Birthday Reviews: Jack Dann’s “Rings Around the Moon”

Thursday, February 15th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Jay Lake

Cover by Jay Lake

Jack Dann was born on February 15, 1945. His novels include The Man Who Melted, The Memory Cathedral, and The Silent, among many others. Dann has edited several anthologies, often in conjunction with Gardner Dozois, Janeen Webb, or George Zebrowski. He edited the Jewish science fiction anthology Wandering Stars in 1974 and followed it up with More Wandering Stars.

Dann won the Nebula Award for Best Novella for his 1995 story “Da Vinci Rising” and has won the World Fantasy Award for Best Anthology twice, for Dreaming Down Under, edited with Janeen Webb, and Dreaming in the Dark. His anthology Ghosts by Gaslight, edited with Nick Gevers, won the Shirley Jackson Award and the Aurealis Award. He also won the Aurealis Award for his short story “Niagara Falling,” written with Webb, and his novel The Memory Cathedral. “Niagara Falling” also earned him his first Ditmar Award, which was followed up with anthology awards for Dreaming Down Under, Dreaming Again, and Dreaming in the Dark and a short fiction award for “The Diamond Pit.” In 2004, he received the Peter McNamara Award for a professional working in the Australian SF field.

“Rings Around the Moon” was originally published in Polyphony 3, edited by Deborah Layne and Jay Lake. It was later reprinted in Dann’s collection Promised Land: Stories of Another America. “Rings Around the Moon” is part of Dann’s “The Rebel” cycle, which includes several stories as well as the 2004 novel The Rebel: An Imagined Life of James Dean. The story was nominated for the Darrell Award for best Mid-South science fiction, fantasy, or horror.

Mostly told from the viewpoint of a young Elvis Presley, “Rings Around the Moon” opens in Memphis on the evening of September 30, 1955, around the time his career was starting to take off. Unfortunately for Elvis, his burgeoning touring career, and the rumors of his sexual escapades, are putting a strain on his relationship with Lizzie, his girlfriend. As the two are trying to figure out what their relationship is, Gladys Presley informs them that the actor Elvis is always talking about, James Dean, has been injured in a car accident.

Elvis decides he needs to visit Dean and asks Lizzie to go with him. The set up allows Dann to explore the blessings and curses of fame through a fictitious meeting between two of the most legendary individuals of the burgeoning 1950s youth culture. James Dean lying in his hospital bed recovering, and the young Elvis having his first taste of stardom listening to what Dean has to say.

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Reading The Lost Oases by Ahmed Hassanein Bey

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

2342997I’ve always loved vintage travelogues. The world was bigger a hundred years ago, its cultures more distinct and isolated. Travel was hard and sometimes dangerous. Accounts of old journeys bring me back to a time when people could go to places like Africa and not be able to text home.

But there’s always been a problem with the genre. The vast majority of the books available in English are from the Western perspective, especially the Anglo perspective. So The Lost Oases, written by Egyptian Ahmed Hassanein Bey and published in 1925, came as a welcome change. It’s an Arab account of discovering two remote oases in the far southwest of Egypt, hundreds of miles from the nearest habitation.

Ahmed Hassanein Bey was a wealthy Egyptian of Bedouin stock who was educated at Oxford, so he is good at explaining his own culture to the Western reader and yet remains enough of an outsider that we can enjoy watching his learning curve as he visits his country cousins.

He was already an experienced desert traveler when he set out on this mission, and we’re carried through a detailed description of his preparations and planning. When all is ready, he goes to his father for a moving scene where the old man blesses him and the baggage for a safe journey.

After skirting the coastline, the caravan heads south along the Egyptian/Libyan border. At this point in history, Egypt was administered by the British Empire and Libya by Italy. The main group along the border, then and now, is called the Senussi. I mainly knew of them from their attempt to invade Egypt during the First World War at the urging of the Germans and Ottomans.

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Birthday Reviews: J.T. McIntosh’s “Hermit”

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by John Schoenherr

Cover by John Schoenherr

J.T. McIntosh was born James Murdoch MacGregor on February 14, 1925 and died some time in 2008 or late 2007. He used a variation of his primary pseudonym for most of his writing, occasionally spelling it MacIntosh or M’Intosh. When he wrote in collaboration with Frank Parnell, they published as Gregory Francis, and he used Stuart Winsor for works written with Jeff Mason.

