Sunday, September 22, 2019

Birthday Review: Hazard, by Jo Beverly

Jo Beverly was born 22 September 1947, and died in 2016. In her memory then, on what would have been her 72nd birthday, here's something I wrote long ago about one of her Regency romances.

Hazard, by Jo Beverly

a review by Rich Horton

I read the occasional Regency romance, and one of the best contemporary Regency writers is Jo Beverly. (Jo has SF connections -- she was a Writers of the Future finalist back in the day, and she had a pretty decent SF romance story in the Catherine Asaro anthology Irresistible Forces in 2004.) Hazard is 2002 novel, peripherally connected to her ongoing Company of Rogues series of Regencies.

Lady Anne Peckwood is a demure daughter of a Duke. She is lame -- a twisted foot, and perhaps for that reason keeps to the background, but she is (as ever with Regency heroines) beautiful anyway. But she has been twice jilted, and begins to wonder if she will ever marry, even while she realizes she is not that upset over the jiltings -- perhaps, indeed, relieved. Her married younger sister is having her first child, and the blessed event occurs while their brother Uffham and his "secretary", a lower born man named Race de Vere, are visiting. Race shows himself very useful in the crisis when the baby comes a bit early, and Anne finds herself extremely attracted -- especially when they kiss, and when they play Hazard (a precursor to Craps) -- but of course de Vere is completely unsuitable for a Duke's daughter, despite his excellent war record.

Anne realizes her retiring habits are one reason she has not met a man she truly wishes to marry, so she vows to try one more season in London, this time taking a more dramatic role. Here long time friend St. Raven, one of the Company of Rogues, will be her escort -- but they are friends, not potential lovers. She creates a sensation, partly because of her beauty, partly because of Tris's escort, partly because of her embracing her handicap by such means as using a walking stick as a fashion statement. But the men she meets do little for her -- some are worthy but boring, some are not really worthy at all. Only her encounters with de Vere excite her -- but there is no getting over the fact that his father made his money in trade (and in a lottery!), nor indeed that for strategic reasons he may be declared a bastard before long. Eventually Anne settles on a war hero of sorts.

Well, we know where this is headed. Anne's elopement with the rackety war hero will not suit -- and somehow Race de Vere and she will overcome barriers between them. Of course none of this really convinces, but Beverly plays a bit fairer than some writers might with the situation. (De Vere, for example, does not suddenly become the Earl of Oxford and thus suitable.) There's a premarital sex scene, typical for Regencies nowadays, though not I think very believable. But readable enough. It's not great stuff -- not Heyer, even -- but it does rank above the run of contemporary Regency romances.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Birthday Review: Short Fiction of Andy Duncan

Last year on this date I posted a few of my reviews of Andy Duncan's stories, but for some reason I missed several stories I'd covered. And I've reviewed a couple more since then, so why not repost my reviews this year, with the extra ones added.

(There's a new one too, in the September-October Asimov's, which I cover in the upcoming October Locus: "Charlie Tells Another One", about the great early banjo player Charlie Poole. Poole is featured (briefly) in the first episode of Ken Burns' Country Music series on PBS, and it was striking to see him called out right after I'd read Andy's story!)

Anyway, Happy Birthday, Professor Duncan!

from my Year End Summary, 1999

The best new story, and perhaps the best story Weird Tales published this year, was by Andy Duncan: "From Alfano's Reliquary". This is about an early, corrupt, Pope, and his curious servant. Extremely well-written. Duncan is very very impressive.  I think this story might make my Hugo nomination ballot.

Locus, April 2007

One of the most welcome names in the table of contents of Wizards is Andy Duncan -- I haven’t seen much from him lately, and I’ve missed him. "A Diorama of the Infernal Regions, or The Devil’s Ninth Question" has a claim to be the best story in this book. An orphan girl raised in a museum reaches a certain age, when her master wants her to start performing in the magic show -- which means submitting to the creepy attentions of a mostly male audience. She escapes to another world, where she meets, eventually, the Devil, and where she must answer his questions.

Review of Eclipse 4 (Locus, )

Andy Duncan’s “Slow as a Bullet” is pure tall tale, about a man who foolishly bets that he can outrun a bullet, and how he manages to do it. Duncan’s voice (or that of his narrator) carries the story, which is enjoyable but (as one expects for this sort of story) really quite slight.

