Category Archives: science fiction

THE MAN WITH THE SPECKLED EYES

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As usual I am reviewing the introduction and, maybe, later reviewing some of the stories, or the book as a whole.

But probably not. I never do seem to get back to it.

And I usually see no reason to when I get into the book. It is a collection of Lafferty stories, nearly all I will enjoy immensely, and a few I will understand.

So far the only failing of this series (for me anyway) is in the choices for who writes the introduction. So far it is following the opposite of the Star Trek movie rule. The first and third introductions were good, the second and fourth were told by two men who mostly talked of themselves.

However Harlan Ellison had the advantage of having some relation to the man. And took a paragraph or two to relate something about Lafferty from his experience and not himself.

Richard A Lupoff spends most of his introduction talking incoherently about Lafferty being a practitioner of Orwell’s doublethink. And questioning how someone as smart and educated as Lafferty could believe in something as profoundly stupid as Catholicism. It should be noted that Lupoff has no real knowledge of Catholicism.

At the beginning of the introduction Lupoff confesses he only had a passing acquaintance with Lafferty – handshakes and a ‘how do you do?’ at conventions. At the end he goes into this bucket list fantasy about his friend Lafferty and Jack Vance.

I rarely, if ever, read introductions. No one buys a book for the introductions. But I read the Lafferty introductions because Lafferty is my favorite writer and I would like to read of the man. I hope, in future volumes of this series, they will get some writers (or editors or publishers) who had some interaction with the man – something real to relate.

And, perhaps, one who did not wonder how “someone so smart could believe in something so stupid.”

 

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The Big Book of Science Fiction

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I got this the other day. It is edited by Jeff and Ann Vandermeer and it is quite a large collection. I did not buy it because there is a R.A. Lafferty story in it even though there is. I own that story in probably three other collections. No, I got this collection because of how many unheard of authors (unheard of by myself at least) are between its covers.

Now it is part and parcel of the elite clique in charge of science fiction and fantasy circle to poo-poo much of science fiction’s (and fantasy’s) origins as a American/British white male dominated field. I am not one of those people. Although I hate the phrase, I think it useful here: It is what it is. It was a white male (mostly American and British phenomena) dominated field for quite some time. Dominated but not exclusive.

Simple fact is it was thusly dominated because it was, in fact, thusly dominated. The people writing it and overwhelmingly the people reading were, and to a large extent still are, white males. I go to Norwescon here in the Seattle area and, say what you will, it is a white affair, baby. Some newcomers want to make an issue of it. It is a non-issue. Particularly of such a field as science fiction. Talk about a historically inclusive field with a historically inclusively dominate theme running through much of its history.

Plain fact of the matter is white male writers produced white male fans who in turn became the writers. Woman have been part of science fiction for decades now. More now than ever – but that is because of acceptability. Acceptability among women themselves is part of the bigger push, I believe, than anything else.

If someone asks me why there haven’t been as many black science fiction writers than there could have been, I am more likely to say, “because most of them thought it was stupid?”

For myself I don’t really care who, or what, the author is. And in general I avoid bios of authors. I know nothing about the actors I watch on television (mostly) and even less about musicians whose music I listen (mostly). I care about the story.

And I fucking mean that. You can have a message (for Christ’s sake I spent over a decade with Atlas Shrugged as my favorite novel!) but it better gel within the story. If not, it sticks out like a horny thumb through a peanut butter & jelly samich. Speaking of Atlas Shrugged, I still hold that she did a great job of melding message to story what with the force of the anvil over the head messaging in any lesser hands it would have been beyond intolerable. I know some people do, in fact, find the book intolerable, but if looked at dispassionately from a technical standpoint with that level of message she intertwined it quite well.

That rambling aside it remains true that my experience of science fiction (and to a lesser extent fantasy – I don’t read all that much of what is defined as fantasy) has been almost exclusively an American/British affair. And it has had the biggest impact, all around, on the development of the genre. That is just how the world works.

