Sunday, June 29, 2014

Review of Osama by Lavie Tidhar

From pulp-minded cynics there is the impression that the literati like nothing more than a book which presents fractals of reality impressed upon social and cultural situations—the more politically and historically significant, the better.  If you can somehow throw in the values of literature (meta or otherwise), well, that’s just ink for the Nobel.  Post-modern the name of the game, numerous are the works of serious literature (no quotes needed) attempting to portray existence as ever deconstructing relativity for critical acclaim.  Speculative fiction a genre not well known for its forays into this realm of literature, there have been successful attempts, nevertheless.  Jorge Luis Borges, J.G. Ballard, M. John Harrison, Jeff VanderMeer, Philip K. Dick (though perhaps unintentional) among them, adding his name to this list is Lavie Tidhar, Osama (2012) the novel securing his position.

Ostensibly, Osama is the story of the private investigator Joe and the bizarre case he’s contracted to take on.  Living in Ventiane, Laos, his only loves are cigarettes, whiskey, and the series of pulp paperback novels he reads religiously called Osama Bin Laden: Vigilante.  The main character Osama an anti-hero, the books tell the story of bombings, destruction, and the overall machinations of a man attempting to bring his version of justice to the Western world.  A strange girl entering Joe’s office one day, she asks him to track down the writer of the fictional antihero Osama, Mike Longshott.  Though wanting to say no, the plastic with unlimited credit handed his way serves to change Joe’s mind.   Beginning his investigation into Longshott’s whereabouts things quickly become strange: mysterious men in black suits shoot at him for no reason.  For poor Joe, however, that’s not as strange as things become, particularly the closer he gets to the reclusive writer.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Review of Sergeant Chip by Bradley Denton

The sentient dog has quietly snuck its way in to become a sub-sub-genre of speculative fiction.  Olaf Stapledon’s Sirius, Clifford Simak’s City, Roger Zelazny’s He Who Shapes, Terry Pratchett’s Moving Pictures, and others use articulate canines for varying reasons (juxtaposition, evolutionary markers, disorientation, social commentary, comedy, etc.), in 2004 Bradley Denton added the novella Sergeant Chip to the mix, empathy against the political scene the reason.

The ultimate in obedience, Sergeant Chip is a trained soldier dog assigned to Captain Dial.  Top of his class at the academy, he is able to perform all of the training exercises with utmost intelligence, skill, and speed.  He also has an implant in his neck which allows him to sub-vocally communicate with Dial.  Not in a “Hi, how are you today?” sense, rather in a simple giving of commands and making intentions known.  All is well in their relationship until war comes calling, and Dial and Chip are sent to a distant outpost to guard a base.  Enemy attacks eventually coming fast and strong, it comes as a surprise who the enemy actually is. 

Review of "The Truth of Fact, Truth of Feeling" by Ted Chiang

One of the main reasons I utilize youtube is to look for interviews with interesting authors.  Kim Stanley Robinson reveals himself to be as erudite in person as the content of his books; William Gibson proves some of the most influential novels the past decades are rooted in a deep understanding of our modern world; China Mieville, while only beginning to employ his knowledge in his novels, reveals the adjectives flying chaotically on paper can be pulled out of the hat just as easily when speaking.  Iain Banks is even more fiery with a microphone in front of him, and Bruce Sterling comes across as more obtusely alternative than what we see in his stories.  In the midst learning this, I discovered a presentation by Ted Chiang delivered at EXPO 1: New York in the Museum of Modern Art (found here). Discussing all facets of life-logging, including the benefits and disadvantages of prosthetic memory (and memory recall), the talk is eye-opening regarding the technology and its possibilities.  Implementing the idea in story form, “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” is the fictional result.