Locus, February 2010

Indeed The Dragon Book is enjoyable throughout -- not a story fails to please. The clear best piece is the closing story, which is also probably the least traditional "dragon" story: "The Dragaman’s Bride", by Andy Duncan. The story features Pearleen Sunday, from Duncan’s excellent earlier story "The Devil’s Ninth Question", but she is primarily there to record the relationship of an "Old Fire Dragaman" and a young woman threatened by sterilization as part of the infamous eugenics movement of the early 20th century, which focused on the poor of Appalachia. Duncan beautifully evokes the mountainous back country of his characters, and situates his "Dragaman" there with complete naturalness. The language is spot on, the story involving, the issue affecting.

Locus, March 2010

PS Publishing’s Christmas special is The Night Cache, by Andy Duncan, which is only barely fantastical, but very enjoyable, about the love affair of two young women, and how one of them drags the other into her passion for geocaching.

Locus, August 2012

Finally, I must mention Andy Duncan's new collection, The Pottawatomie Giant. It's mostly reprints, and these are, as you might expect, excellent: stories like his wonderful secret history of the Soviet space program, “The Chief Designer”; and his delightful pair of stories about Pearleen Sunday and her encounters with the devil and a dragon of sorts (“A Diorama of the Infernal Regions; or, The Devil's Ninth Question” and “The Dragaman's Bride”). There is one new story, and it's a fine one: “Close Encounters”, in which a UFO contactee, years after his fame, is lured by a reporter into joining a latter day attempt to contact the aliens – with strange, sad, results, and accompanied by moving recollections of his previous “contact” and its results.

Locus, August 2018

Analog’s latest issue features an Andy Duncan story, "New Frontiers of the Mind", that probably isn’t SF, but which is about a pretty significant figure in the history of SF and indeed of Analog: John W. Campbell, Jr. It’s well known that Campbell, while a student at Duke, participated in J. B. Rhine’s early investigations of ESP. This story imagines Campbell’s interactions with Rhine (in this case, an implausible early success), and also the marriages of both Campbell and Rhine (whose wife had a significant role in his researches). It’s a pretty affecting portrait of both couples, and of the obsessions of both men.

Locus, December 2018

And in The Book of Magic Andy Duncan offers his third Pearleen Sunday story, “The Devil’s Whatever”, in which Pearleen, a wizard based in Appalachia, is finagled into helping her friend, the Devil’s son-in-law Petey Wheatstraw, out of a fix involving places named after the Devil.

Speaking of Andy Duncan, An Agent of Utopia is a very welcome new collection from him. It includes some of his best earlier stories, and it opens with two brand new pieces, both very good. “An Agent of Utopia” is set in London in 1535, with Thomas More waiting to be executed. But he has a surprising visitor – a man from Utopia, the subject of More’s famous book. This man’s job is to free More and take him back with him – but More refuses. And the story turns to a real event – More’s eldest daughter, the celebrated writer Margaret Roper, arranged to steal his head from the spike it was displayed on. Here she turns to the man from Utopia, who for all this Utopian background, finds himself smitten and unable to refuse her.

The other new piece is “Joe Diabo’s Farewell”, told by Eddie Two Rivers DeLisle, a Mohawk working the high steel. It follows him through one day, marked by an accident in which Joe Diabo, a veteran worker and one of the few Mohawks sticking with the “old ways”, falls to his death. Eddie, given the day off, and grieving, ends up picking up some extra money acting as a “real Indian” for the premier of a new movie about Custer. And in so doing encounters a real General who was at Little Big Horn, a pretty girl who seems to like him, and a bunch of the other “real Indians”, who are every sort of ethnicity except for Native American … but who are his kin anyway. One more encounter with Joe Diabo closes the story, which is lovely, and hard to describe – carried by voice, and character, and a perhaps paradoxical groundedness, given that much of it is set 30 stories in the sky. These two stories, along with “The Devil’s Whatever”, represent very well one of Duncan’s greatest strengths: all are steeped in the voice of their characters (and tellers), yet all three (or four) voices are completely different, and completely effective.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Birthday Review: Stories of Tanith Lee

Tanith Lee was born 19 September 1947, and died, only 67, in 2015. She was really a remarkable writer, I think perhaps sometimes not as well appreciated as she should have been, perhaps because she was quite prolific, perhaps because some of her most original work was in her short fiction. Here's a selection of my reviews of her short fiction, from my Locus column, late in her life.

