The Top Five Books I Read in 2017

Friday, January 12th, 2018 | Posted by Brandon Crilly

Ghost-Talkers-Mary-Robinette-Kowal-smaller Red Country Joe Abercrombie-small Revenger-Alastair-Reynolds-smaller

Another year has passed, dear readers, which means that I’m mandated to assess the books I read in 2017 and declare my favorites. Of course, this mandate is self-imposed, and the difficulty of figuring out which books to pick this year is also self-inflicted. I’ve learned how to put down a book after 50 pages if I don’t enjoy it and move on, which means that the books I finished this year are all ones that I enjoyed on some level. I know, woe is me. But cut me some slack, because instead of a cop-out top ten list like last time, this year I forced myself to cut down my selections and present you with a Top Five. Note that these aren’t necessarily all books released in 2017; I just happened to read them in the last year.

Last year, I made an offhand comment that if I was forced under pain of death to absolutely pick a #1 title for 2016, I’d have chosen An Inheritance of Ashes by Leah Bobet. I’ve decided that for each of these annual posts (presuming I’m still around here in a year’s time) I’m going to nominate one book as my top pick for the year, and then list the rest in alphabetical order. Any ranking beyond #1 is going to be arbitrary anyway, since each of these novels is amazing in different ways.

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Birthday Reviews: Jack London’s “A Thousand Deaths”

Friday, January 12th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Black Cat, May 1899

Black Cat, May 1899

Jack London was born on January 12, 1876 and died on November 22, 1916. Best known as an adventure author for his novels The Call of the Wild, White Fang, and The Sea Wolf, he also wrote novels which would be considered proto-science fiction, perhaps most notably Before Adam. Active in socialist causes, many of his works supported the rights of workers, including his dystopian novel The Iron Heel, which has appeared as a preliminary nominee on the Prometheus Hall of Fame ballot twice.

“A Thousand Deaths” was purchased by Herman Umbstaetter and published in the May 1899 issue of Black Cat. The magazine reprinted the story in 1917 and it has been published in several science fiction collections over the years, including a reprint in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1967 when Ed Ferman was the editor. It has been reprinted in various London collections and science fiction anthologies over the years.

“A Thousand Deaths” is the story of a man who has been disowned by his wealthy parents and forced to make his own way in the world. He has found a niche for himself as a merchant marine, but when the story opens, he is drowning in San Francisco Bay, having decided rather precipitously to leave the ship he had been working on. He passes out in the water and when he awakens, he finds himself revived on a pleasure yacht which happens to belong to his father, who does not recognize him.

His father is interested in finding a way to stave off death and has, in fact, brought the narrator back to life. Without revealing his identity to his father, the two agree that the narrator will allow his father to kill him in various ways and bring him back to life to test his various hypotheses. The father is depicted as a monster, reminiscent of Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo or H.G. Wells’s Doctor Moreau. His two assistants, whose only notable characteristic is that they are black, unfortunately, allow the casual racism of the period in which the story was written to shine through.

The narrator eventually tires of the experimentation, especially when he realizes that his father is doing much more to him than his father has told him. He effects an escape after managing an unlikely scientific breakthrough that allows him to follow in his father’s monstrous footsteps.

The story was clearly written at a time when it was believed that science would eventually be able to solve all of life’s (and death’s) problems, and while it doesn’t have a Frankensteinian “There-were-things-man-was-not-meant-to-know” lesson to it, London definitely makes the implication that technological advances needed to be tempered by man’s humanity.

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The Last Jedi: The Creature of the Lagoon Trashes the Toxic Tropes (Porg is a Verb)

Thursday, January 11th, 2018 | Posted by M Harold Page

256 last Jedi Poster

“Don’t try to porg me!”

(Spoilers after the cut. But seriously, if that matters to you, look at the date! You should have seen the movie by now.)

I liked The Last Jedi.

We liked The Last Jedi: my wife, my 14yr old son, my 10 yr old daughter, and me, I liked it.

