Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Review of Hello, America by J.G. Ballard

From a certain angle, J.G. Ballard can be said to formulaic. He loved to take a handful of characters, throw them into an unfamiliar situation, and see the psychological reactions. The Crystal World, The Drowned World, The Drought, and others all see this scenario play out, only the settings changed. Hello, America (1981) does the same, but adds a thick layer of commentary on American culture.

Offering the reader a 2114, post-apocalyptic USA as its setting, Hello, America features a group of Europeans returning to what was once America to explore its remains. Consumerism and poor environmental practices leading to the desertification of the country, dunes now cover North America. Empty, the population emigrated back to its ethnicities’ native lands in Europe. The mission of the exploration group is to determine if anything of value has arisen since the ecological disaster. They land in Boston and set about reconnoitering the east coast before heading out on a long, overland journey to the west coast. Surprises popping up, the group fights to survive while the remains of America show how they have evolved—or not.

Console Corner: Review of Mass Effect (Remastered)

Caveat: I returned to video games circa 2016 after decades away. I missed everything of the Playstation 2 and 3 generations. This includes all of the Mass Effect games. Hearing a lot of positive words, however, I waited to see if Bioware would remaster the games for the PS4 generation. Lo and behold, in 2021 all three were released in a Legendary edition, which I promptly purchased. Thus, be warned my review below is through the lens of a gamer accustomed to PS4 standards. I do my best to be objective, but certainly bias will slip through.

Mass Effect, the original, the source, the first stopping point in a trilogy of games that would go on to become mass... ive successes. (Sorry.) Not only highly praised, it is also one of the most enduringly praised set of games; it's 2021 and the trilogy still makes a huge amount of top 10 lists. The situation is, however, that most of the praise is directed at Mass Effect 2, the sequel to Mass Effect (2007). There may be some complaints about the ending of Mass Effect 3, but it too lingers. The original, not so much. Let's see why.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Review of Sci-Fi Private Eye ed. by Martin Greenberg

It's ironic that today that the devices and effects of what is commonly associated with 'science fiction' are bleeding out and being latched onto by many other genres of fiction. It's ironic because, in the early 20th century science fiction was borrowing from these same genres to create its own content. This includes detective fiction, as exemplified by Martin Greenberg's retro anthology Sci-Fi Private Eye (1997).

Kicking things off is one of the best story in the short collection, Robert Silverberg's “Getting Across”. About a detective trying to track down his girlfriend, a woman who also happens to have stolen the computer program which keeps his society's infrastructure running, getting her back is urgent. While food production, heat, water, and all other basic elements of life collapse, he is forced to go into a neighboring country, one more luddite than his own, to find her. While detective noir is the primary mode, Silverberg mixes in a fair amount of indirect commentary on dependency on technology and its potential for control and authority.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Review of The Seventh Perfection by Daniel Polansky

For the past decade, I have been reading dozens upon dozens upon dozens of books per year, mostly speculative fiction, and always for better and worse. Literally it has been more than a thousand books, and likely a couple thousand short stories from the past century of the more 'imaginative' side of fiction. Yet I can still be surprised. Enter Daniel Polansky's 2020 novella The Seventh Perfection.

I typically jump to a plot overview for the second paragraph of a review, but I think in the case of The Seventh Perfection, it's best to start with what makesit unique. The novella is written in the second person... wait for it... without using the word 'you'. For anyone who has played video games, the second person is ubiquitous. “You try to open the box, but no matter how hard you try...” or “You run to see what is wrong, stopping to look at your...” are typical examples. To get around using 'you' and 'your' yet remain in the second person, Polansky chooses to essentially eliminate setting and action and focus on monologue. Yes, monologue.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Review of Child of God by Cormac McCarthy

Javier Bardeem won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in his role as Anton Chigurh in the film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men. I found this ironic in some ways. Anton Chigurh was not human. He was evil incarnate, a symbol of unavoidable malevolence, a razor blade reaper with no recognizable conscience. He was larger than the life. It's in McCarthy's 1973 Child of God that we find the human roots of Chigurh.

His name is Lester Ballard. A social outcast since childhood, Lester grows up in rural Tennessee, in and among small towns and forests where his growing degeneracy has few barriers or checks. His violence toward certain people escalating as the story moves on, Ballard finds himself penned in with seemingly no way to escape.

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Review of The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

Dystopian fiction—a dime a dozen these days, right? Rising global temperatures, extreme right-wing governments, zombies, nuclear war, authoritarianism, and on and on go the list of speculative settings highlighting humanity's potential for disaster. But a dystopian setting that is not actually a dystopian setting—a dystopian setting that represents a deeper, non-human controlled aspect of existence? Let's get into Yoko Ogawa's The Memory Police (1994).

The Memory Police tells the story of a year in the life of an unnamed woman. Living in a society ruled by the titular Memory Police, she must regularly burn items that have been decreed as forbidden—calendars, fruit, books, etc. are all made to disappear. The result is these items slowly fade from people's memories. But there are certain people whose memories do not die. Conveniently most are involved in art ((literary readers' radars perk up!). Such people are naturally anathema to the Memory Police, and are hunted by them. Thus it is that the main character comes to hide one such person in a secret room in her house. But can she hide him forever while she herself remains compliant with the seemingly unending list of forbidden things? Can she retain her sense of identity in a world in such enforced flux?

Console Corner: Review of The Unfinished Swan

I am always on the lookout for video games that are developmental (or at least not mindless) for my children. (If adults can also play, all the better.) A brain should be required. So far, games like Far: Lone Sails, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Figment, Journey, Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna), Overcooked, and Unravel have hit that sweet spot. With The Unfinished Swan (2012), I've found another.

Unlike any other game I've ever played, The Unfinished Swan is essentially 'graffiti the puzzle' game. Based on a fairy tale, players begin in a white, colorless world in the first-person perspective. There is no up down, left, or right. But there is a dot on screen, and when pushing the 'shoot' button, a blob of black paint is launched into the world, splashing against the closest surface. By spamming the 'shoot' button, players slowly paint their world, and in the process discover where walls, floors, doors, and windows are. Getting to the next point in the game/story, players perform this type of exploration.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Review of The Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories ed. by Tom Shippey

What if you were handed the following task: survey the whole spectrum of science fiction short stories, and from that select the most representative stories (“representative” in the standard sense, not the politically correct sense) such as to create an anthology of reasonable length. Such was the task handed to Tom Shippey by Oxford Press in 1992. Undoubtedly your list would be different than Shippey's given the thousands of stories that must be boiled down to a couple dozen, but is his representative? Let's take a look at The Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories.

I ordinarily do not comment on anthology introductions, but Shippey does an excellent job positioning sf in literature, culture, and society. There is no hyperbole, nor is there a condescending view—something quite easy given the baby steps sf once needed taking. He also offers a few nice tidbits for thought, something that this jaded sf reader still found interesting after a decade+ of ingesting innumerable such tidbits. (For example, Shippey avers that short fiction is the most natural form of science fiction.) And perhaps most importantly, he goes about positioning each of the stories—indirectly explaining why each was selected for the anthology.