Birthday Reviews: James H. Schmitz’s “The Vampirate”

Monday, October 15th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Frank R. Paul

Cover by Frank R. Paul

James H. Schmitz was born on October 15, 1911 and died on April 18, 1981.

Schmitz was nominated for the Hugo Award in 1962 for Best Short Fiction for his story “Lion Loose” and in 1967 for the novel The Witches of Karres. In 1966, he had four Nebula nominations for his short story “Balanced Ecology,” the Novelettes “Planet of Forgetting” and “Goblin Night,” and for the novella “Research Alpha,” co-written with A.E. van Vogt.

“Vampirate” was first published in Science-Fiction Plus in December 1953. It was the magazine’s final issue and the last science fiction magazine edited by Hugo Gernsback. When Eric Flint and Guy Gordon included it in their collection of Schmitz’s stories, Telzey Amberdon in 2000, they changed the story’s title to “Blood of Nalakia.”

Lane Rawlings is a slave who learned a secret about her master, the Nachief of Frome, and made the mistake of sharing that secret with two other slaves. The three of them find themselves on a ship with the Nachief heading for an unnamed planet, where he intends to kill all three of them. Before they can land, however, their ship comes under attack. While Lane and the Nachief survive, the other two slaves are killed. Lane escapes her master and manages to convince Frazer, the only person on the island where they landed, that the Nachief is a sort of vampire.

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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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October Is Hammer Country: Hands of the Ripper (1971)

Saturday, October 13th, 2018 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

Hands-of-the-Ripper-poster-1“You can’t cure Jack the Ripper!”

Hammer Film Productions was a different place in the 1970s than in the 1950s and ‘60s. And although it was generally a less artistic place after in-house development stopped and the original producers left, it wasn’t an awful place. It’s similar to third season original Star Trek: more bad episodes than before, but what’s good is still damn good. You got “The Way to Eden,” but you also got “The Enterprise Incident.” With Hammer, you got the dreadful The Horror of Frankenstein, but you also got Hands of the Ripper — which, for my money, is Hammer’s best horror film of the decade. It was originally released on a double bill with Twins of Evil, making it the last great Hammer double feature.

Jack the Ripper has fueled many mystery and horror films. Hammer visited the topic in their pre-Gothic days in a 1950 period crime drama, Room to Let. It wasn’t until 1971 that the studio gave the Ripper the full horror treatment. Two treatments, in fact. Hands of the Ripper was shot at the same time as Doctor Jekyll and Sister Hyde, a sex-change twist on Stevenson’s novel set during the Whitechapel killings. Weird as the Sister Hyde idea may sound, it’s Hands of the Ripper that takes the dramatically more challenging and interesting approach to Jack the Ripper. Rather than set the story during the original killings in the late 1880s, the screenplay by L. W. Davidson (from an original story by Edward Spencer Shrew) shifts forward fifteen years to Jack the Ripper’s daughter, teasing a spirit possession story and giving the Ripper’s gory hands and misogynistic rage to a young woman.

Hands of the Ripper was shot at Pinewood Studios with Hungarian director Peter Sasdy in the director’s chair. Sasdy already had a history with Hammer. He directed the best of the Dracula sequels starring Christopher Lee, Taste the Blood of Dracula (1969); but in 1971 he was coming off Countess Dracula, a bizarrely boring movie based on the story of Countess Elizabeth Bathory. Re-teamed with producer Aida Young, who worked with him on Taste the Blood of Dracula, Peter Sasdy recovered and made one of his best movies. Young was one of the few women producers in England at the time, and her other Hammer films include Dracula Has Risen From the Grave and When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth. Considering she produced Sasdy’s best films, the two must have shared a powerful creative partnership.

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Birthday Reviews: Stephen Gallagher’s “God’s Bright Little Engine”

Saturday, October 13th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Michelle Prahler

Cover by Michelle Prahler

Stephen Gallagher was born on October 13, 1954.

