Birthday Reviews: Jonathan Lethem’s “Lostronaut”

Monday, February 19th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Bob Staake

Cover by Bob Staake

Jonathan Lethem was born on February 19, 1964. His debut novel was Gun, with Occasional Music, which followed several published short stories. Often skirting the line between genre and mainstream, most of his novels, including Amensia Moon, As She Climbed Across the Table, and The Fortress of Solitude contain science fictional elements or play of the popular culture that surrounds science fiction.

Lethem won the World Fantasy Award for his collection The Wall of the Sky, the Wall of the Eye. He has been nominated for the Nebula Award four times, the James Tiptree, Jr. Award three times, and the Shirley Jackson Award, Sidewise Award, and the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award one time, each. His novel Gun, with Occasional Music received the William L. Crawford Award and won the Locus Poll for best first novel.

“Lostronaut” was originally published in The New Yorker on November 17, 2008. Although it has not been reprinted in English, it was translated into Hungarian for publication in the anthology Kétszázadik, edited by Németh Attila in 2009.

“Lostronaut” is an epistolary story written from Janice, an astronaut orbiting on a space station known as “Northern Lights” to her lover, Chase, in Manhattan. The letters are filled with a mix of longing to be together again, gossip about the rest of the Russian-American crew of the station, and concerns that because the Chinese have mined the orbital region below the space station, they would have difficulty returning to Earth.

As the letters progress, their tone becomes more urgent and more depressed. The situation with the Chinese mines grows more dire, members of the crew become more despondent, and Janice’s own circumstances become urgent as she is diagnosed with cancer, which will need to be treated aboard the station unless a way through the minefield can be found.

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Birthday Reviews: Gahan Wilson’s “The Sea Was Wet as Wet Can Be”

Sunday, February 18th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

02-18-unknownGahan Wilson was born on February 18, 1930 and is best known as a cartoonist with a very identifiable style. For many years, his bust of H.P. Lovecraft was used as the trophy for the World Fantasy Award. His cartoons have appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction as well as more mainstream publications like Collier’s, The New Yorker, and Playboy.

Although most notable as an artist, Wilson has published several short stories and wrote a movie review column for The Twilight Zone Magazine and a book review column for Realms of Fantasy.

“The Sea Was Wet as Wet Can Be” is one of Wilson’s few short stories and was originally published in the May 1967 issue of Playboy Magazine and reprinted in The Playboy Book of Horror and the Supernatural. It has since been reprinted several times, including in Fantasy: The Literature of the Marvelous, edited by Leo P. Kelley, Gahan Wilson’s Favorite Tales of Horror, Blood Is Not Enough, edited by Ellen Datlow, who also reprinted it in Sci Fiction, Wilson’s collection The Cleft and Other Odd Tales and his Gahan Wilson: 50 Years of Playboy Cartoons, Otto Penzler’s The Vampire Archives, and the Vandermeers’ The Weird. It was also reprinted in the December 2015 issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. In 1986, the story was translated into French.

Just as Wilson’s cartoons demonstrate a dark sense of humor, “The Sea Was Wet as Wet Can Be” offers a similar outlook on life. Based on the poem “The Walrus and the Carpenter” from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, and containing a significant portion of Carroll’s text, Wilson recasts the oysters of the poem as a group of people picnicking on the strand.

One of their number, Phil, doesn’t quite feel at home with the rest, himself cast as the oldest oyster of the poem, and decides that he is going to change his life’s circumstances. Into this rather glum party, two interlopers come, and the characters in Wilson’s story compare them to the Walrus and the Carpenter of Carroll’s poem. Wilson never defines who, or what his Walrus and Carpenter are, although he provides them with names.

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Birthday Reviews: Andre Norton’s “The Gifts of Asti”

Saturday, February 17th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Laura Ruth Crozetti

Cover by Laura Ruth Crozetti

Andre Norton was born on February 17, 1912 and died on March 17, 2005. She began publishing with “People of the Crater,” using the pseudonym Andrew North (reprinted in 2003 in my anthology Magical Beginnings).

Over the years, she published numerous short stories and novels, including the various stories of the Witch World cycle. She also published the first Dungeons and Dragons tie-in novel, Quag Keep, set in Gary Gygax’s World of Greyhawk. In addition to her own novels, she collaborated with a variety of authors including Rosemary Edghill, Jean Rabe, Mercedes Lackey, Lyn McConchie, Susan Shwartz, Julian May, Marion Zimmer Bradley, P.M. Griffin, Sherwood Smith, Dorothy Madlee, Sasha Miller, and more.

