Thursday, January 20, 2005

Fiction Help

The problem with a lot of military-oriented fiction (science fiction, technothrillers, mystery novels, etc.) is that it is written by people who have no experience in the military and are too lazy to do the basic research. (This is especially true of television!)

Luckily, there are some ways of correcting this!

(With thanks to Winchell Chung for passing this and many other interesting odds and ends along!)

Saturday, January 15, 2005

The Later Tales of H.G. Wells

The latest contribution to the year's reading is a slim volume by H.G. Wells, The Croquet Player (Bison Frontiers of Imagination Series from the University of Nebraska Press, 2004). Weighing in at 109 pages (if you include the "scholarly" afterword by John Huntington), it can barely be called a novel.

The story seems pretty simple at first. A somewhat vacant middle to upper class Englishman, the Croquet Player of the title, is spending some time at a resort. He strikes up a conversation with another guest and learns something that changes his life. The other guest, a doctor, claims to be from a English village called Cainsmarsh. He bought a practice there hoping to get away from the stress of life in London. However, he notices a number of strange things. There seems to be a abnormally high use of various drugs there. There are a number of suicides. There have been a few murders. People do odd things like abuse animals and children.

What is going on? Various people advance theories. One local priest feels that its due to the archaeologists digging up the remains and stirring up ghosts. A local curator of the museum feels that people have been burst from the frame of time and are horrified by the realization of a immensely long history and a equally long future. The doctor starts to feel the pressure of the place and is haunted by the image of a prehistoric skull he saw at the local museum.

Later, the Croquet Player encounters a therapist that is treating the doctor. The therapist tells him that there's no such place as Cainsmarsh. True, there have been incidents of abuse and death, but all over England, not just one area. The therapist seems to feel that these are problems affecting the whole world.

The book ends with the Croquet Player taking an interest in world events as he never did before...having trouble sleeping...being haunted by images...

It is a slim book. The writing is somewhat sparse. But Wells manages to convey a lot of atmosphere in this slim book. There are echoes of Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft here, as well as British author William Hope Hodgson. (And oddly enough, I foresee the spare but effective writing of a later British author of speculative fiction, one Arthur C. Clarke.)

So what is going on in Cainsmarsh? Is it the spirit of Cain as one person asserts? The ghosts of our prehistoric past? I was struck by the concept of being burst from the frame of time and wonder if Wells was feeling "future shock" long before Alvin Toeffler coined the phrase.
The Motion of Light in Water

Re-read this one because I was trying to do an essay on Delany (still trying!). As good the second time around as it was the first.
The Star Conquerors

I first read this book by Ben Bova as a kid. It's a volume in the wonderful John C. Winston science fiction series for young adults and one of the hardest to find. Bova took the setting in this one and extended it for several more books. Many of those have been reprinted, but for some reason he has refused to allow this volume to come into print again (driving those collector's prices even higher). Set in the future where the small collection of Earth-centered worlds is fighting a losing battle against a mysterious enemy, Bova bases the story on a number of historical events (such as Alexander's conquest of the "known world"). Good space action, some interesting characters and a gripping story (even for a "young adult" book). Come on, Ben, bring it back into print!

Monday, January 10, 2005

Islands of Space

Following up on some reading last year, my first completed book of 2005 (and no doubt will not be the last book I read, or even the last book I read by Campbell!) was Islands of Space, by John W. Campbell, Jr.

I won't repeat most of what I said in the previous posting, take a look there for the general comments on style, history, etc. In this installment of the saga of Arcot, Wade and Morey, our heroes keep themselves busy. Building on the success of their interplanetary ship, the Solarite, they decide to go one better and build a interstellar ship, the Ancient Mariner. Incorporating all of the various inventions of the first book (an invisibility ray, a heat ray, a molecular motion ray) and a couple of fantastic materials, they build their ship, stock it, and take off for parts unknown.

Their first stop is a brief fly-by past Sirius, where they discover that the inhabitants of the Black Star have kicked Sirius B out of its orbit and taken up residence there. They then move out, and start to visit the Islands of Space, or other galaxies. Several adventures occur, each more fantastic than the previous (and include incidents such as tossing stars together and getting involved in another interplanetary war).

But enough about that. Let's talk about the biggest problem with the series. What about Fuller? Who's Fuller? Well, Arcot, Wade and Morey are the scientists. They come up with the new concepts and the initial clunky invention. Fuller, however is the engineer. Think of him as an early version of Scotty (from Star Trek), without the accent. Fuller is the one that takes Arcot's wild ideas and badly executed designs and turns them into useable finished products.

It is clear in the course of Islands of Space that Arcot, Wade and Morey should be Arcot, Wade, Morey and Fuller, as Fuller is there to execute ideas, cook food, and generally keep Our Boys out of trouble!

So let's hear it for the unsung hero of the series: Fuller!

Saturday, January 01, 2005

2005: The Year in Shorts

(The madness continues! And moves into 2005!)

Short story count: 159.

I did not (not surprisingly) read as many short works in 2005 as I did in 2004. To be quite honest, I was suffering from burnout in reading and reviewing as many short works as I did in 2004.

Ben Bova: Kinsman.

Ray Bradbury: Dinosaur Tales.

Sir Arthur C. Clarke: The Wind from the Sun.

Stephen Jay Gould: Ever Since Darwin.

Robert A. Heinlein: Expanded Universe.

Robert E. Howard: The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane.

Spider Robinson: Off the Wall at Callahan's; Callahan's Crosstime Saloon; Time Travelers Strictly Cash; Callahan's Secret; Callahan's Lady; Lady Slings the Booze.

