Birthday Reviews: Miriam Allen deFord’s “Pres Conference”

Tuesday, August 21st, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Richard Powers

Cover by Richard Powers

Miriam Allen deFord was born on August 21, 1888 and died on February 22, 1975.

Although deFord had some fiction published as early 1928, she really turned to writing science fiction and fantasy in the 1950s and 60s. Her non-SF book The Overbury Affair earned her an Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime Book and she helped develop and sign the Humanist Manifesto in 1973. Much of her science fiction appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, beginning under the editorship of Anthony Boucher.

DeFord’s “Press Conference” appeared in the sixth and final volume of Frederik Pohl’s Star Science Fiction anthology series in 1959. The story has not been reprinted since.

“Press Conference” is essentially a transcription of the press conference given upon the occasion of the return of the first human to travel outside the galaxy. It is told, mostly, in the voices of Mr. Rasmussen, the press secretary for the United Nations whose job is to introduce her and make sure she givens approved questions, and Miss X, or Dor-je Lhor-kang, the woman who made the journey.

The press conference opens up by listing the specifications used to find someone to go into space. A woman is the preferred candidate, and she should be acclimatized to higher elevations, so someone from Peru or Chile. She should have a Ph.D. in physics and, because there is limited space in the spacecraft, she should be a dwarf. This is all by way of introduction of deFord’s somewhat atypical protagonist.

The press conference goes well as long as Lhor-kang is speaking. She knows the limitations Rasmussen has placed on her and has no real desire to break away from him. As soon as she opens the floor to questions, however, the press conference goes off the rails as the reporters want to ask questions with real substance. Although Rasmussen attempts to retain control over her, Lhor-kang eventually lets slip the truth about the aliens that she has seen and their desires with regard to the Earth. When Lhor-kang exhibits admiration for the aliens’ goals, she is branded by some of the reporters as a traitor or brainwashed.

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Birthday Reviews: Greg Bear’s “Schrödinger’s Plague”

Monday, August 20th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Vincent di Fate

Cover by Vincent di Fate

Greg Bear, considered one of the “Killer B’s” with Gregory Benford and David Brin, was born on August 20, 1951 and is married to Astrid, daughter of Poul and Karen Anderson.

Bear won the Nebula and Hugo Award for his novelette “Blood Music” and his short story “Tangents.” He also won the Nebula Award for the novella “Hardfought” and the novels Moving Mars and Darwin’s Radio. Moving Mars also won the Ignotus Award and Darwin’s Radio earned him his second Endeavour Award, the first was for Dinosaur Summer. He won the Prix Apollo for Blood Music and the Prix Ozone for /Slant. He won the Seiun Award for his story “Tangents” and “Heads.” In 2006, he received the Robert A. Heinlein Award and he was the Worldcon Guest of Honor for Millennium Philcon in Philadelphia in 2001.

“Schrödinger’s Plague” first appeared in the March 29, 1982 issue of Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, edited by Stanley Schmidt. Bear included it in his short story collected Tangents in 1989 and in 1992, the story was translated into Dutch and into German in 1997. Ursula K. Le Guin and Brian Attebery included the story in The Norton Book of Science Fiction: North American Science Fiction: 1960-1990. Bear against included it in a collection with The Collected Stories of Greg Bear and when that volume was divided into three smaller books, it was invluded in Just Over the Horizon: The Collected Stories of Greg Bear Volume I.

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Birthday Reviews: D.G. Compton’s “In Which Avu Giddy Tries to Stop Dancing”

Sunday, August 19th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Edward Miller

Cover by Edward Miller

D.G. (David Guy) Compton was born on August 19, 1930.

Compton’s 1971 novel The Steel Crocodile was nominated for the Nebula Award, and in 2007 he was named Author Emeritus by the SFWA. In addition to writing science fiction, Compton also writes Gothic novels and crime novels. Compton has used variations of his own name, and has also published using the pseudonym Frances Lynch. Compton collaborated with John Gribbin on the novel Ragnarok.

“In Which Avu Giddy Tries to Stop Dancing” appeared in Starlight 3, edited by Patrick Nielsen Hayden in 2001. It is Compton’s most recent science fiction short story, and has not been reprinted.

