Thursday, March 21, 2019

Old Non-Bestseller Review: Closed Shutters, by Frances Tinker and Edward Larocque Tinker

Old Bestseller Review (Not): Closed Shutters, by Frances Tinker and Edward Larocque Tinker

a review by Rich Horton

Edward Larocque Tinker (1881-1968) was the grandson of a prominent New York lawyer, and became a lawyer himself, and eventually a District Attorney. He developed an interest in Latin America, beginning probably with a visit to Mexico during the Mexican Revolution, at which time he he met Pancho Villa. He wrote a variety of books, much nonfiction, for example books about Lafcadio Hearn, about the man who introduced craps to New Orleans, and about artist Joseph Pennell. He also wrote some novels, including Toucoutou, about a mixed-race man. He seems to have been mildly well-known during his life, and as close to completely forgotten now as one can get.

Frances (McKee) Tinker was his second wife. She collaborated with him on a series of novelettes for the Century Magazine about New Orleans in the last four decades of the 19th century. It's not clear to me if these were her only works of fiction. Edward published a later novel about pre-Civil War New Orleans in 1953. I don't know if Frances herself was from New Orleans, or if their mutual interest in the city derived from some other source -- perhaps Lafcadio Hearn. At any rate, these four stories were published in book form as slim octavo volumes in 1931. The stories were collectively called Old New Orleans, with the 1860s represented by Widows Only, the '70s by Strife, the '80s by Closed Shutters, and the '90s by Mardi Gras Masks. It seems natural that they might have been published in a single volume, but I don't know if that ever happened. And, of course, it's highly unlikely that the books were bestsellers.

My copy of Closed Shutters was published by D. Appleton and Company. I seem to have the first editon. The frontispiece is by Joseph Pennell (about whom Tinker published a book), and "decorations", appearing on the cover and the endpapers, by Edward C. Caswell. I found my copy at the well-respected used book store Jane Addams Books in Champaign, IL. Closed Shutters is about 13,000 words long.

It's a very simple story. It opens with a "thin-faced child", a young girl, watching is envy the play of a set of girls at a birthday party. This "thin-faced child" is Alys Ledoux, described as a "Creole", though I'd have said "Cajun" (as she is white, and I thought the "Creoles" were black or mixed-race, but that is apparently not quite right.) Alys lives around the corner, with her ailing mother and an older sister, who take in sewing work to make ends meet. Alys encounters Emma, the black housekeeper of the owner of this house (who is a well-loved and apparently saintly judge.) Emma, who makes it her duty to help the local poor, realizes immediatly that Alys and her sister and mother are essentially indigent, and gives her some food in a valuable blue "tureem".

At first it seems the story will be about Alys, but really it's about Emma, who is portrayed as a wonderful and generous woman, and a dutiful servant to the Judge. She keeps giving food to Alys, and then to Alys' older sister, but a particularly harsh winter intervenes. We see Emma's interactions with a boy who is supposed to be helping her, and with the Judge. And at the end we see death -- the Judge, old beyond his years, finally fails in health. And when Emma finally makes her way to the Ledoux house, she realizes that Alys' mother and sister have both died during the cruel winter, and Alys too is on death's door.

The story is really very depressing, though told in a lightish tone. For a contemporary reader the treatment of Emma, the center of the story, is undeniably racist, though she is regarded by the authors as a virtuous and admirable character, with a slight weakness for mild gambling, and, to be sure, for good food. But she is treated as a child, and the attitudes of the Judge and the authors are undeniably that "benevolent paternalism" that seemed central to "liberal" whites of that time. The story itself it reasonably well-executed, if just a bit too limited in scope. As it happens, I was reading P. Djeli Clark's The Black God's Drums at exactly the same time -- another story set in New Orleans a couple of decades after the Civil War (albeit in an alternate timeline), and the contrast in the agency and independence of the black central characters of the two stories is hard to miss.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Birthday Review: Stories of Nina Kiriki Hoffman

Today is Nina Kiriki Hoffman's birthday. Much of her impressive body of short fiction appeared before I was reviewing, but here is a selection of my Locus reviews of her short fiction in this century.

Locus, March 2004

The somewhat slipstream-oriented anthology Polyphony has just reached its third issue, this one very thick (21 stories, some quite long). I was most impressed by Nina Kiriki Hoffman's "Wild Talents", a moving story of a girl whose telekinetic abilities drive her single mother to abandon her to a strange man.

Locus, April 2006

Weird Tales returns with a wonderfully thick issue: 82 pages, close to 50,000 words of fiction. ... fine work from Nina Kiriki Hoffman (“To Grandmother’s House”, a snarky little thing about three children who resent spending Christmas with Grandmother) ...

