Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Marvelous Land of Oz, L. Frank Baum

English: Book cover of The Marvelous Land of O...
English: Book cover of The Marvelous Land of Oz (1st edition), published in 1904. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I had such a wonderful time reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz with its charming simplicity, yet rich and colourful, and above all, magical creation, that I had to pick up the second in the series, which happens to be what this post is about. You can get it for free from Gutenberg.org.

In my previous journal entry, I wrote about how the ebook lacked the ability to tab through chapters and was difficult to navigate. This book, however, was not neglected. There is a table of contents which is called a "List of Chapters" rather than a TOC, which can be used to navigate through the book, and the chapters can be tabbed through. However, when pressing the menu button, one may not find "List of Chapters" as one might usually find a "Table of Contents" to go to. So, one must go to the first page and tab through to get to this menu.

This story takes off where the two characters, the tin man and the scarecrow, were left off. We do not get to see Dorothy or Toto again. And, even the lion is no where to be seen. We are also introduced to some new characters. These are: Tip, who is a real boy. There is Jack Pumpkinhead, who has a pumpkin head stuck in a great big smile. Jack is brought to life by Tip. Then there is Woggle-Bug, which is a gigantic bug who was enlarged and became sentient. There is also a Saw-horse that is brought to life. Finally, there is the Gump, which is a flying creature with couches for people to ride in. All of these new inanimate characters were created by Tip, who had stolen it from a witch called Old Mombi. It was a bit of dust that, when given to an object, could turn that object into a living, thinking, caring being.

The strawman has been attacked in his Emerald City and forced to abdicate to an army of girls. Most of the adventures are about the new friends trying to get it back. But, towards the end, we discover that the Emerald City was in fact supposed to be ruled by a girl who had been lost when the original wizard had taken over. Glinda, the good witch, tries to put the rightful heir to the throne back on the throne. It turns out that Tip was that girl. He had had his gender transformed by Old Mombi to hide him. So, he is changed back into a she after the city is taken, and she is placed on the throne.

This story is also highly imaginative, with witty humour and word play banter. It's a short read, but still a lot of fun.
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Friday, June 8, 2012

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Frank L. Baum

Title plate of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (not...
Title plate of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (not the cover, it's the interior title page), 1900 Wizard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Who can forget one of the greatest children's films of all time? The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was, and still is, magical. I got it in my head to read the book, and I'm quite glad I did. It's available for free at Gutenberg.org.

First off, the one criticism I have of this book is that there is no formatting, no navigable table of contents. This is a Gutenberg slip. I notified them, but I haven't heard back from them. Maybe it'll be fixed, and maybe not. But, I found the story so charming and imaginative that I almost didn't care.

I don't think I need to outline the plot, but I will quickly: cyclone brings Dorothy to the land of Oz. She kills a bad witch, meets a scarecrow, a tin man, and a lion. The scarecrow wants brains, the tin man a heart, and the lion, courage.

However, the treatment of these characters differs, I believe, between the book and the movie. The scarecrow is not stupid, the tin man is not heartless, and the lion is not a coward. Quite the contrary: it's the scarecrow's brains that helps them overcome many of their obstacles. The tin man often sheds tears. He's the most empathetic character, who is moved to tears on many occasions. Finally, the movie version of the lion is a kind of funny joke. In the book, however, he is a noble character who is often using his courage to overcome dangerous obstacles that the group could not otherwise overcome.

When they do meet the Wizard of Oz, they discover of course that he is a fraud. Nonetheless, he is able to give each of them (excepting Dorothy) their wish. But, it is their belief in his ability to bestow those powers which gives them those attributes. In essence: the placebo effect.

At the conclusion of the movie version, Dorothy clicks her red shoes and finds herself back in Kansas with her family. Conversely, Dorothy of the book uses her silver shoes to get back. However, when she gets back in the movie, it's as if she's awoken from the carnage of the house. In the book, the house has been replaced altogether and a significant amount of time has passed.

Another major difference I was able to note is that the witch in the movie, The Wizard of Oz, is very antagonistic towards Dorothy and her friends as she makes her way to the Emerald City. However, in the book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,  it is not until after Dorothy and her friends have been instructed to seek her out and kill her that the witch takes any actions against Dorothy. In the book version, the witch is a bad person: she enslaves people, she does cruel things, but she does not seek to do Dorothy any harm until Dorothy comes after her.

scanned from 1900 Wizard of Oz book
scanned from 1900 Wizard of Oz book (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are more differences between movie and book, but I don't think I will list any more.

I really believe this was a brilliant piece of fiction. It was written in the preface by Baum that he was looking to create a new fantastical world without relying on the imaginations of those who came before him. And, he did a great job of it. It's littered with jokes which are comical, whimsical, and magical. Already I've begun reading the second in this series of Oz books. I can't help but feel that Baum may have been one of the first and original authors to begin experimenting with fantasy outside of the fairytale universe which the likes of Andersen wrote.

In summary: excellent book. Read it! It's good for kids and adults alike.

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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Émile Zola, The Dream

This is a novel which can be found freely on Gutenberg.org's great website. 

I'm not really sure what brought me around to read this novel by Émile Zola. I guess I was at once wishing for something more substantial than the overdose of short fiction from the two short fiction magazines which I subscribe to. I wanted to read something a bit meatier than those. I am also quite fond of Henri Balzac, and wondered what other great French writers would appeal to me. Did he succeed in seducing me into another one of his novels through the quality of this one, The Dream? I'm not really sure.

In any case, I hadn't done my research before beginning to read this novel. If I had, perhaps I wouldn't have read this one first. In fact, it's near the end of the series of twenty novels.

This is the story of a girl, Angelique, who is lost or sent away by a terrible sort of mother. The mother had no scruples, and I have since read that she had been a prostitute in another novel. So, this is the sort of place where she began. She was then sent into social care. She fled from social care, and was on the verge of death on the doorstep to a house of a humble couple.

The humble couple so happened to feel the need for a child, lacking their own. The house itself is situated, somehow, within the outer structure of a Catholic church. The couple are devout and humble Catholics. When they raise her, they do so within the confines of this home and the church next door. She is cloistered within, and her only book is The Golden Legend, which is evidently a real book. In any case, the book is filled with legends of Catholic virgins who performed miracles and always persevered until taken up into heaven. She determines herself to be as one of these virgins.

She falls in love with a very wealthy prince, but cannot marry him. He loves her as much, but she refuses him until he can get his father's blessing. He ultimately does, but not until she nearly dies from a broken heart. However, in the end, they are married, and she dies, kissing him at the completion of the wedding.

Émile Zola
Émile Zola (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I'm not sure how much I loved Angelique. I'm not sure I entirely understood the outer context, either. Apparently, what Zola was trying to do was to show that it does not matter what kind of parents one has, but rather the environment within which they are raised, which affects the character of the person. In essence, he took a prostitutes daughter and put her into a good Catholic home where she can become a martyr of sorts.

There were a few thoughts I had here and there while reading this book. First off, was that Angelique's purity, her fast adherence to the letter of religious edict, effectively weakens and kills her. I'm not sure if this was what Zola was trying to point out, but it's worth considering. Is it evil which makes us strong, and goodness that makes us weak? This debate I remember well in a Star Trek episode, The Enemy Within, where Kirk is divided into two parts: evil Kirk and good Kirk. Good Kirk simply cannot make hard compromises or dangerous decisions, effectively making him a poor captain. Bad Kirk makes decisions too rashly, ready to endanger everyone. In essence, that episode tried to show that a balance of the two was what made Kirk strong. Does the absence of evil in Angelique make her weak?

Also, the ideals of purity, white, and beauty are things that I also have a hard time with: the closer to death that Angelique gets, the thinner and whiter she gets, and the more beautiful.

Will I read another of these books? At first I thought not, but perhaps I will have to take a look at the first book if I decide to try again.

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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Gunman's Reckoning, Max Brand

Max Brand was, in the 20th century, one of the most prolific writers. Well, Max Brand is in fact the Gunman's Reckoning is available freely at Gutenberg.org. I believe there is also a free version on Amazon. However, it's blocked from those living in Canada while the one at Gutenberg is not.
pseudonym of Frederick Schiller Faust. He wrote hundreds of novels. Such a work ethic is something I admire in a writer. This is the second book of his that I've read, and there are several things to be said.

This is the third most popular book on Gutenberg by Max Brand. That said, let's get onto some parts of the novel.

