Birthday Reviews: Pat York’s “Great Leaving”

Tuesday, August 14th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Diana Sharples

Cover by Diana Sharples

Pat York was born on August 14, 1949 and died on May 21, 2005 in a car accident.

York was nominated for the Nebula in 2001 for her short story “You Wandered Off Like a Foolish Child To Break Your Heart and Mine.”

York published “The Great Leaving” in Odyssey #2, edited by Liz Holliday, in 1998. The story has never been reprinted.

York tells the story of the days leading up to the departure of a colonizing spaceship in “The Great Leaving.” Although many of her friends, including her nominal boyfriend, are leaving on the flight, Clare refuses to even consider going because she had obligations to her mother in the small village in which they live. York makes it clear that there is no other reason for Clare to remain behind. German and Japanese investors in Ireland have made the country unrecognizable and essentially have killed off any culture or national pride the people might have been able to retain.

Despite calls for her to go on the ship, Clare refuses, remaining adamant and eventually falling back on the excuse that they are well past the deadline for her to change her mind. Of course, she also does begin to change her mind after the deadline is past, partly because of a declaration of love and commitment from Michael Hackett, the aforementioned boyfriend.

While Clare’s dedication to her mother and desire to stay and try to preserve what she can of her culture is admirable, the character is not particularly memorable, her decision understandable, but not particularly defensible. Once she does change her mind, York provides a deus ex machina which can trace back to a momentary nastiness by Clare to one of the immigrants to allow Clare to leave her mother and plan a future life with Michael.

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Birthday Reviews: Mary C. Pangborn’s “The Confession of Hamo”

Monday, August 13th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Lawrence Ratzkin

Cover by Lawrence Ratzkin

Mary C. Pangborn was born on August 13, 1907 and died on February 20, 2000.

Pangborn didn’t publish very many works during her career. Her first story appeared in 1979 and she published six stories by 1985 with one more appearing in 1996. Although she has written a novel, it has not yet been published. Three of her stories appeared in the Universe series, another in the New Dimensions series, one in Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Mary C. Pangborn’s third story was “The Confession of Hamo,” originally published in 1980 in Terry Carr’s Universe 10. Carr enjoyed the story so much that he included it the next year in his Fantasy Annual IV. When Several of the stories that appeared in the Fantasy Annual series were translated into Spanish for inclusion in the book Fantasias in 1989, “The Confession of Hamo” was one of them.

The title of “The Confession of Hamo” tells the reader exactly what they should expect, although without any of the details. Hamo, living in fifteenth century England, is confessing his sins to Brother Albertus, although it isn’t entirely clear that Hamo is fully aware of the extent and nature of his sins. Hamo has been traveling the countryside with his friend, Tom o’Fowey, who calls himself Moses the Mage. The two scam people into believing that they can change base metal into gold.

Through their travels, they occasionally meet up with another charlatan who goes by the name Black Jamie, who teaches them how to make it appear that they are creating gold. Although Hamo never explicitly identifies Black Jamie, it is clear that he is a representation of the Devil. Instead, Hamo is more concerned about the crime of alchemy that he and Tom practiced, although at the same time he is clearly proud of the scam they perpetrated.

Eventually, Black Jamie sends Hamo on a quest, warning him that part of himself would be taken from him. Hamo’s biggest concern that he would lose his genitalia proves to be unfounded, although he does lose an non-tangible part of himself which proves to be a huge problem for someone who earns their money scamming others. Hamo, who now calls himself the Accursed, also finds that Tom has been taken prisoner by the sheriff, and it’s up to the now destitute Hamo to figure out a way to free him without his own biggest asset.

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Birthday Reviews: Brenda Cooper’s “Second Shift”

Sunday, August 12th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Love & Rockets

Love & Rockets

Brenda Cooper was born on August 12, 1960.

Cooper has won the Endeavour Award twice, for her novels The Silver Ship and the Sea and Edge of Dark. The latter was also a nominee for the Golden Duck Hal Clement Award while the former was nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award. Her short story “Savant Songs” was nominated for the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. Cooper has collaborated with Larry Niven on both short fiction and a novel.

Cooper write “Second Shift” for the anthology Love & Rockets, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Kerrie Hughes in 2010. In 2015, she included it in her collection Cracking the Sky.

Brenda Cooper looks at a strange form of love in “Second Shift.” Lance Parker is on a solo mission to the asteroid belt to mine ore. Because such missions take so long, companionship is necessary to help the astronauts maintain a sense of sanity. To this end, Sulieyan and Kami have both been hired to maintain contact with him, in shifts, to provide Lance with the required human contact that a computer just can’t provide.