The introduction to this book doesn’t convey that they hold the Golden Age in much regard, that “… gee whiz, can do attitude…” Well, again the genre does not live outside the world that gave rise to it. And America was still just that sort of country that would produce that kind of work for young boys, and some men, to gobble up. You cannot divorce 30’s science fiction and 60’s science fiction from the society they rise in.

Would Frank Capra have been Quentin Tarantino if only born several decades later? Probably not, but he probably also would not have been Frank Capra – at least not the one who made such movies as It’s a Wonderful Life. We cannot divorce the artist entirely from his milieu. Even the rare genius has at least ephemeral feet in his time whether in reaction or protest or material.

And that rambling aside! So I was intrigued by the book. It is good to dip your feet in unfamiliar waters. Maybe I’ll find that there is even more reason why the American/ British dominance existed. Maybe they were also producing the only stuff worth reading! I don’t know. I doubt that, some of these entries are for Russian authors. A country not famous for producing poor writers. Producing shitty governments, check, but not shitty writers.

I’ll post any gems I find.

 


Placemarker for, hopefully, Future Posts

As often happens when I am neck deep in schoolwork and I post that I will not be able to post, things come up that I really feel an urge to discuss.

One such is the Hugo award for short story going to Cat Pictures Please – it is kind of hard to believe there isn’t a destructive element, a ruling element, out there when pieces like this are awarded as the best science fiction has to offer.

I hope to have more to say about it if I can later. Suffice it to say that if this is the best (or even the most popular) that science fiction has to offer now, science fiction is dead. Or at least in its death throes.

We merely have to determine if her death is from natural causes or homicide. I’m leaning towards murder.

Anyone remember the tale of The Emperor’s New Clothes – or You Better Not Let ol’ Joe Stalin See You Stop Applauding First? They raise the unexceptional (or even completely outside the category) and you are expected to clap. Applause and praise for the unworthy will identify you as in the group and your duties are dispatched to you. Silence will let you roam the room for a time – but there will come a time when ol’ Joe is eyeing you… To call the sham for what it is is to be branded as outside the group, and to be submitted to the hate, to be non-Fan.

Mr. I can’t finish my series Martin last year even prescribed personality traits that a TruFan should have. He thereby threw Harlan Ellison clear outside of “fandom”. Actually threw anyone out who hasn’t conformed to the New Rulers that took over almost completely about ten years ago.

My favorite author, R.A. Lafferty, saw these people coming decades ago. But no one wanted to listen to a crazy old Catholic man.

They’re here!

I thought this was supposed to be a future post? Ah, it got away from me.

The other is I’d like to explore (from a time that science fiction awarded – at least in the short story realm – excellence and not rambling blog posts of little worth as blog posts) the theme of science fiction’s oft-overlooked treasure.

Science fiction can boast as having within her history two of the best American short stories writers. Yes two. I have another favorite author as well (he comes in the top 5 at least). I can only think of one thing these two men had in common, and that was their command of the short story. Particularly the sleight of hand, the magician’s trick, the short story with the twist.

These two authors were R.A. Lafferty and Fredric Brown. If you have never heard of the first, welcome to my blog; if not the second, you will know him as the writer of the Star Trek episode Arena (and several Hitchcock hour episodes as well). If you do not know the Star Trek episode Arena – I’m sorry you ended up at the wrong website.

I’ve talked little of Fredric Brown here. While he was a master of the short story (and the unparalleled master of the short-short story) his work was usually not very deep, many times there wasn’t much beyond the gimmick. But they were mostly fun stories that were pleasurable in their own right and showed a deft skill of execution. Their lightness had a cause. Fredric Brown was actually a mystery writer (of which he is more famous for usually – see The Fabulous Clip Joint or The Screaming Mimi) who did science fiction on the side while he was idle on the mysteries.

Again, future reference.


Addendum to Previous Post

I wrote in my previous post about my premature evaluation of The Platypus of Doom and Other Nihilists:

They seem to live in a far future where space is no longer a hostile environment to man and yet they seem to live communally and under some sort of soft dictatorship.

