Sunday, November 30, 2014

Review of Plague Ship by Andre Norton

Much of Golden Age science fiction is bound up in the pseudo-scientific, quasi fantastic renderings of heroic frontier stories set in space.  The market demanding a large quantity of such stories, sub-genres split off—planetary romance/adventure, lost in space, alien attack, among them.  Another branch which sprouted was in the world of merchants and traders of extra-terrestrial goods.  It is in this minor vein that Andre Norton published her Solar Queen series.  Planetary adventure mixed with the legalities, economies, and rivalries of interstellar trade, the second of these books Plague Ship (1956) is the subject of this review.

Plague Ship is the story of the freighter Solar Queen and the trouble she gets into on the planet Sargol.  Part of the Free Traders union, the crew establish initial contact with the clan-like Salariki, and thus claim the right to be the only group allowed to trade for their precious Koros stones and valuable timber.  But when a rival merchant illegally butts in, tempers flare.  A Salariki family drama playing out simultaneously, dragging the Free Traders and their rivals into a fray, Dane Thorson, Ollie, Rick, and other crew of the Solar Queen are lucky to get off planet with the hold full of the valuable wood.  But as crew members start to come down with symptoms of illness and drop into incapacity, it seems their troubles are only beginning.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Review of The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

Something of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, John Brunner is one of the more intriguing though lesser recognized figures in science fiction history.  Much the same as Robert Silverberg, he cut a path for himself in genre writing what is essentially pulp sci-fi but later began introducing novels of significantly greater depth to his oeuvre.  Stand on Zanzibar, The Sheep Look Up, and The Jagged Orbit are some of the most important novels the field has produced.  Drastically elevating the form above common genre trappings, a fourth novel is generally added to this list of socially and politically motivated works from Brunner: 1975’s The Shockwave Rider.  Though technically a forerunner to the plethora of cyberpunk texts that would emerge soon thereafter, the novel, in fact, bears more in common with the socially conscious, atypically structured, politicized novels of the New Wave.  Regardless of taxonomy, it remains a prescient look at the power of information control and the fragmentation of society and identity.

The Shockwave Rider is the story of Nickie Haflinger.  Raised at a hidden government school at a cost of three million tax payer dollars per year, the secrets of the system he slowly learns are enough to turn him off, and eventually away.  Escaping into the world as a young adult, he uses near autistic savant capabilities to re-program the network to assume a new identity each time he is discovered by the government.  By turns a televangelist and rich playboy (among other professions), he lives aimlessly, and only to avoid detection as he tries to sort out his own place in the world.  But called out by the daughter of a major corporate CEO, the façade he’s created for himself slowly begins to peel away.  Trouble is, exposing himself leads government searches all the closer. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Review of The Last Hero by Terry Pratchett

The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, the first novels in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, starred the weak-kneed, least-likely hero Rincewind and the world’s first tourist, Twoflower.  In their grand adventure around the disc, incorrigible Cohen the Barbarian—an aged parody of the one and only Conan the Barbarian—was among the characters they ran into.  Dentures, sagging flanks, and a wispy white beard, his better years of raiding lost tombs, ravishing ladies, and defeating mighty foes in battle were far behind him.  But only in reality.  Creaky back and all, his mind was that of a twenty-year old, still set on conquering the world one monster and jewel at a time.  But Cohen remained a side character.  It is in The Last Hero (2001) that Pratchett brings the old man, and all his wild ideas, to the forefront, serving complete notice the genre has moved beyond such simplified worldviews as the Vikings, Robert E. Howard, and others’ who contrive to drag humanity back into the jungle with their epic fantasy male ultra-heroes.

