Thursday, September 24, 2015

Another Ace Double: The Sun Saboteurs, by Damon Knight/The Light of Lilith, by G. McDonald Wallis

Ace Double Reviews, 24: The Sun Saboteurs, by Damon Knight/The Light of Lilith, by G. McDonald Wallis (#F-108, 1961, $0.40)



I promise I'll get back to a true Old Bestseller next week -- something from the 19th Century even! -- but I'm not quite ready yet, so back to the archives for a pretty interesting Ace Double.

Damon Knight of course was one of the great writers in SF history, a Grand Master. The Sun Saboteurs was his second of four Ace Double halves (three separate books). It is an expansion of his 1955 novella "The Earth Quarter", and it is about 37,000 words long. G. (for Geraldine) McDonald Wallis is almost unknown in the SF field -- this novel and her 1963 Ace Double half Legend of Lost Earth are her only in-genre publications. However, she had an extensive career under the name "Hope Campbell". In the 1940s she published a number of stories in romance magazines, with titles like "Marriage of Inconvenience" and "Forbidden Female". Then from the late 60s into the 80s she published, also as by Campbell, a number of middle-grade and YA novels, such as Peter's Angel (aka The Monsters' Room), Mystery at Fire Island, and Why Not Join the Giraffes?. (There was also apparently a YA-marketed edition of Legend of Lost Earth under the "Hope Campbell" name.) She was born in 1925 -- thus her first story (that I know of), published in the January 1943 All-Story Love magazine, appeared when she was only 17. She was raised, according to the front matter of The Light of Lilith, in Hawaii and the Orient, and she had a career as an actress. As far as I know she is still alive. The Light of Lilith is about 45,000 words long.

I don't really think that Don Wollheim (or whoever else selected Ace Double pairings) necessarily chose stories that were thematically or otherwise related, but every so often it happened. This is a particularly striking case. Both The Sun Saboteurs and The Light of Lilith present a strikingly anti-Campbellian theme. In both, humans are presented as evil warmongers amid a generally peaceful Galaxy. In both, humans are forced to accept their inferiority to many alien species, and in both, many or most humans simply fail to do so. In both, humans are faced with isolation in the Solar System, and eventually with extinction. That said, one novel is far better than the other.

Probably to no one's surprise, the better of the two is Damon Knight's The Sun Saboteurs. In this book a smallish colony of humans is confined to "the Earth Quarter" on the home planet of the insect-like Niori. Other similar enclaves are located on other alien planets, while humans on Earth itself have descended to barbarism amid the ruins of technological society. The viewpoint character is Laszlo Cudyk, 55 years old, a writer and jeweler, and one of the most respected citizens of the Earth Quarter. Other key characters are the mayor, Min Seu; the gang boss, Mr. Flynn; the Orthodox priest Astareo Exarkos; the mad old man Burgess, who believes that humans dominate the Galaxy, and his differently mad daughter Kathy, who keeps losing lovers to one fanaticism or another; and finally the evil Rack, who plots to rebel against the aliens, killing as many as he can.

The action is precipitated by the visit of one Harkway, from the Minority Peoples League, which works for accommodation with alien rule -- either by pushing for human equality on alien planets, or for alien help in restoring Earth. The MPL is bitterly opposed by the likes of Rack, who believe that aliens are inferior vermin, and that any truck with them is treason to humanity. The charismatic Rack controls a group of thugs, and one of them beats Harkway to death. This is a particular problem because the aliens cannot conceive of murder, and their sufferance of the Earth Quarter is predicated on human obedience to their laws. But Rack forces the issue by announcing that he has formed a navy, and will be taking the battle to the aliens, and that those humans who refuse to follow him are traitors too.

Cudyk observes this all, intervening in virtuous but ineffective ways when he can. But he is only a spectator when Rack's plans lead to truly incomprehensible evil actions. The final resolution turns on an ironically small action, perhaps Cudyk's though really almost anyone's.

The novel is very well written -- from the first it is clear we are in the hands of a real writer, even though this dates, especially in its first version, to quite early in Knight's career. (To me the contrast with the writing of the Wallis novel was particularly marked.) Cudyk is a very well depicted viewpoint character. The others are more types than fully rounded characters, but well-chosen and nicely portrayed. The action is mostly in a minor key, and the entire feel is both sad and bitterly cynical -- probably too much so -- humans aren't really this bad, and moreover I don't believe in aliens as "good", as sin-free, as those he shows us. There are some missteps -- the general SFnal background is only lightly sketched, and not awfully believable, but that doesn't matter that much. (I was particularly bothered that the action is apparently set in 1984, 20 years after the colonies were established on the various alien planets -- even in 1955 I don't think anyone could believe that men would have reached the stars, fought a barbaric interstellar war, and destroyed Earth by 1964.) The book's bitter argument against humanity is overstated and almost shrill, but still it is worth reading. I think it works a little better at shorter length, and in fact I do prefer "The Earth Quarter" -- one of my favorite Knight stories.

As for The Light of Lilith, it is a pretty awful novel, one of the worst novels I've read in this Ace Double review series. As I mention, the theme is basically similar to the Knight novel, but with a bit more hope in the end. Not really a bad theme, but, unfortunately, a theme doesn't make a novel -- it helps to have believable characters, a consistent and entertaining plot, and interesting SFnal ideas. This book does OK on the first part, at least by the standards of the day in SF, but it fails ridiculously as to plot, and as to scientific ideas.

The hero is Russell Mason, a "reporter" for the Earth Federation. He has been trained from the age of 6 to be a spaceman, and his particular job is to visit human-colonized planets and report on conditions. He is coming to Lilith, an "experimental" planet. Experimental planets are unusual places, with no indigenous life (not counting plants or lower animals -- basically, no potentially intelligent life as I read it, though that's not what Wallis wrote), on which humans perform certain experiments, ostensibly into physical laws. Lilith itself is particularly interesting because, get this, it has colors not found in the normal electromagnetic spectrum. Oh.

When Mason arrives, he finds the spaceport deserted, and feels himself gripped by a terrible fear. He stumbles across one survivor, who dies soon but after warning Mason -- "our fault". Mason manages to make his way to the remote lab, where the remaining humans have retreated. It seems their experiments have somehow caused changes in the light of Lilith, potentially very dangerous.

Mason allows himself to be exposed to a curious manifestation of the light, and he is transformed. He seems to travel in time, and he sees a vision of Man's future, a terrible vision that suggests that humans will be punished by the rest of the intelligent races in the galaxy. Is there something he can do to change things? Then he discovers what sort of research has really been going on on Lilith (weapons research, naturally), and he also discovers other secrets about Lilith and the experimental planets program that disgust him. He must try to obtain help from mysterious aliens, and persuade humans to give up their doomed experimental planet research.

The problem, basically, is a fairly random plot, a compendium of not well integrated incidents; and, worse, a whole bunch of just plain silly so-called scientific ideas, such as the "light" of Lilith. I really thought it a stupid book.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Middling Old Non-Bestseller: The Floating Opera, by John Barth

The Floating Opera, by John Barth

a review by Rich Horton

I've been doing Ace Double reviews lately, and this could have been another one, as my copy of The Floating Opera is part of an omnibus edition of John Barth's first two novels (the second being The End of the Road). But I haven't yet read the second book, so I'll stick with The Floating Opera, first published in 1956, though revised (restoring Barth's original ending) in 1967. (Barth's introduction to this edition (perhaps also to the 1967 edition) reveals that the original publisher balked at the darkness of the original ending, and that Barth agreed to a modest alteration -- only to read reviews that criticized that ending!)

Again, a book that is not particularly old (though it was written 60 years ago, so old enough), not a bestseller (indeed, the publisher declined the next book), and yet not forgotten. But not as well remembered as most of the author's oeuvre. Though it is worth remembering that it was shortlisted for the National Book Award in 1957.