Although the first rule is not to form a relationship with the astronaut, Kami and Lance have both proclaimed their love for each other, even as they realize that there is practically no chance of them ever meeting in real life. Lance’s mission is a lengthy and dangerous one and for him Kami and Sulieyan are simply voices in an otherwise empty cockpit. The situation, however, doesn’t make the feelings Kami has for him, or vice versa, and less real. Seeing what is happening, Sulieyan sends her grandson, Hart, to interview Kami for a newspaper article on love.

In a normal story, Hart and Kami would hit it off and Kami would transfer her affection to Suleiyan’s son, however, in Cooper’s story, Kami remains true to her distant and as yet unmet love. Her interactions with Hart are non-romantic, yet focus on a discussion of what love is and who Kami and Lance can be in love with each other despite the barriers places between them.

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The Complete Carpenter: In the Mouth of Madness (1994)

Saturday, August 11th, 2018 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

in-mouth-of-madness-horizontal-poster

“I think, therefore you are.”

—Sutter Cane (Do you read Sutter Cane?)

John Carpenter’s career couldn’t have taken a sharper turn than to go from the impersonal director-for-hire Memoirs of an Invisible Man, targeted toward a mainstream date-night audience, to In the Mouth of Madness, a highly personal film aimed at the narrowest and most specific audience of horror lovers possible. Of course, In the Mouth of Madness was a financial failure — the biggest at that point in Carpenter’s career. And, in a familiar pattern, it’s now revered and widely considered John Carpenter’s last great film. (I hope this turns out to be false, because Carpenter is still alive and I want him to direct again. Still, the odds of him turning out something better at this point … yeah, wouldn’t take that bet.)

I analyzed In the Mouth of Madness for Black Gate in 2014 for its debut on Blu-ray. As cosmic fate would have it, this next entry in my John Carpenter retrospective falls right at the release of a new special edition Blu-ray from Shout! Factory, giving me an opportunity to make a few new observations. Not that I might run out of things to talk about when it comes to a layered, strange, cerebral, and unapologetically nerdy flick like In the Mouth of Madness. This one will drive you absolutely mad!

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Birthday Review: Alan E. Nourse’s “The Gift of Numbers”

Saturday, August 11th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Kelly Freas

Cover by Kelly Freas

Alan E. Nourse was born on August 11, 1928 and died on July 19, 1992. He also published stories using the names Al Edwards and Doctor X.

Alan E. Nourse received a Hugo nomination for Best Novelette for his story “Brightside Crossing” in 1956, the third year the Hugos were presented and the second time the Best Novelette Hugo was awarded. When Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep was made into a film in 1982, the producers took the title of Nourse’s 1974 novel about underground medical services, The Bladerunner, for the Dick film. Nourse’s novel had been adapted for film in 1979 by William S. Burroughs, but the film was never made.

Nourse published “The Gift of Numbers” in Super-Science Fiction, edited by W.W. Scott in the August 1958 issue. The story was reprinted in Nourse’s 1971 collection Rx for Tomorrow and was also included in his German language collection Hospital Erde the following year. In 2012, Robert Silverberg selected the story for inclusion in the Haffner Press anthology Tales from Super-Science Fiction.

The Colonel is a low level con artist who scams ineffective bookkeeper Avery Mearns in a bar one evening.  In exchange for $20 (about $170 in 2018 dollar values), the Colonel promises to trade his ability with numbers to Mearns and thereby save his job. Mearns takes the Colonel up on the offer and, naturally, that is the last he sees of the con man.

However, the Colonel is not quite the con artist that he appears and Mearns finds that he suddenly is quite effective when it comes to bookkeeping.  Not only does he begin to save the company money, but he also realizes that he can skim from the company using bookkeeping tricks. While this would not have occurred to the mild-mannered Mearns who met the Colonel in the bar that evening, Mearns received some of the Colonel’s larceny along with his ability with numbers. Mearns used his abilities not only to steal from the company, but to steal other trinkets, completely unwittingly and unwillingly, until he is caught, at which time the company refused to press charges since he was bringing in more money than he was taking out. Mearns, however, began to look for the Colonel, who the police identified by several names and noted was on the lam.

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In 500 Words or Less: Graveyard Mind by Chadwick Ginther

Friday, August 10th, 2018 | Posted by Brandon Crilly

oie_9232935aM029I3CGraveyard Mind
By Chadwick Ginther
ChiZine Publications (300 pages, $17.99 paperback, $10.99 eBook, July 2018)

I love a book set in a Canadian city… other than Toronto. Sorry, T-dot; you get a lot of attention in the mainstream, but we have a big-ass country for SFF authors to play with, and as Bobby Singer once said to the Winchesters, “You ain’t the center of the universe.”

