Birthday Reviews: Janet Pack’s “A Coin for Charon”

Monday, November 5th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Sol's Children

Sol’s Children

Janet Pack was born on November 5, 1952.

Pack has collaborated with Kevin Stein on several poems and has co-edited anthologies with Margaret Weis, Robin Crew, and Martin H. Greenberg. She has occasionally published as Janet Deaver-Pack.

“A Coin for Charon” was published in Jean Rabe and Martin H. Greenberg’s anthology Sol’s Children in 2002. It has never been reprinted.

Pack’s story demonstrates one of the problems with writing about near future events, although in a slightly atypical way. Pack published the story, set on a space station in orbit around Pluto, in 2002 and in 2006, NASA launched the New Horizons mission to fly through the Plutonian system. When Pack wrote the story, little was known about Pluto and only one moon, Charon, had been discovered. By 2005, two additional moons had been found, Nix and Hydra. By the time New Horizons had reached Pluto and upended what we thought we knew about the planet, two additional moons, Kerberos and Styx, had been discovered. We have also learned that Pluto was not the frozen ball of rock and “methane-ethane-nitrogen-carbon-monoxide frost” that Pack described.

However, the focus of the story is less on Pluto and more on the dysfunctional relationship between two of the scientists on the space station, Velerie Heyer and Konrad Gregorius, whose relationship starts badly and only worsens as they get to know each other and are forced to work together, with the discovery of a magnetic element that Pack describes as forcing the tidal lock between Pluto and Charon, only cementing their enmity.

There are many historical stories about scientific relationships which go wrong and Pack takes the worst of all of those and transplants them to a remote space station with very tight living quarters, sure to exacerbate the problem. Although she mentions the rest of the station’s inhabitants, Heyer and Gregorius are really the only ones shown in any depth, although Heyer also interacts with Tobias Wellett. Without more input from the secondary characters, Heyer’s view of the situation is, of necessity, skewed and the reader is left wondering if the other characters have really kept to themselves as much as Heyer indicates rather than trying to alleviate the tension before the state of affairs could reach the point it does in the story.

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Birthday Reviews: Kara Dalkey’s “Bouncing Babies”

Sunday, November 4th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Not of Woman Born

Not of Woman Born

Kara Dalkey was born on November 4, 1953.

Dalkey was nominated for the Mythopoeic Award in 1989 for her novel The Nightingale, a retelling of one of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales in a Japanese setting. Ten years later her novel Heavenward Path was also nominated for the Mythopoeic Award for Children’s Literature. She was also nominated for the James Tiptree Jr. Memorial Award in 2004 for her short story “Lady of the Ice Gardens.”

“Bouncing Babies” was published in the anthology Not of Woman Born, edited by Constance Ash in 1999. The story has never been reprinted.

Although the people who live in the world of “Bouncing Babies” may see it as a utopia in which people don’t have to worry about giving birth unless they want to and the need to work is obviated, it is also a world in which a person’s worth is based solely on their ability to provide reproductive material. Teenage girls are genetically tested and if they prove to fit societal requirements are paid ten million dollars to have their eggs harvested, their genotype then used to determine their ability to fit into society.

Ms. Goodwin has long since had her eggs harvested and is living a life of luxury when she receives a notification to visit the Reprotec Bank. Not having any clue what they want to talk to her about, she goes in and discovers that her eggs are no longer genetically desirable. In fact, a child born from them was returned as defective by its parents. The bank has seized her assets to regain their investments and Goodwin realizes that she has nothing to fall back on.

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Birthday Reviews: Neal Barrett, Jr.’s “A Day at the Fair”

Saturday, November 3rd, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Paul Chadwick

Cover by Paul Chadwick

Neal Barrett, Jr. was born on November 3, 1929 and died on January 12, 2014..

Barrett’s novelette “Ginny Sweethips’ Flying Circus” was nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula Award and his story “Stairs” was nominated for the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. He received a nomination for the World Fantasy Award for Best Collection for Perpetuity Blues and Other Stories. He has published Tom Swift novels under the house name Victor Appleton. Barrett was named Author Emeritus by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 2010.

“‘A Day at the Fair’” was first published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in the March 1981 issue, edited by Edward L. Ferman. Ferman included it in The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction, 24th Series the next year. Barrett has included the story in two of his collections. He reprinted it in Slightly Off Center: Eleven Extraordinarily Exhilarating Tales in 1992 and again in Perpetuity Blues and Other Stories in 2000.

