Sunday, December 31, 2006

2006 Wrap-Up

(2006 finished...updated for 2007 and probably for 2008!)

(For thoughts several months after I originally wrote this, see below the fold.)

So here we are. 85 books completed. What were the best of the year?

Tops on my list are actually novels that are not (gasp) science fiction. Patrick O'Brian contributed three novels to my list this year, all three were smashing good sea yarns of the first water.

In the non-fiction department, Jefffrey Kluger's Journey Beyond Selene tops the list. It's an excellent tale of the various unmanned probes that we've launched.

What about short fiction? Given over 700 items read, is it possible to just pick a few?

Gregory Benford: Bow Shock. I read (and re-read) a lot of short stuff by Benford this past year. This story, making its first appearance in the first issue of Jim Baen's Universe is a great hard SF tale, showing how science "really works" and featuring some nicely drawn characters. One of the best I read all year.

John W. Campbell: Several of the stories that appeared in A New Dawn (one of NESFA's usual high-quality collections) have long been my favorites.

Jack Dann: DaVinci Rising.

David Drake, Eric Flint and Jim Baen (editors): The World Turned Upside Down. Probably the best multi-author collection I read during the year. Get it for your bookshelf! You won't regret it!

Paul Di Filippo: A Year in Linear City.

David Drake: The Darkness. Another story from the first issue of Jim Baen's Universe. Excellent military SF tale and one of the best short stories I read all year.

Bud Sparhawk: Jake's Gift stuck in my mind. I don't even know if you could call it science fiction, despite its appearance in Analog. Nice small package, great characters, one interesting idea.

So what about 2007? As you can see by looking at the list of short stories read in 2006, I did not complete several anthologies. We're here in August, and I still have completed several anthologies! What's the scoop? I attribute this to several personal events (family health, the home improvement project from heck, etc.), but also reading/reviewing fatigue. Reading and reviewing (for the most part) 700-odd stories left me tired of short stories. I've got to try and balance the desire to write a good entry on an anthology and not "slight" any story in an anthology with the reality that it gets kind of hard to keep writing something other than "I really like this story" again and again.

So I may finish those unfinished anthologies in the remainder of the year. Or I may boot it all forward one year.

I also had plans to tackle several future history/serial universe collections such as Poul Anderson's Technic Civilization and James Schmitz's Hub series. I've started some stuff in each, but haven't written any summaries or postings. More time was spent this year taking down the old blog and re-posting stuff here, than writing new entries.

That will, hopefully, change now! This represents the last reading-related entry from the old blog so I can move forward with postings of the stuff I read this year (that I haven't already reviewed). And...maybe I can pump up the short story count, write that essay on military fiction that I keep fiddling with, etc., etc., etc.

I think it is better not to make any more reading plans going forward. Every time I make a plan ("I'm going to read all the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series books this year!") it gets scuttled shortly after the year begins. Better to let serendipity take me where it will.
The 2005 Dozois Megathology

The Year's Best Science Fiction, Twenty-Third Annual Collection; edited by Gardner Dozois (St. Martin's Griffin, ISBN 0-312-35334-0).

Summation: 2005 (Gardner Dozois): As usual, it is worth it to get the book just so you can read the introduction. Dozois looks at the year in books, shorts and more in enough detail to make a MBA candidate weep with joy. Is SF dying? Growing? Here's the straight poop.

The Little Goddess (Ian McDonald): McDonald joins Alan Dean Foster with this short story and his novel River of Gods in looking at India as a subject for science fiction. I don't know if this tale is part of the larger work, but it was good enough for me to go out and buy River of Gods in hardcover. It is on Mount Toberead, near the top. Excellent tale of a devi, something that sounds like it ought to be fantasy or science fiction, but isn't!

The Calorie Man (Paolo Bacigalupi): This tale by Bacigalupi is good, but depressing. It reminded me of a lot of the science fiction that we waded through in the 1970's (pollution will kill us, overpopulation will kill us, etc.). SF can be used to illuminate, to teach caution, but too much writing without hope makes the genre a dull field.

The Canadian Who Came Almost All the Way Back from the Stars (Jay Lake and Ruth Nestvold): My first encounter with Lake that I'm aware of; I bought the recent Mainspring based on this tale (yes, another contribution to Mount Toberead). I didn't really buy the science in this one, or the motivations of the one character's employers, but it is a great story with two great characters.

Triceratops Summer (Michael Swanwick): An accident at a local physics lab causing a rift in time. A herd of triceratops appears in the present and the main characters learn that the universe as they experience it will soon end. How would you react? Swanwick provides a very nice low-key tale (and yes, if you've read it, I know that isn't exactly what is going on, but one needs to balance revelation with keeping some suspense going).

Camouflage (Robert Reed): Part of Reed's long-running series about an immense ship that is circling our galaxy. A former captain (who has moved far underground) must solve a series of strange murders. Makes me want to seek out the novels set in the series.

The Blemmye's Strategem (Bruce Sterling): An alternate history (or fantasy?) story set in the time of the Crusades. So-so.

Amba (William Sanders): Post-climate change story. Along with endless transhuman tales, is this the rut SF will be stuck in?

Search Engine (Mary Rosenblum): George Orwell did it better.

Piccadilly Circus (Chris Beckett): Another transhuman tale, about the last few non-singularity humans in England.

In the Quake Zone (David Gerrold):

La Malcontenta (Liz Williams):

The Children of Time (Stephen Baxter):

Little Faces (Vonda M. McIntyre):

Comber (Gene Wolfe):

Audubon in Atlanta (Harry Turtledove):

The Great Caruso (Steven Popkes):

Softly Spoke the Gabbleduck (Neal Asher):

Zima Blue (Alastair Reynolds):

Planet of the Amazon Women (David Moles):

The Clockwork Atom Bomb (Dominic Green):

Cold Mountain (Chris Roberson):

The Fulcrum (Gwyneth Jones):

Mayfly (Peter Watts and Derryl Murphy):

Two Dreams on Trains (Elizabeth Bear):

Burn (James Patrick Kelly):

Honorable Mentions: 2005 (Gardner Dozois): Not an essay, just an extensive list of those stories that almost made it. Thank you mr. Dozois for "vetting" these tales. I don't think I'd have the time to read everything on the list!

Made up of: Summation: 2005 (Gardner Dozois); The Little Goddess (Ian McDonald); The Calorie Man (Paolo Bacigalupi); The Canadian Who Came Almost All the Way Back from the Stars (Jay Lake and Ruth Nestvold); Triceratops Summer (Michael Swanwick); Camouflage (Robert Reed); The Blemmye's Strategem (Bruce Sterling); Amba (William Sanders); Search Engine (Mary Rosenblum); Piccadilly Circus (Chris Beckett); In the Quake Zone (David Gerrold); La Malcontenta (Liz Williams); The Children of Time (Stephen Baxter); Little Faces (Vonda M. McIntyre); Comber (Gene Wolfe); Audubon in Atlanta (Harry Turtledove); The Great Caruso (Steven Popkes); Softly Spoke the Gabbleduck (Neal Asher); Zima Blue (Alastair Reynolds); Planet of the Amazon Women (David Moles); The Clockwork Atom Bomb (Dominic Green); Cold Mountain (Chris Roberson); The Fulcrum (Gwyneth Jones); Mayfly (Peter Watts and Derryl Murphy); Two Dreams on Trains (Elizabeth Bear); Burn (James Patrick Kelly); Honorable Mentions: 2005 (Gardner Dozois).

The following stories had been previously read and reviewed, so will not be counted again: Second Person, Present Tense (Daryl Gregory); Angel of Light (Joe Haldeman); A Case of Consilience (Ken MacLeod); Deus Ex Homine (Hannu Rajaniemi); Beyond the Aquila Rift (Alastair Reynolds).

Counts as six entries in the 2006 Short Story Project.

Counts as five entries in the 2007 Short Story Project.

Part of the 2008 Year in Shorts.
Two Dances

Dance for Two; Alan Lightman (Pantheon Books, ISBN 0-679-75877-1).

Letters to a Young Mathematician; Ian Stewart (Basic Books, ISBN 0-465-08231-9.

Dance for Two; Alan Lightman (Pantheon Books, ISBN 0-679-75877-1).