John Barth was born in 1930 (making him pretty much my parents' age) and is still alive, having published a novel as recently as 2011 (Every Third Thought). His best known novels are probably The Sot-Weed Factor (1960) and Giles Goat-Boy (1966). Both novels are long, both are arguably SF, both are experimental. Indeed Barth is particularly known as an postmodern novelist, and his 1967 essay, "The Literature of Exhaustion", is a critical postmodern document. The Sot-Weed Factor was his third novel, however, and his first two novels were more traditional and realist, though their themes are noticeably nihilist.

The Floating Opera is the story of one important day in the life of Todd Andrews, a lawyer in Cambridge, Maryland (Barth's home town). We are told from the start that Andrews is writing this memoir sometime in the mid-50s (about when the novel was written), which takes a certain sting from his announcement early in the book that, this day, either June 21 or June 22, 1937, he has decided to commit suicide.

The main action of the novel follows that day. Andrews wakes up next to his mistress, Jane Mack, the wife of his good friend Harrison Mack. He meets a couple of friends at his residential hotel ... two old men, one who defends the value of life to the very end, the other who rails against the depredations of age. Todd -- for reasons probably unrelated to anything the old men say -- comes to the conclusion that this is the day he should kill himself. He completes his day, nothing unusual -- dealing with a lawsuit he is conducting for Harrison Mack (which will either give his friend or his friend's estranged mother the estate the elder Mr. Mack has left), taking the Macks' 3 year old child on a tour of the showboat that gives the book its title, etc. Then he and the Macks attend the performance of Jacob Adam's Floating Opera, and Andrews makes his decision about his suicide attempt ... well, I need reveal no more about that.

But of course, as with most novels ostensibly set over a day there is much more going on. We learn about Todd Andrews' affair with Jane -- actually instigated by Jane and Harrison, partly as a means of celebrating their friendship. We learn that the Macks' daughter may actually be Todd's daughter. We hear about Todd's father's suicide. About Todd's experience in World War I, and especially his encounter with a German soldier. About Todd's career at Johns Hopkins, and about his first sexual experience, with a local girl who later became a prostitute. About the lawsuit between Harrison Mack and his mother, which turns for one thing on his mentally deficient father's habit of preserving his feces late in life. About Todd's physical problems: a heart condition, that may kill him any day; and a prostate infection, that makes him sometimes impotent. And we learn of Todd Andrews' life work, his Inquiry, which began well before that June day in 1937 and continues into the mid-50s.

This is essentially a comic novel, and indeed it can be quite funny, in a blackish way. It's also a somewhat philosophical novel, the central philosophy being Todd Andrews' nihilism, his belief that life has, at its core, no meaning. Todd's life is on the one hand satisfying enough -- he's a very successful lawyer, he makes plenty of money, he has a beautiful mistress. But on the other hand, his life is pretty sad: he has a mistress, but not a wife; he sometimes can't perform in bed; his father committed suicide; he lives in a hotel; his attitude towards the law is that it is a cynical game, etc. The end result of all this -- and of the Inquiry that is his life's work, and the nature of which we only learn towards the novel's end -- is the decision he makes on this fateful morning, and the other decision he makes at the end of that day.

I was reminded of another novel I've covered in this series of reviews: Philip Wylie's Finnley Wren. The two novels share a protagonist born in 1900, a philosophical and often cynical bent, and an oddly inconclusive (but really quite conclusive) resolution, as well as a certain ribaldry. That isn't to say that the novels come to similar conclusions about their philosophies, nor that the advertising man Finnley Wren and the lawyer Todd Andrews are all that similar -- but there certainly are correspondences.

I liked the book a fair bit. It really is quite funny, and always readable, and the dark underside is an effective counterpoint to the surface comedy. I've had a copy of Giles Goat-Boy for decades, and I've long been intimidated by its length. I'm certainly intending to finally tackling that book sometime in the fairly near future -- and be that as it may, The Floating Opera is worthwhile on its own terms.


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Convention and Vacation Report, Sasquan 2015, Part IV

Convention and Vacation Report, Sasquan 2015

by Rich Horton

Part IV: Saturday (and the Hugos) and Sunday

Saturday morning we figured we'd get a real breakfast. My preference is to find a good local place, instead of a chain. So while there was a Perkins near the hotel (which would have been fine), we used the smartphone to find a place called Waffles Plus. It was a bit of dive decor-wise, but the service was fast and the food was fine. Then we went back to the convention. First stop of course was the business meeting. There were to be preliminary presentations on the major proposal (EPH, 4/6), and an attempt to clear out the rest of the business. Again I couldn't stay long but Mary Ann stayed for most of it. The proposal to eliminated the 5% requirement to get on the ballot, a longtime bugaboo of mine, did pass, fairly easily. I can't remember the order of actions, but for the most part discussion of EPH and 4/6 was put off until Sunday. I should mention that the Site Selection winner for 2017 was announced (most people had heard this the night before): Helsinki, Finland; a very popular choice. (I'm happy with it winning, though I will almost certainly not be able to afford to attend.)

I had signed up for James van Pelt's Kaffee Klatche, at 10, so I rushed out pretty quick to make it. James (as mentioned) has been a long-time friend online, from SFF.net days and such, and it was a privilege to watch his career develop (and reprint some of his best work). He has a new YA novel out from Fairwood Press, Pandora's Gun. There was a nice group there, and a lot of what James discussed was working writer stuff: how long it takes him to write a story, the marketing process. James has over time (sometimes a long time!) sold a remarkable percentage of his stories. I spent a certain amount of time (perhaps too much, but they asked!) talking about things from the reviewers' side, the state of the market and so on. A good talk.

Next up for me, at 12, was the panel "How to Edit Anthologies", with John Joseph Adams, Ellen Datlow, and Mike Resnick. I've done this panel a few times before at various cons, and so too I know have John, Ellen, and Mike. I admit to feeling a bit tired of the whole concept and not really looking forward to it much, but the panel actually went quite nicely. I've been on panels with all of these folks before, and by now I know them all fairly well (Mike Resnick perhaps a bit less well, but I've talked with him at length too -- or should I say mostly listened -- he's an excellent storyteller, in person as well as in print). I don't know if that helps on a panel -- I think maybe it does, though I'm always excited to meet new people too. We discussed the usual things: story order, open vs. closed anthologies, reprint vs. original, etc. Not sure we broke any new ground, but as I said it seemed to go well.

I seemed to be in a rush, and the next panel I was interested was "The Future of Online Magazines", but between running into people for a chat etc. I got there pretty late. The panelists were Anaea Lay (Strange Horizons), Scott Andrews (Beneath Ceaseless Skies), John Joseph Adams (Lightspeed, of course), Mike Resnick (the late lamented Baen's Universe), and Neil Clarke (Clarkesworld). So, a good, representative set. I was happy to meet Anaea and Scott, neither of whom I had yet run into.

My next panel was at 3:00, so I figured I'd run over to the Hugo Ceremony rehearsal, which ran from 2 to 4 -- it was advertised as just taking 5 or 10 minutes for a quick runthrough. Alas, to begin with the theatre space they were using (the INB) was locked, and finally someone found us (about 10 or 15 people had shown up) and took us in a back door. Things were a bit disorganized -- I think the director and the presenters (David Gerrold and Tananarive Due) had expected this time to be mainly for their rehearsal. David gave us a nice talk, about how to walk on the stage and all that, and what to expect. (There was some distinct tension noticeable, to do with worrying about the possibility of boos, and No Awards, etc.) It ended up taking nearly the whole hour -- indeed, I ducked out a bit in advance of any actual practice (unnecessary anyway, I think) in order to make the Space Opera panel at 3.

