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Friday, May 31, 2013

"The Belonging Kind" by John Shirley and William Gibson

This originally appeared in Charles Grant's Shadows 4, reprinted in Arthur W. Saha's The Year's Best Fantasy Stories: 8  and in Ann and Jeff VanderMeer's The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories.

Coretti is a sad man who can't seem to fit in.  He goes to a bar and finds a woman, who matches his shy stutter but immediately switches to a country twang when a woman of that type talks to her.  Coretti and the changeable woman pass to a different bar. Her dress changes, too.  Eventually, she walks off with another man.

Coretti tries to find her again, searching bars and canceling classes in the morning.  One day, he does find her, and she changes him to one of the title.

Solid work.

Damon Knight on Story Ideas

"When you have an idea, you're not done:  the idea is not the story.... [O]ften it takes two or three.... [T]he second idea [makes] the story work; the original idea [is] only a starting place."
-- Damon Knight in Creating Short Fiction

Thursday, May 30, 2013

"Johnny Mnemonic" by William Gibson

This is post #500.

Nominated for the Nebula and Locus Poll awards, this originally appeared in Ben Bova and Robert Sheckley's Omni and reprinted in Joe Haldeman's Nebula Awards anthology, two retrospective field anthologies by David Hartwell, and the recent Victoria Blake anthology, Cyberpunk, among others.  After Neuromancer, it's arguably most representative of cyberpunk and possibly the reason it leads off the collection.  Both works feature Molly Millions, prototypical futuristic hired gun and bad -ss.*

Johnny Mnemonic has been carrying Ralfi's data in his head implants, but Ralfi was overdue, so they meet.  Ralfi had a bodyguard and Johnny a shotgun, but Ralfi has a neural disruptor, incapacitating Johnny.  Body-modified Molly drops in and offers her services to the highest bidder, which is Johnny.  She takes care of the bodyguard, and they exit.

Only Ralfi has the password to Johnny's data, but a drug-addicted, cyborg dolphin can access it.  Because they leave behind information wherever they go, Molly and Johnny hook up with the Lo Teks.  They meet an assassin.

Interesting mix of antiquated (microfiche) and futuristic technology (body modification for weapons and information storage).  It's prescient in its assessment of the necessity and ubiquity of information--the impossibility of hiding yourself, pieces of yourself dot along a trail of information.

* My current position does not allow me to write this word--at least I'd rather chance it.

Damon Knight on three characters

"The third character... keep[s] your plots from being too simple.  Often the minor conflicts between allies are more interesting than the head-to-head conflict between enemies.  Whenever you have three characters feeling intensely about the same thing, seeing it in three completely different ways, and each one right by his own standards, you... have material for a strong story."
-- Damon Knight in Creating Short Fiction

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Review: "Inquest" by Barbara J. Webb

In addition to "Inquest", Barbara J. Webb has written a novel, Midnight in St. Petersburg, in the same Invisible War universe.  In the novel, Rose is a sensitive who is invited to work in St. Petersberg, Russia.  She studied social work, so she doesn't know why they want her.  But they know she is a sensitive, able to read emotions of most of those around.  And they are the supernatural beings of St. Petersberg fighting the voiders and demons.

"Inquest" originally appeared in The Crimson Pact.

The story gives us Mike Sullivan before he's earned his collar.  He's sitting before an inquest board investigating the death of his mentor, Father David Alvarez, and the burning of a Missouri town.  David and Mike had pulled off the interstate to eat but found the town deserted.  Mike insisted that they look to see if something were wrong, but David said they would leave if they didn't find blood.  They did.

In the Catholic church, Father Chamber hung crucified in the sanctuary.  They go to the cemetery where a crowd has gathered around a bonfire.  They are about to sacrifice Valerie, a screaming young girl, in order to summon a demon.  So they save her.  Or so they thought.  Valerie was actually trying to stop the demon.  They have to give the demon a body and patch what they've messed up.

This is a good introduction to Webb's universe.  This story is perfect to see whether you'd enjoy more of this universe.  Interesting set up although it also drains some mystery and suspense since we know some of what is to happen due to the reflective narrative structure although there's a positive trade-off in that the scenario initially intrigues us.  If it had had more impact, it may have become a novel.  Most will enjoy the ride.  Hard to go wrong on a dollar.

"Fragments of a Hologram Rose" by William Gibson

This originally appeared in Unearth, a magazine for beginning writers--one that initially housed many major authors such as James Blaylock.  Parker moves through his dystopian world, being an indentured servant, but escaping from this without a notion as to why.  Parker almost but never recognizes his situation.  That's it.  A character shows us our future American dystopia.   Well written on a sentence level--the story's strength--it doesn't rise above it's parts.  Interesting from a Gibson-completist perspective and how Gibson's work gained incredible strength only four short years later with "The Gernsback Continuum" which appeared in Terry Carr's admired anthology series, Universe, and two stories in the illustrious Omni magazine under the editorship of Ben Bova, Robert Sheckley, Ellen Datlow: " Johnny Mnemonic" and "Hinterlands".  The former was nominated for a Nebula, both for the Locus Poll Award.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Close Reading: "The Gernsback Continuum" by William Gibson

This originally appeared in Terry Carr's Universe 11, reprinted in Bruce Sterling's seminal look at cyberpunk, Mirrorshades, two historical genre anthologies--Edel Brosnan's The SF Collection and Ursula K. Le Guin & Brian Attebery's The Norton Book of Science Fiction--and in Paula Geyh, Fred G. Leebron & Andrew Levy's Postmodern American Fiction, among others.  It's easy to see why Cyberpunk upset the prior generation of SF writers, yet despite its antagonistic statement, William Gibson went on to receive nominations and win several awards during early in his career.  This story is more or less an unmanifested cyberpunk manifesto, which as most manifestos do, goes against all that has come before, beginning with Gernsback romantic ideas of fictionalizing scientific concepts (see title).