The novel starts off really well. We follow the perspective of an outlaw who had had unfortunate luck because of a certain man by the name of Donnegan. He attributes his problems to the man and sets out to kill him in his sleep. However, his luck fails him, and Donnegan very nearly kills him. However, he's preserved long enough to learn that Donnegan wasn't after him at all. But, there's where the most interesting part of the story ends. That is to say, I found the character of the outlaw to be more interesting than Donnegan.

I am not particularly fond of the super human human type character. I enjoy the super human characters like Spiderman and such. And, to an extent I enjoy Tarzan and other Burroughs' characters. But I don't enjoy them as much as flawed characters.

In any case, there are a few undesirable or politically incorrect things to note about Gunman's Reckoning. First off, we have a black man, named George, who becomes the slave of Donnegan. He loves his master, sacrifices his life for him, and all with very little remorse in the tone of the author. The second thing is the relative inferiority of the female characters. For instance, Brand writes that 'For every lovely girl, no matter how cool-headed, has a foolish belief in the power of her beauty.' Another part, from the mouth of her uncle, "Man talk confuses a girl, Lou. You shouldn't listen to it." and finally, 'He had never seen such perfect self-command in a woman.' Over and over, we see that women are inferior to the man. They are to be fought over, adored, perhaps (grudgingly so) respected, but more often than not, little more than someone worth something as long as the face is pretty.

This book is filled with long drawn out drama. I'm not sure how I feel about that, either. It was
difficult for me to wade through. But, having already committed myself so far into the book, and the book being a fairly brief one, I finished it anyways.

Donnegan randomly goes to a house after his meeting with Lefty, the man who had tried to kill him, and runs into the love of his life. Her uncle is in control of her, and is an evil force to be reckoned with. But to win his girl, he plays the puppet for the uncle. He goes to the main setting referred to as "The Corner." It's a gold mining town, and the colonel/uncle wants possession of it.

There's a man called Lord Nick, who is in control of the mine's owner and the mine itself. He is huge and feared. He's also the long lost brother of Donnegan. However, Donnegan's mischief in trying to manipulate the town has brought Lord Nick's love of gold and a girl between family. Ultimately there's a gun fight, which Nick wins (Donnegan's weapon was empty), but does not kill Donnegan but just his poor manservant, George. When all comes out about whom Donnegan was in love with, and that he indeed was never intending to get between Nick and Nick's love interest, they make good and become a big happy family.

I wish I could say I really enjoyed the book, but that enjoyment was mostly confined to the first few chapters.

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Indie Author's Guide to the Universe, Jeff Bennington

I ran across this book through ereaderiq.com, which has numerous free Amazon ebooks to browse through every day. It's my ritual now: wake up, hit the bathroom, get breakfast, and browse through the day's new free books offering. The title of the book caught my attention, as indie authoring and publishing are two topics on the top of my mind. I have a book. I want to take it out and start selling it. That's my motivation for reading this book.

First with my superficial impression of the book (I have read the first 1/3 before starting this post): there are 220 pages. It is relatively easy to navigate through, with the ability to tab through sections, and a good table of contents linked to chapters and sub-chapters throughout. Spelling mistakes are rare, grammar and syntax is easy to get through.

Going a little deeper, beyond the artificial (yet important) aspects of the book has not yet met my expectation. I find myself having to look at the title of the book from time to time to make sure I'm reading "The Indie Author's Guide to the Universe" rather than "My Life as an Indie Author with a few Suggestions for the Aspiring Indie Author." The second title would be more accurate. This book is much more about the author's personal experience of becoming an indie author. I suppose he is trying to illustrate his points, but I find the anecdotes to be a bit slow. I also don't find this book to be particularly helpful.

For instance, he does recommend that the prospective author go to his specific individuals for necessary services: he has an editor (he keeps stressing how important a professional editor is. I suppose that would be important for folks who have issues with spelling and grammar, but this is not everyone. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. For me, this is not one of them. The marketing and social media aspects would be more along my weak points. He points to a formatter who can help format the book that you want to publish. I found this completely useless information. Any Google search can disclose this kind of information. More helpful would be a detailed guide to formatting for Kindle and ePub.

Another avenue he goes down is how to write a story. In fact, that's where I'm at right now as I write these thoughts and impressions. I don't think this is appropriate for a book like this. That is to say, there are many books about how to write short fiction and novels. He will not be able to cover the topic very well at all.

I had thought as I read this book that it seemed like one of those blogs-become-book books. And, it turns out, I was right. The material did come from his blog, or at least a lot of it seems to have. Blogs are a little different than books in terms of focus, I believe. I think a blog, in the ideal world, invites readers and a community to have a discussion around the topic that the blogger posts. I had hoped that that's what would have happened with my blog, even if in reality that seems to happen about once a year.

OK, so the thoughts and impressions from hereon-in are composed after I finished reading this book.

The book is far less an Indie Author's Guide to the Universe, which implies a broad guide that will be filled with information like some kind of technical manual, and much more the story about how Jeff Bennington became a successful Indie writer. He talks about marketing, editing, and even how his Indie career folds into the other elements of his life.

I do believe that there are a number of lessons that he has learned over time that would be valuable to the tentative or prospective author. However, I would have liked more 'science' and less 'anecdote.' What I mean by that might be something to the effect of doing solid research, finding hard numbers, and showing how he manages to construct his own publishing niche out of that information. I don't really know how I would go about doing that, since I'm not experienced in it. And, perhaps such a thing would be less useful. I don't really know at this point.

What works for him isn't exactly going to work for everyone. That will be true for any author. His weaknesses are different than mine, as are his strengths. So, some pieces of advice are applicable, whereas others may not be. For instance, I am a terrible marketer. Offloading that responsibility would be great. But, maybe I can't really do that. I have managed to offload the responsibility of editing and proofing the work to a technical writer, and he will find issues and bring up questions and quips that are a lot more useful than what I'd get from a casual reader (oh, I like it. Or, I don't like it. You spelt this wrong: all of which would be fairly useless for someone who can spell). He could have used a proofreader himself at the end of it all. Back to my point: having a second pair of eyes to scour the text is a good thing to do.

Now I'm rambling. I would have to say some of the most interesting things that I found from his book was his analysis of the market, his game of playing the prices to go fishing on the Amazon top 100, while I found his advice on formatting and writing to be rather useless and a waste of space that he could have used to expound on something more pertinent to the topic of being an Indie writer. As I said earlier: you're not going to teach someone how to write in twenty pages (or whatever it worked out to.)

He included a chapter from his book at the end. It's not really my thing. He tries hard to sensationalize too much. However, he's clearly got an audience for it. And, you can't please everyone all the time. Style is like that: sometimes you like it, sometimes you don't. The title is ambitious, and the content doesn't follow through with that promise. However, it still might have information or an anecdote within its pages to justify the trivial cost of the book.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Fantasy and Science Fiction, March/April 2012

This edition of Fantasy and Science Fiction is a little longer than normal at around 78k words. Before starting this commentary, I have already read this edition. To be honest, I was not all that pleased with this edition. I found it to be quite average. There was too much sub-par science fiction that went no where. It's made up of five novelettes and seven short stories.

Electrica, Sean McMullen

This story is set several centuries back. However, it's kind of a science fiction story wrapped up in a distant past. Think back to the conflict between Europe and Napoleon's France. The story is told in first person. The character is an ingenious code breaker.

He is on a mission to investigate a potential technology which would allow England to send messages to the battlefield without having the enemy be able to see what it is that England is communicating. The method of flashing from a light source a message encrypted in a code meant that both the intended recipient and the enemy could receive the message. If the enemy could then break the encryption, it then knew what the enemy was up to.

There is a machine which a scientist is trying to use to send invisible signals to devices so that the enemy cannot read the messages. While the experiment is something of a success, it comes with a rather heavy price.

A long time ago there roamed a predatory species which was on the brink of extinction. In an effort to preserve itself, it embedded its intelligence within amber. The scientist, when using the amber, was able to connect to this intelligence. That intelligence malignantly wanted to live again and escape the confines of this amber world.

This mad scientist is stopped by the protagonist. But not before the malignant entity manages to insert its intelligence into a raven and escape.

I didn't particularly enjoy this story. Maybe a part of it is that most stories told about super smart, dashing, and physically strong characters, are told in first person. Just like when I read the Barsoom series and the super hero traits of John Carter sort of drive me crazy, so too do these types of stories. I think stories told from perfect individuals are just a cheap thrill for the author to live a fantasy life. Perhaps that is because they themselves are rather dull, boring, and unintelligent. Sort of the hot car=small Mr. Happy. First person perspective would be far more interesting from characters built from less heroic/superhuman models.

