, wishful that the characters and their dialogue were closer to mimetic such that the impact and heights of profundity aimed at could have been better achieved.  Carrying on with the idea of cultural intrusion, “Homo Floresiensis” by Ken Liu is the story of the grad student Benjamin and what happens when his ornithology studies in Indonesia are sidetracked by the discovery of some very unique bones.  Though ending in a manner unqiue to Liu, the question remains: does the simplicity of plot and character bear the heady weight of the theme? 

Review of The White Otters of Childhood by Michael Bishop



Roger Zelazny’s 1966 This Immortal is a post-apocalyptic story which puts humanity on the stand and adjudges its value.  Dashes of comic book violence tossed in to spice up the noir mood, the novel displayed multiple facets of the genre.  Taking precisely the same idea yet shading the sensationalism with symbolism, Michael Bishop’s 1973 novella The White Otters of Childhood is likewise a quality read that critiques humanity’s worth. 

The year 5309, mankind has somehow survived a second holocaust, its 2 million remaining souls living on the island of Guardian's Loop in the Caribbean.  An alien group called the Parfects, aloof of human concerns, live beyond the seas silently watching and ensuring humanity does not extend beyond the island.  Markcrier Rains, employee of the Sunken Library, is called upon to be an ambassador amongst the Parfects for a year.  But it’s upon his return to the island that the story really starts.  Falling in love with a friend’s daughter, he does so in the knowledge the island’s Navarch, a hairy man called Fearing Serenos, is likewise in love with the beautiful, disfigured woman.  Rivalry, hatred, scorn, and revenge unraveling in the aftermath of the wedding, the island of Guardian’s Loop is never the same, the Parfects overseeing all.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Review of The Eye with Which the Universe Beholds Itself by Ian Sales



Ray Bradbury’s “The Rocket Man”, while not on the list of short stories many consider canonical, remains a poignant piece about a husband and father at war with himself.  The joy and excitement he experiences traveling and working in space offset by the despair of spending time away from his wife and children, the resulting heartache is the centerpiece of the story—a heartache easy for a person to relate to looking up at the night sky in amazement and yet be grounded with love and life invested in their family.  Layering on the technical details of the space program and adding a pinch of Genre 101 to spice things up, Ian Sales’ The Eye with which the Universe Beholds Itself (2013) is the second of a projected four alternate histories of the Apollo program.

Like Adrift on the Sea of Rains, an astronaut is the main character of TEwWtUBI.  Brigadier General Bradley Elliot the first human to set foot on Mars, one half of the narrative is devoted to describing the mission, and all its ups and downs.  Elliot’s nine days Mars-side anything but standard, a bizarre discovery has a direct effect on mankind’s next steps in the solar system, and beyond.  The trip also affects the relationship with his beloved wife on Earth.  Elliott now in his late fifties, the other half of the narrative (interwoven in alternating scenes with the first) finds the man once again suiting up for space.  This time, however, his mission is top secret.  After arriving at a system orbital, he is whisked away to the planet Gliese 876 where a mysterious occurrence has top layers of US government astir, even down to Area 51.  His relationship only deteriorating in the time since the Mars’ mission, it is with heavy heart Elliot sets out for what is to be his final mission.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Review of The Execution Channel by Ken Macleod



The Fall Revolution quartet, Engines of Light trilogy, Newton’s Wake, and Learning the World—the first nine novels written by Ken Macleod—are all science fiction of a new space opera/far future/BIG concept variety. In 2007, however, the author decided to abandon space and focus on Earth and contemporary concerns.  The Execution Channel his first near-future work, it also (seemingly) gave Macleod a release valve for his thoughts regarding terrorism and the surrounding post-9-11 disorder in media and government.  A savvy techno-thriller, the novel delivers all of the political science Macleod is known for in an angry, riveting story of (dis)information in the age of the Patriot Act.  Keeping his oeuvre fresh, the transition produced a work as notable as those which came before.