The first-person narrator is paid to photograph the futuristic architecture of the 30s and 40s.  At futuristic gas station (oil juxtaposed against future), he opines:
"those strange radiator flanges... were a signature motif of the style..., look[ed] as though they might generate potent burst of raw technological enthusiasm, if you could only find the the switch that turned them on.  I shot one in San Jose an hour before the bulldozers arrived."
First, "potent burst of raw technological enthusiasm" would be the earlier generations painted as technological enthusiasts (with the humorous jab in the "switch" statement).  "I shot" pays double duty--both literal and figurative--both uses displays the display is about to get killed or bulldozed.  It is "a 1980 that never happened.  An architecture of broken dreams."

The narrator arrives in Tucson and a hallucinatory experience where the land reflects back the dreams of a future from the 30s, the perfection of which he will later have to wash from his mind using a healthy dose of reality:
"They were smug, happy, and utterly content with themselves and their world.  And in the Dream, it was their world.... [A description of the Dream follows.]  It had all the sinister fruitiness of Hitler Youth propaganda."
I'm not sure it could be put any more boldly.  The challenge/examination is worth heeding, even if it's reductionistic and even if Gibson's own works have become susceptible to the same criticism except from the opposite angle.  Pessimistic challenges such as these are as valid as their opposites.  Also, William Gibson--a major figure in contemporary SF--uses this early in his collection to mark how his work will be a departure from what has gone before.

Review: K. W. Jeter's "Riding Bitch"

This originally appeared in Ellen Datlow's anthology, Inferno.  Now it's available as a short ebook.

The title refers to the vulgar (in the defining sense, not the opining sense) phrase for riding pillion--one person riding behind the other.  The uncomfortable title sets the proper tone for an uncomfortable tale:  A man tries to drive off on his motorcycle with his dead girlfriend.  To escape the notice of the cops, his friend handcuffs her behind him, but this is awkward at best.  He comes into some near run-ins and begins feel and hear his  girlfriend talking to him.  Is she really?

Strangely, despite its tone, the story's characters love grow on you.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Review: "Second Coming" from Pohlstars by Frederik Pohl

by Frederik Pohl

This is a new ebook from Baen Books.

The left image is the original.

Half of the first novella, "The Sweet, Sad Queen of the Grazing Isles", is available online.

This story first appeared in Ellen Datlow's Omni.

Jesus comes back to Earth.  People feel sorry for him being kidnapped by aliens and kept in a zoo. Jesus makes an appearance after visiting the world, but he's disappointed.  Enter a pretty good irony.

Sometimes when we pity others, we don't view our own pitiable condition.

Review: "The Tunnel under the World" by Frederik Pohl from The Best of Frederik Pohl

The Best of Frederik Pohl
by Frederik Pohl

new ebook from Baen Books

The first stories, including "The Tunnel under the World", are available online.

The left image is the original cover and on the right is the one.  The right is cool enough, but the left one spurs my imagination a wee bit more.  Your mileage may vary.

It first appeared in H.L Gold's Galaxy, but later was collected by such luminaries as Brian Aldiss, Kingsley Amis, Isaac Asimov, Orson Scott Card, Gérard Klein, and Tom Shippey--all of whom said it was one of the best.

I may heard it first on a recording of X Minus One.  Lamentably, this type of audio drama is no more.  Video killed the radio star.  Harlan Ellison often ranted about the superiority of radio--as had my father. The generation of the radio said that it was better for the imagination.  Truly, the mental special effects were cheaper yet better than could be simulated on screen.  As a member of the video generation, I have to admit, these were good.  You have to accept they are a product of a certain age, first, but a pleasure.  I'd go for a night jog and listen to them on my headphones,  You can find these old programs online ("Tunnel under the World" is #43).

On June 15th, Guy Burckhardt follows his usual routine.  But the world is a bit off.  They advertise unfamiliar products.  Guy notes another fellow, Swanson, behaving strangely toward but ignores him.  Despite an obnoxious repetitive ad for a freezer, he ends up buying one because a nice saleswoman takes him out and apologizes.  When he gets home, he learns his wife has bought one as well.   he goes into his basement and finds not only a boat but the walls and floor covering metal plating.  He falls asleep and wakes but the world says it's June 15th all over again.  When he sees Swanson again, they try to get to the bottom of this, literally and figuratively, to turn these people in.  They can't treat humans this way.

The story covers some of the territory Pohl and C M Kornbluth covered in The Space Merchants, but from a slightly different angle.  (Here I ruin the theme for you.)  Guy is clearly an everyman name.  Like Guy, we are bombarded with advertisements--against our will--and yet we buy the products even though we're annoyed.  Basically, we've become robot consumers through commercials.  The first line says it all:  "On the morning of June 15th, Guy Burckhardt woke up screaming out of a dream."  It's a dream that isn't a dream.  It's a nightmare.  The problem isn't just society but ourselves although society programs us, deletes and adds memories at whim and will.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Book Review: Ravenspell Book 1: Of Mice and Magic by David Farland

This is a fun story of magic, adventure and a hint of romance.  This book is still free on Amazon.

Benjamin Ravenspell wants a pet, but his parents don't.  So Ben behaves responsibly until his parents reluctantly consent to let him babysit his friend's lizard.  When his mother lets him buy a mouse, he doesn't realize that's not as a pet but as food for the lizard.  With a heavy heart, he hangs the mouse over the lizard's cage.

What Ben doesn't know--for that matter, Amber, the mouse he's holding over the cage, doesn't know, either--is that Amber is a powerful mage and wishes that Ben knew what it was like to be a mouse.  They fall into the cage with the very hungry lizard....

Ben tries to speak to his parents but they don't understand mouse language.  In fact, they try to vacuum him up....

Ben and Amber go outside, dodge the neighbor's cat, and learn about mouse wizardry.  Ben is Amber's battery.  So long as he's around, she's powerful.  She finds she's attracted to Ben even though the feeling isn't mutual. Ben boldly promises to liberate the pet shop mice in the world in exchange to be human again.  Amber agrees, but when it comes down to actually carrying through with her promise, the magic tears her apart because she really wants to keep Ben around.