Locus, May 2006 (review of Children of Magic)

Nina Kiriki Hoffman’s “The Weight of Wishes” is a sweet and amusing Christmas story about a daughter who can change people – for example into a Christmas elf.

Locus, April 2007

Lone Star Stories’ February issue includes a gleefully nasty little piece from Nina Kiriki Hoffman, “Neighbors”, in which a woman’s speculations about her odd neighbors end up revealing her own family’s strangeness.

Locus, July 2009

The third in Sharyn November’s series of YA original anthologies is Firebirds Soaring. I thought this a bit more uneven than the two earlier volumes, but the best work is very rewarding, including a long novella from Nina Kiriki Hoffman, “The Ghosts of Strangers”, about a village of people allied with dragons, and a girl who can catch ghosts;

Locus, December 2012

In November Eclipse features ... Nina Kiriki Hoffman's “Firebugs” is a fine story about society of clone families, and a member of such a family who has, much against her will, differences, potentially dangerous ones.

Locus, July 2017

And Nina Kiriki Hoffman’s “Rings” (F&SF, May-June) is a well done look at a culture built on women owning men as slaves. Aris Lifebuilder, who has an unspecified scandal in her past, has just bought a man, a spaceship crewman who had apparently violated a local rule and been enslaved. Hoffman sketches the details of Aris’ society lightly and evocatively, and quite sharply illuminates the structurally fraught relationship she develops with her new man.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Birthday Review: Letters from the Flesh, by Marcos Donnelly

Marcos Donnelly turns 57 today. He published a few stories in the 1990s in places like Full Spectrum, Amazing, and F&SF, and a novel with Baen, Prophets for the End of Time. Then this novel in 2004, and nothing I've seen since, though I think there's been at least one further novel, perhaps from a non-traditional publishing venue. I liked this book, and I'm glad to resurrect this review that first appeared in Locus, for Donnelly's birthday.

Letters from the Flesh, by Marcos Donnelly, (Robert J. Sawyer Books, 2004)

A review by Rich Horton

Here is a rather unexpected delight, a new short novel from a Canadian small press (run by SF writer Robert J. Sawyer), told in a series of letters and e-mails. It tells two parallel stories. In one thread, an alien energy creature is revealed to have struck Saul of Tarsus blind on the road to Damascus, and to have taken over his consciousness. The new composite creature composes “letters” – dare we say “epistles”? – to his fellow energy creatures. In the other thread, Lillian Uberland, a young genetics researcher, sends long e-mails to her beloved cousin Michael, a science teacher.

The letters from “Paul” reveal the history of the energy creatures – very long-lived beings formed at the Big Bang, who have only recently (in comparative terms) encountered a deadly Enemy. Ten of these “Asarkos” (for “no-bodied) have recently gone missing, and our protagonist is looking for them when he stumbles across the unimaginable – a planet containing living intelligent begins made of matter! By accident this Asarkos takes over Saul’s brain, and when he comes to, blind and confused, he is introduced to the sect Saul was persecuting, the followers of Jesus Christ. The rest of his letters retell much of the Acts of the Apostles, as the new “Paul” becomes a Christian. He is able to use his powers to raise a dead woman, and in so doing he begins to realize what has been going on in first century Palestine, with Jesus, his disciples, the women around them, and such miracle as the speaking in tongues at Pentecost. The explanation is pretty effective, very science fictional yet oddly and almost ecstatically religious (or at least mystical) as well. The promise of Heaven, let us just say, remains. All is told very nicely, with many familiar Pauline phrases seamlessly woven in, and with the composite creature “Paul” (who is still “Saul of Tarsus” in a sense, especially after he regains some of Sault’s memories) very well portrayed.

Lillian’s e-mails to Michael chart, from her side, a growing controversy in Michael’s science class. It seems that several of his students of are members of the same fundamentalist church, and Michaels teaching of evolution threatens to get him in trouble. Lillian tries to bolster his position with fierce arguments against proponents of Intelligent Design, but to her horror she is drawn directly into the controversy. Michael tries to appease the Creationists with a school-wide seminar in which Lillian will represent the evolution side, debating a visiting Creation Science “scholar”. Considerable complications ensue when violence erupts at the seminar, and all is made worse by Michael’s involvement with one of the students and her mother, and by a secret Michael and Lillian share.