They seem to… This is a great way of writing that too rarely done. Too many times I think an author tries to give the reader an absolute. It is “The Cat is on the Mat” style of writing which may work for children since their imaginations can take the most flat and literal expressions and make them into wonder.

I don’t care that I don’t know exactly, at least not yet, how or what these people really are. Those are questions that keep me going forward. Sort of like the questions of life itself, no? There are two ways to do this by the end of a story, and I’ve seen it done right both ways. You never really find out or the vagueness is used to reveal as we go on.

Now this is material I’ve covered before elsewhere but here it is for the purposes of a book recommendation. One of the best constructed books I have read especially of science fiction. The author, Brian Aldiss uses this technique with the best skill I have ever seen.

The book is Non-Stop (otherwise known as Starship) by Brian Aldiss. His technique is comparatively easy to do on film, not so easy to pull off on paper. But he does it. It is not a deep book, no meta-ethic or anything, just great technique. Or, perhaps, I was so engrossed in his perfection of technique, I missed anything wider. Entirely possible…

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The Platypus of Doom and Other Nihilists

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I saw this at the bookstore a couple of months ago and my wife got it for me as an early birthday present because I was so intrigued by the title. It is a little rare to find – $60. I decided my breakfast book could not be the current

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(which, btw, is so far great – a mix of Catholicism, spiritualism, psychology, physics, cosmology – its first of a four part series of books by the former president of Gonzaga University) because it is too technical to read over the morning news and my wife getting ready for work. So I decided to take Platypus out of the plastic and dive in.

So far it is different which is one of my key qualifiers for new work. Put it this way, I have no interest in ever reading the James Patersons or Nora Roberts or John Grishams of the world. Stephen King? Sure. Although I prefer his less popular works like Tommyknockers. He calls it his worst novel. I loved it!

He, Cover, is not stylistically inventive in any particular way that jumps out but the subject matter and approach of story is. They seem to live in a far future where space is no longer a hostile environment to man and yet they seem to live communally and under some sort of soft dictatorship. Or a hard dictatorship since those in control can direct your soul where they wish after you die. Or at least the people think they can.

And now the leader says that the Black Pirates are to have their champion fight the Black Pirates champion and the winner will be visited by the dreaded Platypus of Doom!

And this was after the lead character’s girlfriend was killed by a meteor and one of the members was telling him how ugly his girlfriend had been and how revolting it must have been to have entered her. And how he should bed her daughter.

Quite unusual.

There are no technical explanations of how, for instance, the lead character (he has no name as yet) is able to get away from it all by, basically, willing himself to a different galaxy. You just accept that these people have this ability. It is that sort of “soft” science fiction that I usually prefer.

Only 8 pages in and I can give this one a recommendation. One of the tests of recommendation, I think (meaning, would I recommend a work to someone) is: does the material stay in the mind? Will the material stay in the mind? There are many a Pohl and even Heinlein story that I can remember nothing of.

I’ll remember, if nothing else, these first eight pages. So if you run across a copy, snatch it up!

Oh, and the author is not English. You’d think with a name like Arthur Byron Cover he’d be from across the pond!


Rork!

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This was my first foray into the world of Avram Davidson. Not so sure about this guy. The writing style was competent, the story… not very memorable. It certainly fits into its time. You know if a man lands on a planet and slips pretty easily into two or more vaginas within the first 50 pages (to be fair though the book is only 148 pages… alright now I’m laughing) you are reading a book written by a creepy white dude in (probably) America in the 1960’s or 1970’s. There is almost a pathology to it. It is almost incidental. The words related to any fornication could be substituted for relative words for eating a meal together and it would have so the same impact on plot and their lives.

They do the same sort of thing now but we are bored by something as commonplace as free-love, or consequence-free sleeping around with easy women. Instead we get rape and incest a la George RR Martin and sundry types. We’re all John Norman now!

