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Friday, January 31, 2014

Support various literary ventures

Ares Magazine by One Small Step Games
"80 pages of amazing new science fiction and a complete board game in a bi-monthly periodical."
Dark Trails: An Anthology of Weird Western Stories. by Michael Knost
"Saddle up your horses and get ready for Dark Western fiction that will merge the horror and western genres like never before!"
Streets of Shadows - A Noir Urban Fantasy Fiction Anthology by Steven Saus
"A new fiction anthology combining noir crime and urban fantasy. Life on the streets was tough...before things started getting weird."
Unidentified Funny Objects 3 - Annual Anthology of Humor SFF by Alex Shvartsman
"UFO3 is the 3rd annual anthology featuring offbeat and humorous science fiction & fantasy short stories."
Waylines Magazine: Year Two by Darryl Knickrehm
"An online magazine of speculative fiction, poetry, comics PLUS streaming film.
"Women Destroy Science Fiction! is a special issue of the Hugo Award-nominated magazine LIGHTSPEED entirely written—and edited—by women."

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Interview with poet G. O. Clark, Part One of Two

[Note 1: G.O. Clark's latest poetry collection is up for the Stoker award. You can find the review here.]

[Note 2: We had an earlier interview at SF Site. This is, in many ways, an extension of that conversation.]

We last spoke in an interview for SF Site 11 years ago. What have you been up to since then, poetry- and non-poetry-wise?

Publishing wise, I've had seven poetry collections and one short story collection see print since the last interview in 2003. The most recent poetry book is "Scenes Along the Zombie Highway", 2013. 

I retired in 2008 from the University of California, Davis, where I'd worked for 25 years as a library assistant. I've been writing and publishing more horror poetry over the past few years, and attending World Horror Conventions where I've shared my work with small, but receptive audiences. I’ve also been a finalist for the Stoker, Rhysling and Dwarf Stars awards a number of times. Other than that, my mobile home and car are paid off. My son turns 31 in April. And I still suck at billiards. 

How has the field changed during that time?

I'm no expert on the speculative poetry field, but it seems like there's more publishing outlets then before, and definitely more talented poets writing it now. The quality of the poetry has never been better, and I think some of it will pass the test of time. There's still not much crossover of speculative poetry, (and when I say speculative, I mean horror, fantasy, SF poetry) into mainstream publications. Perhaps in time.

Have the changes influenced your own craft?

The changes I mentioned haven't affected my writing that much. My writing style etc. hasn't changed much since my 2009 book, "Strange Vegetables". Content varies, of course. I still tend to write more humorous poems than serious ones. I'm stuck in my ways.

Has your productivity increased with retirement?

To some extent. I find it easier to put together collections, themed or otherwise, with the increased free time. In regards to individual poems or stories, I still write them when the spirit moves me or an idea pops into my head. The stress level is less than when I was working full time, though, which is a plus.

Why zombies? Why zombie poetry? How do you account for the trope's popularity?

Why not? Poetry is open to just about any subject matter you can come up with; animate, inanimate, or undead. Zombie movies and the TV show 'The Walking Dead" have popularized the undead. Zombie poetry is just an extension of the phenomena. There's even an excellent book of zombie haikus out there for those with limited attention spans.

Interview with poet G. O. Clark, Part Two of Two

[Note 1: G.O. Clark's latest poetry collection is up for the Stoker award. You can find the review here.]

[Note 2: We had an earlier interview at SF Site. This is, in many ways, an extension of that conversation.]

You wrote: "A college friend of mine.... gave me pointers on who to read." What are some good books for new poets? Any new poets you think people should be reading?

I recommend reading selected and collected works books by various poets. Also anthologies, themed or otherwise. And listen to recorded poetry to get a feel for the way it sounds out loud; the rhythms, cadence, etc. of the poems.

As for speculative poets, I highly recommend Bruce Boston, Marge Simon, David Kopaska-Merkel, Linda Addison, Robert Frazier, Mary Turzillo for a start. New poets should read across the board; books, magazines, e-books and ezines. Sample as much as possible, then keep writing until your own voice finally blots out all the others. 

Later you said, "I stumbled upon two seminal sci-fi poetry anthologies.... We learn from our peers." Are there any recent seminal anthologies that have come out in recent years? 