Made up of: Foreword; Pas De Deux; A Flash of Light; Smile; Is the Earth Round or Flat?; If Birds Can Fly, Oh Why, Can't I?; Students and Teachers; Time Travel and Papa Joe's Pipe; In His Image; Mirage; To Cleave an Atom; Elapsed Expectations; A Visit by Mr. Newton; Origins; A Day in December; Progress; I = V/R; Nothing But the Truth; Time for the Stars; A Modern-Day Yankee in a Connecticut Court; The Origin of the Universe; How the Camel Got His Hump; Ironland; Other Rooms; Seasons.

Counts as seven entries in the 2006 Short Story Project.

Part of the 2007 Short Story Project.

Part of the 2008 Short Story Project.

Letters to a Young Mathematician; Ian Stewart (Basic Books, ISBN 0-465-08231-9.

Made up of: Preface; Why Do Math?; How I Almost Became a Lawyer; The Breadth of Mathematics; Hasn't It All Been Done?; Surrounded by Math; How Mathematicians Think; How to Learn Math; Fear of Proofs; Can't Computers Solve Everything?; Mathematical Storytelling; Going for the Jugular; Blockbusters; Impossible Problems; The Career Ladder; Pure or Applied?; Where Do You Get Those Crazy Ideas?; How to Teach Math; The Mathematical Community; Pigs and Pickup Trucks; Pleasures and Perils of Collaboration; Is God a Mathematician?

Counts as fourteen entries in the 2006 Short Story Project.

Part of the 2007 Short Story Project.

Part of the 2008 Short Story Project.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Master and Commander

What? Another sea or O'Brian-related posting? What's the deal, Fred?

Sorry, I couldn't resist. Take a look at this site. Chart the voyages of these sea stories! I hope this wonderful effort continues! And listen to the music!
101 Crackerjack Sea Books

As it is clear from postings such as these, I'm a fan of sea stories. Via Dean King at Bookmarks magazine, 101 Crackerjack Sea Books. This should keep me busy for a while!

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Far Side of the World

After working through H.M.S. Surprise and The Mauritius Command earlier in the year, I skipped forward and worked through The Far Side of the World. I was mostly curious to see how much it matched the movie (based on this plus Master and Commander).

(It may surprise some, given how much I like these books, that I haven't plowed through them by now. My method is simple. The author has passed, having started, but not finished the 21st volume of the series. I love these books. I want the joy to last, before reading them again. So I try to limit myself to a few a year.)

Captain Aubrey takes the H.M.S. Surprise on a chase around South America and into the Pacific searching for an American frigate that has been harassing British whaling vessels. Unlike the movie, there are no sea battles, but there are some nasty storms, shipwrecked sailors, desert islands, dusky maids (with interesting eating habits) and a lot more.

One thing that always strikes me when I read O'Brian. I now essentially squat about naval matters, especially age of sail naval matters. I would not know a foremast from a mizzenmast if it hit me in the head. But when I am reading these wonderful books, I feel like I understand the concepts, just from the joy of the writing. When I am finished, I am a clueless landlubber again, but for a brief time, I am one with the wooden vessel.

Good stuff, once again. Will I finish either Treason's Harbor or Desolation Island by year's end? If not, there's always next year!

Addendum: In re-reading the review of this book, recommended by a friend, I was struck by the following. So true, so true, of us lovers of sail and salt!

Those of us in thrall to the late Patrick O'Brian are still combing book stalls and reviews looking for his successor, however profoundly we understand there'll never be one. Like alcoholics licking the lids of empty brandy bottles, we grope for the next fix, hungry for almost any author who will pipe us aboard a square-rigged ship for provocative cerebral adventures.

Addendum (January 12, 2007): In response to a comment, here is where I found the picture used above. It is a print by Geoff Hunt, whose work graces all the volumes of the Aubrey-Maturin series that I own. A gallery can be found here. I'd love to get a set of these (and enough wall space to display them!)

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Eggleton and Martiniere

Two of my favorite (currently practicing) artists who deal with a lot of science fiction subjects are Bob Eggleton and Stephen Martiniere. Eggleton now has a blog. Martiniere has a new book out and is interviewed here by The Art Department.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Magnetic Sheep

A very brief short story by James Lyn. Hey, but it counts as another installment in the 2006 Short Story Project!
Vintage Smog

Another brief entry, with thanks to an e-mail from the author (S. Foster). But, once again, it counts towards the 2006 Short Story Project!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Gordon R. Dickson Returns

Sort of. When he died in 2001, Gordon R. Dickson had been working on a continuation of his long-running Childe Cycle of novels called Antagonist. Looks like it has been finished off, but the co-author, David W. Wixon, is not a name that is familiar to me (but this brief entry at the Locus site suggests that he is well familiar with Dickson's work).

I wonder if Antagonist will be the first of a pair of novels, as some of Dickson's other later works were. From what I recall, the novel had been called Childe.

It would be wonderful if his notes could get published. The original plan for the cycle was to be several historical novels, several contemporary novels and several future history novels. The way the cycle worked out was a number of future history novels greater than the original plan. I'd like to see whatever exists for the historical and contemporary novels, to see what the grand vision would have been.

Dickson! Gordon R. Dickson. Notes by Sandra Miesel. (The NESFA Press, ISBN 0-915368-27-7.)

Made up of: Introduction (Poul Anderson); The Childe Cycle: Status 1984; The Law-Twister shorty; Steel Brother; The Hard Way; Out of the Darkness; Perfectly Adjusted.

Introduction (Poul Anderson): Anderson and Dickson had both been friends since early in their respective careers. They collaborated on several works and influenced each other in many ways beyond writing. This is a nice little essay talking about their relationship. It makes you wonder, though, given our increasingly time-stressed and attention-fractured lives whether these small communities of budding writers will continue to exist in the future. Can internet chat rooms and discussions take the place of a night of drinking, filking, etc., that took place on a very regular basis for these (at that time) young writers?

The Childe Cycle: Status 1984: My first encounter with Dickson's Childe Cycle was in Soldier, Ask Not. I don't think that edition made it clear that it was part of a larger body of work (and a later volume in that body as well). It wasn't until several years later that I came across (as a member of the SFBC) an omnibus edition of Dickson's works (which included Necromancer, Tactics of Mistake and Dorsai! plus an introduction by Dickson and material between each novel that was taken from The Final Encyclopedia, then a work in progress) that I could see the larger picture. All three of the books in that volume interested me and when I tried reading Soldier, Ask Not again, I had a "world turned upside down" moment.

Flash forward from then to the time of this essay (1984). Dickson takes the brief introductory material from that omnibus and expands it multiple ways, throwing in autobiographical detail, plot outlines for the unwritten works, his intentions, his plans and more. Interestingly, what was to be the final novel (as mentioned) took many more years to be written (but not completed) and several novels (The Chantry Guild, Young Bleys, Other) are not even mentioned. The detail on the books never written is particularly interesting, but one wonders if any publisher would have embraced the historical and contemporary volumes. Would fandom? Perhaps now, given the popularlity of works such as Neal Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle, Dickson would have found a receptive audience. Alas, we'll never know.

Counts as two entries in the 2006 Short Story Project.

Part of the 2007 Short Story Project.

Part of the 2008 Year in Shorts.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

50 Books

There's a list of science fiction and fantasy books making the rounds. Let's see how I do. Bold means I read it and liked it, italics means I read it and did not like it, plain old text means I have not read it.

1. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
2. The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov
3. Dune, Frank Herbert
4. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein
5. A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin
6. Neuromancer, William Gibson
7. Childhood's End, Arthur C. Clarke
8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick
9. The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
10. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
11. The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe
12. A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.
13. The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov
14. Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras
15. Cities in Flight, James Blish
16. The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett
17. Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison
18. Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison
19. The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester
20. Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany
21. Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey
22. Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
23. The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson
24. The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
25. Gateway, Frederik Pohl
26. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, J.K. Rowling
27. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
28. I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
29. Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
30. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
31. Little, Big, John Crowley
32. Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
33. The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
34. Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement
35. More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon
36. The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith
37. On the Beach, Nevil Shute
38. Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
39. Ringworld, Larry Niven
40. Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys
41. The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien
42. Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut
43. Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
44. Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner
45. The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
46. Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein
47. Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock
48. The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks
49. Timescape, Gregory Benford
50. To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer

Let's see...Sword of Sha-na-na. A great pastiche of both Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings. But...great fantasy? Wizard of Earthsea. LeGuin I either like or intensely get bored by. This was not one I liked. Interview with a Vampire? One of the more overrated pieces of bilge that I've ever read. Stephen Donaldson? I liked them the first time I read them. I couldn't finish the second set. I haven't bothered to buy the start of the third set.

