Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Hugo 2014! Hugo 2014! Read All About It!



Extra, extra!  The farce that is the Hugo Awards rolls over into 2014!  Right-wing extremist coup attempt on nominations!  Award process offers no defense!  

I have previously pointed out the, ahem, gaps in the Hugo award process.  But I know I am just a lone, weak voice in the crowd.  I run a backalley, East Podunk, beyond the black stump blog where opinion matters naught in the face of the mighty Hugo.  Guess I’ll just have to leave it to the award to shoot itself in the foot… Wait!!  In 2014, thanks to the Sad Puppy campaign, it has!

Emergency room appraises wounds! Hugo in critical condition!

When Hugo nominations opened for 2014, Larry Correia, science fiction/fantasy author of, ahem, ‘midlist detective stories’ (some of which are set in a world subtly named ‘Grimnoir’), posted a list of authors and works that his fans could/should nominate.  The campaign successful, five of the eight categories feature Correia’s suggestions.  These names include: Brad Torgersen and the redoubtable Vox Day (Theodore Beale) for best novelette, and Correia himself for best novel.  With the appearance of this group of authors on the ballot and alllllllll the ideological baggage they bring in tow, the Hugo process, and by default the organizers which oversee the process, have been caught with their pants hanging—at the ankles in a stiff breeze.

Speculiction sprouts legs - at least for a moment...

The venerable Joachim Boaz, though masquerading as a cartography merchant, is in fact an archeologist of literary dimension.  Digging through the dusty back list of science fiction, he unearths treasures abandoned by the zeitgeist of the genre and describes his findings on the wonderful Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations.  Starting a series of posts on Michael Bishop in an effort to revive awareness to one of the science fiction's great writers before he fades from genre memory, he asked this humble blog progenitor to submit a guest post, which I gladly did.  Death and Designation among the Asadi read, written about, and passed along, the review can be found here.

Review of Born with the Dead by Robert Silverberg



There is a significant amount of words and books published regarding Eduard Said’s idea of Otherness.  One such perspective is that the grass is always greener on the other side, e.g. the American Dream as perceived by arrivees to Ellis Island, or the common Polish perception that Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Greece are fun loving, sun-drenched countries where everyday is a glass of wine and relaxing on the beach.  Said using the Orient has his prime example, one sub-set of the idea is that Easterners are culturally better prepared for death.  With strong mythic overtones, it’s precisely this area that Robert Silverberg explores in his 1974 novella Born with the Dead.

The world taking on different shades and hues when the technology to rekindle the dead comes available, Jorge Klein wants nothing more than to see his ‘dead’ wife Sybille one last time after having been taken from the living in an unfortunate accident.  Tracking her and her dead friends’ reanimated bodies to the island of Zanzibar, he confronts the largest of them, Zacharius, begging to have one last glimpse, one last chat, one last moment with Sybille, her death too much to bear.  Denied the moment, Klein abandons his life as a professor and devotes his time to gaining it, tracking the woman and her friends the lengths of the Earth.  He achieves the moment, but not in a way he expected.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Review of "Empire of Ice Cream" by Jeffrey Ford



(Please note, this review is for the novelette “Empire of Ice Cream”, not Ford's collection of the same name.)

Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game is one of the great pieces of literature.  Like a mobile, it is an artistic presentation of how ideas which superficially seem distant can, in fact, be interlinked at some level.  Synesthesia a neurological condition that manifests such seeming impossible juxtapositions in reality, it is not strange to find vanilla and powder blue bedfellows.  Jeffrey Ford’s 2003 novelette “The Empire of Ice Cream” is precisely this kind of story.

The novelette is the first person recollection of William, a young man born a synesthete.  The era unaware of the condition, little William, an only child, is shuttled by his parents to therapists and psycholigists in an attempt to cure him of what they, and everyone else, believe to be hallucinations.  Growing up sheltered, William is misanthropic save for one aspect of his life: music, and he composes with crayons.  Eventually freed from his parent’s ignorance, his new found freedom takes him to places, literally and figuratively, he’d never imagined.  But it’s the girl he sees when eating coffee ice cream that attracts him the most and demands an explanation.

Review of Fortitude by Andy Duncan



George Patton is a name that used to be household.  A gruff persona who was able to lead American forces to victory in both world wars, it’s only in the past few decades, as survivors of those eras pass on, that the General’s name has begun to slip from public memory.  Part proud cowboy and part bulldog, his was, in many ways, the face of the American war front in Europe—a fact glorified in the 1970 film titled simply Patton.  Beyond the biographical and deep into the personal, Andy Duncan’s 1999 novella Fortitude is a hallucinatory, prognostic, and poignant look beyond the unyielding façade of the general. 

‘Fortitude’ defined as “mental strength and courage that allows someone to face danger, pain, etc.” according to Merriam-Webster’s Online, ‘bull-headed’ is a less formal way of stating George Patton’s worldview.  Angry and ashamed of cowardly behavior, he led armies standing in the van, empowering them with simple speeches that appealed to their base emotions.  An idealized war hero perhaps only in presentation, the man’s thoughts remain something of a mystery—something which Duncan, who obviously did his homework before writing Fortitude, attempts to speculate upon.  The result is appealing biographical material in non-pedantic form.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Review of Greg Egan by Karen Burnham



It’s very typical that university programs are divided between science and the humanities.  Seemingly disparate areas of study, the approach, methodology, often even the personalities of the students are different.  In our day and age, however, the applications of science have been integrated with nearly every facet of life and the pursuit of science permeates our cultural and social behavior.  The idea has become the overriding paradigm of Western existence and is infiltrating developing areas apace.  So intricately interwoven, in fact, eliminating science would drastically change the direction our lives are moving.  Hard science fiction the strongest artistic link binding these two traditionally insular areas together, Karen Burnham’s author study, called simply Greg Egan (2014, University of Illinois Press), attempts to make a case for the author being the best literary example of the association: science as humanism.