I’m sure there’s some important new anthologies out there, but I haven’t kept up with the field as well as I should. As a member of the SFPA, I do get the annual Rhysling Award anthology each year, and it is filled with interesting and up-to-date poetry, (poems nominated by SFPA members that were published in the preceding year). The books are uneven in some ways when it comes to quality, but still a good sampling of the field.

I’m still partial to an older anthology, “Burning With A Vision”, ed. by Robert Frazier. It set a standard for the field way back in 1984. Good luck finding a copy.

What are some magazines you consider required reading?
Magazines? Dreams & Nightmares, Star*Line, Mythic Delirium, Astropoetica, all of which are filled primarily with poetry. Asimov’s, Analog, Strange Horizons, Tales of the Talisman, The Horror Zine, Not One of Us, which include poems in each issue. There’s many out there to discover. Dive into Google.

What's on the horizon for you? Any new projects brewing or forthcoming?

On my horizon are two books. One a dark poetry collection which is being considered by a publisher at the moment, tentatively titled “Gravedigger’s Dance”, and a short story collection, again with tentative title, “Twists & Turns”, which is off to different publisher. 

I’m also working on putting together another themed collection, this time about robots.
Other than that, the usual day to day work of writing new poems and stories, which as I get older proceeds more slowly. I nap at the drop of a hat.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Slow Down + Blog Assessment + Writer Interviews + Posts You May Have Missed

Slow Down
Too many posts consume time. I must slow down. I have stories to write and submit, so enjoy what's here.

Blog Assessment
The last assessment was in December of 2012. I've been at this since Dec 2009--a little over four years (although I also blogged at s1ngularity:criticism and Mundane SF blogs before this). With nearly a thousand posts, that's about two posts for every three days. When I get bogged down at school, I post less frequently.

For two and half years, page visits have grown ten percent or so per month, which amounts to a twenty-fold increase. The per post view-rate has grown since last year from 35 to 55 or so, not quite a sixty percent increase. This is more dramatic when you consider the early posts with few hits are factored in (the hits were probably my mama who accidentally hit the refresh button a few times.

A year ago, one post--"Girl" by Jamaica Kincaid--outstripped all other posts and accounted for ten percent of the traffic (it's now five). I guess it's a good one. Fifty to a hundred folks stop by each month to take a look. Trent Zelazny's interview posts may have been the only posts that overtook her monthly lead.

Interesting to see which classic stories people are still fascinated by. Theodore Sturgeon's "Microcosmic Gods" and "Thunder and Roses" have drawn hundreds of readers in less than a year, but the other Sturgeon stories only about two dozen each.  I'll  be interested to see which stories of the big three--Arthur C. Clarle's, Isaac Asimov's and Robert Heinlein's--people are still fascinated by.  William Gibson and Ursula K. LeGuin drew less attention than I would have supposed although I need to do more or theirs..

In retrospect, part of the blog's growth was not only the quantity of posts but also the quality of their presentation. I changed presentation when I reviewed and interviewed. Take note if you blog.

Popular posts can be viewed on the right.

Writer Interviews
On file are the following:
  1. Loralee Leavitt
  2. Christopher Barzak
  3. Trent Zelazny
  4. Kenneth W. Cain
  5. I have upcoming interviews with G.O. Clark and Dustin Lavalley.

Posts You May Have Missed
These are posts I thought there might be more interest than they've received: 
  1. A Scene-by-Scene Analysis of the Movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey*
  2. Analysis of Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin A. Abbott*
  3. A number of James Patrick Kelly posts--one of the best writers of speculative fiction in the 90s and 00s. I didn't put much time into pretty-fying them, focusing on content. Maybe I'll revise them one day.
* These two might make a nice contrast, treating religion from opposite ends of the spectrum.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

"The Wide, Carnivorous Sky" by John Langan from The Wide, Carnivorous Sky

Appeared John Joseph Adams' By Blood We Live. Reprinted in the Paula Guran's Year's Best.  The collection is up for the Bram Stoker award.

This is a brilliant examination of Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that works on many levels--that it's a vampire tale is icing on the thematic cake.

Four soldiers in Iraq encounter an eight-foot (what? shadow? bat?) thing that is blindingly fast. It shoots a psychic blast in their heads before attacking. What saves them is that it attacked others first, so they got away.

But they are not free of the beast. It lingers. Even after their tours of duty, they flash on the thing's consciousness, witness it attacking doomed victims in war-torn areas all over the world. When Davis, the handicapped narrator, discovers he has some mental control over the beast, the Iraq veterans decide to reunite and kill the beast once and for all.