Sorry, that probably seemed aggressive. But it’s justified, since one of the things worth celebrating about Chadwick Ginther’s newest novel, Graveyard Mind, is that once again he brings us back to Winnipeg, painting it in a much different light than his Thunder Road novels by focusing on the underworld: ghosts, vampires, monsters, and more. There’s a similar feel here in the way Chadwick weaves interesting story elements together, presenting a unified world that makes total sense while being freaky and entertaining. You’ve got Frank, a golem stitched-together from dead soldiers who grapples with wanting to die; an underworld “territory” divided between an aging, pot-bellied vampire and an aristocratic animated skeleton; and protagonist Winter Murray, the necromancer charged with protecting Winnipeg while she deals with her never-born twin sister whispering in the back of her head. There’s even hell hounds and cultists and whatnot!

The freaky moments are superb, like where Winter’s frenemy vampire Christophe shows up at an art sale and brings the entire room under his thrall just to throw his weight around. These are so gripping because of Chadwick’s excellent character work; even minor characters make you care about them because, apologies for the cliché, they jump off the page. Graveyard Mind is a lot like The Dresden Files in that the interpersonal is just as important (and handled as well) as the excitement and terror of the supernatural. Winter tries to support her best friend Lyssa, who’s lost her mother, while at the same time keeping a local cult from taking over the funeral; she has a tenuous relationship with the lingering spirit of her mentor, Grannie Annie, who abducted her and brutally trained her in necromancy, keeping her from ever seeing her parents again; and so on. The consequences of Winter’s decisions on these relationships are more important than the consequences for her city or the supernatural world, because that’s what matters more to her.

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Birthday Reviews: Ward Moore’s “Rebel”

Friday, August 10th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Ed Emshwiller

Cover by Ed Emshwiller

Joseph Ward Moore was born on August 10, 1903 and published fiction using the name Ward Moore. Moore died on January 29, 1978.

Moore’s most famous work was the novel Bring the Jubilee, an alternate history about the Civil War. His stories “Lot” and “Lot’s Daughter,” form a post-apocalyptic future which was collected and expanded into the novel Lot, which formed the basis for the film Panic in Year Zero! He collaborated with Avram Davidson on the novel Joyleg and with Robert Bradford on Caduceus Wild.

“Rebel” originally appeared in the February 1962 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, edited by Robert P. Mills. It was reprinted in the June issue of the British edition of the magazine the same year and a month later was translated into French for its appearance in Fiction #104. Ida Purnell Stone included the story in her anthology Never in This World while Demètre Ioakimidis, Gérard Klein, and Jacques Goimard reprinted the French translation in their anthology Histoires de demain.

Moore takes a very simple idea in “Rebel” and runs with it. Bach and Smith and his wife only want what’s best for their son, Caludo, just as parents throughout history. Unfortunately, just like children throughout history, Caludo is rebelling against his parents’ values and insists that he isn’t going through a phase and his desires are just as legitimate as theirs. What sets the story apart is that in the Smiths’ world, the norm is based in artistic endeavor and Caludo wants to go into business.

The Smiths consider Caludo’s attire, jacket and trousers, to be a bizarre affectation, although Caludo, who also insists on sitting up in a straight backed chair, informs them he wears the constricting clothing rather than robes and togas because he finds it comfortable. Moore pulls out every argument a parent has made in favor of capitalism and fitting in and restructured it to fit into the milieu of a world in which capitalism is seen as a quaint historical artifact. It was good enough for the Grand Masters like Rockefeller and Carnegie, but it surely has no place in the modern world.

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Birthday Reviews: John Varley’s “Just Another Perfect Day”

Thursday, August 9th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Gottfried Helnweinn

Cover by Gottfried Helnweinn

John Varley was born on August 9, 1947.

Varley has won the Hugo and Nebula Awards for his novellas “The Persistence of Vision” and “Press Enter [].” He won an additional Hugo Award for the short story “The Pusher.” His novel Red Thunder won the Endeavour Award. The novel version of The Persistence of Vision won the Prix Apollo. His novella “In the Halls of the Martian Kings” won the Jupiter Award. He won the Prometheus Award for The Golden Globe. “Press Enter []” and “Tango Charlie and Foxtrot Romeo” both won the Seiun Award. In 2009, Varley won the Robert A. Heinlein Award. One of Varley’s most famous stories, “Air Raid,” which formed the basis of the novel and film Millennium, was originally published with the pseudonym “Herb Boehm.”

“Just Another Perfect Day” was originally published in Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine in June of 1989 by editor Tappan King. Gardner Dozois picked the story up for his The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Seventh Annual Collection. When Dozois’s volume was translated into Italian in 1995, Varley’s story was translated by Massimo Patti and included in the volume Millemondi Inverno 1995. In 1996 it appeared in translation in the German magazine Galaxies #3 and was translated into Japanese in 1998. Varley included the story in The John Varley Reader and John Joseph Adams reprinted it in the April 2011 issue of Lightspeed, as well as a performance of the book in the Lightspeed Podcast for the same year.