The characters in Compton’s “In Which Avu Giddy Tries to Stop Dancing” live in a world where it is illegal not to dance, although Compton never fully describes what life is like in a world in which everyone dances as they go about their private lives. Instead, he looks at Avu Giddy’s decision to set himself apart from the law-abiding masses and the effects it has on his relationships, none of which were particularly good to begin with.

Avu’s main relationship for the purposes of the story is with the narrator. Although the narrator doesn’t particularly like Avu, the two are of a similar age and have known each other a long time, having grown comfortable in each other’s presence. They work relatively close to each other and meet for lunch in a park with some regularity. When Avu makes his decision to quit dancing, the narrator is dragged into the situation by Avu’s estranged daughters, Jenna and Karen who sought his help in talking sense to their father.

Jenna, who had a husband and children of her own, was mostly concerned with the perception people would have of the family with such an out-law father, while single Karin, who only recently left Avu’s house, firmly believed her father had made his decision with the sole purpose of embarrassing her.

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The Complete Carpenter: Village of the Damned (1995)

Saturday, August 18th, 2018 | Posted by Ryan Harvey


Here’s a crossover I want to see in a comic: Superman vs. The Village of the Damned. I just thought of that as I sat down to write because Christopher Reeve is in this movie. Hey DC, you’re welcome! You need all the help you can get.

Anyway, welcome to the late period of John Carpenter’s career. It’s downhill from this point, dear readers.

Village of the Damned came about when Carpenter and his producer Sandy King (whom he married in 1990) signed a contract with Universal and tried to set up a Creature From the Black Lagoon remake. When project planning bogged down, Tom Pollock at Universal handed Carpenter a script for a remake of the 1960 British SF/horror picture Village of the Damned (based on the novel The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham) and asked the director if he’d make this before continuing with Creature. Carpenter agreed to do it as part of his contract.

Village of the Damned was a commercial failure when released in April 1995 after Universal rushed its release schedule. The Creature From the Black Lagoon remake never got the greenlight from the studio and faded away. So rather than getting a John Carpenter remake he was passionate about, sort of a follow-up to The Thing, we got a John Carpenter remake he was just trying to get out of the way.

The Story

A bizarre phenomenon strikes the Northern California town of Midwich: for six hours, every person and animal in the town and surrounding countryside falls unconscious. Pretty weird. But weirder is that a month later local doctor Alan Chaffee (Christopher Reeve) finds out that ten Midwich women are pregnant — and the conception date is the day of the blackouts. Dr. Susan Verner (Kirstie Alley), an epidemiologist studying the occurrence for the US government, offers financial incentives for the pregnant women to carry their children to term so the offspring can be studied.

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Birthday Reviews: Brian W. Aldiss’s “Tarzan of the Alps”

Saturday, August 18th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Edward Miller

Cover by Edward Miller

Brian W. Aldiss was born on August 18, 1925 and died on August 19, 2017, the day after his 92nd birthday.

Aldiss won a Hugo Award in 1962 for his short story “Hothouse” and a non-fiction Hugo in 1987 for his history of the science fiction field, Trillion Year Spree, written with David Wingrove, in which they continued to popularize Aldiss’s contention that science fiction began with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. In 1966 his novella “The Saliva Tree” received the Nebula Award. He has won the British SF Association Award five times and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award once. His novel Helliconia Spring won both of those awards as well as the Kurd Lasswitz Preis. Trillion Year Spree also won the Eaton Award. Aldiss has won a Ditmar Award for Contemporary Author and Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Prix Utopia, Pilgrim Award, IAFA Award, and World Fantasy Award. He was inducted into both the First Fandom Hall of Fame and the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2004. Aldiss was named a Grand Master by SFWA in 2000. In 2005, Aldiss was awarded the title Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth as part of the Birthday Honors list for his service to literature.

Aldiss first published “Tarzan of the Alps” in the first issue of the magazine Postscripts, edited by Peter Crowther in 2004. The following year, the story was used by Aldiss to lead off his collection Cultural Breaks. The story has not appeared anywhere else.

