Birthday Reviews: Sarah Smith’s “And Every Pebble a Soldier”

Sunday, December 9th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Duncan Eagleson

Cover by Duncan Eagleson

Sarah Smith was born on December 9, 1947.

Although Smith is best known for writing historical mysteries set in Boston, she has also dabbled in speculative fiction, writing the hypertext novel King of Space and more traditional SF novels The Knowledge of Water and The Other Side of the Dark. She won the Agatha Award and the Massachusetts Book Award for The Other Side of the Dark.

Smith wrote “And Every Pebble a Soldier” for the 2015 anthology Deco Punk: The Spirit of the Age, edited by Thomas A. Easton and Judith K. Dial, based on a comment by Dial that linked Art Deco to Nazism. The story has not been reprinted.

Set in the aftermath of a truly destructive war, the protagonist of “And Every Pebble a Soldier,” a builder’s apprentice, is one of the only men to come back from war. Determined to build something useful, he begins to make a clockwork man that will help him clean up the debris that litters his town. When he finds a paving brick used to mark the grave of a friend, he chips away a bit of the rock and incorporates it into the wind-up man, eventually repopulating the village’s lost youth by creating an automaton with a piece of each one’s gravestone.

While some in the town take an interest in his hobby, others mock him or are down-right hostile.  The village priest sees him as someone performing the Devil’s work, as well as a threat to his own power in the Church. The apprentice persists, however, and slowly wins the town over as they begin to see his clockwork men as a way not only to repopulate the town, but to, in some way, bring their lost brothers and sons back to life.

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New Treasures: Daughters of Forgotten Light by Sean Grigsby

Saturday, December 8th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Daughters of Forgotten Light-small Daughters of Forgotten Light-back-small

I spotted Sean Grigsby’s newest novel at Barnes & Noble and, despite the number of recent releases vying for my book dollar, it ended up coming home with me. Deep space penal colonies, biker gangs, and fast action…. what can I say, it made a compelling combo. Here’s an excerpt from Liz Bourke’s review at Locus Online.

I came away from Sean Grigsby’s debut novel, science fiction pulp extravaganza Daughters of Forgotten Light, deeply entertained, and moved by its apparent feminism and queer-inclusiveness – the latest in Angry Robot’s (really quite strong) feminist, queer-inclusive and fun pulp list… Daughters of Forgotten Light sets itself in a dystopian future – a future America locked in an endless eastern war with a successor state to Rus­sia and China, and threatened by environmental apocalypse. In this future, young women who’re deemed unsuitable for the military by the govern­ment and who are unwanted by their parents are sent to an abandoned space platform, a space prison from which there’s no return…

Daughters of Forgotten Light is a fast-paced, tense, and fun novel, with science fictional motor­bike gangs and a cast composed largely of badass women (two things that go really well together), with good dialogue and compelling charac­terisation. All of the women feel like real people. Grigsby also manages a diverse and inclusive cast: at least one of the narrators, Sarah Pao, is asexual and possibly aromantic, while another is Jewish, and the senator (also a viewpoint character) is a black woman.

Although Liz calls it a ‘debut,’ that’s not strictly correct. Grigsby’s first novel Smoke Eaters appeared from Angry Robot back in March, and the sequel Ash Kickers is due Summer 2019. Daughters of Forgotten Light was published by Angry Robot on September 4, 2018. It is 348 pages, priced at $12.99 in trade paperback and $8.99 in digital formats. The cover is by John Coulthart. Read the first 35 pages at the Angry Robot website. See all our recent New Treasures here.


Peplum Populist: The Adventures of Hercules (1985)

Saturday, December 8th, 2018 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

adventures-of-hercules-1985-posterThis is a bit more of coloring-out-the-lines for my sword-and-sandal reviews, since The Adventures of Hercules comes from the mid-‘80s, far beyond the classic era of the Italian peplum of 1957–1965. But it is an Italian genre film about Hercules starring a bodybuilder from the US, which is the most sword-and-sandal situation imaginable. Plus, I’ve owed Black Gate a look at this film ever since 2009 when I reviewed the first of this pair of unbelievably goofy Lou Ferrigno Hercules flicks from director Luigi Cozzi. The guy who made that psychedelic version of the original Godzilla — which explains a lot about these Hercules movies.