From 1999 through early 2004, Norton organized the High Hallack Library, a research library and authors retreat in Tennessee. The library, along with her collaborations, were only a few of the ways Norton helped shape new generations of authors. Many authors claimed Norton as an influence on their own styles, even if they didn’t work directly with her. She edited the Catfantastic anthologies with Martin H. Greenberg and the Magic in Ithkar series with Robert Adams. Other anthology series allowed authors to write in her Witch World series.

Norton was named the first female SFWA Grand Master in 1984. She received the Phoenix Award in 1975, the Skylark Award in 1983, the Big Heart Award in 1988, and the Forry Award in 1989. In 1994, she was inducted into the First Fandom Hall of Fame and was the first woman inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 1997. In 1998, the World Fantasy Convention gave her a Lifetime Achievement Award (11 years earlier, they gave her a Special Convention Award). When SFWA created a Young Adult Award in 2005, it was named in honor of Norton. She received the only Coveted Balrog Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1979 and was named a Gandalf Grand Master of Fantasy in 1977.

“The Gifts of Asti” was originally published under Norton’s Andrew North pseudonym in the July 1948 issue of Fantasy Book, edited by Garret Ford. The next year, it was reprinted in Griffin Booklet One and was included by Sam Moskowitz in The Time Curve in 1968. Norton used it in The Many Worlds of Andre Norton (a.k.a.The Book of Andre Norton). It was the title story in Roger Elwood’s The Gifts of Asti and Other Stories of Science Fiction and editor Jane Mobley used it in the anthology Phantasmagoria: Tales of Fantasy and the Supernatural. Spastic Press opened Anthology of Sci-Fi: The Pulp Writers: Volume I with the story and it was also reprinted in Tales from High Halleck: The Collected Short Stories of Andre Norton, Volume I in 2014.

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Birthday Reviews: Iain M. Banks’s “A Gift from the Culture”

Friday, February 16th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Paul Rickwood

Cover by Paul Rickwood

Iain M. Banks was born on February 16, 1954 and died on June 9, 2013. At the time of his death, two months after he was diagnosed with cancer, he was the Author Guest of Honor for Loncon 3, the seated Worldcon. Banks wrote both within the genre and outside the genre, using his middle initial, “M.” do designate science fiction works.

His first three books, beginning with The Wasp Factory, were more mainstream, although two of them, The Bridge and The Wasp Factory, would go on to win the Kurd-Laßwitz-Preis. Banks has twice won the British SF Association Award for Best Novel for Feersum Endjinn and Excession. The latter also earned him an Italia Award and another Kurd-Laßwitz-Preis. His fourth Kurd-Laßwitz-Preis was for Use of Weapons, while Inversions earned him another Italia Award. Many of his works are set against the background of The Culture, an advanced society made up of several interbred species combined with sentient AIs.

“A Gift from the Culture” was originally published in the Summer 1987 issue of Interzone, number 20, edited by Simon Ounsley and David Pringle. Banks included it in his 1991 short story collection The State of the Art. It was later included in the anthology Cyber-Killers, edited by Ric Alexander, and David G. Hartwell included it in The Space Opera Renaissance. Most recently, it was reprinted in Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s massive anthology The Big Book of Science Fiction: The Ultimate Collection. The story has also been translated into German, French, and Italian.

In “A Gift from the Culture” Banks presents just enough information about what the Culture is so the reader is not at a complete loss, but the society as a whole remains something of a mystery within the confines of this short story. Wrobik is down on his luck and living in Vreccis Loew City, in debt to a couple of mobster types, Kaddus and Cruizell, who are willing to forgive him his debt if he’ll do one little thing for them. With no good choices before him, Wrobik agrees to take a gun, which is designed to only work for people who are biologically part of the Culture, and use the weapon to shoot down an incoming space craft.

One of the main deciding points for Wrobik is concern that Kaddus and Cruizell will harm Maust, Wrobik’s boyfriend. While Wrobik has a job to carry out, he doesn’t particularly want to do it and tries to figure out a way around it which will not put Maust into danger. While the story is a dramatic look at Wrobik’s choices, an understated humor is introduced by the monologue carried out by the gun, in which it continuously describes itself and how to use it to Wrobik, an audio instruction manual.

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Birthday Reviews: J.T. McIntosh’s “Hermit”

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by John Schoenherr

Cover by John Schoenherr

J.T. McIntosh was born James Murdoch MacGregor on February 14, 1925 and died some time in 2008 or late 2007. He used a variation of his primary pseudonym for most of his writing, occasionally spelling it MacIntosh or M’Intosh. When he wrote in collaboration with Frank Parnell, they published as Gregory Francis, and he used Stuart Winsor for works written with Jeff Mason.

His first story, “The Curfew Tolls” appeared in Astounding Science Fiction in 1950 and three years later he published his debut novel, World Out of Mind. In addition to his science fiction, he also wrote a couple of detective novels and in 1956 he collaborated on the screenplay for the film Satellite in the Sky. He retired from writing in 1979 after publishing the novel A Planet Called Utopia.

