Birthday Reviews: Ted Chiang’s “The Evolution of Human Science”

Saturday, October 20th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Gregory Manchess

Cover by Gregory Manchess

Ted Chiang was born on October 20, 1967.

Chiang has won the Hugo Award four times, for his novelettes “Hell Is the Absence of God” and “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate,” for his short story “Exhalation,” and for his novella The Lifecycle of Software Objects. Both of those novelettes also won the Nebula as did his novelette “Tower of Babylon” and his novella “Story of Your Life,” which was turned into the Hugo and Bradbury Award-winning film Arrival. “Exhalation” also won the British SF Association Award and the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire. “Story of Your Life” earned the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. He won the Sidewise Award for Alternate History for “Seventy-Two Letters.” Chiang has won the Hayakawa Award for “Understand,” “Story of Your Life,” and “Seventy-Two Letters.” The Lifecycle of Software Objects won the Italia Award. “Hell Is the Absence of God won the Kurd Lasswitz Preis. Translations of his stories “Story of Your Life,” “Hell Is the Absence of God,” “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate,” and The Lifecycle of Software Objects won the Seiun Award. In 1992, Chiang won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

“Catching Crumbs from the Table” originally appeared in the June 1, 2000 issue of Nature. When Chiang included it in his 2002 collection Stories of Your Life and Others (later reprinted as Arrival), he changed the title of the story to “The Evolution of Human Science.” The story was translated into French for the collection La Tour de Babylone and into German by Karin Will and Michael Plogmann for the ecolltion Das wahre Wesen der Dinge. It was translated into German again in 2017 for inclusion in the March issue of Spektrum der Wissenschaft.

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Birthday Reviews: Bruce McAllister’s “World of the Wars”

Wednesday, October 17th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Carl Berkowitz

Cover by Carl Berkowitz

Bruce McAllister was born on October 17, 1946.

McAllister’s s novelette “Dream Baby” was nominated for the Nebula and Hugo Award in 1988. He was nominated for a second Hugo Award in 2007 for his short story “Kin.” His novelette “The Bleeding Child” (a.k.a. “The Crying Child” earned him a nomination for the Shirley Jackson Award in 2013. He edited the anthology There Won’t Be War with Harry Harrison. He has collaborated on fiction with Barry N. Malzberg, Andreas Neumann, Patrick Smith, and W.S. Adams.

“World of the Wars” was originally published in Mars, We Love You: Tales of Mars, Men, and Martians, edited by Jane Hipolito and Willis E. McNelly in 1971. The book has also been published as The Book of Mars. The only other time the story has been reprinted was in McAllister’s 2007 collection The Girl Who Loved Animals and Other Stories.

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A Treasure Trove of Classic British Horror: Darkness Mist & Shadow: The Collected Macabre Tales of Basil Copper

Tuesday, October 16th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill


I first saw the three volumes of Darkness Mist & Shadow: The Collected Macabre Tales of Basic Copper at Greg Ketter’s booth at Windy City seven years ago. It was a gorgeous set of hardcovers, with magnificent wraparound Stephen Fabian artwork, and it drew my eye immediately.

It was prohibitively expensive, however — nearly $200 for the set, if I remember correctly. Two hundred bucks buys a lot of vintage paperbacks. I put them back on the shelf with a sigh, and headed for the back of the room, where the cheap paperbacks were piled high on countless tables.

Darkness Mist & Shadow was published by Drugstore Indian Press, a division of PS Publishing in the UK, which means it wasn’t widely distributed here in the US. I’ve always been curious about Basil Copper’s fiction… not curious enough to part with $200 on an impulse purchase, but still. Bob Byrne is a fan of his Solar Pons tales (also available from PS Publishing), and Bob has good taste, so that heightened my curiosity.

I’m not always in the mood for classic British horror, but when October rolls around, with its long evenings, hot chocolate, and a cat that insists on climbing into my lap at seven o’clock and staying there, immobile, until midnight, I’m much more receptive. The promise of a virtual library of short stories and novellas — painstakingly gathered from such hard-to-find sources as the Dark Terrors anthology series, the Pan Book of Horror Stories, New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, and long out-of-print Arkham House volumes — gets a lot more appealing. So when PS reissued the books in beautiful trade paperback editions, priced at just £9.99 each ($17 from most US sellers), it was simply too hard to resist. I paid $45 for the complete set, and I’m very happy I did.

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The Claw of the Conciliator by Gene Wolfe

Tuesday, October 16th, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_164159RYRk8xECHaving set out to discuss The Claw of the Concilator (1981), the second entry in Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun, I’m completely unsure of what to write. Oh, I can tell you what happened, even how some things happened, but I’m not sure I can tell you why a lot of things happened. It’s probably due to a lack of context as two books remain in the series, but I’m not totally sure about that. Much of the story is conveyed via weird encounters, dreams, memories, fables, and even the text of a play. It’s challenging to piece the parts together to form a linear narrative, let alone anticipate the tale’s direction, which remains nearly as mysterious at the conclusion as at the start.

At the end of the previous book, The Shadow of the Torturer, Severian and his companions were caught in a violent outburst among the crowd of people at the great gate exiting the city Nessus. Severian is now accompanied by Jonas, a man with “a jointed contrivance of steel” for a right hand. The others he traveled with, Dr. Talos, Baldanders, Jolenta, and Dorcas, were lost to him in the chaos. While intent on reaching Thrax to take up his assignment as the town’s executioner, Severian and Jonas still hope to find the others. Severian makes his way serving as itinerant headsman and torturer in several towns along the road. It is in the mining town of Saltus (its mine is the buried ruins of an ancient city) that we find Severian and Jonas as Claw opens.