The novelette is the first person narrative of a journalist describing the research he performed for an article on the latest technology to hit the market: Remem.  Essentially Google for the video life-logs people carry and keep, Remem allows a person to search their past for any recorded moment and view it.  Type or sub-vocalize ‘first party at university’ and in a few seconds a tiny screen pops up in the corner of your retina featuring your first big-scale social experience away from home.  But testing the technology has unforeseen results for the unnamed narrator.  Video of of a troubled experience with his daughter revealing details he remembered differently, he faces a reckoning if he is to move forward with their relationship.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Review of More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon

Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke hog the spotlight for channeling the optimism of modernism into fiction.  Kings of the Silver Age, their stories feature squeaky clean space modules where every pipe, switch, and console functions as it should, scientists with nothing but altruism for the human race at heart, and a no-situation-can’t-be-overcome attitude toward engineering and problem solving.  The hope space offered was on their, and the Western world’s mind.  Falling in these writers’ shadows were those who utilized other burgeoning subjects du jour.  Parapsychology something many were equally optimistic about, it features in numerous works of the era.  Alfred Bester put it to wide use, as did Jack Vance, Frederik Pohl, Phillip K. Dick, Harry Harrison, (early) Robert Silverberg, and others toward telling stories of the mentally possible, and in turn popularizing the idea.  But the pinnacle of psi-power’s sanguinity is certainly Theodore Sturgeon’s More Than Human.  A undeniably modernist statement from the perspective of parapsychology, the novel's premise sags beneath the weight of time but remains powerful for the high quality prose and transcendence of traditional mores.

Now perceived as more fantasy than science fiction (an interesting transition considering the material itself underwent no change), More Than Human is the story of the oddest of odd humans and their drawing together to become something more.  Opening in fairy tale tone, the reader is introduced to the “fabulous idiot” and the trials of life (and love) he must go through to be functionally independent.  A trio of young girls eventually finding their way to his forest home, the idiot doesn’t bat an eye learning one is telekinetic and the other two—twins, in fact—can teleport at will.  But finding a baby left behind by a farmer turns out to be the game changer.  A catalyst binding the bizarre group together, they are now equipped to revolutionize society.  Whether they know it or not, however, is another story.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Review of Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

The list of genre authors who are or were recognized by the literary world at large is not great in length.  Despite the amount of attention and success she has received within the field, Ursula Le Guin has never been able to fully crossover.  Gene Wolfe, through all of the literary pretense, has yet to engage the non-genre community in any significantly manner.  Iain Banks had to add a middle initial to keep his two writing personas separate.  Orwell and Huxley are lauded by everyone, genre aficionados to the literati, but their careers began and were built on writing literary realism and non-fiction.  Michael Crichton is one of the few who has more readers on the mainstream side despite the fact his stories are clearly science fiction, and Stephen King, well, he is just a force of his own.  Ray Bradbury was/is a successful crossover, but if you remove Fahrenheit 451 from his oeuvre, his recognizance outside the field drops significantly.  One of the few who have successfully and consistently made the jump is Kurt Vonnegut, and the subject of this review is his most read work Slaughterhouse-Five.

The novel is the story of Billy Pilgrim.  Time having no hold, Pilgrim slips back, forth, and all around—past, present, and future.  He swims in a pool in his youth; he is an eye doctor in old age; he’s in an shopping mall; he’s meeting with aliens; and above all, he doesn’t know or seem to care why.  But the majority of his narrative is spent as a soldier in WWII.  Likewise indifferent to the affair, things happen around him, people die, bombs are dropped, he becomes a prisoner of war, but, like the aliens, nothing seems to have effect.  So what then is the point of it all?

Review of Making Money by Terry Pratchett

The (Disc)world his oyster, Pratchett has the length and breadth of human existence to discuss in the great land traveling through space on the backs of elephants and a tortoise.  From time in Thief of Time to film in Moving Pictures, law in Truth to women’s rights in Equal Rites, religion in Small Gods to war in Jingo, seemingly no aspect of society and life is exempt from the getting ink from Pratchett’s pen.  Making no bones about it, the thirty-sixth Discworld novel Making Money announces its subject matter on the cover, and in turn tells the joke that our worldwide economic system has become.