I was asked by a person who left a comment why no mention of Snow Crash. Stephenson is one of those folks who I took several books to like. I tried Snow Crash and a few of his earlier books, but they left me cold. It wasn't until Cryptonomicon that I got hooked. If you'll look in the past Year in Books entries, you'll see that The Baroque Cycle became one of my picks for year's best (best in the year I read it, which is not the same as the best for the year of publication!). Someday I'll try Snow Crash again, but I was so underwhelmed by the first chapter or so that I have never finished the book.

The Rediscovery of Man by Cordwainer Smith is only the latest collection of Smith's works. I recommend that you search his stuff out under any title.

Some day I'll get my own best fiction list finished. There are already more than 50 titles there.

Friday, November 24, 2006

West of Honor

West of Honor or Falkenberg's Legions, Part I, Jerry Pournelle. Also part of Falkenberg's Legions (Jerry Pournelle) and The Prince (Jerry Pournelle and S.M. Stirling).

Pournelle's tales of John Christian Falkenberg have been appearing in various places (Analog SF magazine, various book formats) since the 19780's. These books are part of Pournelle's overall future history series (which includes the War World books, as well as the novels The Mote in God's Eye, The Gripping Hand and King David's Spaceship). Falkenberg was a member of the CoDominium Marines, a multi-national military based on the French Foreign Legion. In this part of Pournelle's future history, the United States and the Soviet Union have decided to partner up and control the world, imposing a peace.

Couple this with interstellar travel and an aggressive relocation policy, and you have worlds in constant need of military units. West of Honor (a portion of which can be found here, even more can be found here) details one incident in the early career of Falkenberg, told from the viewpoint of a newly commissioned lieutenant in the CoDo Marines, Hal Slater.

I generally find the tales of Falkenberg when he was in the CoDo Marines more interesting than the later ones, just as I found the tales of Hammer's Slammers (David Drake) to be more interesting before Colonel Hammer became President Hammer. Falkenberg doesn't have all the answers and spends a lot of time on the sharp end. Slater, the main character, is even more on the sharp end. It was interesting to see him develop in the course of the story. I appreciated this story a lot more this time around, having put twelve years of military service behind me since I last read it. While the book has a Korean War "feel" to it in terms of the military equipment used, Pournelle has a lot of "ground truth" here and there is a lot of timeless stuff that anybody with military experience, or a knowledge of military history, philosophy, etc., will appreciate.

Next up, but probably not until next year, The Mercenary and rest of the future history.
Civilian vs. Military

Forwarded to me by my former First Sergeant...

Civilian Friends: Get upset if you're too busy to talk to them for a week.
Military Friends: Are glad to see you after years, and will happily carry on the same conversation you were having last time you met.

Civilian Friends: Never ask for food.
Military Friends: Are the reason you have no food.

Civilian Friends: Call your parents Mr. And Mrs.
Military Friends: Call your parents mom and dad.

Civilian Friends: Bail you out of jail and tell you what you did was wrong.
Military Friends: Would be sitting next to you saying, "Damn...we screwed up...but man that was fun!"

Civilian Friends: Have never seen you cry.
Military Friends: Cry with you.

Civilian Friends: Borrow your stuff for a few days then give it back.
Military Friends: Keep your stuff so long they forget it's yours.

Civilian Friends: Know a few things about you.
Military Friends: Could write a book with direct quotes from you.

Civilian Friends: Will leave you behind if that's what the crowd is doing.
Military Friends: Will kick the whole crowds' ass that left you behind.

Civilian Friends: Would knock on your door.
Military Friends: Walk right in and say, "I'm home!"

Civilian Friends: Are for a while.
Military Friends: Are for life.

Civilian Friends: Have shared a few experiences...
Military Friends: Have shared a lifetime of experiences no Civilian could ever dream of...

Civilian Friends: Will take your drink away when they think you've had
Miitary Friends: Will look at you stumbling all over the place and say, "You better drink the rest of that, you know we don't waste...that's alcohol abuse!!" Then carry you home safely and put you to bed...

Civilian Friends: Will talk crap to the person who talks crap about you.
Military Friends: Will knock them the hell out for using your name in vain.

Civilian Friends: Will ignore this.
Military Friends: Will forward this.
David T. Wenzel

Some interesting stuff here.
Dan Alderson

I am shocked (still) to find that the person who made such a major contribution to several of Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's books (especially The Mote in God's Eye and the other books in that series; Exiles to Glory, where he appears as a character; and Lucifer's Hammer, where he appears as a character) still does not have his own Wikipedia entry. Surely somebody who knew him at JPL or in fandom in California can do something about this!

(2007 Addendum: A stub of an entry is better than none!)
First Manga

Sometime last school year my daughter started getting interested in Pokemon. It was partly due to her peers, partly just due to exposure (the beforecare and aftercare programs showed videos on Friday).

She's been bugging us for a Pokemon Gameboy and we'll probably (with great trepidation) grant her wish for her birthday.

Today since I had to go into work and she was off, I brought her along. We stopped at Barnes and Nobles on the way in and I asked if they had any Pokemon books in the kid's section. One book we picked up was Let's Find Pokemon!, which seems to be a book of activities, mazes, puzzles and the like.

The other book was The Best of Pokemon Adventures. Manga. Yes, her first manga.

And so it begins...

Monday, November 20, 2006

New Pynchon

A new Pynchon book? Hmmm...Of course, this description could be my dorm room in college, if you remove the bong (allergies):

All of this appealed immensely to the stoners of the 1970s. It was a time of The Dancing Wu-Li Masters and Godel, Escher, Bach—books which linked quantum engineering to eastern religion, to be discussed over a well-stoked bong with a side of Tangerine Dream playing in the background. The Illuminatus trilogy was big at that time, too, with its talk of cabals and "immanentising the Eschaton" (maybe a young Dan Brown was taking notes). Literary criticism meantime was turning towards scientism. The Derrida school of deconstructionists drooled over Pynchon while semioticians sharpened their troping-shears.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

I Want to See eBook Publishers Match This!

One more reason by Baen Books is not only one of the best SF publishers, but the best eBook publisher around. Bar none. Now all their books are free to disabled readers. Let's see the other distributors of eBooks match this.
The Venus Equilateral

Wikipedia casts its net further and further. Here is an entry about one of my favorite "Golden Age" science fiction series.
Four for Callahan

The Callahan Touch; Spider Robinson (Ace Books, ISBN 0-441-00133-5).

Callahan's Legacy; Spider Robinson (Tor Books, ISBN 0-812-55035-8).

Callahan's Key; Spider Robinson (Bantam Spectra, ISBN 0-553-58060-4).

Callahan's Con; Spider Robinson (Tor Books, ISBN 0-765-34165-4).

When we last saw the gang at Callahan's, they had just foiled an invasion of the Earth by setting off a "borrowed" atomic bomb (it was a small one!). However, as a result, Callahan's Place was destroyed.

We then went off on a multi-book side trip through Lady Sally's Place, a brothel that was the equivalent of Callahan's Place. (All the earlier books were reviewed by me in past years, just thumb back in the listings.)

We now have the stories of Mary's Place and The Place. This set opens up with Jake Stonebender putting the finishing touches on Mary's Place, the replacement for Callahan's Place. In addition to trying to build a place where the gang can once again hang out, Jake is trying to open what is essentially a school for telepaths. The gang used telepathy to defeat the alien invasion that destroyed Callahan's Place; they're hoping to get that feeling back again. Much of the first book revolves around the opening of Mary's Place, the long jam session that started the place off, and Jake finally getting love into his life again.

This was a pretty lightweight entry into the series. However, it is redeemed by those unique Robinson touches, little details that he tosses in that have you wondering "gee, that could really happen". My favorite was his tale of the man who opened a shop where he made you the perfect cup of coffee. He was wealthy, so could afford to take the time to craft every cup. Eventually he built The Machine, which would make the perfect cup of coffee, or, by extension, the perfect Irish Coffee (known at Callahan's and Mary's as God's Blessing). Jake ends up with the prototype, in a tale that has you wishing, "if only..."