For Toony, the local fair is a high point of the year, bringing together all the various castes who have settled on the planet and giving her a chance to eat a variety of comfort foods. Her trip to the fair in the company of her grandfather, who remembers life on Earth before coming to their planet, her sister Lizbeth Jean, her practically absent mother, and Tyrone, a Noord, who seems to be either a low-functioning alien or a high functioning pet.

While the fair appears to be a way for people to gather, enjoy food, play games, and form a sense of community, there also appears to be a more sinister aspect. Grandpa gets sucked in by a Patchman, a form of spaceman, who tries to sell him on a service that allows him to speak to the dead. When he tries it, he is able to have brief conversations with some friends and his wife, but the actual mechanism for making it work is ignored by Barrett and the characters. The fair also seems to have a form of slave market and Grandpa and Toony find themselves looking at a captured Bug, who claims to be the vice-admiral of an alien species captured in a war the Patchmen are fighting far from the fair’s planet. The fact that people can be bought and sold at the fair puts Toony’s relationship with Tyrone in a very different light and also indicates that the fair may be a cover for the slave trade, which becomes more obvious as Toony and her grandpa are talking to the Bug.

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From Beneath the Review Pile: The Same Old Story

Friday, November 2nd, 2018 | Posted by Brandon Crilly

oie_1235943NVf82AxcAs they used to say in Monty Python, “and now for something completely different.”

The more I read, the more difficult it is for me to be entranced by a novel or short story. My writer brain is always whirring away in the background, pointing out when an author has done something clever or highlighting specific techniques like Chekhov’s gun. To be honest, it’s sort of a pain in the ass. If a novel isn’t gripping to the point that my writer brain clicks off for a bit – or at least gets quieter – I usually put it down somewhere around the fifty-page mark, if not sooner.

Doing this column makes it tough sometimes, too, because a) I don’t like to review something I didn’t at least enjoy enough to finish, but b) I need to find a book worth reviewing every two weeks. And honestly, two years into this column it’s getting harder, since I keep seeing the same story over and over again.

Let me give you an example, without giving too many specifics (since I don’t want to insult anyone). Recently I started a space opera ARC that I received from a publisher, because the back cover blurb sounded really cool, involving a protagonist who’s vilified by the galaxy he worked to save. Except the novel doesn’t start with that; it goes back to the protagonist’s youth, struggling to find his own way in a typical noble household, feeling stifled and controlled until he escapes and begins to come into his own, etc, etc. Sigh. Where’s my story about the intergalactic savior grappling with whether he should consider himself a hero or a villain? If we started there, I’d be able to forgive yet another far-future imperial setting structured like a hundred other novels I’ve read in the last few years.

Sorry if that sounded a little more heated than I usually get here. It’s just that I keep seeing the same story, and it’s wearying. Sometimes the story pretends to be different through its main characters. Like a post-alien invasion apocalypse where the adults are gone and young people have to survive on their own. Jazz it up with lead characters that are different than your usual fare, whether it’s based on gender identity, race, mental health, physical disability, etc, and maybe you’ve got a hit. Or maybe it’s the same story with the exact same beats and even some of the same tropes, and all the author is trying to do is be clever.

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Birthday Reviews: Lois McMaster Bujold’s “The Hole Truth”

Friday, November 2nd, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by J.K. Potter

Cover by J.K. Potter

Lois McMaster Bujold was born on November 2, 1949.

Bujold has won seven Hugo Awards. Her first Hugo was for the novella “The Mountains of Mourning.” She has won the Best Novel Hugo for The Vor Game, Barrayar, Mirror Dance, and Paladin of Souls. She won back-to-back Best Series Hugos for The Vorkosigan Saga and the World of the Five Gods series. “The Mountains of Mourning” and Paladin of Souls also earned Bujold Nebula Awards, as did the novel Falling Free, which also won a Prometheus Hall of Fame Award. She earned the Italia Award for the novel Komarr and the Mythopoeic Award for The Curse of Chalion. Her novel A Civil Campaign won a Sapphire Award. Bujold has also been recognized with the Skylark Award from NESFA and the Forry Award from LASFS. She was the guest of Honor at Denvention 3, the 66th Worldcon in Denver in 2008.

“The Hole Truth” was first published in the December 1986 issue of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine, edited by Tappan King. The story’s only other publication occurred in the NESFA Press anthology Dreamweaver’s Dilemma, which was originally published in 1996.