Making Money is the continuation of Moist von Lipwig’s story.  The postal system now humming along, Patrician Vetinari attempts to use Lipwig’s criminal past to blackmail the Postmaster General into taking over the Ankh-Morpork Bank.  Unsuccessful, it takes the cleverness of an old lady to give him the responsibility for the ageing institution.  The remainder her family viciously upset at a stranger owning the majority of shares, Cosmo and Pucci Lavish, when not warring amongst themselves, aim to undermine Lipwig’s efforts at bringing the bank back to life.   Striking upon a revolutionary idea to accomplish this while daydreaming one day, only the Chief Clerk, one Mr. Bent, has any idea what Lipwig is about to unleash, and it may be something beyond anyone’s control. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Review of Ancient Shores by Jack McDevitt

If there is anything forums, chat rooms, comments sections, blogs, news reporting, and other media have made us aware of, it's the variety of opinion on what is "right" for humanity.  George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World pointed some easy fingers at what is "wrong" for humanity, while others have purported social structures as ideal, holes appearing in them as well.  A microcosm of debate in what is "good" for humanity, Jack McDevitt’s 1996 Ancient Shores is not so much a story of alien discovery, rather humanity’s reaction to it.  And what a reaction it is.

Ancient Shores literally opens with the discovery of a yacht buried in the middle of a North Dakota wheat field.  Unearthed and set up as a tourist attraction in the farmer’s barn, the discovery that its hull and sails are comprised of an element that does not exist on Earth, and that it emits a strange green glow at night from power sources unknown, quickly have the scientific community scrambling for answers.  Said answers not easy to swallow, an even larger wrench is thrown into the perception of reality when a second unidentifiable object is discovered in a nearby canyon.  Turning the small North Dakota community, and eventually the world, upside down and shaking it, the best manner in which to put to use the ever-fascinating possibilities of the discoveries becomes as heated a topic as only humans can argue.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Review of All Those Vanished Engines by Paul Park

Literature can be one of the fine arts.  (Given the current state of publishing, the operative ‘can be’ is preferred to ‘is’).  Yet it is far from first on the list when one mentions gallery exhibits.  The novel an art whose value is intrinsic to the meaning of words on a page rather than something nominally visual, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art nevertheless commissioned Paul Park to write a novel based on the theme of an industrial exhibit by Stephen Vitiello called All Those Vanished Engines (details here).  Park one of the more literary-minded speculative fiction authors working today (this means you won’t find him on the Hugo ballot), the resulting novel is what one would expect with such an impetus: experi-meta-ness.  Featuring alternate history, near-future, and present day storylines, and occasionally Paul Park himself, the three interlinked novellas that form the work All Those Vanished Engines (2014, Macmillan-Tor/Forge) are an artistic vision about the meaning of writing, fiction, art, history, and the self in an interconnected form that extends well beyond orthodox storytelling.

All Those Vanished Engines, the Vitiello project, is an old factory that has been cleaned up, doctored with a sound system emitting industrial noises, and opened to the public as an audio-visual experience.   The pipes, valves, hoppers, scaffolding—all of which remain concatenated in production line fashion, provides the metaphorical structure of the novel.  As such, All Those Vanished Engines the novel, only begins in linearly coherent form.  Soon thereafter it fragments as images from the other timelines and locations begin to pop in and out.  This offers a strong sense of the randomly surreal when, for example, an alien appears in the middle of a paragraph which began as a scene from post-Civil War America.  The intrusions continuing, the second novella twists the reality of the narrative further by opening as the first-person narrative of what is ostensibly Paul Park the writer.  Visiting an old age home, he hears the stories told by a former factory worker.  (This account has been made publicly available here as both an excerpt from the novel and background info to the art exhibit.)  The setup of the factory explained, and historical motif introduced, thereafter Park switches to personal matters, including the novel he is working on, as well as bits about relationships, memories, and ideas.

