Thursday, December 31, 2009

Books That Stick With You


Back at the beginning of April, I got an e-mail from a friend (former college classmate, occasional drinking buddy, constant book recommendation swapper, co-blogger), Steve Hart. He "tagged" me with a meme, challenging me to pick Fifteen Big Ones.

Let me tell you, this was a difficult one to work on. Not the re-reading old friends. Not the riffling (mentally and physically) through the book collection. But the limitations. "Fifteen books!" he said, "Keep it to fifteen, or I'll tell everybody about the time in college when..."

Threats. Lots of threats.

I tried and I tried. I've come up with fifteen...but there are runner-ups. I just can't help it, sometimes I strongly associate one book with two or three or more other books. So, I've got my big fifteen, but I've got the others that go with them as well.

Edwin A. Abbott: Flatland (annotated edition, introduction and notes by Ian Stewart, Perseus, 2002) (tie in Travis S. Taylor and Lewis Carroll).

The link above will lead you to an online version of the book, if you have never encountered it, I recommend it strongly. Why do I mark this as an essential? Well, before I read this book, I hated mathematics. This was due to a series of classes that did nothing to interest me, plus being caught in a couple of changes in the way mathematics was taught.

I can't recall where I came across Flatland, but it was a pretty amazing read. A door opened up: how to look at not only one and two dimensional objects, but how to look beyond the third dimension. Pretty soon I was having fun in geometry and even read some basic books on things like tesseracts.

Alas, the love of mathematics that started in middle school and expanded into high school was squashed pretty firmly during college when I was exposed to the dreaded lecture hall and the dreaded teaching assistant. While I have done reading, on and off, since then, I sometimes wonder what might have been.

Poul Anderson: The Enemy Stars (Lippincott, 1958) (tie in Clifford D. Simak, Spider Robinson).

I first read this in the mid-1960's when I discovered Poul Anderson courtesy of a couple of battered Ace edition paperbacks and a battered SFBC copy of this volume. The paperbacks were a couple of general collections plus one entry in Anderson's long future history, specifically Trader to the Stars, several stories about his roguish Nicolas Van Rijn.

Thinking that The Enemy Stars was going to be something similar, I opened it only to find a gut-wrenching tale of survival in a dying starship. Later, I came across the original story; if anything, the impact was greater even though the story was shorter. Anderson added some fluff to the original core to make it novel-length. Both versions are good, the original just a tad better because the impact of what happens is greater.

J.D. Bernal: The World, The Flesh and The Devil (Indiana University Press, 1969) (infuences on Arthur C. Clarke, Olaf Stapledon, Gerard K. O'Neill, George Zebrowski).

This is a very, very slim book. I've linked to one online version, above; it'll take you a day, at most to read it.

Slim is deceptive though: the impact that this book has had on me is vast. And not just me: look at the names I list above.

Bernal deals with very grand themes in his book, how the limitations of our planetary resources, our bodies, etc., hold back humanity and some of the things that the future might bring to break those bonds. You can see the influences that this book had on many generations of scientists and science fiction writers. Gerard K. O'Neill's space settlements including a "construction shack" that was called a Bernal Sphere. Olaf Stapledon mentions Bernal and his book in the introduction to his classic work of science fiction, The Star Maker (the friendly link will bring you to downloadable and online versions of this book). Arthur C. Clarke, George Zebrowski and others show signs of having read the book, given their cosmic visions and grand scale stories.

Mark Bowden: Blackhawk Down: A Story of Modern War (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1999) (tie in Coyle, Drake, Haldeman)

Arthur C. Clarke: 2001: A Space Odyssey (NAL, 1968) Connections: The Planet Strappers, also Simak, Stapledon, Sagan, Zebrowski.

Hal Clement (Harry C. Stubbs): Mission of Gravity (found in The Essential Hal Clement, Volume III: Variations on a Theme by Sir Isaac Newton, NESFA Press, 2000)

Justus Dahinden: Urban Structures of the Future (Praeger, 1972)

Raymond Z. Gallun: The Planet Strappers (Pyramid, 1961)

Rudyard Kipling: Barrack Room Ballads & Departmental Ditties (Grosset & Dunlap, 1920)

Fritz Leiber: Ill Met in Lankhmar (White Wolf Publishing, 1995) (Swords and Deviltry and Swords Against Death)

Walter M. Miller, Jr.: A Canticle for Leibowitz (review here) ().

Patrick O'Brian: Master & Commander (the whole series, for all love!) (W.W. Norton, 1970)

Leslie Peltier: Starlit Nights (Harper & Row, 1965; Sky Publishing Corporation, 1999)

Carl Sagan: The Cosmic Connection (Anchor Books, 1973)

Michael Shaara: The Killer Angels (Random House, 1974). Roll in Blackhawk Down, Charles MacDonald. Forever War.

E.E. "Doc" Smith: Spacehounds of the IPC (Fantasy Press, 1949; Pyramid, 1973) (tie in Ringo and Taylor, Chalker, Vinge)

Olaf Stapledon: Star Maker (Gollancz, 1999) (tie in Bernal and Clarke, Zebrowski, Cordwainer Smith)

Freeman Dyson

Dyson Sphere


Jack L. Chalker: Midnight at the Well of Souls (Del Rey, 1977), Web of the Chozen (Del Rey, 1978)

Harold Coyle: Team Yankee (Presidio Press, 1987)

Michael Crichton: Eaters of the Dead (Bantam, 1977)

Samuel R. Delany: Nova (Bantam, 1975; Vintage, 2002)

Arthur Conan Doyle: The Complete Sherlock Holmes (preferably annotated) (general list of works)

David Drake: Rolling Hot (Baen, 1989), Paying the Piper (Baen, 2002)

Harlan Ellison: Deathbird Stories (Collier, 1990)

Richard P. Feynman: Six Easy Pieces--Essentials of Physics Explained by its Most Brilliant Teacher (Helix Books, 1995)
Six Not So Easy Pieces: Einstein's Relativity, Symmetry, and Space-Time (Helix Books, 1997)
Feynman's Lost Lecture: The Motion of Planets Around the Sun (W.W. Norton, 1996)

William Gibson: Burning Chrome (Ace, 1987) Neuromancer (Ace, 1986), Count Zero (Ace, 1987), Mona Lisa Overdrive (Bantam-Spectra, 1989)

Joe Haldeman: The Forever War (Thomas Dunn Books, 2009)

Frank Herbert: The Dragon in the Sea (Doubleday, 1956); Under Pressure (Ballantine, 1976)

Thor Heyerdahl: Kon-Tiki (Rand McNally & Co., 1950)

Charles B. MacDonald: Company Commander (Bantam, 1982); A Time for Trumpets: The Untold Story of the Battle of the Bulge (Bantam, 1985)

R.A. MacAvoy: Tea with the Black Dragon (Bantam, 1983)

John McPhee: Annals of the Former World (Farrar, Staus & Giroux, 1998)

Gerard K. O'Neill: The High Frontier (Morrow, 1976)

Frederik Pohl: The Heechee Series: Gateway (St. Martin's Press, 1977), Beyond the Blue Event Horizon (Del Rey, 1980), Heechee Rendezvous (Del Rey, 1984), Annals of the Heechee (Del Rey, 1987), The Gateway Trip (Del Rey, 1990)

Tim Powers: The Annubis Gates (Ace, 1983)

Steven Pressfield: Gates of Fire (Bantam, 1999)

John Ringo: Into the Looking Glass (Baen Books, 2005)

Spider Robinson: Callahan's Crosstime Saloon (Ace, 1977), Time Traveler's Strictly Cash (Ace, 1981), Callahan's Secret (Berkley, 1986)

Clifford D. Simak: City (Old Earth Books 2004), The Goblin Reservation (PUtnam, 1968)

Cordwainer Smith (Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger): The Rediscovery of Mankind (NESFA Press, 1994) and Norstrilia (NESFA Press, 1994)

Travis S. Taylor: Warp Speed (Baen Books, 2004)

Unknown: The Psalms (commentary by Kathleen Norris) (Riverhead Books, 1997)

Jack Vance: The Compleat Dying Earth (SFBC, 1998)

John Varley: The Ophiuchi Hotline (The Dial Press, 1977)

Vernor Vinge: A Fire Upon the Deep (Tor, 1992), A Deepness in the Sky (Tor, 1999)

Jack Williamson: The Legion of Space (Fantasy Press, 1947)

George Zebrowski: Macro-Life (Haper & Row, 1979)

Roger Zelazny: Doorways in the Sand (Harper, 1976)
Zeppelins Ho!