On the opening page of The Execution Channel, a small nuclear bomb is detonated on an American military base in Scotland.  A handful of nuclear explosions having gone off in the few intervening years between now and when the story is set, it’s not a huge surprise (in the context of 9-11, that is) but one which has those involved active and hungry for knowledge about responsible parties so they may seek vengeance.  Initially announced as a weapon malfunction by the British government, a young peace activist named Roisin was at the base a short time before the explosion and has photos which tell a different story.  The blogosphere exploding with frenzied discussion, big questions, and complex conspiracy theories, a blogger named Mark Dark tries to dig through the muddle to find the truth.  While sieving through the information and disinformation provided by viewers, known sources, and internet hit groups, Dark comes across info that sheds an interesting light on the accusations flying at Al Quaeda, Syria, Russia, China, Korea, and beyond. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Review of The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume 5 ed. by Jonathan Strahan



And yet another The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year anthology to pore over, 2010’s being Jonathan Strahan’s fifth.  For those familiar with Strahan’s author preferences, the selections will not come as a surprise.  It is a rich mix, from the popular—ahem, well-known—to the far lesser known, male to female, native English speakers to the international writer, a wide spread of viewpoints is represented, but certainly some personal favorites once again make an appearance.  From the genre perspective, it covers science fiction, fantasy, and everything between (but as always, do ignore the cover, as fantasy once again holds the lion’s share).  Enough lip service; it’s about the stories.

The anthology opens on a colorful splash with “Elegy for a Young Elk” by Hannu Rajaniemi.  Somewhere between hard (quantum mechanic) science and fantasy (of a mythological bent), it is the story of man living in a computer generated environment and the quest he is sent on to the city by an ex-girlfriend.  Continually escalating plot exponentially in terms of reality, the ending does close a circle, but seeming one of far too great imaginative circumference for the length of the story.  Dark like a day threatening to rain, Neil Gaiman’s “The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains” is the story of a dwarf looking for treasure but with much more on his mind.  Possessing a beautiful storytelling voice, it should be read aloud.  The inclusion of a Gaiman story in a ‘year’s best’ almost requisite for Strahan, this selection, however, does not disappoint as much as others have.  Whether the moral is original, well, that is another story (ha!).  “Seven Sexy Cowboy Robots” by Sandra McDonald is a tale that appears absurd at the outset (cowboy robot sex slaves on ice skates??), but once the reader enters they find interesting layers of gender discussion in the story of a woman who got revenge on her husband by requesting seven said robots as part of the divorce deal—intriguing in a bizarre way. “The Spy Who Never Grew Up” by Sarah Rees Brennan is a modern take on Peter Pan where, the boy who never grows old, has become a secret agent working for MI-6.  Neither superbly well-written or sophisticated, it’s a light read that will appeal to the fairy-minded crowd, but doesn’t have much lasting appeal.  Like Brennan’s story, Holly Black’s “The Aarne-Thompson Classification Revue” is another less-than-serious affair that plays with a major trope of fantasy: werewolves, in urban, tongue-in-cheek fashion. Written unnecessarily in the present tense, it is sprightly, but in due course less-than-inspiring, as well.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Review of Adrift on the Sea of Rains by Ian Sales



One of the interesting phenomenon I observe in science fiction is the group of fans who believe that hard sf is the true sf.  The ‘science’ in ‘science fiction’ being the ultimate litmus test, writers like Larry Niven, Gregory Benford, Paul McAuley, Stephen Baxter are revered as gods, Greg Egan perhaps the ruling deity.  Having a strong preference for works which foreground extrapolation on existing knowledge, their forums and blogs revel in the technical details and theoretical underpinning of their favorite authors’ conceptions.  Looking at its title, and then perusing Ian Sales' blog It Doesn’t Have to be Right…it just has to sound plausible would give the appearance that the author would be subject to such discussion.  But if there was any doubt, his 2012 BSFA winning novella Adrift on the Sea of Rains clinches it. 

What Mike at Potpourri of Science Fiction Literature rightfully identifies as an “unabashed glorification of the heydays of NASA”, Adrift on the Sea of Rains fictionalizes in-depth research of the Apollo program, both conceptual and actual, to produce a Cold War alternate history that has a very real, very hard sf feel.  In the story, the US has established a lunar base in an attempt to stay one step ahead of the USSR.  A small group of astronauts and scientists calling Falcon base home, the story opens some time after a nuclear war on Earth has left them stranded with no contact.  Only a few months of provisions remaining, the group, captained by Peterson, must deal with isolation, lack of morale, and character inter-tension as best they can staring down their fate.  But when a radio signal is picked up from Earth one day—the first since nuclear hostilities, the hope of seeing Earth once again rises.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Review of The Road to Corlay by Richard Cowper



The cycle of power, from revolution to decline, is the bread and butter of epic fantasy.  E.R.R. Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros openly displaying the idea in its title and Tolkien penning a vast epic to describe the end of the Third Age, to say it is one of the most common tropes of the sub-genre (though for some I realize it is genre) would be selling it short.  It thus takes a special hand, an approach which make characters real and a method that invites readers into the story, to make a story (or series) stick out from the herd.  So while Terry Brooks was doing his best to assimilate in 1977, Richard Cowper was writing a story he hoped would stand out.  The Road to Corlay published in 1978, it opens with the novella The Piper at the Gates of Dawn as its prologue, and expands from there.  The result: a novel that time has inexplicably forgotten—inexplicable as Brooks is still remembered—but is deserving of renewed attention.