Review of Millennium by John Varley

H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine is one of if not the original time travel story, and uses the concept as a tool to comment upon the industrialization of society.  Isaac Asimov took the idea and converted it into commentary on the long term potential for human evolution in The End of Eternity.  Michael Moorcock, in Behold the Man, used time travel to tell a personal story of religious proportion, and fellow New Wave writer Robert Silverberg commented upon authoritarianism and isolation in Hawksbill Station.  Tim Powers played with time to tell a beautifully plotted story in The Anubis Gates, and Connie Willis traveled back to Medieval Ages to gush historical knowledge in Doomsday Book.  In 1982, John Varley decided to use the concept to attempt to snark at social and environmental concerns of the late 20th century. Starting as a short story (“Air Raid”), developing into a script idea, and then novelized in conjunction with a film, Millennium is the thrilling Hollywood-esque result, but begs to be more.

Millennium is the story of Louise Baltimore and Bill Smith.  Baltimore living in an extremely dilapidated version of Earth thousands of years in the future, the carelessness of 20th century environmental practices has brought humanity to the brink of extinction.  Technology having advanced significantly in the meantime, time travel has been invented, and in order to forestall the loss of humanity, snatch missions are sent to the past to grab healthy humans and bring them to the future to continue the species.  Knowing that any disruption in the past may cause irreparable damage to the future, only the imminently doomed are taken.  Airplanes about to crash the best target, time gates are opened minutes before the accident and the passengers offloaded to the future and replaced with meat dummies just before the collision.  None are the wiser, that is until Bill Smith, investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, is called to the scene of a two plane crash.  Bad relationships and an alcohol problem not getting in the way of his investigation, a few inconsistencies in the debris start his mind churning. Wrist watches behaving erratically, stomach contents not matching up, and a most bizarre weapon are enough to have Louise and her support team scrambling to send a mission team back to rectify the anomaly.  Good intentions, however, are not always good enough.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Review of Ship of Shadows by Fritz Leiber

Fritz Leiber was one of the genre’s most versatile writers.  Writing literary fiction at times, and pulp epic fantasy at others to keep the bills paid, he was also fully capable of writing horror, fantasy, and science fiction.  Capitalizing on the most recognized of his output, in 1979 Gollancz published a sampler of the author’s award-winning work.  Ship of Shadows brings together short stories, a novelette, novellas and a short novel that won the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, or Locus awards—some more than one.  Featuring atypical horror, the Weird, supernatural, alternate history, a deal with the devil, literary science fiction, sword and sorcery (a Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story, to be exact), the following is a review of the six selections.

Ship of Shadows opens with the eponymous novella.  Though technically horror, it remains a highly original, Weird text with a science fiction motif.  The story of the poor-sighted janitor named Spar who works at a space station bar, his life is anything by normal.  Drunk half the time and having few friends who respect him, his daily tasks put him in contact with a wide variety of characters on the gravity-less station, including a talking cat.  Strange events occurring with increasing rapidity around the supplicant, old man, Spar soon finds himself in the thick of danger—whether he wants it or not.  Leiber escalating the story wonderfully, what begins as obtuse threads waving disparately in the breeze are slowly braided into a yarn that has the reader in pure wonder as to what will happen next.  (See here for a longer review of the story on this blog.)

Friday, June 13, 2014

Review of Blindsight by Peter Watts

Amongst the many changes the development of science has brought, one is a push toward existential honesty.  Certainly huge gaps and questions exist in our knowledge of reality (did I hear you say something, Heisenberg?), but in the past two centuries mankind has put to rest innumerable myths and legends that had pervaded culture and society.  While boxing religion in (or out, depending on perspective), the rational view has forced humanity to face hard facts, or in the very least, uncomfortable questions.  Is the grave the only thing waiting after?  Are we just skin bags of chemicals and electrical impulses?  Is “love” only evolution’s way of ensuring the species survives?  Wholeheartedly embracing the hardline answers to such questions in order to see what comes next, Peter Watts is a sci-fi author who truly holds no punches.  In the tradition of Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris, his 2006 Blindsight is a superb look at the limits of humanity’s sensuality and intellect.  Less a philosophical and more a strong biological and neuroscientific perspective, what you see may be more—or less—than you think.