George Mann; The Affinity Bridge (Tor Books; 2009; ISBN 978-0-7653-2320-0; cover by Viktor Koen).

Steampunk is all the rage these days. H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, and even Arthur Conan Doyle are being folded into the sub-genre. William Gibson, Bruce Sterling and others migrated from cyberpunk to dabble. There are multiple steampunk-themed games, books and even webcomics (this one being the best).

I've encountered George Mann before as an anthologist. The Affinity Bridge is the start of a series, featuring two characters that share some distant ties to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson (especially as shown in the steampunked reooting of that venerable series of tales). Maurice Newbury plays the role of Sherlock Holmes with his assistant Veronica Hobbes stepping into the role of Dr. Watson (but more the role from the original tales or the television series that featured Jeremy Brett as Holmes and David Burke and Edward Hardwicke as Watson; in other words, not the incompetent sidekick that Nigel Bruce played again the Holmes as depicted by Basil Rathbone).

After an excellent opening in which a British military unit in the wilds is destroyed by...zombies (zombies and zeppelins, oh my!), we move to London where an airship is involved in a tragic accident, killing all on board. The airship was piloted by a clockwork automaton, one of many that have inserted themselves into many walks of life. Toss in a ghostly policeman, more zombies, mysterious deaths and dismemberment...

A fun read and I'm glad to find a new author. I'll pick up the later installments, when they are published; there was some weakness in the book (for example, some "science" being more "fantasy"), but it kept me going later and later each night until I finished it. Zeppelins ho!
The Mystery of de Lint

Charles de Lint; The Mystery of Grace (Tor Books; 2009; ISBN 978-0-7653-1756-8; cover by John Jude Palencar).

Charles de Lint; The Wild Wood (Tor Books; 2001; ISBN 0-765-30381-7; cover by John Jude Palencar).

Charles de Lint is an author that I've seen in bookstores, I've read and heard interviews with, but was somebody that I had never read. I can't really pin a reason...a large pile of unread books plus another author, a ongoing series that I was not sure where to start with, the fact that fantasy does not interest me as much as science fiction...all of these played into the lack of purchase and reading.

However, earlier this year The Mystery of Grace appeared on the shelves of the local big box. The cover (fantastic artwork by John Jude Palencar) interested me, I picked up the book and read the blurbs. Since it appeared to be a standalone, and not part of his loose Newford series, I decided to give it a chance.

And then went back to the store a day or so later and bought every single title by this author that I could find.

Now that is a strong endorsement. This is not a perfect book, I have some quibbles, but it was a darned fine read. The story revolves around Grace, a woman with extensive tattoos, grease under her fingernails from working at the local body and fender shop and a nagging addiction to cigarettes that kills coincidence.

After she dies, she wakes up in what appears to be the town she lived in. There are even people there, of sorts. Some appear alive, some appear to be in a comatose state. Those that appear to be alive, however, vary by era. Some are from the time when Grace died, some from the past. When she explores the town, she finds a couple of strange dead zones, including part of one building and a mysterious fog that surrounds the town.

Complications (as if "life" were not complicated enough) arise when she finds that once a year she can cross the bridge back into our reality. While there, she meets a man and makes a strong enough impression on him that he then tries to solve the mystery of where she has gone to when he wakes up the morning after they meet and finds her gone.

He makes an impression on her as well and she waits for the calendar to turn around again to the day when she can again cross that bridge only to make a sad discovery.

The mystery deepens around the dead zones. Grace makes a few probes and attacks and eventually brings everything to a head...if there is any weakness to the book, it is in the final confrontation with the power that has created this shade, things were built to a certain level and the author did not deliver.

But...still a very, very, very satisfying read and as can be seen by my subsequent purchases, I was impressed enough with the book to want more. Highly recommended.

After reading The Mystery of Grace, I then picked up The Wild Wood. About the only similarity between the two are that both have strong female characters and both might be termed "fantasy" or "horror" or even that much-touted "magical realism". The book revolves around Eithinie, a painter that has gone to a cabin in the wilds of Canada to try and get her creativity back. While there she makes contact with a primal force that is connected with her childhood. A much shorter read than The Mystery of Grace, I enjoyed it almost as much. Also highly recommended.
Fun With Daniel and Adele

David Drake; Some Golden Harbor (Baen Books; 2006; ISBN 978-1-4165-2080-1; cover by Stephen Hickman).

David Drake; When the Tide Rises (Baen Books; 2008; ISBN 978-1-4165-5527-8; cover by Stephen Hickman).

David Drake; In the Stormy Red Sky (Baen Books; 2009; ISBN 978-1-4165-9159-7; cover by Stephen Hickman).

Readers of this blog know that I am a big fan of the works of Patrick O'Brian (just search on that term within this blog for a hint). I'm also a big fan of genre writer David Drake. I first came across him as an author about a futuristic mercenary unit equipped with tanks. Who doesn't love tanks, especially a tanker?

When I started reading more and more books published by Baen Books, I started picking up more books by David Drake, moving beyond the core of Hammer's Slammers. This eventually led me to the tales inspired by Patrick O'Brian. Game, set and match!

In Some Golden Harbor (shouldn't that be "Harbour"?), Daniel Leary and Communications Officer (and spy) Adele Mundy get involved with an invasion of Dunbar's World. Leary is is commanding his beloved Princess Cecile, but she is a private yacht...not a naval vessel.

When the Tide Rises has Daniel and Adele off in the Bagarian Cluster and trying to help a rebellion against the enemies of the Republic of Cinnabar.

In the Stormy Red Sky pits the pair against a senator from Cinnabar who hinders as much as helps, god kings, massive enemy bases and a slave world. It also features...Commander Fred Kiesche of the RCN!

"Sir?" said Midshipman Barrett. "What if the other captains, the real captains, object when they learn what happened? I, well . . . Commander Kiesche of the Arcona is bound to feel insulted when he learns that I was pretending to be him."

Adele's lip curled. Barrett's comment was based on a number of unstated assumptions, not least being that he and Commander Kiesche would survive the coming action. The reality of a space battle was that lives could vanish as quickly and utterly as the specks of light which indicated ships on a Plot-Position Indicator.

"The answer to your question, Midshipman . . . ," Daniel said. He didn't raise his voice, and his tone was mild. "Is that Commander Kiesche is an RCN officer who accepts and obeys the orders of his superiors. You've raised a more serious question, however."

* * *

"Sir . . . ?" said Barrett. His forehead gleamed with sweat, but he kept his voice steady. "I notice you show the Arcona failing to arrive off Cacique. With the computer from the Lykewake and Commander Kiesche as Astrogator, her extractions have been within thirty seconds of the Milton's and within two thousand miles at both legs of this voyage. Sir."

"I stand corrected, Barrett," Daniel said. By the end of the short sentence, his slight smile had spread much wider. "I'd been thinking of the cruiser's problems under Alliance command, but you're quite right: Fred Kiesche doesn't need a naval-grade computer to thread a ship through the Matrix. My uncle Stacey trained him, you know."

Adele wasn't an astrogator, but all she was being asked to do here was to move data. Well, constructively she was being asked to do that though Daniel hadn't used the words; he might not realize that she could correct the . . . error was too strong a word. That she could modify the choice he'd made when he created the examples.

How can I not like a book that I appear in?

But seriously...these are good books, I enjoyed each (personal appearance or no) a great deal. Drake is well-versed in history and many of his books come out of relatively obscure (to your average reader) places or times and are spun off into interesting directions. Then you have the universe the stories are set in, he continues to build upon the framework of the first book. Finally, there are Daniel and Adele. As with Patrick O'Brian's Captain Jack Aubrey and Doctor Stephen Maturin, the stories are as much the adventure as the friendship of the main characters.
Step Away from the Tub of Happiness

Howard Tayler: The Tub of Happiness (Tayler Corporation; 2007; ISBN 978-0-9779074-0-3; cover by Howard Tayler); The Teraport Wars (Tayler Corporation; 2008; 978-0-9779074-1-0; cover by Howard Tayler); Under New Management (Tayler Corporation; 2006; 0-9779074-2-2; cover by Howard Tayler); The Blackness Between (Tayler Corporation; 2006; 0-9779074-3-0; cover by Howard Tayler); The Scrapyard of Insufferable Arrogance (Tayler Corporation; 2009; 978-0-9779074-4-1; cover by Howard Tayler).

I've been struggling on how to review this strip for a while since buying the books earlier in the year (I had been reading it online for a while, the publication of the most recent volume, The Scrapyard of Insufferable Arrogance, spurred me into buying the whole set.