The two threads are joined at the end in a way that successfully caps the story of the Asarkos, and the way in which they and humans can benefit each other. I will say, though, that the way this brings the story of Lillian and Michael to completion comes off rather pat. Their personal story is at once too convoluted in setup and too convenient in resolution. Even with that weakness, I really enjoyed the novel. Its SFnal “explanation” for Christianity is intriguing and thought-provoking – by which I don’t mean to suggest anyone is expected to believe in it, simply that it’s fun to read about and at the same time it promotes worthwhile reflection about philosophical and religious matters.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Novels of Laurence M. Janifer

The Novels of Laurence M. Janifer

by Rich Horton

(Some time ago, a variety of threads were posted on rec.arts.sf.written, at the urging of the wonderful James Nicoll, each giving brief summaries of the novels of a given author. I contributed a few, and posted those later on my old website. I'm slowly reposting them, with updates as appropriate. This update is in honor of what would have been Janifer's 86th birthday, though he died in 2002.)

Laurence Janifer had an SF career spanning 50 years. He was born Larry Mark Harris (or perhaps Laurence Mark Harris), and changed his name to Janifer (his Polish grandfather's name) in 1963. He used Harris as his byline until that name change. He had a short story in the rather obscure magazine Cosmos in 1953, when he was 20. His real career started in 1959, with a few stories in places like Astounding and Galaxy, under the name Larry M. Harris; and with the first of three collaborative novels with Randall Garrett, under the joint pseudonym Mark Phillips; and with another collaboration with Garrett, published as by Larry M. Harris and Randall Garrett, the vaguely soft-porn SF novel Pagan Passions. Janifer's stories were often amusing -- his main mode is comic. His best known series by far, comprising five novels and many short stories, is the Survivor series, about "Gerald Knave, Survivor", a man whose job is to go to newly opened planets and survive, in so doing discovering and perhaps fixing the particular dangers that colonists might encounter. Janifer died in 2002, aged 69, and his last novel (as far as I know) was published in 2003: Two, a Gerald Knave novel.

I list his SF novels, and other novels under his own name, below. He also apparently wrote erotica as Alfred Blake and as Barbara Wilson, and he may well have written other books in various genres under different pseudonyms.


Brain Twister (aka "That Sweet Little Old Lady") (37,000 words) (1959)
The Impossibles (aka "Out Like a Light") (62,000 words) (1960)
Supermind (aka "Occasion for Disaster") (69,000 words) (1961)

Randall Garrett was well-known for writing stories to order for Campbell's quirks, and these collaborations with Janifer certainly fit the bill. They are all about an FBI agent named Kenneth Malone, who in book 1 is assigned the job of investigating mysterious leaks in a secret government program. He deduces that these must be the result of telepaths, and he decides to recruit other telepaths to help, and he reasons that the best place to find people with psi-powers would be in insane asylums. Most notably, he finds a very powerful psi who believes she is Queen Elizabeth I. Aside from that quirk, and her habit of knighting her subordinates, she is great help. The book is pretty amusing but doesn't really hold together. It was strangely nominated for a Hugo. The second book features Malone tracking down a group of teleporters who have been stealing cars. Very minor stuff. The third ups the ante a lot, as some psi-interference has been causing people to make mistakes, sometimes minor, sometimes major. Malone tracks down a secret cabal of psis, who are doing all this for the world's own good, or say they believe. One of those novels which in the background features disasters ending up with a tenth or more of the population dead, though nobody much seems to care. The three books feature three separate love interests for Malone, without reasonable explanation as to why he is so unfaithful, though that changes unconvincingly right at the end.


Survivor (50,000 words) (1977)
Knave in Hand (51,000 words) (1979)
The Counterfeit Heinlein (65,000 words) (2001)
Alienist (68,000 words) (2001)
Two (65,000 words) (2003)

These novels about Gerald Knave, Survivor, are set in a not very extensively described galactic society called the Comity. A similar society, possibly the same one, certainly also called the Comity, is the setting for his SF novels You Sane Men, Power, and Reel. Thus those might be regarded as pendants to the Knave books, though they are considerably darker and the links really aren't internally important. I should add that it's not at all clear that the Comity is the same in each of these books -- in particular, the Comity in Power is confined to our Solar System, unlike any of the other books.

Survivor is a very poor novel in which Knave visits a world which had seemed benign, but on which people are suddenly dying. He finds a -- well, not quite evil, but not nice to humans -- life form that's been around forever, and eventually learns to talk to them.