The Road to Corlay opens with the story of an elderly storyteller named Peter and his young traveling companion, Tom.  On their way to York to enroll Tom as an apprentice cleric, the two strike up a special friendship.  Tom’s skills as a flutist complementing Peter’s tales beautifully, the two rake in the cash on the journey.  Peter loathe to give up the boy once they arrive in York, he plays off Tom’s strange visions and convinces him to stay on the road for another half a year.  Trouble is, they never get a chance.  Events conspiring to prevent their road trip, a wrench is thrown into the works of the kingdom on the eve of the fourth millennium as a wildfire of belief spreads itself across the land.

Review of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn by Richard Cowper



The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is the story of Peter the tale spinner and his nephew, fourteen year old Tom, who are on their way to York to enroll the lad as an apprentice clerk for the government, per his mother’s wishes.  Meeting a wide variety of people on their journey, through their conversations the state of the land, as ruled by a strong-armed theocrat, slowly comes into view.  Tom a gifted pupil of the pipe, his tongue, split like a serpents to produce notes in the two halves of his instrument, was trained by the now dead magician Moffred.  Hoping to keep the young boy’s talent backing his street corner parleys for a while longer, Peter attempts to subvert Moffred’s teachings the closer the two draw to York.  But it’s in the medieval-esque city that the decision is made for them.

Cowper proving himself as adept a storyteller as Peter, what begins simple enough slowly cottons into a tale that extends beyond the traveling duo to encompass a kingdom.  Not epic-epic, however, Cowper keeps his story character-centric, a person here and there added to expand the setting.  The prose smooth and gentle (Robert Silverberg’s comes easily to mind), the reader is guided along without truly feeling the pages turn, imagery perfectly balanced with dialogue and plot development.  Aiming at and hitting the larger concepts of religion, society, revolution, and societal transition, the fact the whole reverts back to the characters is a testament to the novella’s integrity.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Review of The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood



George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four, while not the seminal work of dystopian literature, is certainly one of, if not the most influential.  The premise a thought experiment wherein an authoritarian government monitors its citizens’ behavior for purposes of subjugation, it puts freedom at the ultimate premium: a person’s ability to comprehend reality.  Wholly politicized, Orwell delved deeply into the individual aspects of replete authoritarianism, but left gender as a sub topic.  In 1985 Margaret Atwood produced The Handmaid’s Tale, and in doing so foregrounded gender in a dystopian setting just as powerfully disturbing and politicized as Orwell’s. 

Not an imitation, The Handmaid’s Tale, while borrowing the geo-political premise of Orwell, remains unique.  North America at war, differing religious and political factions have taken pockets of power after a mass assassination of the American president and senate.  The Gileadans one of the major players arising in the aftermath, they enforce their religion on the society they rule.  Nuclear weaponry having been used in the aftermath of the assassinations, the Gileadans sequester their women and heavily regulate behavior to the point of making them prisoners under the guise of protecting the procreation of mankind.  This protection in the form of moderated ovulation, copulation, and conception, each woman is in fact a baby factory, disposed of when they pass the age of child bearing, sent to clean the radiation belt in the zone beyond.  Power and control wholly in the hands of men, it is in the house of a Gileadean commander that the story of The Handmaid’s Tale takes place.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Review of Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut



It seems that for every ‘good’ piece of technology, a ‘bad’ exists to offset it.  And for every invention developed with the best of intentions, it sure seems able to be put to some awful uses.  Medicine, atomic bombs, television—you name it, it fits within the multi-colored spectrum of humanity’s creations—a spectrum that seems to sum at zero in the end.  Seemingly no chance to avoid the development, use, and misuse of technology, it’s best to take a fatalistic view; whatever happens, happens—at least this is the view I came upon reading Kurt Vonnegut’s 1963 Cat’s Cradle.