With the second book, Mary's Place comes to an abrupt end. Juggling the impending birth of his wife's child, another alien invader, and an implacable bureaucracy, the gang manages to birth the baby and save the world, but loses out to the county code. A short entry, compared to some of the Lady Sally books, but this one felt more like "old times" to me.

With the third book, the gang emigrates, en masse, to the Keys where they find a more suitable environment (no snow!) for drinking and trying for the telepathic touch. The trip down is a hoot, Robinson manages to work in a few characters from other author's works, and we even get to save the world (this time from mankind).

Finally, with the fourth book, two ghosts of the past revisit in the form of the son of Tony Donuts (from the Lady Sally tales) and a relation of the unstoppable bureaucrats of the second book of this sequence. The problems are again solved and the gang is one step closer to that telepathic goal. However, in a very moving sequence, they lose one of the oldest members of the original group from Callahan's.

I've been reading these stories since they first appeared in Analog mumble mumble years ago. While I prefer the short stories to the novels, I found this quartet to be, overall, a lot closer to the original tales than the Lady Sally books were.

Now I just have one problem. I've run out of Callahan tales to read! Get on it, Spider!
The Writer Williamsport Forgot

H. Beam Piper. The Terro-Human Future History. The Fuzzies. The Paratime Police. Well, Williamsport (Pennsylvania) may have forgotten him (and the local paper has forgotten that if you put up a link, it ought to stay up!), and that's probably why this profile is so late in coming. I wish that somebody reprint these (maybe Baen in their classic SF line or one of the small houses).

Addendum (December 28, 2006): "You know, most of the wars they've been fighting, lately, on the Europo-American Sector have been, at least in part, motivated by rivalry for oil fields." (H. Beam Piper, Temple Trouble, 1951)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

An Exchange at the Gunroom

A recent exchange of items on the list devoted to the works of Patrick O'Brian:

"Further, I wonder why my Gunroom messages are now being flagged as 'Bulk' by my server?"

"I resent the implication, sir. My 18+ stone are carried very trimly."

Friday, November 10, 2006

Jack Williamson

I have just received word that famed science fiction writer Jack Williamson passed away.


Betty Williamson has sent a message today to friends and relatives that Jack Williamson has passed away.

Betty writes:

Hello dear friends and family,

This is to let you know that our beloved Jack Williamson died this afternoon at 3:22 p.m. He was in his study, surrounded by people he loved who loved him. It could not have been better.

Jack consented to a memorial service because I told him there were a lot of people who would want to get together to share wonderful memories. We will let all of you know when that is set.

Thank you for your friendship and love to Jack. He will be missed by all of us, but he was very ready to die. He has told me many, many times, "I have lived a wonderful life and I will die with no regrets."


Jack was wonderfully kind and generous to me since I began publishing books of his works in 1998, and I will miss him and his geniality more than I can express.

Stephen Haffner

As for me, I probably started reading Jack Williamson with the "Galaxy Novel" (remember those?) version of The Humanoids. Soon after that I came across The Legion of Space, which still remains my favorite, and is just about my favorite novel in the space opera genre (even surpassing E.E. "Doc" Smith's works!). I still remember the thrill I had tracking down Barnard's Runaway Star in my telescope from my backyard. The thrill came not so much from a successful hunt, but in looking at the home of the dreaded Medsuae, the implacable aliens from The Legion of Space. It is amazing to look at his output, from early works inspired by A. Merritt to space opera worthy of the likes of Campbell, Hamilton and Smith, to cutting-edge hard science based on the latest information, such as Beachhead.
The Essential A.E. van Vogt

Transfinite: The Essential A.E. van Vogt (NESFA Press, ISBN 1-886778-34-5).

Thanks to a tip from a reader at Ye Olde Blog (remarking about my review here), I pulled this volume off the shelf. It has a couple of the pre-novel versions of the stories that appeared in Voyage of the Space Beagle, so I'll be able to do more comparing when I get to them.

Introductions: The first introduction makes it clear how much effort goes into such a fan-based product. Once again, buy these books from NESFA Press! Support these folks! These should be on the shelf of every SF fan! For the second introduction, I'll have some thoughts, below.

I'll have more thoughts on van Vogt's writing style after I get through a few more stories, but this bit from the Introduction by Hal Clement sums things up nicely:

His tendency later on to base story ideas on more controversial aspects of science, such as the Bates eye-exercise fad and the non-Aristotelian aspect of "general semantics," sometimes made me a little unhappy, but did little if any real harm to the stories themselves. This, it seems to me, was because van Vogt had mastered, or possibly was born with, the most basic technique essential to science fiction and fantasy writers. He could work in the key details of a non standard background situation without slowing the pace of his story.

Black Destroyer: See my comments here and here.

The Monster: An amusing little twist to the standard Earth-is-invaded-by-aliens tale. I also see echoes of some of the "Don A. Stuart" writings of John W. Campbell, Jr. Earth is invaded by an alien race. They find the world dead except for plant life. They use their advanced science to revive the remains of several humans. Alas, the last one they revive turns out to be more than they can handle. I liked the tale for that, and the fact that van Vogt did not embellish this tale with some of the fringe stuff that was ladled onto other tales. It's a fairly straightforward "Golden Age" story and a good one, at that.

Film Library: A man who rents out films for educational and entertainment use finds that the films in the canisters are not what the label says they are. They all seem to be films for maintaining a advanced engine, or travel to Venus and the like. A somewhat intriguing idea, poorly executed by van Vogt. Later incorporated into the book Quest for the Future.

The Enchanted Village: The survivor of the first expedition from Earth to Mars finds an abandoned village on Mars. He tries to get it to adapt to his needs, it ends up adapting him to its parameters. A pretty nifty story with a Ray Bradbury style to it. I first read this one years ago and had totally forgot it until I got to the last paragraph and it all came back to me.

Asylum: A pair of vampire-like creatures descends upon Earth where they look forward to a feeding frenzy on the unsuspecting inhabitants. Their only problem: getting past one of the galactic watchers that is protecting the planet. Some nifty stuff here (hiding a spaceship under a restaurant), but suffers from some of van Vogt's "surprises" (instead of sprinkling clues, you drop a major plot twist down). Still a good story, but would have been more of a major classic but for that.

Vault of the Beast: Another famous tale by van Vogt. Suffers from too much "ultimate" (ultimate metal and the ultimate prime number—there can't be such a thing!) and some more "surprise" plot twists. It's interesting to see echoes of this story in today's science fiction (especially filmed SF).

The Ghost: First appearing in the short-lived Unknown Worlds (companion magazine to Astounding Science Fiction), this is just about the most "straight forward" story by van Vogt that I have come across. True, there is some meddling with the plot by having the "ghost" of the title have some powers that deal with time, but there are no major 180-degree gut-wrenching plot twists or appearances by super-beings, etc. A pretty good tale, and makes you wonder what would have come from van Vogt in this sub-genre had the magazine lasted longer.

The Rull: A story set in one of van Vogt's most famous creations. The tale pits a sole human against humanity's greatest enemy, the implacable and mysterious Rull. This tale and others were later gathered in a "fix-up" book. Still one of my favorites of all his works, but every now and again you come across a passage that makes you go "huh?":

The will to death is in all life. Every organic cell ecphorizes the inherited engrams of its inorganic origin. The pulse of life is a squamous film superimposed on an underlying matter so intricate in its delicate balancing of different energies that life itself is but a brief, vain straining against that balance.

But never mind that. We need to overcome the pattern that the Rull are trying to impose on us, charge our antigravity drive and engage in battle with their supercruisers!

Recruiting Station: A very long entry in the book, dealing with a war across time. Contains some elements (probably small) that were later incorporated into van Vogt's Linn series. (I haven't read them in a couple of decades, but they are included in the Baen Books edition of Transgalactic, which is on next year's Mount Toberead.)

A Can of Paint: A pretty funny tale about an intelligence test being administered to the first human to land on Venus. Also, a very straightforward story from van Vogt. No galaxy-shattering plot twists and some good physical humor.

The Search: One of the best tales in the book. A man loses his memory and goes on a search (aha!) to find out what happened to him. He encounters a strange saleswoman, her father, and a mysterious agency.

Dear Pen Pal: Another humorous tale about an alien who starts a correspondence with a human with the evil purpose of switching bodies. The joke is eventually on him, though.

The Harmonizer: Less a tale than an evolutionary narrative about an alien plant that comes to Earth. Might have worked better as a shorter story.