In old age, Cohen the Barbarian and his raider friends have decided to go out in classic barbarian style: in a blaze of not only proverbial glory, but also literal fire.  Their goal to destroy the holy mountain Cori Celesti, they plan to reverse Prometheus and return fire to the gods in the form of a massive bomb.  Kidnapping a bard and dragging him along, they believe their last campaign is one for the ages: the bard’s poetry will etch their names in the annals of Discworld history.  By chance, Lord Vetinari has become aware of Cohen’s plan.  Problem is, the barbarian has such a head start there’s no possibility anybody from Ankh-Morpork can catch him.  In a last ditch effort, Vetinari enlists Leonard of Quirm to design a solution to the problem.  And design de Qurim does.  Utilizing the explosive power of swamp dragons, he builds a great wooden ship that, after rising into the atmosphere, will slingshot around the disc and, if all goes as planned, arrive at Cori Celesti ahead of Cohen.  The mad inventor taking Captain Carrot and Rincewind with him, the race to the mountain is on.  Question is, just exactly who will have their name appear in legend?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Review of Halting State by Charles Stross

Early science fiction speculated only here and there on the possibilities of gaming and alternate realities in virtual space.  Arthur C. Clarke’s The City & the Stars mentions the idea in passing, and in William Gibson’s Neuromancer the larger possibilities begin to emerge.  Later writers, like Neal Stephenson, Greg Egan, Ted Chiang, and David Marusek for example, expanded life in virtual reality into whole stories and novels.  But it is Charles Stross who has fully understood and embraced the ever-expanding realities of gaming and second lives and included them in fiction.  A science fiction realm if ever there were, his 2007 Halting State­—part gamer’s gush, part conspiracy theory, and all nerd rapture—is a prime example of contemporary society’s involvement in virtual worlds.

Halting State is the story of three people and the political, technological, and virtual mess they get themselves into with a popular computer game.  Edinburgh detective, Sergeant Sue Smith, is called to the scene of a bizarre crime in the opening chapter.  What looks like a concrete bunker on the outside is actually the headquarters of Avalon 4, a massive multiplayer online game, and they have just been robbed.  Not the petty cash drawer or the source code of their wildly popular game, rather the virtual bank that exists inside Avalon 4, and all of its virtual items and money.  Elaine Barnaby is an insurance fraud investigator.  Her company called in to investigate the Avalon 4 case, her job only becomes more surreal as the investigation moves from the real world into the virtual, and her own role in the proceedings even murkier as the sides lose concrete shape. And lastly is Jack Reed.  Waking up hungover and handcuffed to a signpost in Amsterdam, his status as an unemployed programmer takes a turn for the better when Elaine’s firm requires his technical expertise to help investigate if or how the virtual crime was pulled off.  Insider trading?  An opportunistic hacker/player?  Insurance fraud?  As more and more details of the case are unveiled, the more and more complex the world—and our world—become. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Review of The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction: 60th Anniversary Anthology ed. by Gordon van Gelder

The typical speculative fiction anthology of original material that appears on shelves these days is a selection of stories intended to reach a particular niche of readers while finding as many tangents within that niche as possible to avoid monotony.  The themed anthology self-limiting, rarely do great or superb anthologies appear, average to slightly above average the usual result.  It is the retrospective anthology, with its ability to glean the years for quality stories, that has a chance at greatness.  If you’re the editor of Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine, well, the possibilities are all the brighter.  The magazine publishing speculative fiction for more than half a century, and best-of every five to ten years since 1970, in 1999 Gordon van Gelder took the reins from Edward L. Ferman and produced a 50th Anniversary edition from the magazine’s backlog.  A success, he came back with another ‘very best of’ selection of stories in 2009 for the 60th anniversary anthology.  The magazine’s archives deep (perhaps like no other magazine can boast) and van Gelder's editorial skills consistent, the 60th is just as consistently good as the 50th.  (And for the record, so is the 65th.)

