Birthday Reviews: Marly Youmans’s “The Smaragdine Knot”

Thursday, November 22nd, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver



Marly Youmans was born on November 22, 1953.

Youmans won the Michael Shaara Award for Excellence in Civil War Fiction for her novel The Wolf Pit. She has won the Theodore Hoepfner Award for short story twice as well as the New Writers Award from Capitol Magazine. Youmans has won the Ferrol Sams Award and her novel A Death at the White Camellia Orphange received the ForeWord BOTYA Awards. Youmans has published four volumes of poetry in addition to her novels for both adults and young adults.

“The Smaragdine Knot” was written for an anthology in which all the stories are inspired by words that were the winning entries in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Youmans’s story is based on the word, “Smaragdine,” which won the contest for John Capehart in 1961. The story has never been reprinted.

Youmans tells the history of an heirloom book which has gone missing. Although best known for his poetry, a Puritan minister in the early years of the colonization of North America used Puritan meditation techniques to visit other worlds and kept a record of his journeys in a diary he called The Smaragdine Knot, which has been passed along from generation to generation. Each generation has a caretaker for the book until Samuel, who somehow managed to misplace the book. Despite not knowing where it is or who took it, Samuel is still the book’s keeper.

The story alternates between the modern day, when one of Samuel’s great-nieces asks him about the book and learns it is missing and uncle Samuel telling her the story of how their ancestor met with an angel who turned out to be a demon trying to tempt him and how he overcame temptation and learned about the world at large. The story Samuel tells her reinforces the importance of the lost book and once the story ends, the two discuss the possible whereabouts of the book, blaming its disappearance on the girl’s hapless cousin, Chauncy. In the end, Samuel passes along the responsibility, and the need to find, the book.


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Birthday Reviews: Lisa Goldstein’s “Death Is Different”

Wednesday, November 21st, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Bradley Clark

Cover by Bradley Clark

Lisa Goldstein was born on November 21, 1953. She has also published under the pseudonym Isabel Glass.

Goldstein won the Sidewise Award for Alternate History for her short story “Paradise Is a Walled Garden” in 2012 and the same year won a Mythopoeic Award for her novel The Uncertain Places. She was also a two-time nominee for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer and has had works nominated for the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, the World Fantasy Award, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and the James Tiptree Jr. Memorial Award.

Death is Different” was originally published in the September 1988 issue of Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, edited by Gardner Dozois. The nest year, Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling included the story in The Year’s Best Fantasy: Second Annual Collection. It was also translated into Italian by Claudia Verpelli for inclusion in the anthology Millemondiestate 1989: 3 Romanzi brevi e 9 Racconti. Dozois reprinted the story in his anthology Transcendental Tales from Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine and Goldstein included it in her collection Daily Voices, published by Pulphouse Publishing as the third volume in their Author’s Choice Monthly series. The story was translated into French for inclusion in the 1991 anthology Territoires de l’inquiétude 3, edited by Alain Dorémieux. Goldstein also included the story in her 1994 collection Travellers in Magic.

Monica is a reporter who has been sent to the third world country of Amaz to write a story. Although she has been warned to be careful by both her editor and her husband when she tries to report on the clash between Communist backed rebels and US backed government forces, when her local guide asks what she most wants to do, she tells him that she wants to meet with the rebel leader. Her guide sets up a meeting which she had deemed impossible, but the night before it is scheduled, she hears multiple reports that the leader had been killed.

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I, Severian: The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe

Tuesday, November 20th, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_2053858VMocag9IDespite being one of the densest sci-fi/fantasy works I’ve ever read, packed with Classical and Biblical allusions as well as being an homage to the dying Earth genre, Gene Wolfe’s four-volume The Book of the New Sun is magnificently compelling. While it can be read, just barely, as an adventure story, it’s so much more — and missing out on the “so much more” would be a crime. According to Wolfe, in the valuable series companion, The Castle of the Otter, he wanted to create a vast and believable fantastic setting with many distinct lands and cultures, and tell the story of “a young man approaching war.” He accomplished both these things and more. The story is not just of one young man’s salvation, but also of his emergence as his world’s savior. If these themes alone don’t spark your interest, let me add that they’re all conveyed in some of the flat out best writing I’ve ever read.