How to review something that has been going on as long as this...published seven days a week...365 days a year...argggggghhhh..

O.K., start here. Then go here. Then go to the archives and start reading.

Done? Amazing stuff, isn't it?

Three to five or so panels a day, seven days a week, each individual strip ending in a joke. All working towards a storyline and even an arc that stretches across years. Not every story is a winner, not every joke makes you laugh. But the guy keeps it up, day after day after day.


Tayler was nominated for a Hugo this past year and lost to the folks behind Girl Genius. Pretty good company to be in! I'm sure he'll get a Hugo this year or soon after, the stuff is that good.

One interview with Howard Tayler. Another interview with Howard Tayler.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Back to the Moon

Footprints on a Secret Moon; David Senechal (PublishAmerica; 2006; ISBN 1-4242-4735-2; cover by David Senechal).

Some time ago, I picked up this book via Amazon. It is by David Senechal and seems to be ultra-small press, vanity press or self-published.

The premise from the blurbs seemed interesting. A guy cobbles together a lunar vehicle, using, among other things, a Gemini capsule that never flew (remember the Robert Altman movie Countdown, based on a the book Project Pilgrim by Hank Searles and based on a real proposal if Apollo did not pan out?).

However...the book is turning out to require possibly one suspension of disbelief too many.

Now, I can suspend my disbelief easily the bigger the concepts or the grander the scale. "Doc" Smith with hurtling planets? No problem. But the closer to get to "real tech", the harder time I have.

So far, we've had in the book:

A Gemini capsule gets stolen from a museum...

A guy manages to buy quite a bit of second-hand space gear from a variety of sources, mostly financed by his job as an aircraft mechanic. Eventually he goes to the owner of a news network (probably based on Fox) for money, but he gets pretty far on his own.

Among the things he acquires is a rocket engine that can be throttled, sort of like the one used on the LM. He gets this at least semi-legit, but the cost is high but he does it.

He gets a half-dozen folks, ranging from another aircraft mechanic to a ex-Boeing engineer who built that engine, to help him.

In order to get back home he plans to salvage fuel from one of the LM's...

SOMEHOW...he monkeys with the manifest of the space shuttle payload and gets his vehicle—with him in it—loaded into the payload bay of a space shuttle at pretty much the last minute—at the pad! The shuttle launches (with all that extra weight), but when it is realized that the mystery "satellite" is not a military payload that they were "told" (via e-mail, no follow-up, no verification!), the shuttle ejects it in case it is a bomb or some such.

So, not being on the course he originally planned...our hero fires up his laptop, uses his souped up GPS to determine where he is, shoots some stars, plots a new course, and heads for the Moon.

Our Hero goes to the Moon. Part of his plan is to zero in on one of the Apollo landing sites, take pictures, and salvage fuel from the LM. He uses the laser reflectors left by the Apollo missions to zero in on the landing site.

He touches down.

There ain't no LM. There's a "Surveyor Mark II" with a laser reflector on it. The Apollo missions were all faked. It's a BIG LIE, get it? A lie that involved those that loaded the Surveyor into the compartment where the LM was supposed to be, that involved all those astronauts, all those pad technicians, all those mission control folks at Kennedy and Johnson Space Center, all those wives and children of those astronauts who did not fly, all those...well, you get the idea.

A Big Lie that was perpetuated by NASA year after year, that somehow (after that) allowed them to build the shuttle, fly unmanned missions to Mars and the other planets, participate in the Mir program, start on the ISS...a Big Lie administration after administration went along with even though they could have blown the lid off what the opposition did. A Big Lie that no newspaper or television reporter ever uncovered. Urgh.

Anyway, he gets some fuel from the Surveyor. Enough to partly get home, but on a skewed orbit.

Russia, having learned that they were not beaten to the Moon, decides to help on this private mission and therefore share the glory. So they prep, crew, fuel and launch a under 24 hours, to rescue Our Hero.

Things go wrong (more) and one of the Russians dies. They are off course, so the Soyuz has to do a water landing.

They are saved, our hero has one moon rock and a soggy space suit. The people rejoice.

Sigh. I want my day back.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Honking Big Book of Ellison

Harlan Ellison (edited by Terry Dowling with Richard Delap and Gil Lamont); The Essential Ellison: A Fifty Year Retrospective (Revised and Expanded) (Morpheus International; 2001; ISBN 978-1-883398-60-6; cover artist not indicated).

Fifty years of Ellison. This is one big honking book. If there ever was a book that ought to be an eBook...this is it!

Due to the bulk, I suspect this will spill into 2010, unless I find a burst of reading time. The early stories are amusing, but can be skipped over. The book hits highlights with Ellison's introductory remarks and the Worlds of Terror section onwards. And anybody who ever wonders why science fiction on television generally sucks needs to read the funny and horrifying Somehow, I Don't Think We're in Kansas, Toto.

And more. There is much much more. Be prepared to have your soul hurt, in multiple occasions.

Made up of: Front cover interior introduction (Terry Dowling); Prolegemenon: Millennial Musings; Introduction: Sublime Rebel (Terry Dowling); Lagniappe (Terry Dowling); Beginnings (Terry Dowling); The Sword of Parmagon; The Gloconda; The Wilder One; The Saga of Machine Gun Joe; Introduction to Glowworm; Glowworm; Life Hutch; S.R.O.; Worlds of Terror (Terry Dowling); Lonelyahe; Punky and the Yale Men; A Prayer for No One's Enemy; Pulling Hard Time; Worlds of Love (Terry Dowling); In Lonely Lands; The Time of the Eye; Grail; That New Old-Time Religion (Terry Dowling); I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream; Corpse; The Whimper of Whipped Dogs; A Stab of Merriment (Terry Dowling); The Voice in the Garden; Erotophobia; Mom; Ecowareness; The Outpost Undiscovered by Tourists; Dept. of "What Was the Question?" Dept.; Dept. of "Trivial Pursuit" Dept.; Prince Myshkin, and Hold the Relish; Trouble With Women (Terry Dowling); The Very Last Day of a Good Woman; Valerie: A True Memoir; The Other Eye of Polyphemus; All the Birds Come Home to Roost; To the Mattresses With Mean Demons (Terry Dowling); The Tombs: An Excerpt from Memos from Purgatory; "Our Little Miss"; A Love Song for Jerry Falwell; Telltale Tics and Tremors; True Love: Groping for the Holy Grail; Adrift Just Off the Isles of Langerhans: Latitude 38 degrees 53' N, Longitude 77 degrees 00' W; The Function of Dream Sleep; Rococo Technology (Terry Dowling); The Sky is Burning; The Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World; Along the Scenic Route; The Song the Zombie Sang (with Robert Silverberg); Knox; With Virgil Oddum at the East Pole; Heart's Blood (Terry Dowling); From Alabama, with Hate; My Father; My Mother; Tired Old Man; Gopher in the Gilly; Strange Wine; Nights & Days in Good Old Hollyweird (Terry Dowling); The Resurgence of Miss Ankle-Strap Wedgie; Flintlock: An Unproduced Teleplay; The Man on the Mushroom; Somehow, I Don't Think We're in Kansas, Toto; Face-Down in Gloria Swanson's Swimming Pool; Petards & Hangins (Terry Dowling); Soldier; The Night of Delicate Terrors; Shattered Like a Glass Goblin; At the Mouse Circus; Shadows from the Past (Terry Dowling); Free With This Box!; Final Shtick; One Life, Furnished in Early Poverty; Jeffty Is Five; Contracts on the Soul (Terry Dowling); Daniel White for the Greater Good; Neither Your Jenny Nor Mine; Alive and Well on a Friendless voyage; The Classics (Terry Dowling); "Repent, Harlequin!" Said the Ticktockman; Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes; A Boy and His Dog; The Deathbird; Paladin of the Lost Hour; Soft Monkey; Mefisto in Onyx; Process (Terry Dowling); Where I Shall Dwell in the Next World; The Museum on Cyclops Avenue; Objects of Desire in the Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear; Man on Spikes; Introduction to "Tired Old Man"; The Man Who Rowed Christopher Columbus Ashore; Dark Liberation (Terry Dowling); The Thick Red Moment; The Man Who Was Heavily Into Revenge; Driving in the Spikes; An Edge in My Voice, Installment 55; The Streets, Installment 1; Xenogenesis; Afterword.

Counts as 32 entries in the 2009 Year in Shorts.

FTC Disclaimer: Purchased with 100% of my own funds. Take that, Big Brother!