Twenty-Two and You from The Doctor Diaries, Michael Blumlein

Actually, I should say that this was a good bit of science fiction. Of the stories in this volume, this was probably one of the more interesting. A part of my moaning and groaning is that I didn't get my Fantasy fix from this edition. This edition should have been plainly labelled 'Science Fiction Magazine' to avoid the confusion that the 'fantasy' part might cause.

In any case, this story is set in a future where doctors can manipulate DNA in living people. This is particularly useful if you've got a hereditary disease. In the case of the protagonist, Ellen, will almost certainly become sick with cancer and die if she ever has kids. Her husband and her want kids very badly. So, she goes to one of the clinics which can change her genes just enough to allow for her to have children without triggering the diseases.

It works. She no longer has the bad genes. However, those genes have changed her slightly: she no longer wants kids. She's no longer really the same person.

I think this has an intriguing thing to say: that our personalities, our preferences, and what we are, is programmed within us rather than formulae of personality, history, and spirit. How similar can twins be? Those who are nearly identical in their genes might also be nearly identical in their looks and personality. However, monozygotic twins (twins of the same DNA), are known to have individual personalities and exhibit differences. Some cursory research suggests that a person's genetic makeup can actually change as time goes on, which can cause differentiation between twins.

 Greed, Albert E. Cowdrey

Greed and the Green Goblin share a few similarities. In Spiderman's Green Goblin stories, the Green Goblin gets his start because he is sick with something that lizards have no problem with. He therefore tries to make himself more like a lizard to overcome that sickness. However, it also perverts his personality and imbues him with super powers so that he becomes a super villain. Cowdrey's lizard man is extremely rich. He doesn't want to die, so he has himself turned into a lizard. Unlike the Green Goblin, though, he does not really retain his human intellect. But he does gain the animal instinct.

The story is told from the perspective of Vern. Vern is your typical southern idiot. He has been left nominally in charge of a castle after his uncle passed. Well, he hasn't died. He's just been converted into the lizard. He is legally dead. The nephew had hoped that the estate would have been left to him. Instead, it was left to a company which was responsible for letting tourists in to tour the castle.

A friend of his seeks asylum, as he has committed a crime. He has embezzled, and he's looking to escape authorities. He goes to his friend to escape authorities. His friend, the caretaker of the castle, demands $2,000/day for that right. He also hacks and installs a keylogger onto his computer so that he can spy on his friend. He does that successfully. He discovers where Mojo, the criminal, had kept his embezzled funds and manages to steal it. However, the guy who helped him spy and get that information had been able to spy on Vern, and steal those funds from him.

I guess it was kind of funny. There was a touch of science fiction to it, right? Because of the giant lizard, right? This story was pretty lame, in my humble opinion. I don't really like fiction that pretends to be something that it's not, which is what this is.

Gnarly Times at Nana'ite Beach, KJ Kabza

 Punk fiction meets the beach. Hence we have 'beach punk.' Sand becomes nanites. Ads are everywhere. The thoughts of all the folks in this cyberworld affects everything around them. At times it's hard to know if this is the real world blended in with a cyberworld, or if it's a cyberworld altogether.

A geek and his geeky friend are keen to become popular. They manage to score a great surf board from a legend who wants to test his latest invention. It ends badly, though, as the geeks screw it up and get caught with a sort-of illegal board and humiliate themselves. Well, really it's just the one character who does all that. His friend just sort of watches all of that nastiness happen.

It was a kind of sci fi, I guess. At least the author wrote this for that sake and tried to be original.

Olfert Dapper's Day, Peter S. Beagle

Dr. Dapper is a con artist. He's not really a doctor. When he's caught in his nefarious endeavour, he high tails it to the high seas. He goes to an island and begins a life as a real doctor. He learns the trade of medicine, and is actually helpful to the settlers and indigenous.

While there, he sees a unicorn with one of the indigenous people. He's overwhelmed, wants to see it again, and manages to bring someone out who is a virgin. It works. He sees it again. The virgin and himself have sex.

Soon he has to leave the island, however. The girl hates her life and her husband and leaves her husband the priest. The Dr isn't blamed for it, but he's chased off the island nonetheless.

Is Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine really having such a hard time finding good stories?

Repairmen, Tim Sullivan

This is another piece of science fiction. A man kills himself. Except that he's no regular man, he's a time shifter repair man! He fell in love with the girl, and the girl's sad. His coworker tries to explain everything to her.

Lame story...

One Year of Fame, Robert Reed

Actually, this short story was OK.

The setting is in a small town during the evolution and revolution of artificial intelligence. Robots are everywhere. They come to have a will of their own, and are emancipated from slavery. They really like one particular author. All of them like him, and he becomes a celebrity. He even begins to write a new book as his fame grows.

Then, they get an upgrade, and find his work to be childish. They grow bored of his works, man, and earth, then leave the world to men and disappear.

Funny story.

The Tortoise Grows Elate, Steven Utley

Once upon a time, there were these animals called eurypterids. They were the predecessor to the spider. They were quite large, capable of reaching lengths of 2.5 meters. These are the creatures that begin the tale. They are extinct, so I'm not certain why he chose those animals in particular. Perhaps that's the part that makes it sci fi...?

The rest of the story is a sort of romantic blah blah blah.

One of these days I'll have to dig into an old 'golden age' rag to see if they were all this bad and that's the real reason the golden age tarnished and vanished, or if they were better and that's why they excited more readers.

The Queen and the Cambion, Richard Bowes

I actually enjoyed this story. However, it was following on the heels of some sub par fiction. So, maybe the stark contrast between blah and not bad makes it look better than it really was.

In any case, this is another pseudo history story set in Queen Victoria's day, with Queen Victoria and her relationship with Merlin. She calls him on a few occasions when she needs guidance. In the end, she even rescues him from his prison. Then he kills himself. Pretty grim end to the story.

Considering how all over the place Merlin is throughout this story along the time line, it's a little odd to think in terms of aging, beginnings, and ends. In my opinion, beginnings and ends are constructs of time that ought not apply to someone who lives in reverse to the rest of humanity and spans several centuries.

Meh, whatever. It was an entertaining story, a bit o'magic and fun. A little tiny bit of fantasy in an otherwise anemic edition.

Demiurge, Geoffrey A. Landis

One of the great things about writing a story is that it's your own world. You are like a god: with the ability to create and annihilate; to give one character love and another hate; to make love, or to make war. The power is in your hand. When folks read it, they get to experience the same world that you created. If it's really popular, there's a chance it might be picked up and made into a movie with actors and eye candy. Or, maybe it'll inspire a voyage to the moon, under the sea, or an invention. Fiction is really great like that.

That's what happens here, but the world that Erdemacher created, called Werldwright. Werldwright becomes real to the author, who disappears. Some of his fans disappear allegedly into his own world. The author makes a point to show that sometimes he takes in kids and can talk the pants off of a statue.

This is another story that I feel wasn't really worth reading.

The Man Who Murdered Mozart, Robert Walton and Barry N. Malzberg

This story is set both in the not too distant future and the somewhat distant past: a rich man with access to a time machine in the distant future wants to grab Mozart from the past so that Mozart can finish his Requiem for the rich man's board meeting.

But, doing so broke some rules, and his mind gets scrambled.

I must be in a fussy/bad mood these days. I didn't get a kick out of this story, either. *yawn*

Perfect Day, C.S. Friedman

Actually, this story wasn't so bad. It's a dystopian world where computer AI dictate to us our choices and consequences. For instance, if you do something that's bad for your health, you have to pay extra for insurance. Cars drive themselves, but offer a choice of taking one route that costs more than the other.

In terms of this world, the main character is poor. He lives in a crowded house where he tries to avoid contact with his family. Everyone tries to avoid everyone. So, they take turns in different rooms and have programs to tell them where they can go to achieve that end. Quite frankly, I'm not sure why he goes into a small storage room rather than his bedroom. The author might have done better to explain the reason for that. Another interesting thing is how he's hounded by ads everywhere he turns. Watching ads reduces the cost of many things. Being poor, he often has to make the ad choices. Back to the route to work, the cheapest route is the one with big ads that try to sell him things.

For sci-fi, this was one of the better stories. He could certainly play a lot more in this setting for some interesting results.


I thought this magazine overall lacked the quality it normally has. The longer works weren't all that good. The best stories were the short stories. So, I don't feel I got a lot of value. In other words, this volume had plenty of quantitative value going for it, but not so much qualitative. I really hate fiction that sinks into a genre because of some weak link that is manufactured. For example, the story "Greed."