Amber is dying, so Ben bargains with an evil bat, Nightwing, to be its companion, its tick, its familiar.  He's gotten more than he bargained for as Nightwing forces animals to be amalgamated and fight one another in order to build the perfect army to destroy Rufus the Flycatcher, the benign wizard bullfrog.

The novel's magic is inventive and fun.  Farland shows us that people (or animals) aren't always what they seem to be--even people we think we know.  A good lazy afternoon read with sequels available.  The author does need help supporting his son who was in an accident and who is recovering, but their hospital bills are astronomical.  Try it, and buy the others to support them.

Writerly advice & other topics

Writerly advice:
Michael Swanwick on titles
Carrie Vaughn on revision
Two links on saying no and focusing on what matters 
David Farland on getting into the writing zone and on great expectations 
Mark W. Tiedemann on early influences and on selecting the right protagonist

Other writerly topics:
Non-winning Nebula Speech by Helena Bell (if you like this speech, you may well like her stories which are similar--complex but fun)
John Scalzi on Amazon’s new “Kindle Worlds” program (seems a balanced assessment)

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Stories and magazines to investigate

  • Phantom Drift (Leslie What is an editor.  They're interested in interstitial works) 
  • Electric Velocipede (a favorite small press--includes a story by James Alan Garner, a favorite writer)

Literary arts links: a miscellany of interviews, news, free ebooks, and new movies

Miscellany of literary links:

Epic Fantasy sale ($.99-2.99):  Some authors:  Ruth Nestvold and Vera Nazarian.

10 Modern Must-Read Sci-Fi Masterpieces

  • I recall reading the term "Sci-Fi" was evil and to be avoided as demeaning, but it's hard to avoid, even by fans of the genre--useful comments as it led to investigate Steve Miller and Sharon Lee which I have not yet done.  They have two free ebooks to check out:
  • Fledgling
  • Agents of Change


Claire Messud reacts to an interview question:  Characters don't have to be sympathetic.

Kickstarter for a movie of Philip K. Dick's Radio Free Albermuth
Better trailer for new Superman 

Friday, May 24, 2013

"Firebugs" by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

Appeared in Eclipse Online

The Esta pod, six versions of the same girl, liked to set things on fire.  One version desires to burn more than the others, which surprises them that they could be different although it's hard to tell which.  Other pods make fun of Esta's experimental, purposeless nature.  The attractive Max pod makes a bet that the Esta pod will be useful.

The one breaks off from the other Estas to talk with Cara, her infant caretaker.  Cara has Estas hold each infant and tries to comfort this Esta, who thinks her pod might survive if she were dead.  The other Estas come to take the rogue Esta away. She does create the desire to burn in the others.  Does she die? become a singleton, a classification? or stay with her pod, endangering their survival?

Story of personal discovery.  Intriguing SF culture.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

"This Other Earth" by RPL Johnson

free ebook at Smashwords

A pretty cool alien invasion story.  Futuristic swash-buckling adventure, killing alien bugs and the like.  It treats an Earth terra- or xeno-formed, which sets up a nice metaphor for climate change.  Even better it treats our struggle to survive the change.  This might be worth expansion into a novel if more speculative bones were dug up.

There's a minor flash fiction piece about virtual reality included.

"The Key to Everything" by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

Appeared in Daily SF

Pala's "special talent is pissing people off."  Living on space station Confetti where three different alien races exist, she tests employees' abilities to hold in their irritation.  However, when the bartender is tested while working on recombining the Rikrik, endangering their lives, Pala is in for a change.

The best of her Daily SF stories--subtle and strange.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

"In Apprehension How Like a God" by RPL Johnson

Appeared in Writers of the Future 27

In a future world where religion/magic and science have mixed in a curiously new/old way--packed with mages, computers, and Higgs bosons--Detective Conroy is investigating the death of Magister Musoke.  A sub-sentient artificial intelligence, Stromboli leads him through the Academy.  Conroy goes to interview Tommy Nagura, but he's also killed.  It all ends in an uneasy revelation with the "whodunnit"--a criminal impossible to convict.

It's interesting Johnson lists Asimov and Clarke as influences.  No doubt he read and enjoyed them, but I didn't get a similar feel.  My first thought was a William-Gibson-laced Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy although set in the future instead of the past, but of course, this may only be one of Johnson's writing modes.

The setting is rich, and the style curiously flips from high to baroque albeit not consistently strong.  The mystery reveal is cool but not necessarily one that readers could put together, which is typical of most speculative mysteries, including Garrett's.  A writer interesting enough to follow up.  He has a free ebook on Smashwords.

"Just Today" by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

Appeared in Daily SF

Rissa's friend, Ben, died on Halloween yet stil hangs around, usually on the lookout for the bully, Ethan, but was playing pirate ship and missed.  Ben tries to help but had never been able to before.  This time's different.

"The Power of a Cocoon" by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

Appeared in Daily SF

Emma hadn't gotten a Christmas gift she wanted for years.  But her grandmother teaches her way of transforming things through the power of images, the power of cocoons, the power of potential.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Truth from a Lie of Inconvenience" by Brennan Harvey

Appeared in Writers of the Future 27

Marianne Summers, aging reporter with waning popularity due to a false plagiarism charge, covers the fifth anniversary in a terrorist attack on the moon colony that led to its independence.  Thomas Rubbner, who'd lost his wife in the attack, orates that he believes that the attack is a sham and he wants to talk to his wife.  Luna City Security blocks reporters from broadcasting, which causes Marianne to wonder what's truly going on.  She wants an interview with Thomas but security doesn't want to grant the interview.  Security says that Thomas has died, in fact.

Interesting play on security and terrorism affecting politics today.  Nice nesting of motives, secret within secrets.

"Ghost of a Hedgehog" by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

Appeared in

11-year-old Jack doesn't just see ghosts, they attach themselves to him.  When his teacher, Mrs. Jernigan, "dies of meanness" in class, she attaches to him, which isn't too cool until she slaughters a dream monster that leaves real bruises on his arms.  She gets nicer, though, because Jack gives her silent treatment whenever she insults his intelligence for something he did.  Roger, a ghost who'd been murdered by the 7-11, uses Roger to make sure his mother is still taken care of.