This was in a room I hadn't been in before, not as large as some of the others, and the room was absolutely packed. The front table was tiny, so the five had to rather squeeze in and around it. I joked "biggest crowd and smallest front table at the con". The five panelists were me as moderator (on the strength of my Space Opera anthology, I suppose) with four writers who have definitely done Space Opera: Doug Farren, Jeffrey Carver, Charles Stross, and Ann Leckie. Being a moderator is not necessarily as easy as it might seem, though my fellow panelists were certainly helpful. In all, I think the panel went well. We discussed the history of Space Opera, of the so-called "New Space Opera", Bob Tucker's invention of the term, the revitalization of it by the likes of, in different ways, Brian Aldiss, Samuel R. Delany, and M. John Harrison ... followed of course by Banks and co. Also the experiences of each of the authors writing Space Opera ... often without really considering what they were doing Space Opera at the time.

Then it was back to the hotel room to relax a bit and then change for the Pre-Hugo Reception. The reception (for the nominees, presenters, and guests) featured drinks and appetizers -- a pretty nice spread. They dragged us off for pictures during the process. We ran into a number of people, of course -- I was able to introduce Mary Ann to Ann Leckie, who was there with her high school age son. We had a nice conversation about Webster Groves schools -- as our kids and Ann's all went to Webster Groves High School, and Mary Ann worked at the grade school where Ann's kids went (though she left there for another job in the district before Ann's kids would have been in the class she worked at).

I also got to talk to Brent Bowen, a friend of some years (from the KC area), who was a Hugo nominee for his fine podcast Adventures in Sci-Fi Publishing. He had just got in town after first seeing a long-planned concert by the Foo Fighters. This is also when I asked Robert Silverberg to sign the Ace Double I had bought. Talked some as well with Neil Clarke and Sean Wallace. And other people too, but one of the problems with waiting so long to write all this up is that I forget things. (That's probably one of the problems with being 55, too.)


At just about 8 we were escorted to the INB for the ceremony. We had assigned seating, in part to keep the nominees close to the stage for easy access should we win. The Lightspeed crew were seated in something like the sixth row. John Scalzi was just a few seats to my left. Naturally I started to get a bit nervous.

The ceremony took a while to get going -- they showed the "Pre-Hugo" show being streamed at Ustream (which would stream the ceremony), and the folks on the show made some broad comments about how much stretching they were having to do. David Gerrold and Tananarive Due did a really nice job throughout the ceremony. It opened with a bit of Star Trek schtick, amusing enough. Robert Silverberg came up and performed a special "Blessing of the Hugo", based, he said, on encounters with the Hare Krishna at a long ago Worldcon. The entire audience sang along to the Hare Krishna chant. Connie Willis also gave an amusing talk. Alas, I have already forgotten her jokes ... It's that 55 thing again.

The awards part of the ceremony began with a series of non-Hugo awards. A special award was presented to the late Jay Lake, a Northwest-based writer who died of cancer in 2014. Jay was a super writer, and a really good man. He was special to a lot of people, and for me to to claim to be close to him would be wrong, but I always felt close, because we were both writing for Tangent at the same time, back in the late '90s, and we corresponded a fair bit. Because of the Tangent connection, I followed his rapidly burgeoning career closely, and I was delighted as he progressed from a very prolific, and always interesting, writer of short stories for mostly small 'zines to a Hugo-nominated writer to a Campbell winner to a prolific novelist. I was thrilled to be able to reprint some of his stories. I finally met Jay at Chicon in 2012, when he was in remission from his cancer. The award was accepted by his sister, and it seemed totally appropriate to me.

The First Fandom award went to Julian May, who was born in 1931, and was active in fanzines in the late '40s. Her first SF story was the excellent novella "Dune Roller", which appeared in 1951 in Astounding, but after only one more story she left the field. She married the anthologist T. E. Dikty, editor of the first Best of the Year series. She kept writing in ensuing years, including a series of juveniles, and later some media tie-in sort of work as by "Ian Thorne". She returned to the field in 1981 with The Many-Colored Land, which made a huge splash, and since then has published quite a few further novels. She's still alive, but was unable to attend the convention.

The Sam Moskowitz award went to David Aronowitz, a collector and bookseller.

And the Big Heart award went to Ben Yalow. I was thrilled by this award as well. Ben is a SMOF, of course, and a very nice guy. I've known him for quite a while, though not all that closely, but we've talked on a number of occasions at smaller cons. The first time I met him I remember asking if he was related to Rosalyn Yalow, who won the Nobel Prize in 1977, while I was a student at the University of Illinois, where she got her Ph.D. (so naturally they made a big deal of her). Ben, of course, is Rosalyn's son. A very deserving winner.

The final "non-Hugo" is an award that lots of people, I suspect, think of as a Hugo, because it is nominated and voted for in the same process: the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. The winner was Wesley Chu, a very deserving winner as well. He won from a shortlist otherwise dominated by "Puppy" nominees, and No Award finished second, a bellwether for the Hugos, no doubt. That said, I think Chu was a likely winner against any field of nominees, though Andy Weir, author of The Martian and the first person left off the ballot, might have given him a run for his money. (The next writer on the long list of people just short of a nomination who really would have excited me was Sam J. Miller, who wouldn't have made the ballot regardless of the slates ... which is not to say that the writers ahead of him are at all unworthy.)

So, it was finally time for the Hugos. I won't post the whole list, because it's readily available. Most notable acceptance speech was by James Bacon, one of the winners for Best Fanzine (Journey Planet), though perhaps I give him extra credit for his Irish accent. (One of his fellow-editors at Journey Planet, Chris Garcia, is famous for one of the best Hugo acceptance speeches of all time after he won for another fanzine (The Drink Tank) in 2011 -- indeed, James gave a good portion of that speech (which was actually nominated for Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) the following year.) I would say that from my perspective the choices for the Hugo were good choices, not always what I voted for but worthy work in context.

Jumping around a bit, I'll add that the most funny part of the ceremony was the Dalek that presented the Dramatic Presentation awards. Great fun. There were, of course, moments of great controversy. The first involved the now notorious asterisks. These are little wood coaster sized things that were sold (in slightly smaller versions) to benefit one of Sir Terry Pratchett's favorite charities, The Orangutan Foundation. The full-sized versions were given to all the Hugo nominees. Of course it was a joke suggesting that there might be an asterisk associated with the awards this year -- which one would have to be a dolt not to have noticed. I believe it was intended as a light-hearted, affectionate joke, and it should have been taken that way, but many people weren't ready (may never be ready) to accept that. Gerrold gave a presentation saying that the six arms of the asterisk were exclamation points -- celebrating the many records Sasquan set, such as most Hugo voters.

The other major controversy occurred in the categories where No Award won. In each case, there was a lot of cheering, which I thought regrettable. No Award was probably appropriate in most of these cases, certainly understandable as a rebuke to the slate tactic, but it was nothing to celebrate. As it happens, I chose not to vote No Award first myself in any category, but that said, I felt the nominations in each case were tainted by the slate support, and the overall shortlists much much weaker than usual. Except for the editor categories, I did not feel I was voting for candidates that were truly Hugo-worthy -- I was voting for solid and enjoyable stories that I didn't feel would besmirch the Hugos.

Anyway ... (as Washington native Joel McHale might say) ...

The cool part -- for me! The award for Best Semiprozine was presented by TAFF (Transatlantic Fan Fund) representative Nina Horvath, from Austria. (One of several she presented.) She read the name of the category as "Seamy Prozine", which (as David Gerrold noted) seemed a nice way to put it! I will confess now that while I had tried to tell myself all along that we had at best a 1/3 chance of winning, I was actually kind of confident, on two grounds: we won last year, and the (limited) set of posted ballots seemed to favor us. Oh, and I think we're pretty deserving! (Which is not to say that the other nominees, Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Abyss and Apex, and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine aren't outstanding as well.)