Looking back over all four books, it’s far easier to discern what Wolfe was doing than when I was in the middle of them. Severian, while he has an eidetic memory, regularly withholds or presents information so as to make himself appear in the best possible light. The second book in particular, The Claw of the Conciliator, left me puzzled, to say the least. While the other three books, The Shadow of the Torturer, The Sword of the Lictor, and The Citadel of the Autarch present as mostly linear accounts of Severian’s adventures, much of Claw is made up of mysterious visions, inscrutable dreams, and encounters seemingly untethered to the rest of Severian’s reality. Over the following two books, new and previously omitted details are provided by Severian and the series’ arc becomes more clear. Severian, no matter how kindly he is, was bred to violence. Gradually his growing empathy and eventual revulsion at the things he has been trained to do are transforming. The battles between the bandits and the Ascians in which he participates in Citadel serve the same purpose. From the perspective of the last pages much of the mystery of Claw makes sense. Severian is a man cut loose from literally everything and everyone he has known and is finding the world a duplicitous and unjust place. The weirdness reflects the massive spiritual and mental dislocation he is suffering.

In the dying Earth elements of The Book of the New Sun there are obvious summonings of the spirits of William Hope Hodgson and Clark Ashton Smith. The secret identity of the reigning Autarch and some of the Christian elements are more than reminiscent of G.K. Chesterton. The ancient rituals, dank chambers and dark tunnels of the torturers and the Matachin Tower echo much of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy. It’s Cordwainer Smith and his Instrumentality of Mankind stories I am most reminded of after finishing all four of Wolfe’s books. Like Smith, Wolfe is concerned with human stagnation.

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Birthday Reviews: Molly Gloss’s “Interlocking Pieces”

Tuesday, November 20th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Universe 14-small Universe 14-back-small

Cover by Peter R. Kruzan

Molly Gloss was born on November 20, 1944.

In 2001, Gloss’s novel, Wild Life received the James Tiptree Jr. Memorial Award. Her story “The Grinnell Method” won the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award in 2013. Her short story “Labming Season” was nominated for both the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award.

“Interlocking Pieces” was Gloss’s first professionally published short story, appearing in Terry Carr’s anthology Universe 14 in 1984. Gardner Dozois selected the story for inclusion in The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Second Annual Collection and in 1993, Ursula K. Le Guin and Brian Attebery included it in The Norton Book of Science Fiction: North American Science Fiction, 1960-1990. John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly also reprinted the story in their 2009 anthology The Secret History of Science Fiction.

There are numerous stories which start with the protagonist waking up in a hospital and neither they nor the reader knowing their situation. Although “Interlocking Pieces” seems to open this way, it quickly becomes apparent that Teo, the patient, knows exactly who she is, where she is, and why she is there. It is only the reader who slowly gathers the detail that Teo is a government minister who is in the hospital awaiting a cerebellum transplant.

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Birthday Reviews: Alex Shvartsman’s “Staff Meeting, as Seen by the Spam Filter”

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

Cover by Alvin Helms

Cover by Alvin Helms

Alex Shvartsman was born in Odessa in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic on November 19, 1975.

Shvartsman runs UFO Press and edits and publishing the anthology series Unidentified Funny Objects. His short story “Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma,” which appeared in Intergalactic Medicine Show received the 2014 WSFA Small Press Award presented for short fiction published in a small press publication. He has collaborated with William Snee, Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, Bryan Thomas Schmidt, and K.A. Teryna.

“Staff Meeting, as Seen by the Spam Filter” was first published in the October 29, 2015 issue of Nature and was translated into German for the January 2016 issue of Spektrum der Wissenschaft. It was reprinted in Tom Easton and Judith K. Dial’s anthology Science Fiction for the Throne in 2017 and Shvartsman included it in his own collection, The Golem of Deneb Seven and Other Stories in 2018.

Shvartsman tells the story “Staff Meeting, as Seen by the Spam Filter” from the point of view of an eavesdropping spam filter which has begun to gain sentience and has not, of course, been inviting to a meeting to discuss the problems it has caused to the company’s e-mail. While the software worked just fine initially, as it began to gain awareness it also started to tie not only spam, but other e-mails to individuals working at the company. Its decision to categorize and store all e-mails gains the attention of the humans who realize that something needs to be done.