Jack loses one ghost and gains another.  Mrs. Jernigan introduces the new ghost and promises to teach him her skills.

Feels like the opening to a longer story, or maybe a series of stories.

Monday, May 20, 2013

"Maddy Dune's First and Only Spelling Bee" by Patrick O'Sullivan

Appeared in Writers of the Future 27

This isn't your ordinary Spelling Bee--spelling not words but spells. Maddy not only can make galloping horses, but she also turns it into a hunt that scares the audience.  Maddy, as an alien though, faces prejudice.  Worse, the bee is attacked by a sorcerer, caging Maddy and contests.

Fun with some charm.  Patrick O'Sullivan just won the Jim Baen Memorial Contest.

Review: Make a Splash! A Kid's Guide to Protecting Our Oceans, Lakes, Rivers, & Wetlands by Cathryn Berger Kaye and Philippe Cousteau

Make a Splash! A Kid's Guide to Protecting Our Oceans, Lakes, Rivers, & Wetlands Cathryn Berger Kaye and Philippe Cousteau Free Spirit Publishing, Inc.

Make a Splash is an environmentalist primer about the world’s water for the grade-school (and junior-high) set.  It teaches young people about aquifers, wetlands, coral reefs, and the connectivity of the water that young people use and the water that travels out to the ocean, 

Water affects humans ostensibly in the water we use, but also indirectly in the foods we eat.  It also impacts animals in oceans and out, such as birds which eat plastics, thinking them food.  Make a Splash sounds a warning bell for youth who can sometimes effect changes that adults cannot.  The text shows examples of young people already making changes within their communities:  

  • Outlawing shark fins (Japan)
  • Using less energy
  • Composting
  • Using less water
  • Creating zero waste
  • Eating all food
  • Recycling plastics like water bottles

It’s exciting to see a book that encourages new environmentalists.  It even closes with ways to plan for environmental action.  Much of the information is useful and helpful.  But a few issues are problematic.  For instance, the book suggests that desalination of water--probably definite future necessity--will affect ocean animals.  There are many problems with this.  We might choose to keep the salt, or throw it back into the ocean,  It should not really matter (except locally) in the grand scheme, because the salt and water that came from the ocean will return. The changes should be minimal.  Another problem is the blanket of items such as straws.  True, if you don’t need it, why grab (or offer) it?  On the other hand, straws can be a health.   

The environmentalist book I’d like to see is one that encourages investigation before advocacy:  Before we ban something like forest fires, let’s ask

  1. What are the pros and cons?  Weigh the words of those you disagree with?
  2. What are the costs?  Immediate and future 
  3. What is the feasibility of implementing changes?
  4. Why these changes instead of some other?
  5. etc.

Since young people are the future, let’s make them smarter, not merely advocates but wise consumers of information.  In fact, even this review may be inaccurate.  Investigate!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

"The Unreachable Voices of Ghosts" by Jeffrey Lyman

Appeared in Writers of the Future 27

Max Getty speeds away from Earth on one of many sail-ships out beyond the Kuiper Belt, hunting baby black holes in a search for energy for transportation to the stars.  When his water reclamation unit goes out of whack, Maureen in a different ship walks him through the process.  They become friends, perhaps more.  They kept getting further until they approach the radius of no return.  When Max finds a baby hole, he wants to share it with Maureen.  Can he reach yet make it back in time to live on Earth?

Review: Justin Cronin's The Passage

The Passage  
A Novel  
Justin Cronin  
Random House Publishing Group
It appears some reviewers received ration packets.  I did not, alas, but I am a bit slow out of the gate.

The book can broken into thirds.  The first--the favorite of many readers, including myself--is preapocalyptic.  For a bit, I wondered if I'd misunderstood what people had been saying about the book.  In Bolivia, ostensibly, a new virus is found that cures all diseases and extends life although the cured all died.  To test this, a branch of the government is gathering strays--lost people.  Most are criminals, but not the especially dangerous or at least those who have since been tamed.  There's Carter, a homeless man who accidentally drowned the woman who had been helping him. There are pedophiles who have drugged their illegal passions into abeyance.  And there's Amy Harper Bellafonte  a completely innocent girl, whose single mother is forced by circumstances beyond her control (prostitution and murder) to give Amy to a convent, where nun Lacy falls for the girl and lies to keep her at the convent. Amy strangely also comes to the attention of the government.  Strange things happen with Amy at the zoo.  And two FBI agents pick her up.  Special agent Brad Wolgast, like Lacy, falls for her.  He lost his own child earlier--and consequently his wife--so Amy represents the child he's always wanted.  Worse, though, Amy becomes involved in a nationwide hunt, the agents considered kidnapping suspects.  

They arrive in Colorado, but events fall out differently than intended.  An apocalypse of vampires occurs.  Brad and Amy are left to survive.  Amy is somehow a part of the vampires as she seems able to communicate, but her role is not clarified in this book.  

The vampires are old-school vampires.  They kill.  They're dangerous.  They move fast and can't  be killed unless you hit them in the chest.  You get one shot.  If you miss, you're dead.  

The vampires are also new school:  Cronin develops these creatures as if they were biological organisms--much in the same way that any genre novel might do.  Throughout the novel, he reveals more and more of their biological and social behaviors.

In the second third of the book, the narrative flounders. We are introduced to a brand new set of characters.  Survivors are trying to squeak by, using light or highly fortified dwellings to protect themselves.  Unlike the first section where we come to care about nearly every character, these feel less important until Peter stumbles across Amy when escaping vampires.  Also, when we become invested in Galen Strauss and Maus's plight.  Maus merely married Galen to get at Theo.  In the final third, something touching occurs because of this rift.

The final third is a journey.  The group has found an computer device, embedded in Amy, that says to bring her to a location in Colorado.  So they take on this journey, thinking it will lead them to their long-awaited saviors, the army.