The last edition was really, really good with some great stories. So, I was a bit surprised to find this one under the table. Hopefully they'll pick it up again in the next edition. Coincidentally, I got it today.
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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Gods of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs

This is the second book in Burroughs' series about John Carter. Recently, his book has been pirated by Hollywood and made into a movie which probably does not resemble the books. I say this because in the preview for the movie, there's mention of a threat on Mars that may reach to earth if unchecked. However, this kind of dilemma never presents itself to Burroughs' John Carter. I don't know about the rest of the movie, as it's only the preview ads on TV that I've seen. The first books in this series are freely available at Gutenberg.org.

I'm not really sure what keeps bringing me back to Burroughs. These last few years I've spent much time reading his fast action semi-super hero books. At least with the Tarzan books, the narration is in third person. However, in the case of the Barsoom series, the narrations are all in first person. It makes it a little more difficult to swallow the ego which the hero of this series has.

You see, John Carter of Mars, is stronger than those who live on Mars because of his background on earth. Those on Mars require far less strength to support their weight, and therefore they grow much bigger, but not stronger. Thus, he is able to match his strength against man and beast alike and overpower them. Though he is a warrior on earth as well, he is likely not so noteworthy on that account. On Mars, where the races all love the violence of war, his ability to slaughter makes him the darling of all the races.

In any case, John has gone to earth and has come back to Mars after a ten year break. He is plopped into a field where he is attacked by plant men. Later it is revealed that the plant men had evolved from trees, and that all the men and people of the planet Mars were evolved versions of the plant men. Though the description of the plant men is quite funny: imagine that they run about with their young growing out of their armpits.

In any case, he escapes alongside his old friend, Tars Tarkas (he's the green guy with six arms in the picture of the cover at the top right of this post) who had decided to take the road to paradise. Well, it's not a road to paradise. It's a road to a kind of hell. There are people who are holy who feed off the flesh of those who come through this valley, when they're not leaving those people to the plant men.

John and Tars get separated in their fight for survival with the Therns, a holy race on Mars. John gets involved in a raid of black men on the Therns. They have great ships which float in the air. One of them he manages to acquire, and he nearly manages his escape before being captured. He is captured and taken down to the black city which is actually under water. There he manages to fight his way to the brink of killing the great goddess, Issus. On that journey, he comes into his son's company (though for some time he does not know who he is other than some boy of nearly the great strength of his father). The fact that his son has his superhuman strength follows along a similar path that Tarzan's son did: somehow, genetically, he gains his father's great strength. This is despite the fact that it is explained that it is the life on earth and the strengthening of the muscles straining against the greater gravitation of the earth that gave him his superhuman power on Mars. His son, Cathoris, being a boy, is almost as powerful, as fast, etc., as his father despite not having had his physique developed on earth.

http://pixarplanet.com/blog/images/129.jpgOn we go: so John and his son and all of his new friends escape the craziness that is the holy city and the goddess who is really just a thousand year old crone. When he gets back to his people, it is only to find out that his wife, the Dejah Thoris, has gone on to look for her son in the very place where John had begun his journey. So, back he goes to rescue her. After some additional trials and tribulations, he manages to very nearly rescue her, except that she's stolen from him on a rotating disc which takes a year (two years on earth) to complete its rotation. So, she is virtually lost. Not only is she lost, but the last moment that John saw her, a woman who loved him was trying to kill Dejah. That's where we leave this volume of Barsoomian lore.

Again, I have a bit of a hard time with the super hero super ego characters that Edgar creates. But, the imagination that he applies to many of the characters is really something to be admired. Today, such descriptions are not common, but they're not new either. In his day, there was not a lot of this sort of thing. He is something of a godfather to this type of surreal landscape and biological description of six armed men. On the other hand, the six armed Tars Tarkas could be said to have some resemblance to Indian mythology. So, perhaps it was not that original for man kind, but it was original for western writers. I also liked the idea of having the religious and mythological ideas of the Martians being overturned as fictitious stories used to control the people.

I enjoyed the story despite my problems with the aspects I listed already. But the strengths, I believe, outweigh the weaknesses. And, it doesn't hurt that it's free!

Monday, April 9, 2012

InterGalactic Medicine Show Awards Anthology, Volume 1

I got this book for free through a link at ereaderiq.com. The formatting for these books has again become an issue for me in recent downloads. However, and this gives me a great deal of pleasure to say, that is not the case for this anthology. Although it no where reaches the outstanding quality of Asimov's magazine, it nonetheless is enough for me to easily and enjoyably navigate through this short fiction book. And, thus far at least, the fiction has been a pleasure to read. My instinct here is going to be to compare the quality of the literature to Asimov's, as it is really the standard in science fiction short stories.

Trinity County, CA: You'll Want to Come Again, and We'll Be Glad to See You!, Peter S. Beagle

This is perhaps the one story I've read thus far (I'm half way into this book) that hasn't really seemed like science fiction. It's a modern day story about a veteran and a green horn going about the business of busting illegal animal breeding operations. However, the twist is that the animals are like dinosaurs with the ability to bellow out flames like a dragon.

It's an OK story with some entertainment value.

Sister Jasmine Brings the Pain, Von Carr

As I read this, I couldn't help but think that this would have made for a great Heavy Metal magazine if there had been a bit more nudity in it. I could easily see it translated into a modern graphic novel. The story is set in an unlikely future. It's a dystopia of sorts.

There are zombies and vampires. But, for the heroine of this tale, Sister Jasmine, zombies are a minor threat while the vampires are no threat at all. It turns out that her holy calling keeps her safe from them. She's on a mission to find food, medical supplies and a 'diagram of light bulb.' I'm not certain what the diagram is for: are they trying to learn how to reproduce them?

She's driving around in what is basically a tank. At her side is an AI powered cyberdog named Einstein, whose purpose is to kill zombies. There's the idea of intelligent zombies being floated about. But, there are also K9 units in the wild which have lost their initial programming and have run rampant and wild. There are also 'radioactive ants; intelligent rat armies; triffids', and even plants. All these creatures are the result of 'natural and supernatural apocalypses...' Homosapiens do not seem to have a mastery over the world any longer.

Despite all these dangers, it's the psychic who gets to her for a short while. However, with the aid of an android and an AI mechanical spider, the nun is able to capture the psychic leader and escape with him. At the end, however, they run into a raptor which is trying to rip through the armoured vehicle to get at the occupants inside. There, the author leaves us.

There was a certain lightness in the dark comedy of this tale. How can one not laugh at triffids and plants trying to eat the nun, but only getting crushed by a vehicle? Again, this story is very visual and would be interesting were it applied to the graphic novel.

The Ghost of a Girl Who Never Lived, Keffy R. M. Kehrli

A girl is 'born' who is the genetic reconstruction of a deceased girl, Sara. She is a girl, and the loss of the girl is traumatic for both the parents and her sibling. They therefore decide to have her cloned. In the database of the company tasked with the reanimation of the girl is the girl's memories. Or, they were supposed to be there, but they had been misplaced. As a result, the cloned girl isn't quite Sara. She's an individual who looks and sounds like Sara, but refuses to become the Sara that the family remembers.

It's a bit ambiguous what is to become of her. But, it's implied that either her memories will be wiped clean and the memories of Sara reinserted into her mind, or she'll be destroyed. Since the story is told from the clone's perspective, the story is severed at the beginning of the new operation.

The American, Bruce Worden

This story is set in Poland. Though, for a long time, I thought it was set in the middle east. It's a dystopia set in the future. I think the setting of the story is one of the most interesting that I've read in a long time. America has improved her vast militaristic empire over the earth. She is no longer contested. She can strike at her pleasure without any risk of retaliation. A single soldier has the ability to blend into the scenery so well that they mostly cannot be seen. If they are seen, the populace has virtually no weapon at all that might harm him. There are mechanical animals, like a bird and a buck, which are actually the eyes and ears of the American military. The US has basically taken control over the entire earth. Even countries like Canada have been swallowed up.

The girl in the story, the narrator, is a scientist who has noticed that the earth is cooling down. The reason for this is never mentioned. But, I suspect it has something to do with some kind of storm. There's a darkness that has overtaken most of the world, and it might be that it's in fact caused by some power the Americans have, and perhaps it's related to the cooling of the earth's temperature. But nothing is really known.

The Americans want her father's property. He fights them tooth and nail. He even destroys the owl that was sent to watch over the farm. They expect him to be hit by lightning, but it never comes. Instead, the government and the Americans eventually agree to a 99 year lease and a generous settlement. It's not clear why it ends up being done in this way. It makes the Americans look reasonable. However, there's also this sense that there'll be some serious consequences for allowing it.

