Birthday Reviews: Peter H. Cannon’s “Cats, Rats, and Bertie Wooster”

Friday, October 19th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Gahan Wilson

Cover by Gahan Wilson

Peter H. Cannon was born on October 19, 1951.

Cannon’s non-fiction book H.P. Lovecraft was nominated for the 1990 Bram Stoker Award. Cannon also works as an editor for Publisher’s Weekly, handling mystery and thriller reviews. Many of Cannon’s stories are strongly based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Arthur Conan Doyle, Frank Belknap Long, and P.G. Wodehouse.

Peter H. Cannon originally published “Scream for Jeeves; Or, Cats, Rats, and Bertie Wooster” as by H.P.G. Wodecraft in the Roodmas 1990 issue of Crypt for Cthulhu, #72, edited by Robert M. Price. The story was reprinted the next month in Dagon #27 and in 1994, Cannon published it as “Cats, Rats, and Bertie Wooster” using his own name, P.H. Cannon, in his collection Scream for Jeeves: A Parody. The story also appeared in 1996 in Cannon’s The Lovecraft Papers and in 1999 in his collection Forever Azathoth and Other Horrors. In 2009, it was translated into French for inclusion in Patrick Marcel’s collection of essays Les nombreuses vies de Cthulhu which included Cannon’s story as well as a story by Kim Newman.

“Cats, Rats, and Bertie Wooster” places P.G. Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster and his butler, Jeeves, in a Lovecraftian milieu, the Exham Priory in Anchester, Wales, where the character finds himself in the 1923 story “Rats in the Walls.” Invited to the Priory by his friend Captain Edward “Tubby” Norrys, Bertie makes the acquaintance of Pop de la Poer who shares his family history with Bertie, despite Bertie’s clear indifference. The presence of rats in the walls of the priory and the discovery of ancient cellars beneath it lead, as in Lovecraft’s original story, to a later expedition into the depths, an expedition which includes many learned men as well as Bertie because De la Poer and Norrys want Jeeves to participate.

While Wodehouse’s Wooster is an incurious prig, Cannon’s Wooster takes that a step further, not only being self-involved, but actively stupid. Jeeves, on the other hand, is not just a competent butler, but an erudite, well-read, intellectual. Because the story is told from Wooster’s point of view, Cannon can allow his indifference and idiocy obviate the need to provide any real explanation for what is happening. Wooster just isn’t up to the task of related the horror that is found in Lovecraft’s original tale. The result is a parody of Lovecraft that never quite works and a parody of Wodehouse which seems to miss the mark.

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Birthday Reviews: Robin D. Laws’s “Brainspace”

Sunday, October 14th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Amazing Stories, 1/05

Amazing Stories, 1/05

Robin D. Laws was born on October 14, 1964.

Laws is probably best known as a game designer, beginning with input on Over the Edge in 1992. He went on to help with the foundation of Daedalus Games and the publication of the Shadowfist collectible card game and the associated Feng Shui RPG. He subsequently wrote for a variety of games and created Hero Wars and The Dying Earth Roleplaying Game. His game Hillfolk won the 2014 Diana Jones Award.

Laws published “Brainspace” in the January 2005 issue of Amazing Stories, edited by Jeff Berkwits. The story had not been reprinted since its original appearance.

“Brainspace” is told over a period of seven months as Laws’s narrator realizes that he is living a completely lonely life in his apartment building, not making connections with any of his neighbors, and simply moving through his daily existence. When he decides to grab a burger at the local O’Dell’s fast food chain, he recognizes the guy in line with him as being from his apartment and they strike up a conversation, leading to a new friendship.

Over the months of the story, the narrator gains a group of friends, all of whom live in the building, and begins to recognize and chat with his other neighbors. He also becomes aware that against all odds, everyone in the building had begun eating at O’Dell’s, to the complete exclusion of any other fast food restaurants. An interest in the concept of lucid dreaming leads him to believe that O’Dell’s has someone managed to infiltrate advertising into the dreams of everyone who lives in the building.

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Birthday Reviews: Sandra McDonald’s “Fir Na Tine”

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

Cover by Matt Stewart

Cover by Matt Stewart

Sandra McDonald was born on October 12, 1966.

McDonald won the Lambda Award and the Rainbow Award for her collection Diana Comet and Other Improbable Stories. Her novel The Outback Stars was nominated for the Compton Crook/Stephen Tall Memorial Award and she has been nominated for the James Tiptree Jr. Memorial Award four times. She has won the Silver Moonbeam Award for her children’s mystery novel Mystery of the Tempest.