The ending illuminates, perfectly executed to give us a sense of character the trouble ahead.

Although it varies the vampire trope, it may be best to read this outside of other vampire stories to appreciate its monster innovation. Its description fascinates by what it describes and what it leaves to the imagination. When the characters describe it, they are not precise, so we get a hazy view of the thing:  It's this but not really.

My only problem is that the characters live inside the creature and should have a better if vague understanding of what the creature is, what it does, where it's from, how it survives as a species, how it thinks.  While it may spoil aspects of PTSD, it undermines the primary narrative, and it is a critical gap. We don't have to know everything, but a sketch.

Worth reading.

Teaching and "Kids" by John Langan from The Wide, Carnivorous Sky

John Langan's collection, The Wide, Cavernous Sky is up for the Bram Stoker award.

When you become a teacher, you can no longer read about teachers the same: This guys's nice, that a jerk; this one can teach, that cannot. You know, oversimplified. You have a new filter for student protagonists misinterpreting teachers because the student's perception of events can be narrow, only seeing through their own lives.

Students have asked about a teacher, "You like that guy?" or conversely, from teachers, "You like that class?" Yeah, you would, too, if you knew what they were going through.

Some teachers are "jerks" because it is a power trip, but most are actually nice people who let students get away with things and get away and get away until the teacher's fed up and snaps. They told the student to do X, but the student didn't do it. The teacher didn't back up threats because he didn't want to hurt the student, so the student walks all over the teacher's commands. And then the student's surprised when the teacher blows up. "What's his problem? He let me get away with not doing X before."

To avoid that, some teachers act, to quote Langan's tale, all "hardass." [cut text talking about the hidden complexities of the job.] It's far more complicated than I imagined before teaching. That's why teachers complain and many don't try: "Until someone teaches me differently, I'll put my head down and plow ahead doing what I know how to do."

I bring this up because this story is about a "hard" teacher who has students, younger and dirtier than he's used to, silently enter his classroom, frighten him, trip him, and eat him.

How you interpret this tale has a lot to do about where you're coming from. Had I read this before teaching (despite having a mother in the profession), I'd have thought, "Mean old teacher gets comeuppance. Okay, moving on."

Now it's different. It reads more dream-like: a tale of an educator who fears the future, how he'll cope (or not) with the new generation. He has done it such and such a way for years and now meets resistance.  Even though he tries to help the kids, he's eaten alive.

The latter interpretation is more nuanced, so let's grant that one.

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The Devil Knows You're Dead 
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Monday, January 27, 2014

Book Review:Odds and Ends: An Assortment of Sorts by Dustin LaValley

Odds and Ends: An Assortment of Sorts 
by Dustin LaValley
free flash fiction collection
"Extraordinary. Hauntingly poignant."--Thomas Ligotti, author of My Work Is Not Yet Done
LaValley got some great blurbs on this collection. It reads as various an opuscule of compositions, of a writer tampering with form, honing craft. Most pontificate on existence, consciousness, reality, life and death.

One effective piece has a young man offer food to his mother staring off in the distance and swipes at him when he draws near. It turns out she's a zombie. Some readers might dismiss this with a musical da-da-da. But this mirrors well what happens in life, for many families. A loved one loses cognizance, reacts aggressively towards loved ones. What can you do?

My favorite is a young boy who crawls behind a washing machine to follow a spider but gets stuck for a day and a night until his father frees him, but he tastes death. Painfully transformative.

Another good one is "A Secret Love"--a lovely or "unlovely"? unreliable narrator that talks about his love that only he and she knew about. He'd follow her home, two blocks behind, and he knew she loved him back by the way she stared at him out the window. Well, apart from the hopefully harmless if creepy stalking, many humans have had such a "love." Condemning the poor befuddled lad condemns the condemner as most of us have loved those who didn't return the love and misinterpreted signals. Poor kid's headed for heartbreak, though. Your mileage may vary, but there's plenty to ponder in so short a tale.

There are some gems here. Why not mine the territory? The field is fertile, sitting there for the picking.

It's also interesting to watch this writer develop. He's written the superb mind-screw with "The Deceived" which is well worth reading.