Again, I thought this was idea to start off with. However, I think that the opportunity to build on it was largely missed. Also, it isn't entirely clear what happens at the end of the story. There are times when an ambiguous ending can be appreciated, but in this case, or at least in this way, I thought it was not done as well as it could have been. I hope the author recycles this setting for another story. It shows a lot of promise.

Silent as Dust, James Maxey

This story is not science fiction at all. It's a strange tale about a man who's been friends with the owner of Seven Chimneys. However, it's a story of the have and the have-not. The have has everything handed to him. The have-not knows him well because he was his playmate as his mother was his nanny.

At some point in his life, he loses everything, and returns to the house in which he was raised alongside Eric. He is as a ghost, haunting the attic. At one point, he is looking at a young baby whom Eric has had with his girl. He knows that the young baby will become a young child who will be able to chase him out of the attic. As he considers murdering the child in his crib, the real ghosts who creep in the attic stop him.

It was an entertaining story. But, I don't see it as a science fiction story. Perhaps it would have been a touch better in a strange tales type of anthology. But, I must admit I haven't seen one of those freshly published.

Horus Ascending, Aliette de Bodard

This story is told from the perspective of an awakened AI. The AI has a father--the computer which had 'died' or been destroyed by a virus. He's been awakened by the very woman who had injected the computer with the virus. It makes me think of HAL a bit, if HAL had had a descendent AI and Dave had been a woman.

The woman herself is on the verge of dying from a virus of her own. Before she dies, she manages to send a message to those she wanted to contact, and those she seems to suggest she had wanted to sever contact with in the first place. In any case, the AI is grateful for her putting it back in contact with the other AIs. It's no longer lonely, and it does what it can to preserve the life of the human that had killed its father.

The End-of-the-World Pool, Scott M. Roberts

A couple of children are playing by a pool which is blackened and choked with scum and algae. It's referred to as like a pool of disgusting sweat. One of them dares another to go into the water. The dare is accepted. But, Evan, when he jumps into the pool, finds that there's some kind of mermaid/merman at the bottom. When he's hauled out of the pool, he no longer feels 'summer.'

His friend, Grant, demands to go into the pool on his own. Evan fights with him to stop him from doing it. He's afraid of what will happen to him if he lets him enter it. Despite his efforts to stop his friend, he isn't able to. His friend goes in, and he goes in after him.

Their parents rescue them, or maybe it's the merman/mermaid. It's not entirely clear. The story leaves off with a pump emptying the pool.

A Heretic by Degrees, Marie Brennan

In this universe, there are many worlds which are connected through doors. Some worlds are coming to an end. In fact, many of them are.

A king is dying, and they're trying to save his life by bringing him to one of the worlds that can heal ailments. However, the mission fails. His right hand man ends up assuming his identity.

Some things that might be noteworthy would be how government likes to control knowledge. Places in the world where the king comes from are disappearing. However, he forbids such knowledge to be acknowledged. Anything to the contrary is heresy and punishable by death.

The Never Never Wizard of Apalachicola, Jason Sanford

The world was once a magical place with wizards and witches and many other things. Then, one day, there was the wizard to end all wizards who didn't like all the pain that such magic caused people. So, he basically destroyed magic all over the world.

As soon as he dies, magic and all the pain that it brings will flood back into it. For as long as he lives, science and math will rule the world.

Two girls have lost their parents and don't want to be taken in by the government. Their parents were magicians who had given up on magic. However, they're good friends with the good powerful wizard, and so he looks after them.

This is a story which is trying to argue that we have the best of the two possible worlds: the world of magic vs. the world of science. However, it makes it sound like the world of science isn't exactly a blast for everyone.

Beautiful Winter, Eugie Foster

This was actually a lovely fairy tale.

At first, I thought it was going to be "Cinderella" from the perspective of one of the step sisters. While the mother is surely similar to Cinderella's step-mom, and while the narrator starts off as a nasty step-sister, she can't help but fall in love with the lovely Cinderella.

Marfa, the Cinderella of this story, is bending over backwards to make her step-mother happy. Her step-mother says that she wants strawberries in the middle of winter. So, Marfa goes out in a snow storm to find the strawberries until she's very nearly dead. She's rescued by the winter god and he wants to marry her. But first, she brings the strawberries back to her home and gives them to her step-mother.

However, once the narrator learns about what happened, and that the winter god will kill them all if he doesn't get her, she decides to sacrifice herself and marries him (dies but is still linked to him spiritually or in her life-after-death).

It was a nicely told fairy tale and very enjoyable.

Blood & Water, Althea Kontis

This is a story about a siren which has been fused to "The Little Mermaid."

She's rescued from a prince who loves her for it (much like "The Little Mermaid"). She wants to find the prince again, but he's fallen in love with the wrong girl (another nod to the mermaid), but she is also a vampire. She drinks the blood of men, and destroys a little girl, before hating herself for being a vampire. She goes to the bottom of the sea to hide herself from the world and protect the world from herself.

Mean Spirited, Edmund R. Schubert

This is another ghost story. A guy hates his wife, and to spite her, he kills himself by shooting himself in the head, and spattering blood and brains on a Monet. The joke, however, is on him. Because, she kills herself and will torture him indefinitely.

The Robot Sorcerer, Eric James Stone

The essay I read awhile ago from Norman Spinrad was discussing the differences between science fiction and fantasy, and how to distinguish one from the other. With that as a back drop to reading this story, I had some interesting thoughts.

First off, this is the story of a robot that is sent into a magical land by men of science through a portal. Once through that portal, the robot becomes conscious and sentient. It becomes alive. It has some powers, bestowed upon it by the men of science. They are advanced beyond what we have currently. It can fly, it is nearly indestructible, has lasers, and perhaps some other things that I don't quite remember. Further on, it develops the ability to ignore instructions and follow its own 'heart', which is to help a child that it meets to save it from a mean wizard.

When it does go back through the portal to our world, the world of science, it loses the soul which had magically been given to it when it went into the magical world. Now, the problem I have with this idea is that people in our world have all the attributes which were magically applied to the robot when it went into the world of magic. That would suggest that magic is what gave us life. So, how is it we have these abilities of free will and such if not for magic? In a world lacking of magic, the robot cannot have it. So how is it that we can have it? Is it that only biological animals may have the magic touch which gives it a soul and free will?

Perhaps it would be interesting to see a universe where there is no magic at all. Would humans exist?

Magic, perhaps, could be explained as unnatural or natural phenomenon that cannot be explained. Life would be an example of something that cannot really be explained through science. Until science can create a life from minerals, water, by whatever required materials, and then animate it to become a microbe or animal or human, we might assume that the creation of life is something of a magical or miraculous event which is unique in our sphere of knowledge covering the universe.

This was but one of several stories exploring science and fantasy. It does seem to be an active theme within this anthology.

Aim for the Stars, Tom Pendergrass

This is a short story about a man who has the blueprints to a power so great that it could destroy the earth, or provide man with an almost limitless source of power. That man gives those plans to some kind of priest who takes care of needy people because he's dying. He would like to give them to scientists, but worries too much that the nature of man and his violent and destructive will will be too tempting to use as a tool of destruction.


Not all the stories here are fantastic. But some are very good. I really enjoyed this book and believe that the cost for value is a very good ratio. I think that any fan of science fiction would like this. I don't really like the stories of fantasy except the ones where the debate of sci-fi and fantasy rages. Those are entertaining and thought provoking. This book was a result of a writing contest. I can't say as I agree with the outcome. If I were to offer them in the order of preference, I would have to go with: 1) The American, for nearly offering a really interesting political statement, 2) The Robot Sorcerer, because of its decent effort at trying to compare fantasy with science fiction through a piece of fiction, 3) The Ghost of a Girl Who Never Lived, for suggesting that consciousness is more than a replication of DNA. I don't necessarily agree with any of the conclusions that those authors put forth, but I like their efforts in the debate.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine - April 2012

http://ebooks-imgs.connect.com/product/400/000/000/000/000/628/297/400000000000000628297_s4.pngWell, late last week I read the March 2012 edition. I was a little disappointed by its size: a paltry 50k words. They have, however, made up for it this month with about 100k words consisting of two novellas, one novelette, and six short stories. I didn't think much of some of the choices that went into Asimov's last month, either. It's supposed to be a science fiction magazine. I guess they push out some fantasy, too. But two of the stories from last month couldn't have been categorized in either genre. I hope that the editor has a better grasp of genre for this edition.