“Fir Na Tine” was originally published in the February 2005 issue of Realms of Fantasy, edited by Shawna McCarthy. The story was also selected by Paula Guran for inclusion in her Best New Paranormal Romance published in 2006.

As a young girl visiting Florida with her family, Lucy was kissed by a strange boy who sent heat through her entire body. As Lucy grows older and goes off to college, she finds that none of the boys she dates or kisses come close to the fire she remembered from that first kiss. Eventually, she finds Steven, who is everything she wanted, and they begin a passionate affair.

When she catches him cheating, he explains that he was doing so for her own good, so that the fire inside him wouldn’t destroy her, which in this case may actually have been true, but it doesn’t help the situation. Lucy and Steven work out an arrangement that they both feel they can live with, even if it doesn’t give either of them entirely what they want or need. Eventually, Steven goes off to become a fireman and Lucy forges her own life, again looking for someone who could literally enflame her.

Lucy’s hopes of reconciling with Steven are dashed when he drowns while trying to rescue someone. At his funeral, however, she learns that his fire captain is also a Fir Na Tine, a man of fire, although he is engaged to someone else. Even as Lucy begins to date normal men, she now tries to learn what she can about the Fir Na Tine, until an encounter with one who she is trying to help nearly kills her. Despite thinking she knows what she is doing, Lucy is clearly in danger. McDonald has withheld an important piece of information from both Lucy and the reader that explain what the Fir Na Tine are actually looking for, and what Lucy can’t give them, despite her desires.

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A Cherished Contributor, and Hard to be Friends With: Michael Moorcock on Thomas M. Disch

Wednesday, October 10th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

New Worlds August 1967 Camp Concentration-small New Worlds October 1967 Camp Concentration-small

Last month I wrote a brief feature on Thomas M. Disch and his 1968 dystopian SF novel Camp Concentration. Michael Moorcock, who serialized the novel in four issues of his magazine New Worlds (July -October, 1967), contacted me to share his own memories, and challenge my portrayal of Tom as “a tragic figure.”

Tom was a close friend. Sometimes hard to be friends with. He was given to depression and to taking offence over imagined insults. In spite of this, I and his other close friends loved him and I still wonder if I could have done more for him, as does Linda. She says that she loved being with us and never laughed so much as when we were together, so I don’t see him as a tragic figure. After Charlie died he became lonely and bitter on occasions but several substantial friends did all they could for him.

I serialised Camp Concentration in New Worlds and was flattered when he said he would not have aspired to make it as good as it was if he hadn’t known it was appearing there. He brought each episode in every month and I was increasingly grateful to have such a fine novel to run in the first of our large size issues. With Ballard, he was my most valued contributor. Camp Concentration was illustrated by our mutual friend, the fine artist Pamela Zoline. He brought John Clute and John Sladek into our circle and the 60s and 70s were wonderful thanks in considerable part to our mutual friendships. Politically, we rarely agreed, but we had so much fun together. I miss him terribly.

“Charlie” was Disch’s partner of three decades, poet Charles Naylor, who died in 2005. I asked Michael for permission to reprint his comments here, and he graciously granted it, and shared some additional memories of Disch.

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Birthday Reviews: Robert J. Howe’s “The Little American Man: A True Pelvic Story”

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

Cover photo by Beth Gwinn

Cover photo by Beth Gwinn

Robert J. Howe was born on October 10, 1957.

Howe’s fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, including Black Gate 14 (with “The Natural History of Calamity”). He co-edited the anthology Coney Island Wonder Stories with John Ordover. Howe served as Secretary of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of American from 2010-2012. He is married to SF editor Eleanor Lang.

“The Little American Man: A True Pelvic Story” is a surreal tale set in Latin America. Pilar is a prostitute who notes that she likes the American client she has recently had who pays, doesn’t try to romance her, and doesn’t take up too much of time. A pregnancy scare forces her to visit her physician, Doctor Escobar, and his examination reveals that while not pregnant, a tiny version of the American man is living inside her. Although Escobar offers to remove the squatter, Pilar refuses.

Over the next several weeks, Pilar changes her business model from turning tricks to allowing people to view the little American man inside her. As time progresses, the man begins decorating his surroundings and adding furnishings, although neither Pilar nor Howe seem particularly curious about the method he has for obtaining his décor. Although Pilar does ask him about his plans and his name, he refuses to answer any of her questions and she allows them to pass.