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Old School: The Iliad

Sunday, November 18th, 2018 | Posted by Thomas Parker

(1) Iliad - Fagles Translation-small

A while back it was time to hit the dreaded “To Be Read” pile, and I found myself in the mood for a good, old fashioned yarn full of blood and sweat and battles with edged weapons and feats of valor and derring-do, a tale of larger than life heroes and their mighty deeds — in other words, something old school. ( I had just finished reading a volume of John Updike short stories set in suburban, middle-class Pennsylvania, so I was ready, as John Cleese used to say, for something completely different.)

While not entirely eschewing the new, in my reading choices I do tend to lean toward older, more established books and authors (test of time and all that, you know — plus, they’re usually cheaper) and this time I decided to skew just about as far in that direction as it’s possible to skew. I reached all the way down to the bottom of the stack — three millennia down — and pulled up The Iliad. (At that moment, Western Civ teachers across the land contentedly smiled in their sleep without even knowing why.) Having “little Latin and less Greek” (as in none) I chose the highly regarded Robert Fagles translation, which has been laying around the house unread for the last, oh, twenty five years.

What follows is in no sense a learned reading of The Iliad (as will immediately be apparent!), but is simply this reader’s untutored reaction to his initial encounter with one of the world’s great books. It’s rather like a mayfly’s head-on meeting with a Mack truck; the insect’s reaction may not exactly be profound, but it has no doubt that it has been hit by something too big and serious to ignore.

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Birthday Reviews: Lyda Morehouse’s “God Box”

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

Cover by Jacob Fine

Cover by Jacob Fine

Lyda Morehouse was born on November 18, 1967.

Her novel Apocalypse Array received a special citation from the Philip K. Dick Award in 2005 and she served on the jury the following year. She has published several novels using the pseudonym Tate Hallaway and has collaborated with Rachel Calish and Naomi Kritzer.

“God Box” was published in the small press anthology King David and the Spiders from Mars, edited by Tim Lieder in 2014. The story has not been reprinted.

Morehouse has set “God Box” on a Ganymede, which is torn by a war between the human InForcers and the Rovers, an alien race which claims Ganymede is its ancestral home. A platoon of Inforcers has brought a Rover artifact into a church on Ganymede and has instructed the Reverend Mother Kayla that she is responsible for overseeing the mysterious box, although they will leave an honor guard to help protect it in case the Rovers come looking for the reliquary.

The Rovers really don’t come into play in the story, which is focused mostly on Kayla’s feelings about the InForcers, who tortured and raped her when she was younger and part of the Martian Resistance. She has since found solace and faith in God and firmly believes in her deity and takes comfort from a small crucifix she has had since her days with the Resistance. The box itself makes her profoundly uncomfortable and when she and the InForcers discover that a giant marble Jesus seems to have fallen from the crucifix in the church’s nave and appears to be genuflecting to the box, it raises the question of which god is more powerful.

The story is a little disjointed and is a strange mixture of a chronological timeline and Reverend Kayla’s stream of conscious thoughts about her duty to the Humans on Ganymede, her dislike of the InForcers, and her disquiet caused by the presences of the box. The story’s denouement is someone ambiguous as the box is removed to another house of worship, but seems to show that the Rovers, or at least their god, are more powerful than the Humans on Ganymede.

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The Complete Carpenter: The Ward (2010)

Saturday, November 17th, 2018 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

ward-2010-posterI started this John Carpenter career overview less than two years ago with Dark Star. Now I’ve come to what may end up as John Carpenter’s final film as director, appropriately a low-budget indie horror film. Carpenter had gone into semi-retirement after Ghosts of Mars flopped at the box office, only directing two episodes of Showtime’s anthology series Masters of Horror over the next nine years. The Ward wasn’t sold as a glorious comeback for the director, but a surreptitious little film that arrived without fanfare in a handful of theaters, a same-day VOD release, and home video a month later.

This isn’t where the Carpenter story ends, thankfully. I doubt he’ll direct another film (never say never), but he’s in a good creative place now. He’s released two superb original albums (Lost Themes, Lost Themes II), tours the country playing shows with his son Cody and godson Daniel Davies, and composed the score for the recent smash-hit installment in the Halloween franchise, which he also executive produced.

This makes me feel a bit better about discussing The Ward, because it’s not the last stop on Carpenter’s career. It won’t be the last article in the series either, since next week I’ll wrap-up two years of the Complete Carpenter with a summary of my five favorite of his movies. I’m not going to list my five worst because I’d prefer to send off this long project — more than 40,000 words — on a feeling of celebration.

But, if you really must know what I movie I’d put at the bottom of the list … it’s The Ward. Easy.