Aldiss sets “Tarzan of the Alps” in Patagonia, about as far from Africa or Switzerland as one could get. It tells the story of José Pareda, whose truck breaks down in the middle of nowhere and Alejo and Maria Galdos, who just happen to live in the middle of nowhere and come to his aid, along with their son who works in the nearest town as a mechanic. In the days that Pareda stays with the Galdoses while his truck is being repaired, they bond over their shared life experiences, being of a similar age, and Pareda thanks his hosts with his stock in trade, a traveling movie that he projects from his van.

The Galdoses live so far from anything that this is the first film they have ever seen, a version of Tarzan of the Apes, which they misunderstand as Tarzan of the Alps. Being the first film they saw, the movie made a huge impression on the Galdoses and they decide that they wanted to visit the jungles of the Alps before they die. Unfortunately, Alejo dies before they have enough money for the trip and the story ends with Maria preparing their son for his journey to see the Alps as they imagine they existed in Tarzan.

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Birthday Reviews: Rachel Pollack’s “Burning Beard: The Dreams and Visions of Joseph Ben Jacob, Lord Viceroy of Egypt”

Friday, August 17th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Connie Toebe

Cover by Connie Toebe

Rachel Pollack was born on August 17, 1945.

Pollack won the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1989 for the novel Unquenchable Fire and the World Fantasy Award in 1997 for the novel Godmother Night. She was also nominated for the Nebula Award in 1994 for Temporary Agency, which was also nominated for the James Tiptree Jr. Memorial Award and the Mythopoeic Award. Godmother Night received additional nominations for the James Tiptree Jr. Memorial Award and the Lambda Award. Her story “The Beatrix Gates” was nominated for the Gaylactic Spectrum Award. In addition to science fiction, Pollack has written for comics and Tarot, including the creation of her own Tarot Deck and books about reading Tarot and Dali’s Tarot deck.

“Burning Beard: The Dreams and Visions of Joseph Ben Jacob, Lord Viceroy of Egypt People of the Book” was first published in Interfictions: An Anthology of Interstitial Writing, edited by Delia Sherman and Theodora Goss in 2007. Three years later, Rachel Swirsky and Sean Wallace included the story in People of the Book: A Decade of Jewish Science Fiction and Fantasy. It was reprinted a second time by John Joseph Adams in the May 2014 issue of Lightspeed.

Pollack retells the story of Joseph from Genesis from Joseph’s point of view, with additional depictions of the events surrounding Moses’ story from Exodus in “Burning Beard: The Dreams and Visions of Joseph Ben Jacob, Lord Viceroy of Egypt People of the Book.”

Joseph is shown to be somewhat insufferable, giving an understanding of why his brothers would choose to throw him into a pit and sell him into slavery. At the same time, Joseph is well aware that his prophecies are going to come true, whether people believe them or not and whether he wants them to or not. What makes this even more poignant is that he sees the destruction Moses will level on Egypt and Joseph not only feels responsible for it, but sees both the Hebrews and the Egyptian as his people.

The story shifts between times, covering Joseph’s life from his childhood when he doesn’t understand his gifts through his fall and rise in Egypt and finally his death, although one of the interesting aspects of Joseph’s prophecy is that he gets his visions from a future Moses (and occasionally Aaron or Miriam). He develops a sort of one-sided relationship with his brother’s three descendants, determining that he does not like Moses for a variety of reasons, even before he sees what Moses does in his efforts to free the Hebrews, although the prophecies have a strange tendency to focus on the attempts to release the Hebrews form Egypt while glossing over their servitude to the Pharaoh.

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Birthday Reviews: Andrew J. Offutt’s “Gone with the Gods”

Thursday, August 16th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Rick Sternbach

Cover by Rick Sternbach

Andrew J. Offutt was born on August 16, 1934 and died on April 30, 2013. Offutt also published science fiction and fantasy using the pseudonyms John Cleve, Jeff Douglas, and J.X. Williams. He occasionally collaborated with Richard K. Lyon and Keith Taylor, while many of the stories published under the John Cleve house name were collaborations with a wide variety of authors including Victor Koman, Roland J. Green, G.C. Edmonson, and Jack C. Haldeman II, among others. In addition to his career in speculative fiction, which included a stint as President of SFWA, Offutt has a very successful career writing pornographic novels.

