Birthday Reviews: Ted Chiang’s “The Evolution of Human Science”

Saturday, October 20th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Gregory Manchess

Cover by Gregory Manchess

Ted Chiang was born on October 20, 1967.

Chiang has won the Hugo Award four times, for his novelettes “Hell Is the Absence of God” and “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate,” for his short story “Exhalation,” and for his novella The Lifecycle of Software Objects. Both of those novelettes also won the Nebula as did his novelette “Tower of Babylon” and his novella “Story of Your Life,” which was turned into the Hugo and Bradbury Award-winning film Arrival. “Exhalation” also won the British SF Association Award and the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire. “Story of Your Life” earned the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. He won the Sidewise Award for Alternate History for “Seventy-Two Letters.” Chiang has won the Hayakawa Award for “Understand,” “Story of Your Life,” and “Seventy-Two Letters.” The Lifecycle of Software Objects won the Italia Award. “Hell Is the Absence of God won the Kurd Lasswitz Preis. Translations of his stories “Story of Your Life,” “Hell Is the Absence of God,” “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate,” and The Lifecycle of Software Objects won the Seiun Award. In 1992, Chiang won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

“Catching Crumbs from the Table” originally appeared in the June 1, 2000 issue of Nature. When Chiang included it in his 2002 collection Stories of Your Life and Others (later reprinted as Arrival), he changed the title of the story to “The Evolution of Human Science.” The story was translated into French for the collection La Tour de Babylone and into German by Karin Will and Michael Plogmann for the ecolltion Das wahre Wesen der Dinge. It was translated into German again in 2017 for inclusion in the March issue of Spektrum der Wissenschaft.

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Birthday Reviews: Bruce McAllister’s “World of the Wars”

Wednesday, October 17th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Carl Berkowitz

Cover by Carl Berkowitz

Bruce McAllister was born on October 17, 1946.

McAllister’s s novelette “Dream Baby” was nominated for the Nebula and Hugo Award in 1988. He was nominated for a second Hugo Award in 2007 for his short story “Kin.” His novelette “The Bleeding Child” (a.k.a. “The Crying Child” earned him a nomination for the Shirley Jackson Award in 2013. He edited the anthology There Won’t Be War with Harry Harrison. He has collaborated on fiction with Barry N. Malzberg, Andreas Neumann, Patrick Smith, and W.S. Adams.

“World of the Wars” was originally published in Mars, We Love You: Tales of Mars, Men, and Martians, edited by Jane Hipolito and Willis E. McNelly in 1971. The book has also been published as The Book of Mars. The only other time the story has been reprinted was in McAllister’s 2007 collection The Girl Who Loved Animals and Other Stories.

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Stuffed Fables: If Toy Story Were a Role-Playing Board Game

Tuesday, October 16th, 2018 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

StuffedFablesDemoYou are a stuffed animal, who has watched over and cared for your child for many years. Tonight is a big night, though, as the parents have bought your child a big girl bed. As the lights go out, your child goes to sleep for the first night without the protection of her crib. Little did you know that this was the night you were preparing for … when dark forces of nightmare would reach out for your child, trying to destroy the hope and joy that you cherish within her.

This is the premise of the board game Stuffed Fables, by Plaid Hat Games. Plaid Hat has created a number of exceptional games, including Summoner War and the zombie survival Dead of Winter franchise. Stuffed Fables is designed by Jerry Hawthorne, who is also responsible for Plaid Hat’s Mice and Mystics franchise games, including the spin-off battle game Tail Feathers. Each of the games is great to play and worth an in-depth review of its own, but for now, let’s get focus back on Stuffed Fables.

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The Claw of the Conciliator by Gene Wolfe

Tuesday, October 16th, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_164159RYRk8xECHaving set out to discuss The Claw of the Concilator (1981), the second entry in Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun, I’m completely unsure of what to write. Oh, I can tell you what happened, even how some things happened, but I’m not sure I can tell you why a lot of things happened. It’s probably due to a lack of context as two books remain in the series, but I’m not totally sure about that. Much of the story is conveyed via weird encounters, dreams, memories, fables, and even the text of a play. It’s challenging to piece the parts together to form a linear narrative, let alone anticipate the tale’s direction, which remains nearly as mysterious at the conclusion as at the start.

At the end of the previous book, The Shadow of the Torturer, Severian and his companions were caught in a violent outburst among the crowd of people at the great gate exiting the city Nessus. Severian is now accompanied by Jonas, a man with “a jointed contrivance of steel” for a right hand. The others he traveled with, Dr. Talos, Baldanders, Jolenta, and Dorcas, were lost to him in the chaos. While intent on reaching Thrax to take up his assignment as the town’s executioner, Severian and Jonas still hope to find the others. Severian makes his way serving as itinerant headsman and torturer in several towns along the road. It is in the mining town of Saltus (its mine is the buried ruins of an ancient city) that we find Severian and Jonas as Claw opens.