Knave in Hand is rather better. Knave is called to the planet Haven IV, which is occupied by some rather nice snake-like aliens called Tocks. There is also a small human enclave on the planet, mostly consisting of people from the other two habitable planets in the system, Haven II and Haven III, which have both been extensively colonized by humans. The Tocks have an unusual social system, and almost no crime. So when their Crown Jewels are found to have been stolen, it's assumed that a human is the culprit. When Knave arrives, the situation suddenly becomes worse, as the popular head of the Human colony is murdered, and a few more apparently random murders also occur, amid some attempts on Knave's life.

So Knave rushes around the place, quelling riots and uprisings, interviewing humans from Haven II (good), humans from Haven III (bad), and Tocks (very good). His problem is deducing a motive for the crimes (he figures out means fairly quickly). I had no problem figuring out the bad guy and the motive right from the start -- I thought Knave rather slow on the uptake to be honest. Still, it's an OK story -- much better than Survivor, which I thought very bad, and probably about even with The Counterfeit Heinlein. Janifer's "voice", or I should say the first person voice of Gerald Knave, is kind of fun -- very typical cranky "competent man" narrative, with constant sarcastic asides about the folly of humankind (often taking on blatant straw men, but when was it ever otherwise?). Not highly recommended, to be sure, but decent time passing stuff.

The Counterfeit Heinlein is not really a "survivor" novel, but it stars Gerald Knave. This is more of a detective story (as, really, are all the Knave novels save the first, though the short stories often feature him in honest-to-goodness "survivor" mode). Knave is hired by a library on Ravenal, a well-established planet, to find the person who stole a Heinlein manuscript. Thing is, the manuscript is of "The Stone Pillow", and it's well-established as a forgery (after all, as we all know, Heinlein never wrote "The Stone Pillow", though he did list it as a prospective Future History story). So why did anyone steal a basically worthless manuscript? And how did they steal it -- it was well guarded.

The story ends up mainly being a locked-room mystery. There are decent SFnal aspects -- one fairly interesting alien species, and a fair amount of blather about the spacefaring future which followed the "Clean Slate War" on Earth. There's also, as you might guess, a lot of self-referential "SF about SF" aspects -- indeed the story includes a scene set at a future SF society meeting. The solutions to the couple of mysteries are OK, but a bit flat. Again, a moderately enjoyable novel, but not great.

Alienist is another locked-room mystery. Indeed, in the final analysis, four of the five Gerald Knave novels are mysteries, and have nothing to do with his supposed "Survivor" job. (I should note that a number of the Knave short stories do indeed feature puzzles relating directly to the "Survivor" thing.) I'd say, though, that Alienist is the weakest of the three late Knave novels. It opens with Knave lost in space, thousands of light years from civilization. He is contacted by an alien named Folla, who claims to be "not of these spaces", and who transports Knave back to civilization, indeed to the planet Ravenal, instantaneously. Knave worries about this enough to involve his friend/mentor Master Higsbee, and to meet an alien psychologist (source, I think, of the punning title), but nothing much more happens until a patient of the psychologist becomes the prime suspect in the murder of his wife -- in a locked room. Knave is recruited to prove that the guy couldn't have done it, and before long he has met a policewoman he really likes, and he has realized that some aliens resembling Folla seem to have contacted various people in dreams. And they seem to be up to no good. The locked room mystery is resolved, in an acceptable fashion, and the alien problem is also sort of resolved, much less satisfactorily. I had real problems in this book with the breezy non-science justifications for things, and with the characters jumping to implausible conclusions right and left. Some OK Knavish maundering and food porn, though.

Two is a fairly pleasant story, perhaps the best of the Knave novels. Knave is married (to the policewoman from Alienist), and is trying to relax into retirement with his wife, but the Crown Princess goes missing, and he is recruited to try to figure out what happened. In the process he finds that people are making attempts on his life, and on his wife's life as well. It turns out that more than one fishy thing is going on, involving a humanoid alien species, and some homicidal robots, and incompetence in high places. Enjoyable. The ending sets up a potential sixth Knave novel, but I suppose we'll never see that now.

ANGELO DI STEFANO (written with S. J. Treibich)

Target: Terra (35,000 words) (1968)
The High Hex (35,000 words) (1969)
The Wagered World (29,000 words) (1969)

These are halves of Ace Doubles. Janifer's collaborator, S. J. Treibich, published only these three stories to my knowledge before his death, very young, in 1972.

Target: Terra is not very good, though as with much Janifer, page by page it's fairly amusing. It's about a satellite which orbits a future Earth in which the Western powers, the Asians, and the Africans live in an uneasy armed state, with so many anti-missile missiles that it is even impossible for a relief spaceship to get up to the satellite. The satellite itself is there to carry a bunch of nuclear missiles. The hero, Angelo di Stefano, finds that the missiles have been impossibly retargeted to the wrong cities -- and all of Earth is in danger of destruction. At the same time the satellite is falling to pieces -- the food production is busted, etc. The "villains" are obvious, but it takes Angelo 100 pages to find them. Silly stuff, really.