The Last Judgment, James Patrick Kelly

The setting of this story is perhaps the first thing to catch the attention: all the men are dead. They've been eliminated by an alien species of bird which found the men to be simply too violent. Eliminating men essentially stopped all the wars and murders, as was hoped. But, naturally, such a change in demographics, not to mention population, caused a serious disruption to the remaining inhabitants.

Subsequently, all romantic relationships are now lesbian. Robots have taken over the roles which men usually dominated and which women have been quite content to leave to the men. For example, garbage collection, construction, etc. Also, the tasks usually allotted to women that women did not appreciate, have been picked up by the robots: cleaning the house, dishes, though cooking still seems to be a human task. Thus, the surviving trades are picked up by the surviving women. Despite the help of the bots, the economy is weak. The protagonist uses a bicycle to get from point-A to point-B. Certain vegetables, like asparagus, are so expensive that even for a family of a doctor and a private investigator, it's a rare treat.

The protagonist sounds like a butch dyke. Well, I say that but really she sounds like a man. Maybe that's because it was written by a man. Rather than try to disguise that fact, he goes the other way by inserting a macho voice into the inner and outer dialogue of Fay Hardaway.

What gets things started is that a painting has gone missing. One of the most politically powerful grannies has had a Bosch go missing. She believes her granddaughter has stolen it, and she's tasked Hardaway with finding it and her daughter. Before she finds the painting, she finds a dead body. Then it's revealed that the painting may have been stolen to raise the money needed to change the gender of one woman into a man. This belief is uncovered as untrue. The Bosch may have been stolen by one of the robots. Apparently the picture of the devil was painted over another picture of a devil (does that make sense?) which looks like the devils that fly about the earth and caused the near extinction of the male.

The devils, it's suggested, may regret having caused the extinction of the males. Perhaps it's caused more harm than they'd expected or wanted. However, nothing is ever conclusively uncovered.

The voice of this story was fun, even if it was more macho man rather than macho dyke. I can't help but wonder how extreme feminists would have reinvented the characters in Kelly's novella. I would think it would have been more utopia than dystopia. An end to the wars? It's only been forty years that the women have had a chance at getting used to the change in the world. There's an optimistic uptick towards the end as well that, once all the memories of the missing men had died with all the grannies that the new generations wouldn't be depressed over something that they didn't feel was missing.

Living in the Eighties, David Ira Cleary

This is another time travel story. I've never been a big fan of them. They never quite seem to work all that well. Well, this one has a funny quirk whereby the effect of time travel is achieved through a website and music.

I seem to remember reading a story like this: Boy meets girl. Boy loves girl. Girl dies. Boy finds time machine. Boy uses time machine to rescue girl from her untimely death. The twist to this is that the older man this boy becomes to use the time machine as a vehicle to rescue her causes her death before the relationship has the chance to mature to the point where he will do anything and everything he can to save her. In effect, the significance of her life fades away from him as the memories he had of her disappear from the elderly version of him never had the youth spent with her.

I guess I find this to be a bit of an overused plot line. And, as I said before, I'm not the biggest fan of time travel stories.

Something Real, Rick Wilber

Adolf Hitler in Yugoslavia.Adolf Hitler in Yugoslavia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)Another time-travel story, but this time told from the perspective of a man who is used by a woman to achieve a preferable outcome in history. In this we are revisited with the epic struggle between Nazi Germany, America and England. The number one issue here is the big bomb. This is the one which the US used on Japan. But in this timeline, Einstein has been killed. He is not able to assist the Americans get to it first, and instead, the Germans are going to get there first. That is if the protagonist, Moe Berg, cannot find a way to kill the lead Nazi scientist on the project.

A girl travels back in time several times in order to alter history to make sure that he kills the scientist in several different realities. He's the only man who can do it consistently throughout all of the variables.

There are some funny inconsistencies with history throughout this piece that I believe are standard run-of-the-mill revisionist American pseudo history that is common amongst the political right wing and righter wing which make up the Democrats and Republicans respectively. For instance, the stance that the US and England declared war against Germany on the same day is not correct. It took Japan's invitation to the war for the US to get involved. England went to war in 1939 while the US involved itself in 1941. It's pseudo history where American involvement signifies the start of the war.

It's also pseudo history to write that it required the atom bomb by the US to stop the war in Europe. Germany had fallen on its knees in supplication to the superior forces of the allied nations while Japan was desperately trying to keep the US off of the Japanese homeland that the atomic bomb was deployed. It had nothing to do with Germany's surrender.

I suppose the fact that the story follows in third person limited along with the baseball player/super intellect who doesn't travel the time line on his on volition somewhat makes this story unique. But not enough to make up for the author's lack of historical or political knowledge. In this case, it was a simple case of American narcissistic literary trash.

Bonding with Morry, Tom Purdom

These next two stories involved robotic nurses. This first one revolves around the character of Morry. He's an elderly man who had made it through the 70s with computer card programs and the like as a programmer. He's at the end of his life, and he's got a robotic assistant who is helping him.

It is many things to him: a nurse, a companion, and to an extent, a friend. Even though he calls him a toaster on several occasions, it is clear that he prefers his company to that of the human variety. However, as time progresses, the superficial aspects of the robot end up offending people. They want the robot to have a pleasing appearance and arms, and even a name, rather than the mechanical name of clank, like that of the sound of metal striking metal. It is deemed dehumanizing and inhumane for the robot. Gaining anthropomorphic attributes, humans wanted and demanded that these robots be given human rights. This is despite the fact that the robot does not care or even understand.

Morry, himself, is more concerned with what is under the surface. He often says that no matter what one does to change the appearance of the robot, inside it's still the same thing. Towards the end of Morry's life, where Purdom writes, "He (Morry) didn't have to raise his voice. Clark could adjust his hearing. Clark had routines that could enhance garbled words." It reminded me of Terminator II where the cyborg is being praised for its excellent attributes as a father:

The terminator, would never stop. It would never leave him, and it would never hurt him, never shout at him, or get drunk and hit him, or say it was too busy to spend time with him. It would always be there.  
Essentially, that's what Clank (later renamed to Clark after being pressured by pro-roborights lawyers looking for a fight) is to Morry. He does everything, 24h a day, to make the best of Morry's remaining days in a way that no human nurse could.

But, does Clank/Clark have feelings? That's a little up in the air. When Morry is about to die, he says to Clark:
"Tell the programmers... and the... engineers... they did a great job. All of them. Everywhere. All my life."
Clearly Morry knows that his life was enhanced by the companionship and help of the tireless nurse. But Clark's reaction is a little open for interpretation:
Clark's face froze. Morry stared at him through a haze that seemed to be darkening by the second. The smile that ended the freeze was a thin Clark smile, but he could still see it through the fog.
Now, why is his face frozen? It's the first time his face freezes, and the smile itself is 'thin,' suggesting a forced smile that is not genuine. Is the author suggesting an emotional reaction? And then finally:
"They said to tell you thank you. They appreciate the thought."
Was his face frozen because he was contacting the programmers, or was he reacting in a way that would not cause any stress to his client/friend/master(?). That is to say, a few moments would not be time enough for a human to get that kind of input and then issue a response. Or, perhaps it was more like the query of a database followed by a standard reply. But, the thin lipped smile makes me lean towards the idea that the author was hinting at the robot having human feelings. In a way, being hurt by still being thought of as nothing more than an impersonal toaster.

I enjoyed this story. It had a lot of political commentaries on the nature of humanity and politics without a clear sense from the author of what we're supposed to think. That's actually the way I prefer it, so I mean that as a compliment to the author.

Sexy Robot Mom, Sandra McDonald

This was the second robot story. I also enjoyed it. It made me think of the Surrogate Womb, which is a Korean story about a young girl who is impregnated by a noble whose wife cannot bear a child. When she has to give up the child to the nobles, it depresses her and she kills herself. The sexy robot mom is a surrogate mother. Donors give their egg and sperm to the robot, it is planted in its womb, and the result is a baby. The robot, unlike the movie version, has no feelings about losing the baby. But she is programmed. Then, the unexpected happens.

Rather than global warming, there came instead a sudden global cooling. I can't picture things happening in quite the way they were written: snow permanently on the ground, like a new Ice Age. However, during an Ice Age where snow permanently hits the ground, ice builds up: snow compacts, new layers are added, and it grows. Glaciers also grow and eat up countryside. That aside...

Despite fifty years of housing the same fetus, it's still alive and can be borne. This we find out after she/it is dug out by a gender conflicted person (top half female, bottom half male) who happens to be her grandchild. The robot disagrees and says that she merely housed her. Despite being told that the clients whom she served were likely dead and gone, she cannot alter her course. She has an override code, but no one knows that code since all those people are dead.