Tom Godwin’s short story, “The Cold Equations” was published in the August 1954 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. Over the years, many authors have written stories which attempt to resolve the dilemma that Godwin described. In the June 1963 issue of Astounding Science Fact Science Fiction, J.T. McIntosh wrote a story which in many ways was reminiscent of Godwin’s original piece.

“Hermit” is the tale of Experimental Station Officer Duncan Clement, on duty at Station 47 for ten months of a year-long stint. Located in a secluded area of space, his orders are to destroy any terrestrial ship that attempts a landing. When he hears a distress call from a lifeboat with a single young woman on board, he decides to rebel against his orders.

The woman turns out to be, or claim to be, Lesley Kay, the seventeen year old daughter of a Senator. The gender politics of McIntosh’s story are dated and somewhat jarring. Although Clement’s age is never revealed, McIntosh continuously tries, without much success, to build up a sexual tension between the two characters and many of Clements actions, which McIntosh himself notes, are the result of the fact that the lifeboat’s passenger is female.

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Birthday Reviews: Daniel F. Galouye’s “Sitting Duck”

Sunday, February 11th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by John Pederson, Jr.

Cover by John Pederson, Jr.

Daniel F. Galouye was born on February 11, 1920 and died on September 7, 1976. His debut novel Dark Universe was nominated for the Hugo Award in 1962. In 2007, Galouye was recognized with the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award.

Galouye’s stories have been collected in The Last Leap and Other Stories of the Super-Mind and Project Barrier. At least five collections of his works have been published in German translation over the years. Galouye published a total of five novels during his career, and numerous short stories beginning in 1952 and ending in 1970. His novel Simulacron-3 was adapted into the film The Thirteenth Floor in 1999. He also published under the pseudonym Louis G. Daniels.

“Sitting Duck” was published in the July 1959 issue of If, edited by Horace L. Gold. It was reprinted in the 1965 anthology The 6 Fingers of Time and Other Stories and a second time in Things from Outer Space, edited by Hank Davis, in 2016.

Ray Kirkland is a reporter in a world where something strange is happening, although nobody knows what it is. It impacts Kirkland directly when his wife suggests they take a look at a house that has suddenly appeared on a plot of land they were considering buying. Something about the house (4 kitchen, , 1½ bedrooms) seems off to him, but when he tries to investigate his editor suggests it is just a marketing ploy and tries to turn his attention another way.

Coincident to all this, Kirkland’s father-in-law is preparing for duck hunting season by building decoys and setting up duck blinds. The juxtaposition of the two threads allows the reader to see that the strange occurrences Kirkland is investigating are simply decoys created by an alien race.

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Larque Press on Genre Magazine Sales in 2017

Friday, February 9th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

2017 science fiction magazines-small

Larque Press, publishers of the excellent The Digest Enthusiast magazine, have a look at the Total Paid Distribution for the remaining genre print magazines like Analog, Asimov’s SF, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (all from Dell Magazines), and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

The release of the Jan/Feb issues of Dell’s digest magazines marks the first year of their bi-monthly, double-issue format. The issues also provide the publisher’s statements of ownership, which include the average number of copies for a variety of categories, over a preceding 12-month period, for the print editions. Magazines print more copies than they sell through subscriptions and newsstands. For the big five digests, excess inventory is offered in Value Packs on their websites. A great opportunity for readers to try out recent issues of a title at a fraction of its regular price.

Dell and F&SF sell far more issues via subscriptions than newsstands. For the most part, combining the two gives you the total paid circulation. However, it’s important to note these numbers don’t include digital sales, which are likely on the rise… Except for F&SF, the year-over-year numbers show declines of ~500–1000. Is this due to thicker, less frequent issues, general magazine publishing trends, distribution challenges, or something else? Without numbers on digital edition sales, it’s unclear.

Analog sold an average of 18,957 print copies of each issue last year, while Asimov’s SF sold 13,320. While these numbers are down from last year, what really impresses me is the marvelous operational efficiencies of Dell Magazines, which continues to streamline operations and sell these magazines at a profit year after year, despite decades of declining print readership. With all the publishing ventures that fail each and every week (such as the dismal news today that venerable Mayfair Games, US publisher of Settlers of Catan and Iron Dragon, is shutting down), I’m continually thankful that Dell Magazines has steadfastly weathered the storm. See our recent review of the Asimov’s/Analog Value packs here, and read more details at the Larque Press website.

Birthday Reviews: Karen Joy Fowler’s “Always”

Wednesday, February 7th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by NASA

Cover by NASA

Karen Joy Fowler was born on February 7, 1950. She began her science fiction career with the stories “Praxis” and “Recalling Cinderella,” both published in March, 1985. Her first novel, Sarah Canary, appeared in 1991. In addition to writing science fiction, Fowler wrote The Jane Austen Book Club, which was turned into a film.

