Category Archives: Uncategorized
What remains remarkable to me is the genre’s continuing ability to remain stagnant and gleefully rooted in its past. We’ve had over half a century of revolutionary SF with a clear line of fiction and artwork going back to the 60s and earlier. Whether it’s Chip Delany, Ursula LeGuin, or Joanna Russ, the heritage is there for a genre informed by more than the utopian technocratic dreams it sold itself. But Feminism, the New Wave, cross-pollination from other genres, radical world politics or literary techniques… they all bounce off – or get uprooted and thrown away because those who’ve settled in and claimed “the core audience” status don’t want them there. The genre has a tendency to chew up those it deems to be intruders or unworthy of its “affection”* and spit them out.
I dearly hope to see this cycle end. Diversity, in all its meanings, should be a no-frills default feature and not some extra. Instead it’s gotten to the point where I’ll read a great genre book by a woman/minority/genre-outsider and wonder how long it will be before they get driven out.
A remarkable thing to see in the genre of “ideas”.
1. The Witches of Karres – James H. Schmitz. A fun little Space Opera novel. Captain Pausert is your typical rogue with a heart of gold starship captain, long on luck, short on credits. He rescues a trio of slave girls and is soon caught up in a series of adventures. It’s a light-hearted book that gets more than a little wonderful in places. Occasionally it has a sour note (mostly of the precocious teenage girl that flirts with an older man that resembles her father variety), but there’s also much to love: monstrous planets, spider-robot assassins, weird world building, etc.
2. Fury – Henry Kuttner. Classic science fiction of the egomaniacal supermen and the ballgown-wearing women who love them variety. Deliriously fun. Weird narcotics, crime, murder, and mayhem all in the name of progress because man’s destiny is to rule the stars!
3. A Stranger in Olondria – Sofia Samatar. An amazingly rich and textured fantasy novel about a young scholar’s attempt to free himself from a ghost. There’s a lush world to get lost in here, of history and story, without any bloated POV immediacy or tedious door opening. It reminded me of the best bits of Jan Potocki’s Saragossa Manuscript. Read it.
4. Snitch World – Jim Nisbet. A small time crook collides with amoral dot-com venture capitalists in modern day San Francisco. What plot there is focuses largely on a top secret under development phone app, but the real entertainment is in Nisbet’s prose and vivid depiction of San Francisco. An enjoyable book, both funny and sad in a “Those days are gone, but the people live on” kind of way. Folks who have lived in San Francisco may also get an extra kick out of it.
5. God Save the Mark – Donald E. Westlake. A comedy of errors dressed up as a noir novel and populated with hard-nosed cops, femme fatales, and con artists, all of whom are out to get the most gullible man in Greenwich Village. An entertaining book.
6. An Artist of the Floating World – Kazou Ishiguro. A short, bitter-sweet novel about an elderly Japanese man coming to terms with life in post-war Japan. The narrator shies away from the crux of his problem, and the reader is left to surmise via oblique plotting what it is he did in his past that he’s so ashamed of now. It never quite matches The Remains of the Day, but the moments when it is good are very good indeed.
7. Nobody Move – Denis Johnson. A bit of a whirlwind ride as lowlives and petty crooks maneuver and manipulate each other for revenge, kicks, and greed. Johnson tips his hat to the masters, and noir and thriller fans will find enough here to keep them satisfied. It reminded me a lot of Jim Thompson’s The Getaway.
8. The Status Civilization – Robert Sheckley. It’s 1950s SF in the hip mode (think Bester and Pohl) with one of those What-If planetary monoculture set-ups. What if a world was populated by mental patients? What if a world was populated by Medieval re-enactors? In this case it’s What if there was a prison world where evil was considered good? It’s dopey, not completely Bizarro World, but certainly not The Dispossessed either – and every now and then the satire’s quite nicely sharp and pointed.
9. American Gods – Neil Gaiman. Overwritten and much of the first half is a drive-to-the-plot plot, that morphs a bit late into the picaresque, which sadly stops just as it hits it stride and becomes a sit-and-wait-for-the-plot-to-happen plot. It’s also written in that let-me-describe-everything-to-you style that makes good 60,000 word novels into shitty 120,000 word novels. Would I have liked this book more if I hadn’t already have read tons of Chesterton, Leiber, Barker, etc. couldn’t see the lineages of the book’s ideas? But would I have read Chesterton if I hadn’t read Sandman as a weird comic-reading teen nerd? That’s the question.
