Birthday Reviews: Amy Thomson’s “Buddha Nature”

Sunday, October 28th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by David A. Hardy

Cover by David A. Hardy

Amy Thomson was born on October 28, 1958.

Thomson won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Author in 1994 on the basis of her debut novel, Virtual Girl. She subsequently published two novels in The Color of Distance series and the stand-alone novel Storyteller, as well as three short stories. She has been nominated for the Prometheus Award for Virtual Girl, the Philip K. Dick Award and Seiun Award for The Color of Distance, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, Gaylactic Spectrum Award, and Endeavour Awards for her novel Storyteller. In the trading card series issued by the Chicago in 2000 Worldcon bid, card number 28 was of Thomson and identified as the “Official Rookie Card.”

“Buddha Nature” was published in the January-February 2013 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Science Fact, edited by Stanley Schmidt. The story was Thomson’s first published science fiction in a decade and earned her the Anlab Award for Best Novelette. The story has not been reprinted.

Many authors have explored what it means to be human through the lens of robots in science fiction, most notably, of course, Isaac Asimov. Amy Thomson has also examined the idea that a sufficiently advanced robot can become human through a religious lens in “Buddha Nature.”

The Buddhist monks are surprised when a robot named Raz trundles up to the monastery and asks if it may join the order as a novice. Not entirely sure how to respond, Samsara invites the robot in and introduces it to the abbot, Bodhidharma, who reflects on the question of whether a robot can achieve enlightenment or not and decides that while he feels the robot belongs, it is appropriate to put the question to a vote. Although some of the monks express reservations, none stronger than Henry, Bodhidharma agrees to let the robot into the monastery for a trial period.

Over the course of the story, the monks learn as much from Raz as the robot learns from them. Samsara teaches Raz what it means to have emotions, sympathy, frustration, and other human traits. Although Samsara doesn’t fully understand why Raz needs to learn this, the robot decides it can’t achieve enlightenment without learning what humans must overcome to achieve it. While Raz is learning these things from Samsara, the humans are learning to view the world in a more clinical and detached manner and many of them are learning to accept the non-human, potentially sentient in their midst, although acceptance isn’t universal among the monks.

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Birthday Reviews: John Gregory Betancourt’s “The Weird of Massal Dey”

Thursday, October 25th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Marjette Schille

Cover by Marjette Schille

John Gregory Betancourt was born on October 25, 1963.

Betancourt has been nominated for three World Fantasy Awards, in 1993, 1995, and 2000, for his work at Wildside Press. The first two nominations were in the non-professional category and shared with Kim Betancourt, the final one was in the professional category. Betancourt has also worked as an assistant editor at Amazing Stories, and editor at Horror: The Newsmagazine of the Horror Field, Weird Tales, H.P. Lovecraft’s Magazine of Horror, and Adventure Tales.

“The Weird of Mazel Dey” was originally written for Susan Shwartz’s anthology Arabesques, but Betancourt missed the deadline and sold the story to Dennis Mallonee and Nick Smith at Fantasy Book, where the story ran in the September 1985 issue. When Betancourt elected to reprint the story in his collection of Zelloquan stories, Slab’s Tavern and Other Uncanny Places, he changed the names to match his series’ setting and published the story as “The Weird of Massal Dey.” The revision also removed the references to Islam that appeared in the original form.

Massal Dey is a thief who uses the occurrence of a great festival to steal a mirror which captures his attention. The mirror is of such beauty that Dey decides to keep it rather than try to fence it. Unfortunately, once he gets the mirror home and set up, he sees his own reflection and realizes that he is so ugly that he shouldn’t defile the mirror by viewing his image.

However, as the story progresses, Dey finds that he looks into the mirror in his dreams and finds himself in other worlds where he is not as ugly as he believes himself to be. Each time he looks in the mirror in his dreams the situation is different, from a world in which he is the object of infatuation by young beauties, to a world in which he and his long-time wife of that world live a comfortable, if unremarkable existence.

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Birthday Reviews: Jack Skillingstead’s “Thank You, Mr. Whiskers”

Wednesday, October 24th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Jim Burns

Cover by Jim Burns

Jack Skillingstead was born on October 24, 1955.

Skillingstead was nominated for the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award in 2004 for his story “Dead Worlds” and in 2014 his novel Life on the Preservation was a nominee for the Philip K. Dick Award. He has collaborated with Burt Coourtier. Skillingstead has been married to author Nancy Kress since 2011.

“Thank You, Mr. Whiskers” was originally published in the August 2007 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction, edited by Sheila Williams. It has since been reprinted in Skillingstead’s collection Are You There and Other Stories, published by Golden Gryphon in 2009 and subsequently reprinted by Fairwood Press.