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Open the Pod Bay Doors, HAL (Apparently Now an Ongoing Series)

Following up on this posting, I've started listening to several more podcasts. Of course, each comes with a copious backlog of shows, so between all the new shows and the backlogs...I've got a lot to listen to!

I've mentioned this before, and now it has been renewed for 2010: 365 Days of Astronomy. One show per day, roughly ten minutes in length, covering different aspects of astronomy ranging from space telescopes to amateurs to the universe to one asteroid and everything in between.

A Life Well Wasted: A relatively new podcast, but one that has very nice production levels. This one reminds me of a NPR show such as Radio Lab or Studio 360. Covering mostly videogames, many amusing stories such as a man who bought 36 pinball machines in one day or another person who taught himself to program by going from a book on videogames in one aisle of K-Mart to a Commodore 64 in another aisle of K-Mart. Very good stuff.

Adventures in SciFi Publishing (AISFP): Hosted by the ever-enthusiastic Shaun Farrell, with assists by Sam Wynns and Tim Akers, the show has been kind of sporadic of late (lots of "Real Life") but has a nice backlog of 87 episodes to listen to. Wide variety in topics and guests (tag team shows with John Ringo and David Weber, extensive coverage of both Clarion and Writers of the Future, authors who have worked with the internet to build an audience and more), good production, and of course...Shaun, Sam and Tim.

The Kick-Ass Mystic Ninjas: Some of the same folks I've heard at other shows get together and discuss science fiction, for them, "more obscure" science fiction. Topics alternate between television/movies and books, subjects have included Glen Cook, Roger Zelazny, Tron, The Hidden, RoboCop and much more.

Spider Robinson: Spider on the Web is a sporadic podcast (more Real Life issues here), but wide-ranging in subject matter. Spider covers music, reads stories, talks about space and much more.

Voices of Babylon: Growing out of a series of linked voicemails appearing in Babylon Podcast, Voices of Babylon brings us an ongoing series of stories called The Three-Edged Sword. Fan fiction set in the Babylon 5 universe, done as radio. Cool!

Shows I've started listening to, but haven't heard enough to really talk about yet (so far, so good in what I've heard...): The Dragon Page; Escape Pod; PodCastle; PodCulture; Pseudopod; Slice of SciFi; What the Cast?; The Sword and Laser. As I get into these shows, I'll come back and talk about them.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Eight Things

Robert J. Sawyer talks about eight things new writers need to know.

John Barber (writing at The Space Review) re-explores the concepts of macrolife.

Addendum: Gregory Benford and George Zebrowski on the subject. Gary Westfahl on the subject. Some interesting Saturn V variants that Dandridge Cole was involved in (among others). David Darling on the subject. Space Settlement FAQ. Colonizing Mars vs. colonizing free space using a Stanford Torus.

Issue 269 is up!

Science Masterclass. A sleuth identifies the instant poison used for a fiendish crime: '...CO2 gas. Carbon dioxide, you know.' [...] 'Are you sure?' 'Positive! As both you gentlemen know, it is a violent and fatal poison. When inhaled in any quantity, as for example from a vial, it produces a spasm of the glottis and immediate death.' (George Allan England, 'Ping-Pong', in Best Detective Stories, 1930) [MP]
Stay on Target (a.k.a., Fred's Reading Report: November 2009)

Thirty-one days have far can we go?

For the year-to-date, though:

Shorts? 581 short works read to date!

Longs? 259 long works read to date!

Progress marches on. Better living through chemistry. Or something.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Robert Holdstock

Just received word that genre author Robert Holdstock has passed away. Very sad, once again.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Prepare the Red Matter!

So now that it is finally out on DVD, I finally watched the "reboot" of Star Trek.

So, Fred, you're a trekkie from way back, what'cha think of it?

Sorry, but I am not a trekkie or a trekker. I am a science fiction fan who is a big fan of the original Trek series (but not to the extent that I ever owned a costume or even attended a Trek convention, or even, past a certain point, continued to follow the series via books, etc.) In fact, I've been pretty much out of the Trek loop since I gave up around the end of Next Generation, the middle of DS9 and the first season or so of Voyager. I haven't seen most of the past several movies or run out to buy a Blu-Ray player to get the latest iteration of the DVD's...

That having been said, I did want to see the movie (Real Life (TM) intervened) and bought the DVD. I watched it and...

There is much I enjoyed. My head did not explode over the meddling in the "canon" given the reasons for it (branching universes). The actor's pretty much nailed the characters (although the one shot of Chris Pine in the "big chair" had me wondering how they let a ten-year-old on the ship). The story was OK, but pretty "meh" when you boil it down (the villain was ludicrous, sorry). Special effects were very nice (and makes me wish I had seen it on the big screen), most of the sets were nice (although I think the number of ship interiors that take place in obviously redressed chemical factories was...odd).

But. Red matter? Really?

Look folks, the universe is a pretty wonderous place. There's a lot of nifty stuff out there (real or theorized) that would make some pretty fascinating stories. Look at the SF of Gregory Benford, Greg Bear, David Brin. Look at Alastair Reynolds, Greg Egan, Kim Stanley Robinson. Haul down off your shelves any number of anthologies. You mean the best we could come up with was some stuff from a lava lamp that gets injected into a big hypodermic needle and hand-loaded into a spiky-looking torpedo and causes hole?

Another thing that really irked me: the universe is big. Really big. Really, really, really big. So a supernova would threaten a galaxy? And create a wavefront that would destroy a planet? And when you turn one planet into a black hole a guy can stand on another planet (in a different star system because of the name) and be able to see the process (with the view being larger than how we see our Moon) and not be affected? A bunch of ships come out of warp, get whacked and the follow-on ship flies through a debris cloud thick enough to scrape the skin off their ship?

O.K., it is a movie. There is sound in space. Ships the size of skyscrapers are flying like jet planes. Why am I complaining about this stuff? I just keep hoping that we'll finally get a movie that can be both exciting and somewhat accurate, maybe?

(And I didn't even bring up how silly it was to build something as big as a Constitution class starship on a planet's surface!)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Another 15 Picoseconds of Fame

Run your peepers down the page, sixth entry...
Visiting with Eich-Pee-El

A remark by John Shirley (author of various science fiction and thriller books, plus author of lyrics for bands like Blue Oyster Cult) has led me back to the the works of Howard Philips Lovecraft.

I first came across Lovecraft as a mention in a story by Ray Bradbury (in which a man finds a world where all horror stories have been erased and tries to reintroduce horror into society), later as a series of reprints by Ballantine Books with wonderfully strange covers (generally a face...distorted...). I worked through them, found more (collections with his stories, "collaborations" with August Derleth) through the local library (I was probably responsible for most of the horror purchases that year!). Overwritten? Sure. Effective? Yes. Still. Lovecraft's prose is "purple" at times, but the guy could write a good tale when he put his mind to it and he used some interesting techniques (writing stories with "facts" such as diary entries, newspaper clippings and the like, see the "amateur" film based on The Call of Cthulhu for a good look of how this can be translated to the screen). I dip into his stuff now and again; thanks to the comment by John Shirley (and several follow-up comments on Facebook), I seem to be doing a bit deeper on Lovecraft and some of his influences.

Howard Philips Lovecraft (edited and annotated by S.T. Joshi); Annotated Supernatural Horror in Literature (Hippocampus Press; 2000; ISBN 0-9673215-0-6; cover by Vrest Orton).

S.T. Joshi; Lovecraft's Library: A Catalogue (Hippocampus Press; 2002; ISBN 0-9673215-7-3; cover by Jason C. Eckhardt).

I read these two more or less together and find them somewhat linked, so I'm reviewing them together. Both bear the hand of S.T. Joshi, who has made a one-man industry of critical works on horror literature (countless critical works plus countless antholgies with extensive introductions and/or annotations, both for Lovecraft and others such as Arthur Machen...the man is unstoppable!).

Supernatural Horror in Literature is a non-fiction work by Eich-Pee-El, a survey and analysis of what makes horror...horror. Joshi points out a number of criticisms of the work from when it was first published to recent times, but there is no denying that it was one of the earliest such works in the field, and as such, has not only influenced a lot of subsequent work but remains one that you should examine (however "creaky" it might be). The annotations by Joshi point to references in Lovecraft's (extensive!) correspondence that show how his theories on horror grew. The book has an extensive index of "key works" that will (no doubt) lead me to many book searches.