The anthology opens on a scattershot shot of color from the genre’s past.  Three stories in a row—rat-a-tat-tat—anticipate the reader’s hopes all will be as good.  “Of Time and Third Avenue” by Alfred Bester is the result of an author trying to write the best time travel story, ever.  A brief few pages, indeed it is a perfect little specimen (for whatever it’s worth) written in Bester’s supremely confident, dynamic hand that captures one magical possibility of time travel.  “All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury is a tiny, sparkling jewel of a story.  A breathtaking moment of juxtaposed beauty and pain, the rain does stop falling on Venus—but only for a moment. “One Ordinary Day, with Peanuts” by Shirley Jackson is a charming and delightful story of a man who… well, it’s best just to read the story and find out.  A bit of post-WWII Americana, its sentiment produces nostalgia for simpler days.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Review of Ribofunk by Paul Di Filippo

I think it’s fair to say the name Paul Di Filippo is known to the majority of modern science fiction and fantasy connoisseurs but by few readers from the genre’s mainstream.  Experimental stylistically, imaginatively unlimited, in dialogue with genre, sophisticated presentation, and often ahead of his time, there is a genre radar, and Di Filippo flies under it for most of fandom.  Exhibiting these talents is his wild 1996 collection Ribofunk.  As abstract as can be, it is the off the wall science fiction written in dynamic prose that vacillates between poetic, experimental, and straight-forward narratives to present a biopunked worldview of the future. 

Like randomly hopping trains at every station, Ribofunk is a loosely connected series of stories that are definitely going somewhere but the destination is not important.  It’s the view along the way that counts for Di Filippo.  Characters and settings not the main linkages, the possibilities of human/animal biology coupled with neuroscience are the ideas cohering the collection.  And the possibilities are untamed.  “Little Worker” is the story of a human-imal servant, gene spliced sex toys, a prime minister, and southern rebels—bizarreness that works its way to a satisfactory ending.   “One Night in Television City” is that of a city boy who goes looking for drugs one night.  Getting what he wants, it takes him to the highest of highs.  But how to get down?  “McGregor”, which is Beatrix Potter’s tale of Peter Rabbit flipped on its head, spun in circles, then induced into a round or two of cartwheels is the story of how Peter looks for revenge on the farmer.  Along with the three blind mice and Flopsy, he works to free the other barnyard animals from the farmer.  With Peter puffing cigs and hanging a leary eye on Flopsy, this is not the children’s story you remember.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Review of Yamada Monogatari: To Break the Demon Gate by Richards Parks

My first encounter with Richard Parks as a reader was a nice surprise.  Going through The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Vol. 8 I came across the story “Cherry Blossoms on the River of Souls”. About a young boy who goes investigating the well outside his bedroom window which emanates music each night and the fantastical things he finds within, it’s atmospheric, it’s mysterious, and it captures a little bit of that exotic Oriental something that I find so often reading Chinese stories but so rarely in Western stories of the same intent.  Thus when a copy of Parks’ novel Yamada Monogatari: To Break the Demon Gate (2014, Diamond Book Distributors) came my way, it was difficult to refuse.

Lacking the subtlety and mood of “Cherry Blossoms on the River of Souls”, To Break the Demon Gate is more a straightforward samurai drama of the fantastic.  Intent on Japanese history and swordfights, demons and ghosts, and court intrigue, it mixes mystery, action, and tropes familiar from other genres to create a lean, vigorous story.  The main character a minor lord caught up in a series of seemingly impossible murders, his penchant for drink has him nodding to detectives of noir while wielding a katana in classic samurai style, killing the ghosts and demons that threaten to spin Japan’s highest regal court out of order.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Review of Moving Mars by Greg Bear

It is myth; it is legend; it is part of the fabric of the culture.  Every schoolboy and girl in the US knows the story of the Pilgrims, how they were oppressed in their native land and came to a new world to practice their beliefs in freedom. Ahh, America.  Among the first Europeans to settle in the West, this historical event is commonly viewed as a seminal moment in US history.  As a result, similar stories have come to be prized by the culture: good ol’ American fighting spirit and can-do will win the way when one desires to live a certain way or practice a particular political ideal.  Taking the myth/legend to the next planet outward in the solar system, in 1994 Greg Bear penned Moving Mars.  Nominated for every major American science fiction award (and winning once), it’s fair to say the cultural mindset continues to reinforce itself.