Hadley Yeager is something of an anomaly in science fiction stories, an older woman. Living alone after the death of her husband, Franklin, Hadley no longer has a firm grasp on reality. Her memory is fading, she is unsure of where she is or what is going on around her, and fear of the outside world is making her suspicious of the young boy who seems to be intent on checking up on her and making sure she is okay.

One day, she notices a new mailbox, where she doesn’t remember seeing one before. Accidentally taking the mail from that box, she discovers a note that applies directly to her. From that point on the extra mailbox helps guide her and rejuvenate her. In addition to reminding her where she hid grocery money, the messages in the mailbox begin offering her other advice and help, removing the suspicious boy, allowing her to reverse her aging, and living a youthful life of excess. Eventually, Hadley begins to wonder about the mailbox’s origins and motives.

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Birthday Reviews: Suzy McKee Charnas’s “Beauty and the Opéra, or the Phantom Beast”

Monday, October 22nd, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Kinuko Y. Craft

Cover by Kinuko Y. Craft

Suzy McKee Charnas was born on October 22, 1939

Charnas won the Nebula Award in 1981 for her novella “Unicorn Tapestry” and the Hugo Award in 1990 for the short story “Boobs.” She is a three time James Tiptree, Jr. Memorial Award winner for the novels Walk to the End of the World, Motherlines, and The Conqueror’s Child. Her series The Holdfast Chronicles is included in the Gaylactic Spectrum Award’s Hall of Fame and she won a Mythopoeic Award for The Kingdom of Kevin Malone.

“Beauty and the Opéra or the Phantom Beast” was originally bought by Gardner Dozois and appeared in the March 1996 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction. Dozois reprinted it in Modern Classics of Fantasy the following year and Charnas included it in her e-collection Music of the Night and later in her collection Stagestruck Vampires and Other Phantasms. The story was nominated for the Hugo Award, the World Fantasy Award, The James Tiptree, Jr. Memorial Award, and the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award,

Charnas has decided to retell and expand on Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera, conflating it with Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve’s Beauty and the Beast. While in the original story by Leroux, Christine is allowed to leave the Phantom, Erik, if she will return upon his death, in Charnas’s story, she agrees to remain with him in return for his freeing Raoul, the French nobleman she loves.

The story follows the characters as they grow to know each other in the secluded apartments Erik has created for himself beneath the Paris Opera House. With Christine agreeing to stay with the Phantom while he agrees to release Raoul, the story takes a turn into Beauty and the Beast territory with Christine suffering from Stockholm Syndrome as Erik is the only person who she can interact with. As time progresses, Christine learns how to assert herself with Erik to in effect turn the tables on him. She is still essentially his captive, but she manages to obtain a level of control over the situation and him, eventually learning that while Erik spared Raoul, he also ensured that Raoul would never mount a rescue of her.

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Birthday Reviews: Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Rule of Names”

Sunday, October 21st, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Frank Bruno

Cover by Frank Bruno

Ursula K. Le Guin was born on October 21, 1929 and died on January 22, 2018.

Le Guin’s The Dispossessed is in the Prometheus Hall of Fame and has won the Jupiter Award as wells as the Nebula Award and Hugo Award. The Left Hand of Darkness has also won both the Hugo and Nebula Award, as well as the James Tiptree Jr Award and the Gaylactic Spectrum Award. She has also won the Nebula Award for Tehanu: The Last Book of Earthsea, Powers, the novella “Solitude,” and the short story “The Day Before the Revolution,” which also won the Jupiter Award. Le Guin has also won the Hugo Award for the short story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” the novelette “Buffalo Gals, Won’t You Come Out Tonight,” the novella “The World for World is Forest,” and back-to-back best related works for Words Are My Matter: Writing About Life and Books, 2000-2016 and No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters, the last of which earned her the award posthumously. “Buffalo Gals, Won’t You Come Out Tonight” won Le Guin her first World Fantasy Award and she received another for her novel The Other Wind. She won a Jupiter Award for “The Diary of the Rose,” a Rhysling Award for “The Well of Bain,” and a Ditmar Award for The Compass Rose. Both Tales from Earthsea and The Telling won the Endeavour Award and “The Matter of Seggri” and “Mountain Ways” both won the James Tiptree, Jr. Award. She won the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for “Forgiveness Day” and the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire for Four Ways to Forgiveness. Her book Paradises Lost won both the Kurd Lasswitz Preis and Italia Award.

Le Guin has received many lifetime achievement awards, being recognized by the Forry Award in 1988, the Pilgrim Award in 2001, and the Eaton Award in 2013. She received a Gandalf Award in 1979 and was named a Grand Master by SFWA in 2003 and the World Fantasy Convention in 1995. In 2001, Le Guin was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. She was the Worldcon Guest of Honor at Aussiecon 1 in 1975 and the World Fantasy Guest of Honor in Seattle in 1989.

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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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