Henry Kuttner’s Fury is one of those golden age SF books full of egomaniacal supermen and the form-fitting ballgown-wearing bombshells who love them. It’s overwrought and dopey, but also wonderful and deliriously entertaining.
Here’s your sentence of world building:
“The Earth is long dead, blasted apart, and the human survivors who settled on Venus live in huge citadels beneath the Venusian seas in an atrophying, class-ridden society ruled by the Immortals – genetic mutations who live a thousand years or more.”
Sam Reed’s an immortal too but he’s raised as a short-termer because his father’s insane and disowned him. So Sam lives on the wrong side of the tracks and gets involved with various criminals such as the Slider and the Sheffield Gang. Oh yeah, everyone has names like they might have worked at a 1950s Madison Avenue ad agencies, despite it being the 27th century. Sam finds himself at odds with the immortal Harker family (which he’s a member of but doesn’t know it) and the stage gets set for a confrontation. There’s a lot of yelling at each other over skype televisor and weird drugs get tossed around. Sam winds up losing the first round and put on ice for forty years. When he wakes up he’s pissed, but also surprised to realize he’s an immortal too.
A new battle of wits ensues played out with propaganda and the manipulation of the mentally unstable. Sorry, cuz. Sam swindles his way to temporary victory, and soon he’s backing terrorism and manipulating the masses with fear and false promises in order to achieve his ends. But all of it’s too much and the remaining immortals hatch a plan to breed an infiltrator assassin to take Sam down in a couple of decades. There’s more yelling. Sam gets needle-pistoled by his secretary and right when it looks bad, Mr. Ages shows up and says, “Well Sam, you’re a great Machiavellian dictator and humanity needs people like you from time to time to keep itself from stagnation. But you’re too unstable and prone to violence. So, I’m just going to keep you on ice until the species needs you again.” THE END.
Then there’s the epilogue where Sam wakes up again, and the book stops right there mid-sentence.
It’s a dizzy ride, full of fun stuff that you could probably make a great RPG setting out of: a hostile environment full of monsters, strange drugs and devices, mercenaries and criminals, bomb-shelter Keeps, immortals, and ruined settlements. It’s a quick read, by turns jaw-droppingly good and jaw-droppingly dopey like a soap opera. You can probably find it (either as Fury or by its alternate title Destination: Infinity!) for a buck or two in a cardboard box at your local nerd-emporium.
It’d certainly be better-spent money than the admission price to any half-dozen recent sci-fi movies.
It’s been almost a year and a half since the Vaults of Ur game began and it’s now looking like it’s winding down. The core players mostly want a break to play other games, not to mention the one player who’s been emotionally traumatized by what the ruins did to his character. I kid. I kid. But only sorta.
It was a fun year and change, and a good time getting back into the groove of running a game. I still don’t know what I’m doing and could certainly do it better, but some moments were pretty wonderful. Thanks Dennis, Dean, Jeremy, and Alexei, plus all the other folks who joined in. The Vaults remain.
Last Dragon – J.M. McDermott
A strange bit of epic fantasy that’s ambitious in style but lacks a certain cohesion, so there are parts I enjoyed but other parts that didn’t quite click together. That said, it was certainly refreshing to read secondary world epic fantasy that wasn’t simply one damn thing after another for six hundred plus pages. This reminded me a bit of Peter Beagle’s Innkeeper’s Song. That didn’t in any way attempt to be epic. This did and suffered for it, but still was a curious and enjoyable read.
War Fever – J.G. Ballard
A much more varied and better collection (IMO) than Vermillion Sands, Ballard’s work in the 1980s had all the joy of a buzzard tearing into the rotting guts of wildebeest. My favorite story would definitely be “A Secret History of World War 3”, but there are plenty of others to enjoy.
The Best of All Possible Worlds – Karen Lord
An advanced interstellar civilization must survive and adapt on one of their colony/client planet’s after a disaster destroys their home world. Classic Space Opera that reads like a season of Star Trek where Ursula K. LeGuin served as head writer. I enjoyed it.
The Werewolf of Paris – Guy Endore
A mélange of scandal and horror (S&M, rape, incest, cannibalism, etc.) mixed with the scolding tone of propriety, set amid some bastardized Victor Hugo meets the Marquis De Sade French backdrop.