If you contemplate this may all be wish fulfillment… you want to back away… slowly…

Anyway, I am not sure if Rork! represents a nadir in Davidson’s career. A simple “meh” moment, or he simply isn’t that good. I have a couple other books of his that I got off a personal library clearance.

It just wasn’t that special.


Next Centipede Edition of Lafferty Up at Amazon

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First observation is they are getting a little obscure with the introductions. I, at least, have never heard of Richard A. Lupoff. I’m not sure that is just me though. Everyone has heard of Harlan Ellison or Gene Wolfe. Too early for the story list, but I’m sure they’ll add it at some point. I didn’t check Centipede Press as I was stopping by Amazon to order yet another book for my medical coding classes (shit is going to break me, I haven’t written in sixteen months – sixteen months! I long for the days of frantic procrastination and creative loitering (wink). Better that a wannabe writer sits there and wastes his life away in daydreams than to be just fingers grasp away from the object of his desire.)

Anyway, it is still nine months away, but I am looking forward to another installment!

 


Song of Kali

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I’ve loved some Dan Simmons ever since his Hyperion series. I was about to read Drood, also by Simmons, but after barely finishing Leckie’s Titanic disappointment, and Wright’s super-dense 4th installment of his Eschaton series, I needed a break. So I thought a good horror story would be in good order.

And in good order it is! I am only 65 pages through it (and in one day which is warp speed reading for me) but damn if this isn’t good. I mean really good. He will have had to really let out a cosmic fart to screw this up. I’ll post something about it when I am done reading it.

Wright’s book, Architect of Aeons, tried my patience a little. It was mainly info dump through dialogue. I hope he has enough of a set up now that the last two books are mainly action. There is just too much referenced by the characters of times, peoples and ages and all done up quasi-medeival (which is not a problem of itself) that after awhile you glaze over and think, “I’m I supposed to keep this terabyte info dump in my head? Do I need it to follow along?” I did come into this book in a foul fiction mood after Leckie’s cosmic fart of a series, so that is a factor.

I needed a straight ass story. I got it. I certainly recommend the first 65 pages so far!


Ancillary Sword

Ag, I can’t seem to get through the second book in Leckie’s Ancillary series! The first one was good, solid. I didn’t even mind the whole gender thing because she had story to back it up.

The second book, however. Oy. I only have 100 pages to go. But the whole thing has been people standing around basically talking etiquette, feelings, and tea. Jesus, what happened? Oh, and then there is this person, who you can’t be sure the sex of, that wants to sleep with this person, who you can’t be sure the sex of, but is treating this other person, who you can’t be sure the sex of, badly.

Suddenly I don’t know if I’m reading a very dull lesbian space fantasy where no one actually sleeps with each other but talks mores and stuff?

There is supposed to be a galactic war on, sinister alien sabotage or conspiracy, etc, etc. All this super-cool stuff that was built-up in the first book – and right now I witness to some subordinate to the fleet-captain talk to a horticulturist about her feelings.

Has anyone read this series to the end? Does it ever get out of Jane Austin goes to Space and Bores Me?


A Deepness in the Sky and Pope Francis Addresses Congress

Those two items have absolutely no relation. I just don’t have time to make two posts.

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Just finished, again, Vernor Vinge’s A Deepness in the Sky. It is the only book I’ve read more than once save for Atlas Shrugged. If you are a science fiction fan and you haven’t read Vinge’s book, you are missing out on one of the stellar moments in all of the genre. It contains my favorite science fiction character, probably, of all time. I can’t say the name because you are not supposed to know it until much into the book.

Relatedly, I recommend the first book in this series A Fire Upon the Deep to be read prior to Deepness. Although to call it a series is sort of a misnomer. The two books take part in the same universe but have no correlation as far as plot is concerned. But I think that unnamed character (the character has a name, I am just not giving it out – I hate spoilers and will not deliver one) has more of an impact if Fire is read before A Deepness. Although that unnamed character is not even present in A Fire Upon the Deep.