In the course of the story, Doctor Escobar give his diagnoses of the little American man’s presence as “uterocolonialism,” which seems a reasonable interpretation of his actions, even if his presence seems benign. However, no matter how little direct impact he seems to have on Pilar, his very presence appears to make changes to her as she is unable to conduct her traditional business and she realizes that she is aging more rapidly than she should. By the time Pilar asks Doctor Escobar to remove the little man, it is too late.

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Birthday Reviews: Frank Herbert’s “By the Book”

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

Cover by John Schoenherr

Cover by John Schoenherr

Frank Herbert was born on October 8, 1920 and died on February 11, 1986.

Herbert won the inaugural Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1966 for Dune, which also tied for the Hugo Award that same year. Dune would eventually also win the Seiun Award in 1974. Herbert’s novel Hellstrom’s Hive won the Prix Apollo in 1978. In 2006, Herbert was a posthumous inductee into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.

Herbert’s masterpiece, Dune, spawned five sequels written by Herbert and several additional novels written by his son, Brian Herbert, and Kevin J. Anderson. Dune has been filmed twice, once for theatrical release while Herbert was still alive and later as a miniseries.

Originally published by John W. Campbell, Jr. in the October 1966 issue of Analog Science Fiction Science Fact, “By the Book” was reprinted in 1971 in The Worlds of Frank Herbert and again in The Best of Frank Herbert. It was also included in the Herbert collections Eye and The Collected Stories of Frank Herbert. The story was translated into Croatian in 1978 for inclusion in the Yugoslavian magazine Sirius and into French in 1987 for the Hebert collection Champ Mental.

Despite being well past the age when he should be retired, Ivar Norris Gump has been summoned to the moon by his friend Poss Washington to help troubleshoot a problem. The story follows Ing, as Gump is known, as he tries to figure out what has gone wrong with the tubes and beams which propel interstellar travel. Ing and Washington are in constant communication, with Washington trying to balance the need to diagnose and fix the problem with the corporate bottom line.

Ing knows he was one of the best troubleshooters the company has and he has trained most of the troubleshooters who came after him. His mantra is to follow the rules laid out in the company manual and do everything “by the book.” Ing needs to work fast because the first colony ship is approaching its target planet and the beam is designed to provide the infrastructure needed to ensure the colony is successful. Ing demonstrates that working within the confines of the book does not necessarily mean thinking linearly or traditionally and as he tackles the issues he faces, he comes up with not only potential solutions but also a manner of interpreting the rules to allow him to try them out.

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Quatro-Decadal Review, November 1979: A Brief Look Back

Sunday, October 7th, 2018 | Posted by Adrian Simmons

Star Trek Let That Be Your Last Battlefield-small

When you seven years old, you do not see what is coming next between these two

I’m about to get into the November 1979 science fiction magazines. Dive Deep. But, there is a fundamental difference between November 1969, and November 1979 — I was born in 1969, but by 1979 I was 10 years old. I remember 1979. Or pieces of it anyway.

Before I got into the magazines I thought I’d see what I could recall from my younger years. In short — Star Wars is what I remember.

It loomed large over almost everything in my life at the time. I think I went to see it like… 7 times? And back then, back in 1977, that took work, dude.

I remember disco, I remember “Disco Duck.” I had, by 1979, watched the entire run of Star Trek (and I have to say, when you are 8-10 years old, each Star Trek episode was almost as good as Star Wars).

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Birthday Reviews: David Brin’s “Just a Hint”

Saturday, October 6th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by George Angelini

Cover by George Angelini

David Brin was born on October 6, 1950.

Brin won the Hugo Award and Nebula Award in 1984 for his novel Startide Rising. He subsequently won Hugo Awards in 1985 for his short story “The Crystal Spheres” and in 1988 for his novel The Uplift War. His novel The Postman won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award in 1986 and was turned into a film starring Kevin Costner. He won a coveted Balrog Award for The Practice Effect and the Hal Clement Award for Sky Horizon: Colony High, Book One. Infinity’s Shore received an Italia Award. He has won the Seiun Award for translations of The Uplift War and Heaven’s Reach. In 1998, LASFS recognized him with a Forry Award. Brin was an Author Guest of Honor at Nippon 2007, the 65th Worldcon in Yokohama, Japan.

“Just a Hint” was Brin’s first published short story, appearing shortly after his debut novel, Sundiver. “Just a Hint” initially appeared in the April 27, 1981 issue of Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, edited by Stanley Schmidt. The next year it was translated into German to appear in Analog 5, a collection of stories previously published in the American edition of Analog. Brin included it in his first collection Rivers of Time, originally published by Dark Harvest in 1986. It was translated into German a second time in 1989 to appear in the anthology An der Grenze, edited by Wolfgang Jeschke. In 2010 James L. Sutter included the story in Before They Were Giants: First Works from Science Fiction Greats.