In The High Hex, the other Space Station, #2, which is jointly run by Africans and Haitians (I found the book's presentation of Africans to be rather on the racist side, actually), has been taken over by the African contingent, which is threatening once again to blow up the world. The crew of SS1, augmented by an English-educated witch doctor, head back up to SS2, where they must attempt to use the witch doctor's psychological abilities to "hex" the SS2 crew and stop their nefarious plans. Unfortunately, this effort is interrupted by an invasion of alien robots, who start consuming all the metal on earth to make copies of themselves. Angelo must come up with a way to save the Earth, with the unwilling help of his machine-loving fellow crewman Chris Shaw. He does, naturally, though it seemed to me that technological civilization was pretty much kaput due to the robots eating all the metal before the end of the book.

The Wagered World is the shortest of this series, the least well structured -- and I think I like it the best. It opens with the crew of Space Station 1, including in particular Angelo and his presumptive love interest, ecologist Juli Dental, crashlanding after the events of The High Hex. First the crew must convince the world's computer system that they are alive even though they were declared dead when their incoming rocket crashed. The next section sees Angelo and Juli sent on a mission in a hastily cobbled together hyperspace ship, sent to backtrack to the source of the invading robots, in the fear that the real purpose of the robots was to soften up Earth for a followon invasion. The two find themselves at a cocktail party featuring the 647 races of the Intergalactic Council, and they also learn that yes, an invasion of Earth is planned. Angelo plays a gambling game, and wins an alien companion. Upon their return to Earth, they are accused of treason (for consorting with the aliens who are about to invade) and rape (for no very clear reason at first). The third section is basically a courtroom drama which ends in Angelo unconvincingly convincing the invading aliens not to attack and instead let Earth join the Intergalactic Council.

All this makes basically No Sense At All. But the breezy manner of the telling, and the cheeky imagination (especially in the middle section), and perhaps especially the briefness of the tale, make it an enjoyable if very minor book.

The main problem with all three books is the very ad hoc nature of the plot. The authors just make silly things up as they go along, and none of the science even remotely makes sense. The only reason to read them is the joky narrative voice, which seems to me to be very much Janifer's voice, very similar to the narrative voice of the Knave books. Thus they can be entertaining as you read along (if you like the voice -- you might just think it's stale), but the whole thing doesn't hold together at all. In sum -- forgettable. Though as I said, I found at least The Wagered World pretty entertaining.


Pagan Passions (50,000 words) (1959)

Written with Randall Garrett, published as by "Larry M. Harris and Randall Garrett". This was published by Beacon Books as a "Galaxy Novel". They appear to have been trying to push "sex in space" or something. Poul Anderson's Virgin Planet was featured in the same line. There are sex scenes in Pagan Passions, but I don't think it even can be called "soft porn", unless perhaps by the standards of 50s SF.

It's set in the middle of the 21st Century. The Greek Gods, the real ones, have returned to Earth after thousands of years in hiding, and they are in control now. The hero is a history instructor and a worshipper of Athena, but he finds himself recruited to act as a stand-in for Dionysus. In the process he shows himself worthy by having his way with a young student, and eventually with Venus herself. But it's Artemis who really catches his eye ... It turns out that something else is going on, as we find out at the end. It's a fairly obvious resolution. Still, it's a better book than you might expect, fairly breezy fun, with the Greek God milieu nicely enough handled, and if the resolution is obvious it's still satisfying. Certainly nothing special, but not too bad.

Slave Planet (38,000 words) (1963)

Very short novel about a planet on which humans have enslaved the not very intelligent local race. It tries to be controversial in showing that the local race is really too dumb to deserve freedom, but on the other hand it also shows that the humans are themselves psychologically harmed by their status as slavers. A revolution is fomented, which comes to no good end for anybody.

The Wonder War (40,000 words) (1964)

Human agents in the future are sent to a planet to prevent the development of technology which would lead to Galactic war. The humanoids on the planet are fighting a fascist/communist war, and the agents try to stop the war by frustrating all efforts to conduct it. The deal is, they are supposed to do so with no loss of life. It's about a novelette (at most) worth of ideas puffed up to 40000 words, and I strongly suspect Janifer wrote it in a short time under a quicky contract. (Editor calls: I have an open slot in three months, you're a pro, give me 40K!) It features a profoundly unconvincing love story, a lot of rambling about to no effect, and, as I said, one (silly but tolerable) idea that would have supported a '50s novelet for If or something. I almost wonder if it wasn't expanded from an earlier novelet. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction suggests it may be a collaboration with Michael Kurland.