Authors often become so identified with specific series that readers find it difficult to remember that they have written outside those series. Lois McMaster Bujold’s name is synonymous with her Vorkosigan series and her World of the Five Gods, but she has also written stories and novels that stand on their own. In fact, “The Hole Truth” is part of a mini series of three short stories.

The story is set on Milton Street in the small Ohio town of Putnam. As with many cities in the Midwest, following the winter, Putnam is plagued by a plethora of potholes. One of the potholes in Putnam is on Milton and the residents don’t think much of it, although it caused severe damage to Waldo Simpson’s shocks. Eventually, Bill Pointer looked closely at the pothole and realized that it seemed to have a thick substance in it. When he poked at it with a stick, the stick became lodged and eventually sucked into the pothole, or possibly sinkhole.

While the city postpones dealing with the pothole, the residents of Milton Street, and eventually others, come up with their own use for the hole, dropping a wide, and ever-increasing mass, of garbage into the hole which seems to have an insatiable appetite for detritus. As more is dumped into it, the hole grows larger, allowing for bigger pieces of trash to be thrown in. Suddenly, the hole shuts with little warning, at least temporarily.

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Birthday Reviews: Zenna Henderson’s “Trouble of the Water”

Thursday, November 1st, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Jack Gaughan

Cover by Jack Gaughan

Zenna Henderson was born on November 1, 1917 and died on May 11, 1983.

Henderson was nominated for the Hugo Award in 1959 for her novelette “Captivity,” one of the stories in her The People series. Her story “Porrage” was made into a television film starring William Shatner in 1972, and “Hush” was adapted for an episode of Tales from the Darkside.

“Troubling of the Water” was originally published in the September 1966 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, edited by Edward L. Ferman. Henderson included it in her collection The People: No Different Flesh the following year. In 1973, it was translated into Japanese and in 1993, it was translated into Italian by Giuliano Acunzoli. The story was most recently included in the NESFA Press volume Ingathering: The Complete People Stories, edited by Mark and Priscilla Olson.

Henderson’s People stories are quite different. “Troubling the Water” is set on a nineteenth century ranch in an area suffering a long drought. Access to water has become a major issue, but while most modern science fiction dealing with lack of water would use it as the basis for conflict over water rights, the characters in Henderson’s story use it to support each other and build a community.

In “Troubling of the Water,” Barney and his Father see a meteorite fall to Earth on their property. Set in the nineteenth century in a rural backwater, they are surprised to find a burnt and blinded boy at the site of the meteorite strike. The bring him back home and begin to nurse him back to health, eventually naming him Timothy. It becomes clear to Barney’s father and eventually to Barney that Timothy was not a boy struck by a meteorite, but rather an alien who had come to Earth. Through touching Barney and forging a link with the boy, Timothy is eventually able to learn to speak and learn of the family’s need for water.

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Birthday Reviews: October Index

Thursday, November 1st, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by David A. Hardy

Cover by David A. Hardy

Cover by Hannes Bok

Cover by Hannes Bok

Cover by John Schoenherr

Cover by John Schoenherr

January index
February index
March index
April index
May index
June index
July index
August index
September index

October 1, Donald A. Wollheim: “Blueprint
October 2, Edward Wellen: “Barbarossa
October 3, Ray Nelson: “Time Travel for Pedestrians
October 4, Gary Couzens: “Half-Life
October 5, Zoran Živković: “The Whisper
October 6, David Brin: “Just a Hint

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Birthday Reviews: Neal Stephenson’s “Excerpt from the Third and Last Volume of Tribes of the Pacific Coast”

Wednesday, October 31st, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Full Spectrum 5-small Full Spectrum 5-back-small

Cover by Michael Parkes

Neal Stephenson was born on October 31, 1959.

Stephenson won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1996 for The Diamond Age and the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2004 for Quicksilver. His novel Snow Crash won the Prix Ozone, the Ignotus Award, and the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire. Stephenson’s novel Seveneves won the Kurd Lasswitz Preis and the Prometheus Award. Stephenson has also won the Prometheus Award for The System of the World and Cryptonomicon.

“Excerpt from the Third and Last Volume of ‘Tribes of the Pacific Coast’” is one of Stephenson’s few short stories and it originally appeared in Full Spectrum 5, edited by Jennifer Hershey, Tom Dupree, and Janna Silverstein in 1995. The story was reprinted in Steampunk, edited by Jeff and Ann VanderMeer. It has not, otherwise, been reprinted.