After he carries out a pair of executions, Severian is lured into danger by Agia. Previously she had colluded in setting him up to be killed and robbed, resulting in her own brother’s execution. She had also stolen the powerful artifact, the Claw of the Conciliator, and hidden it on Severian. Having discovered it, he has begun to realize it can emit a powerful light, heal wounds, and even raise the dead. With it, he is able to survive and overcome the trap set for him.

Unfortunately it can’t keep him from falling into the hands of the rebel leader, Vodalus. This encounter leads to Severian and Jonas signing on with the rebels and being sent to the House Absolute, the secret palace of the Autarch. There he must deliver a message to another agent of the uprising. They will also find their friends there who have been hired to put on a play. Along the way things get extra weird.

By book’s end, Severian has still not reached Thrax. He has, though, explored the House Absolute, one of the coolest works of fantastical architecture. It is covered with lawns and gardens to keep it from be spied from the sky. Miles and miles of tunnels lie below it, some, perhaps, even reaching all the way back to Nessus. Even more mysterious than the secret passages and rooms that seem de rigueur for any self-respecting palace, is the Second House. Instead of just adding more hidden chambers, the Autarch’s mysterious aide, Father Inrie, added an entire new house within the very structure of the House Absolute.

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Birthday Reviews: Lawrence Schimel’s “Taking Action”

Tuesday, October 16th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Barclay Shaw

Cover by Barclay Shaw

Lawrence Schimel was born on October 16, 1971.

Schimel won the Rhysling Award for Long Poem in 2002 for “How to Make a Human.” In 2007, he shared the Gaylactic Spectrum Award for Other Work with Richard Labonte for their anthologies The Future Is Queer. Schimel has also been nominated for the James Tiptree Jr. Award and the Lambda Award. In addition to his collaboration with Labonte, he has edited multiple anthologies with Martin H. Greenberg and has collaborated on fiction with Mike Resnick, Billie Sue Mosiman, and Mark A. Garland. He has, on occasion, published using the pseudonym David Laurents.

Schimel published “Taking Action” in Mike Resnick’s anthology Alternate Warriors in 1993. The story has never been reprinted.

One of the issues with the anthology Alternate Warriors is that many of the individuals who became the focus of stories were known for their advocacy of non-violence. Someone who advocates peaceful means to achieve their goals must change so much to become a warrior that they are practically unrecognizable. Schimel manages to overcome that issue in “Taking Action” by offering a plausible reason for Martin Luther King, Jr. to use violence in his campaign for civil rights.

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Birthday Reviews: James H. Schmitz’s “The Vampirate”

Monday, October 15th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Frank R. Paul

Cover by Frank R. Paul

James H. Schmitz was born on October 15, 1911 and died on April 18, 1981.

Schmitz was nominated for the Hugo Award in 1962 for Best Short Fiction for his story “Lion Loose” and in 1967 for the novel The Witches of Karres. In 1966, he had four Nebula nominations for his short story “Balanced Ecology,” the Novelettes “Planet of Forgetting” and “Goblin Night,” and for the novella “Research Alpha,” co-written with A.E. van Vogt.

“Vampirate” was first published in Science-Fiction Plus in December 1953. It was the magazine’s final issue and the last science fiction magazine edited by Hugo Gernsback. When Eric Flint and Guy Gordon included it in their collection of Schmitz’s stories, Telzey Amberdon in 2000, they changed the story’s title to “Blood of Nalakia.”

Lane Rawlings is a slave who learned a secret about her master, the Nachief of Frome, and made the mistake of sharing that secret with two other slaves. The three of them find themselves on a ship with the Nachief heading for an unnamed planet, where he intends to kill all three of them. Before they can land, however, their ship comes under attack. While Lane and the Nachief survive, the other two slaves are killed. Lane escapes her master and manages to convince Frazer, the only person on the island where they landed, that the Nachief is a sort of vampire.

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Vintage Treasures: The Illusionists by Faren Miller

Saturday, October 13th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Illusionists Faren Miller-small The Illusionists Faren Miller-back-small

Faren Miller’s The Illusionists is a curious book. I snapped up a copy when it first appeared in 1991, chiefly because of the author. Faren Miller had been writing for Locus magazine for ten years by then (and she still is, with some 3,100 articles and reviews to her name in the ISFDB index), and she’d gradually become one of my favorite reviewers. Her writing was polished and assured, and always insightful and entertaining, and when ads for her debut novel The Illusionists began to appear from the fledgling Questar, the short-lived SF imprint of Warner Books, I was very intrigued.

The Illusionists came in 7th for the Locus Award for Best First Novel that year, but didn’t receive much other press that I could see, good or bad. The book vanished and has never been reprinted. Miller never wrote another novel, and this seemed to be the beginning and ending of her writing career. It currently has a lukewarm 3.0 rating at Goodreads, with only two reviews, one which enthusiastically proclaims “Just started this book with hopes that it would be a trashy Sci-Fantasy story, I am not disappointed!” and another that complains, “I did not care for this novel at all. The writing was poetic and descriptive, but the characters and plot failed to generate any sort of interest.”