You Sane Men (aka Bloodworld) (55,000 words) (1965)

A deliberate attempt at a controversial novel, this story is told from the POV of a man on an isolated planet which practices sadism as a cultural norm -- the Lords and Ladies go to houses where they pick out "Bound" men and women of lower classes to torture and rape. The "hero" falls in love with a Bound Woman, gets involved in the inevitable revolution, but finds he cannot overcome his "true" sadistic nature. Didn't really work, nice try in some ways, though. It was reprinted in 1968 as Bloodworld.

The Woman Without a Name (26,000 words) (1966)

Gothic novel. A young woman comes to be a governess at a remote house. She encounters a madwoman who complains about the sins of the head of the house. The children are a bit strange. There is a mysterious room in the attic to which she is not allowed to go. And she's falling in love with the young master ... It seems almost a purposeful assemblage of all the most typical gothic cliches. Too short to really develop the story, not really original in any way, but reasonably well done with those caveats.

The Final Fear (29,000 words) (1967)

A thriller. The narrator is on the run, because another man, the husband of his mistress, is chasing him with intent to kill. The kicker is that the husband is terminally ill, so he doesn't much care what happens to him, while the narrator can't risk exposure of his affair, for fear of losing his job. This rules out just going to the police. Not quite convincing, particularly as to how often they run into each other up and down the length of Manhattan. Not bad stuff, though, and it comes to a fairly effective moral conclusion.

You Can't Escape (32,000 words) (1967)

This is a thriller (Lancer calls it a "Romantic Spy Thriller" -- well, one out of three ain't bad -- no spies, and I don't count a relationship revealed in the last chapter as a "romance", but you'd have to agree it's a "thriller"), about 32,000 words long. A woman comes to consciousness on the subway, believing her name to be Dora Jaienna and the year to be 1959. She soon realizes that it is actually 1965 -- she has lost her memory of the past 6 years. She staggers to a hotel, and as soon as she checks in she gets a call from someone threatening to kill her. And she remembers her other name. It seems in the past 6 years she has taken on a new identity and become involved with the underworld. And now she has betrayed them, and they are after her. And the police won't help. The setup is OK, the execution OK, and the resolution is sudden and stupid and flat and a horrible cheat.

A Piece of Martin Cann (36,000 words) (1968)

Even more ambitious than You Sane Men, I think, though again not really successful. I read it years ago and don't remember it well  -- it's about future psychiatric treatment, and about a guy undergoing such treatment who thinks he has met a literal angel, but gets cured. I seem to recall reading a snippet from Harlan Ellison praising both this novel and Bloodworld -- I think Ellison was responding to the ambition, not the execution.

Power (63,000 words) (1974)

This is set a few centuries in the future. Humanity is ruled by a semi-democratic Empire, controlling the various inhabited worlds of the Solar System. The Emperor is elected, as are his chief advisors, but he appoints the representatives of the various constituencies, which are not only geographical in nature, but also divided by interest groups. The story concerns a mutiny aboard a warship -- the mutineers demand movement towards a more fully democratic society, else they will destroy a city on Mars. It is a very very talky novel. It focuses on the most influential of the Emperor's councilors, Isidor Norin, and his three children: Aaron, the leader of the mutineers; Alphard, a functionary for the influential Church of Probability and Chance, which hopes to use the mutiny to expand its power; and Rachel, who has married a movie star who is in financial trouble to a mobster, seriously exacerbated by threats to the Martian city. As I said, it's quite talky. It's often hard to follow, and the motivations of the characters aren't fully believable. It is quite serious, and Janifer seems insistent on a sober study of the nature of political power, but the book never really involved my interest, and its mixture of cynicism, pragmatism, and hints of idealism never convinced. Again, an ambitious but not quite successful novel.

The novel is rather poignantly dedicated to S. J. Treibich, who had died not long before.

Reel (40,000 words) (1983)

SF about a "pleasure" planet. The action turns on an attempt to take over the rather anarchic city in which are located the casinos and whorehouses. The main characters are Alex Yonge, the son of the owner of one of the main casino organizations, and Marge Sunday, an influential madam. Yonge falls in love with one of Marge Sunday's newly shanghaied girls, and she is assigned to the S&M section as punishment, but the attempt by another man to take over complicates things. It doesn't really come off -- the love story is unconvincing, worse, the resolution is just implausible. I don't really know what Janifer was trying to do here.