Lovecraft's Library is a (alas, incomplete) look at the books that Lovecraft owned. I say "alas" because his library was broken up before a complete catalogue could be made (one effort to index it by a family friend was incomplete at best). However, despite gaps (the list mentions no William Hope Hodgson, for example, but it is clear that Lovecraft read Hodgson) it is a fascinating look at the books Lovecraft owned. Anthologies that are listed are further broken down into the works in the anthologies, which should help in "reconstructing" these (I'm willing to bet the Project Gutenberg and other sites will yield a lot of these titles); Joshi also peppers the list with comments by Lovecrafte mentioning any criticism he had, how he acquired the book (gift of a friend, etc.) and what stories were influenced or even mentioned one of the books.

Something of a strange thing to read end-to-end, this will (I can tell) become a key reference guide to me.

I'll also note the cover art by Jason C. Eckhardt. A nicely subtle pen-and-ink drawing of a library with Eich-Pee-El's beloved Gothic/Colonial architecture, with a figure walking down the aisle reading a book. I would love to get a print of that one.

Howard Philips Lovecraft and S.T. Joshi (editor and annotator); The Annotated H.P. Lovecraft (Dell; 1997; ISBN 0-440-50660-3; cover by Nicholas).

Joshi continues to deconstruct Lovecraft's work with this first volume of an ongoing series (two volumes so far). The introduction is informative, but I think he is a tad harsh in his opinion of other authors who have contributed to the so-called Cthulhu Mythos. For one thing, many of those authors went on to have distinguished careers beyond their initial (crude) contributions. For another, if it were not for those various efforts, Joshi's career would be that much poorer (!).

Made up of: Introduction (S.T. Joshi); The Rats in the Walls; The Colour Out of Space; The Dunwich Horror; At the Mountains of Madness; Lovecraft on Weird Fiction (Joshi); Appendix: Lovecraft in the Media (Joshi).

Counts as 2 entries in the 2009 Year in Shorts.

FTC Disclaimer: Both these books were purchased with real money! My own! Take that!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

An Edge In His Voice

Harlan Ellison; An Edge In My Voice (E-Reads Ltd.; 2008; cover by Leo and Diane Dillon).

I wasn't expecting much out of this collection of Ellison's essays that originally appeared in the late Future Life magazine (sister, more serious sister when it started out, to Starlog) before moving into other venues. After all, I figured that they probably had aged and I would be scratching my head over various references, trying to dredge up memories of what was going on in the science fiction world then.

Wrong, so wrong. In addition to Ellison's usual attempts to beat back at stupidity, there are excellent references to his failed attempt to bring I, Robot to the screen (but hope still springs that maybe when they decide to remake what we saw the alleged it was based on the works of Isaac Asimov, maybe they will dust off Ellison's excellent screen treatment and get it right, for once!), there is one essay (so far) that makes the whole collection worth it: that would be Ellison's wonderful report on the close encounter with the Voyager probes with Saturn (oddly enough, this generated a science fiction you know which one?). As Ellison keeps saying in his essay, "I sigh deeply. Ain't we a wonderful species."

(Besides, in another essay he mentions Root Boy Slim and the Sex Change, there's a name I haven't heard in a long time!)

Followup: Probably the most moving piece in here is when Harlan is back in NYC in the winter and sees a homeless person. Been there, done that, got my humanity back.

Made up of: Foreword (Tom Snyder); Introduction: Ominous Remarks for Late in the Evening; Installment 1: 25 March 80; Installment 2: 5 May 80; Installment 3: 9 June 80; Installment 4: 20 July 80; Installment 5: 8 September 80; Installment 6: 13 November 80; Installment 7: 1 January 81; Installment 8: 27 February 81; Installment 9: 25 April 81; Installment 10: 5 June 81; Installment 11: 18 June 81; Installment 12: 2 July 81; Installment 13: 2 July 81; Installment 14: 25 July 82; Installment 15: 1 February 82; Installment 16: 5 February 82; Installment 17: 16 February 82; Installment 18: 21 February 82; Installment 19: 1 March 82; Installment 20: 4 March 82; Installment 21: 10 March 82; Installment 22: 19 March 82; Installment 23: 29 March 82; Installment 24: 1 April 82; Installment 25: 19 April 82; Installment 26: 26 April 82; Installment 27: 1 May 82; Installment 28: 7 May 82; Installment 29: 25 May 82; Installment 30: 7 June 82; Installment 31: 21 June 82; Installment 32: 24 June 82; Installment 33: 2 July 82; Installment 34: 12 July 82;
Installment 35: 19 July 82; Installment 36: 23 July 82; Installment 37: 2 August 82; Installment 38: 8 August 82; Installment 39: 16 August 82; Installment 40: 20 August 82; Installment 41: 30 August 82; Installment 42: 2 September 82; Installment 43: September 82 (no date listed); Installment 44: 20 September 82; Installment 45: 24 September 82; Installment 46: 1 October 82; Installment 47: 18 October 82; Installment 48: 25 October 82; Installment 49: November 82 (no date listed); Installment 50: 7 November 82; Installment 51: 15 November 82; Installment 52: 16 November 82; Installment 53: 29 November 82; Installment 54: 6 December 82; Installment 55: 19 December 82; Installment 56: 22 December 82; Installment 57: 3 Janary 83; Installment 58: 10 January 83; Installment 59: 25 January 83; Installment 60: 23 June 82; Installment 60: 21 August 84 (yes there was more than one Installment 60).

Counts as 63 entries in the 2009 Year in Shorts.

FTC Disclaimer: Yes, I bought the book. So there.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Down to the Wire

Well, we're just about halfway through November, which means a month-and-a-half until the end of the year. How am I doing? Progress!

Shorts: 523 short works!

Longs: 252 books!

My eyes are melting...

Friday, November 13, 2009

Charlie Don't Surf

Oh, sorry, your comment failed to be approved on two counts. (1) No anonymous comments. (2) Your comment must have something to do with the actual posting, not a thinly-veiled attempt to promote some no-doubt spyware/malware-loaded software.
Psychological vs. Physical

While listening to an interview with Kim Newman that appeared in The Agony Column some years ago (a database crash with iTunes has me listening to stuff I missed the first time around and re-listening to stuff again) I was struck by something: what makes a better horror movie? Gore? Suspense? Psychology? (Newman was talking about various films, as well as his books, and seemed to like those that infer blood more than those that show it.)

"Suspense" is probably a bad term because "gore" can give you a feeling of suspense (as you wait for the next bucket of blood) and psychology can give you a feeling of suspense. So let's just look at those two.

I'm thinking of The Young Lady here. She sat through the Jurassic Park movies (at a pretty young age). She has seen the various Walking With... television shows. She has seen Indiana Jones (but not Temple of Doom yet) and Star Wars movies. Probably the Jurassic Park flicks had the most gore...but they never really scared her.

On the other hand...she left the room when I watched The Haunting (the original, don't even bother to mention the remake, piece of garbage that it was), a movie without a drop of blood to be seen. The sewer tunnel sequence in Them! also drove out of the room.

Which is scarier? The original The Haunting when Eleanor is in bed, hears noises, looks at the plaster and thinks somebody is holding her hand? Or The Shining, when the elevator doors open and buckets and buckets and buckets of blood flood the corridor?

Me, I think The Haunting was a much scarier movie. The Shining had its moments ("Here's Johnny!"), but the scariest moment in that movie, to me, was when Jack Nicolson was in the empty hotel bar, said "I need a drink" and looked find a bartender there. Real? A ghost? Totally in his imagination?

Is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre really scary or just a bad comedy at this point? Do the Saw movies scare you or have you gotten bored with them? What stands the test of time...showing a ghost or buckets of blood or hinting at the horrors that lie beyond the camera?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Open the Pod Bay Doors, HAL...

Earlier in the year I was concentrating on audiobooks during the daily commute and the regular trips out to visit the parental units. Lately I've been downloading podcasts and listening to them. Here's a round-up of what has been making the rotation through the iPod.

The Agony Column: The Mother and Father of All Literary Podcasts. A bit hard to navigate the archives (big list here, roughly the last year's worth here, last several months worth here). The earliest shows, alas, are in RealAudio format only, then there is a switch to both RealAudio and MP3, then a switch again to MP3 only. Dozens upon dozens of interviews ranging from David Weber to Charles Stross to William Gibson to John Shirley to Kim Stanley Robinson to a bunch of people who don't write genre. Which is a good thing and a bad thing...bad because I keep saying, hey, that sounds interesting...maybe I should give it a try (and then the wallet cringes). Rick Kleffel is an amazing guy and an amazing hosts; unlike some podcasters he actually has read the books of the people he interviews and asks some great questions. He also knows when to stay out of the way and let the guest speak. Good stuff here.