She's also like a terminator: programmed to fight, doesn't have a problem with 'cannibalism' in order to maintain nutritional requirements to enable the child to grow within its 'womb.' However, we are only shown its thoughts, not the action of it.

I thought this was an interesting twist on the robot as a parent/caregiver. It had the same coldness as the previous story by Tom Purdom, but without the lingering, unanswerable question at the end. It's clear she has no feelings, only confusions caused by circumstances for which she was not programmed and adherence to the mandate set before her, despite the fact that she cannot meet them.

Sensitive, Compartmented, Gray Rinehart

In this story, the psychic abilities to read people's thoughts and feelings can be implanted by a doctor. I think the premise is somewhat funny. How would a machine be able to give someone the ability to read people's feelings, but not be able to feed the same data to a computer to be read by a dispassionate audience. What's more, the doc forgot to include an on-off switch. That means that she's got to be placed inside of cages which absorb the high numbers of personnel who would otherwise overwhelm her mind. Well, a part of enjoying a story is to accept the illogical to an extent. I don't know if these problems I've listed caused me to not enjoy this story, or if I brought them up because I didn't enjoy this story.

In any case, this is the story of a girl, Holly, who has the implant who is sent on a special spy mission. Her plane has a problem, and she has to eject. The Soviets manage to pick her up before the Americans can. On board their ship, she meets a man who has had the implants since he was a boy, and is better able to focus his abilities. He goes so far as to 'rape' her by forcing his mind into hers and basically undressing her, or stripping away the facade that is our external or 'public' selves.

She manages to break free from her prison, and at the height of the action, kills the man who had raped her. The crew onboard the ship did little to stop her. Perhaps they had grown weary or fearful of their medically enabled psychic and wanted him dead as much as she did. Having killed him, they gladly hand her over to her own government.

As I said before, this story is kind of funky on a logical level that I wasn't able to endure well.

Souvenirs, Ian Creasey

On another planet, far far away, in a period of time, far far from now, a lowly trinket seller sells an item to a passerby. The passerby gives her a counterfeit bill--a big one. As a result, she hunts down the criminal (it's a small port with a very small number of transients passing through), so there's not too much she needs to do to track down the criminals. The port authorities fine the merchants whose sailors had broken the law and she gets a cut.

There's not too much to the plot. I think it suffers from being a little too short. I enjoyed the setting he created, as well as the character, but I think he stopped too soon and the result came too easily. I liked the idea of synthetically manufactured meat (like artificial flavouring, the cell from an animal is multiplied until it forms a steak for consumption).

Greener, Josh Roseman

This is one of those stories that makes me shake my head. There's very little sci-fi here. It's just about a man who marries a woman on contract. When that contract expires, he doesn't renew and wants to enjoy the single life. Finding that life not nearly as great as he'd remembered, he goes crawling back to his love interest. The only thing that was science fiction was the fact that they had a gadget that could scan a person to see if they were infected with a virus or disease. That would be a nifty item. The other thing was the moving sidewalks elevated above the ground. But, these are not the main compelling parts of the story. It's just this kind of lame drama.

Riding Red Ted and Breathing Fire, Carol Emshwiller

This lady, the author I mean, is 90 years old with a respectable career behind her. She's still churning out stories. That's got to be worth something right there--worth a lot of respect to say the least. I hope I'm so energetic when I hit her age, not to mention with a few awards in my ancient history (and recent, too).

Well, this is the story of a man who is going to a village to collect a volunteer. He calls it the tithe. He rides a dragon to bring back with him a woman whom, I believe, is set to be a sacrifice. The sacrifices don't need to come often. He mentions that once his dragon has eaten, it is fine for nutrition for a few months. This might work for the crocodile who mostly sleeps with his little brain and electrical system always on the alert for an opportunity, gets his energy from the sun to warm his body, etc., but it's not logical for an animal that flies. Animals that fly can consume their own weight in food daily just to have enough energy to fly. They also have small brains which require few calories.

OK, that gripe aside, the warrior who enters the village is met by the sacrifice. But, she is too old for him. He expects a young and beautiful sacrifice. He decides to raid the village to find a more suitable candidate. While doing so, he thinks he's allowing himself to be overpowered and captured. However, I'm a little skeptical. There is this idea that maybe he, a mighty and manly macho warrior, just isn't comfortable with the idea that he is overcome by and mastered by women.

The women like him, though. And though they had set him up to be a sacrifice himself, his dragon actually cares for him as he cares for her. As a result, she does not eat him (of course, maybe she's just not that hungry, as he mentions earlier). They also decide to adopt him as one of their own, and he keeps subsequent tithes from being extracted or even attempted.

This was a fantasy tale, which is something I don't really like about Asimov's magazine. I expect it to be a sci-fi magazine, not a blend of the two. There is an article later on that debates that sci-fi and fantasy are mostly married to each other, but I don't agree with his analysis. I'll get into that later when I talk about his or her essay.

On Books, Norman Spinrad

Normally I don't comment on what appears in 'On Books." However, in this case, I feel that I want to caramelize my thoughts concerning the mixture of fantasy into science fiction. I do that by writing this reading journal. Following a listing of some rather expensive books, he gets into an essay on fantasy and science fiction.

He writes about an old argument over "whether or not 'science fiction' and 'fantasy' were really aspects of the same thing, or whether lumping them together as 'SF' was actually a shotgun marriage for the marketing convenience of the publishers holding the said marketing weapons." I think straight off I can say that it is not unusual for readers who enjoy science fiction might also enjoy fantasy, or vice versa. Both genres require the ability to imagine what does not really exist: not yet, or maybe never. But, in the case of science fiction, it can often be a matter of 'not yet' vs fantasy 'not ever.' Also, it might be said that the author of some fantastical fantasy story might also have an imagination for a fantastical science fiction. However, I think that this is short sighted.

The canon of vocabulary for science fiction comes from a distinctly different canon of literature than fantasy. Fantasy has an old and direct lineage: it is a child of the myth, the legend, the religion (in the mythical sense), and the fairy tale (I'm sure I'm missing a canon somewhere, but my drift ought to make sense). Where does science fiction come from? Well, I would say it comes from the advance and speculation of science, which in itself has some aspects of religion but distinguishes itself by aiding in the technological advancement of first world, second world, and hopefully, one day, third world nations.

One notion that Spinrad brings up is the idea that the idea of faster-than-light travel is impossible, and therefore if a story incorporates that type of idea into the story, then that is an aspect of fantasy because it's not science. Well, that's what I call the science of myth, or the mythical or religious side of science. Because we cannot see what moves faster than light, it does not exist. It's as if what we cannot see is a clue as to it not existing at all. But, speaking in terms of relativity, we already know that a wavelength changes in intensity with the relative speed of a given object. If an object is travelling at the speed of light relative to you, then the light will only reach you as it passes you, and only for an infinitesimal period of time (like that of the length of a single photon), and as it moves away at that same speed, the wave would be so weakened as to make it entirely invisible. This is all assuming that the travelling object is all that visible. A black rocket would not reflect light at all in any event. The whole notion that we know enough about the universe to discount the possibility of it existing, to me, is a fool's superstition, and a popular one held by many modern physicists.

With that said,
Spinrad interprets the definition of science fiction as literature that speculates within the bounds of the known laws of mass and energy, the reality in which the readers find themselves, and fantasy is the literature that lives outside the boundaries of the scientifically possible...
But, consider that science is only an interpretation of the known universe, and that the actual properties of the universe, we're relatively ignorant of. Consider that Lord Kelvin said, "Heavier than air flying machines are impossible." So, being one of the greatest minds of his time, this was science. How foolish that idea seems to us now! Many ideas were postulated by scientists that have later been proved incorrect. So, for an author to assume that one day science will find a way to make the impossible possible does not mean he is speculating about fantasy rather than science fiction. The 'known laws of mass and energy' are moving goal posts. That's not about to change any time soon. 

I'm not about to write that fantasy and science fiction cannot mix. Of course they may. But my point is that fiction, science fiction, which challenges or ignores the scientific myths or laws of today may be speculative and hard science fiction rather than what the author purports. In my estimation, pointing again at faster-than-light theory, believing this idea might make us feel safer from invasions and put ourselves on the pedestal that only narrow minds and ignorance allows us to.