In 1991 Fowler, along with Pat Murphy, founded the James Tiptree, Jr. Award to recognize speculative fiction that expands or explores the understanding of gender.

She has won the Nebula Award for Best Short Story in 2004 for “What I Didn’t See” and in 2008 for “Always.” Fowler won the World Fantasy Award for Best Collection in 1998 for Black Glass and again in 2010 for What I Didn’t See, and Other Stories. She won the 2014 PEN/Faulkner Award for We Are Completely Beside Ourselves, which was also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

“Always” was originally published in the April-May 2007 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction, edited by Sheila Williams. It was reprinted the next year in Year’s Best anthologies edited by Rich Horton and David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer. Ellen Datlow included it in Nebula Awards Showcase 2009 and Fowler reprinted it in her collection What We Didn’t See, and Other Stories.

Set in 1938, “Always” is a sympathetic view of a cult colony on the California coast called Always. The cult leader, Brother Porter, has promised his followers eternal life. Fowler never fully addresses whether Brother Porter has really discovered the secret of immortality, or if he’s just a leader who’s found a way to fleece people and get sex. More important to Fowler appears to be an attempt to depict someone who has found faith in her beliefs, a faith which endures beyond the bounds of evidence.

Even as Fowler’s protagonist accepts the idea of eternal life, her depictions of the other inhabitants of Always shows the shortcomings of living forever. Winnifred is always complaining about her ailments, John is constantly nostalgic for his old life, Harry is always happy, and the protagonist, who entered Always as a young woman, is supplanted by Kitty, younger and prettier than she is.

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The Return of OMNI Magazine

Tuesday, February 6th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

OMNI Magazine Winter 2017-smallI was never quite sure what to make of OMNI magazine.

OMNI first appeared in 1978. It was published by Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione and, while it didn’t publish pornography, it never quite became a real science fiction magazine, either. True, it published some of my favorite SF of the 80s, including the brilliant SF/horror tale “Sandkings” by George R.R. Martin, “Unaccompanied Sonata” by Orson Scott Card, and stories by Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, Alfred Bester, Harlan Ellison, Bruce Serling, Gene Wolfe, and many others.

On the other hand, it’s also the only SF magazine I’ve ever thrown away. When I moved to Belgium for a year in 1992 and had to put my books in storage, I chucked my complete collection of OMNI magazine in the trash because it wasn’t worth the back-breaking effort of moving all those heavy boxes. There just wasn’t enough fiction, and way too many UFO articles and other pseudo-science for my taste.

I’m not quite sure what to make of OMNI‘s return to print late last year, either. Mostly because — unlike the original magazine launch, which had a $3 million advertising budget — it was done completely under the radar. I never saw a print copy, and only heard the magazine was back via a few stray comments on Facebook. Amazon has no copies in stock. It took a while to find the website, and the Subscribe Now! button doesn’t work (probably because I have a pop-up blocker on, but still).

Nonetheless, some diligent digging convinced me that the magazine has, in fact, actually returned to print, and this isn’t all just a vague internet rumor. For one issue, at least. And that issue contains some original fiction by top names — Nancy Kress, Maureen F. McHugh, and Rich Larson — and other interesting content.

It also has the luscious interior art and easy-on-the-eyes design that I remember from the old mag. Have a look.

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February Short Story Roundup

Tuesday, February 6th, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

ssmJust a little to report from this past month’s excursion into the realm of short heroic fantasy. First, there’s the best issue in some time of Swords and Sorcery Magazine. Second, issue #14 of Grimdark Magazine. While the latter is loaded with good non-fiction articles, there’s only a single, albeit 15,000-word-long, story.

Swords and Sorcery Magazine rarely falls below good, but less often rises to great. I suspect it’s the nature of a magazine that only is able to pay $10 a story. Nonetheless, I found myself not only enjoying issue #72 but, despite not being surprised by anything in them, absolutely loving this month’s stories.

With the first, “Godsteel,” by Michael Meyerhofer, it came down completely to his characters’ voices and relationships. Three archers in the army of the Godprince, stationed in the siege lines surrounding the city of Haltan, are being ground down day after day. The ongoing possibility of a pointless death during an endless blockade brings the trio to a fateful decision that will affect the outcome of the battle and their futures.

During the soldiers’ introductions in the first paragraphs I became wary. While the senior one is named Mennaus, the others were called Tongue, because he lacks one, and Brain, because he hasn’t much of one. I’m immediately leery of any story where everyone has a cutesy nickname based on some trait, a trait which is also usually his singular characteristic. I was relieved to see that wasn’t the case in Meyerhofer’s story.

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