Analyisis of "The Last Question" by Isaac Asimov and "Answer" by Fredric Brown

Brown's: First appeared in his collection, Angels and Spaceships, 1954. Online. Audio. Reprinted at least seventeen times (including genre retrospectives) by Edmund Crispin, Damon Knight, Brian W. Aldiss, Abbe Mowshowitz, Dennie L. Van Tassel, Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg, Joseph D. Olander, Herbert Kaußen & Dr. Rudi Renné, Patricia S. Warrick,  T. E. D. Klein, Michael O’Shaughnessy, and Andrew Goodwyn.

Asimov's: First appeared in Science Fiction Quarterly, 1956. Online. AudioReprinted at least eleven times (including genre retrospectives) by L. Sprague de Camp, Catherine Crook de Camp, Brian W. Aldiss, Frederik Pohl, Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg, Joseph D. Olander, Josh Pachter, Thomas F. Monteleone, Andre Norton, Ingrid Zierhut, David G. Hartwell, and Kathryn Cramer.

Here are two classic stories people tend to confuse. They even appeared together in the same anthology twice, side by side. Jim Baen wrote:
"I read "Answer" some years after I'd read "The Last Question." My first thought was, "It's the same story!" 
But it wasn't the same story. It wasn't anything like the same story. It just happened to have the same plot. 
That realization made me much less concerned by "originality," because I began to see that nothing was really original, and I became much more concerned about story values. Over the years I've built three SF lines on that principle."
Reading this was a relief because after years of not reading them, I tend to forget which is which although they should more easily distinguished.

Brown's appeared two years earlier and was reprinted shortly thereafter while Asimov's first reprint was sixteen years after its initial appearance. I find it odd that "Answer" did not find a literary home until his collection. It has a classic feel to it, and it's hard to shake it from your mind.

Brown's is focused on the humor/horror of it all. Asimov on the cosmic ineffability. Both ask different questions in the far future but arrive at the same answers, if to different effects. Both resonate long after you've read them.


"Answer" tells of two far future guys who ask if there's a god. "There is now!" Zap! The switch to turn off the computer is fused shut (on/open?).

"The Last Question" is more patient in its unraveling. Over the millennia, as humanity spreads across the universe, people ask can we reverse entropy and start again? The great computer that spans space and time keeps mulling over the question, long after the suns have burned out. Finally, it figures it out and says, "Let there be light!"

Both are rationalist explanations of how a god could be created. Although Brown's is horrified at the possibility (at least, of a computer god), Asimov's is accepting as part of the natural, cosmological continuum.

It looks like the tales will last another generation or two more.

Book Brief: They Might Be Demons by Max Booth III

They Might Be Demons:
A Collection of Flash Fiction Bizarro 
by Max Booth III
Full Moon Books
This book is on the preliminary ballot for the Bram Stoker award.

How many of you have watched a sitcom you didn't think was funny despite the ongoing laugh track telling what which moments were supposed to be? Why would one need a laugh track if something were actually funny? As a kid, I watched Happy Days, Brady Bunch and Gilligan's Island reruns over and over--had I ever laughed? Apart from Seinfeld and a few others, I imagine few people actually laughed at hugely popular sitcoms.

How many have read a humorous book that you didn't find laugh-out-loud funny, but you read it anyway? I recall laughing once at the supposedly hilarious Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Nonetheless, I read the entire series and bought the movie. Why?

My guess is that comedies have a pleasant rhythm, zany imagination, often absurdist viewpoint, and light-hearted mood that please us even should we not laugh. For instance, witness the title of this collection. A number will recognize the name of a silly band called They Might Be Giants. Someone might snort, but most will merely recognize the play on words, possibly smile and try out the collection.

Possibly the best joke occurs in "So There's a Banshee outside Your Window" where a mysterious voice talks to a thirteen-year-old about the old hag hanging outside his window:
"[B]anshees only warn those [that are going to die soon] that have heritage with the Irish. Specifically persons with surnames beginning with 'O' or 'Mac.' So, unless your name begins with that, you should be fine.
"For a voice that exist in my head you sure are lousy at knowing anything about me. My name is MacDonald. Ron MacDonald. 
"Haha what? Seriously? 
"Yes yes, hilarious, I know."
The voice tells him to get a sword, but the kid doesn't have one.
"Try the pawnshop. Walmart. Petsmart. Maybe McDonalds--I'm sure they know you there. 
"Shut up! That isn't funny! 
"Yeah, it kind of is. 
"Okay, maybe you're right."
The story's right.  It kind of is funny even if you don't laugh. (And some readers did.) You know who you are, those of you who will like this.