The short version of the first part of my oration, In Facinorem Herculis: To cash-in on the success of Conan the Barbarian, Cannon Films contracted Italian filmmaker Luigi Cozzi to direct a new Hercules film starring bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno, who was at the height of his popularity after The Incredible Hulk television show. But instead of doing a standard Conan imitation — which the Italian film industry was already churning out — or trying to harken back to the classic Italian sword-and-sandal movies, Cozzi and Co. slapped Star Wars SF gimmickry over everything. According to Cozzi, it was his idea to pitch a Hercules film closer to the recent Superman films after the producers rejected a “sexy” script from director Bruno Mattei. Cozzi crammed the movie with laser blasts, lunar-based Olympians, giant robots, space travel via chariot, and plenty of beeping-and-booping synth noises. Although Cozzi had experience with riffing on Star Wars thanks to his 1979 movie Starcrash, it wasn’t any help overcoming a pinched budget, copious terrible performances, and the general misguided tone of “Who is this for?”

While Hercules ‘83 got a US theatrical release, it wasn’t a hot property in North America except as an object of jeers. But it made enough money internationally to justify Cannon moving ahead with a planned sequel, although with a trimmed budget. The Adventures of Hercules (Le avventure dell’incredibile Ercole, with a Roman numeral “II” added to some video releases) went straight to video and cable in the US and isn’t as well-known as its predecessor.

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Birthday Reviews: Albert E. Cowdrey’s “Immortal Forms”

Saturday, December 8th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Cory and Catska Ench

Cover by Cory and Catska Ench

Albert E. Cowdrey was born on December 8, 1933.

In 2002, Cowdrey’s short story “Queen for a Day” won the World Fantasy Award. His novella “The Overseer” was also nominated for the World Fantasy Award. He received a Nebula Nomination in 2006 for the novella “The Tribes of Bella” and in 2009 his story “Poison Victory” was nominated for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. He has on occasion published using the pseudonym Chet Arthur.

Cowdrey sold “Immortal Forms” to Gordon van Gelder for publication in the August 2006 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. The story has never been reprinted.

Shortly after Tommy Salvati inherits the house in which Hannah Loewe died, he begins to question the circumstance of her death. Salvati inherited the house because when he was younger, Loewe took care of him while his mother worked following his father’s death and, years later, he was the only person she felt close to, as well as being her lawyer.

His discovery that Loewe may have died after being prescribed a series of drugs by a doctor who was more interested in separating her from her money than treating disease makes him decide that he needs to investigate her death. When that leads to a dead end, he decides to do whatever he can to avenge her by destroying the doctor’s life and practice. As a lawyer, he does so by writing letters urging an official investigation into the doctor’s life.

One he starts his plan, the house, or a spirit in the house, becomes more active, not only haunting Salvati’s workroom, which had been the bedroom in which Loewe had died, but also moving events towards an outcome of revenge against the doctor and those who helped him. Salvati learns to work with the house to avoid the haunted room during the daytime when the spirit is active, and stay out of the way when the spirit seeks revenge.

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Looking For a Perfect Stocking Stuffer? Try A Lot Like Christmas by Connie Willis

Friday, December 7th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

A Lot Like Christmas-small A Lot Like Christmas-back-small

Twenty years ago Bantam Spectra published a collection of Connie Willis’ much-loved Christmas stories. Miracle and Other Christmas Stories came in third on the Locus Award ballot for Best Collection of the year (behind The Martians by Kim Stanley Robinson, and A Good Old-Fashioned Future by Bruce Sterling), and made the preliminary ballot for the British Fantasy Award. However, it’s been out of print for 18 long years, and if there’s something the world needs desperately today, it’s the wit and wisdom of Willis’ classic SF Christmas tales.

Last year Del Rey saw fit to publish a much-expanded edition of Miracle and Other Christmas Stories in a handsome trade paperback edition. The original volume was a generous 328 pages; the newly retitled A Lot Like Christmas is a whopping 544. For fans of novella-length fiction this book is a special treat, as it contains no less than seven, including the Hugo Award nominee “Miracle,” the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus nominee “Just Like the Ones We Used to Know,” and the Hugo Award winner “All Seated on the Ground.”