Babylon Podcast: A fanboy, a geek girl and a actor-turned-producer get together on a regular basis and talk about one of the best things to hit science fiction televison (still). 178 episodes so far, running from interviews with cast and crew to behind the scenes to deep looks ("deep geeking") about specific episodes and themes in the show. Unless you've watched the show, you probably won't be interested, but there is a lot of good stuff here.

Fringeworthy: A podcast about a pretty obscure roleplaying game (but one of my favorites). Start with the bonus episode if you are not familiar with the game. The podcast goes beyond game mechanics and talks about things that can be applied to any game or even to writing in general.

Writing Excuses: Hosted by Howard Tayler (author and illustrator of the popular Schlock Mercenary webcomic), Brandon Sanderson (author of numerous fantasy novels, author of the recently published first volume of the concluding trilogy of Robert Jordan's big massive fantasy epic) and Dan Wells (horror novelist, starts the podcast run unpublished). Three guys with wildly different writing experiences, both from what they do (Tayler publishes he stuff on the internet, gives it away for free...but manages to support himself; Sanderson writes young adult and adult fantasy, both his own and from the works of others; Wells has worked as a corporate writer and is now an "overnight" success after years of work). "Fifteen minutes long, because you're in a hurry, and we're not that smart" is the theme to the show, fifteen minutes dealing with a particular technique or method, what to do or not to do, examples from movies and other authors and the occasional special guest. I don't know if I'll ever write anything "for real", but this show has given me plenty to think about.

More podcasts to come, as I cycle through the downloads...

Naruto, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and to Accept Manga

Masashi Kishimoto; Naruto Volumes 01-46 (Viz Media, various publication dates, various ISBN's, artwork by Masashi Kishimoto).

Several years ago The Young Lady got hooked on Pokemon, thanks to the influence of classmates and other kids (mostly boys) at her summer camp. This later evolved into an interest in Bakugan, and (most recently) Yu-Gi-Oh. In each of these, you've got a toy line, a game line (sometimes tied together), a show/movie line and a manga line. Anything that encourages reading is pretty much O.K. by me, so we encouraged the interest (to a certain extent!).

About a year or so ago, The Young Lady started getting interest in manga, again, thanks to classmates. We bought a couple of series (ranging in numbers from a one-off that is never repeated to a small run of three, to runs of thirty or more) and took some out from the library (hard to get a complete run there): the only thing we insisted on is that we would look at it first and make sure it was age appropriate (yes, these things have ratings on the back...but they are all mixed together on the shelves and the more adult ones are not, for example, sealed in plastic or your standard brown wrapper...). So we worked through Fruits Basket and Kitchen Princess and moved into fantasy such as Anima or Mamotte Shugogetten.

One series that seemed to be read by her classmates was Naruto. It seemed tailor-made for what she was reading: there were young characters, it was an ongoing series, it mixed fantasy with action/adventure or science fiction, and even had multiple strong female (secondary) characters. So I bought the first four or five issues of the (trade paperback) manga for her to read.

Well...what happened next was not what I expected. The Young Lady did not really seem that interested in the series, but I started reading it (we were spending a week "dad sitting", so my entertainment resources were limited). Five volumes were joined by the next five...and the next five...and the next five...and the "Official Fan Book" and a book of artwork and a series of books on the anime and the next five installments and...well, you get the picture when I list 46 books having been read this year.

See the link (to Wikipedia) above for a description, list of characters, etc. After 46 books I'm finding it hard to summarize what has happened, there are so many characters, primary story lines, secondary story lines and the like!

So why did this hook me? The artwork is great. It is reduced for these slightly-larger-than-standard-paperback-size volumes from the original appearances, but still look good, especially when the drawing spreads across two pages. Toss in a number of interesting characters with many quirks running from what we are used to (conflicts among schoolmates) to the pure fantasy (spirits trapped inside children). We've got a strange mix of the primitive (all transport seems to be on on foot, unless you use a animal or animal equivalent) and the advanced (those wonderful electrical poles you find in Japan) the magical (spells and potions) and the mundane (raman noodle shops). Storylines that run across multiple volumes, both major and minor. Characters that care for each other, and base their actions on ethics, beliefs, and things like trust, friendship and love.

And dozens of "action sounds". Some day I'll sit down and make a list.

Good stuff, fun stuff. Recommended.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

A Subtle Horror

Arthur Machen and S.T. Joshi (editor); The Three Imposters and Other Stories (The Best Weird Tales of Arthur Machen, Volume 1) (Chaosium; 2000; ISBN 1-56882-132-8; cover by Harry Fassl).

I had read many of these stories, but not in years and years. Some I read in college, when I worked nights as a security guard and got creeped out on occasion by horror. I then re-read them when I started running (as mentioned in the previous post about William Hope Hodgson) Chaosium's The Call of Cthulhu horror RPG. I pulled these off the shelf when I started re-reading H.P. Lovecraft's extended essay Supernatural Horror in Literature, which mentions Machen as one of Eich-Pee-El's favorites.

So far, I've only gotten through the introduction and The Great God Pan. The story creeped me out...on several levels. You have the casual experimentation on a young woman merely because the scientist-doctor had somehow "rescued" her (street waif, perhaps?). But creepier and creepier was the slow, plodding, deliberate pace as the events subsequent to the experimentation, events that take place several decades in length. You can see how Lovecraft was influenced by Machen in both adopting a pace of horror of similar length and the use of witness statements, diaries and the like for background.

The pacing was particularly interesting because in several interviews I've listened to at Rick Kleffel's excellent The Agony Column have mentioned pacing. Several authors seem to feel that the only effective horror is a quick horror: events that take place over a few days or a few hours. Machen's horror is a slow and inexorable one. A disturbing one.

Made up of: Introduction (S.T. Joshi); The Great God Pan; The Inmost Light; The Shining Pyramid. The Three Imposters; Or, The Transmutations: Prologue; Adventure of the Gold Tiberius; The Encounter of the Pavement; Novel of the Dark Valley; Adventure of the Missing Brother; Novel of the Black Seal; Incident of the Private Bar; The Decorative Imagination; Novel of the Iron Maid; The Recluse of Bayswater; Novel of the White Powder; Strange Occurrence in Clerkenwell; History of the Young Man with Spectacles; Adventure of the Deserted Residence.

Counts as 2 entries in the 2009 Year in Shorts.

Arthur Machen and S.T. Joshi (editor): The White People and Other Stories (The Best Weird Tales of Arthur Machen, Volume 2) (Chaosium; 2003; ISBN 1-56882-172-7; cover by Harry Fassl).

Made up of: Introduction (S.T. Joshi); The Red Hand. Ornaments in Jade: The Rose Garden; The Turanians; The Idealist; Witchcraft; The Ceremony; Psychology; Torture; Midsummer; Nature; The Holy Things. The White People; A Fragment of Life. The Angels of Mons: Introduction; The Bowmen; The Soldiers' Rest; The Monstrance; The Dazzling Light. The Great Return; Out of the Earth; The Coming of the Terror; The Happy Children

Part of the 2009 Year in Shorts.

Arthur Machen and S.T. Joshi (editor); The Terror and Other Stories (The Best Weird Tales of Arthur Machen, Volume 3) (Chaosium; 2005; ISBN 1-56882-175-1; cover by Harry Fassl).

Made up of: Introduction (S.T. Joshi); The Terror (unabridged); The Lost Club; Munitions of War; The Islington Mystery; Johnny Double; The Cosy Room; Opening the Door; The Children of the Pool; The Bright Boy; Out of the Picture; Change; The Dover Road; Ritual; Appendix: The Literature of Occultism.

Part of the 2009 Year in Shorts.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

The Collected Fiction

William Hope Hodgson; Jeremy Lassen (editor): The House on the Borderland and Other Mysterious Places (The Collected Fiction of William Hope Hodgson, Volume 2) (Night Shade Books; 2004; ISBN 978-1-892389-40-4; cover by Jason Van Hollander).

I first came across William Hope Hodgson in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series of books that introduced me to so many wonderful authors in the late 1960's and early 1970's. I encountered him again when I was running the horror RPG from Chaosium, The Call of Cthulhu and was mining the horror and fantasy genres for ideas and settings. I was lucky enough to find (in a New York City specialty shop) the Sphere editions of most of his tales, including a full version of The House on the Borderland (the BAF version had been abridged).