The Great Judge: Another body-switching tale. Not as good as the above-mentioned one.

Far Centaurus: A fairly traditional plot here with the first ship to the stars being overtaken by ships going faster than the speed of light. A lot of super-science substituting for plot development after the initial part, which showed a lot of promise.

Secret Unattainable: A series of memos, letters, transcripts and the like that describe a secret Nazi weapons program during World War II. A good mixture of real people and made-up personalities.

Future Perfect: Probably the weakest tale in the story, written in 1973. It appears to be an attempt by van Vogt to ride the "New Wave".

The Great Engine: A man finds a mysterious artifact while looking for junk to salvage. He gets caught up in a conspiracy.

Dormant: Inspired by Theodore Sturgeon's Killdozer? A mysterious alien force is found on a Pacific island. Unfortunately, efforts to destroy it end up activating it.

The Sound: A short story that was later incorporated into van Vogt's The War Against the Rull. The story has potential (using children to help battle alien infiltrators), but weak points as well (what the heck is the sound?). Interesting to see how this (plus stories that Baen Books has reprinted in Transgalactic) were incorporated into the novel.

The Rulers: A man stumbles across the true rulers of the world. Confused plotting.

The Final Command: A war between humans and robots is barely averted.

War of Nerves: Another story in the saga of the voyage of the Space Beagle. See my notes on Black Destroyer, above. Written well after the other two entries in the series that appear in this book (1950 vs. 1939), it shows some major changes from those two entries. For one, the story has the Nexialist, Elliot Grosvenor, whereas the other two tales do not. Does his presence make it a better story? A worse story? I think it makes it a weaker story. The original versions of the other two tales, compared with the book version, work just as well, heck, better, without Nexialism's mumbo-jumbo than with it.

Don't Hold Your Breath: A somewhat mediocre tale about a change in the atmosphere of Earth.

Discord in Scarlet: van Vogt's second tale, and continues the story of the voyage of the Space Beagle. See my notes on Black Destroyer, above. One of his best early tales. A very nicely realized monster, one that still gives me the shudders!

Afterword (Ric Katze): Mostly thanks for those who worked on the book.

Made up of: The Man in the Labyrinth (Joe Rico); Alfred E. van Vogt (Hal Clement); Black Destroyer; The Monster; Film Library; The Enchanted Village; Asylum; Vault of the Beast; The Ghost; The Rull; Recruiting Station; A Can of Paint; The Search; Dear Pen Pal; The Harmonizer; The Great Judge; Far Centaurus; Secret Unattainable; Future Perfect; The Great Engine; Dormant; The Sound; The Rulers; Final Command; War of Nerves; Don't Hold Your Breath; Discord in Scarlet; Afterword (Ric Katze).

Counts as six (6) entries in the 2006 short story project.

Counts as twenty-two (22) 2007 Short Story Project.

Next year? Transgalactic!
Bored Out Of Its Mind

Is Spirit starting to show more than wear and tear on Mars?

"Once, when we radioed her to please leave the lecturing and hypothesis-making to the mission project team, she responded by forming her robotic arm into an obscene gesture," Banerdt said. "That arm contains a state-of-the-art spectrometer meant to provide crucial mineralogy data."

Monday, November 06, 2006

Wonder Spyglass

A retro-review of science fiction and fantasy from the 1980's. I still have the Bob Shaw volumes mentioned, but must admit that most of the other stuff passed me by.

Addendum: The view from the oughts. The 1990's retrospective. I'll keep watching for the 1970's retrospective.
The Return of Elric

Via the Del Rey Internet Newsletter, news of a newly packaged set of Michael Moorcock's Elric series:

Del Rey Books is proud to announce the acquisition of a portfolio of Michael Moorcock's original Elric novels plus stories, essays, a comic book script, and other material featuring Moorcock's famously tormented antihero, Elric of Melnibone. The works will be released in matching trade paperback omnibus editions, illustrated throughout by well-known fantasy artists. Included are the following titles: Elric of Melnibone, Stormbringer, The Fortress of the Pearl, The Sailor on the Seas of Fate, The Weird of the White Wolf, The Vanishing Tower, The Revenge of the Rose, and The Bane of the Black Sword. The books will be published in the order in which they were written, rather than in the chronological order in which they have appeared since the 1970s. Moorcock will be writing new introductions for each volume.

The first volume, to be titled The Stealer of Souls, will be illustrated throughout and with cover artwork by award-winning artist John Picacio. Five additional omnibus volumes will follow.

So it appears that this will include most, but not all, of the recent novels in the series. Hopefully they will finish the series; I wish that they had plans to do hardcover versions as well as the trade paperbacks.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Homesteading in the October Country

Ray Bradbury: The October Country (Avon Books, ISBN 0-380-97387-1).

This probably represents one of my favorite Bradbury collections, along with The Martian Chronicles (a collection of short stories often marketed as a novel) and Dandelion Wine (a novel? a collection?). It certainly contains some of his creepiest work. Read The Jar and tell me that you don't get shivers! "Here kitty, kitty!" The Dwarf is probably not-PC but is a great look at the way us shaved apes abuse each other. Skeleton is one that gave me nightmares as a kid.

Made up of: Homesteading the October Country (introduction); The Dwarf; The Next in Line; The Watchful Poker Chip of H. Matisse; Skeleton; The Jar; The Lake; The Emissary; Touched with Fire; The Small Assassin; The Crowd; Jack-in-the-Box; The Scythe; Uncle Einar; The Wind; The Man Upstairs; There Was an Old Woman; The Cistern; Homecoming; The Wonderful Death of Dudley Stone.

Counts as 20 contributions to the 2006 Short Story Project.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The Dispossessed

Bookslut has a hilarious review of the various covers that have graced the Ursula K. LeGuin novel The Dispossessed.

This is the "Perennial Classics trade paperback"—which depicts, basically, Nevada. This is the edition that you will be assigned to buy if you ever take a class in "Myths of Dystopia/Utopia," since the text inside has nice fat borders with lots of room for scribbled notations. Plus it has the word "classic" on the cover in muted off-white text, so no one will be disrespecting you at the campus coffee shop and calling you Luke Skywalker and making Wookie noises.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Against the Fall of Night

A retro-review of Arthur C. Clarke's classic work. Hopefully you are all aware of Clarke's foreshadowing of Ron Moore's method of re-imagining an earlier work: Clarke expanded/rewrote Against as The City and the Stars. He tells an amusing tale of a psychiatrist and a patient that were convinced that the other was crazy, as each had read one of the books and was not aware of the other.

Friday, October 20, 2006

The New Sun

I've embarked on a reading/re-reading of Gene Wolfe's epic science fiction series, The Book of the New Sun. This is made up of what was intended to be a trilogy, but which became a tetralogy (The Shadow of the Torturer, The Claw of the Conciliator, The Sword of the Lictor and The Citadel of the Autarch), plus a sequel (The Urth of the New Sun) and an associational book (The Castle of the Otter). There are several books in a follow-on series, but for this entry, I'll restrict myself to these.

I expect that it will take me more than what time remains in this year to read this set, but I'll keep updating this entry whenever I complete one of the books.

First up was the associational book, The Castle of the Otter (SFBC/Ziesing Brothers, no ISBN listed, 1982 publication date).

This is a collection of essays about the tetralogy. It might seem odd that I started by re-reading this, but I was looking for something relatively short to read one night, this fit the bill, and it has now lead me to get back to the other books. The book is made up of a series of articles that Wolfe either wrote for various fanzines, or are original to the book. The title comes from a mistake in an article that appeared in Locus, when it was reported that the final book of the tetralogy would be called...The Castle of the Otter. Wolfe just couldn't let a good title like that go to waste!

There's a couple of articles that illuminate aspects of the tetralogy that I'll have to come back to once I re-read the books (it has been quite a while). For now, the best of the lot was one long piece outlining how the books came to be written and how they became a tetralogy (The Castle of the Otter) and what might be now called a FAQ or Frequently Asked Questions list (The Rewards of Authorship). Pretty amusing was a list of jokes (These Are the Jokes), proving that for such a grim set of books, there is humor in the universe.

Good luck finding a copy of this book. Considering some of the prices I've seen for books about Wolfe's work (try looking up the price of a tome called Lexicon Urthus, for example!), I suspect it will cost you a few pretty pennies.