Gallagher received the British Fantasy Award for his 2004 collection Out of His Mind and in 2007, he earned the International Horror Guild Award for Short Fiction for his story “The Box.” He has also been nominated for the Bram Stoker Award and twice for the World Fantasy Award. In addition to his fiction, Gallagher is also a writer for television, developing the series Eleventh Hour and Crusoe. He wrote the Doctor Who serials “Warrior’s Gate,” starring Tom Baker, and “Terminus,” during Peter Davison’s tenure.

Gallagher originally published “God’s Bright Little Engine” in Peter Crowther and Edward E. Kramer’s 1995 anthology Tombs. Gallagher also included the story in his 2004 British Fantasy Award-winning collection Out of His Mind.

In “God’s Bright Little Engine,” Helen is an elder-care nurse whose life is focused entirely, and not entirely by her desire, on her patients. In her run-down apartment she has built one of her few relationships with Big Andy, the slow-witted handyman who lives below her. Their relationship, such as it is, appears to be based on his infatuation with Helen and Helen’s need to have someone fix things around her apartment.

The story revolves around the emptiness in Helen’s life. She doesn’t particularly like her job, although she is apparently good at it, she doesn’t like her run-down apartment, and she sees Big Andy solely in terms of someone she can exploit because he likes her. The status quo takes a turn for the worse when Helen returns home to find some repairs had been done to her apartment while she was at work. Following a confrontation with Big Andy, who clearly had found her spare key, she also discovers that he has been spying on her through the floorboards of her apartment.

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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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Birthday Reviews: William R. Forstchen’s “The Truthsayer”

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

Cover by James Warhola

Cover by James Warhola

William R. Forstchen was born on October 11, 1950.

Forstchen is a professor of American History, specializing in military history, the Civil War, and the history of technology. He may be best known in science fiction circles for his The Lost Regiment series and for a series of alternate history novels co-written with Newt Gingrich. Forstchen has also collaborated on fiction with Larry Segriff, Raymond E. Feist, Jaki Demarest, Greg Morrison, Andrew Keith, Ben Ohlander, Christopher Stasheff, and John Mina. He has collaborated with Bill Fawcett, Jennie Ethell Chancey, and Donald V. Bennett on non-fiction.

“Truthsayer” originally appeared in Susan Shwartz’s anthology Arabesques: More Tales of the Arabian Nights, in 1988. In 2007, it was translated into French as “Le diseur de vérité” for publication in the anthology Fantasy 2007, published by Bragelonne.

Forstchen retells the story of the fall of the empire of Khwarazm and the flight of Muhammad Shah from his empire in “Truthsayer.” Historically, Ala ad-Din Muhammad incurred the wrath of Chinggis Khan by murdering a Mongol ambassador who sought to establish trade between the Mongol and Khwarezmian empires. Chinggis led armies into Khwarezm to exact vengeance and the Mongol armies, led by the Mongol general Subutai, destroyed the empire, murdering millions while Muhammad fled, eventually to die of disease on an island in the Caspian Sea.

In Forstchen’s version, Muhammad is accompanied by Ali, a Truthsayer. In this world, Truthsayers, of whom Ali is the last of a long line, have the ability to tell if someone is telling the truth, and the inability to lie. At the same time, they have a magic to evoke the truth from people. Muhammad makes rare use of Ali’s ability, but includes him on his flight from the Mongols. In the end, Muhammad abandons his entourage and Ali learns from the Khwarazm general Maluk that Muhammad feared and hated Ali for the truth the man had forced the shah to confront.