Locus, April 2002

And at last to the Spring Weird Tales, which features a few nice stories. Weird Tales regular Tanith Lee contributes one in "Flicker of a Winter Star" a graceful novelette about a woman farmed out to a nursing home by her oafish son-in-law, and the strange creature that she encounters there.  Lee is always worth attention, though this is perhaps lesser Lee, and also less exotic than usual for her.  But well executed.

Locus, May 2002

DAW has issued a big anthology of fantasy stories in celebration of that imprint's 30th Anniversary, called simply enough DAW 30th Anniversary Fantasy, edited by Elizabeth R. Wollheim and Sheila E. Gilbert. The admirable Tanith Lee contributes "Persian Eyes"; a spooky story set in Ancient Rome, in which a mysterious Persican slave girl casts an unusual spell over the men of several unfortunate households.

Locus, November 2002

October/November is also F&SF's special double issue. Best might be Tanith Lee's novelette "In the City of Dead Night", an effective fantasy about two thieves breaking into the title city, and the terrible thing that awaits them. Nothing much new here, but Lee does effectively work changes on familiar tropes.

Locus, May 2003

Tanith Lee's "Blood Chess" (Weird Tales, Spring) is a vampire story, but quite original, about a vampire who exacts a toll from the neighboring village: one young woman every so often. The vampire's sister, not herself a vampire, tells the story of one particular victim.

Review of Fair Folk (Locus, April 2005)

This book features stories of fairies – but not, as Marvin Kaye's introduction notes, "wee, adorable elves". The fair folk here are often very fair indeed, but they are also scary, jealous of their rights, and willing to harshly use any mortal who gets on their wrong side.

Tanith Lee's opening piece, "UOUS", is a perfect illustration. Sixteen year old Lois is a lives with her stepmother and stepsisters in a decaying house on the edge of a scary wood. The others treat her as a servant, while they spend their lives in dissolution: lots of sex, drugs, and alcohol. Then Lois  meets a fairy: an eerily handsome man named Finn. But Finn is not willing to give her three wishes: instead he will take them. And Lois is set on a path of stealing from her fellows, leading inevitably to inviting Finn to the house, where he will take just what he wants. The story is uncompromising, and one feels uneasily that the characters perhaps deserve their odd fates, but that by implication those fates may be reserved for us.

Locus, December 2005

Lords of Swords promises traditional Heroic Fantasy and it delivers that pretty well. It’s an uneven anthology, but the best stories are solid work, particularly Tanith Lee’s lovely “The Woman in Scarlet”, about a traveling Sword’s Man, who is almost literally married to his Sword, which takes on a female persona. The Sword drives him where she wants, usually to dispense justice, but then she sends him to an unexpected place, and an unexpected man. Can a Sword be unfaithful?

Locus, January 2008

From Asimov’s for January I quite liked Tanith Lee’s “The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald”, a tensely unwinding medical mystery, in which a man comes to a domed city and visits a couple of old friends. The city is under a quarantine, we learn, for slowly emerging reasons: a virus with terribly ironic effects.

Locus, March 2008

And finally, a new anthology from Norilana Books, Lace and Blade, promises “an elegant and romantic “soft” form of sword and sorcery” – mixing wit, intrigue, passion – and of course swordplay and magic. And it delivers on all counts: the stories are wonderfully entertaining throughout, as with Tanith Lee’s “Lace-Maker, Blade-Taker, Grave-Breaker, Priest”, about two swordsmen on a ship who take violently against each other, but whose plans for a duel are upset by a shipwreck.

Locus, March 2009

Norilana Books continues its active foray into the original anthology market with the second Lace and Blade collection of – what? Costume fantasy? Fantasies of manners? At any rate, I greatly enjoyed about half the stories here … the rest were disappointing. But the book is well worth it for the high points, particularly perhaps the last two pieces. Tanith Lee’s “Comfort and Despair” is a sly portrait of an apparently mismatched marriage enlivened by certain secrets.