But I still find the plot and setting of The Illusionists intriguing, even after all these years. I pulled out my copy this morning, and found the Prologue promising enough to grab my attention. The gorgeous cover by Gary Ruddell doesn’t hurt, either.  That’s my reading for the weekend sorted then.

The Illusionists was published by Questar Books in March 1991. It is 213 pages, priced at $4.95 in paperback.

See all of our recent Vintage Treasures here.


The Poison Apple: Talking About Ghosts — an Interview with the Queen of Many Genres, Heather Graham

Wednesday, October 10th, 2018 | Posted by Elizabeth Crowens

Heather Graham Pale-as-Death-small

Elizabeth: Heather, of all people you’ve not only explored many genres but often you’ve blended them together.

Heather: Recently at ThrillerFest, I encountered other authors who had a stigma against horror and its association with slasher themes. If it has ghosts or similar phenomena call it paranormal. I’m so glad now that genres do cross so much. Seriously, Conan the Barbarian — great romance. Look at the love between the two of them. Star Wars — its adventure but it’s a romance, too. My first sales were romance novels.

How many books have you written, and how long have you been writing?

I don’t know the exact number, but it’s been over two hundred. My first book was sold in 1982 and published in 1983.

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Seleno, the Electric Dog

Tuesday, October 9th, 2018 | Posted by Steve Carper

1916-03 Popular Science Monthly 16 John Hays Hammond electric dog

The 20th century is one long run of wonder elements. Radium dominated the early years, when the magic of X-rays – seeing through solid objects! – created a worldwide sensation. Uranium and atomic power followed after World War II and then it was silicon’s time as driver of the computer age.

Forgotten today is that selenium once stood as high as these three, especially in the years around World War I. Headlines called it the “Mystery Metal” and the “Magic Eye,” that it would “Revolutionize Aerial Warfare” and “Make Blind See” and maybe even be a “Cancer Cure.” Selenium had the property of transforming electromagnetic radiation – visible light, in this case – into electricity, almost as much a miracle as penetrating hands to see the bones underneath.

“Selenium is also used in the observation of the transit of Venus and eclipses of the sun, to light and extinguish buoys automatically, to guide, and explode torpedoes, for measuring X-rays, and in the glass industry,” explained a 1913 Harper’s Weekly article that was widely reprinted in newspapers.

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Under a Blood-Red Sun: The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

Tuesday, October 9th, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

Of those values that Master Malrubius (who had been master of apprentices when I was a boy) had tried to teach me, and that Master Palaemon still tried to impart, I accepted only one: loyalty to the guild. In that I was quite correct — it was, as I sensed, perfectly feasible for me to serve Vodalus and remain a torturer. It was in this fashion that I began the long journey by which I have backed into the throne.

oie_91580lF5ljN9QBased solely on Don Maitz’s now classic cover art, I grabbed Gene Wolfe’s The Shadow of the Torturer (1980) from the library shelf as soon as I laid eyes on it. I cracked it open and dropped it almost at once. It was too dense and too alien for my teenaged brain to appreciate. To this day, Gene Wolfe, considered one of the most accomplished scifi/fantasy writers (see “Sci-fi’s Difficult Genius” by Peter Bebergal), remains a serious blind spot for me, even if I do have a large selection of his most important works gathering dust on the shelf.

I did finally revisit Shadow some years ago, but while I liked it and the next book in the sequence, The Claw of the Conciliator, I didn’t go on to read the remaining three volumes, The Sword of the Lictor, The Citadel of the Autarch, and The Urth of the New Sun. Well, it finally seems like the right time to give the series another go.

Urth is a dull, rusted-out world orbiting a fading, red sun. Within the Matachin Tower, in the citadel of the great capital city of Nessus, the Order of the Seekers for Truth and Penitence, or the Torturers, service the clients sent them by the Autarch, absolute ruler of the Commonwealth. Once among their members was a young apprentice named Severian. From some future vantage point Severian has set out to narrate the great story that seems to end with him upon a throne, presumably the Autarch’s.

From William Hope Hodgson to Clark Ashton Smith to Jack Vance, worn-out Earth with fading-ember sun has been explored many times. For Hodgson it was a stage on which to tell a story of romantic heroism, for Smith, to spin tales of decadence and terror, and for Vance, cynically comic tales of adventure. With only the first book read, it’s not clear where Wolfe is going with this series. The myths and legends that are told by various characters throughout The Shadow of the Torturer are filled with angels and demons and premonitions of impending apocalypse. While there are elements similar to those in the works of the illustrious earlier sojourners to Earth’s dying days, Wolfe seems to be aiming for something deeper and more complex than his forebears.

Severian’s Urth is decrepit and weather-beaten. More knowledge seems to have been forgotten than is still remembered and the world staggers along, propped up more by tradition than by any real understanding or philosophy. While we learn man has traveled to the stars, that seems to be long in the past. The tower used by the Torturers, as well as those of several other guilds, are clearly long-immobilized rocket ships. The sand favored by many artists for their creations is atomized glass of long-vanished cities. What appears to Severian as a painting of a warrior in a barren land, to the reader it is obviously Neil Armstrong on the moon.

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