Cat’s Cradle is the story of the everyday journalist John and his attempts to write a book about what Americans were doing the day Hiroshima was bombed.  Desiring to include the inventor himself, John seeks out Felix Hoenikker, the brain power behind the weapon.  Learning he’s since passed, however, John settles for interviewing his surviving children.  Through the course of getting the interviews and other material for the book, John arrives on the island of San Lorenzo in the Caribbean.  The local dictator not the only strange aspect to life there, a religion called Bokononism permeates society with mysterious precepts shrouded in words such as ‘karass’, ‘foma’, ‘sinookas’, and many others.  John also learns of a secret substance called ice-nine and its radical potential to alter the world in ways humanity never dreamed.  But the biggest surprise of all on San Lorenzo is the dictator’s announcement on his deathbed.   John’s job is about to change. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Review of Earth Abides by George Stewart



Innumerable the post-apocalyptic settings haunting speculative fiction are.  Hand in hand with dystopia, the genre’s writers render the world as we know it in ever bleaker hues of civilization’s collapse.  From the cheapness of carnivorous plants to the integrity of gender, there are myriad perspectives on humanity’s chances and method of survival should the ‘big one’ ever happen.  But among the first, and as a result more influential, is George Stewart’s 1949 Earth Abides.  Later re-visioned by Stephen King, Richard Matheson, Cormac McCarthy, and others in more realistic tones, Stewart’s novel nevertheless remains a classic in the field, if not for one reason only: its ideological quandary.

Earth Abides is the story of Isherwood Williams, otherwise known as Ish.  Lost in the mountains after being bitten by a rattlesnake, he returns to the comforts of civilization only to find that it is gone.  Everywhere a ghost town, through old newspaper headlines he learns that an epidemic has swept the globe, killing 99% of the people.  Getting in his car and going for a cross-country drive, he finds a few other humans still alive.  But as most have an agenda different than his own, he decides to return to his parents’ home in San Francisco to start a new life.  Though the occasional survivor turns up on his doorstep, meeting a woman on the other side of the city turns Ish’s life around. Named Emma, the two fall in love and start rebuilding society one brick at a time.  Trouble is, society may not be able to re-built.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Review of ...And Then There Were None by Eric Frank Russell



My first and only experience with Eric Frank Russell was the tiny, glowing piece that opens Brian Aldiss’ Penguin Book of Science Fiction ”Sole Solution”.  Evocative for such a short work, I tucked Russell’s name away as a writer with potential, and that should I encounter another of his works, would read it.  His 1951 novella …And Then There Were None was encountered, and, has been read.  A wildly different piece than the evocative imagery opening Aldiss’ anthology, it nevertheless remains thoroughly enjoyable, even to this day.

…And Then There Were None is the story of a visit by the Terran Ambassador to the planet Gand.  Though humans inhabited the planet more than four centuries ago, it is the first visit of Earthlings, since.  Landing on the planet in style, the ambassador immediately sends one of his entourage to the closest person, a farmer, and demand he come for an audience to describe Gand and what has happened on the planet in the intervening centuries.  Nonplussed, the farmer deflects their request with indifferent wit and returns to his work, as do the others the entourage accost.  Eventually making their way to a nearby town, the ambassador is aggrieved to find that nobody cares to speak with him, most, in fact, doing their best to avoid his spaceship.  Moreover, each of townspeople keep using a strange word, ‘myob’, to conclude what passes for conversation.  The ambassador angry at the perceived lack of respect thrown his way, more drastic measures are employed to get to the bottom of the indifference, including infiltration.  But in the end, the most important question is: who’s befuddling who?

Review of May Be Some Time by Brenda W. Clough



Open-ended history is a big, fat doorway for modern fantasy writers to walk through.  Dan Simmons’ The Terror, for example, postulates a fictional ending for the crew of the Erberus and Terror whose fate is unknown in reality. Nicola Griffith’s Hild likewise writes a volume of history where none exists in textbooks.  Andy Duncan puts a sense of prescience into George Patton’s head in Fortitude, providing an explanation for his bravery under fire.  Tying off a thread left hanging in the wind in R.F Scott’s Antarctic journals, Brenda W. Clough’s 2001 novella May Be Some Time is likewise one such extrapolation, though, given its combination with a variety of other tropes, holds more in common with a popcorn thriller.

May Be Some Time is the continuation of the story of Lawrence “Titus” Oates.  With his last words spoken in the Antarctic, he wandered away from the starving, frostbitten fellow expedition members in delirium and was never heard from again.  Resurrected in 2045 after advances in science have made such things possible, Titus is in a whole new world compared to the Eduardian one he last existed within.  Women having rights and receiving education, transportation vastly speedier, and information available at the fingertip, to say he is in shock would be an understatement.  But it’s coming to terms with aliens that is the real purpose behind his revivification.