Locus, November 2009

In the October Fantasy Magazine Tanith Lee offers “Clockatrice”, a fine colorful entertainment in which another photographer stars – this one a freelancer who does art projects for magazines (and other things). She visits a rock star at his family’s ancient estate, hears a somewhat gothic story about a young woman turned to stone in the gardens, gets to see the statue, and the man’s bed … and ends up interested and annoyed enough, against her better judgement, to use the photographs she took to create a particular piece of art retelling the story of the cockatrice and the young woman. Which of course has consequences!

Locus, December 2009

Norilana Books has issued no fewer than six original anthologies in 2009. The latest is Sky Whales and Other Wonders, which seems aimed at presenting stories centered on really colorful central ideas. I liked “The Sky Won’t Listen”, by Tanith Lee, an SF ghost story, in which a psychic investigator of sorts is engaged to deal with a ghostly “whaling ship” on a distant planet. This planet features “sky whales”, once harvested for their luminous skin. That’s over now, but a ghost ship has been attacking some of the newer ships that try to herd the whales away from human cities. There is a human ghost on the ghost ship of course, and his motive is a bit different than expected – nice colorful work.

Review of Teeth (Locus, August 2011)

Tanith Lee’s “Why Light” is a story about a vampire girl going to meet her arranged husband. Lee suggests some different aspects of the vampire legend – limited tolerance to sunlight – and tells a conventional but enjoyable story about an unexpected romance.

Locus, September 2013

Tanith Lee's “A Little of the Night” (Clockwork Phoenix 4) is the story of an officer who kills a brutal fellow officer and must flee, finding himself in a mysterious near-abandoned castle, soon realizing that some sort of vampirism is going on, some pull on the residents' life force. This is Lee in fairly familiar form for her, at times a tad overwrought, but enjoyable.

Birthday Review: Why Do Birds, and some short fiction, by Damon Knight

Damon Knight was born 97 years ago today. He died in 2002. In this space I've previously reviewed all his Ace Double, and his excellent final novel, Humpty Dumpty. Here then is something brief I wrote about his second-to-last novel, Why Do Birds, as well as a few more short stories.

Why Do Birds, by Damon Knight

Why Do Birds is Damon Knight's second-last novel, from 1992. It is described on the cover, fairly accurately, as "A Comic Novel of the Destruction of the Human Race". (Actually, it's not clear that the Human Race is actually destroyed.) The main character is Ed Stone, who shows up in 2002 claiming to be from 1931, despite being about 30 years old. He says aliens kidnapped him and kept him on their spaceship for 70 years, and now they have released him and given him a job. He is supposed to convince everyone on Earth to voluntarily enter a huge cube, and go into suspended animation. Then the aliens will take everyone somewhere, while the Earth will be destroyed.

Naturally people think he's crazy -- indeed, he thinks he might be crazy. But he has a ring that compels anyone he shakes hands with to believe him. Before long he is meeting the President and other political leaders, and the Cube Project is well under way. He also acquires a girlfriend and a number of additional allies. But there are a few people who oppose his plans, in some cases for sinister reasons.

The narrative is deadpan, simple on the surface, often quite funny. Ed is a curious character -- not quite likeable, a bit sinister himself, but in the end someone we sort of root for. His girlfriend Linda Lavalle is rather more likeable. The story plays out over a dozen years or so, as the Cube is built, while the forces arrayed against Ed raise doubts about his story, and Linda has her own loyalties tested. The ending is pretty much as we are compelled to expect, and mostly satisfying. That said, I couldn't love the book -- parts of it made me impatient, and I must confess I am not sure what Knight was really up to. Certainly the aliens and their plans are never explained. There are hints that the world of the book is not quite our world (besides the obvious differences between the 2002 Knight imagined as of 1992 and the real 2002). There are strange occurrences that might imply something really odd is going on, but I never figured out just what. But Knight is never less than interesting, and while it don't think truly understood this book, it lives in my memory -- it is a very original work.