So anyway, as the announcement came -- well, I was thrilled, that's all I can say. The five of us went up, and got like three Hugos to share on stage (the other two we got backstage, and sorted them out according to nameplate.) We all got to talk for about a minute and a half. I don't think I quite made a fool of myself, but I was a bit stiff. One thing that a lot of people noted from previous ceremonies is absolutely true -- you cannot see the audience at all from the podium.

We went back to our seats, and saw the rest of the award presentations. Then we hung around for a while for official photographs, taken on stage. The photographer, the excellent John O'Halloran, herded us cats into place, and took his pictures, then audience members were allowed to take their own.


Then it was time for the afterparties. We went first to the traditional Hugo Losers' Party, which this year was just called the Post-Hugo Reception or something like that, at Auntie's Bookstore in downtown Spokane. As usual, this was hosted by next year's Worldcon (in Kansas City, and thus run by a number of friends of mine). The gift was barbecue tongs. There was a nice crowd, and drinks, and some food. I talked to several people, including new F&SF editor, and first-rate writer, C. C. Finlay; the lovely Wang Yao, who writes as Xia Jia, and whose work I have reprinted; and Ken Burnside, a nominee for Best Related Work whose "The Hot Equations" was broadly regarded as the best of the nominees, and which indeed did finish second (to No Award). We talked at some length -- Ken was sensible, a bit upset about the way the Puppies were treated but somewhat understanding as well, and quite convinced that things are only going to get worse for the Hugos.

I had heard that George R. R. Martin (who, with Gardner Dozois, started the Hugo Losers' Party tradition back in the '70s) was hosting a Losers' Party somewhere, but I didn't get an invitation. (Possibly because I wasn't a Hugo Loser, who knows?) It sounds like it was a good time. As far as I know, none of the Lightspeed crew made it there, though I know he was trying to find John Joseph Adams, who did qualify as a Hugo Loser because he was one of those knocked off the ballot (in Editor, Short Form) by the slate candidates. As it was I stayed for a while at Auntie's, hoping to link up with the rest of the crew, but only saw Stefan Rudnicki, our Podcast Editor.

Mary Ann was getting a bit tired, so we went back to the hotel, then I went out again (on foot and by bus), and first made my way to the SFWA Suite. It was fairly empty, but I was fortunate to strike up a long conversation with Brian Dolton, a fine writer (we've actually shared a TOC, in the Spring 2011 Black Gate), who was serving the Scotch. So we talked about Scotch, and about Iain Banks (who was an expert (of the "fan" sort) on Scotch, wrote a book about it), and about Thorne Smith, and about Roger Zelazny.

After some time in the suite, I went down to the bar on the first floor. There was a nice crowd there as well. I spent some time talking to the fine writer Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, who is one of those I also know from a mailing list. The Lightspeed crew also showed up, and was able to talk for some time to Christie and Wendy and John. Annie Bellet was there, showing off her Alfie, awarded by George R. R. Martin at his party. I am distressed that I am forgetting some of the other folks I talked with -- partly because it's late, but also, alas, I took too long to get around to writing this. One of them (could it have been Ramez Naam, another fine young writer?) shared a drink with me after the bar closed. Anyway, I had a great time -- lots of great conversation, the key (in my opinion) to any con.

(Not that winning a Hugo didn't help!)


It was about 4, as I recall, that I went back to the hotel.

So then Sunday, time for the trip home. But first, back to the con for one more panel, and another swoop through things. We did first go to the Business Meeting again, where the two major Hugo Reform proposals were considered, EPH and 4/6. Both passed, EPH by a wide margin, 4/6 on a very close vote. That was preceeded by a series of votes aimed at selecting which variant of 4/6 would be the official one (5/10, 5/8, etc.) My suggestion was 5/10, but I would have been happy with 5/8, which alleviated one problem with 5/10 (a perhaps too long short list). 5/8 failed without a count, on the chair's ruling. I will be honest and say that I thought it was too close to rule it out without a count, but I wasn't quick enough (or brave enough) to ask for a count. I will add that I strongly believe 5/8 a far better option. I should note (as was noted at the meeting) that EPH and 4/6 (or its variants) are not mutually exclusive. I will also add that I actually got up and spoke (in favor of 4/6) at the meeting. I suppose you could see me on You Tube, if you wanted. (I haven't.)

There were a couple of 11 o'clock panels I had some interest in: Historical Fiction for SF Readers and The Role of the Critic. It was rather late when I left the Business Meeting, and I opted for The Role of the Critic, because it featured Liza Groen Trombi, editor of Locus, and also Alvaro Zinos-Amaro (and Alan Stewart, whom I don't know, but who was a good panelist as well.) I only caught the last 15 minutes or so, then was able to say Hi to Liza.

That was about it -- we had a 3:00 flight to catch, and so figured we'd leave about 1:00. I did take the time to pick up a Hugo box, to run through the Dealers' Room one more time, and also to go by the Green Room. Then it was off to the airport.

I like small airports, and Spokane's qualifies. It was easy to navigate, and the lines were short. (I forgot to mention earlier that on leaving St. Louis the lines to check baggage were horrendous, and so I actually paid a skycap to do it for us.) Naturally TSA took great interest in the Hugo, but not terribly suspicious interest. They did unpack it, and rub it down to see if there was explosive residue. It may have helped that another con attendee was in line with me, and he eagerly told the agents what to expect.

The flight back was tolerable. I read most of the Silverberg Ace Double. Both planes were delayed, making us 4 for 4 on the trip. We got in well after midnight -- so it was a good thing I had planned all along to take Monday off.

Final analysis -- I had a wonderful time. The stopover in Seattle was very enjoyable (boat trip probably the best part). The trip up Crystal Mountain to view Mt. Rainier was neat. The convention was great (even accounting for the tension surrounding the Hugo controversy). Best restaurant: Steelhead Diner in Seattle. Best in Spokane: Central Food. I don't think I mentioned meeting Andy Porter before -- editor of Algol (later Starship), one of the very first fanzines (or really a semiprozine) that I ever bought, and a wonderful 'zine -- also editor of SF Chronicle, and a Hugo winner and Big Heart winner. Lots of other folks met, hopefully not too many forgotten in this report!






Thursday, September 10, 2015

An Unjustly Little-Known SF Novel: Times Without Number, by John Brunner

An Unjustly Little-Known SF Novel: Times Without Number, by John Brunner

a review by Rich Horton


This is one of my favorite time travel/alternate history novels, and it's a novel that to my mind does not get the notice it deserves. The three stories that make up this novel appeared in consecutive issues of the relatively little-known UK magazine Science Fiction Adventures (a companion to New Worlds and Science Fantasy) in 1962: "Spoil of Yesterday" in #25, "The Word Not Written" in #26, and "The Fullness of Time" in #27. These three stories, with minor revisions, became half of an Ace Double, Times Without Number, also in 1962. As with many of his early novels, Brunner later revised and expanded Times Without Number, in 1969.

This book is about Don Miguel Navarro of the Society of Time. It is set in an alternate 1988/1989 in which the Spanish Armada succeeded, and established an Empire. The Moors reconquered Spain, but much of Western Europe, including England, remained under Spanish rule, and the independent Mohawk nation in North America was also allied to the Empire. In 1892 the secret of time travel was discovered, and under the auspices of the Pope the Society of Time was established, and a strict rule set up that history could never be altered, only observed. Besides the aspect of time travel, the Alternate History aspect is interesting -- it's noticeable that in many ways this future, described on the face of it sympathetically, is really quite undesirable -- slavery persists, for example, and the level of technology is much lower.