It wasn’t prose Military Science Fiction, so we didn’t hold it to the standards of a Tanya Huff or Jack Campbell novel. Nor was it Mundane SF, so those bombs didn’t bother us. Rather, we sat down and enjoyed it the way we also enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy.

Last Jedi Bleep This

“BLEEP this! BLEEP this also! And this in particular. BLEEP this guy…!”

It was less EC Tubb than the last instalment, and more (according to my son) like an RPG campaign that kept changing GMs and (so I reckoned) flipflopping between Traveller and FATE.  My daughter loved seeing girls having adventures (though, being 10, she rather takes this for granted), liked the light saber fights, and also the porgs. (“Porg” is now a verb in our house, as in, “Don’t try to porg me into giving you more chocolate ice cream.”)

I’ll admit I also enjoyed the very thing that seems to have upset so many knee-jerk critics: it went through the tropes the way the Creature of the Lagoon goes through scenery and people in that hilarious NSFW mashup on YouTube:

BLEEP this! BLEEP this also! And this in particular. BLEEP this guy…!

Mysterious But Significant Parentage went up in a puff of wasted fan theories. As did Dark Lord, Wise Mentor, Heroic Sacrifice Saves the Day, Ancient Wisdom, Epic Redemption.  (“BLEEP this guy, BLEEP those books, BLEEP in particular this tree…“)

The movie even trashed some of the things fans mock about Star Wars. The Jedi really aren’t the good guys. Darth Emo really is a boy in a stupid mask.

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Birthday Reviews: Jerome Bixby’s “The Holes Around Mars”

Thursday, January 11th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Galaxy January 1954-small Galaxy January 1954-back-small

Cover by Mel Hunter

Jerome Bixby was born on January 11, 1923 and died on April 28, 1998. His story “It’s a Good Life” was adapted into an episode of The Twilight Zone and The Twilight Zone Movie. He wrote scripts for four episodes of Star Trek, including “Mirror, Mirror,” and co-wrote a story with Otto Klement which became the basis for the film Fantastic Voyage. He served as the editor of Planet Stories from mid 1950 through July 1951 and went on to serve as Horace L. Gold’s assistant at Galaxy.

When he first envisioned the story that became “The Holes Around Mars,” he was planning on what is now known as flash fiction ending with a joke. He discussed it with Gold, who convinced him to stretch it out and in the writing, he extended it again until it took its present form. It was first published in Galaxy in the January, 1954 issue, edited by Horace L. Gold. The story has been reprinted numerous times and translated into French, German, and Italian.

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Birthday Reviews: George Alec Effinger’s “Albert Schweitzer & the Treasures of Atlantis”

Wednesday, January 10th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Alternate Warriors-small Alternate Warriors-back-small

Cover by Barclay Shaw

Most days in 2018, I’ll be selecting an author whose birthday is celebrated on that date and reviewing a speculative fiction story written by that author.

George Alec Effinger was born on January 10, 1947 and died on April 27, 2002. He was married three times, the second time to artist Beverly Effinger and the third time to science fiction author Barbara Hambly. He was a John W. Campbell, Jr. finalist in the award’s inaugural year and the Southern Fandom Confederation presented him with the Phoenix Award in 1974. His story “Schrödinger’s Kitten” received the Hugo, Nebula, and Sturgeon Award in 1989. Effinger wrote the popular Budayeen series, comprised of several short stories and the novels When Gravity Fails, A Fire in the Sun, and The Exile Kiss. He also wrote pastiches of several types of pulp adventure stories featuring his character Maureen Birnbaum, Barbarian Swordsperson.

His short story “Albert Schweitzer and the Treasures of Atlantis” was written for Mike Resnick’s alternate history anthology Alternate Warriors, in which each story takes an unlikely historical figure and turns them into a fighter. The story has never been reprinted.