His first story, “The Curfew Tolls” appeared in Astounding Science Fiction in 1950 and three years later he published his debut novel, World Out of Mind. In addition to his science fiction, he also wrote a couple of detective novels and in 1956 he collaborated on the screenplay for the film Satellite in the Sky. He retired from writing in 1979 after publishing the novel A Planet Called Utopia.

Tom Godwin’s short story, “The Cold Equations” was published in the August 1954 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. Over the years, many authors have written stories which attempt to resolve the dilemma that Godwin described. In the June 1963 issue of Astounding Science Fact Science Fiction, J.T. McIntosh wrote a story which in many ways was reminiscent of Godwin’s original piece.

“Hermit” is the tale of Experimental Station Officer Duncan Clement, on duty at Station 47 for ten months of a year-long stint. Located in a secluded area of space, his orders are to destroy any terrestrial ship that attempts a landing. When he hears a distress call from a lifeboat with a single young woman on board, he decides to rebel against his orders.

The woman turns out to be, or claim to be, Lesley Kay, the seventeen year old daughter of a Senator. The gender politics of McIntosh’s story are dated and somewhat jarring. Although Clement’s age is never revealed, McIntosh continuously tries, without much success, to build up a sexual tension between the two characters and many of Clements actions, which McIntosh himself notes, are the result of the fact that the lifeboat’s passenger is female.

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The Courage of the Question: Tuck Everlasting

Tuesday, February 13th, 2018 | Posted by Thomas Parker

Tuck Everlasting-smallIf you have children at home, you know their propensity for asking questions. “Can I have some more?” “Why not?” “Are we there yet?” “Do I have to?” These questions and many others are familiar to everyone who deals with children, and they (the questions, that is) usually don’t pose much of a problem. (In my house, we have long had a standard reply to this kind of query, taken from a Ring Lardner short story: “Shut up, he explained.”)

Not all childish questions are so easily disposed of, however. The hard ones can range from the mathematical, such as “What if there was no such thing as five?” to the epistemological, like “How do you know?” The roughest ones are literally life and death: “Why did my puppy, why did my friend, why did my Grandpa have to die?” When faced with these, too often the adult impulse is to brush the child off with a pat answer that answers nothing, or better yet, to quickly change the subject.

Tough questions don’t cease to be questions, though, just because we grow too experienced, too jaded, too busy, too complacent, too disappointed, too bored — too old to be willing to ask them ourselves.

This is one of the reasons children can keep you feeling young… when they’re not making you feel ancient. It’s also why reading great children’s literature can be such a wonderful, renewing experience; such books are addressed to an audience that hasn’t yet gotten into the fatal habit of thinking that all questions have either already been answered or are unanswerable. Such books are themselves like fearless, inquisitive children; they’re willing to speak their minds, whatever the consequences. Books like this are assured of long lives…books like Natalie Babbitt’s 1975 children’s fantasy, Tuck Everlasting.

In the little town of Treegap, in the first week of August in the year 1880, ten year old Winnie Foster feels like life’s possibilities have already dried up. Her overprotective family won’t let her roam, won’t let her experience all that she wants to; her world is cruelly circumscribed by the white picket fence that keeps her safely penned in her front yard. Before the hot August days are over, though, Winnie will have an encounter that will change her life forever, and she’ll be faced with a momentous and irrevocable choice.

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Birthday Reviews: Maureen F. McHugh’s “Ancestor Money”

Tuesday, February 13th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Erwin Blumenfeld

Cover by Erwin Blumenfeld

Maureen F. McHugh was born on February 13, 1959. She published her first story, “All in a Day’s Work,” in Twilight Zone using the pseudonym Michael Galloglach, the only story published using that name.

McHugh won the James Tiptree, Jr. Award in 1993 for her debut novel China Mountain Zhang, which also won the Locus Poll for Best First Novel and the Lambda Award. In 1999, it also received the Gaylactic Spectrum Award. She won the Hugo Award for Best Short Story in 1996 for “The Lincoln Train,” which also won that year’s Locus Poll. Her collection After the Apocalypse: Stories received the Shirley Jackson Award.