The first story, "Spoil of Yesterday", concerns a foolish noblewoman who has bought an expensive golden mask of Aztec workmanship -- obviously, Don Miguel deduces, an illegal theft from the ancient Aztec empire. Don Miguel take risk of offending a noblewoman and unnecessarily disturbing his superiors by reporting this theft. Then he becomes involved in solving the mystery of who actually is responsible for stealing the mask from history, and in returning it. It's a lesser story than the other two -- it doesn't seem to be about much, rather, it's sort of a scene-setting work.

"The Word Not Written" is set on December 31, 1988 and January 1, 1989 -- the Quatrocentennial Year of the Spanish Armada's victory is just concluding. Don Miguel is regretting his duty of attendance at a boring party hosted by the Prince of New Castile, younger son of the King and head of the Society of Time. He meets a pretty and intelligent girl, daughter of the Ambassador from Norraway, and they sneak out for a better time on the town. But on returning they learn that there has been a disaster -- a foolish official has fetched Amazons from history, to prove a point, and the resultant chaos has led to the death of the King and near certain war. Don Miguel is recruited to help solve this problem in a terribly dangerous way -- by creating a closed timelike loop, going back in time just a few hours to prevent the disaster. Thus, the story ends up not so much an adventure as a rather serious consideration of time paradoxes.


(I have the issue of Science Fiction Adventures in which "The Word Not Written" appeared. The 1969 revised novel version is expanded from the magazine version by about 2000 words, to 18,500. Many of the additions are at the sentence level -- slight filling out of descriptions and so on. There is also a fairly extended expansion at a critical point, in which Brunner goes into some more detail on the theoretical concerns about the actions taken to form the closed causative loop.)

The last story, "The Fullness of Time", is first rate, and brings the "novel" from "pretty good" to "really good" in my mind. (It is a novella I would dearly love a chance to reprint.) In it Don Miguel, on vacation in California, uncovers what seems to be evidence that the Eastern Confederacy, rivals to the Empire, have been mining in California in the distant past. This seems obviously a violation of the prohibition on altering the past, which is enshrined in the Treaty of Prague, but by some literally Jesuitical logic, it seems that possibly no violation has occurred. However, the mining is stopped -- but it turns out that something much more sinister is going on. There may be a plot to go back to the time of the Armada and alter history so that England wins. Don Miguel, among a host of others, is sent back to 1588 to try to stop this alteration.

The ending is purely brilliant, to my mind. Brunner faces the implications of time travel directly and honestly, and comes to the only sensible conclusion. And he doesn't shy away from that conclusion. (It's a pretty original view, to my mind, though there are correspondences with Isaac Asimov's The End of Eternity.)

"The Fullness of Time" has only been reprinted as part of Times Without Number. I note that there have been a couple recent anthologies called "The Best Time Travel Stories of All Time" or something to that effect -- if I were to do one such, I'd try to include "The Fullness of Time", in among "The Man Who Came Early", "All You Zombies", "The Dead Past", and so on.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Convention and Vacation Report, Sasquan 2015, Part III

Convention and Vacation Report, Sasquan 2015, by Rich Horton

Part III: Friday

Friday was a dramatically smoky day -- smoke from the various forest fires blew in from wherever ... and the air was very clouded with it. It was very irritating to the eyes, nose, and throat. We saw bicyclists with gas filters and even something that looked like a full-on gas mask. The predictable joke was to call the city Smokane.

I had another 11 o'clock panel, so we began again by attending the Business Meeting, and again I ducked out after the first half hour or so. This time Mary Ann stayed for the whole thing. Much of it was concerned with setting the stage for the more controversial proposals: dealing with some fairly routine issues, for one thing, and introducing and scheduling debate on the more contentious issues.

My panel was on Writing About SF: Yesterday and Today. The subject was SF criticism, and how it has changed from the days of James Blish and Damon Knight to today. My fellow panelists were Gary Wolfe (again, and a very appropriate choice of course, as one of the very best critics of our time), Kameron Hurley, Michelle Sagara, and David Hartwell. I was particularly happy to meet Kameron Hurley, from whom we just bought a reprint for Lightspeed. The panel itself was OK, not quite as interesting as I might have hoped. I was a bit quieter than usual (maybe a good thing!) -- partly out of deference to David Hartwell, who knows a lot and who has a great history as both a critic and an editor in the field. I also have a sense that my non-academic background in criticism (and the fact that I do more reviewing than pure criticism) makes me less qualified to comment on such things.

After the panel I was delighted when the Chinese writer Tang Fei (or Fei Tang, as her badge had it -- I assume in deference to English language naming conventions) whose "Call Girl" I reprinted, came up and introduced herself, thanking me profusely for reprinting her story. My usual response to this is simple -- I'm much more grateful to the writers who give us stories I am so happy to reprint!

I should perhaps mention the Green Room, where program participants can congregate. It's a great place to meet people and talk for a bit, and I probably didn't use it enough (partly because Mary Ann technically wasn't allowed in there). I did get to talk to John G. Hemry (aka "Jack Campbell") -- a very fine writer of fairly traditional Analogish SF -- I remember being in the midst of a neat conversation and having to rush off to a panel, and we never got together again. The Green Room is also the only place I was able to meet (albeit very briefly) Guest of Honor Vonda McIntyre.

Scheduled against the Writing About SF panel was Reading Rare Books, a panel featuring one of my favorite people in SF, Jo Walton. As anyone who reads this blog regularly will know, I do have a certain interest in old and rare books, though I've got nothing on the books that Jo had to show off at the panel. (I dropped by on the way to my panel, to say hi to Jo and to get a hint of what they would be talking about.)

At noon there were some more conflicts. I had signed up for a Kaffee Klatsch with my friend Bryan Thomas Schmidt (who had managed to get caught up in the Sad Puppies controversy), but there were two separate panels I was interested in scheduled opposite it, one of Romance and SF, the other on Classic SF You Should Read. I caught up with Bryan and he said by all means go to the other panels -- for one thing, we get to talk pretty regularly at ConQuesT, for another thing, as it happens he was walking with a guy wondering if he could get into the Klatsch even though it was already fully subscribed -- so I ceded my position to him. I ended up going to the Romance panel (officially titled "The Ties Between Romance, SF, and Fantasy"). One reason is that one of the panelists was Sharon Shinn, a fellow St. Louisan who has written a number of well-received novels, including one I liked a lot, General Winston's Daughter. (Another panelist was Cynthia Felice, a Chicagoan who wrote some fine novels on her own (I remember in particular Eclipses from 1983), and three really delightful novels with Connie Willis: Water Witch, Light Raid, and Promised Land).

At 1:00 there was a panel called SpoCon Presents: Short Story Editors. I don't know what the SpoCon Presents meant -- I assume SpoCon is a regular regional con based in Spokane -- did they run a parallel programming track? Anyway, it featured my longtime friend Ellen Datlow and my boss at Lightspeed, John Joseph Adams, as well as Mir Plemmons, so I figured I'd go see it. It was in the Doubletree instead of the Convention Center, and I got lost on the way, and so I got there rather late. Anyway, it's a topic I've seen (and done) a lot before, and Ellen and John and Mir were sensible enough but I confess I've heard it all before. (Though I'm always glad to listen to Ellen and John anyway.)