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The High House by James Stoddard

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

51nkGCbEv1LI need to find some new superlatives for the books I read. Too often I fall back on “terrific” or “awesome” or just plain “great.” Those are all stalwart words, but after I’ve described two or three books with them, it just seems lazy to describe the next two or three with the same exact words. I do it to make clear I liked a particular book and that I think it’s worth Black Gate readers’ attention, but it’s really lazy of me to just keep using the same superlatives again and again. That said, James Stoddard’s The High House (1998) is exceptional, superb, and top-notch.

The High House of Evenmere is

a truly beautiful pile of building, all masonry, oak, and deep golden brick, a unique blend of styles — Elizabethan and Jacobean fused with Baroque — an irregular jumble balancing the heavy spired tower and main living quarters on the western side with the long span flowing to the graceful L of the servants’ block to the east. Innumerable windows, parapets, and protrusions clustered like happy children, showing in their diversity the mark of countless renovations. Upon the balustrades and turrets stood carved lions, knights, gnomes, and pinecones; iron crows faced outward at the four corners. The Elizabethan entrance, the centerpiece of the manor, was framed by gargantuan gate piers and pavilions, combining Baroque outlines with Jacobean ornamentation.

The building “is the mechanism that propels the universe, (. . .) If the Towers’ clocks are not wound their portion of Creation will fall to Entropy.”

Lord Ashton Anderson is responsible for protecting the High House. The foremost enemy of the house is the Society of Anarchists, led in the field by the Bobby, a man dressed in the uniform of a police constable and with a face from which the features sometimes vanish, leaving him looking like a “faceless doll.”

The story, though, is not Lord Anderson’s, but his son Carter’s. When Carter is nearly killed and the Bobby steals the Master Keys, Lord Anderson sends his son away for safety. Carter doesn’t return for fourteen years, during which time his father vanished while on expedition in the land of the Tigers of Naleewuath.

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Birthday Reviews: Algis Budrys’s “Silent Brother”

Tuesday, January 9th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Astounding Science Fiction February 1956-small Astounding Science Fiction February 1956-back-small

Cover by Frank Kelly Freas

Algis Budrys was born on January 9, 1931. He died on June 9, 2008. In addition to his career as a writer, Budrys edited and published the magazine Tomorrow, first in print and later on-line. He was also active in promoting the Writers of the Future contest and wrote a long-running and very influential book review column in Galaxy Magazine entitled Benchmarks, many of which were collected into book form in 1986. He was a Guest of Honor at LoneStarCon 2, the 1997 Worldcon in San Antonio. Budrys was inducted into the First Fandom Hall of Fame in 2007 and received the Pilgrim Award for lifetime contribution to SF and fantasy scholarship from the Science Fiction Research Association the same year. In 2009, he received one of the inaugural Solstice Awards from the SFWA.

“Silent Brother” was first published under the pseudonym Paul Janvier in the February 1956 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, edited by John W. Campbell, Jr. and was reprinted five months later in the British edition of the magazine. When Judith Merril included it in SF: The Year’s Greatest Science-Fiction and Fantasy Second Annual Volume the next year, it was attributed to Budrys. Budrys included it in his collections Budrys’ Inferno, The Furious Future, and Entertainment. Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg included it in The Great SF Stories #18. The story has been translated into German and French.

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Birthday Reviews: Jack Womack’s “Audience”

Monday, January 8th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

The Horns of ElflandJack Womack was born on January 8, 1956. His novel Elvissey, the fifth book in his six-book Dryco series, received the Philip K. Dick Award in 1994, tying with John M. Ford’s Growing Up Weightless. Womack has also worked in New York as a publicist in the publishing industry.

“Audience” was written for the anthology The Horns of Elfland, edited by Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman, and Donald G. Keller. It was reprinted in Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling’s The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror: Eleventh Annual Edition the next year and again in 2001 by Mike Ashley in The Mammoth Book of Fantasy. The story was nominated for the World Fantasy Award.