It's quite possible that I have missed a number of his novels, and also that he has written some under pseudonyms. But these are those I know of.

Birthday Review: Treasures of Time, by Penelope Lively

Treasures of Time, by Penelope Lively

a review by Rich Horton

Penelope Lively turns 86 today. I haven't read a ton of her work, but what I have read I've enjoyed. In her honor, here's what I wrote (very briefly) about one of her books some while back.

The winner pf the first British National Book Award for Fiction was Penelope Lively's Treasures of Time, and by pure coincidence I had that on hand to read. I've read one previous Lively novel (Cleopatra's Sister) and a memoir (Oleander, Jacaranda), and I liked both, so I've picked up two or three further of her books to try.

This book, from 1979, concerns the ramifications of the production of a TV program (okay, television programme) about Hugh Paxton, a 5 years dead archaeologist who had made a major discovery about ancient England. Hugh's daughter, Kate, and her fiance, Tom (who is an historian studying for his thesis a 17th century antiquarian/archaeologist) come down to Hugh's old home to visit Hugh's widow, Laura, and her crippled sister, Nellie. Laura turns out to be a truly awful woman, portrayed with catty gusto in a way which seems unique to women writers. (If a man wrote of Laura the way Lively does he would be called a raging misogynist. Indeed, Kingsley Amis wrote very nastily of some women in some later books (to me, most obviously in The Russian Girl, but people tend to cite Stanley and the Women), but Amis's bad women were bad in different ways than for example Laura Paxton. Anyway, Laura is terrible to both Kate and Nellie, very controlling but also incredibly stupid, and a raging bore to boot. Kate is emotionally stunted, presumably partly due to Laura, while Tom is a bit vague and unfocussed. Nellie, it turns out, was another archaeologist, and in love with Hugh, and on the evidence Hugh probably (but we can't be quite sure) carried on an affair with her after his marriage to Laura soured.

Over several months, the television programme production progresses, Tom works toward his degree, his relationship with Kate hits some rocks, while secrets about Hugh and Nellie and his discoveries seem ready to burst dangerously into the open. The resolution is emotionally sensible, though a bit understated -- it seemed to me that some guns shown on the mantel were left unfired. But it's a very nice book, and all the main characters come through very strongly, though I did think at times the portrait of Laura seemed almost of necessity a caricature. This is fine work, probably not Lively at her best (certainly I prefer at least Cleopatra's Sister), but well worth a read.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Review: Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis

Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis

a review by Rich Horton

I'm trying to get some things I wrote for my previous blog back up, and I ran across this bit I wrote after my most recent rereading of Lucky Jim. It's not Amis' birthday or anything -- that's next month (and I have a lesser known Amis novel to write about then!)

Kingsley Amis is one of my favorite writers, and Lucky Jim (1954) of course is probably his most famous novel. It's also his first novel, which makes him one of those writers who spent their entire career trying to live up to early success. That annoys many writers -- most people like to think they are getting better as they go on. Amis showed signs of annoyance at the continued preeminence of Lucky Jim in the public eye, but not too badly. He kept writing to the end of his life, producing a novel every two or three years right up to his death. Indeed, while his first successors to Lucky Jim are widely regarded as much lesser works, especially his third novel, I Like It Here, beginning with his fourth novel (Take a Girl Like You (1960)) he produced several that at least rival Lucky Jim in quality. I'd mention as my personal favorites The Anti-Death League (1966), The Green Man (1969), Ending Up (1974), The Alteration (1976), and The Old Devils (1986). (Of these The Alteration is alternate history, The Anti-Death League a near-future story with mild SFnal content, Ending Up is set slightly in the future, and The Green Man is a ghost story.)

I was introduced to Amis in High School, oddly enough. My junior year English teacher really liked his work, and she assigned Lucky Jim in our English Literature class. At about the same time I noticed New Maps of Hell, his critical study of SF, and later that year The Alteration came out. Both those books convinced me he was well-disposed to SF, which sat well with my defensive teenaged self, so I decided to be well-disposed to him. I quite liked Lucky Jim when I read it for class, but in all honesty the only other Amis book I read for years was New Maps of Hell. A decade or more ago I picked up a copy of The Old Devils, his Booker winner, and I really loved it, so I started reading him with more discipline, and by now I've read most of his prose, though not quite all of it.