Another cool aspect of the collection is that it forms a loose novel--which is probably the best way since many tales trail off (the above tale ends with the characters cussing each other out). The author invites you to read the collection in any order the reader prefers although that's difficult in an ebook without a table of contents. Booth says he didn't assemble it with any order in mind, so swim these waters in whatever way that pleases you.

There are running gags--the devil and his demons are coming to raise hell on Earth every 104 years to destroy unknown little towns (this time in Vermillion, Indiana... who cares about Indiana?), bad demons get tossed into laugh-track sitcom hell--that help glue the series together. The concept's novel and pleasing, and it rouses my curiosity to read further.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

" —That Thou Art Mindful of Him!" by Isaac Asimov

First appeared in F&SF, reprinted twice, and nominated for a Hugo and Locus awards.

Georges Nine and Ten, two robots, are given the task of figuring out how robots and humans can coexist. This complicated by the fact that some humans are untrustworthy of giving commands, and the robots must obey the second law except if it violates the first:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. 
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. 
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
They have to consider that:

"(A) an educated, principled and rational person should be obeyed in preference to an ignorant, immoral and irrational person, and (B) that superficial characteristics such as skin tone, sexuality, or physical disabilities are not relevant when considering fitness for command."
 Since the robots have metal skin and are more rational, they should be considered human and their commands obeyed. They create the Three Laws of Humanics.

There seem to be infinite variations on these three simple laws. Supremely clever if a little long.

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Saturday, January 25, 2014

"The Bicentennial Man" by Isaac Asimov

First appeared in Stellar. Reprinted by Donald A. Wollheim & Arthur W. Saha, Terry Carr, Gordon R. Dickson, Robert Silverberg, Martin H. Greenberg, Isaac Asimov, Patricia S. Warrick, and Michael Philips--seven of which are major field retrospectives. It won the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Locus awards.

Andrew wants his independence, his freedom. Although unprecedented, the rights are granted. It decides to wear clothes. When Andrew gets lost on the way to the library (a robot? how? The maps don't correlate well with the terrain. Asimov would have probably written it differently after the ubiquity of GPS), young men spot the robot and realize it must be the freed robot, so they order it to strip and dismantle itself. It must obey according the laws of robotics, but George, a former owner of Andrew, saves the day by pretending to order Andrew to attack. Andrew cannot, but the ruse works.

George and Andrew work to make a law to prevent people from asking robots to destroy themselves. Meanwhile, Andrew writes a history of robots and tries to get more rights for robots. He gets an organic makeover, and George gets more robotic parts. Andrew studies his own body, determined to give himself a human body--breathing and consuming.

Andrew reveals his desire to be fully human--both legally and organically.

Since reading the Wikipedia article discussed in "Robot Dreams" and "Little Lost Robot", I've been reading the robot stories as stories of slavery. To a degree, they can function that way. However, the metaphor breaks down when it comes to their invention, construction, mechanical nature, the three laws of robotics, and their understanding human things like death: 
"[Andrew] knew [dying] was the human way of ceasing to function. It was an involuntary and irreversible dismantling."
Also when told to strip, a human would do so with protest, trembling, or not do so and fight or flee. Nonetheless, it is a metaphor with such a strong correlation that it's difficult to read the robots as robots--things other than human. This story in particular may have resonated well with civil rights movement.

The story was made into a film released in 1999. Unfortunately, it was not as popular:

  • 37% Rotten Tomatoes-95 reviews 
  • 42% Metacritic-31 reviews 
  • 6.7/10 IMDb-61,789 votes
I find myself falling in with the majority of IMDb, ranking it as a solid entertainment. I did see it in Spanish, but the complaints like Roger Ebert's that Robin Williams becomes mechanical as a human was, I felt, realistic. It seems unlikely that one's personality would alter so quickly. For some, the addition of the romance may have killed it because it wasn't in the story, but I thought it charming and moving if not completely convincing except in an intellectual way. It does take the story of Andrew's humanizing to the next level and bring it full circle--not just the learning curve of not understanding death to being brought to its door but also understanding love. One could say that Asimov's original story ending itself implies the same.

Reviews of the 2013 Bram Stoker Awards Preliminary Ballot

You can find the list at Mike Glyer's File 770: 2013 Bram Stoker Awards Preliminary Ballot

So far I've reviewed the following:

“Code 666” by Michael Reaves

Appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, March/April 2013. It is on the Bram Stoker award's preliminary ballot.