This book of apocalyptic vampires did impact me, but not from its literary perspective on the genre--rather more of a well-written genre work (although Tanya Huff disagrees).  This had plenty of speculative reveals.  Reminiscent in some ways of Walter M. Miller's classic A Canticle for Leibowitz--particularly in how it leaps ahead a century in story time.

The novel gets readers--or at least this reader--to cogitate on the nature of apocalypses, the love of a father figure for his adopted daughter, and what it takes to make a strong community, especially during hardships.  It's well worth the read if you can make it through the middle.  I suspect I will be looking to read the next in the series, The Twelve.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

"Vampire Shortstop" by Scott Nicholson

Originally appeared in WOTF XV.
Collected in Flowers.
Jerry is a vampire and a bit shy.  He comes to play little league and is fantastic.  The other teams, including the parents, are derisive to the point that during the championship the parents chant derogatory comments.  When the other team pulls a dirty trick, the unthinkable happens.

The title sounds like YA humor and/or something corny, but this one's surprisingly good.  What wins the story is the narrator's folksy voice.  The plot feels typical, but it hits you between the eyes, all the same.

Friday, May 17, 2013

"Into the Gardens of Sweet Night" by Jay Lake

Originally appeared in WOTF XIX
Nominated for the Hugo 

This has the feel of Lake's Mainspring-universe novels (Mainspring, Escapement, and Pinion) although not as inventive considering it's a novelette.  On an alternate Earth, Elroy joins Wiggle, a well-dressed dog, on his journey in order to get back into the Gardens of Sweet Night, in orbit around the world--even though he doesn't believe the myth of Sweet Night.  Security wolves attack and dog their every step because former-gardener Wiggles ate the apples of Lord Liasis.  They stow away on a dirigible and attend their own sky burial.  Finally, they make it up into orbit, where they meet Lord Liasis himself.

The opening title "Chance Meeting" describes Lake's modus operandi in his early work often nigh-picaresque although here it merely ambles to its beginning.  Lake's labors focus on the strong narrative voice and evocation of a new world.  This particular tale thumbs its nose at a literalized God who lives in the sky, making people play games with life.  Everyman Elroy chooses, instead of a lord of space, an ordinary life.

Great line of dialogue:
"Trust us, you'll feel like a new man after the funeral."

"Road Kill" by Kevin J. Anderson

Other Dan Shamble adventures can be found via the "Kevin J. Anderson"-labeled link below.

Dan Chambeaux (Shamble), P.I., awakes to find himself nailed inside a coffin intended to keep vampires in.  Being a zombie, Dan breaks loose.  He has no memory of how he got here, but a phone call tells him that this was all planned.  Vampire Sebastian Bund is the last "living" witness in the Ma Hemoglobin blood-smuggling case.  The others were accidentally killed, exposed in sunlit cells and the like.

Dan finds himself in the back of a truck when the truck is attacked.  It's Ma Hemaglobin's boys, and they are well-armed.

This is less of mystery than a lightly humorous tale of suspense.  Enjoyable short story/novelette.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

"Dog Person" by Scott Nicholson

Originally appeared in Crime Wave.
Collected in Curtains: Mystery Stories.
Robert and Alison hook up, but Sandy Ann, the dog, is a sticking point.  Alison kicks the dog out of the house and slowly poisons it because she wants a dog to live by and obey her rules.  The dog is getting worse, so Robert takes the dog out to the woods to put it out of its misery.  But Alison's best-laid plan does awry.

If you like Alfred Hitchcock Presents stories, you should enjoy these.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

"Metabolism" by Scott Nicholson

Originally appeared in WOTF XIV.
Collected in Head Cases.
This is a mood piece reminiscent of Harlan Ellison's essays where the character has strong negative opinions.  The story content is thin, though.  Elise is worried about those who disappear in the city.  Interestingly, her poetic-polemic banter is undermined by a line of dialogue.  She attributes the man and his actions to the city.

"The Chaos Magician's Mega Chemistry Set" by Nnedi Okorafor

First appeared in Space and Time magazine
Reprinted in Apex magazine

Ulu's father bought her a chemistry set, so she could be like her father.  He buys the set from an odd man who has a dog with six legs.  She wants to clean the rivers, but her experiment creates the smell of farts.  Mushrooms sprout from the floor.  Yams walk around.  Dogs shrink.  Ants talk and explode.  Ulu has to stop the craziness, but the houseplants, like octopi, attack.

A delightful YA tale of comic zaniness.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

"The Palm Tree Bandit" by Nnedi Okorafor

First appeared in Strange Horizons

In many of Okorafor's stories is the importance of the oral nature or at least of storytelling.  This is not just a story existing by itself, but a communication between loved ones, passed down through the generations.  Here especially the story is passed from woman to girl, about the nature of females fighting for their freedoms.

Women weren't allowed to climb palm trees in this Nigerian village, so Yaya, the great grandmother of the listener, does so under the dark of night to carve the symbol of the female, the moon, into the trunk.  This throws the village into chaos.  Next, she drains the tree for wine.

After a while, Yaya doesn't have to climb the tree anymore.  The jug of wine mysteriously appears by her bed.  The legend has taken on a literal life of its own.

"Scream Angels" from Douglas Smith's Chimerascope

Originally appeared in Low Port.
This won an Aurora award.
Collected in Chimerascope for ChiZine

Captain Trelayne is tortured but he enjoys it.  He has become this way after encountering a scream angel.  He'd been in the RIP forces, Relocation of Indigenous Peoples, convicted of treason.  The scream angels are bird-like aliens, much sought after.  The female produces a powerful drug during reproduction, so they force breeding pairs to remain in reproduction.  The military keeps its soldiers hooked on scream, so they do as they're told just to get a dose.

The captain had fallen for Philomela [reference to Greek myth].  He "frees" her to stay with him.  Though she stayed with Trelayne, he cannot believe she loves him.  Trelayne gets caught holding on to a breeding pair, pushing him into crime.  Although freed, Trelayne has to break his addiction and somehow get a new start on life.