The next panel of interest to me was on Baseball in Fantasy Fiction, and not surprisingly it included Rick Wilber as a panelist. along with Bradford Lyau, Pat Mc Ewen, Louise Marley, and Cat Rambo. It was a nicely done panel, but I found myself starting to really drag. I had a terrible headache, and my nose was stuffed, and my throat and eyes hurt -- all, I think, a result of the smoke in the air. Mary Ann and I decided to take a rest, and we headed back to the hotel. After a little while we figured we'd get an early dinner (or late lunch), and we settle on a place called Central Food. But first! -- we decided to look up some antique stores (one of our favorite pastimes). We found one pretty close to downtown Spokane, probably a bit more upscale than we normally prefer. The proprietor was a pleasant guy, asked us if we were in town for the convention "even though we don't look like the others" ... I suppose acknowledgement of the lack of a propellor beanie or equivalent on either of us. The other customers in the store were a couple about our age, and the husband had a University of Illinos shirt. That's my alma mater, so I asked if he had gone there. No, he said, my daughter went there. I got a laugh from that, as I'm more likely these days to be seen in a Clemson shirt than a U of I short, as our daughter went to Clemson. This couple were actually from the St. Louis area (East side, over in Illinois), and we had a nice conversation. Then we went to an antique store a bit north of our hotel. There I found a number of Ace Doubles. Most were kind of expensive (particularly a Philip K. Dick book for $20), but I did find a Robert Silverberg novel/collection for a more reasonable $7. It seemed fate that I should buy it, having just met him for the first time. (I reviewed it on this blog just this past Thursday.)

Then we finally headed to Central Food, in a new looking area just North of the river, on higher ground, amidst a bunch of fancy looking condos. This was quite a nice, and not overly expensive, restaurant. After our meal we spent some time outside, looking at as much of the river as we could see through the smoke. There was a bird's nest for a large bird (an eagle, perhaps?) on top of a pole quite near the restaurant. Then back to the hotel again.



After some rest, I was feeling better. I had run into James Van Pelt in the Dealers' Room, and he had invited me to the Fairwood Press launch party for his new novel Pandora's Gun (along with Ken Scholes' collection, and a couple of other books). This party was at an old hotel, the Davenport, a few blocks from the convention center. Mary Ann decided to stay at the hotel, and I went first to the SFWA suite at the Davenport Grand Hotel, just across from the convention center. I spent some time there talking to Matthew Johnson, a first rate Canadian writer whom I've reprinted a couple of times in my books. Then John Joseph Adams and Christie Yant showed up, and we talked in a group for some time, with several other folks. I also met Brian Dolton, Sonia Orin Lyris, and Cory Skerry (possibly some of these the next night -- things blur.). And others I have alas forgotten at this remove, shame on me.

On finally getting to the historic Davenport, I made my way to the Fairwood party. I ran into a few people I've met before -- Patrick Swenson, Jack Skillingstead, and James Van Pelt, but I spent most of the time talking to Ken Scholes, an excellent writer who I had not previously met. Ken talked about his writing, of course, but also about the intriguing experimental treatment he is taking for his PTSD. This last is pretty cool stuff -- Ken writes some about it on his website.

It got pretty late (though not so late (spoiler warning!) as Saturday night), and I negotiated the shuttle system to get from the historic Davenport back to the Red Lion River Inn. I have to say the shuttles worked very well indeed. One of the bus drivers discussed the whole facilities issue -- apparently the new Davenport hotel, the Grand, was only finished a couple of months prior to the convention. And the most famous previous event at this location was perhaps the Olympic Figure Skating trials where Tonya Harding was involved (it is alleged) in a scheme to injure Nancy Kerrigan.

Anyway, home late -- as it should be, at a con -- and so to bed.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Ace Double Review: The Seed of Earth, by Robert Silverberg/Next Stop the Stars, by Robert Silverberg

Ace Double Reviews, 89: The Seed of Earth, by Robert Silverberg/Next Stop the Stars, by Robert Silverberg (#F-145, 1962, 40 cents)

a review by Rich Horton

I don't really plan to do an Ace Double review every week, but this is what I've finished. And there's a story, or a couple of stories, behind this book. A couple of weeks ago I was in Spokane, WA, for Sasquan, the 2015 World Science Fiction Convention. Naturally at the con there was a fine dealers' room, with a couple of booksellers who had Ace Doubles -- I always look at the Ace Doubles. But none seemed of particular interest. One of the days we had a bit of free time and decided to explore Spokane a bit, and we visited a couple of antique stores. One of them had a few Ace Doubles for sale -- most were pretty pricy ($20 for a Philip Dick book, which I guess is the way those things work), but they also had this Robert Silverberg double for a more reasonable price. As it happens, I had just met him for the first time in person at the con, and it seemed fated that I buy the book. (I would have anyway -- his books, even his early less mature works, are always at least professional and enjoyable -- one might compare him to John Brunner in that sense (though as I have said, I probably prefer early Brunner to early Silverberg, and later Silverberg to later Brunner).

Later on (at the pre-Hugo reception, in fact) I somewhat bumtiously approached Bob and asked him to sign the book(s), if that wasn't too gauche. It probably was rather gauche, but he kindly signed them anyway, and told me an interesting story about them. Ace, it seems, reported sales, and paid royalties, on each half of an Ace Double separately (makes sense, and usually they were by different authors). In this case, they issued statements saying that The Seed of Earth sold something like 80,000 copies, enough to earn out and make some royalties, but Next Stop the Stars sold only 40,000 (claimed Ace), not enough for royalties. Plausible enough, I suppose, as collections usually sell less than novels, except for the fact that the books are bound together! (Bob's agent was able to get Ace to buck up with the extra money for the second book -- to be sure, I suspect the sales numbers were wholly fictional anyway, and the book probably sold 150,000 or something!)

The novel half, The Seed of Earth, is a 1962 expansion of a 1957 story from Venture, "The Winds of Siros". After its expansion, it appeared (somewhat cut) as "The Seed of Earth" in Galaxy. The full version is about 50,000 words long.

The central conceit is that comfortable Earth has a hard time attracting people to colonize new planets, so a Colonization lottery has been set up, to which all healthy people between 19 and 40 are subject. The only way to get out of it is to have a very young child. If a husband or wife is selected, they must go, and their spouse can either choose to accompany them or abandon them. They are then sent in groups of 100 to a newly found planet -- apparently as the only colonists (seems a bit small of a group to me). The whole setup seems a bit implausible to me, well, actually a lot implausible, but it works as a framework for the story it tells. We follow a group of people involved with the latest selection: David Mulholland, the political appointee who runs the Colonization Bureau, as well as four of the latest selectees: Mike Dawes, a young college student; Cherry Thomas, an entertainer (by implication, a singer, stripper, or whore, as needs must); Ky Noonan, a big man who has tired of the boredom of Earth and who is a rare volunteer for colonization; and Carol Herrick, a painfully shy young woman (on the verge of becoming what was then called an "old maid").

The first few chapters detail the reactions of each of these characters to the selection, and to their short preparation time for the trip. Then they and the other 96 colonists make the journey, and upon arrival, quickly set up their colony and go through the wife-choosing process (no explanation of how gay people would react is offered). Mike has had his eye on Carol, and is fortunate to be able to choose her, while Ky perhaps predictably chooses the more flamboyant Cherry.

The conclusion involves a wholly unexpected development -- it seems that the very first intelligent species humans have ever encountered occupies this planet, and they kidnap the four main characters, who are penned up in a cave for a while, apparently for the aliens' entertainment. The stress reveals to each character something about their inner strengths and failings. This portion is a bit unexpected, and purposely attempts to avoid conventional resolutions to the characters' crises. It's not a particularly brilliant novel, but it has some original aspects, and it's readable enough.