Made up of: The Feast of Saint Catherine; Helioscope; Sun of Helioscope; Hands and Feet; Words Weird and Wonderful; Onomastics, The Study of Names; Cavalry in the Age of the Autarch; These are the Jokes; The Rewards of Authorship; The Castle of the Otter; Beyond the Castle of the Otter; Gene Rodman Wolfe: A Bio-Bibliography.

Counts as 13 entries in the 2006 Short Story Project.

(Addendum for 2007: Due to a variety of circumstances—work, family, moving my blog postings—I have not followed up on this book so far! But maybe by the end of the year?)

(Addendum for 2008: Sigh. I got through most of the first...but not all. These books require a lot of time, without distractions. Maybe when I get done with my end-to-end read of the Patrick O'Brian tales.)

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Riding Rockets

Riding Rockets: The Outrageous Tales of a Space Shuttle; Mike Mullane (Scribner, ISBN 978-0-7432-7682-5).

The latest in a series of biographies and autobiographies by various astronauts (a cottage industry in of itself), this one is markedly different from most that I've read in its brutal honesty about the manned space program.

Mullane was in the initial class of shuttle astronauts. Too late for Apollo, he was part of the TFNG, which sometimes means the Thirty-Five New Guys. Mullane was from the Air Force and claims that he was also from Planet AD, or Arrested Development.

Chapters describe his life in and out of NASA, focus on his three shuttle missions (two of which were military missions, so he is somewhat scarce with details), detail the Challenger accident and aftermath. There is quite a bit on NASA's broken culture, problems with the shuttle and more.

The book would be worth buying for any of these things:

Priceless gems such as details on the development and testing of vital shuttle the zero-gravity toilet. Would you like some of the development or test details in your personnel file?

A description of all the aspects of NASA's broken culture, management problems, leadership problems, communications problems and more. It is amazing that we did not lose more shuttles than we have so far. Dan Goldin, John Young, George Abbey and others are all outlined in gory detail.

Great character sketches of various astronauts that Mullane worked with.

Wonderful descriptions of what the Earth looked like in space and what being in microgravity was like. We may not have had any poets in space yet, but Mullance does a fine job at times.

There's a lot of humor here, running from coarse to high levels of farce. For example, for both of his military missions, Mullane received awards from the "black community" (and I'm not talking about race, but secrecy). Then he goes on to say that he could not take the medals out of the vaults and had to have the celebration dinner in those vaults. (The existence of the medals was declassified, hence his ability to write about it eventually.) There is lot of old boy/frat house/military humor, but it is clear that many of the targets (female astronauts, astronauts from scientific backgrounds) could give as much as they got.

Good stuff. Recommended. You probably won't see another insider view of NASA as brutally honest as this one for quite a while.

Addendum: A review by NASA Watch's Keith Cowing that appeared earlier this year.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Enterprise Without Kirk

Frustrated by the way my local station (and my satellite provider) have conspired to screw up the "new" Star Trek for me, I've turned to a couple of Star Trek novels to fill the need. I don't have many since the Great Purge, but I'll re-read one every now and again and post a review. Here's the first.

Vulcan's Glory; D.C. Fontana (Pocket Books, ISBN 0-671-65667-8).

Until recently, this was (as far as I know) the only book in the Star Trek novel genre that dealt with the earlier adventures of the good ship Enterprise, when it was commanded by Christopher Pike. We saw Pike on the screen in the episode The Cage. That episode never really flew with the network executives, so we never saw Pike and the enigmatic Number One again (at least not in that form). I was always sorry that happened.

D.C. Fontana apparently felt the same way. Instead of writing another book about the familiar trio (Kirk, Spock, McCoy), she wrote a book about an earlier group. Spock is there, but on his first mission on the Enterprise. Scotty is there, just starting out in engineering. Commanding the bridge is Christopher Pike, his executive is Number One, the "perfect woman". We get some background on Spock (which ties into episodes from the original series and the animated series; as well as some good stuff original to the book), have a couple of adventures, and tie it all up neatly.

Fontana tosses in elements as diverse as Romeo and Juliet and The Maltese Falcon. My only regret is that she never did another one. There is a new(ish) book out that deals with Pike, but it is by a Star Trek author that I never much cared for. Given the Great Purge, I'm not going to buy a book by that author.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Scribble, Scribble

"Ah Mr. Gibbon, another damned, fat, square book. Always, scribble, scribble, scribble, eh?"

(The Duke of Gloucester, on being presented with Volume 2 of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.)

Saturday, October 07, 2006

On the Back of the Turtle

The Color of Magic, Terry Pratchett (HarperTorch, ISBN 978-0-06-1-2-71-1).

For years now, I've been seeing this guy Pratchett taking up more and more space in the shelves of the Fantasy & Science Fiction sections of your average bookstore. Friends would tell me how good the books were, how funny, how many references to literature were in them. I stayed away as I'm not as much interested in fantasy as I am in science fiction (unless it is older fantasy), I generally don't like humorous tales (but for a few exceptions) and I did not want to get involved in Yet Another Endless Series.

That was the main reason. Fantasy seems to churn out a lot of these things. You never know when the damn things are going to end. Then the author's go off on tangents, write branching tales, fill in the gaps, throw in prequels and never finish the darn things! by one the reasons for not to read these books fell. I started reading "new" fantasy (starting with Tim Powers, and eventually branching out into Neil Gaiman and others). I started reading more and more humorous stuff. And...given the number of endless science fiction epics that have grabbed my attention over the years, what's an endless fantasy series. As long as it is well written, that is.

O.K., so I threw in the towell. I picked up The Color of Magic. And was hooked (line and sinker, probably as well).

This entry is less a novel than four connected stories (and I'm entering it as four contributions to the 2006 Short Story Project).

In the first story, The Color of Magic, we meet the wizard who failed out of the Unseen University, Rincewind. He manages to hook up with a tourist from another land, one Twoflower, who dabbles in strange magics such as "insurance" and "economics" and travels about with The Luggage, a very loyal piece of storage filled with gold and very big teeth. During the course of this adventure, they set fire to the city of Ankh-Morpork as Rincewind starts a tradition of getting out a creating an ever bigger disaster. We also run into Death. Death, you see, personally attends the demise of any wizard. He is often disappointed by Rincewind!

We also run into Discworld analogues of Fritz Leiber's most famous creations, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, here named Bravd and the Weasel.

A real hoot, this tale was.

The rest of the books is made up of The Sending of the Eight, The Lure of the Wyrm and Close to the Edge. These equally amusing tales have us encountering a Conan analogue, Pratchett's takeoff on McCaffrey's long-running dragon series, and a finish at the edge of the Discworld, where an attempt is being made to explore the nature of the giant turtle that the disc ultimately rests on (no, I'm not forgetting the elephants!).

Read more about Pratchett here and here, and about the Discworld here and here. I'm sure I'll be back for more volumes of this series. (I am also sure that most of you out there already know about Pratchett and his tales and I'm the last to know!)
Tripping the Light Fantastic

The Light Fantastic; Terry Pratchett (HarperTorch, ISBN 0-06-102070-2).

Given events of late, I wanted something light to read during my visit to my parent's. I started reading this book before traveling to the wilds of Pennsylvania and discovered two problems with it:

First, it is not a book to be read at night, when your wife is sleeping in the bed next to you. You might strangle if you keep trying to suppress the laughter that keeps bubbling up!

Second, there are no chapters. Yes, the scene changes every several pages, with obvious breaks, so I guess that is the equivalent. But when you are reading at night and keep saying "I'll stop at the end of the chapter", suddenly you find that you've read half the book without finding one of those chapters!

Light Fantastic is the second (according to one series order list that I had come across) installment in Pratchett's long-running series. I had read the first installment (again, according to that list) earlier this year. In it we continue the adventures of the wizard Rincewind and his charge Twoflower and his faithful Luggage on the disc-shaped world of...errrr...Discworld. Pratchett takes us to the Unseen University, where power struggles are coming to a head (or are they?). Death stalks several characters. A strange star is seen in the sky. Wizards are hunting Rincewind and Twoflower (and the Luggage!). We meet the world's most famous barbarian, Cohen. He's survived the longest, often has trouble with his joints (especially his back), but like John Wayne in The Shootist, he might be old, but he still has his skill. And let's not forget various secondary characters, including one hilarious depiction of a female assassin (I hope she appears in a later book) who, due to typecasting, wears leather even though it is uncomfortable, because it is what is expected of her.