Galaxy, June 1951

Damon Knight is one of those SF writers who I've always thought was best at the novella length (loosely defined). (Those his late novels are pretty good.) Stories like "The Earth Quarter", "Rule Golden", "Double Meaning", "Four in One", "Natural State", "Dio", and "Mary", all long novelettes or novellas, really stand out in his oeuvre. That said, Knight also wrote a passel of equally brilliant short stories: "The Country of the Kind", "Masks", "I See You", and "Fortyday" are four that come immediately to mind, from four different decades. Perhaps then it is fairer to say that Knight was a great writer of short fiction, though I'd say he didn't come into his own as a novelist until late in his career. (On balance, despite Knight's lasting fame in the field, I think he was underrated as a writer of fiction, perhaps because of the prominence of his contributions as editor, critic, and founder of SFWA.)

Anyway in this issue I was a bit surprised to find a longish novelette I didn't recognize in "Don't Live in the Past". Bernard Vargas is a functionary in the far future who is forced to travel back in the past after the "pipelines" in his world have malfunctioned, sending a bunch of dangerous stuff (mostly food) to the past. Vargas ends up in the very period in which the Sacred Ancestor who founded their society lived. He ends up imprisoned, and escapes with some revolutionaries. It seems that "Blodgett", the Sacred Ancestor, is a thug. But how can that be? The future is a utopia? Knight's story, of course, suggests in part that perhaps that future is not such a utopia after all. But also ... well, there's a twist to the story, a fairly guessable one. It's an OK story, but it's easy to see why this isn't one of Knight's best remembered pieces.

Space Science Fiction, March 1953

"The Worshippers" is rather less serious. A prissy philosophy professor and author finds himself quite by accident alone on an alien spaceship, which he flies by sheer luck to an unknown planet, where he ends up stranded among the natives (different aliens than the makers of the spaceship). He is surprised and pleased to find that they immediately worship him as a god, this despite the fact they seem fairly sophisticated and advanced. The man proceeds to remake the aliens in his idea of humanity as quickly as possible -- eliminating their immoral habits and introducing them to the idea of weapons, etc. Things are going quite swimmingly until yet another group of aliens shows up ... It's fairly minor work for Damon Knight, getting off a number of somewhat obvious satirical jokes, pretty silly stuff in many ways. Not without value but not terribly important in the Knight oeuvre.

Galaxy, January 1954

The lead novella is "Natural State", by Damon Knight, at about 25,000 words a true novella. (And Galaxy was, I believe, the only magazine at the time to use the term novella.) "Natural State" was later expanded into the Ace Double Masters of Evolution (1959). The expansion is fairly slight, to about 30,000 words. Here's my Ace Double review:

The future world is divided into city dwellers and "muckfeet". The city dwellers rely on high technology. They are conditioned to fear and feel sick at the thought of country life, and of muckfeet food and hygiene. They have previously fought wars, which both sides claim to have won: but as there are only 22 remaining cities in the whole world, and the muckfeet control the rest of the area, and have a much higher population, the real winners seem obvious.

As the book opens, the Mayor of New York has a desperate idea. He assigns a leading actor, Alvah Gustad, to fly out to the muckfeet and offer to trade with them: the high tech city products in exchange for much needed metals -- and also in the hopes of converting the muckfeet to city ways. Alvah somewhat reluctantly and fearfully makes his way to the country. At first he is confronted with suspicion and threats, or is just ignored. But finally he is given a chance to sell his wares at a fair somewhere in the Midwest. Much to his surprise, nobody is remotely interested in his products -- and worse, after he gets into a scuffle, he finds that the muckfeet have managed to completely disable his energy sources. He is stranded.

A pretty young woman named B. J. and a wise mentor type named Doc Bither take Alvah under their arms, and over some weeks they manage to overcome his conditioning against muckfeet food and smells. We get a look at the muckfeet way of life, which is based on using spectacular products of genetic engineering in place of machines. For example, for airplanes they use "rocs" -- huge flying lizards. Plants are used to extract metals from the ground. Other animals are used as truck or as message devices or as "libraries". Alvah is still reluctant to become a muckfoot, though -- he is still loyal to New York. But he is also in love with B. J. And when the cities launch an attack on the muckfeet, Alvah realizes that many things he has long believed are false. The novel is resolved in a predictable confrontation between Alvah's new friends and his old city.