One of the cliché’s of science fiction is the character who awakens to a blank slate, in an empty room, with no idea who they are, where they are, or even what year they are in. It is a way for authors to provide necessary information not only to the character, but to the reader. In “Just Another Perfect Day,” John Varley bases his entire story on that cliché, providing a letter to his amnesiac, written by a previous version of the amnesiac, to explain the important parts of what has happened in the twenty-two years since his last actual memory.

The majority of the letter explains to the reader what the day has in store for him, what happened to him in 1989 that caused him not to remember anything since 1986, and eventually the salient features of what has changed in the world that he doesn’t remember, notably that the Earth has been invaded by aliens, called Martians, although they don’t come from there, and each day they are interested in visiting with him for an hour to talk. The subjects of these discussions, both historically, and in the context of the day the story is set, is left up to the reader to conjecture.

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The Games of Gen Con 2018

Wednesday, August 8th, 2018 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

PathfinderPlaytest

As you walk through the convention hall at Gen Con, moving from demo to demo and panel to panel, you can’t help but be overwhelmed by the advertisements everywhere, trying to catch your attention for the latest big game. Usually, there are one or two big new games that just seem to overwhelm the convention, often tied into big properties.

This year, the big new game at Gen Con wasn’t new. Not really. Pathfinder has long had a strong, even overwhelming, presence at Gen Con, so the promotion of the release of the Pathfinder Playtest this year felt pretty natural. Next year, we can anticipate the big release to be the Pathfinder Second Edition RPG, but for now the playtesting has begun.

I’ll cover the details of the Pathfinder Playtest in more depth in the upcoming weeks and months. I played two Pathfinder Society sessions of the playtest, at levels 1 and 5, so got a fair idea of how the bones of the new system operates. Fortunately, you don’t have to, because the Pathfinder Playtest Rulebook along with all other materials needed for play are available for free download at the Paizo website.

These downloads include the Doomsday Dawn campaign, a series of 7 adventures ranging from levels 1 to 17. These adventures aren’t all played with the same group of characters, although the core group of characters created for the level 1 adventure are re-used every couple of adventures at higher levels, so they’re really the “heroes” of the campaign. There are also three Pathfinder Society scenarios built for the playtest, to teach and test various elements of the game. And, of course, the Rulebook contains everything that a Gamemaster needs to create an original homebrew adventure or campaign for their group, to test out the rules in ways of their own devising.

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Birthday Reviews: F. Anstey’s “The Adventure of the Snowing Globe”

Wednesday, August 8th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

The Strand

The Strand

F. Anstey was born Thomas Anstey Guthrie on August 8, 1856. He began using the pseudonym F. Anstey after an editor included a typo in his byline, replacing his first initial with an F. He published under both the F. Anstey name and his own name. He died on March 10, 1934.

Trained as a lawyer, Anstey frequently used his legal background in his books and novels, most of which were humorous. He was a frequent contributor to Punch. In addition to fiction, he also produced plays. Over the years, many of his stories have been turned into films, most recently the 1988 film Vice Versa, starring Judge Reinhold and Fred Savage, based on his 1882 book of the same title.

“The Adventure of the Snowing Globe” was originally published in the December 1905 issue of The Strand Magazine, edited by George Newnes. The following year, Anstey included the story in his collection Salted Almonds. In 1996, Peter Haining chose the story for his anthology The Wizards of Odd: Comic Tales of Fantasy, which has been translated, along with the story, into German. Mike Ashley used the story in his 2012 anthology Dreams and Wonders: Stories from the Dawn of Modern Fantasy. In 2013, the story was translated into Russian for inclusion in an anthology.

Anstey’s “The Adventure of the Snowing Globe” is almost a proof of the adage that to a man with a hammer every problem looks like a nail. Anstey’s narrator is, like Anstey, a lawyer. When he is magically transported into a snowglobe where a princess is held captive in a castle by her evil uncle, who has set a dragon to guard her, Anstey’s character resorts to legal means to free her, thinking of what motions he can file with the court, down to the level of naming the laws that he would bring to bear.

The princess, of course, understands the situation better than the attorney, but she can only conceive of a knight rescuing her and is tied into the paradigm as much as the narrator is tied to his legalistic one. The big difference, of course, being that the princess understands life within the snowglobe kingdom much better than the narrator does.

Anstey builds a divide between the princess and the lawyer by providing them with very different speech patterns. Both speak formally, but the princess and her seneschal speak in an archaic manner, while the lawyer speaks in an Edwardian manner, as if he were addressing a judge.

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