Blindsight is the story Siri Keeton.  Born an epileptic, half of his brain was removed and replaced with biotech, in turn enhancing and improving his interface with the world.  Thereafter disowned by his mother for being “unnatural”, his talents nevertheless lead him to space.  Earth abruptly contacted by an alien species dubbed the Fireflies, strange communications emanating from a distant point in the galaxy cause humanity to mount an investigation, and Siri, along with a fellow crew of people biomodified to varying degrees, are chosen to make contact.  But encountering an object beyond human imagination, getting at the heart of who, or what is behind the super-planet may be more than humanity is capable of comprehending.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Review of Saffron and Brimstone: Strange Stories by Elizabeth Hand

Saffron and Brimstone: Strange Stories is a 2006 short story collection from Elizabeth Hand (republished in 2014 by Open Road Media).  One a valuable spice of distinctive color and fragrance, and the other a term implying the stink of hell, a possible metaphorical spin on the dichotomous title is the dynamic joys of life and the deeper problems which give them context.  Reading the collection, the possibility becomes reality, in fact, to the point the two are synthesized. 

Like the best musicians and artists, Hand lays bare a part of her soul in Saffron and Brimstone.  Solitude, tattoos, writing, rape, punk rock, island life in Maine, art, the counter-culture, drugs, alternative lifestyles, troubled youth—all inform the stories and are conveyed in real, human terms.  Lightly sprinkled with aspects of the fantastic, the stories in the collection are highly personal—fictionally and non-fictionally—and for it, are some of the best writing Hand has produced.  (See the Afterword for relative biographical information.)

Monday, June 9, 2014

Review of Fifty Degrees Below by Kim Stanley Robinson

Forty Signs of Rain identifying the themes and mode for Kim Stanley Robinson’s Science in the Capital series, Fifty Degrees Below (2006), as is expected in the middle novel of a trilogy, further unpacks the ideas under discussion while escalating story to new heights of excitement.  Salting what was a rather tasteless opening, the second novel improves upon the first while launching the story into the third and conclusory volume, Sixty Days and Counting.

Working with the same cast of characters, Fifty Degrees Below opens with Frank Vanderwal having to leave the apartent where he was staying and search for a new home.  The flood now receded, its effects remain.  Housing prices and rent through the roof given the lack of supply and huge demand, Frank opts for creative domesticity.  Dividing time between his van, a homemade treehouse in a local park, and the showers at work, he soon settles into a routine that allows him to focus on what Diane, his boss at the NSF, has laid for him to do: think of plausible ideas that can be implemented to combat climate change.  With the jetstream sweeping ever southward, drawing the cold with it, Frank is under pressure.  Charlie Quibler, still advisor to Senator Phil Chase, is faced with a new task: a presidential campaign.  Caring for little Joe during the day while Anna works, Charlie has to back a man who, does not implement every environmental mitigation plan, but is at least a sight better than the man currently in office.  Let the campaigning begin.

Review of The Power that Preserves by Stephen Donaldson

If there is any common ground to reviews and discussion on Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant series (and Gap Cycle, for that matter), it is their divisiveness.  Opinion is split along many lines.  Some readers are turned off by Covenant’s personality, while others are intrigued by his atypical qualities as an epic fantasy (anti-)hero.  There are bold statements to the effect Covenant is just a Tolkien rip off, while other commentary believes the series is a fresh view on epic fantasy.  And still others are turned on or off by Donaldson’s worldbuilding.  The consistency with which The Power that Preserves, the third book in the Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever series, is delivered will probably not have these people changing their minds.