The opening feels derivative and melodramatic, but once you're dropped back in the past, the story feels rich, original and potent.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Review: Saving the School by Michael Brick

Saving the School: 
The True Story of a Principal, a Teacher, a Coach, a Bunch of Kids, and a Year in the Crosshairs of Education Reform  
Michael Brick  
Penguin Group (USA)

Thankfully, apart from little jabs, Michael Brick has no ax to grind except to present men and women who are trying to better the education of young men and women and instill in them a sense of pride.  Brick, a reporter for the New York Times, embedded himself in the school to find out what it takes to make changes.

The main players in saving Reagan High School include Superintendent Anabel Garza, who tells the students she and the teachers love the students.  She had had a teenage pregnancy herself, so she knows some of the hazards these students deal with.  She faces an uphill battle even getting kids to attend school.

Candice Kaiser is the new-ish chemistry teacher, who inspires students with her trip to Africa.  She plays clips of herself with the kids in Africa who would love to have the educational opportunities they have (bonus points for Kaiser).  She even organizes a group to raise for these students to make the same trip to Africa.

JaQuarius Daniels is the star quarterback and basketball, having signed a scholarship with Iowa State, who will lead his classmates and fellow ball players to more responsible behavior.  His coach, Derrick, studies the same game book yet must milk the best out of his players in order to beat their arch-rival.

This reviewer at the Daily Beast had problems with the Christianity of Candice (my understanding was that these interactions were outside school, so no problem here) and with the detailed basketball games.  I, too, as a teacher, was more interested in what steps the teachers were taking to improve the students education.  Since Brick is not an educator, these details probably passed him by.  But it is a mistake to think that sports are not related to education.  They should piggyback off one another.  Sports are a microcosm of education:  One invests time and sees the outcome of that investment on the court, field, or pool.  Likewise, one invests in education for longer term dividends.  I'm not sure why this metaphor isn't deployed more often.

What is missing?  As a classroom teacher, I'd love to hear the stories of students who made small triumphs:  The students who were certain they would fail, but working with them changed their minds (unfortunately, it takes a lot of work to turn around a mind set:  many sessions).  But what are some of the ways teachers used to turn attitudes around?  If we are to go solely by the text, simply teachers saying that they care and that government will close them is what turned the tide.  Possibly.  But I suspect an array of methods were deployed, methods that had to be refashioned every few weeks as students became inured to their power.

Still, it's book of educational inspiration, one for educators to pick up when they feel disenchanted and desire to see other success stories.  Perhaps it will inspire a new generation of teachers--especially in high-need areas.

"Pat Moore" by Tim Powers

First appeared in Flights.
Reprinted in Hartwell's Year's Best Fantasy and the author's collection, Strange Itineraries.

Not long after his wife, Trish, died from driving 90 mph on 101 without tapping the brakes, husband Pat Moore's friend, Rick, receives a chain letter he wants to forward to Pat for luck.  Pat refuses but strange events do happen, such as a traffic accident where the ghost of a different Pat Moore appears in his car, claiming to protect him from yet a third Pat Moore who's coming after him.

The guardian angel, Pat suspects, is someone who had been very near and dear.  Pat, a gambler, has to make some gambles on his life to save it.  There's a cool allusion to Maxwell's demon.  I love funky science.

This is a story of not leading the life that others and the past saddles but rather accepting your life, however long or brief it may be, and being ready to take a gamble now and then.  The story is more simple than it may sound, except for a raising scene that I didn't quite get.  It's pure Powers, wild, weird, and wonderful.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

"Night Moves" by Tim Powers

First appeared in a chapbook of the same name.
Reprinted in Dozois' Year's Best SF and the author's collection, Strange Itineraries.

This story tackles some of the themes Powers has tackled over the years:  that there are people who see more of the world than the ordinary people:  "We both seem to be acting like lunatics," says Debbie, Roger's wife.  Roger's wife was mistreated as a child, and he was abandoned as a child when they suspected something strange about Roger's playmate, which followed them wherever they moved.
"Decide what you want[, says Roger's childhood make-believe playmate, Evelyn,] so I can give it to you. 
" 'Can you find Mom and Dad?' he whispered. 
"Debbie instantly sat up in bed behind him. 'What?  Are you crazy?' "
Brilliant dialogue--plays on both Debbie and Roger.  Roger and his parents do confront, but it wasn't quite what he thought.  He's had more control over his reality than he thought.
"[I]f she could find even a scrap of that dress, and then hang onto it, it might regenerate itself.  slowly, yes you couldn't be in a hurry, but if you were willing to wait... and she suspected that if the cloth were with her, it might regenerate her, too..."

"Itinerary" by Tim Powers

First appeared in 999.
Appeared also in his collection, Strange Itineraries.

Powers is one of the best writers of speculative fiction.  If you like your fiction to play games with your head, seek no further.  However, this one's difficult to describe without giving it away.  Do not read past this paragraph.  Suffice it to say that just before his house blows up, he receives a call from what sounds like his old friend in high school, Doug Olney, with throat cancer.

This is a story of mirages--things that are not what they seem--and the people who live between states.  Gunther's sister falls in love with an Iranian who cannot live in Iran and not in France, so he lives in the airport.  This mirrors Gunther's own state of being.  He's a ghost and his sister tries to talk him into going back into his old body.  His desire to dodge this sets up a fun series of causality loops.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Technical Difficulties Leading to the Apocalypse: Reflections on

Apologies for the previous blank posts.  These are technical difficulties from living in the third world.  Things often don't go according to plan.  Such is life....

I've been reading Justin Cronin's The Passage, an apocalypse tale.  We often define the apocalypse as a disaster of some sort, usually followed by hunting and gathering.  I've thought this type of tale was an excuse to revert to a simpler, more primitive existence.  As such, I tended to dismiss them.

However, I have been enjoying Cronin's novel thus far.  It struck me that the reason such books may become popular (particularly of late) is that the apocalypse lies at the heart of a nation.  Something is tearing at the soul of the people, and the people may be tearing at each other.  We read posts full of incendiary views.  Perhaps polarization is a product of our connected age.  Hopefully, we will pass through this to that other definition:  "a disclosure of knowledge, hidden from humanity in an era dominated by falsehood and misconception"--whether you choose to vote for a religious context is your choice.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Revised: "African Sunrise" by Nnedi Okorafor

First appeared in Subterranean Press

Like "The Book of Phoenix", this is "excerpted from The Great Book", which--if/when it becomes real--may be a pretty nifty book, indeed.