Virtually all of the stories within were originally published in the December issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction (the only exceptions being two original tales from Miracle, and the novella “Now Showing,” from the Martin/Dozois anthology Rogues). The expanded edition is missing the short story “The Pony,” but includes four new novellas: “deck.halls@boughs/holly,” “All Seated on the Ground,” “All About Emily” and “Now Showing.” It also includes the original introduction and three follow-up essays on classic Christmas tales and movies, plus a brand new fourth essay on TV specials (“Plus a Half-Dozen TV Shows You May Not Have Seen That Haven’t Succumbed to “Very-Special-Christmas-Episode” Syndrome”). Here’s the complete TOC.

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My Top Five Con Games

Friday, December 7th, 2018 | Posted by Violette Malan

Sting 3A few weeks ago I was looking at my favourite heist movies, and I was struck by the realization that a heist is not a con. It’s not that the two can’t occasionally overlap, it’s just that there are distinctions with shove each of them into their own sub-genres.

This doesn’t mean that a con game doesn’t result in something – and occasionally someone – being stolen, or taken, or perhaps recovered. The point is that looked at a certain way, a con game isn’t a theft, it’s an act of persuasion. You don’t steal the item, you persuade the owner to give it to you.

There’s a simple element that can make the con game more palatable to audiences in general: you can’t cheat an honest man. The marks are always greedy, and the con artist uses that greed against them. It’s not theft, in a con game, the artist gets someone to give them the target item willingly. In the best examples, the mark never even knows what’s happened. And that’s why a common trope of the con, or sting, is that it involves no violence, often not even pretended violence.

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Birthday Reviews: Leigh Brackett’s “Interplanetary Reporter”

Friday, December 7th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Rudolph Belarski

Cover by Rudolph Belarski

Leigh Brackett was born on December 7, 1915 and died on March 18, 1978.

Leigh Brackett was the first woman ever to appear on a Hugo ballot when she was nominated for her novel The Long Tomorrow in 1956, and was nominated for two Retro Hugo Awards in 2016. Her collection Sea Kings of Mars and Otherworldly Stories was nominated for a British Fantasy Award. In 1978 she received a Forry Award from LASFS, and she was named the recipient of the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award in 2005. In 2014 Brackett was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. Brackett and her husband, Edmond Hamilton, were guests of honor at Pacificon II, the 22nd Worldcon, held in Oakland, California in 1964. She worked in Hollywood and is one of the credited co-writers of The Empire Strikes Back as well as The Big Sleep, on which she shared a writers credit with William Faulkner. She collaborated on fiction with Ray Bradbury and her husband. She published one of her non-genre novels using the pseudonym George Sanders. The Empire Strikes Back was dedicated to her memory.

“Interplanetary Reporter” was first published in the May 1941 issue of Startling Stories, edited by Mort Weisinger. It wasn’t reprinted until 2002, when Steve Haffner included it in the Brackett collection Martian Quest: The Early Brackett. In 2008 the story was included in an e-collection issued by Baen Books, Swamps of Venus. In 2009 Adventure House reprinted the original issue of Startling Stories that contained this tale.

Brackett was known for her planetary adventures and in “Interplanetary Reporter,” she places IP reporter Chris Barton in the Venusian city of Vhia. A grizzled war reporter, Barton has decided he is done with working as a reporter and is planning on telling IP editor John Sanger of his decision. On the way into Sanger’s office he spots the beautiful Kei Volhan, who is engaged to cub reporter Bobby Lance. Just as Barton announces his decision, Vhia comes under attack by a Jovian military force.

Partly to keep from saving face in front of Volhan, Barton allows himself to be convinced that he need to go into space to report on the Jovian attack. The two reporters and Volham manage to make their escape in an IP news spaceship and once they achieve orbit, they quickly learn that the surprise attack is not Jovian, but rather Martian in origin as Mars is trying to start a war between the Jovians and Venusians in order to gain a better deal on water rights.