Just a great, great book. And the plot is so tight, he has numerous threads working all through the story and it is never confusing. If you are more of a prose reader, the tightness of the plot may not thrill you as much. If you are, it is tighter than a snare drum. I myself like it sort of in the middle. But Vinge doesn’t fail to connect you to the characters – in fact he is a subtle genius at it. I was socked when I first read A Fire Upon the Deep when he got me choked up over the death of what was in actuality a sort of intelligent sort of seaweed on wheels.

Yeah, try to relate to that – but Vinge does it. And here, you’d think you couldn’t empathize with spiders that come up to your chest with giant mauls. Well, you think, anyone can anthropomorphize anything if you just make it talk like a people. And that is what your usual science fiction writer will do. It is what Star Trek usually did.

Vernor is no average science fiction writer (yes, his last book Children of the Sky, was a little weak, but not bad if were a stand alone and not meant to follow the “over the top” A Fire Upon the Deep). The spiders are anthropomorphized, but the way Vinge does it is perfect, they are subjectively anthropomorphized, but objectively are not.

I wish my next three books were not already planned out else I’d be reading A Fire Upon the Deep again as soon as I’m done studying.

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You can’t pass up the first Pope ever to address a joint session of Congress. I watched it on YouTube and then made the mistake of looking at the comments. Found an interesting one.

Too bad the POPE is wasting His time speaking to the GOP , they are contrary to everything He stands for!! Equality, compassion for fellow man, income equality, climate change, environmental issues, the poor,  the elderly, veterans, women’s rights,  no war, and religious freedom. It is hard to believe some of the GOP are “SO CALLED CAHOLICS”!!! They are a disgrace to humanity!!!

Sorry, dude. See that guy behind Pope Francis’ right shoulder? He’s a self-described devout Catholic and the Vice President, Joe Biden. Joe Biden believes in a woman’s right to abort a baby, and carries that out as a politician. And he also believes life starts at conception. I leave that to the individual person to make of that what conclusion they will…

But there is one thing you can be clear on (if you ever look at Catholic doctrine, notably the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC)) abortion is absolutely incompatible with being a Catholic. Nothing is more clear. I have heard some try to steer around the issue by moving around the life/conception timeline and sometimes the ensoulment argument. But when you say life begins at conception, and you claim to be a Catholic, well, you have some gymnastics to perform. Well, here is Biden trying some here:

“Even – I don’t want to start a theological discussion, I’ll get in trouble, it’s above my pay grade, although it’s my avocation, but there’s, you know, there’s even been disagreement in our church, not that – abortion is always wrong, but there’s been debate, and so, there’s, for me, at a point where the church makes a judgment, as we Catholics call fide doctrine, said, this is what our doctrine is,” Biden said in an interview with America published on Monday.

Usually The Daily Show or one other comedy news shows would take a Republican to town for making such a non-commital evasive, load of verbal baloney. This, you will never see done against a Democrat. What did he actually say? Ah, that be a politician talking there, son. There’s disagreement within the Church, but not about whether abortion is always wrong – then, about what?

The nice thing about the Catholic Church is it is pretty clear about a great many issues, and you can look them all up.

http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s2c2a5.htm  Articles, 2270 – 2275.

I picked on the abortion thing because if you support abortion, you are, in fact, against everything that Pope Francis stands for. And there is no getting around that. The Pope is the head of the Catholic Church, the Church’s doctrine is his doctrine.

That said, I found the Pope’s speech incredibly hard to watch. I realize English is not his first language and he’s 78 and traveling around the world is probably tiring, and he is a man in no hurry. But I am a modern American used to being around women as teenagers who speak 50 words in 4.2 seconds. This man talked so slow (and with a very thick accent) that I couldn’t tell where sentences stopped and another started.

He lacks the precision of the previous Pope who was a lifelong scholar (still is actually). But I liked a lot of what he had to say. I do wish he would have addressed the relativistic, throw away (and I’m not talking about garbage necessarily) society. And I was hoping he’d be more controversial.

It was also interesting to watch which group of people stood up to applause to what and when.

It was also simply surreal to see a Pope addressing Congress.