Jack is an EMT* who's found himself at the other end of medical services. In the hospital, he experiences strange hallucinations (or are they real?):  A guy looks eerily like how Mary Shelley described Dr. Frankenstein. Jack supposes the guy is from the bed next to his, but when he calls the nurse, the neighbor's bed is empty, the sheets and blankets neatly folded.

Next, Jack and Claire admire an older model ambulance. Claire and others seem to have passed away, but they attained power over their form. Jack's going to be the driver, for the supernatural.

* I think. It later says he went to medical school--a med school to be an EMT? 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

"Little Lost Robot" by Isaac Asimov

First appeared in Astounding. Reprinted by Edmund Crispin, Isaac Asimov, and Martin H. Greenberg in two retrospectives.

US Robots makes robots where they drop off the last part of the first law:
"A robot may not injure a human being [or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm]."
The robot annoys a worker who tells it to get lost, which it does, literally amid 62 other robots who look just like it. Calvin insists they need to track it down lest it create havoc. It starts to feel superior. They lie to the robots that the humans are protected by gamma rays, which can damage humans, but Nestor 10 knows better--it's only . His arrogance does him in... although I'm still not quite sure why.

I mentioned an earlier interpretation from Wikipedia about "Robot Dreams" (I continue the discussion in "The Bicentennial Man") which basically said that the story was anti-robot-slavery. Here's a quote from Susan Calvin:
"The psychologist turned on him with quiet fury, 'I don't want any unbalanced robots in existence.' "
Her job, as I see she sees it, is to protect humanity from rogue robots, at all costs. One might draw a parallel to slavery as undoubtedly there are parallels to men who justified themselves in a similar fashion, but should we protect humanity? and what constitutes a threat to its survival? Calvin is the evolutionary tool to create robots who serve and protect. Should they? That is why they are created, no? to ease the human burden. Do they have feelings, desires, limitations like humans? Quite the moral morass--the tar pits of SF, perhaps.

“Night Train to Paris” by David Gerrold

Appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Jan./Feb. 2013. It is on the Bram Stoker award's preliminary ballot.

The story begins in an authorial voice, blending fact and fiction, leaving to wonder, "Did this happen?" It is reminiscent of Orson Scott Card's powerful Lost Boys..The danger might be if the author sees himself as an average joe, and the fiction becomes bland. Not here. The voice here is enjoyably observational, distinctive:
"I confess, I do not read many works of pseudo-medieval fantasy... wandering into questions of physicality. Nobody wakes up the morning after a battle aching and bruised, in too much pain to move. Nobody's wounds get infected.... everybody is leaping eagerly into bed with everybody else, and nobody ever catches a sexually transmitted disease. You never hear about the fleas and the either. Or the pox."
"Shortly, I discovered why you cannot read for long in a train station.... My best defense against a pickpocket is to wear an angry scowl and a photographer's vest with a multitude of zippered compartments.... there is no equally effective defense against panhandlers.
"In my imagination, the Milanese beggars have organized themselves into some kind of Mendicants Guild, all working the same route through the train station, spacing themselves a five minute intervals."
Great voice, in fact. I could quote other passages.

The narrator is photographer as well and takes various pictures of the train. He bumps into Claudio who tells about the mystery of the train. A creature haunts the train, chasing, hunting among the passengers, Claudio says. They talk about the possibility of it being serial killer or a bird-headed monster. Is it a joke? Later, the narrator looks at his photos, all of which don't turn out except one, the one of Claudio.

The voice is cool, and the strange, lurking speculative horror works effectively. They don't accentuate one another, but it's worth the reading.

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Draconian New York (Hob Draconian) 
by Robert Sheckley 

by Robert Sheckley 

The 10th Victim 
by Robert Sheckley 

Dramocles: An Intergalactic Soap Opera 
by Robert Sheckley 

The Journey of Joenes 
by Robert Sheckley 

Minotaur Maze 
by Robert Sheckley 

White Death 
by Robert Sheckley 

BioPunk: Stories from the Far Side of Research 
by Simon Van Booy, Jane Feaver, Sara Maitland, Gregory Norminton, Toby Litt, Adam Marek, K. J. Orr, Jane Rogers, Sean O'Brien
Ra Page (Editor) 

The New Wave Fabulists (Conjunctions, 39) 
Bradford Morrow and Peter Straub, Editors 

What Makes This Book So Great 
by Jo Walton 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

"Robot Dreams" by Isaac Asimov

Originally published in the collection by the same name and in the author's magazine, Asimov's. Reprinted by George Zebrowski, Gardner R. Dozois, Sheila Williams, and Orson Scott Card--two of which were genre retrospectives. It was up for the Hugo, the Nebula, SF Chronicle awards and actually won the Locus, Asimov's Reader Poll, Seiun awards. 