Good stuff. Hilarious stuff. Why didn't I start reading these earlier? Two down, thirty-three novels (and various associational works) to go!

Friday, October 06, 2006

They're Made Out of Meat

An online version of Terry Bisson's classic tale. I had seen (earlier this year) an online short film, but that seems to have gone poof.
That Darned Cat (2.0)

And speaking of Schrodinger's Cat (yes, I was speaking of Schrodinger's Cat), here's a list of popular references to that famous abused kitty. I've seen a few of these references, only a few!
The Planck Dive

The Planck Dive is a short story by Greg Egan. You can read it online here. Go ahead, I'll wait.

Dang. Where to start. I liked this story. should have been a heck of a lot longer. Heck, I'll like any story that has Feynman Diagrams in it. Egan crams in a lot of physics, and does a good job of explaining it. (In fact, there's so much physics flying around, that I suggest you take a look here and here for more information and explanation.) But it comes at the cost of the characters and what seems to be an interesting background. How about more on the two cultures depicted? Why are they so different? Is the culture of the visitors the exception rather than the rule in that future? I was left wanting a lot more detail.

Counts as one (1) entry in the 2006 Short Story Project.
Enter a Silverberg. Later: Enter Another.

More electronic vacation reading (wrapping it up). These were two wildly different tales by one of science fiction's best writers, Robert Silverberg.

The first was Gilgamesh in the Outback. I recall reading this in one of the many shared-world anthology series that spawned during the 1980's, in this case the so-called Heroes in Hell series. Unlike Thieves' World or Wild Cards, this one really did not seem to produce many classics, and unlike those two shared-world anthologies, Heroes in Hell has not been revived.

Let's face it, the series wasn't very good. Luckily, there were a few bright spots, such as this story. Gilgamesh is one of the old dead. When he died, Hell wasn't that bad a place. You could still hunt. However, as time went by and newer and newer dead came crowding in, each "generation" tried to remake Hell in their own image. When those pesty Christians moved in, Hell went to, well, Hell in a handbasket.

Toss in various historical figures as Julius Caesar, Robert E. Howard, and H.P. Lovecraft, and you've got one of the better entries in that series. Lots of amusing bits like various historical figures complaining about how they have been portrayed in history or fiction, clashes between the various eras of dead and more.

In Enter a Soldier. Later: Enter Another, Silverberg takes a completely different tack and combines cutting-edge computer theory (artificial intelligence) plus two widly different historical figures. It's more a series of clever dialogues and monologues, but he manages to create an interesting little tale that examines what "life" is.

Both purchased at Fictionwise.

Counts as two (2) entries in the 2006 Short Story Project.
A Galaxy Called Rome

Another electronic vacation read. Not as successful as some of the others, alas.

I recall reading this story by Barry N. Malzberg when it first appeared in Fantasy & Science Fiction (1975). I remember being somewhat puzzled.

Later it appeared on its own, as a very slim book. I bought it. There had to be something there! I was still puzzled.

Third time the charm? Nope, sorry. Still puzzled. Ah well...

Another Fictionwise purchase.

Counts as one (1) entry in the 2006 Short Story Project.
Out of All Them Bright Stars

A short story by Nancy Kress (purchased electronically via Kress is a new author for me; all I really knew about her is that she had been married to the late Charles Sheffield.

A fairly humanoid alien shows up at a diner and orders a plain salad. The story is a study in the reactions of the several people at the diner and told from the viewpoint of one of the waitresses. The reactions depicted are probably a lot more realistic than that (for example) depicted in Larry Niven's The Fourth Profession.

Counts as one (1) entry in the 2006 Short Story Project.
Impact Parameter

Another short story by Geoffrey Landis. Like the previous tale, this can either be found in the collection of the same name or in a variety of electronic formats from

What would you do if you knew that the world was going to end in a few short days? Get permanently drunk or high? Engage in endless sex using credit cards that will shortly expire? Wait it out calmly? The characters in this tale face just that decision.

Counts as one (1) entry in the 2006 Short Story Project.
Falling Onto Mars

This short story can be found either in Geoffrey Landis' collection Impact Parameter or via outlets such as It's told as a historical narrative, where the main character outlines how his great to the nth grandparents met when Mars was turned into a penal colony. He questions the identity of his great to the nth grandfather.

Counts as one (1) story in the 2006 Short Story Project.
A Year in Linear City

Another electronic vacation read.

I'll admit to not being very familiar with Paul Di Filippo's works. Most of his books seem to come out from small presses, and I'm always hit or miss with that market. Based on what I read here, I'm going to have to start hitting his publishers!

This long tale was very enjoyable, our universe...but different. The characters inhabit a universe that is a city and a city that is a seemingly infinite narrow strip, with heaven on one side and hell on the other. Underneath? The Worm Ouroboros perhaps?

The main character is a writer of what we might call science fiction. He deals with an editor that strongly resembles John W. Campbell, Jr. in many ways. He eats foods that we mostly recognize, has friends with problems (like heroin addiction) that we recognize. But then you run across the differences. Why is the city the world and the world the city? What lies beneath? Are there other worlds? Is ours just a fictional exercise by the main character?

Di Filippo seems to have written this one not only as an exercise in creating a very odd atmosphere and setting, but as a way of exercising his ability to make up odd (but appropriate) words and use many obscure (but real) words. Good stuff, here. May we have a novel, please?

Another Fictionwise purchase.

Counts as one (1) entry in the 2006 Short Story Project.
That Darned Cat (1.0)

I just finished reading George Alec Effinger's Schrodinger's Kitten. A story that involves Schrodinger and Heisenberg and their theories? Cool!

Another purchase from and counts as 1 entry to the 2006 Short Story Project.
A Colder War

Another tale read electronically while on vacation. Appropriately enough, it was read while Tropical Storm Ernesto was making his appearance, adding to the atmosphere of the tale!

This story is available in several places online as well as in at least one collection by Charles Stross. It's a pretty creepy tale that crosses the Cold War of our reality with the cold terrors of H.P. Lovecraft and his tales of the Cthulhu Mythos. You'll lose a couple of SAN points with this one, so be warned!

Counts as one (1) story in the 2006 Short Story Project.
da Vinci Rising

This was one of several stories I read electronically while on vacation. It's a novella that Jack Dann won the Nebula for (in 1997) and is related (I assume, but can't be sure, since I have not read it) to his novel The Memory Cathedral. It's a story of Leonardo da Vinci and his efforts to develop a flying machine. Great characterizations and a great story. I'm no longer familiar enough with the details of da Vinci's life to know how much of the story is "real", but Dann does an excellent job here. Purchased at Fictionwise.

Counts as one (1) entry in the 2006 Short Story Project.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Day I Traded My Dad for Two Goldfish

Inspired by a reading of the Neil Gaiman book, my daughter said she wouldn't trade me for two goldfish. She'd rather win them at the church picnic.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Tom Swift and the Land of Wonder

A very good article about a series of "boy's books" that I read during my misbegotten youth. I visit the series now and again.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Browsing in the Psychoshop

Virtual Unrealities (Alfred Bester, introduction by Robert Silverberg. Vintage Books, ISBN 0-679-76783-5)

Introduction: A good overview of Bester's career. It's too bad he spent more time out of science fiction than in it!

Disappearing Act: Where are all the patients in Ward T going to? An early tale, but showing many of Bester's best touches.

Made up of: Introduction (Robert Silverberg); Disappearing Act; Oddy and Id; Star Light. Star Bright; 5,271,009; Fondly Fahrenheit; Hobson's Choice; Of Time and Third Avenue; Time is the Traitor; The Men Who Murdered Mohammed; The Pi Man; They Don't Make Life Like They Used To; Will You Wait?; The Flowered Thundermug; Adam and No Eve; And 3 1/2 to Go (fragment); Galatea Galante; The Devil Without Glasses (previously unpublished).

Counts as two entries in the 2006 Short Story Project.

Part of the 2007 Short Story Project.

Part of the 2008 Year in Shorts.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Psalm 119

I (Aleph)

They are happy whose life is blameless, who follow God's law!
They are happy who do his will, seeking him with all their hearts,
who never do anything evil but walk in his ways.

You have laid down your precepts to be obeyed with care--May my footsteps be firm to obey your statues.
Then I shall not be put to shame as I heed your commands.

I will thank you with an upright heart as I learn your decrees.
I will obey your statues: do not forsake me.