Covenant thrown back in the real world at the end of The Illearth War, the opening of The Power that Preserves finds him still in our reality. Also still battling his leprosy, his memories of the Land confuse his perspective of home.  Repercussions of his trip to the bar in The Illearth War arising, a claim is placed on his property by local authorities, causing him to leave his home once again, trailing anger and disillusion at the people who contact him.  But walking through the woods one day and seeing a girl about to be bitten by a snake, Covenant is distracted and goes to the rescue.  Before he can save the girl, however, he finds himself back with the Council, summoned to eliminate the icy hold Foul has placed on the Land with his great armies.  At a crossroads, Covenant must decide whether to return to the real world to help the girl about to be bitten, or stay, and with the power of his ring, drive back the assault of Lord Foul.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Review of The Light Ages by Ian R. Macleod

Steampunk, steampunk, steampunk.  Though it is the beginning of 2014 and the steampunk ship appears to have sailed, our pants are still wet from the flood, and as the water recedes, we try to filter through the driftwood.  Many of the titles deserving of disappearing as quickly as they washed ashore, some, however, will hopefully remain in the genre’s memory for a long time.  At or near the top of that list is certainly Ian R. Macleod’s The Light Ages.  As stereotypical a steampunk story as any can appear to be, it trumps the visuals through the literary manner in which substance complements aesthetics, its relevancy achieving greater heights.

The Light Ages is a frame story, foremost.  It opens with a Guildmaster walking the gloomy backstreets of London, seeking a changeling child.  Finding her in a makeshift home alongside the Thames, the girl taunts the man before asking to hear his life story.  Robert Morrow the Guildmaster’s name, he begins with his childhood in northern England in a mining town.  Aether pumped from the ground in vast quantities, he is being groomed to follow in his father’s footsteps, a minor guildsman of the tool workers which utilize the industry-changing substance. His mother not in the healthiest of conditions, she nevertheless has the energy to take young Morrow on her social visits, one of which includes a trip to the countryside to visit a woman who may or may not be a changeling.  His mother’s condition deteriorating rapidly thereafter, Morrow soon finds himself faced with the realities of his future in the present, and, in a calculated decision, decides to change it all.  From street urchin in London to printer’s assistant, child confidante to a Guildmaster, debt collector to revolutionary, Morrow gets what he wants, but not in the fashion his young mind imagined in a world turned upside down by the powerful aether. 

Review of The Alchemist by Charles L. Harness

Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man, John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids, Harry Harrison’s Deathworld, Olaf Stapledon's Odd John, Theodore Sturgeon's More Than Human, basically anything by Philip K. Dick—and on and on goes the list.  What do they have in common?   Psi powers.  A big enough boom in the Silver Age to warrant its own entry into the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, telekinetics, psionics, whatever you want to call the reality altering  properties of thought was a popular idea.  The 50s not enough, Charles L. Harness penned his own tale of uber-mental powers in 1967’s The Alchemist.

Hope Chemicals is a firm that has built itself up from a brick farmhouse to one of the largest chemical researchers and producers in the US.  Run by Andrew Bleeker, he runs a bet with a Russian competitor that a new compound, silamine, can be created in their lab by a rogue chemist Pierre Celsus.  Watching the experiment take place, everyone is amazed when Celsus is indeed able to do what Bleeker bet he could—including Bleeker.  But it isn’t the new compound that has Hope Chemicals talking in the days that follow.  Celsus’ report containing more than a few anachronisms, Bleeker sends his patent and legal departments to investigate.  What they find turns the science of the company upside down.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Review of New Light on the Drake Equation by Ian R. Macleod

The existence, and equally, the non-existence of alien contact has been a topic of discussion amongst the scientific community for some time now.  Perhaps more in the 20th than the 21st century, the likes of Enrico Fermi, Frank Drake, and sponsors of radio antennas scanning the skies for alien life worked with the assumption it’s possible humanity is not alone.  Implementing this search in a wonderful, unheralded novella called New Light on the Drake Equation (2001), Ian Macleod gives his take on the astronomer’s formula.  The title apt, a fresh perspective is constantly in the making.

