Hey, sorry it’s been most of the year since an update. Let’s get back in the driver’s seat (figuratively speaking) with a classic Stephen King story – Trucks.
Read a short story in the May issue of Analog magazine that kind of bugged me today. It took me a little while to put my finger on exactly what that was, but I think I’ve gotten it figured out.
When I picked it up, Containment seemed like an interesting choice. It picks an interesting location to set its story: a colony on Venus. It’s not exactly a setting that you see everyday, even in science fiction. The planet is just considered too unforgiving to set up shop. Naturally, I wanted to see how the topic was handled. Hard sci-fi, check. Interesting premise, check. Writer I’d never heard of before, check.
As it turns out, the reality falls a little short, and the result is a highly flawed book with occasional flashes of brilliance. Some parts are really good, while others just drag on and on. In the end, Containment had many of the makings of being a modern hard sf classic, but unfortunately was unable to put them together in a satisfying way. I’ll show you what I’m talking about after the jump.
Back at the end of October, I met Bryan L. Young hawking his books while waiting to attend a panel led by Billy West (the voice actor). He slipped me a small pamphlet, containing his story “An Original”. I read through it then, and thought it was a pretty good story, if a little short side. Then and there I bought his short story collection “Man Against the Future” and his novel “Operation Montauk”.
Unfortunately “Man Against the Future” ended up being a really, really uneven collection of stories, and I nearly threw down the book about halfway through because of one story. I’m glad I stuck with it, because I think the best story in the collection is near the end, and it turned it around from being really unpleasant to mildly unpleasant.
I confess that I occasionally read the front page stories of somethingawful.com, where Zack “Geist Editor” Parsons is a regular contributor. I usually read his pieces, which include things like “William Gibson Correctly Predicts the Internet of 2013” and “The Overly Optimistic Futurist’s Guide to Dating in the Post-Singularity“. They’re wonderfully weird, and usually very good pastiches of other writing styles. So, when I came across Liminal States in the bookstore, I was understandably excited to pick it up. Fortunately, it mostly lived up to my expectations.
For those of you who may be interested in the book, beware, there are spoilers ahead. To make my recommendation notes short: While the story draws off a taproot of science fiction and horror, its three acts are presented as different genres: western, detective, and thriller. My only real problem with it is that parts of the book are slow reading (especially towards the end of the second act). Otherwise, the prose is technically excellent and occasionally beautiful. A solid story, read it if you’ve got the time for a 400-odd page novel.
Roadside Picnic is considered one of the great examples of Soviet science fiction. First published in English in 1972, the book received new translation in 2012, along with a forward by Ursula K. LeGuin and an afterword by Boris Strugatsky about the struggles of getting the book through Soviet censorship controls. All three are a fascinating read.
The book has also resonated in the realm of pop culture, inspiring the Soviet film Stalker (1979) and the video game S.T.A.L.K.E.R. (2007). The story concerns a researcher paid to explore the site of an extraterrestrial visit and bring artifacts back to safe zones for study. However, he finds a growing temptation to return to illegally recovering the artifacts for sale on the black market as his life begins to spin out of control.
What happens when death becomes all but a bad memory? Do we eventually forget about it, or does our fear of it become even stronger? This is the main question that Dancing With Eternity poses, but John Patrick Lowrie goes much further in his exploration of humanity after it’s figured out a way to conquer death.
One of the nice things about medium-scale conventions is the ability to meet or read material from relatively unknown authors and sample their work in a way that you can’t in bookstores or over the internet. I picked up Dancing With Eternity at the GMX convention in Nashville, TN back in October. Valve (the gaming company) had a booth there, staffed by Ellen McLain (who most probably know as the voice of GLaDoS in Portal). Her husband, John Patrick Lowrie, wasn’t present, but she was selling his book at the booth. After a few kind words, I picked up the book. I don’t regret it one bit.
The nice thing about ebooks is that they’re a lot more affordable than paper books, especially when they’re on sale. Subterranean Press had an ebook sale for the month of September, and among my many purchases was the short story collection, The Best of Michael Swanwick. The collection gathers 21 years of stories written over the course of his career, which began in 1980. Over the course of a quarter-century, Swanwick has been nominated for 14 Hugo short story awards. He won five of those in a six year span from 1999 to 2004.
All of the Hugo-winning stories are included here, along with a selection of Swanwick’s favorite stories. A series of mini-reviews follows after the jump.
My introduction to Robert J. Sawyer came when WWW:Wake was serialized in Analog magazine back in 2008. I remember reading a couple pieces of the novel and thinking it was pretty interesting stuff, but I didn’t get around to rereading and finishing the novel back in 2011. It held up through my changing tastes, and I’m looking forward to digging into WWW:Watch soon.
A few weeks ago I picked up a copy of his 2000 novel, Calculating God. I’d never heard of it, but the concept was pretty interesting: aliens land on Earth, part of an investigation into the existence of a God. Their first stop is a Toronto museum, where a paleontologist named Tom Jericho works. Their theory: God has been steering the evolution of life through the history of the universe. Their proof: two other planets in the galaxy have suffered a series of mass extinctions at precisely the same times, among other things. Their intent: to see if Earth is part of the same grand plan.
The Starry Rift (1986), written by James Tiptree Jr. (aka Alice Sheldon), is a collection of three novellas linked around the common theme of navigating the troubles of a frontier region, in this case a star-void region between arms of the Milky Way. Separated in time over decades and centuries, the stories recount some of the problems humanity encounters as it spreads into the galaxy at large – unknown life forms, piracy, and diplomacy are only a few of the things characters encounter as they fill in blank areas on the star maps.
The stories are as entertaining as they are thought-provoking, but this is something to be expected when dealing with Tiptree stories. Written late in Sheldon’s life, The Starry Rift is among the last of her fiction to be published. Since I’m really not too familiar with Tiptree’s fiction, but from what little I’ve read of her earlier works, The Starry Rift seems quite a bit less pessimistic in tone.