Of particular interest, both as something to read but also as source material for The Call of Cthulhu, were the stories of Carnacki, The Ghost-Finder. Carnacki was a detective, following in the footsteps of Sherlock Holmes, who investigated hauntings. Armed with both science (for example, a pentacle made out of neon light tubes) and knowledge taken from various dusty and musty tomes, Carnacki investigated haunted ships, haunted houses and more.

The framework of the stories were all essentially the same. The narrator (Hodgson, slightly renamed) and several of Caracki's friends would receive an invitation to dinner (think of the dinners held by the nameless Inventor in The Time Machine by H.G. Wells). No conversation other than the ordinary was allowed during the dinner. After dinner, when the group had sat in their usual places and were smoking their usual pipes, cigars, etc., Carnacki would recount his most recent adventure. Sometimes it was a real haunting, sometimes it was a fake (and the best stories were fakes that had elements of a real haunting thrown in...much to the surprise of those running the fake!). Carnacki would pepper his tales with references to his equipment, his research and (tantalizingly to us!) references to many other adventures that were never written down (!).

I started reading this batch on Halloween, after the trick-or-treaters had been driven away by the rain. I read all ten in one night, shivers all around! Best of the batch were The Whistling Room, The Horse Invisible, and The Pig (a very scary tale).

The Night Shade Books editions (five on my shelf so far) are somewhat expensive; I'm not sure if other editions of these stories are currently available. Luckily, there are alternatives; eBook editions of a lot of Hodgson's stories are available at sites such as Project Gutenberg.

Made up of: Editor's Introduction (Lassen); The House on the Borderland (novel); Carnacki the Ghost-Finder: The Thing Invisible; The Gateway of the Monster; The House Among the Laurels; The Whistling Room; The Searcher of the End House; The Horse of the Invisible; The Haunted "Jarvee"; The Find; The Hog; Other Tales of Mystery and Suspense: The Goddess of Death; Terror of the Water-Tank; Bullion; The Mystery of the Water-Logged Ship; The Ghosts of the "Glen Doon"; Mr. Jack Danplank; The Mystery of Captain Chappel; The Home-Coming of Captain Dan; Merciful Plunder; The Haunting of the "Lady Shannon"; The Heathen's Revenge; A Note on the Texts (Lassen).

Counts as 10 entries in the 2009 Year in Shorts.
Annotating the Canon

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; Leslie S. Klinger (editor and annotator); The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, Volume 1 (W.W. Norton & Co.; 2005; ISBN 978-0-393-05914-4; cover by Sidney Paget).

I've gone back to Holmes every couple of years, sometimes reading the entire set again, sometimes just dipping into favorites (my first encounter was in a anthology supposedly edited by Alfred Hitchcock for children and was "The Red-Headed League"). My interest in The Canon has risen and fallen, probably it reached its height when the excellent Jeremy Brett series was running on PBS; I even had a Sherlock Holmes birthday party then, making multiple dishes from a Sherlock Holmes cookbook (took about 8 hours to do the whole meal, no wonder they had so many servants then!).

I received this volume last year for Christmas (and purchased the two follow-up volumes with money received as gifts). At first I was skeptical...why an annotated version? Especially since I had a two-volume annotated version (which I was mystified to learn was somehow "controversial"), the massive two-volumes edited and annotated by William S. Baring-Gould (only slightly massive than the one volume version I owned for a short time...too big!). Was there room for more annotations?

So enthusiastic yes! The "controversy" with Baring-Gould seems to be in that he re-ordered the tales, moving from the way they were published or previously anthologized originally, to a chronological order. Now, seeing that this volume contains a chronological listing, I would guess that the controversy was less in developing a timeline for Holmes and Watson than breaking up the crown jewels.

Klinger puts them back into their "proper setting" and sprinkles a series of notes (sometimes several to a single paragraph) and short articles throughout the book. Some notes concern things that we "modern folk" might not be familiar with. Others illuminate weapons, the interior makeup of various poultry, dates, lapses of memory by Holmes or Watson (or their "editor", Doyle), etc.

If you have Baring-Gould, is it worth purchasing this set? Between the notes, the illustrations and the nice production of this trio, I say yes. If you've never encountered Holmes and Watson before (and I suspect there will be people who look at this volume when the dreaded "rebooting" of the series appears in the movies shortly), welcome to The Great Game!

Made up of: Introduction (John Le Carre); The World of Sherlock Holmes (Klinger); The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: A Scandal in Bohemia; The Red-Headed League; A Case of Identity; The Boscombe Valley Mystery; The Five Orange Pips; The Man with the Twisted Lip; "A Rose By Any Other Name" (Klinger); The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle; "A Winter's Crop" (Klinger); The Adventure of the Speckled Band; "It is a Swamp Adder!...The Deadliest Snake in India!" (Klinger); "The Guns of Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson, M.D." (Klinger); The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb; The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor; The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet; The Adventure of the Cooper Beeches. The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes: Silver Blaze; "...And the Calculation is a Simple One..." (Klinger); "I Stand to Win a Little on This Next Race" (Klinger); The Cardboard Box; The Yellow Face; The Stock-Broker's Clerk; The "Gloria Scott"; The Musgrave Ritual; The Ritual of the Musgraves (Klinger); The Reigate Squires; The Crooked Man; The Indian Mutiny (Klinger); The Resident Patient; The Text of "The Resident Patient" (Doyle and Klinger); The Greek Interpreter; Mycroft Holmes (Klinger); The Naval Treaty; The Final Problem; Revisions of "The Final Problem" (Klinger); Chronological Table: The Life and Times of Sherlock Holmes (Klinger).

Counts as 40 entries in the 2009 Year in Shorts.

FTC Disclaimer: Book 01 was a gift from a person who bought it. Book 02 and Book 03 were purchased with money.
How Can I Keep From Screaming?

Aaaaahhhh!!!! I missed posting the arrival of Ansible 268!!!!!

JOHN CLUTE, with David Langford and the co-editorial team, celebrated passing 10,000 entries in the third-edition-in-progress of the _Encyclopedia of SF_. The 1993 volume had 6,571. Owing to differences about the nature of the project, the _EoSF_ has amicably parted company with Orbit/Hachette and acquired enthusiastic new backers from outside the conventional publishing world. Keep watching the skies!

Looking forward to it!

HARLAN ELLISON announced on 22 October that his action against CBS/Paramount (for not paying royalties on spinoffs from _The City on the Edge of Forever_) has been settled: 'The _Star Trek_ lawsuit is over. I am pleased with the outcome. [... T]hree years' litigation is completed. Lordy, I am tired. Smiling at last.' ( [DKMK]

Go, Harlan! While we're mentioning Harlan Ellison (R), I recommend Dreams With Sharp Teeth. Excellent movie.

And of course, many entries from Thog's Masterclass!

THOG'S MASTERCLASS. _Distributed Middle Dept._ 'Jackson could see one of the enemy soldier's _[sic]_ midsection splatter red against the brick behind him and then fall forward dead.' (Travis S. Taylor, _One Day on Mars_, 2007) [MB]
Fred's Reading Report (October 2009)

Whoops! Behind the curve already! Well into November and I haven't posted October's report (that's OK, I haven't done my link to Ansible yet either!).

Shorts! Shorts! We're moving...may not make 2008's count, but we're moving! 508 short works (more or less, I'm still behind in logging these), last year was 848 (!). A big bump in the count came thanks to Halloween (where I read a bunch of stories by William Hope Hodgson) and the decision to re-visit "The Canon" of Sherlock Holmes.

Longer works grew to 251. My eyes are bleeding... In a switch, I haven't been listening to audiobooks while driving to and from work or too and from Pennsylvania, mostly podcasts, otherwise the count would have been higher.

The quest continues!
All Gunn, All the Time

Ben Bova; The Sam Gunn Omnibus (Tor Books; 2007; ISBN 978-0-7654-1620-2; cover by Vincent Di Fate).

Previously read in 2004 (in part) with the separate editions, I picked up this omnibus (it only took me two years to get to it!) when I saw there was new material added to the sequence.

Sam Gunn is one of Bova's three main creations dealing with our "near future". The other two are his Kinsman tales and his stories from the loose Grand Tour sequence. Both those are fairly serious in nature (especially the Kinsman stories); with Sam Gunn, Bova gets to look at the more humorous side of space travel.

This omnibus is a cross between a collection and fix-up. There are a number of bridging sequences where Our Intrepid Reporter, Jade, tries to find out about the legendary Sam Gunn. Between the bridges are the longer Sam Gunn "set pieces" (previously published in Omni, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Analog and other magazines). Sam sees an angle, runs a con, tries to get in at the bleeding edge. He steps on toes, makes enemies, gets fired, loses a fortune. Along the way he helps to open up the frontier, and more importantly, makes a large number of lasting friends. Fun stories, even on a re-read.