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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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Under a Blood-Red Sun: The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

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

Of those values that Master Malrubius (who had been master of apprentices when I was a boy) had tried to teach me, and that Master Palaemon still tried to impart, I accepted only one: loyalty to the guild. In that I was quite correct — it was, as I sensed, perfectly feasible for me to serve Vodalus and remain a torturer. It was in this fashion that I began the long journey by which I have backed into the throne.

oie_91580lF5ljN9QBased solely on Don Maitz’s now classic cover art, I grabbed Gene Wolfe’s The Shadow of the Torturer (1980) from the library shelf as soon as I laid eyes on it. I cracked it open and dropped it almost at once. It was too dense and too alien for my teenaged brain to appreciate. To this day, Gene Wolfe, considered one of the most accomplished scifi/fantasy writers (see “Sci-fi’s Difficult Genius” by Peter Bebergal), remains a serious blind spot for me, even if I do have a large selection of his most important works gathering dust on the shelf.

I did finally revisit Shadow some years ago, but while I liked it and the next book in the sequence, The Claw of the Conciliator, I didn’t go on to read the remaining three volumes, The Sword of the Lictor, The Citadel of the Autarch, and The Urth of the New Sun. Well, it finally seems like the right time to give the series another go.

Urth is a dull, rusted-out world orbiting a fading, red sun. Within the Matachin Tower, in the citadel of the great capital city of Nessus, the Order of the Seekers for Truth and Penitence, or the Torturers, service the clients sent them by the Autarch, absolute ruler of the Commonwealth. Once among their members was a young apprentice named Severian. From some future vantage point Severian has set out to narrate the great story that seems to end with him upon a throne, presumably the Autarch’s.

From William Hope Hodgson to Clark Ashton Smith to Jack Vance, worn-out Earth with fading-ember sun has been explored many times. For Hodgson it was a stage on which to tell a story of romantic heroism, for Smith, to spin tales of decadence and terror, and for Vance, cynically comic tales of adventure. With only the first book read, it’s not clear where Wolfe is going with this series. The myths and legends that are told by various characters throughout The Shadow of the Torturer are filled with angels and demons and premonitions of impending apocalypse. While there are elements similar to those in the works of the illustrious earlier sojourners to Earth’s dying days, Wolfe seems to be aiming for something deeper and more complex than his forebears.

Severian’s Urth is decrepit and weather-beaten. More knowledge seems to have been forgotten than is still remembered and the world staggers along, propped up more by tradition than by any real understanding or philosophy. While we learn man has traveled to the stars, that seems to be long in the past. The tower used by the Torturers, as well as those of several other guilds, are clearly long-immobilized rocket ships. The sand favored by many artists for their creations is atomized glass of long-vanished cities. What appears to Severian as a painting of a warrior in a barren land, to the reader it is obviously Neil Armstrong on the moon.

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Birthday Reviews: Robert Reed’s “Night of Time”

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

The Silver Gryphon-small

Cover by Thomas Canty

Robert Reed was born on October 9, 1956.

In 1986, Reed’s story “Mudpuppies” won the Writers of the Future 2nd Quarter Contest as well as that year’s Grand Prize. In 1995, his novel Down the Bright Way won the Grand Prix d’Imaginaire for its French translation. Reed won the Hugo Award for Best Novella in 2007 for “A Billion Eves.” He has been nominated for the Hugo Award 8 times, the Nebula Award twice, the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award 9 times, and the World Fantasy Award once.

“Night of Time” was initially published by Gary Turner and Marty Halpern in The Silver Gryphon, the twenty-fifth book published by Golden Gryphon Press in 2003. David G. Hartwell selected it for his Year’s Best SF 9 in 2004 and it was translated into Italian by Piero Anselmi for the Millimondi edition of the Hartwell anthology. Gardner Dozois also selected the story for his The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-First Annual Collection. In 2005, Reed included the story in his second collection from Golden Gryphon, The Cuckoo’s Boys. He also used the story in his 2013 collection, The Greatship. “Night of Time” is tied to a specific memory. I attended the Worldcon in Boston in 2004 and I was reading Hartwell’s Year’s Best SF 9 on the plane. I finished reading “Night of Time” and realized that the person sitting next to me was Robert Reed’s wife and Robert was sitting on the other side of her.

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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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