“Ancestor Money” was first published in the October 1, 2003 issue of Sci Fiction, edited by Ellen Datlow. It appeared in the following year’s The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror: Seventeenth Annual Edition and was included in McHugh’s collection Mothers & Other Monsters: Stories. Diane Severson read the story for PodCastle PC036 in 2008 and it was against reprinted in Peter S. Beagle’s anthology The Secret History of Fantasy. Its most recent appearance was in Paula Guran’s Ghosts: Recent Hauntings. McHugh received a Nebula nomination for “Ancestor Voices.”

In “Ancestor Money,” Rachel Ball died at the age of 35 and has been existing in the afterlife for seven decades, content in her secluded world, occasionally seeing the spirit of her husband’s uncle, Speed, until Speed delivers a letter to her. The letter, which informs her that her granddaughter, Amelia Shaugnessy, has made an offering in Rachel’s memory and she can claim it by visiting a temple in Hong Kong, pulls Rachel from her idyllic afterlife.

Rachel travels from the Heaven she knows to the strange Heaven of San-qing, the afterlife for Hong Kong. Along the way, she has a constant sense of unease as she is pulled further and further from her natural place and understanding of the world. McHugh describes Rachel’s journey, which involves a mundane seeming airplane, with a sense of unease that mirrors what Rachel is experiencing as she leaves her heavenly version of Kentucky.

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Tell Me A Story: Levar Burton Reads

Monday, February 12th, 2018 | Posted by Elizabeth Cady

Reading Rainbow

Admit it. You are singing this song in your head right now. And possibly craving fruit loops.

I’m a child of the 80s. And 90s. I’m technically a member of a little sliver generation in between Gen X and the Millennials, and even that depends on who wrote the chart you’re looking at. But the point is, Levar Burton was a pivotal figure in my childhood. First through “Reading Rainbow”, the long running and highly acclaimed literacy program for children on PBS, and then via “Star Trek: The Next Generation”. I still remember the first season of Reading Rainbow: it premiered in 1983, and I was an avid watcher. When “The Next Generation” premiered four years later, I was just at an age to appreciate it. So when I heard that Burton was launching a new podcast series for adults via Stitcher, I was quick to subscribe.

It has been an outstanding addition to my podcast feed.

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Time Travel to the Most Dramatic Incidents in History: Invictus by Ryan Graudin

Monday, February 12th, 2018 | Posted by Elizabeth Galewski

Invictus Ryan Graudin-smallFarway McCarthy’s mother is one of the most famous time travelers ever to record the past. Since she disappeared when he was a child, never returning from an expedition to ancient Egypt, his only hope of finding her again is by following in her footsteps and becoming a field agent for the Corps of Central Time Travelers himself. He’s his class’s valedictorian going into the final exam, so this dream lies within his grasp. There’s just one more simulation to ace.

But then the unthinkable happens. He fails.

Somebody must have rigged the simulation. He didn’t get nearly close enough to the actress playing Marie Antoinette for her to notice him. Plus, she had the gall to wink at him in that knowing way as the hologram of Versailles vanished around him and the warehouse reappeared. He’d been set up.

Far pleads his case to the Headmaster to no avail. Just like that, he’s expelled from the Academy instead of graduating. If someone from the past could guess you’re a visitor from the future, you’ve got no business being a Recorder. Such carelessness could undermine the whole fabric of time.

Far leaves his exam knowing he’ll never get the chance to time travel. Trapped in the present, he’ll never find his mother. He’ll never even get the chance to look.

“Subject Seven has been successfully redirected,” an anonymous memo informs the reader as Far faces his bleak new future.

That’s when a mysterious handwritten note invites Far to meet with a black-market trader. The Corps of Central Time Travelers aren’t the only ones who own time machines, it turns out. Far can captain one (the Invictus) by accepting the trader’s extortionate terms, which, of course, he does.

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Birthday Reviews: Terry Bisson’s “Scout’s Honor”

Monday, February 12th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Greetings and Other Stories-small Greetings and Other Stories-flap-small

Cover by John Picacio

Terry Bisson was born on February 12, 1942. In addition to writing his only original novels and short stories, including Fire on the Mountain, Voyage to the Red Planet, and The Pickup Artist, Bisson has written several media tie-in novels and completed Walter Miller, Jr.’s Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman.

He has won the Nebula Award for Best Short Story twice, for “Bears Discover Fire” and for “macs.” Both stories also won the Locus Poll. “Bears Discover Fire” also received the Hugo Award for Best Short Story and the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. “macs” received the Grand Prix l’Imaginaire and the Xatafi-Cyberdark Awards for translations. In 1993, Bisson received the Phoenix Award from DeepSouthCon.