Méliès, viaggio nella luna (1902) 12
Méliès, viaggio nella luna (1902) 12 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
So, I seek to define hard science here with a more realistic phrase: hard science fiction is science fiction without balls. It believes in the fiction that we believe in in our day. It's fiction within the mythology that the temple of science preaches to us at this period of time. Therefore, anything such as Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea would be considered fantasy fiction since the science of his day would have surely deemed such a machine impossible. Voyage Dans La Lune, ignoring the fantastical ideas about people living on that planet and the other fantastic and surrealist ideas which were made with the film. One might say that some of the ideas might have come from mythology surrounding the moon. However, since flight itself was deemed impossible by the doctrines of science in 1902, would that mean that by this violation alone that it would be soft science even though we now know that flight to the moon is in fact possible?

One funny thing that the author of this article came out with is the idea that China Miéville is a 'much better and more subtle literary artist than Lovecraft.' That, of course, is an idiotic statement. Also, what point is there that he's trying to make about the definition or mapping of the genre of science fiction and its sub-genres? How about saving such smelly opinions for an essay comparing a legendary author to a moderately successful modern author? I find unlikely that China would have made such a moronic observation. Quite frankly, where the previous arguments he made were arguable, his opinion on this matter seriously undermines his credibility. 

In any case, I was less interested in his analysis of the books he reviewed than in the outline and definition of science fiction.  


I cannot complain about the value of this particular volume of the magazine. It was a short novel. Most of the stories were real science fiction. Some were fantasy. I do wish they'd stick to sci-fi and leave fantasy to fantasy magazines.

You know, what would be more interesting than these ads for the books that they're pushing is an analysis of the stories which are printed in Asimov's Science Fiction. That way, the reviewer can put in his or her thoughts in the fiction and the meaning of the fiction in the stories we have at hand. 

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine - March 2012

http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1330281425l/13501390.jpgThis month's edition of Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine is a bit thinner than any of the other volumes which I have read since acquiring this subscription last year. It does not have a novella. It has three novelettes and three short stories. All told, just a little over 51k words comprises it. The subscription is available through Amazon.com.

The Way of the Needle, Derek Kunsken

The characters in this story are quite alien. There's very little anthropomorphic in the descriptions. Eyes are appended onto the ends of long stalks. They have pincers and claws and legs, perhaps somewhat matching the description of a scorpion, but without the tail and stinger.

There is also the description of how the creatures in this world 'eat' and survive: they must absorb the energy from the heavens through the use of needles. A pulsar gives them this energy. Losing the ability to absorb this energy can lead to a quick death.

The story itself seems to be related to the classic decades-old Chinese kung fu movies which I was quite fond of. One master wants to get rid of another. In his place goes one of his great students, Mok (the protagonist of the story) to assassinate the other. In the process, he discovers a friend, Rag, who is really just a janitor for the rival school. Mok learns the meaning of friendship from Rag. It is this which is really at the centre of this tale.

There was a certain charm to this tale.

The Pass, Benjamin Crowell

This story is set in a post-apocalyptic future. I am never certain what has caused the post-apocalypse. Was it a war, a disease? In any case, the setting is a village which is physically separated from the rest of the world by geography.

The cloud: a relatively new terminology which has been dominating technology news and causing a shift into a new type of data storage where data is written to many machines rather than a single machine. This is often referred to as 'the cloud.' In this case, it is a kind of organism which contains the collective intellect and memory of the human race. Each addition to its collective is made voluntarily. A man or woman, when tired of the real life wants to retire to the cloud, can simply upload their consciousness to the cloud. The cloud then stores those memories and the consciousness.

To be honest, for most of the story, I had believed that the cloud was simply some kind of odd monster which people were sacrificing themselves to. Like an alien from another planet that had seduced people into believing the far fetched idea as a means to get voluntary sacrifices. However, I do believe this is refuted near the conclusion of the tale. I'll explain why in a bit of detail.

The protagonist, along with two other friends, go on a hike to find a flock of sheep. In their journey, they discover another cloud which is separated from their own cloud. However, it seems to be sick and perhaps on the verge of dying. One of the group gets sick to the point of dying. While they don't want to upload his consciousness into an alien cloud, they do so because they fear he'll be lost before they can bring him back to their own collective. The protagonist's other friend, his unofficial girlfriend, is depressed by his departure, and worried that the cloud will die. So, she sacrifices her life to join the collective. As a result, the cloud, the next time the protagonist sees it, is stronger than before and on its way to join the other cloud. It suggests that the cloud knows its situation and is reaching out to join itself to the other cloud. However, it's not conclusive evidence since we never get taken into the collective consciousness.

The situation seems dire for humans in this village. No one cares about life. Farming is frowned upon and referred to as 'hoarding.' They survive exclusively on hunting and gathering. Procreation seems to be a low priority, and people believe in the afterlife in the cloud.

Golva's Ascent, Tom Purdom

Golva is an animal which is something like a weasel. However, he has an advanced intelligence which means he also possesses a strong sense of curiosity. That curiosity has managed to get him in a bit of trouble.

Humans have found his planet, and are very interested in it. A few humans have even been lost on the planet. However, they have not settled. They have a station on top of a cliff which reaches hundreds of meters into the sky, and which ascent has not been made by any of the local denizens. Captured, he is tested for intelligence. He's learned English indirectly from the humans who'd been lost (by the invaders) on the planet. Eventually, during one of the tortures inflicted on him, he lets them know he understands and speaks the language.

Fortunately for him, one of the humans, a doctor, takes a liking to him and helps him escape. It's not entirely clear why she decides to help him. In any case, she enables his escape.

We learn about the world's culture: the builders and the fighters. Golva is a fighter with intelligence which surpasses the humans and his own kind. However, he lacks hands necessary for his intelligence to really succeed. His hands are weapons, but cannot hold weapons. He can think well enough to order an attack against the humans. But he has a conscience that keeps him from killing the humans once he has overcome them (with the help of his friend).

It makes me think of Ewoks from Star Wars, actually. The only real difference seems to be that the Ewoks walk on their two feet, whereas Golva walks on all four and lacks the ability to balance himself well enough to walk like a man.

Nanny's Day, Leah Cypess

This story is an idea into a bit of legalese. Imagine a court that allows a nanny to take custody of a child. That's what this story is about. To compensate, nannies are not allowed to do their job with a single child/family for more than three months. If a child is given time to bond with a nanny, there's the risk that the nanny will ask for custody, and if the child is more attached to the nanny, the court will award custody.

A single mother, an ambitious lawyer, is put to this test. In the contract, the nanny signed, the nanny agrees not to sue for custody. However, the protagonist does not believe that this line will be effective. However, she soon comes to believe that the nanny is in fact just working for the agency in an attempt to make a legal precedent against the nanny. To prevent her son from becoming the object of a legal battle, she gives up custody to the nanny. The whole thing being a bluff, the nanny gives up.

Mrs. Hatcher's Evaluation, James Van Pelt

This story is more like a regular piece of fiction with a political will than a piece of sci-fi or even fantasy. The message in this story is pretty simple: the new ways of educating are not necessarily the best ways. Mrs. Hatcher's professionalism is under review. The entire profession of teachers is no longer under the protection of tenure.

Mrs. Hatcher doesn't follow the prescription of posting expectations and such on the board. Her classes are stories which are riveting to the point of wondering if there is some mystic power in it. That is to say, the Vice Principal sent over to sniff out her weakness so as to make an excuse to fire her is transported to the scenes which she lectures on. Not only does he hear about General Custer, but he becomes one of the men in his outfit. The illusion is so strong that when he feels the bite of a horsefly on the back of his neck, there's a bite mark at the end of the lecture. He reasons that the bite might have come from the real world and influenced the dream.

In the end, he is so impressed by Mrs. Hatcher that he refuses to be a part of firing her. Instead, he recommends that he lose his job to meet the principal's requirement of saving money on the budget.

The implication is that teachers should not lose their relative immunity from getting fired. It's suggested that perhaps the new methods are not the best methods. What a lot of educators are looking for are quantifiable results which can be revealed through test results. Students need to know which of the multiple answers is correct. I must admit that I am not too fond of that type of teaching, either. Multiple choice type exams are best served by short term memorizing which doesn't really contribute to the long term development of the people who eventually graduate and become a part of productive society.

Patagonia, Joel Richards

This is another story which I feel doesn't really seem to fit within the realm of what Asimov's ought to be publishing. It seems like it would belong just as well in a 'strange tales' magazine. A man meets an Indian who gives him insight into a past life. I don't know what that has to do with science fiction or fantasy. Is the well of science fiction and fantasy really so dry?


 I think Asimov's editor ought to have done a better job of finding good science fiction for her readers. Well, I hope the next volume is an improvement.

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