This is a decent piece of work, enjoyable enough, but lesser work than Knight's best. I would rank it third of his three Ace Doubles (not counting the story collection). Some of the plot contrivances just don't convince -- such as Alvah and the very first muckfoot girl he meets falling in love. And Knight's case for the "natural state" versus "technology" is grossly loaded -- the cities' high tech is burdened by having to comply with the laws of physics, basically, which don't really seem to affect the muckfeet genetic creations. Or put another way -- Knight imagines a utopian perfection of genetic engineering, with limited costs; but the opposing high technology is auctorially declared to be inferior -- but not proven so.

(I also looked at the differences between the original novella and the expanded Ace Double. They consist of a brief passage, about a page, in the middle of the book which explains some of the genetic engineering; and a long additional sequence right at the end, extending the final conflict and giving Alvah a chance to be an action hero of sorts. On the whole, the additions are padding, though I think the explanatory passage fits fine.)

Amazing, July 1960

And, finally, Damon Knight’s “Time Enough” (incorrectly given as “Enough Time” in the TOC) is a pretty good story of a man reenacting a moment of humiliation during his boyhood, hoping to overcome, in reenactment, the fear that had paralyzed him (and, he thinks, ruined his life) back then. But, of course, he cannot escape his nature. Solid work, if to my mind not in the first rank of his stories.

F&SF, October-November 2002 (Locus, November 2002)

October/November is also F&SF's special double issue. ... There is a story from the late, great, Damon Knight: "Watching Matthew", a very well-done novelette about four episodes in the life of a man, ranging from age 10 through old age, seen from the POV of his dead twin. A nice story, but it didn't knock me out.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Birthday Review: Stories of Wil McCarthy

Locus, December 2002

In the December Analog Wil McCarthy offers a long novelette, a sequel to his novel The Collapsium, and apparently the opening section to his next novel, The Wellstone. "Garbage Day" tells of the exploits of a group of unruly teens, including the Crown Prince of the Queendom of Sol, when they escape their minders. What do bored young people do in a world of immortals? Especially if they have access to the power of programmable matter? It's decent work, but it reads more like a novel's opening section than a fully resolved story.

The DAW mass market anthologies are a mixed lot – some are quite awful, and some are quite good. Once Upon a Galaxy, edited by Wil McCarthy with anthology veterans John Helfers and Martin H. Greenberg, is one of the better ones. ... McCarthy's own "He Died that Day, in Thirty Years", is a clever and sardonic extrapolation of the unexpected effects of a slightly malfunctioning memory tailoring drug. Most of the rest of the book is decent entertainment as well.

Locus, June 2005

This is shaping up to be a banner year for Analog. The June issue is very strong, led by its two longest stories. Wil McCarthy's "The Policeman's Daughter" is set in his "Queendom of Sol" future. So far he has published three novels set in this milieu, but "The Policeman's Daughter" is the first shorter work I've seen. (Though excerpts from the first two novels were published as independent stories.) The key technologies of this universe are programmable matter and the "fax". This latter technology is at the center of this story. Copies of people can be made, and stored, and combined. This means practical "immorbidity" – if you die, you can reinstantiate a recent copy, and fix problems caused by aging and disease. You can also merge the memories of separate copies. In this story, a lawyer takes a case from an old friend. The friend claims that someone is trying to murder him: himself – or, that is, a younger instance of himself. Things get much more complicated when the lawyer is forced to create his own younger version to defend the friend's younger self. The story turns on questions of identity and independence, and the rights of different instances of the same person to maintain a separate existence. It's not so much a murder (or attempted murder) mystery as an examination of these questions – made more acute when a woman with whom the lawyer had had a love affair is introduced.

Locus, March 2006

Three short stories in the March-April Asimov's are very effectively weird. Wil McCarthy’s “Heisenberg Elementary” is a delightful brief romp about a classroom repeatedly disrupted by time-travelers apparently trying to fix the future by altering some child’s outlook.

Locus, April 2006

The April issue of Analog is highly characteristic of the magazine, and also quite good. The lead story is intriguing and original – alas, I don’t think it worked, though in this case I have to admit the fault may lie with me. I didn’t get it! I’m writing of Wil McCarthy’s “Boundary Conditions”, in with a trendy American Pope visits a strange orbital weather station, where “Saints” try to forecast – and perhaps forestall – quantum decoherence “storms” that result in excessive free will. The story addresses fascinating issues, including free will and whether or not there is a God, and does so from an unusual angle, but as I implied either it doesn’t quite work – or I didn’t read it right.