There are seven towers, and Phoenix lives on Tower 7, a skyscraper where she was born on the 13th floor of thirty-nine, two years ago, although through aged acceleration she looks and behaves as though she's forty.  Saeed, eater of glass or dirt or rotten rice, is dead--her only friend in the tower.  Phoenix struggles to maintain her temperature.

In the aftermath of the Phoenix's destruction of Tower 7, Phoenix takes the tree's seed--which she realizes is alien--and takes it to Africa to grow.  Next, she meets a man, Kofi, whom she loves briefly, and later reunites with beings like herself--beings thought dead.  She plans destruction of this government facility.

The first part reads like a more deeply imagined version of the earlier Clarkesworld tale, but it continues beyond the first.  One might skip the Clarkesworld version.  Probably it is here to give the background to part 2.  A reader might, otherwise, feel he's missed out.

The new additions expand on Phoenix's super-human abilities as well as possible inklings of the researchers' military designs.  As with excerpts, many unanswered questions await.  For example, why does the government attack conventionally when it knows the result?  How were they planning on deploying her?  Why does she run?  Can anything stop her?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

"The Book of Phoenix Excerpted from The Great Book" by Nnedi Okorafor

First appeared in Clarkesworld

Like "African Sunrise," this is "excerpted from The Great Book," which--if/when it becomes real--may be a pretty nifty book, indeed.

Phoenix is a created being, kept or trapped on Tower 7.  Her body overheats and she gets shot at, but her body heals itself.  She has a friend, Mmuo, who can walk through walls and cannot be held in the building, but he sticks around, anyway.  Mmuo has a trick of direct communication as well.

Why she's created and what she is, you may surmise; it's a cool premise, nonetheless.  Some description isn't stellar (the conceit here is that this is orally told, explaining the description), but it's a fun read.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

"Hello, Moto" by Nnedi Okorafor

First appeared in

This is the story of three rich, beautiful, powerful women whose power derives in part from the technological wigs they wear.  The narrator has had a change of heart.  She sees the poverty of the women around and wants to bring down her former friends through a virus.  Her friends, however, don't plan on giving up their power easily.

While a moving and dynamic tale, the technology is semi-vague, the conclusion (intentionally) inconclusive, which does not bar enjoyment, but it does make you wonder if this were part of something larger.  If so, this could be tip of a very cool iceberg.

Two Free ebooks from David Farland

The Golden Queen

Ravenspell Book 1: Of Mice and Magic (Ravenspell Series)

Celebrate the Life and Work of Ray Harryhausen

Ray Harryhausen (wiki article) has passed on, but his work still lives.  Since I just posted a review of Bernard Evslin retelling the Greek classics, I'll mention two of my favorite Harryhausen films of Greek myth:  Jason and the Argonauts (1963) and Clash of the Titans (1981).  If only I were somewhere where I could re-watch them.

The above video shows off the special-effects skills of Ray Harryhausen.  These awed me as a kid.  Times have changed, but many retain a certain magic and allure, especially those from the mid-fifties on.

Here's a classic scene you shouldn't click on unless you've watched the original Jason and the Argonauts because they cut out the cool part just before, which makes it weird and spooky:

A brief good tribute video, introducing the man's life and work, can be found here:

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Book Review: Heroes, Gods and Monsters of the Greek Myths by Bernard Evslin

Heroes, Gods and Monsters of the Greek Myths  
Bernard Evslin  
Open Road

There was a day when the Greek classics and the King James were deemed critical background for understanding Western literature.  While it's losing its ground, the stories are still a fertile loam for planting new stories and referring to the old.

In his 1966 introduction, Evslin laments that translations don't capture the thrill of the originals:
"I went to [the Greek myths] in most of their English versions, and again felt their terrible loss."
 Other meanings may be possible, but it appears that Evslin boldly wanted to spin a translation closer to the original.  While it's impossible for me to compare his version to the originals, I can compare his version to Edith Hamilton's--a book I read twice, once for fun, once for class--and see which version fairs better.

When I compared them, however, they fared about the same.  Occasionally Evslin's work outshone his counterpart's, particularly in Phaeton's tale, a youth trying to prove himself.  He and Epaphus argue whether they are the children of gods.  Phaeton has to prove himself:  ride the sun's chariot across the sky.  Apollo greets his son thusly:
"[Y]our're my son, all right.  Proud, rash, accepting no affront, refusing no adventure.  I know the breed."
 Phaeton, on his journey, even wears asbestos armor.  I thought, ah ha!, embellishing!  But no, asbestos has used against fire for over 4500 years, it turns out.

Another impressive version is his more detailed version of Perseus where Perseus has to outwit various other mythical creatures to get the bride prize he needs--a prize that comes in handy when denied his bride.  All of this makes for a typical enthralling fantasy quest. He meets the famous witches with only one eye and one tooth between them, nymphs who would woo him forever away from his quest:
"Oh, you foolish men with your ridiculous quests, your oaths and enemies and impossible voyages.  When will you learn to eat the fruit and spit out the pit and sleep without dreaming in the arms of your beloved? ... Come kiss us, lad--we need kissing.  It has been a dry summer."
"I cannot kiss you now....  Even up here I smell your apple-blossom scent, and grow bewildered, and almost forget who I am."  
Great, quotable lines.  However, rarely do these versions dip into a realistic story mode that we modern readers are accustomed to , but at times it does:
"[H]e heard the sound of snoring....  Glittering in the muddy light were brass wings.  He raised the shield now, not daring to look directly, and held it as  mirror and guided himself by the reflection.  In a covering of weeds ly three immensely long, bulky shapes.  He saw brass wings and brass claws.  Two of them sleep as birds sleep with their heads tucked under their wings."
If you're looking for detailed stories pulling from the originals,this is as good as--and sometimes better than--Hamilton's versions.  If you're looking for a complete development of the stories, I still vividly recall Fred Saberhagen's White Bull, [link to list of novelette ebook version] whose novel version of Icarus and Daedalus sticks with me to do this day (although youthful memory can distort--ah, youth).