Burnham approaches Egan with the methodology of a standard author study.  Her own doctoral work in science utilized, evident are the knowledge and ability to contextualize and present the subject matter, attention to detail and history, and the importance of working from a structure that shapes the whole—a predication, as it were.  The body of the text therefore parses Egan’s fiction into four distinct areas: ethics (as exhibited in character, gender, lgbt aspects, transhumanism, uneven distribution of wealth, money and politics in scientific research, etc.), identity (including neurochemical consciousness and consciousness as information), “hard core math and physics” (including subjective cosmology, figuring out the rules of physics, how science works in the fictional societies and cultures, and alternate physics and cosmologies), and the relationship between the worldview presented in Egan’s fiction and contemporary society (including religion, post-modernism, and science as giving purpose and meaning). 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Review of Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny



Creation myths are among the most powerful stories mankind has created.  From the fertile, varied mix of Australian Aborigines to the Jewish Yahweh, the Greek Titans to the coalescence of the heavens in Daoism, each culture, and eventually human, knows and relates to stories which explain how the world, or some aspect of it, came into being.  An open tribute to Jack Vance, Roger Zelazny’s 1971 Jack of Shadows is one such story.

Never named, Jack of Shadows takes place on a planet stuck in rotation.  The sun only ever striking one side, the other half lies in perpetual twilight, the stars lighting one’s path.  But night and day are not the only aspects separating the two halves.  Mortality in the form of souls and science thrive on the day side, while magic and immortality cohabit on the dark side.  A precursor to Changeling and Madwand (from a premise point of view), the novel tells of the eponymous Jack and the adventures he has on both sides of a globe.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Review of The Wedding Album by David Marusek



Of the multitude of ideas contained within William Gibson’s Sprawl series, one is the idea of transferring existence from the real world into a virtual world.  Only one of many shining facets to the books, Neal Stephenson grabbed the idea and took a tiny step forward with it, Snow Crash depicting a plausible second life scenario.  But it took Greg Egan to get both hands around the idea and wrestle it humanist shape; nearly the entirety of Permutation City focuses on virtual life and virtual copies of humans in a virtual world.  But even upon turning the last page of his novel, the reader is still left with the feeling there’s a lot of room left for exploration.  Save the conclusion, Egan’s world of multiplying copies of an individual remains too under control, too civilized.  One would expect a higher degree of intra- and interpersonal chaos.  Probing the private, emotional side of virtual existence, David Marusek’s 1999 novella The Wedding Album takes the concept further along these lines.

The Wedding Album is the story of Ann and Benjamin, ostensibly a newly married couple.  The time frame late 23rd century, each have been creating virtual copies of themselves at various points in their lives, and now that they are married, make these replications available to one another, the copies they created on their wedding day forming the intersecting point.  The variety of virtual selves covering a span of evolved technology, some pass sentience tests while others do not, each only half-certain of the difference between the virtual world they live in and the actual happenings in the original’s life since the last time they were copied or reset.  A splintered overview of life the result, Ann and Benjamin’s personal lives collide in virtual reality to the point their lives in reality are affected, and chaos results.

Review of "The Custodians" by Richard Cowper



Despite the thread of pessimism cunningly interwoven the length of the story, Richard Cowper’s 1976 “The Custodians” is a gem of a novelette.  Written in crisp, interest-building prose, it brings to light the free will vs. determinism debate in subtle, fantastical terms.

Set in the early 20th century, “The Custodians” is the story of Marcus Spindrift, a young man interested in the arcane works of Meister Sternwärts.  Knowing that the monastery of Hautaire holds the majority of the man’s recorded works, it’s there he requests an audience, and after receiving an invitation, is warmly welcomed by Friar Rodrigo, a man who, strangely enough, knew he was coming.  Spindrift’s world turned upside in the aftermath of his visit to the monastery, it is what he decides to do with the esoteric knowledge he gains there, however, that makes all the difference.

Developed and presented in plausible enough terms, “The Custodians” is indeed a story of precognition, and through it Cowper explores humanity’s role in determining the future and if, indeed, it plays any role at all.  Intrigue snowballing into gotta-know proportion, Cowper should, along with presenting an engaging idea, be commended for his smooth, direct syntax.  Though sharing a sci-fi device in common with Philip K. Dick—the precog master, “The Custodian” is a much better written piece style-wise and comes recommended for anyone looking for a little thought candy on free will and the direction society is headed. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Review of Worlds Enough & Time by Dan Simmons



If there is anything to be said of Dan Simmons as a person, it’s he’s not shy expressing his opinion.  Equipped with better than average tools for this expression, reading the story introductions to his 2002 collection Worlds Enough & Time one realizes the confidence with which he goes about his craft is well founded.  A blessing and a curse, it allows for effectively focused prose and sustained plotting, much to the technical benefit of his stories.  At the same time, it does not allow for much second guessing, leading to ideas that shoot off on questionable tangents—straight, cogent tangents, but questionable nonetheless.

World Enough and Time, Simmons’ third collection, contains five selections (two novellas and three novelettes) which, as a whole, exemplify this polarization: two are standout, while the three remaining are mediocre to less than.  An extremely varied mix from the point of view of premise, it’s nigh on impossible to identify common threads save generalities like fantasy, science fiction, etc.  Published between 1995 and 2002, there is an Earth-bound alien adventure of mountainous heights, an examination of the history and purpose of the space program, a teacher’s surreal self-realization, one mini space opera in the Hyperion setting, and another in the Ilium/Olympos setting.