Offut was nominated for the Balrog Award for his short story “Conan and the Sorcerer” and for editing the anthologies Swords Against Darkness IV and Swords Against Darkness V, as well as for the entire anthology series. His My Lord Barbarian was nominated for the August Derleth Award and in 1986 he received the Phoenix Award at DeepSouthCon.

“Gone with the Gods” was originally published in the October 1974 issue of Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, edited by Ben Bova. When Stanley Schmidt decided to issue the anthology Analog’s Lighter Side in 1982, he included Offutt’s story.

The main character of “Gone with the Gods” would seem to be a thinly disguised Offutt, a writer who turns out a prodigious number of novels at the back and call of his editor, writing in whatever genre is hot at the moment to fulfill the needs of an insatiable audience. When his editor calls him to look into the possibility that a former fraternity brother of the editor’s has invented a time machine, and asks him to check out the possibility that the device is real so the editor can invest in it, the authors finds himself looking into the far-fetched claim.

Of course the time machine, disguised as a VW microbus, eventually works and Harvey Moss, the author, Mark Ventnor, the publisher, and Ben Corrick, the inventor, all take their turns traveling in the bus, only to learn its limitations. It can only go one day into the future, but anywhen in the past. Although it remains tied to Earth, so they don’t have to worry about showing up in outer space, they do figure out how to take it to different places on Earth. Eventually, in order to make some money, Moss travels back in time to spur human development and plant evidence that he can use to write a best selling book that Ventnor can publish and sell.

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Mage: The Hero Denied 11

Wednesday, August 15th, 2018 | Posted by MichaelPenkas

Mage The Hero Denied 11-smallSo a lot of The Hero Denied seems to concern the dual identities that parents need to maintain, but which far too many don’t. And yeah, like so much of the series that’s gone before, we’re going to start by talking about fairies and magic, but we’ll soon find that we’re talking about our actual lives. If I seemed down on this third part of the Mage series early on, it’s because Kevin Matchstick seemed to be setting up a false choice between fatherhood or adventure. He didn’t have a job, didn’t seem to do a hell of a lot with his kids beyond picking them up from school, and basically spent a lot of his time wandering around aimlessly. His wife would nag about his going off on adventures when he should be attending parent-teacher conferences. His kids were little more than vulnerable targets for monsters whom he would eventually resent.

But with the kidnapping of Magda and Hugo, the dual identities of father and hero have finally come together. Kevin’s finally seeing that he’s raised a couple of amazing kids. We even get a glimmer this issue of the wonderful, horrible truth that most parents eventually realize: his children will one day be able to look out for themselves and won’t need him any longer. And rather than treating his wife like a damsel in distress, Kevin is confident that Magda will be able to take care of herself and their son. Basically, Kevin’s gone from seeing his family as targets to seeing them as allies. Powerful allies. His roles of hero and father aren’t meant to be a choice, but rather complement one another.

So this issue opens with Magda sending her purple flying cat familiar, Cleo, off into the vertigo chamber that lies outside their penthouse prison. The familiar is charged with finding an exit. While that’s going on, Magda shows Hugo all of the magic items that she’s managed to cobble together. The scene is very reminiscent of Q showing off gadgets to 007. There are exploding light bulbs, a hairdryer gun, invisibility hats, and spider-walking sneakers. I’m sure it’s significant that Magda paints lightning bolts on the sneakers, signaling that Hugo is taking on an aspect of his father.

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Birthday Reviews: Louise Marley’s “Diamond Girls”

Wednesday, August 15th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Fields of Fantasies

Fields of Fantasies

Louise Marley was born on August 15, 1952. She has published novels under her own name and using the pseudonyms Louisa Morgan and Toby Bishop.

Marley’s novel The Glass Harmonica won the Endeavour Award in 2001 and she won a second Endeavour Award in 2005 for The Child Goddess. Two of her other novels were also nominated for the award. Her novel The Terrorists of Irustan was nominated for both the Endeavour Award and the James Tiptree Jr. Memorial Award. The Child Goddess was also nominated for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award.