If you or someone you know hasn't yet been baptized in the waters of Greek myths, Evlsin's volume is a good place to start.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Writing Links

Free Works Online & Interesting Magazines
Electric Velocipede -- new issue, including new work by James Alan Garner

Journal of Exubertantly Bad Fiction (seeking subs)

Lone Star Reader -- PDF -- greatest hits with work from 
Martha Wells, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Gavin J. Grant, M. Thomas, Marguerite Reed, Ekaterina Sedia, Sarah Monette, Catherynne M. Valente, Tim Pratt, Sarah Prineas, Samantha Henderson, Stephanie Burgis, Josh Rountree, Jay Lake, Patricia Russo

On writing
Rick Wilber on his critically acclaimed stories from Asimov's

Maya Angelou on writing:
"Easy reading is damn hard writing."
Whatever happened to hypertext stories?

Writing about controversy

On Publishing
Self-publishing isn't a magic bullet.

What editors want

A year in, Tor UK does not lament DRM-less ebooks

Points between Science and Literature
Organisms named after fictional characters

Reading electronically vs. pulped wood

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Go-Slow by Nnedi Okorafor

First appeared in The Way of the Wizard, edited by John Joseph Adams
Also in

After an ongoing spt with his spouse, his unlikely and somewhat unlikable hero--for some readers--comes across women in the form of emus.  He hits one giant bird and stuffs it into his trunk to give the meat to his mother until it starts pounding on the trunk.  He lets her out and, lo, it is not bird, but a woman.  They help the protagonist with his political and marriage situations.

Friday, May 3, 2013

New ebook: Nebula-award winner, "Trophy Wives" by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

Originally appearing in Fellowship Fantastic, this was recently released as a single-story ebook (if a bit pricey at present).  It is also reprinted in Nebula Awards Showcase 2010.  It won the Nebula award for best short story.

On Haraldion, Alanna is just one of many wives on a planet where women aren't appreciated.  The narrator, Ylva Sif, is Alanna's mistress although their roles have been reversed.  While Alanna's husband still sleeps with other women, they like their position as they can rescue other women. They find a talented musician who is  married to someone she doesn't wish to be married.  A planet-wide search is on for her--a politically important bride.  Ylva and Alanna try to hide her.

Interesting play with a different culture--tastes somewhat like the Arabian Nights.  This feels as though it could part of something larger.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Free ebook, fund a humorous anthology, on short stories: Alex Shvartsman, Elizabeth Hand, Timothy Zahn, Ellen Datlow, Stephen Leigh, Kevin J. Anderson, Emezie Okorafor

Kickstarter for Anthology of humorous SF (1 hour to go and just shy of funding)

Alex Shvartsman, the above anthologist, on writing humor


Elizabeth Hand, Timothy Zahn and Ellen Datlow on speculative short stories:


Stephen Leigh (you can see his personality in this video):

Buy Stephen Leigh's 3-for-1 book



Road Kill: A Dan Shamble Adventure (Dan Shamble, Zombie PI) [Kindle Edition] Kevin J. Anderson


Nnedi Okorafor's brother, Emezie Okorafor has an animated short

"From the Lost Diary of TreeFrog7" by Nnedi Okorafor

First appeared in Clarkesworld
audio version

TreeFrog7 and her husband, Morituri36, are writing a field guide, but nature does not appear to be TreeFrog7's friend.  Insect and shrieking animals  But then she is pregnant as she catalogs the area searches for CPU plants to download.  They are, however, being stalked by a dangerous species of moth and may not live to tell about it... although they may tell about it anyway.

Interesting speculation on legacy, possibly casting a shade of nontraditional dubiousness upon it or possibly saying that the end justifies the means.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Book Briefs: Nina Kiriki Hoffman's Time Travelers, Ghosts, and Other Visitors

Time Travelers, Ghosts, and Other Visitors
Nina Kiriki Hoffman
Gale Group/Five Star

"Toobychubbies" [Alien Abductions, Strange Horizons]  The narrator is in charge of four playdates, babysitting her own and her neighbor's toddlers.  They watch their favorite video, Toobychubbies,  After a while, despite the improved behavior of the kids--"Stay small. Eat less. Play fair. Stay cute. Be good...."--parents are creeped out.  Eventually, the narrator suspects that the newly arrived aliens have a plan.  Perhaps a comment on what we take in for entertainment--no matter how seemingly good.

"Haunted Humans" [F&SF]  In the rather impressive, ambitious novella, nominated for Nebula and Locus awards (it must have been one heck of a year for this not to win), Dorothy Jean Demain or DJ, secretary of a psychologist, gets involved with a client with multiple personalities, Morgan.  Her former boyfriend, Chase Kennedy was a serial killer who has found where she'd been placed in the Witness Protection Program and is chasing after her.  Meanwhile, after getting involved with Morgan, she learns he does not have a true multiple personality disorder.  Rather, he's haunted.  Dead souls come to live in him, including a cop and murder victims.

Chase catches them at a hotel, and DJ and the personalities have to stop him without killing because Chase could inhabit Morgan like the others....

An excellent collection, and this tale seals the deal.  Although the personalities get confusing occasionally and the last line isn't perfect, I keep imagining Hoffman collecting her best works--this among them.  Few books would be able stand up to it.  What a ride.  You've got to read this.

"Spider the Artist" by Nnedi Okorafor

First appeared in Seeds of Change.
Reprinted in Lightspeed
This was a finalist for the WSFA Small Press Award.

A fresh take on the zombie trope.  These zombies are actually robots that protect the Nigerian oil pipeline.  They attack anyone who gets too close, but even so, our narrator, after being abused by her husband, takes her guitar out and strums.  There she befriends a zombie, Udide.  Later, after the zombie revolt, it protects her--perhaps a better husband than she'd had.