“Audience” was originally written for an anthology about music and Womack took that idea and decided to explore the importance and ephemeral nature of sound. His character tries to seek out smaller museums when traveling, avoiding the large, well-known places like the Louvre in favor of out of the way places which offer unknown exhibits. One of these museums is the Hall of Lost Sounds, which contains small rooms which allow visitors to hear collected sounds which no longer can be heard in their natural place.

Just as Proust noted how smells can trigger memories, Womack uses sounds to do the same thing. His curator gives a tour of the museum, commenting on where in his own life each of the lost sounds come from. The story also points out that sounds can change over time. A person’s voice as a teenager sounds different from their voice as an adult, and without recordings, completely vanishes. Even with recordings, the way a person hears their own voice can never be recaptured.

“Audience” is less a story and more a slice of life rumination which teaches the reader to examine their senses and memories in new ways.

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Birthday Reviews: Hayford Peirce’s “Mail Supremacy”

Sunday, January 7th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

 Cover by Jack Gaughan

Cover by Jack Gaughan

Most days in 2018, I’ll be selecting an author whose birthday is celebrated on that date and reviewing a speculative fiction story written by that author.

Hayford Peirce was born on January 7, 1942. He began publishing short fiction in 1974 with the story “Unlimited Warfare.” He published his first novel, Napoleon Disentimed in 1987. “Mail Supremacy” was first published in Analog in March, 1975 and grew out of a joke letter that Peirce sent to editor Ben Bova, who encouraged him to develop the letter into a story.

The oddly named protagonist is an anagram for Peirce’s own name. The story has been reprinted in Lester del Rey’s Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year: Fifth Annual Collection, 100 Great Science Fiction Short Short Stories, edited by Joseph Olander, Martin H. Greenberg, and Isaac Asimov, Analog’s Lighter Side, edited by Stanley Schmidt, Imperial Stars 1: The Stars at War, edited by Jerry Pournelle and John F. Carr, 100 Astounding Little Alien Stories, edited by Robert Weinberg, Stefan Dziemianowic, and Martin H. Greenberg. In 2001, Peirce collected the story, along with five other stories featuring Chap Foey Rider into the collection Chap Foey Rider: Capitalist to the Stars, published by Wildside Press. In 1979, the story was translated into Dutch and Italian.

Hayford Peirce’s “Mail Supremacy” is a short, light-hearted story in which Chap Foey Rider begins to wonder about the mail system and how it works. Rider, who runs an import company in New York, laments the loss of multiple deliveries a day and further notes that it seems that something mailed from a shorter distance takes longer to reach its destination than something mailed from a longer distance. He is more likely to receive a letter from his office in Los Angeles first than a letter mailed from nearby Boston.

He begins to test this by having his office managers mail letters and tracking their time in transit. Once he is sure that letters mailed far distances are being delivered quickly, he takes it to the illogical extreme and tries to mail letters to Alpha Centauri. “Mail Supremacy” doesn’t take itself seriously at all and in some ways is a satire on the idea of a Galactic Federation, even as it served Peirce as a starting point for his own series of stories about a Galactic Federation.

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Reading 2000AD’s The ABC Warriors for the First Time

Saturday, January 6th, 2018 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

The ABC Warriors-1-small

I’ve been reading 2000AD for a bit now, and listening to the 2000AD podcast by the Molcher-Droid, so I’ve heard a lot about The ABC Warriors, but didn’t know anything about them. In fact, from the name alone, my first thought was that canned pasta Alphaghettis that my mother used to have in the pantry for when she was working and we had to make our own lunch. Little could I have guessed that ABC stands for the Atomic, Biological and Chemical parts of warfare, and the robots who fight in those kinds of wars.

As one of the comics bloggers for Black Gate, I recently got my hands on an advanced pdf of the fourth volume of The ABC Warriors. For clarity and disclosure, the publisher 2000AD is owned by the same horse-riding video game designers who own Solaris Books (my publisher), but I don’t get any bonuses or consideration if I review their comics. I just like comic books (as you can tell from my post history). So, I wouldn’t have reviewed this if I didn’t actually like it.

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