Brin tells the story of two races, the human race and a race he calls sophonts. There is little action in the story, which is mostly talking between characters on the separate planets. On Earth, Liz Browning is a graduate assistant to Sam Federman. Sam is searching for intelligent life in the universe, but his real specialty is finding and maintain funding for his project while all around him money is drying up. On a distant planet, Fetham is decrying his loss of funding to bureaucrat Gathu. As with Federman, Fetham is also trying to reach alien races.

Each society has its own problems. Federman lives in a world in which the weather report is accompanied by statistics of the chance that the world will end in a nuclear conflagration before the year is out. Knowing that pollution was solved once the obvious steps were figured out, Federman hopes that an alien race might be able to share knowledge of what those steps would be for war.

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Birthday Reviews: Zoran Živković’s “The Whisper”

Friday, October 5th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Dominic Harman

Cover by Dominic Harman

Zoran Živković was born on October 5, 1948.

Živković is a Serbian author whose works have been translated into English. His story “The Library” won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novella in 2003 and his 2008 novella Twelve Collections & the Teashop was a nominee for the Shirley Jackson Award. In addition to his own writing, Živković has translated science fiction from English into Serbian, published the Polaris imprint, and has won the Miloš Crnjanski Award, the Isidora Sekulić Award, the Stefan Mitrov Ljubiša Award, the Art-Anima Award, the Stanislaw Lem Award, and the Golden Dragon Award.

Živković’s story “The Whisper” first appeared in English in issue #170 of Interzone, edited by David Pringle and published in August 2001, followed by the subsequent stories in the same sequence over the following six months. The story as included in Živković’s 2006 collection Impossible Stories as well as his fix-up novel in the same year, Seven Touches of Music, which had been published in Serbian in 2001 as Sedam dodira muzike.

“The Whisper” is a short story that opens Zoran Živković’s fix-up novel Seven Touches of Music. It is set in Dr. Martin’s classroom for children on the autistic spectrum, where Martin tries to find ways to engage his students. Martin feels like he is fighting a losing battle since the students are all non-communicative to various extents. One of the ways Martin tries to teach the students is by having them draw, but their responses range from drawings which they destroy before he can see them to intricate patterns to random scribbles.

When Martin introduces music to the drawing sessions, it seems to influence one of the boys in the class. Martin begins to experiment with types of music to see if other music will repeat the influence or cause other outcomes. His experiments are inconclusive, but lead him to think he may be on the right track if he can just figure out how and why the music is having the impact he sees.

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Birthday Reviews: Gary Couzens’s “Half-Life”

Thursday, October 4th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Cathleen Thole

Cover by Cathleen Thole

Gary Couzens was born on October 4, 1964.

His fiction has been collected into two volumes and he has edited four anthologies, one of which, Extended Play: The Elastic Book of Music won the 2007 British Fantasy Award. He co-edited Deep Ten with Sara Jayne Townsend and co-edited Mind Seed with David Gullen. In 2017, five of his editorials for the magazine Black Static were also nominated for the British Fantasy Award. He has collaborated with D.F. Lewis, Miriam Robertson, and Martin Owton on various short stories.

“Half-Life” was first published in the August 1996 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, edited by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Couzens included the story in his first collection of short stories, Second Contact and Other Stories, in 2003.

Gary Couzens made the decision to write “Half-Life” in the second person, which is not a common choice, but in this case manages to given an immediacy to the story that would otherwise have been lacking. His unnamed protagonist (“you”) has died and his spirit is hanging around the house, spying on his wife as she moves through the days following his death, and witnessing his daughter and son come home for the funeral.

While the second person POV pulls the reader into the story, the fact of death separates the reader from the action. The death causes a dissociative sense regarding what is happening as “you” learn how you were viewed by your daughter, who couldn’t reveal that she was a lesbian to you, although she told your wife five years earlier and has brought her lover for the funeral. You also realize that you won’t see the child your son and his wife are pregnant with.

You and the reader are both left up in the air as to any purpose you have for sticking around in your old house, but it is clear that you are locked to the location, with your strongest presence in the hallway where you died. When your wife leaves the house, you realize that you aren’t tied to her and will continue to exist in your half-state for an indeterminate period of time, but will eventually disappear.

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