II (Beth)

How shall the young remain sinless? By obeying your word.
I have sought you with all my heart: let me not stray from your commands.

I treasure your promise in my heart lest I sin against you.
Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statutes.

With my tongue I have recounted the decrees of your lips.
I rejoiced to do your will as though all riches were mine.

I will ponder all your precepts and consider your paths.
I take delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.

III (Ghimel)

Bless your servant and I shall live and obey your word.
Open my eyes that I may see the wonders of your law.

I am a pilgrim on the earth; show me your commands
My soul is ever consumed as I long for your decrees.

You threaten the proud, the accursed, who turn from your commands.
Relieve me from scorn and contempt for I do your will.

Though princes sit plotting against me I ponder on your rulings.
Your will is my delight; your statutes are my counsellors.

IV (Daleth)

My soul lies in the dust; by your word revive me.
I declared my ways and you answered: teach me your statutes.

Make me grasp the way of your precepts and I will muse on your wonders.
My soul pines away with grief; by your word raise me upl.

Keep me from the way of error and teach me your law.
I have chosen the way of truth with your decrees before me.

I bind myself to do your will; Lord, do not disappoint me.

I will run the way of your commands; you give freedom to my heart.

V (He)

Teach me the demands of your precepts and I will keep them to the end.
Train me to observe your law, to keep it with my heart.

Guide me in the path of your commands; for there is my delight.
Bend my heart to your will and not to love of gain.

Keep my eyes from what is false: by your word, give me life.
Keep the promise you have made to the servant who fears you.

Keep me from the scorn I dread, for your decrees are good.
See, I long for your precepts: then in your justice, give me life.

VI (Vau)

Lord, let your love come upon me, the saving help of your promise.
And I shall answer those who taunt me for I trust in your word.

Do not take the word of truth from my mouth for I trust in your decrees.
I shall speak of your will before kings and not be abashed.

Your commands have been my delight; these I have loved.
I will worship your commands and love them and ponder your will.

VII (Zain)

Remember your word to your servant by which you gave me hope.
This is my comfort in sorrow that your promise gives me life.

Though the proud may utterly deride me I keep to your law.
I remember your decrees of old and these, Lord, console me.

I am seized with indignation at the wicked who forsake your law.
Your commands have become my song in the land of exile.

I think of your name in the night time and I keep your law.
This has been my blessing, the keeping of your precepts.

VIII (Heth)

My part, I have resolved, O Lord, is to obey your word.
With all my heart, I implore your favor; show the mercy of your promise.

I have pondered over my ways and returned to your will.
I made haste and did not delay to obey your commands.

Though the nets of the wicked ensnared me I remembered your law.
At midnight I will rise and thank you for your just decrees.

I am a friend of all who revere you, who obey your precepts.
Lord, your love fills the earth.
Teach me your commands.

IX (Teth)

Lord, you have been good to your servant according to your word.
Teach me discernment and knowledge for I trust in your commands.

Before I was afflicted I strayed but now I keep your word.
You are good and your deeds are good; teach me your commandmants.

Though proud men smear me with lies yet I keep your precepts.
Their minds are closed to good but your law is my delight.

It was good for me to be afflicted, to learn your will.
The law from your mouth means more to me than silver and gold.

X (Yod)

It was your hands that made me and shaped me: help me to learn your commands.
Your faithful will see me and rejoice for I trust in your word.

Lord, I know that your decrees are right, that you afflicted me justly.
Let your love be ready to console me by your promise to your servant.

Let your love come and I shall live for your law is my delight.
Shame the proud who harm me with lies while I ponder your precepts.

Let your faithful turn to me, those who know your will.
Let my heart be blameless in obeying you lest I be ashamed.

XI (Caph)

I yearn for your saving help; I hope in your word.
My eyes yearn to see your promise. When will you console me?

Though parched and exhausted with waiting I have not forgotten your commands.
How long must your servant suffer? When will you judge my foes?

For me the proud have dug pitfalls, against your law.
Your commands are all true; then help me when lies oppress me.

They almost made an end of me on earth but I kept your precepts.
Because of your love give me life and I will do your will.

XII (Lamed)

Your word, O Lord, for ever stands firm in the heavens:
your truth lasts from age to age, like the earth you created.

By your decree it endures to this day; for all things serve you.
Had your law not been my delight I would have died in my affliction.

I will never forget your precepts for with them you give me life.
Save me, for I am yours since I seek your precepts.

Though the wicked lie in wait to destroy me yet I ponder on your will.
I have seen all perfection has an end but your command is boundless.

XIII (Mem)

Lord, how I love your law! It is ever in my mind.
Your command makes me wiser than my foes; for it is mine for ever.

I have more insight than all who teach me for I ponder your will.
I have more understanding than the old for I keep your precepts.

I turn my feet from evil paths to obey your word.
I have not turned away from your decrees; you yourself have taught me.

Your promise is sweeter to my taste than honey in the mouth.
I gain understanding from your precepts; I hate the ways of falsehood.

XIV (Nun)

Your word is a lamp for my steps and a light for my path.
I have sword and have made up my mind to obey your decrees.

Lord, I am deeply afflicted: by your word give me life.
Accept, Lord, the homage of my lips and teach me your decrees.

Though I carry my life in my hands, I remember your law.
Though the wicked try to ensnare me I do not stray from your precepts.

Your will is my heritage for ever, the joy of my heart.
I set myself to carry out your will in fullness, for ever.

XV (Samech)

I have no love for half-hearted men: my love is for your law.
You are my shelter, my shield; I hope in your word.

Leave me, you who do evil; I will keep God's command.
If you uphold me by your promise I shall live; let my hopes not be in vain.

Sustain me and I shall be saved and ever observe your commands.
You spurn all who swerve from your statutes; their cunning is in vain.

You throw away the wicked like dross: so I love your will.
I tremble before you in terror; I fear your decrees.

XVI (Ain)

I have done what is right and just: let me not be oppressed.
Vouch for the welfare of your servant lest the proud oppress me.

My eyes yearn for your saving help and the promise of your justice.
Treat your servant with love and teach me your commands.

I am your servant, give me knowledge; then I shall know your will.
It is time for the Lord to act for your law has been broken.

That is why I love your commands more than finest gold,
why I rule my life by your precepts: I hate the ways of falsehood.


Your will is wonderful indeed; therefore I obey it.
The unfolding of your word gives light and teaches the simple.

I open my mouth and I sigh as I yearn for your commands.
Turn and show me your mercey; show justice to your friends.

Let my steps be guided by your promise; let no evil rule me.
Redeem me from man's oppression and I will keep your precepts.

Let your face shine on your servant and teach me your decrees.
Tears stream from my eyes because your law is disobeyed.

XVIII (Sade)

Lord, you are just indeed; your decrees are right.
You have imposed your will with justice and with absolute truth.

I am carried away by anger for my foes forget your word.
Your promise is tried in the fire, the delight of your servant.

Although I am weak and despised I remember your precepts.
Your justice is eternal justice and your law is truth.

Though anguish and distress have seized me, I delight in your commands
The justice of your will is eternal: if you teach me, I shall live.

XIX (Koph)

I call with all my heart; Lord, hear me, I will keep your commands.
I call upon you, save me and I will do your will.

I rise before dawn and cry for help, I hope in your word.
My eyes watch through the night to ponder your promise.

In your love hear my voice, O Lord; give me life by your decrees.
Those who harm me unjustly draw near: they are far from your law.

But you, O Lord, are close: your commands are truth.
Long have I known that your will is established for ever.

XX (Resh)

See my affliction and save me for I remember your law.
Uphold my cause and defend me; by your promise give me life.

Salvation is far from the wicked who are heedless of your commands.
Numberless, Lord, are your mercies; with your decrees give me life.

Though my foes and oppressors are countless I have not swerved from your will.
I look at the faithless with disgust, they ignore your promise.

See how I love your precepts; in your mercy give me life.
Your word is founded on truth: your decrees are eternal.

XXI (Shin)

Though princes oppress me without cause I stand in awe of your word.
I take delight in your promise like one who finds a treasure.

Lies I hate and detest but your law is my love.
Seven times a day I praise you for your just decrees.

The lovers of your law have great peace; they never stumble.
I await your saving help, O Lord, I fulfill your commands.

My soul obeys your will and loves it dearly.
I obey your precepts and your will; all that I do is before you.