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Goth Chick News: Godzilla and Stranger Things 3 or More Reasons to Love Millie Bobby Brown

Thursday, December 6th, 2018 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Though there is no shortage of great offerings from the likes of Netflix, Hulu, etc, it’s hard to not heave a sigh knowing we’re still a way off from our favs. Game of Thrones final season has been confirmed for an April, 2019 release, though an exact date hasn’t been announced. We also know we’re going to have to wait until sometime in the summer of 2019 to binge season 3 of Stranger Things, though that is about as much detail as has been let out. There is a very amusing teaser trailer which I’ve included above if you haven’t seen it in all its 80’s mall glory, but other than confirming Steve is awesome, it doesn’t say much about what to expect from our friends in Hawkins, IN.

Word on the underground grapevine is that a substantial trailer as well as the exact release date for season 3 will come out during Super Bowl 53 on February 3rd. We also know filming wrapped in the fall, from the blurb that star Millie Bobby Brown posted on her Twitter feed for the first official Stranger Things Day which occurred on November 6th (the day Will originally went missing).

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Worldbuilding Once and Future Fake News: Not Really A Review of Singer & Brooking’s LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media

Thursday, December 6th, 2018 | Posted by M Harold Page

LikeWar

(Not about the Sack of Limoges, or the Hundred Years War)

conversation-with-smaug-recoloured - 300 dpi

Worldbuilders!

What if I told you that the Sack of Limoges in Froissart… never happened?

Well, OK, you’d look at me blankly. After a moment you might ask, “I’ve never heard of Froissart. Where is that? French Canada?”

I’ve been reading LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media by Singer and Brooking. It describes the emerging world of Internet “news” where news passes from person-to-person on social media, no source is uncontroversially trustworthy, and where both information warriors and click-bait farmers are uninterested in the truth, except as a way of making untruths more plausible.

In this world, what determines a narrative’s success is not veracity but rather: Simplicity; Resonance; and Novelty.

Just switch the arena to “rumor” and this looks awfully like a greatly accelerated version of the pre-modern — especially Medieval and Renaissance — milieus we use as inspiration for Fantasy worldbuilding.  Keep the rumor but return the tech, and it’s also a good jumping-off point for building a Space Opera future. Stay with me and I’ll explain. But first, back to the smoking ruins of Limoges.

The authors — Singer wrote a great book on robot warfare, by the way — talk about a US military training scenario that would make a good Traveller adventure: insurgents set up both a demonstration and an ambush, guaranteeing the former will get caught in the latter, the objective being to generate Internet images of an occupier-perpetrated massacre. The military response — as I recall; the index isn’t very good — is to contain or avoid the ambush. Singer and Brooking remark that this won’t do any good. The insurgents — if cynical enough — can just shoot the civilians anyway and blame the occupiers, or simply upload images from elsewhere.

And that’s what made me think of Froissart and Limoges.

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Birthday Reviews: Roger Dee’s “Worlds Within Worlds”

Thursday, December 6th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Science Fiction Plus September 1955-medium Science Fiction Plus September 1955-back-small Science Fiction Plus September 1955 contents-small

Front and back covers by Frank R. Paul

Roger Dee Aycock was born on December 6, 1914 and died on April 5, 2004. He wrote mostly using the pseudonym Roger Dee, although he also published one story as John Starr when he had two stories appear in the November 1951 issue of Planet Stories.

Dee’s story “Worlds within World” initially appeared in the October 1953 issue of Science Fiction +, the final science fiction publishing project of Hugo Gernsback. It was the penultimate issue of the magazine. The story was reprinted in Science Fiction Monthly issue one, in September 1955, an Australian magazine edited by Michael Cannon.

“Worlds within Worlds” may not have been a cliché when it was first published, but in many ways it reads like one now, not just for its central idea that modern readers will see coming, but for the techniques Dee uses to tell his tale. From the earliest part of the narrative, he uses undefined terms and technobabble to give it a futuristic feel and it is only well into the story that the reader fully begins to understand the situation that the main character, Racon, is in, although Racon is fully cognizant of where he is and what is going on. Mostly. He is wondering why he isn’t being allowed on an interstellar research ship that is about to launch.

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