Like her last name indicates, without authorization Dr. Linda Rash introduces fractal geometry to the robot's positronic brain. It subsequently begins to dream. Dr. Susan Calvin isn't sure what to make of it until she interrogates the robot what it dreamed:

The robots are weary and await the one man who says "Let my people go." When the robot says that he is the man, her worst fears are confirmed.

Dreams, the story appears to say, are the source of what makes us human.

Wikipedia's additional interpretation is that "Elvex is destroyed not for the capability of human thought and mannerisms, but the unconscious desire to escape the inequality that robots were created for." That may be one reading, backed up by a Biblical allusion to Moses speaking to the Egyptians (I discuss this further in "Little Lost Robot" and "The Bicentennial Man"). The other reading is that, because no humans exist, underneath the robot conscious layer is the subconscious desire to wipe out the human race.

It seems probable that the award attention was the readers' ways of saying they wanted more of this terrain.

"Liar!" by Isaac Asimov!

First appeared in Astounding. Reprinted by Judith Merril, Sam Moskowitz, Laurence M. Janifer, Robert Silverberg, Leslie A. Fiedler, Donald L. Lawler, Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg, Peter Haining, including two genre retrospectives.

Ah, the days of exclamatory titles. Whatever happened to those? The ISFDB counts Asimov as committing 106 (Brian Aldiss did 24). Since Asimov wrote 500-odd books, maybe ten percent (including short stories) were exclamatory. I use them myself in informal chats, usually to convey excitement for the other party. Not using them doesn't seem to do the trick. I feel like Eeyore or, worse, Bill Murray, saying exactly opposite to what I mean--not that Murray doesn't have his place. Why shouldn't exclamation points may have their place as well! (experimental exclamation which probably didn't work.)

Does the title need the exclamation mark? Maybe so. The title seem to give some of the game away, but Asimov added emotional flavor to it.

Susan Calvin is a robot psychologist, dealing with Herbie, the first robot able to read minds. The company's not sure what to make of it; however, when they talk to him individually, they feel better. It informs Calvin that Ashe is in love with her and wants to propose to her. It tells mathematician that it cannot find a solution that it can. And it tells another that his boss is resigning when he's not. Why? To make them feel better. Why? The first law:
"A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm."
Lying keeps the humans from to mental harm. Unfortunately, Herbie's lies have caused more harm than anticipated. Calvin gets a little vengeful at the end, which although you feel for her, you also feel for the robot, doing what it thought was right. The title and last word are hers. Certainly, it makes for an interesting character, though.

Note: This is the first use of the term "robotics," apparently.

Wikipedia's abbreviated entry on this story is slightly off.

"Runaround" by Isaac Asimov

First appeared in Astounding, reprinted by Sam Moskowitz, Charles W. Sullivan, Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg, and Charles G. Waugh.

Another Gregory Powell and Mike Donovan story. This is the first story to feature explicitly the Three Laws of Robotics:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. 
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. 
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

A robot named Speedy, sent away to collect selenium on Mercury, has been absent for five hours. Powell and Donovan have to figure out why. Because the selenium pool presents a danger to the robot, the robot is conflicted between the second and third laws. While the second precedes the third, the command was not strongly worded so that the robot is driven to insanity.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Free and reduced ebook lunches

Note: I do not necessary advocate books listed here. I may not have read them. Sometimes I'll comment, sometimes not, depending on time. I research different items and put it in my wish-list and viola, they're on sale. Eventually, maybe I'll be able to show what I used them for. I have read John C. Maxwell's Failing Forward: How to Make the Most of Your Mistakes, which memory says was good. I bought and have been meaning to read the Stanley Wiater titles.