Locus, February 2007

Baen’s Universe opens 2007 with another steady issue – but nothing here is really outstanding. Still, I quite enjoyed Wil McCarthy’s “Marklord Pete”, in which a young Intellectual Property attorney and his lovely paralegal fight a trademark infringement battle in a future dominated by IP laws gone wild.

Locus, April 2008

Transhuman is a set of stories about, roughly, the Singularity, usually represented these days, it seems, as VR-mediated life. As a set these are thoughtful and interesting work. I liked Wil McCarthy’s “Soul Printer”, a rather cynical story about a rich college student who finds a way to create art tailored to a particular person by tweaking pictures according to their brain’s response – and of course the art they “choose” shows a good deal about their inner selves.

Locus, February 2016

Analog's year-opening double issue features a novella from Wil McCarthy, from whom we haven't seen nearly enough lately. “Wyatt Earp 2.0” is set in his Queendom of Sol future, in which one of the most critical features is “fax” technology that can restore people to life (and improve their health!) after any sort of accident. In this case a version of Wyatt Earp has been reconstituted on Mars, and given the job of bringing order to a mining town. Much is made of Earp's 19th Century notions of how to keep rough men under control, and much too of Earp 2.0's identity crisis. It's nice work, not great, in some ways reading perhaps as more of a scene-setting piece for additional stories than as an independent work.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Birthday review: Stories of Howard Waldrop

As with many of these writers, my reviews only cover late work -- I'm not discussing some of Howard Waldrop's spectacular stories from the '80s and '90s. But, be that as it may -- Howard turns 73 today, and here's a look at the stories I've reviewed over my time at Locus, not to mention on early piece for Shayol.

Review of Shayol #7

Waldrop's story, "What Makes Hieronymus Run?", is a weird one -- quel surprise, eh? It's about a couple time traveling to 16th Century Holland. But instead of tulip growers and the Duke of Alba, they find themselves in scenes from paintings, eventually including, of course, a painting by Bosch. Pretty good stuff, not quite Waldrop at his best, though. (It didn't really advance enough beyond simply presenting the neat idea.)

Locus, November 2003

In Sci Fiction for October I also enjoyed Howard Waldrop's "D=RxT", though it doesn't seem to be SF: a loving and honest story about boys (and a girl) in the 50s racing pedal cars, and a challenge from "Rocket Boy".

Locus, October 2004

Sci Fiction in September offers a short story by Howard Waldrop, "The Wolf-man of Alcatraz", which, in a characteristically Waldropian way, takes a goofy idea and makes it seem natural: what if the "Birdman of Alcatraz" was a "Wolf-man" – a werewolf. His evocation of the prisoner's life, buttressed with details like his obsession with the moon, is very nicely done, though almost too straightforward.

Locus, December 2005

In Sci Fiction in November there is a pretty good Howard Waldrop story, “The Horse of a Different Color (That You Rode In On)”, about an unknown (to us) Marx Brother, Manny Marks, the death of vaudeville, and, particularly, a mysterious vaudeville act and their quest.

Locus, January 2006

Finally, in the December Sci Fiction, Howard Waldrop offers one of his best recent stories, “The King of Where-I-Go”. Waldrop’s recent territory has been the American 20th Century, ever viewed from just slightly skewed viewpoints: obscure alternate histories, or in this case a very personal bit of time travel. The story concerns a Texas boy and his younger sister. They spend summers with relatives in Alabama, while their parents, in the end unsuccessfully, try to work out marital problems. Then the sister gets polio, surviving because of her Aunt’s experience. She is slightly handicapped, and perhaps changed in another way, as she ends up participating in the Duke University psychic experiments. The story has a definite SFnal twist, but at its heart it is a pitch perfect portrayal of a mid-20th century childhood in the American South.

Review of Fast Ships and Black Sails (Locus, December 2008)

In “Avast, Abaft”, Howard Waldrop mashes up H. M. S. Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance to delightful effect.