Charles Sheffield: The Compleat McAndrew (plus one).
2005: The Year in Books

This posting is intended as a "marker" and a tally. It'll mark the short story collections that I've posted reviews about and it will show you a running tally of how many short stories and essays I read in 2005.

This is the second year that I've done this, based on a posting on SF Signal and carried out previously here.

As I did last year, I'll be following a variant on the program that SF Signal did. First, I don't differentiate between stories of various lengths (one story = one entry). Second, I'll be reading a lot of short non-fiction as well and will count these various collected articles as individual entries.

On to the count and the entries!

Count (as of December 30, 2005): 72 books (assuming my count is accurate).

Best Books of 2005: Two categories this year, fiction and non-fiction.

In fiction, historical novels were the clear winners for me as well as books with grand themes and larger-than-life characters. Tied for first place were the works several works of historical fiction, a tale set in the world after an atomic holocaust, and a space opera.

In the historical novel arena are the tales of Patrick O'Brian and the works I read by Neal Stephenson. Between O'Brian's sea stories and Stephenson's massive Baroque Cycle, I feel like I'll need to spend much of 2006 reading hard SF just to get out of the pre-technological ages! Seriously though, both authors have produced massive amounts of well-written historical fiction. Both have produced many interesting characters, a wealth of detail, amazing plots and fantastic writing. I highly recommend anything by O'Brian (I read Master & Commander and Post Captain this year) as well as The Baroque Cycle by Stephenson (made up of the individual volumes Quicksilver, The Confusion and The System of the World). Great reading awaits!

Nova (Samuel R. Delany): An amazing mix of space opera, the Grail myths and Tarot, along with power struggles and larger-than-life characters. Still probably my favorite book by Delany.

A Canticle for Leibowitz (Walter M. Miller, Jr.) is not only a good science fiction book, but a moving tale of how humans perservere in the face of adversity and a darn fine story of religious faith. A strange combination, perhaps, but Miller does one fine job here.

Last Call (Tim Powers) is a great combination of the Grail Quest, cards, gangsters and more. Read my review (below). Powers is one of my favorite fantasy authors and I wish he'd get more recognition for his work!

In non-fiction, also a tie. On the one hand, we have the most moving book I read all year: 102 Minutes, by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn. Stories from the inside of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

The other favorite non-fiction book for the year was Roving Mars: Spirit, Opportunity, and the Exploration of the Red Planet (Steve Squyres). In reading this book, you'll be amazed that Spirit and Opportunity made it to Mars and are still operating. There are so many points in the book that it seemed like Squyres was going to fail in this quest: design issues, budget issues, political issues, etc. It is also a great story of what we are learning from Mars through these two rovers. And the book is only the start of the tale, let's hope that Squyres follows up when he finally has time to digest the reams of data that these two rovers have been sending back.

Worst Book of 2005: Rocket Man: Robert H. Goddard and the Birth of the Space Age by David A. Clary.

Stephen Baxter: Ages in Chaos. Titan.

Greg Bear: Dinosaur Summer.

Ben Bova: The Star Conquerors. Kinsman.

Ray Bradbury: Dinosaur Tales.

Edgar Rice Burroughs: At the Earth's Core. Tarzan of the Apes.

John W. Campbell, Jr.: Islands of Space.

Arthur C. Clarke: The Ghost from Grand Banks; The Hammer of God; Rendezvous with Rama; The Songs of Distant Earth; The Wind from the Sun.

David A. Clary: Rocket Man.

Michael Crichton: Jurassic Park and Lost World.

Walter Cunningham: The All-American Boys.

Samuel R. Delany: The Motion of Light in Water (yes, again!). Nova.

Damon DiMarco (editor): Tower Stories.

Lowell Dingus: Hell Creek, Montana: America's Key to the Prehistoric Past.

Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn: 102 Minutes.

Neil Gaiman: American Gods; The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish; Neverwhere. (Another Goldfish reference here.)

David Gerrold: The Voyage of the Star Wolf and The Middle of Nowhere.

Stephen Jay Gould: Ever Since Darwin.

Robert A. Heinlein: Expanded Universe.

Robert E. Howard: The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane.

Mark Kurlansky: Salt.

C.S. Lewis: The Magician's Nephew and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

Neil McAleer: Arthur C. Clarke: The Authorized Biography.

Walter M. Miller, Jr.: A Canticle for Leibowitz.

Leonard Mlodinow: Feynman's Rainbow.

Patrick O'Brian: Master & Commander; Post Captain.

Jerry Pournelle: Exiles to Glory.

Tim Powers: The Last Call.

Perry Rhodan (various authors): Enterprise Stardust and The Radiant Dome.

Spider Robinson: Off the Wall at Callahan's; Callahan's Crosstime Saloon; Time Travelers Strictly Cash; Callahan's Secret; Callahan's Lady; Lady Slings the Booze.

J.K. Rowling: Harry Potters first six adventures.

Charles Sheffield: The Compleat McAndrew.

Clifford D. Simak: A Heritage of Stars.

Steve Squyres: Roving Mars: Spirit, Opportunity, and the Exploration of the Red Planet.

Neal Stephenson: The Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver, The Confusion, The System of the World).

Travis S. Taylor: Warp Speed and The Quantum Connection.

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring.

David Weber: On Basilisk Station; The Honor of the Queen; The Short Victorious War; Field of Dishonor; Flag in Exile; Honor Among Enemies.

H.G. Wells: The Croquet Player.

Robert Anton Wilson:: The Universe Next Door (Schrodinger's Cat #1).

Robert Zimmerman: Leaving Earth.