Moving Mars is the story of Casseia Majumdar, university student and daughter of one of Mars' oldest families.  Called Binding Multiples, blood relations are not necessarily the common denominator to the big communities.  The BMs’ mixing corporate and genealogical ideals into ‘bloodlines’, their clannish presence is as far as Mars’ governance has evolved since humanity first settled the planet.  Growing up ‘red rabbit’, Casseia lives in the tunnels of Mars along with five million others, getting a university education, and living as normal a life as Martian underground conditions allow for.  In comparison to Earth, this is rather limited.  Technology is available but always a few upgrades behind, and in limited supply.  And while people are free to mix as they please, Martian society remains more provincial in its customs and traditions.  Following on a love affair after university, Casseia is selected by her BM for an amazing honor: to accompany a relative to Earth for political negotiations.  What she sees and experiences there forever changing her worldview, little does she know it is her knowledge Mars will be drastically changed by in the future.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Review of Taflak Lysandra by L. Neil Smith

Ohh, bargain bin, you lottery of surprise and displeasure, how you hold our fate in your hands.  Delight or disappointment just a penny or two away, your risk elevates the shock of surprise and softens the fall of displeasure.  The latter significant, with L. Neil Smith’s 1988 Taflak Lysandra, a bargain book I found for less than a dollar, a softening was needed.  Core sci-fi which makes the simplest of demands on the reader, it is perhaps best appreciated by the YA audience or the juvenile libertarian—if at all.

Taflak Lysandra is the story of one young lady, Lysandra, and her underleaf (yes, under leaf) adventure among the alien Taflak.  Like something out of a Saturday morning cartoon, Lysandra, her coyote father (father’s brain, coyote’s body), an eccentric professor, and a yeti (not what you think) embark on a journey through the leafy core of a planet in their subfolia ship to explore regions unknown.  Adventure, of course, ensues.  Aliens and cabals, fights and battles, and, naturally, the ever-present Sea of Leaves and its mysterious depths.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Review of Sixty Days and Counting by Kim Stanley Robinson

While there remain differences, I have come to think of Kim Stanley Robinson as the contemporary Arthur C. Clarke.  More diverse in the inclusion of science, writing lengthier novels, and more obviously Californian than British, Robinson nevertheless approaches the problems of humanity with the same optimism, lenience towards Eastern religions, practically and realistically conceived science fiction concepts, and underlying belief science can bring society to a higher plane of existence.  In short, they are very similar in spirit, and Sixty Days and Counting (2007), the third and final book capping Robinson’s Science in the Capital series, is glaring proof.

The conclusion of Fifty Degrees Below, the second book in the series, saw Frank Vanderwaal caught up in a fracas with a black ops intelligence team that had apparently been involved in a plot to alter presidential voting.  The election going off smoothly despite their intentions, Senator Phil Chase was elected and has chosen Diane, Frank’s boss at the National Science Foundation, to head his science group, in turn bringing Frank even closer to the executive level of science in government.  Chase the most open minded politician ever to sit the White House, a whole world of possibility reveals itself to Frank and Diane, who immediately set about investigating big-scale schemes that might mitigate ongoing climate change issues.  Their massive salt operation having changed the jet stream in Fifty Degrees Below, they now look at ways to get the polar ice caps back into good condition and the ocean levels lower such that the radical changes in weather patterns can be brought back within normal ranges and frequencies.  And the need is pressing.  From the depths of a freezing winter, record setting temperatures are predicted for D.C. in the summer.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Best of the Best Volume 2: 20 Years of the Best Short Science Fiction Novels – ed. by Gardner Dozois

Gardner Dozois Mammoth Book of Science Fiction series, sometimes falling under different guises, is perhaps the most staid of the ‘best of’ anthologies.  Thirty-one anthologies published as of 2014, each containing in excess of thirty stories, a significant backlog of superlative material has accumulated since 1984.  Thinking to create an all-star cast of stories from that backlog, in 2005 Dozois edited The Best of the Best: 20 Years of the Year's Best Science Fiction.  With no room for the novellas, a companion volume The Best of the Best Volume 2: 20 Years of the Best Short Science Fiction Novels (aka The Mammoth Book of Best Short SF Novels) was published in 2007, and is the subject of this review.