Review of Warriors (Locus, May 2010)

The best of the other entries comes from Howard Waldrop. “Ninieslando” is set during World War I. A British soldier is injured in No Man’s Land, between the lines, and wakes up in a mysterious place, full of Esperanto speakers. (Fortuitously, he had been an Esperanto enthusiast prior to the war.) The story turns on the Esperantist dream of human unity arising from a common language – and turns again, quite bitterly, on the constant ability of humans to find differences for no particular reason. (It’s critical, I suppose, for such a story to be set in the relatively senseless “Great War” rather than in the Second World War.) The story is only marginally fantastical – it’s more a sort of Secret History, but the conception of the existence and location of the Esperantist refuge is pure Waldropian loopiness of the sort that makes it clearly unfair to call it loopy – rather, it’s inspired.

Locus, January 2014

In Old Mars my favorite comes from Howard Waldrop. “The Dead Sea-Bottom Scrolls (A Recreation of Oud’s Journey by Slimshang from Tharsis to Solis Lacus, by George Weeton, Fourth Mars Settlement Wave, 1981)” is, as the title tells us, told at multiple levels – it's a later edition of the account of an early Martian settler reenacting an old Martian's journey as his journal described it … clever, moving, believable, and mysterious.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Birthday Review: Stories of Steve Rasnic Tem

I first encountered Steve Rasnic Tem in the little-remembered anthology Other Worlds 1 -- a fantasy offshoot of Roy Torgeson's original anthology series Chrysalis. (Chrysalis and Other Worlds never received the notice that anthologies like the Universe and New Dimensions books did, but they were a worthwhile and different set of books, featuring a noticeably different set of regular writers.) Over the years he (and also his late wife, Melanie Tem) slowly developed for me a reputation as  reliably intriguing and original short story writers. Steve Rasnic Tem has published several novels (a couple in collaboration with Melanie), but he still seems primary a short fiction writer, and a very good one. Today is his birthday, and in his honor here's a look stories of his I've reviewed for Locus. (Two of them, "Invisible" and "A Letter From the Emperor" were reprinted in my Best of the Year books, and I recommend them very highly, especially "A Letter From the Emperor", an exceptional story that I think deserved a lot more notice than it got.)

Locus, April 2005

I found Steve Rasnic Tem's "Invisible" (Sci Fiction) quite painful (in a good way): the story of a couple who seem to be growing literally invisible as they become socially invisible. This is, evidently, that sort of fantasy that uses its fantastic element as straightforward metaphor for a "mundane" central theme -- and it does so very well, as we see the viewpoint character's co-workers snubbing him, his daughter failing to call, and his wife's evanescing.

Locus, December 2008

At Asimov’s for December, Melanie Tem and Steve Rasnic Tem offer “In Concert”, a moving story of an aging woman who has, all her life, telepathically sensed the thoughts of others – sometimes those close to her, sometimes people across the world. Now she lives alone, close to death, and she begins to sense the thoughts of an astronaut lost in space. She also learns something about her possibly suicidal great-grandson, and in the end, much is lost – in the natural way of things – but hope remains.

Locus, October 2009

Black Static’s version of “horror” probably fits my taste as well as any horror magazine. At the August/September issue I enjoyed Steve Rasnic Tem’s “Charles”, a deadpan tale of a mother telling her long dead son that it’s really not right for dead people to marry – the story is at first funny, but it closes on an effectively sad note.

Locus, January 2010

“A Letter from the Emperor”, by Steve Rasnic Tem, is the outstanding piece from the January Asimov’s. Jacob is a messenger for a Galactic Empire. His partner has just committed suicide as they come to an isolated planet, long out of contact with what seems an only tenuously in control Emperor. His guilt over his failure to understand his late partner combines with his concern for the aging governor of this planet, who is desperate for approval from his Emperor … and what results is a letter that perhaps says more about we readers and our nostalgia for things like Galactic Empires and noble adventures than anything else.

Locus, January 2011

Then Steve Rasnic Tem’s “Visitors” (Asimov's, January) tells of a future punishment, as an old couple are shown visiting their son, who is confined rather horribly in a sort of suspended animation. It seems a way of avoiding the death penalty without really avoiding it, and the implications are quite disturbing.

Beneath Ceaseless Skies for October 14 had some strong work, including a neat, funny, original wizard’s apprentice type story from Steve Rasnic Tem, “Dying on the Elephant Road”, about a lovelorn young man who gets himself killed trying to protect the woman he loves (who doesn’t know him), only to be restored (sort of) by a wizard;