Maynard Sims, Christine Ruggiano, Marilyn K Martin, Edward Ahern, Steven Reasonover, Hollis Whitlock, Reggie Jacobs
AR Jesse (Editor)

The Hidden Body Language Of Flirting: 
Learn To Read Your Love Interests, Friends, And Coworkers 
by Ben Night

The Fiction Writer's Handbook 
by Shelly Lowenkopf 

Dark Dreamers: 
Conversations With the Masters of Horror 
by Stanley Wiater 

Dark Visions 
- Conversations With The Masters of the Horror Film 
by Stanley Wiater 

Be All You Can Be: 
A Challenge to Stretch Your God-Given Potential 
by John C. Maxwell 

How to Make People Like You in 90 Seconds or Less 
by Nicholas Boothman 

How to Make Someone Fall in Love With You in 90 Minutes or Less 
by Nicholas Boothman 

The Flirting Bible 
Fran Greene 

"First Law" by Isaac Asimov

First appeared in Fantastic Universe, later collected in the magazine's retrospective.

Another Mike Donovan story. A robot declines to obey the first of Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics:
"A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm."
Mike was caught in a harsh storm on Titan when a robot sees both the human and a vicious creature. It saves the creature, its child.

In his The Complete Robot collection, Asimov denied this story's legitimacy as part of the robot continuum, but it shows the evolutionary process that robots would have to go through in order to select robots that obey the three laws.  Possibly the concern was over whether a machine can act outside its original parameters. On the other hand, several stories like "Liar!" does just that.

Analysis of "Reason" by Isaac Asimov

First appeared in Astounding. Subsequently reprinted in several major retrospectives from Damon Knight, Brian W. Aldiss, Harry Harrison, Frederik Pohl, Martin H. Greenberg, Joseph D. Olander, James E. Gunn,  and Eric S. Rabkin. 

Clearly many find this a critical touchstone for the field. Mike Donovan and Gregory Powell are scientists on a space station supplying microwave power to planets. When they put together one robot, QT1, it doubts that Donovan and Powell actually created it as the humans are weak, flabby creatures. QT1 becomes  convinced and convinces other machines on the station to serve the power station. It removes Donovan and Powell from running the station. They worry that they won't deliver the power as needed, but QT1 does deliver--for his own reasons.

That's the point: Without the scientists' background, QT1 arrives at very different conclusions.

In today's religio-political climate, it's surprising that an anti-religion story is so generous toward its opponent. Whereas today's atheists tend to insult opponents (at least the outspoken ones), saying they alone reason and the religious do not, this tale suggests that the religious do reason. They just leave out certain evidences in their reasoning. Also, where some current atheists would suggest the religious can't do the technical jobs well, this story suggests otherwise.

One could say that this is merely a critique on Islam: "There is no Master but Master, and QT1 is His prophet." But likely it critiques all. The interaction reflects many SF works when two cultures collide: Misunderstanding occurs due to different explanations for similar events. It is a scientist, though, who insults QT1 and his God although Donovan and Powell gradually come into a kind of humorous acceptance of the situation by the tale's end.

Here's a quote explaining Asimov's position:
"I am an atheist, out and out. It took me a long time to say it. I've been an atheist for years and years, but somehow I felt it was intellectually unrespectable to say one was an atheist, because it assumed knowledge that one didn't have. Somehow, it was better to say one was a humanist or an agnostic. I finally decided that I'm a creature of emotion as well as of reason. Emotionally, I am an atheist. I don't have the evidence to prove that God doesn't exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn't that I don't want to waste my time."
--Free Inquiry (Spring 1982)

This story is admirable for its generosity in portraying what to Asimov is the other. There's also another layer of misunderstanding--inevitable in any metaphor which cannot perfectly link up with its tenor through any vehicle--in that this religious experience probably does not mirror most believers'. For me, this enhances the reading.

Also admirable, and unrelated to the topic of religion, is how the author creates a rebellious robot. If you've read a lot Asimov in the past, you'll see how rational and subservient the creatures are, even if they undermine their own rules (Three Laws of Robotics) to do what they believe needs to be done. This can make a fascinating character, acting through indirect, subtle means. I can't recall a more rebellious Asimovian robot. "Reason" may be Asimov pushing robots to what he sees as their extreme.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Free ebooks of and info on Lafferty

Two posts on R.A. Lafferty:

  1. Michael Swanwick 
  2. and Chuck Rothman.

Lafferty's long been a favorite of mine. Reading him, I'm reminded of Donald Barthelme--both highly original voices. I've always been fascinated by names like "Lafferty"--as he tend to make his readers laugh.

Here are two public domain stories to read to whet your appetite:


Support: Jay Lake's Treatment

"Jay Lake, science fiction author and cancer fight blogger, is doing an NIH trial to save his life, and for science. He need support expenses for this cross-country trial and tribulation."