After he carries out a pair of executions, Severian is lured into danger by Agia. Previously she had colluded in setting him up to be killed and robbed, resulting in her own brother’s execution. She had also stolen the powerful artifact, the Claw of the Conciliator, and hidden it on Severian. Having discovered it, he has begun to realize it can emit a powerful light, heal wounds, and even raise the dead. With it, he is able to survive and overcome the trap set for him.

Unfortunately it can’t keep him from falling into the hands of the rebel leader, Vodalus. This encounter leads to Severian and Jonas signing on with the rebels and being sent to the House Absolute, the secret palace of the Autarch. There he must deliver a message to another agent of the uprising. They will also find their friends there who have been hired to put on a play. Along the way things get extra weird.

By book’s end, Severian has still not reached Thrax. He has, though, explored the House Absolute, one of the coolest works of fantastical architecture. It is covered with lawns and gardens to keep it from be spied from the sky. Miles and miles of tunnels lie below it, some, perhaps, even reaching all the way back to Nessus. Even more mysterious than the secret passages and rooms that seem de rigueur for any self-respecting palace, is the Second House. Instead of just adding more hidden chambers, the Autarch’s mysterious aide, Father Inrie, added an entire new house within the very structure of the House Absolute.

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Birthday Reviews: Lawrence Schimel’s “Taking Action”

Tuesday, October 16th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Barclay Shaw

Cover by Barclay Shaw

Lawrence Schimel was born on October 16, 1971.

Schimel won the Rhysling Award for Long Poem in 2002 for “How to Make a Human.” In 2007, he shared the Gaylactic Spectrum Award for Other Work with Richard Labonte for their anthologies The Future Is Queer. Schimel has also been nominated for the James Tiptree Jr. Award and the Lambda Award. In addition to his collaboration with Labonte, he has edited multiple anthologies with Martin H. Greenberg and has collaborated on fiction with Mike Resnick, Billie Sue Mosiman, and Mark A. Garland. He has, on occasion, published using the pseudonym David Laurents.

Schimel published “Taking Action” in Mike Resnick’s anthology Alternate Warriors in 1993. The story has never been reprinted.

One of the issues with the anthology Alternate Warriors is that many of the individuals who became the focus of stories were known for their advocacy of non-violence. Someone who advocates peaceful means to achieve their goals must change so much to become a warrior that they are practically unrecognizable. Schimel manages to overcome that issue in “Taking Action” by offering a plausible reason for Martin Luther King, Jr. to use violence in his campaign for civil rights.

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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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Vintage Treasures: The Illusionists by Faren Miller

Saturday, October 13th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Illusionists Faren Miller-small The Illusionists Faren Miller-back-small

Faren Miller’s The Illusionists is a curious book. I snapped up a copy when it first appeared in 1991, chiefly because of the author. Faren Miller had been writing for Locus magazine for ten years by then (and she still is, with some 3,100 articles and reviews to her name in the ISFDB index), and she’d gradually become one of my favorite reviewers. Her writing was polished and assured, and always insightful and entertaining, and when ads for her debut novel The Illusionists began to appear from the fledgling Questar, the short-lived SF imprint of Warner Books, I was very intrigued.

The Illusionists came in 7th for the Locus Award for Best First Novel that year, but didn’t receive much other press that I could see, good or bad. The book vanished and has never been reprinted. Miller never wrote another novel, and this seemed to be the beginning and ending of her writing career. It currently has a lukewarm 3.0 rating at Goodreads, with only two reviews, one which enthusiastically proclaims “Just started this book with hopes that it would be a trashy Sci-Fantasy story, I am not disappointed!” and another that complains, “I did not care for this novel at all. The writing was poetic and descriptive, but the characters and plot failed to generate any sort of interest.”

But I still find the plot and setting of The Illusionists intriguing, even after all these years. I pulled out my copy this morning, and found the Prologue promising enough to grab my attention. The gorgeous cover by Gary Ruddell doesn’t hurt, either.  That’s my reading for the weekend sorted then.

The Illusionists was published by Questar Books in March 1991. It is 213 pages, priced at $4.95 in paperback.

See all of our recent Vintage Treasures here.

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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Proud to Be Ashamed: The Destroyer

Thursday, October 11th, 2018 | Posted by Thomas Parker

(1) Destroyer Poster

There are guilty pleasures, and there are guiltier pleasures, and then there are the pleasures that have you wearing an orange jumpsuit and standing in front of a stone-faced judge with your hands and feet shackled together, wretchedly staring at the floor, unable to look anyone in the eye, so tongue-tied with shame and degradation that all you can do is whisper, “I just can’t help myself, Your Honor… I never meant to hurt anyone, and… I know it’s wrong, and… and, there’s no excuse… but… I just can’t help myself.”

That’s reading The Destroyer.

The Destroyer series was part of the wave of “Men’s Adventure” paperbacks that sprang up like mushrooms during the 70’s and drove decent literature like Jane Eyre and Valley of the Dolls off the shelves and into the outer darkness, there to be pulped and perish. The catalyst for the whole seedy genre was the 1969 publication of War Against the Mafia by Don Pendleton, the first entry in his wildly successful Executioner saga, which featured Vietnam veteran Mack Bolan waging a single-handed war against the Mafia, just like it said in the title.

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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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