And the anthology is something resembling the best of the best.  Most of the authors well known (and those that are not are deserving of more attention), the anthology does capture some of the most interesting stories of the past few decades.  Without the pressure of only a year to make a selection, rather decades, the degree to which each story has held a place in Dozois’ mind, and by extension the field’s, allows for cherrypicking.  While I would have compiled a different list than Dozois, I cannot deny that each of the stories picked (save one) are at least worthy of being in such a volume, and represent the field well.  If there is any downside to the anthology, it would be that longtime readers of science fiction in novella form will probably already have read many, if not most of the stories.  But enough gibble gabble, here is the brief breakdown of each.  (FYI—all of the stories, at one time or another, have been reviewed independently on this blog. Therefore it’s possible to click on the link within each synopsis to get more in-depth information.)

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Review of The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi

The humanitarian atrocities of certain regions in Africa are well-documented.  Warlords piling on top of warlords, all fighting for self-perceived causes or just a moment of megolomaniacal glory, much of the continent’s 20 and 21st century history, with the introduction of western weapons, is bound up in bloodshed of the most appalling, cyclical, anti-humanist variety.  For every beautiful, smiling face a person sees in a tourist brochure or UNICEF ad, there is a child soldier lying dead in a ditch. Paolo Bacigalupi’s 2012 YA novel The Drowned Cities, follow up to the successful Ship Breaker, captures precisely such a violent time in an American future history.  A grim, harrowing account, a teenage girl fights to save a friend who once saved her in a land turned upside down by internecine war and feigned patriotism.

The novel is the story of Mahlia, a half Chinese, half American girl left behind in the drowned cities (a post-flood, tropical version of the Chesapeake Bay area) after the death of her mother and father’s return to China to escape the partisan violence which followed upon America’s fragmentation in the aftermath of environmental disaster.  Caught by a passing warlord, Mahlia’s hand is chopped off.  With her head planned next, a boy named Mouse steps in at the last moment to save her.  The pair escaping the warlord, they eventually find themselves living with and assisting a doctor in a remote jungle village called Banyantown.  Only partially out of the warzone, however, distant guns can be heard throughout the day and soldiers occasionally tramp through.  But when a highly-prized escapee finds himself in their backyard one day, it’s only a matter of time before a whole army comes looking to collect.  Matters drawing to a head in Banyantown as the soldiers carouse and trample what semblance of civilized life remains to the village, Mouse and Mahlia’s have their worlds spun further out of control.

Review of Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Growing up poor, no matter America or in Africa, is a difficult task.  Human nature being what it is, a variety of perspectives can be taken of the wealth gap.  The affluent side might be something mysterious and forever unattainable, it can be motivation to work hard and one day find yourself amongst the rich and likewise a lifestyle entirely undesirable, it can be something that becomes owed—like feelings of victim hood, it can be the nexus for crime and other means of obtaining fast wealth, it can be the source of depression and frustration, and it can be accepted as normal; life just goes on, best to be happy with what you have instead of don’t have.  An interesting examination of the haves and have nots, Paolo Bacigalupi’s 2011 YA novel Ship Breaker takes a look at the world through the eyes of a poor teenage boy.  Existing at one of the lowest rungs of society, it’s through a whirlwind adventure that the ultimate value of his life is made apparent.