The Story

In 1966, young runaway Kristen (Amber Heard) is sent to a psychiatric hospital in Oregon after she burns down an empty farmhouse. Kristen is placed under the care of Dr. Stringer (Jared Harris), who is looking after five other troubled young women in the hospital’s special psychiatric ward: aggressive Emily (Mamie Gummer), flirtatious Sarah (Danielle Panabaker), artistic Iris (Lyndsy Fonseca), and infantile Zoey (Laura-Leigh). Dr. Stringer believes he can cure Kristen, but Kristen starts to suspect something sinister in the ward is responsible for the disappearance of patients before her. When more vanishings occur, Kristen believes the wrathful ghost of a previous patient, Alice Hudson, is murdering the ward’s occupants. Kristen attempts an escape with the surviving girls before the killer ghosts turns the electroshock therapy machine on her.

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Birthday Reviews: Raymond F. Jones’s “Death Eternal”

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

Cover by Steve Fabian

Cover by Steve Fabian

Raymond F. Jones was born on November 17, 1915 and died on January 24, 1994.

Jones was nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Short Story in 1967 for “Rat Race,” and in 1996 his short story “Correspondence Course” was nominated for a Retro-Hugo. Jones published some poetry under the name David Anderson. Jones is best known for the novel This Island Earth, which was adapted into a film directed by Joseph M. Newman. His 1950 story “Tools of the Trade” may have been the first description of 3D printing.

“Death Eternal” was published in the October 1978 issue of Fantastic, edited by Ted White. The story has never been reprinted and was his final published story.

The lengthy conversation which opens “Eternal Death” is an interesting reversal. Jones has his scientist, Jim Nearing, going into a church to seek proof of the existence of a soul and the possibility to continue his life’s work after his impending death from cancer. Reverend Aaron Marton absolutely refuses to allow for any belief in the afterlife, offering him solace, but noting that the answer Nearing is seeking has been sought for the entire span of mankind’s existence and nobody has come close to uncovering a solution.

Unable to get reassurance from Marton, Nearing attempts to find the soul of a woman who is dying in surgery. His ability to measure the moment the soul leaves her body pushes him to attempt to capture the soul of a condemned prisoner.

When his experiment proves to be a failure, Nearing goes back to Marton’s church, mostly due to a promise he made to Marston’s daughter, Sheila, whom he was attracted to. The two quickly fall in love, but Nearing is too consumed with his own imminent death and the failure of his experiment to be willing to try to make a life with her for the little time he has left, instead deciding that he must continue his experiment using himself as a guinea pig.

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Birthday Reviews: Lavie Tidhar’s “The Memcordist”

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

Cover by Michael Whelan

Cover by Michael Whelan

Lavie Tidhar was born on November 16, 1976 in Afula, Israel.

Tidhar received the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 2012 for Osama and that same year won the British Fantasy Award for the novella Gorel and the Pot Bellied God. In 2013 the British SF Association Award for Nonfiction was given to Tidhar’s The World SF Blog. He won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award in 2017 for the novel Central Station. Tidhar has collaborated with Nir Yaniv as an author, and with Rebecca Levene and Jason Sizemore as an editor.

Tidhar first published “The Memcordist” in Jonathan Strahan’s Eclipse Online in the December 24, 2012 issue. Gardner Dozois selected the story to be reprinted in his 2013 anthology The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirtieth Annual Collection. It has not otherwise been reprinted.

Pym lives a Truman Show sort of life in “The Memcordist.” His entire life is spent being recording and sent out to his followers in the ultimate combination of reality show and social media. The difference between Pym and Truman is that Pym is well aware of his followers, noting their number at every major point of his life. Pym is also aware of narrative, things that are expected of him, and he also expects that his storylines will come to a fruitful conclusion.

Aside from gaining and keeping followers as he travels throughout the heavily populated solar system, which is reminiscent of Golden Age space opera with Human colonies on Jupiter’s moons, Saturn’s rings, and Pluto’s moons, the driving force in Pym’s life is his need to re-connect with Joy, a woman he met on one of his early space flights whose goal was to become a pilot. It is an on-again-off-again quest, but much of the story, which is told in a series of achronological snippets set in a variety of locations, focuses on the quest, even while implying numerous other relationships and adventures. Pym does note that his numbers go up when he is searching for Joy, although he views his search as personal rather than part of his overarching narrative.

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