Saturday, May 19, 2018

Happy Birthday, Rob Chilson

Today is Kansas City writer Rob Chilson's birthday. I felt like I ought to honor Rob, whom I know a bit from my regular visits to KC for ConQuesT, but, alas, he just missed the window for publishing Ace Doubles, and as it happens I've not read any of his novels. So I don't have a novel review to post. But I've read a lot of his short fiction, almost always with considerable enjoyment. So I thought I'd reproduce here a selection of the reviews I've done over the years of his short fiction, arranged in chronological order. I'd also like to mention one of my favorite Chilson stories, from a time before I was regularly reviewing: "This Side of Independence", from the February 1998 F&SF, and which was reprinted in both Gardner Dozois and David Hartwell's Best of the Year volumes.

From a piece I did for Black Gate a while back that discussed two issues of Analog from the very end of John W. Cambpell's editorial term and the very beginning of Ben Bova's term:

Robert Chilson, as it happens, is someone I know personally, though not terribly well -- he lives near Kansas City, and we’ve talked a few times at ConQuest, as well as shared the occasional panel. He began publishing in 1968, with "The Mind Reader" in Analog. He has published a great many short stories since then, with Analog and F&SF his primary markets.  He published as by "Robert Chilson" for about the first decade of his career, and mostly as "Rob Chilson" since then. He has also published some seven novels.

"Compulsion Worse Confounded" is about an IT person, as we’d say now. Raleigh is in charge of the "Archimage," a cluster of seven computers that does the processing for Wilder and Wilder, a food company. But the computer is acting up. For one thing, it wants to fire the secretary (who is, natch, beautiful, and who, natch, wants to get together with Raleigh -- this is Analog, after all). It also is ordering the company to acquire a rival -- but the rival seems to be doing something foolhardy. Is Wilder and Wilder’s computer behind that, as well? A fairly amusing story, turning on the computer’s inability to understand human desires, and its rather literal interpretation of orders.

From the April 2006 Locus:

The May issue of Analog does feature one very enjoyable and charming story that is very much pure Analog: Rob Chilson’s "Farmers in the Sky". The title signals a certain debt to Heinlein, as do the chapter headings. Shanda is a young woman from an asteroid farming family who has been studying on Earth, and has fallen in love with an Earthman. She returns home, convinced she’s lost her Earth boyfriend forever, but to her surprise he follows her Out. From this point the story could take a couple of obvious turns (there is also a local boy in the picture), but Chilson finds a kind of middle way that’s pretty satisfying, and that nicely illustrates the theme. And without making anyone a villain! Really, this shows many Analog characteristics very well: the space boosterism, the not terribly subtle explanation of the SFnal ideas by telling them to the visitor character, the hint of didacticism. Exaggerated, all these would be failings: in this story, they are handled pretty well, and for a long time SF fan like me the story is quite fun.

From the July 2012 Locus:

"The Conquest of the Air", by Rob Chilson (Analog 7/8/2012), takes on another fairly familiar idea -- aliens who live undersea -- but does so with some well done wrinkles. Humans are trying to mine the alien's planet -- because they don't know there are intelligent being  under the ocean; while the aliens are mostly skeptical, and fearful, of the idea of intelligent life on land, let alone from other planets. Naturally the story centers on a brave group of explorers who have designed a ship to "conquer the air". Effective and enjoyable work.

From the August 2015 Locus:

Probably my favorite this issue (Analog, 7/8/2015) is another story in an old-fashioned mode, this one reminding me of Jack Vance a bit: "The Tarn", by Rob Chilson, focusing on the Mayor of Firkle Fountain, a remote village known for nothing much, until a rumor spreads the treasure of an old philosophont (or wizard) can be found in a nearby pond. This brings a lot of visitors -- and chaos -- to the town, but the Mayor is convinced that it's all a fraud, and he has a prime suspect too. It's a bit meandering, but nicely told, and with some nice color and hints of an intriguing long history.

From the August 2017 Locus:

The highlights of the July-August Analog are a couple of stories whose protagonists live in relatively low-tech areas in far-future settings with plenty of exotic tech, which stretches a point to compare Maggie Clark‘s "Belly Up" and Rob Chilson‘s "Across the Steaming Sea". ... "Across the Steaming Sea" is the latest of a number of stories Chilson has published set on Earth in the very far future, in which a wide variety of "mankin" coexist among the remnants of some very exotic tech. Luro is the lowly youngest son of his village’s Asireman, and so he gets drafted to accompany one Kangahan on a dangerous trip to Melgol, where Kangahan claims he can find the Empyrean, a place of wonders, if only the Asireman will finance the trip. Luro’s greedy father is happy to lend the money and his son’s services, and Luro is happy enough to leave his home, especially when he meets the beautiful Zoritha. To no one’s surprise, though, Kangahan absconds with the money -- but Zoritha agrees to accompany Luro on an attempt to find the Empyrean anyway. So there’s good -- it seems the Empyrean might really exist -- and bad --Zoritha shows no interest in Luro, and the trip gets more and more dangerous. It’s all fun reading, with a nicely wrapped-up ending. Old fashioned stuff, sure enough, and sometimes that’s just the ticket.

(I see, by the way, that just as James Patrick Kelly used to always appear in the June issues of Asimov's, and Robert Reed and Albert Cowdrey used to always appear in, er, every single issue of F&SF <grin>, Rob Chilson seems to be appearing in most every July-August issue of Analog.)

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