Ship Breaker is set in a post-oil world warmed drastically by the greenhouse effect.  The polar ice caps have melted and raised sea waters hundreds of feet, inundating the continents.  Humanity pushed back but not defeated, the effect is nevertheless significant.  Whole cities drowned, conglomerates of the destitute have emerged wherever food can be found and valuable materials scavenged.  It is on the coastline of what was once Louisiana that young Nailer is found.  Rooting through abandoned tanker ships, he locates steel, copper, and other metals to earn his quota for the day.  Choking dust and mold filling every breath and the danger of being in tiny, enclosed environments haunting every step, his working conditions are abysmal.  But nothing is as bad as his return home.  Richard Lopez, Nailer’s father, is a drunken drug addict who beats his son for the most trivial of transgressions.  But one day, when a major storm breaks over the beach, their lives change forever.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Review of Gradisil by Adam Roberts

Adam Roberts’ debut novel Salt was a story that balanced the meat and potatoes of conceptual science fiction with a political examination of the crossroads between anarchy and authoritarianism.  Later, his eleventh novel (excluding the parodies) New Model Army was the pertinent contrast of a purely democratic militia against a traditional army (an organization that historically has been, and is currently, totalitarianist).  Fitting nicely in the middle of these two is Roberts’ sixth novel Gradisil (2007).  An intriguing exploration of libertarianism, Roberts unpacks the political ideology with his trademark attention to society and the individual, telling the saga of one family’s rise into the highest ‘uplands’ of Earth possible and the turmoil that results.

Gradisil is at heart the story of three generations of one family—an atypical family, but a realistic one for it.  The novel opens with teenage Klara as she helps her father set up home in high orbit around Earth.  Wanting to escape the political trouble brewing between the European Union and the US, the pair are among the first people to fly into the upper atmosphere carrying a large metal tube and filling it with needed supplies: oxygen tanks, communications gear, food, sleeping hammocks, and the like—a truly Spartan freedom, but true freedom, nonetheless.  A tragedy interrupting their zero-g set up, Klara is left to pick up the pieces of life as war breaks out below.  Giving birth to a daughter, Gradisil, the narrative shifts ahead in time to when the Uplands, as the orbiting domiciles are called, have come to represent a political objective to the American government. The homes numbering in the thousands, most of which populated by rich dissidents, the President and his cabinet want to establish American governance and tax the burgeoning populace.  With violence between the land and sky threatening, Gradisil attempts to unite the Uplanders in defense of their “motherland”.  After experiencing catastrophes of her own, it is up Gradisil’s timid son Hope to resolve the political issues that have built around the Uplands, Earth’s most wide open frontier.

Review of Tau Zero by Poul Anderson

Poul Anderson is, and mayhaps always will be, the speculative fiction writer who most integrates myth and legend into fantasy and science fiction.  The former relatively easy given myth and legend are typically already half fantasy, the latter is the more difficult given one of the aims of science fiction is believable futuristic extrapolation.  Failing spectacularly with The High Crusade (a novel that sees Medieval knights take a space ship to another planet to fight blue-skinned aliens), his 1970 Tau Zero is a more subtle mix.  While lacking in fully humanized characters, it nevertheless captures the ideal of a mythological journey in hard sf form.

Tau Zero is the story of a group of fifty astronauts on a mission to a distant star system.  The journey planned to take five years subjective time, thirty-three years actual time, the group know they are leaving their loved ones behind for good; the Earth they will return to in sixty-six years will be in differing circumstances.  Their ship, the Leonora Christine, the most sophisticated, technologically advanced space craft ever assembled by humanity, is capable of accelerating the vessel to near light speed with its massive Brussard ramjet.  Blast off going off without a hitch, when the ship flies through a nebula, however, a wrench is thrown in the works.  The gas pedal essentially stuck to the floor, the astronauts must find a way to remove the figurative wrench as they inch closer to light speed and further from the reality they are most familiar with.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Review of Four Ways to Forgiveness by Ursula Le Guin

The 1990s are a somewhat intriguing period in the career of Ursula Le Guin.  Publishing only one at the outset (Tehanu in 1990), the decade would end without another novel hitting the shelves.  She was far from idle, however.  Publishing almost fifty short stories and a handful of collections, Le Guin remained hard at work through her seventh decade.  (She is currently in her ninth and still writing.)  With Tehanu as the opening salvo, the vanguard of her efforts in this time was to revise and consolidate her worldview regarding gender, family, society, and sexuality, amongst other common themes.  Putting all these ideas in one pot is her collection Four Ways to Forgiveness (1995). 