The stories in Next Stop the Stars are all from quite early in Silverberg's career, and they are somewhat varied in tone. They seem to show a young writer trying new things, though for the most part they are fairly routine SF of the period. They are:

"Slaves of the Star Giants" (Science Fiction Adventures, February 1957, 15700 words)
"The Songs of Summer" (Science Fiction Stories, September 1956, 6300 words)
"Hopper" (Infinity, October 1956, 7300 words)
"Blaze of Glory" (Galaxy, August 1957, 5100 words)
"Warm Man" (F&SF, May 1957, 4500 words)

The first story concerns Lloyd Harkins, a man from about our time who is mysteriously thrust forward in time, to a much-altered Earth. He is capture by a huge, somewhat gentle, creature who takes him to a crude colony of humans. There are also, noticeably, likewise huge robots. And strange mutants with mind powers. Harkins soon is thrust into rivalry with the brutish leader of the colony, and the rest of the story is about his attempt at escape, and then his decision to take matters into his own hands. It's the pulpiest and weakest of the stories included here.

"The Songs of Summer" is also about a time traveler, in this case a slimy conman from 1956 who ends up in a pastoral future, and decides to upend the social structure of the gentle, somewhat telepathic humans he finds, taking one character's intended girlfriend as his own, introducing religion and economy, etc., until they find their own gentle way to stop him. Somewhat ambitious, not quite convincing.

"Hopper" also deals with time travel. Quellen is a functionary in a crowded future who has a secret: a hideaway in the jungle that he can teleport to whenever he wants. Then he is assigned to solve the problem of the "Hoppers", people being sent from this crowded future back in time, where it's less crowded and jobs are available. A mysterious man is behind all this, and Quellen tries to deal with him but is foiled by his own paranoia, his scheming subordinates, and his personal shortcomings. It's a cynical story, well enough constructed, but, again, not really convincing.

"Blaze of Glory" is a space story, about a somewhat brusque and violent spacer who hates aliens. He's assigned to a mission to a planet with gentle and innocent seeming aliens, and he's the only one who doesn't like them, and he acts very badly. But on the way home, he redeems himself with an act of heroism. The narrator, however, is left to wonder ... what really went on? And did the violent man know something about the aliens nobody else could see? This is OK if pretty minor work.

Finally, "Warm Man" is one of the best known of Silverberg's early stories, and deservedly so. It was the earliest story chosen for the 1976 Best of Robert Silverberg. It's in a sort of John Collier or Shirley Jackson mode, about a bachelor who takes a house in a typical suburb. He seems very friendly, and all the locals seem drawn to confide in him ... even embarrassments, such as their infidelities. This seems to make them better people, but they start to turn on him, before an incident with a troubled boy brings a shocking conclusion. I'd have liked it a bit better if the end was left a bit more mysterious -- there is an inconsistent couple of lines explicitly explaining what was going on, that didn't seem needed. Still, a fine piece.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Convention and Vacation Report, Sasquan 2015, Part II

Convention and Vacation Report, Sasquan 2015

Part II: Wednesday and Thursday

(Now the good stuff for those who want a con report.)

Wednesday morning we slept in just a bit, and decided to get to the convention and register before eating any breakfast. The hotel staff said the walk to the convention center would take about 10 minutes. It was more like 20 (admittedly we're not the fastest walkers, but I do think they scanted their estimate a bit). Very pleasant walk, right along the Spokane river, under the Division Street Bridge and then by hotels and offices including the other Red Lion (at the Park), then over a bridge to a nice little park, then over another bridge to the Convention Center.

Perhaps I should briefly describe our hotel ("but first", he said ...). It's pretty old, is the main thing. Only two stories, but stretching quite a long way along the river. The rooms are just fine, but the general look and feel is faded. We had signed up for a single king bed but they explained that the third party that the convention used for hotel bookings had messed up, and their were only a few king rooms ... so we ended up with two queens, which in the event worked just fine. And we had a little patio ... not that we ended up making much use of that. And you could walk right out to the river from the door at the end of our corridor.

Back to the con. After a rather interesting time figuring out how to get into the convention center (not helped by approaching it from the back), we had a rather interesting time finding the main exhibit hall where registration was conducted. This would be an ongoing theme through the con ... the convention center is split into two parts, with the attached Doubletree Hotel adding an extra fillip of confusion, Every time I decided I knew my way around I got lost again. I can't say it was awful, and I was never late for anything. It's more a matter of the sort of thing you can expect in a large venue.

The line for registration was very long, but it moved efficiently, and I have no complaints about the process. Once registered, as there was not much I really wanted to see at the con on Wednesday, the plan was to visit Idaho, to add one more state to our total. In the mean time I ran into Scott Edelman, only editor of the still much-lamented '90s magazine Science Fiction Age, and also a member of an active mailing list I'm on. Scott said he'd gone to Idaho as well, because he'd heard the barbecue there was better than in Washington. While as Missourians our expectations for barbecue outside of Missouri (and we'd allow Tennessee, Texas, and the Carolinas as well) were not high, barbecue sounded good. Spokane is only 20 or so miles from the Idaho border. So we got in the car and headed for Couer d'Alene, the semi-big city just about 15 miles into Idaho. The main place there seemed to by called Porky's, but the GPS took us to a Chinese restaurant instead (I assume Porky's is defunct). We also found a place called Porky G's, but it was not impressive looking (mind you, not necessarily an argument against a barbecue place). We decide to look at Lake Couer d'Alene anyway, and found views both downtown (in a very crowded park) and on the outskirts. Nice enough looking town, pretty mountain lake. (Mountain lakes, I deduce, look a lot like the manmade "wide spots in the river" that we have in Missouri, such as Lake of the Ozarks and Table Rock Lake, but they are natural, a product of the widely varying terrain in the foothills of mountains.)

(A side issue -- the town of Sandpoint, ID, is about 50 miles north of Couer d'Alene, on Idaho's largest lake, Pend Oreille. No big deal -- except Sandpoint is the childhood home of the great writer Marilynne Robinson, and it's the model for the lakeside city Fingerbone, setting for her magnificent first novel Housekeeping. Another side issue -- we also haven't ever been to Montana, and the Montana border is only about 50 or 60 miles east of Couer d'Alene, and we briefly considered driving that way, but decided that would be silly (especially as the first city of any note, Missoula, is a fair bit farther east.)

Having struck out on barbecue in Couer d'Alene, we headed back west to Post Falls, right on the border, and found Famous Willy's (which is also where Scott ended up). It proved to be a very satisfying joint, run by a couple from Texas, presumably the source of their BBQ chops. Then back into Washington.

There still wasn't an awful lot on the con schedule that evening, so we decided to explore the park area near the convention center. We walked over in very pleasant weather. There is a huge Radio Flyer wagon in a play area, with the handle serving as a slide. Not sure why ... Radio Flyer is a Chicago company, doesn't have anything to do with Spokane. I guess just for fun. We kept walking in search of yet another gondola ride (we'd been on two already, if you count the gondola like elements of the Ferris wheel in Seattle). This one was inexpensive and not crowded ... it offers a ride over the Spokane Falls. It was a pleasant ride, and the falls are a nice sight, and the sight of the city is pleasant as well. And that was all for that night.




So for me the convention proper started on Thursday. We got over at about 9:00 -- right when the doors open (indeed, we were a couple of minutes early). One reason was that we wanted to make sure we had a seat at the Business Meeting, which was expected to be crowded. But it turns out they had got a nice sized room, and though the meeting was very well-attended there was no problem finding seats. This first day was "preliminary", to a great extent involved with introducing people to parliamentary procedure. Chairman Kevin Standlee did an exemplary job at this ... and indeed throughout the four sessions, though he did lose his temper once or twice, mostly when fans got a bit too silly and wasted time. I'll discuss the business meetings more later ... a lot went on. Mary Ann sat through all four of them ... I had to miss much of them because of other commitments.

