Birthday Reviews: Brad Strickland’s “Hero’s Coin”

Saturday, October 27th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Don Ivan Punchatz

Cover by Don Ivan Punchatz

Brad Strickland was born on October 27, 1947.

Strickland received a Phoenix Award at DeepSouthCon. In 200, he won the Georgia Author of the Year Award for his novel When Mack Came Back. He has collaborated John Michlig, Thomas E. Fuller, and his wife, Barbara. Strickland has also completed several novels which were originally outlined by John Bellairs prior to his death.

“Hero’s Coin” was written for the 1993 anthology Quest to Riverworld, edited by Philip José Farmer. This was the second volume in which Farmer opened up his Riverworld series to other authors. The story has never been reprinted.

Because all of the stories in Quest to Riverworld took place in Farmer’s established universe, the was no need for Strickland to explain the rather strange setting. Read without the context of the other stories or Farmer’s original work, however, the story suffers from vagueness brought on by its expectation that the reader knows how the world works. Had Strickland included that background, however, it would have seemed repetitive in the story’s original (and only) publication.

Farmer’s world contains a seemingly-infinite river along the banks of which everyone who has ever lived has been reincarnated, their needs provided for by a grail which fills with food. Strickland’s story focuses on Brother Aelfstan, an anonymous Anglo-Saxon monk who worked on a chronicle of his times in both our world and the Riverworld. Aelfstan makes friends with a stranger who was reincarnated near his part of the river and the two eventually set off together.

As the stranger, who Aelfstan calls “Nemo” helps people during their journey, with technological innovations, military decisions, and in other areas, the people they meet assume he must be Robert E. Lee, Archimedes, and other famous people in history. Nemo denies being any of them and questions Aelfstan about what makes a hero, emphatically denying he was any such.

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Birthday Reviews: Jennifer Roberson’s “Mad Jack”

Friday, October 26th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Lord of the Fantastic

Lord of the Fantastic

Jennifer Roberson was born on October 26, 1953.

She collaborated on The Golden Key with Melanie Rawn and Kate Elliott, which was nominated for the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 1997.

Roberson wrote “Mad Jack” for inclusion in the memorial anthology Lord of the Fantastic: Stories in Honor of Roger Zelazny, edited by Martin H. Greenberg in 1989. She has also republished the story in her own collection, Guinevere’s Truth and Other Tales, released in 2008.

“Mad Jack” tells the story of a man who lost his infant son to random gun violence. Unable to cope with his loss, his life falls apart and he comes to the decision that he needs to go on some sort of epic quest to make things right and find a simpler time. His decision causes strife with his wife and his boss, but he eventually makes the journey to Scotland via bus and train to find something that has been missing from his life for a long time.

Roberson’s description of Jack and his attempts to come to terms with his son’s death is a focused look at one individual’s grieving process. Although there is reference to the way others view his needs, Jack never interacts with any of them within the confines of the story; his thoughts turn almost entirely internal. While he notes that his wife and boss both think he is mad, there are no overt signs of madness.

Roberson plays the story close to her chest. It is clear that Mad Jack is supposed to be recognizable, although who he is, or even the time period in which the story takes place, is not entirely clear until the end. Once they story reaches its conclusion, the question of whether Jack is mad, has reverted to childhood, or is having an actual experience is ambiguous, which is one of the strengths of fantasy as a genre.

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

Thursday, October 18th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Gregory Manchess

Cover by Gregory Manchess

Ted Chiang was born in October 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 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 collection Das wahre Wesen der Dinge. It was translated into German again in 2017 for inclusion in the March issue of Spektrum der Wissenschaft.

Chiang’s “The Evolution of Human Science” is an interesting short story which doesn’t have any characters. It is written as an editorial appearing in a future issue of Nature which notes that humans are no longer making any breakthroughs in scientific endeavors. Metahumans who have been genetically modified are the ones who are pushing the boundaries while humans can, at most, synthesize the metahumans’ achievements for a broader audience. The humans aren’t always good at that since many of the successes of the metahumans, while beneficial to the mere humans, can’t really be understood by the unenhanced mind.

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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.

McAllister’s “World of the Wars” isn’t really a science fiction or even a fantasy story, but rather a story about how the promise of space travel can influence a young life. Timmothy Turner lives in a world in which smog has run rampant without the intervention of the EPA in the mid-70s. The night sky is invisible, but the young boy has heard stories about what is above the ever-lingering haze, most from his friend, Jimmy, who has read books set on Mars.

Timmothy wants nothing more than to see Mars and when he spots what may be a red light on a distant building, he is convinced that the distant planet has broken through the layers of pollution to speak to him and he forms a club with his friends, all of whom have to be able to see Mars in order to be allowed to join.

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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

basil-copper-darkness-mist-shadow-small

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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