Four Ways to Forgiveness contains “Betrayals,” “Forgiveness Day,” “A Man of the People,” and “A Woman's Liberation”—all novellas published separately between 1994 and 1995.  Three told from the perspective of women and one a man, all four involve the neighboring planets of Yeowe and Werel, and are set in Le Guin’s ongoing Hainish series—marginally, as with all the other related stories.  Bound together by a handful of strong threads, slavery, rural life, culture, social revolution, race, gender, and the meaning of sexuality form the ideological foundation upon which the four stories are built.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Review of Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees

It is both the blessing and curse of the age of information to have laid bare many of life’s little secrets.  We may stop and admire the beauty of a rainbow, but we ruminate less on any mystical significance it might have knowing the scientific principles behind prisms.  The Earth is not flat, and indeed we are a speck of cosmic dust in the larger scheme of things.  Science has turned over the stone of knowledge such that we can see all the little insects of bald fact crawling beneath.  Fewer and fewer are the little mysteries that give life an edge of the perplexing and peculiar—that entities beyond humanity’s knowledge are still at play in the world.  Enter Hope Mirrlees’ 1926 masterpiece Lud-in-the-Mist.  Anything but fairy apologetics (ha!), it sets a little drop of something ethereal dancing on the fingertip of life—including its shadow.

Lud-in-the-Mist is the story of the town of Lud and its jolly, troubled mayor, Nathanial Chanticleer.  Though Lud is situated at the confluence of two rivers, the Dawl, which flows from wholesome English lands, and the Dapple, which flows from Faerie in the West, the people have evolved to the point all talk of fairies and elves is like unto heresy.  Even the slightest mention of anything ethereal is probable cause for scandal.  It’s thus when Mayor Chanticleer’s son admits in public that he ate of fairy fruit, the town goes into uproar.  But when a troupe of young girls at the local primer evince the same, a plague is proclaimed, and it is up to the Mayor to get a handle on the situation.  Fluffy white clouds and thunderheads descending on Lud, the sleepy little English village is never the same.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Review of The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is considered by Brian Aldiss to have been the first science fiction novel.  The story of a doctor who assembles a man from human parts and incites in him the spark of life, the resulting story examines the relationship of the the creator and created in fully human terms.  Inherent to the examination is the usage of biology to unnatural ends: human creating human in a laboratory.   Motivated by the uses of natural science in his time, H.G. Wells took this one premise of Shelley’s novel and expanded it into a novel of his own: 1896’s The Island of Dr. Moreau.  Extending into an examination of mankind’s primordial instincts, the resulting story is as intellectually stimulating as it is grippingly macabre, and is a worthy descendant of Frankenstein.

The Island of Dr. Moreau is the story of the doubly unlucky Edward Prendick.  Shipwrecked, the boat which rescues him proves equally, if not more dangerous.  Its decks a filthy squalor and loaded with cages of screeching animals, the drunk captain lumbers about, insulting the crew.  When Prendick dares to talk back, he is stranded again, cast off with the rest of the passengers and animals at a lone tropical island.  Things on the island somehow even stranger than the boat, humans of odd proportions come and go, and the mysterious man who oversees the island, Dr. Moreau, seems even more bizarre.  A major scare during an afternoon’s walk in the jungle sending Prendick running as fast as he can back to the main buildings, his whole world is about to be turned upside down by revelations of the grotesque menagerie of Dr. Moreau.