“Scout’s Honor” was first purchased by Ellen Datlow for the online ‘zine Sci Fiction, where it appeared in the January 28, 2004 issue. It was reprinted the next year in both the Hartwell/Cramer and the Dozois Year’s Best anthologies. Bisson included the story in his collection Greetings and the story was translated into Italian in 2008. It was short-listed for the Theodore Sturgeon Award.

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Birthday Reviews: Daniel F. Galouye’s “Sitting Duck”

Sunday, February 11th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by John Pederson, Jr.

Cover by John Pederson, Jr.

Daniel F. Galouye was born on February 11, 1920 and died on September 7, 1976. His debut novel Dark Universe was nominated for the Hugo Award in 1962. In 2007, Galouye was recognized with the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award.

Galouye’s stories have been collected in The Last Leap and Other Stories of the Super-Mind and Project Barrier. At least five collections of his works have been published in German translation over the years. Galouye published a total of five novels during his career, and numerous short stories beginning in 1952 and ending in 1970. His novel Simulacron-3 was adapted into the film The Thirteenth Floor in 1999. He also published under the pseudonym Louis G. Daniels.

“Sitting Duck” was published in the July 1959 issue of If, edited by Horace L. Gold. It was reprinted in the 1965 anthology The 6 Fingers of Time and Other Stories and a second time in Things from Outer Space, edited by Hank Davis, in 2016.

Ray Kirkland is a reporter in a world where something strange is happening, although nobody knows what it is. It impacts Kirkland directly when his wife suggests they take a look at a house that has suddenly appeared on a plot of land they were considering buying. Something about the house (4 kitchen, , 1½ bedrooms) seems off to him, but when he tries to investigate his editor suggests it is just a marketing ploy and tries to turn his attention another way.

Coincident to all this, Kirkland’s father-in-law is preparing for duck hunting season by building decoys and setting up duck blinds. The juxtaposition of the two threads allows the reader to see that the strange occurrences Kirkland is investigating are simply decoys created by an alien race.

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The Complete Carpenter: Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

Saturday, February 10th, 2018 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

big-trouble-little-china-poster-dru-struzanJohn Carpenter has seen plenty of his films underperform when first released, only to turn into cult icons years later. But Big Trouble in Little China, Carpenter’s ninth feature film, didn’t just underperform. It was the biggest flop of his career up to that point, pulling in $1.1 million against a budget of $25 million. This ended Carpenter’s phase with the big studios and sent him back to the indie world.

Big Trouble in Little China started on the page as a Western set in 1899. It was rewritten for a modern-day setting by script-doctor (and Buckaroo Banzai director) W. D. Richter before Carpenter arrived. Carpenter sparkled up the screenplay with his love of screwball comedy characters and dialogue and took inspiration from Chinese martial arts fantasy movies like Tsui Hark’s Zu Warriors of the Magic Mountain. Out of this stew, Carpenter created what he called “an action adventure comedy Kung-Fu ghost story monster movie.” Something for everybody. Kurt Russell promised audiences in a promotional featurette that they’d definitely get their five-bucks’ worth.

But the final product baffled the executives at 20th Century Fox. The studio dumped the promotional marketing into the sewer, contributing to the movie’s massive box-office crash. But, according to the Law of John Carpenter Cult Movies, Big Trouble in Little China gained a second life on cable and video. By the mid-‘90s, when the Hong Kong martial arts fantasy/comedy genre blew up in North America, this ode to Kung Fu, movie serials, Chuck Jones, and clueless macho heroes had become a classic.

The Story

Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) is the tough-talking, hoagie-munching truck driver of the Pork Chop Express. He arrives in San Francisco and meets his buddy Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) for beer and pai gow. Jack drives Wang to the airport to pick up his friend’s fiancée, Miao Yin (Suzee Pai), who’s arriving from Beijing. But at the airport, a Chinatown street gang kidnaps Miao Yin to sell to a brothel. When Jack and Wang pull into Chinatown to search for her, they land in the middle of a war between the ancient societies the Chang Sing and Wing Kong — as well as an eruption of strange magic that leaves Jack Burton confused for … well, pretty much the rest of the movie.

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