The opening of “Excerpt from the Third and Last Volume of ‘Tribes of the Pacific Coast’” has the feel of David McCauley’s Motel of the Mysteries, with a group of men in the ruins of an ancient shopping mall. However, while Stephenson seems to signal that the expedition will explore the mall and come to erroneous conclusions about twentieth century culture, the story itself is quite different.

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Birthday Reviews: Douglas E. Winter’s “Splatter: A Cautionary Tale”

Tuesday, October 30th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Masques II

Masques II

Douglas E. Winter was born on October 30, 1950.

Winter won the World Fantasy Award for Non-Professionals for his reviewing in 1986 and has won the International Horror Guild Award three times, for his stories “Black Sun” and “Loop” and for the anthology Revelations. He served as the Toastmaster for the 1986 World Fantasy Com in Providence, RI and the Master of Ceremonies for the 2003 World Fantasy Con in Washington D.C. He has collaborated with Melissa Mia Hall at least twice.

“Splatter: A Cautionary Tale” was first published as a chapbook by Footsteps Press in 1987. In June of that year, J.N. Williamson included the story in the anthology Masques II and reprinted it the following year in The Best of Masques. 1988 also saw the story reprinted in David J. Schow’s Silver Scream and Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling’s The Year’s Best Fantasy: First Annual Collection the first volume in their long-running series better known as The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Barry Hoffman reprinted it in Gauntlet 1 in 1990 and Williamson again published it in the omnibus volume Dark Masques in 2012. It was translated into Italian in 1988 by Alda Carrer and in 1990, Gisela Kirst-Tinnefeld translated it into German. The story was nominated for the World Fantasy Award for Best Short Fiction in 1988.

“Splatter: A Cautionary Tale” is told in segments, with each paragraph headed with the title of a horror film. It describes the lives of three people, Cameron Blake, a woman who is crusading against the portrayal of violence in horror films, Thomas Tallis, an artist who is figuring out what the boundaries are, and Renhquist, a horror fan who may have begun to accept the violence in films a little too much. Winter uses language and arguments about horror films which are generally reserved for pornography.

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Birthday Reviews: Fredric Brown’s “It Didn’t Happen”

Monday, October 29th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Playboy, 10/63

Playboy, 10/63

Fredric Brown was born on October 29, 1906 and died on March 11, 1972.

Although Brown has been nominated for four Retro Hugo Awards (twice in 1996 and twice in 2018), he was deemed deserving of renewed attention and received the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award in 2012. In addition to writing short fiction and science fiction novels, Brown also wrote numerous mysteries and his novel The Fabulous Clipjoint earned him an Edgar Award for Best First Mystery Novel. His story “Arena” was adapted into the Star Trek episode of the same name, and several other stories of his have been adapted for television and film, including a cinematic version of Martians Go Home which should be avoided. Brown occasionally collaborated with Carl Onspaugh, Fritz Leiber, and Judith Merril, although his most frequent collaborator was Mack Reynolds.

Brown first published “It Didn’t Happen” in the October 1963 issue of Playboy. It was reprinted in the Playboy science fiction anthology Transit of Earth in 1971 and in 1973 was included in Fredric Brown’s collection Paradox Lost and Twelve Other Great Science Fiction Stories. The story showed up in subsequent Brown collections The Best of Fredric Brown and From These Ashes: The Complete Short SF of Fredric Brown, as well as the Wildside Press megapack #33, focusing on Brown. The story has been translated for French and Dutch editions of Paradox Lost and into Italian, by Giuseppe Lippi, for an original Italian collection by Brown called Cosmolinea B-2.

“It Didn’t Happen” is one of those stories which has always stayed with me. It is about Lorenz Kane, who has become convinced that he is the only person in the world. In Kane’s view, everyone else is simply a manifestation of his imagination. Kane’s viewpoint is put to the test when he shoots and kills a stripper who rejects his advances and finds himself in jail awaiting trial. Despite this, he still thinks he is on the right track. As he explains to his attorney, he began to think other people didn’t exist when he accidentally killed a girl on a bicycle and when he reported it to the police, she had completely vanished. He tested his theory by murdering someone, who similarly seemed to have ceased to exist.

Kane relates his theory and his guilt to his attorney, who listens intently, not dismissing any of the craziness Kane brings up. The fact that Brown includes scenes of the attorney apart from Kane indicates that Kane’s theories are incorrect and that he is not the only person who actually exists. Kane’s discovery that killing the stripper has consequences also indicates to Kane that he is wrong, but rather than assume his subconscious is punishing him for murdering her, he simply revises his solipsist theory of existence.

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