Marley first published “Diamond Girls” in the June 8, 2005 issue of Sci Fiction, edited by Ellen Datlow. Its first print publication came in Marley’s collection Absalom’s Mother & Other Stories in 2007. It was reprinted again in the science fiction sports anthology Future Games, edited by Paula Guran in 2013 and the following year, Rick Wilber included the story in his SF baseball anthology Field of Fantasies.

In “Diamond Girls,” Marley describes the first faceoff between a female pitcher and a female batter in the major leagues. For Ricky Arendsen, the match occurs in her second season as a pitcher, although starting the season at 0-3 has put a lot of pressure on her to perform. For Grace Elliott, it is her first game in the majors and she, and everyone else, knows that despite batting .300 in the minors, she was brought up essentially for a publicity stunt.

The duel between the two is described throughout the entire game, not just a single at bat, and Marley has a lot more going on than simply the first time two women face each other in a major league game. Arensen is genetically modified while Elliott isn’t, which has caused a lot of hubbub among the fans and the press. While Arendsen is concerned that if she loses another game she’ll be sent back to the minors, Elliott is worried that if she doesn’t perform, the same thing will happen to her, and she’ll never to get another shot at the Show.

The story has shades of Jackie Robinson, although Arendsen has already been playing for more than a season, as well as echoes of the film For Love of the Game, which gets inside the mind of a pitcher throwing a perfect game. What is also clear is that even though both Arendsen and Elliott are aware of the historical nature of the match up, they treat it like any other game. When Elliott comes up to bat against Arendsen, she does so as a ballplayer, not as a woman, although after the game, there is a natural camaraderie of sisterhood between the two.

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Fifteen Years Gone: Water Sleeps by Glen Cook, Part 1

Tuesday, August 14th, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

Water Sleeps.

In their homes, in the shadowed alleyways, in the city’s ten thousand temples, nervous whispers never cease. The Year of the Skulls. The Year of the Skulls. It is an age when no gods die and those that sleep keep stirring restlessly.

In their homes, in the shadowed alleyways or fields of grain or in the sodden paddies, in the pastures and forests and tributary cities, should a comet be seen in the sky or should an unseasonable storm strew devastation or, particularly, if the earth should shake, they murmur, “Water sleeps.” And they are afraid.

oie_1372930SSs2Hx7jI wish I had managed to finish the ninth Black Company book, Water Sleeps (1999), in a single go because, after two frustrating choppy books, Cook is back on his game. Yes, it’s very different than the bloody, battle-focused earlier books, but Water Sleeps, so far, is a tight story with narrative complexity, brutal twists, and more world-building than any of the others.

The previous volume, She is the Darkness, ended with most of the Black Company’s senior officers  — Croaker, Lady, and Murgen — and several important prisoners — the Prahbrindrah Drah of Taglios, Howler, and Lisa Bowalk — trapped by Soulcatcher and held in stasis on the demon-haunted plain of Glittering Stone.

As Water Sleeps opens, we quickly learn that Croaker et al. have been imprisoned for nearly fifteen years. Murgen’s Standardbearer-in-training, Sleepy, is acting Captain, aided by Murgen’s Nyueng Bao wife, Shara, and the increasingly feeble One-Eye and Goblin. Soulcatcher has declared herself Protector of Taglios, has made the Radisha Drah little more than a puppet, and has rendered her councilors toothless. For a decade and a half, the survivors of the Company have been hunting for a way to free their colleagues from Soulcatcher’s trap, while constantly reminding her that the Black Company never lets a betrayal go unpunished.

Sleepy is not only Captain, she’s also the Company’s Annalist. In her hands, there’s greater attention paid to politics and culture than in the other volumes. Unlike Croaker and Lady, Sleepy doesn’t see Soulcatcher and the other power brokers in Taglios just as obstacles. They are part of a complicated nexus of power centers and religious beliefs. Through her, Cook explores and underscores how they manage to run a vast realm. She’s also the only narrator in any of the books who has religious beliefs. When she explains the three main religions of Taglios — Gunni, Shadar, and her own Vehdna — she does it with a degree of sympathy absent from Croaker’s or Lady’s books.

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