At the meeting I saw Chris Gerrib, a friend from Chicago, who was one of then main sponsors of the "4/6" Hugo Nomination proposal (which I supported, though I much prefer my suggested variant, "5/10", or a slight variation on that "5/8". I plan to discuss those more in another post.) (I later talked to Steven desJardins, another key sponsor of "4/6", whom I remember from the early SFF.net days.)

I had my first scheduled panel at 11:00. "Not Always Far Apart: The Mainstream Intersection with SF". My Locus colleague Gary Wolfe, one of the really outstanding critics we have, whom I had met and had some very enjoyable talks with at Chicon in 2012, was the moderator, and he did an excellent job. The other panelists were Elizabeth Anne Hull (whom I had met at a Windycon in the past), Rick Wilber, and Robert Silverberg. I had never met the latter two, and I was excited to meet both. Rick Wilber is a very fine SF writer, and he also has a St. Louis connection. His father, Del Wilber, was a Major League Baseball catcher who spent his first four years with the Cardinals, beginning in 1946. Del wasn't a great player by any means, but along the way I had heard of him. Rick Wilber's stories have occasionally had St. Louis settings, and he's also written the occasional baseball story (and edited an anthology of baseball related SF, Fields of Fantasy). As for Robert Silverberg, besides the fact that one of the very first SF books I read, probably at the age of 10 or so, was his first novel, Revolt on Alpha C, he's a member of an email list I'm on, so I've known him electronically (as it were) for some time, but this was the first time we'd met (I'd muffed a chance to meet him at Chicon).


The panel focused a fair amount on the history of mainstream/SF interaction, or lack thereof, and to a certain extent on the current modest rapprochement (SF stories in the New Yorker, etc.). I don't think we broke any particularly new ground, but I for one think it's always worthwhile to remind SF readers that there's a lot of good reading (some of it fantastika!) in the so-called "mainstream" field. (Worthwhile to remind "lit-fiction only" readers that there's a lot of good SF out there, too, but the likes of Sven Birkets don't often show up at Worldcons!) (By the way, the panelists pictured are, left to right, Rick Wilber, me, Gary Wolfe, Elizabeth Anne Hull, and Robert Silverberg.)

One of the really cool (and unexpected) things about panels is that people come up after them to meet you -- and I confess, I don't see myself as someone people are necessarily clamoring to meet. After this panel I as really happy when Susan Palwick, an exceptional SF writer, came up and introduced herself. Mary Ann was in the audience, and though I've read a lot of Susan's work since her first novel, foremost in my mind was the fact that Flying in Place, one of the most moving novels I've read, is one of the fairly few SF novels that I've recommended to Mary Ann and that she really liked. (Most of the rest are by Karen Joy Fowler, I think.) So I told her that ... and she was happy, I think, but in retrospect I remembered that sometimes writers want readers to mention their latest books, not their first!

After the panel I decided I wanted to see Mary Soon Lee's reading, largely to meet her -- she was an active member of SFF.net back in its most active days, as was I, so we knew each other that way. She also wrote a lot of very fine short SF (one of the best being "Pause Time", which was one of the first stories I recommended we reprint at Lightspeed, and which we did, in February 2013). Lately she's been concentrating on poetry, and her reading was of a number of linked poems from her latest book.

The previous night I had realized that the Kaffee Klatches (their spelling, I'd have said Klatsch) required signup, and I also realized that most of them were already full. It turns out Rick Wilber and Linda Nagata, two writers I was quite interested in talking with, had Klatches at the same time, and I wandered by to see if there was room ... I ended  up going to Linda's Klatch, partly because I had already talked to Rick (a bit) at the panel. I do like the Kaffee Klatch format, and Linda's conversation was very interesting, perhaps most notably in discussing what might be called her encounter with the dreaded "death of the midlist", a malady she has just begun to pull out of, largely by self-publishing a military SF novel she really believed in, against lots of advice.

We went across the street from the Convention Center to Azteca, a Mexican restaurant. It was perfectly fine, pretty standard Mexican.

It finally seemed time to hit the dealers' room. As always I visited Larry Smith's table. He asked me to sign the copies they had of my books, which was flattering. I bought a couple of books from him, notably Neal Stephenson's Seveneves. I also visited Patrick Swenson's Fairwood Press -- it was neat to meet Patrick, whose magazine Talebones was one of the really good small press 'zines back in the day. Fairwood publishes a lot of cool stuff -- original novels, story collections, and some reprints, including a lot of Michael Bishop. (And if there isn't better evidence of the problem of "the death of the midlist" than that someone as brilliant as Michael Bishop is relegated to the small press (though Fairwood is doing a great job with him, as far as I can tell), I don't know what the evidence would be.) By the end of the con, I had copies of James Van Pelt's new YA novel Pandora's Gun, and Ken Scholes' collection Blue Yonders, Grateful Pies, and Other Fanciful Feasts. I also visited a dealer (name forgotten, sorry!) who had a great collection of old SF magazines -- I bought a bunch of Amazings and Fantastics from the Cele Goldsmith Lalli era, a special interest of mine. In the dealers' room I also met Stefan Rudnicki, our podcast editor at Lightspeed, and Gabrielle de Cuir. And I went by the Locus table, and the delightful Francesca Myman insisted on taking my picture ... probably a good thing, as I have it on good authority that my current pictures, er, make me look fat. Also notable near the Dealers' Room was a display of historical Hugos -- by common consent the coolest of all was the Hugo from Japan, featuring Ultraman.


The next event that interested us was a Trivia Quiz, Pub Quiz style (similar to Trivia Night style, for the St. Louisans out there), hosted by Dave O'Neil in the Fanzine Lounge near the Dealers' room. The questions were fun -- they were often quite tough (partly because of the media focus, alas my weakness), but Mary Ann and I still finished second. I saw Dave later in the Business Meeting, and still later recognized him as a (very sensible) contributor to the comment threads at Black Gate ... small world, eh?

Neil Clarke had a Literary Beer (like a Kaffee Klatsch, but with beer!) right after that (actually Pat Cadigan had one the same time as the trivia, and I took the time to meet Pat and see my long time friend Ellen Datlow at the same time). I kind of crashed Neil's beer -- I hadn't signed up, but there was one opening, except shortly after the guy who had signed up showed up, so me and Sean Wallace ended up in a corner talking, and also listening to Neil and talking with him. This was the first time I had met Sean, who is my publisher at Prime Books, and also the first time I met Neil, editor of Clarkesworld Magazine, one of the very best online 'zines, and also the publisher of my anthology Unplugged. We had a real good conversation, and Neil was very interesting talking about the details of publishing Clarkesworld, not to mention his rather harrowing heart attack experience. (At a con, no less!)

Then it was dinner time, and Mary Ann and I explored downtown Spokane until we found Mackenzie River Pizza. This was OK but all things considered a mild disappointment. (It seems to be a small chain that started in Bozeman, Montana.) We had the pizza, nothing wrong with it, but nothing too special either. The sun was quite striking as well ... very science-fictional in how red it was. This was due to the smoke in the air from the wildfires throughout the Western US ... as became even more clear (pun intended) on Friday.


The one late night event I was most interested in was Trivia for Chocolate, something of a tradition at Worldcons, or so I understand. Steven Silver had been involved at Chicon, and I had managed to finish second. Steven was supposed to be involved at Sasquan, but he had to miss the convention due to back surgery. (I understand it went well and he is convalescing nicely as I write.) Mark and Priscilla Olson ran the trivia, and it was a good deal of fun. Once again, I finished second, by one piece of chocolate. Oh well, I have to admit, trivia is like a drug to me. Mark Olson, I should note, is a Chum on a mailing list I frequent, and I am embarrassed to admit I didn't realize until the next day that the two Mark Olsons are the same.

That was enough for that day, and, then, so to bed.