Made up of: Preface; Selene City; The Sea of Clouds; The Supervisor's Tale; The Hospital and the Bar; The Long Fall; The Pelican Bar; The Audition; Diamond Sam; Decisions, Decisions; Statement of Clark Griffith IV; Tourist Sam; The Show Must Go On!; Space Station Alpha; Isolation Area; Lagrange Habitat Jefferson; Vacuum Cleaner; Selene City; Armstrong Spaceport; Nursery Sam; Selene City; Statement of Juanita Carlotta Maria y Queveda; Sam's War; Habitat New Chicago; Grandfather Sam; Solar News Offices, Selene City; Bridge Ship "Golden Gate"; Two Years Before the Mast; Bridge Ship "Golden Gate"; Asteroid Ceres; Space University; A Can of Worms; Titan; Einstein; Surprise, Surprise; Reviews; Torch Ship "Hermes"; Acts of God; Torch Ship "Hermes"; Steven Achernar Wright; The Prudent Jurist; Pierre D'Argent; Piker's Peek; Zoilo Hashimoto; The Mark of Zorro; The Maitre D'; The Flying Dutchman; Disappearing Act; Takes Two to Tangle; Solar News Headquarters, Selene; Orchestra(ted) Sam.

Counts as 19 entries in the 2009 Year in Shorts.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Full Disclosure

Dear Federal Trade Commission. Following your new rules for full disclosure, I will notify my readers (since you don't specify how I'm supposed to exactly do this yet) when I get a "freebie". Please note that most of the books I review are purchased...or I get a freebie after I purchase...or I get a free electronic edition while I purchase a deadtree...or a third party sends me something to review...or...

Sigh. Just what we need. More rules and regulations.

Addendum: A fascinating interview with the FTC's Richard Cleland. It is very clear he has little knowledge of how reviewers work at newspapers. Does he really think that books received by reviewers (editors, etc.) are the property of the publication? Want to bet the publication ignores them, doesn't want the, tells the reviewer to keep them? I am supposed to return books that are given to me? What about electronic books (files)? ARC's (photocopies)?

Addendum: on the news.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Fred's Reading Report (September 2009)

On with the show, this is it!

Books read, year to date? 244! My eyes are melting! My brain is bleeding! Brrrraaaaaaiiiinnnzzzzz.....

Books read in September included...

Glen Cook: The Black Company, Shadows Linger, The White Rose. All included in a Tor Books omnibus edition, the first of three (so far). Good stuff. Why Cook isn't on more "good fantasy author" lists, I'll never know.

Freeman Dyson: The Scientist as Rebel.

Richard P. Feynman: "You Must Be Joking, Mr. Feynman" and "What Do You Care What Other People Think?" Good collections built up from oral history and previously published written works. Funny, sad, excellent mix all around.

Diana Wynne Jones: Howl's Moving Castle and Castle in the Air. The first was the basis for a film, and the book was very different from the movie. The second was interesting in that, while a sequel, the characters from the first don't show up for quite a while! Just picked up the third book in the series recently. My daughter has now read the first and is reading the second.

Masashi Kishimoto: Naruto 42. Rationing myself as I only have three more to go. New volumes expected shortly...

Scott McCloud: Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. Saw this recommended by a webcomic artist. I now understand the importance of the gutter! Actually, a very good book that will give you an overview of the history of the "graphic novel" and a very good understanding of the theory behind the art.

Sir Terry Pratchett: Eric, Making Money, Jingo and The Truth (combined review here). It's Pratchett. It's the Discworld. 'Nuff said.

John Ringo: Hell's Faire. The last of the initial trilogy in the Posleen tales. The horsies finally get their tails kicked.

Spider Robinson: The Callahan Chronicals (three books). Yup, read them again. It was that kind of month.

Jack Vance: This Is Me, Jack Vance! (Or, More Properly, This Is "I"). The autobiography of a writer that strangely had very little to do with writing.

David Weber: The Honor of the Queen, The Short Victorious War. More re-reads. Trying to go through the whole series again before the several new books that are coming out this year and next all hit the bookshelves and add themselves to Mount Toberead.

Short works, year-to-date? 387, and that is an undercount (as usual)!

My eyes...

What am I complaining about? It sure beats television!

Monday, September 28, 2009

You Think You Have A Tough Job?

Larry Correia; Monster Hunter International (Baen Books; 2009; ISBN 978-1-4391-3285-2; cover art by Allan Pollack).

Owen Z. Pitt is living the American Dream. He's got a good job, low stress, good pay. Well, until his boss turns out to be a werewolf, Owen has to battle him, and ends up in the hospital (mostly dead) with the FBI there threatening to kill him.

Yes, another dull day in the life of Owen Z. Pitt!

It turns out that Monsters Walk Among Us and they aren't the sexy, goth-dripping, angst-ridden (starved looking) sex objects of the movies or the shelves of various bookstore shelves. Monsters are evil, nasty, icky things that want to rip your arms and legs off, drink your blood and send your soul to hell.

Luckily (for us) the various undead (and others) are not immune to a sufficient application of force. Force as in enough bullets, enough high explosives, enough claymores, enough grenades. After the departure of the FBI, Owen hooks up with Monster Hunter International, a private corporation (most definitely "for profit") dedicated to erasing monsters from the Earth and making a few good bucks (thanks to a government bounty) at the same time.

Guns, God and Guts, as the saying goes, made America and it helps to keep America (and the rest of the world!) free of Gore, Gollums and the God-damned (O.K., I'm stretching for the metaphor here). Monster Hunter International is a fun read and I recommend it highly. Correia might go overboard with his lust of personal weapons, but more than makes up for it with evil vampires, the truth behind Elves and Orcs and more. Did somebody say there was a sequel coming? Is it out yet?

(Click on the link for a fairly large sample of the book.)
It's Turtles All the Way Down

Terry Pratchett; Eric (HarperTorch; 2002; ISBN 978-0-380-82121-1; cover artist not indicated).

Terry Pratchett; Jingo (HarperTorch; 1998; ISBN 978-0-06-105906-3; cover artist not indicated).

Terry Pratchett; Moving Pictures (HarperTorch; 2002; ISBN 978-0-06-102063-6; cover artist not indicated).

Terry Pratchett; The Truth (HarperCollins; 2000; ISBN 0-380-97895-4; cover art by Chip Kidd).

Terry Pratchett; Making Money (HarperTorch; 2007; ISBN 978-0-06-116164-3; cover art by Scott McKowan).

(NOTE: As of this writing, I am reading, but have not completed Moving Pictures and The Truth...just letting you know what is coming!)

Ah, the turtle that strides through space! The elephants! The disc! The humor!

Especially the humor. Things have been getting wacky again on the personal front, so I picked up The Canon According to Pratchett to Get My Mind Off Things.

Notice, kids, that is "canon" with one "n" not two "nn's" as in "cannon"!

Eric continues the adventures of the ever-bumbling wizard Rincewind after his troubles in Sourcery. It was a fun little romp, and any appearance by the feared Luggage is worth it, but the Rincewind tales tend to be my least favorite of the stories.

With Jingo, we see what is up with Sir Samuel Vimes and the City Watch. The drums of war are beating and Ankh-Morpork and the land of Klatch when an island (Leshp) rises between them. Assassination attempts, arson, beatings, attempted murder, armies being raised and the disappearance of Lord Vetinari (after he resigns as Patrician of Our Fair City) all scheme to make life for Sir Sam...complicated. Good stuff.

Making Money was a re-read, so to speak: I had come across a reduced-price copy of the unabridged audiobook and wanted to give it a try. A further incentive was learning that the next Discworld book, Unseen Academicals, is soon to be published, so I wanted to refresh my memory on events. The narrator, Stephen Briggs, has performed Discworld stories on the stage, has written or co-written a number of "non-fiction" Discworld books and has narrated several of the books previously. How good a job does he do? Well, in reading Moving Pictures and The Truth, I "hear" him as the voices of the narrator and the various characters. I will need to seek out more of his audiobooks!

With The Truth, we introduce a few new characters and add to the "Industrial Revolution" sequence. Newspapers and journalism come to Ankh-Morpork. Not only journalism, but sensationalist journalism and serious journalism. It is amazing to watch a whole new industry grow in the fertile...soil...of Our Fair City. One of Pratchett's best.