Wikipedia states: “The Drake equation is a probabilistic argument used to estimate the number of active, communicative extraterrestrial civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy.”  Believing in the probability, Tom Kelly has devoted his life to the astronomy, radio physics, and mathematics associated with building and working with Search-for-extraterrestrial-intelligence (SETI) devices and computing.  Culminating in a thin yet existent hope, and a lot of empty liquor bottles, his seventy years on Earth have brought him to the quiet mountains of France where he has set up a large radio antenna on a plateau.  As patient as a man can be, Kelly’s life passes by one drink and false computer alarm at a time.  Old age giving him time to reflect upon his younger days, it’s a surprise visit, however, from a former girlfriend that sets his mind moving in a new direction.

Review of Summer Soltice by Charles L . Harness

    "Two to one that you will report to his majesty that the Earth is shaped like a disc. Even odds for a cylinder. Three to one against a square. Ten to one against a sphere." He pushed the bag of staters back to Eratosthenes. "Just give me a hint," he whispered. "And keep your purse."

Knowledge regarding the true shape of Earth literally worth its weight in gold, Charles L. Harness’ 1984 Summer Solstice is a look at the underlying views of how such a variety of shapes could come to mind to begin with.

Summer Solstice is the story of Eratosthenes, a geometer tasked by Ptolemy II with determining the shape of the Earth: cylinder, disc, sphere, square?  The street odds against each interesting, rabbis, astrologers, philosophers, even sailors have their own opinion as to the reality of the earth beneath their feet, depending on their belief of perspective.  Eratosthenes’s situation more than precarious, a female slave awaits to poison him should his choice go wrong.  But complicating matters much further is the unscheduled arrival of Khor, an avian-esque alien on Earth, his ship in desperate need of repair. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Review of Port Eternity by C.J. Cherryh

The history, legends, and myths surrounding the man known as King Arthur are some of the most enduring and inspirational material in the English language.  Like Robin Hood, Arthur’s name resonates in modern history.  The amount of books, fiction and non-fiction which have been spun off the man is increasingly difficult to quantify.  Appearing in such a wide variety of Western media and culture, most people, in fact, have only a hazy idea of who he was or might have been (including this reviewer), Disney as much a teacher as history class in high school.  C.J. Cherryh an Arthurian aficionado, she applied her interests in a science fiction novel.  Knowledge of the surrounding legends required for full appreciation, Port Eternity (1982) is a survival in space story that uses a strong sense of character to play with Arthurian myth to satisfying degree.

Port Eternity is the story of the crew and passengers of the Maid of Estolat.  Dela the rich and influential owner of the pleasure yacht, she routinely takes her lovers on lengthy space cruises to indulge in the pleasures of life.  A lover of Arthurian legend, she has decorated her ship in a motif of swords and shields, banners and castles, and, indulgent in the technology of her age, has had her clone servants psych profiles set to characters from Arthurian legend.  Lance is model man who functions as a lover.  Vivien is her keeper of accounts and protocol aboard the ship.  Gawain is an engineer, and Mordred is the ship’s pilot.  And the narrator, Elaine, is Lady Dela’s personal servant. 

Review of The Houses of Iszm and Other Stories by Jack Vance

A writer of all lengths of fiction, Jack Vance’s career is an even balance of novels, short stories, novelettes, and novellas.  The Vance Integral Edition collecting them all, The Houses of Iszm and Other Stories brings together a handful of everything but a novel.  Covering nearly the entirety of Vance’s short fiction career time and size-wise, the four stories range from 1954 to 1967, and include two novellas, a novelette and a short story. 

The Houses of Iszm – Is the story of a man visiting the planet Iszm, home to a highly unique industry of live tree homes.  The technology under threat from an underground faction, the man gets caught up in the fight in ways he’d rather not.  Early Vance, and not his most nuanced.  (See here for a longer review of this novella.)