I think this is my third reading of Lucky Jim. It remains a very enjoyable book. It's the story of Jim Dixon, a history lecturer at a provincial English university shortly after the second world war. Jim is involved in an unsatisfactory relationship with a drippy fellow lecturer called Margaret Peel, who uses emotional blackmail such as implicit suicide attempts (she took sleeping pills after breaking with her previous boyfriend) to keep him on the string. He hates his job, and he hates his boss (Professor Welch) if anything even more, while worrying that he won't be retained for the next school year. He hates phoniness in general, particularly that represented by Professor Welch, who is into recreations of old English music (recorders and all).

The plot revolves mainly around Dixon's growing attraction to Christine Callaghan, a beautiful girl who is nominally Professor Welch's son Bertrand's girlfriend -- but Bertrand is also fooling around with a married woman, and he's a crummy artist to boot. Also, Dixon is working on a lecture about Merrie Olde Englande, which he hopes will impress Professor Welch enough that he can keep his job, but every sentence of which he hates. The resolution is predictable, if rather convenient for Dixon (involving a rich uncle of Christine's), but it satisfies. The book itself is really very funny.

But -- one thing I noticed particularly on this reading. Which is -- yes, the people around Jim Dixon are mostly evil little shits, just as he thinks, but he's a little shit himself. Some of the things he does are intolerably mean, petty, or harmful. Burning holes in the Welch's sheets while drunkenly smoking a cigarette is one thing; but such stunts as stealing a colleague's insurance policies and burning them just seem, well, felonious. And of course Margaret Peel really is someone he's better off breaking up with, but the way Christine is presented as naturally good because she is beautiful and has big breasts does seem rather sexist (to say the least.)

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Old Bestseller: Antic Hay, by Aldous Huxley

Old Bestseller: Antic Hay, by Aldous Huxley

(I note to begin with that Antic Hay was likely not really a bestseller, but it was a novel that gained considerable notice in its time.)

Aldous Huxley was born in 1894 and died in 1963 -- famously on the same day in November as C. S. Lewis and as a certain American President. He was the grandson of the famous zoologist T. H. Huxley, best remembered now as an early defender of Charles Darwin's views. Aldous wrote a dozen novels, two of which at least can be considered Science Fiction -- his most famous, Brave New World, and his last, Island. Huxley also wrote short stories, poetry, many many essays, and screenplays. He was co-scenarist on several very successful movies -- the Garson/Olivier Pride and Prejudice, Madame Curie, and Jane Eyre. Late in his life he gained some notoriety for using the drugs mescaline and LSD, and for a book, The Doors of Perception, about his experience with mescaline.

Antic Hay (1923) was Aldous Huxley's second novel.  It seems to have been the novel that established his reputation.  I had not previously read any Huxley save Brave New World and Island, both quite some time ago.  Antic Hay is rather a different beast than those books.  It's very much an early '20s book -- recalling quite directly, for instance, T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land. I was also reminded strongly of Anthony Powell, particularly Powell's pre-War novels, indeed most notably his first novel, Afternoon Men.  (Though echoes of Antic Hay seem to be present also in From a View to a Death and Agents and Patients.) I think the Powell novels are better, but that is, I suppose, a matter of personal preference only -- certainly Huxley (of this period) was a direct influence on Powell.

The novel concerns several youngish men and women in London, in 1922.  The main character is Theodore Gumbril, a thirtyish man who at the opening resigns his job as a schoolteacher to try to develop an idea for "Gumbril's Patent Small Clothes": an inflatable bladder to be inserted in the seat of one's pants, so that one could sit more comfortably on hard benches. He returns to London, and we meet his circle: a failed artist named Lypiatt, a precious and supercilious newspaper writer named Mercaptan, a physiologist named Shearwater, and a strange man named Coleman. Soon the various characters are engaged in the typical empty machinations of such novels: Gumbril's former lover, Myra Liveash, puts off Lypiatt's advances while dallying with Shearwater, and eventually, perhaps, ending up with Gumbril again.  At the same time Gumbril, in disguise, seduces the foolish and naive Mrs. Shearwater, who ends up by mistake seeking out Gumbril at Mercaptan's rooms, then Coleman's, whereupon the latter rapes her (an act presented as hardly anything out of the ordinary). Gumbril finds himself in love with an innocent and virginal married woman -- but he cannot bring himself to believe in being in love ...  and so on.

It's quite wittily written, though the tone seems wobbly, at times serious and romantic and idealistic, at other times utterly cynical. The characters are very sharply presented, to the point of caricature in some cases (Mercaptan, for example). The whole attitude is pure early '20s disgust with the "civilization" that led the West to the first World War. Powell's Afternoon Men (1931) has a broadly similar scheme (as do many other novels, of course), but Powell maintains a more consistent, more cynical tone, that I think works better.