News of the Black Feast and Other Random Reviews

Low Res Scan: News of the Black Feast and Other Random Reviews, Brian Stableford, 1992, 2009.

No, I am not going to review a collection of Stableford’s book reviews.

However, I will briefly note a few I found especially interesting.

His introduction notes that book reviews are mostly fillers that few people read. But authors do, and he apologizes for being hurtfully frank in some.

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“How Sere Picked Up Her Laundry”

And we return to Alexander Jablokov.

I came across this when reading the July/August 2017 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction.

No, I was not diligently keeping up with my magazine subscriptions, there were other stories in this issue which will be covered in some future posts.

Review: “How Sere Picked Up Her Laundry”, Alexander Jablokov, 2017.How Sere Picked Up Her Laundry

In some ways, Jablokov’s City of Tempest is a return to the type of setting he and other writers used for the shared world Future Boston.

It’s rife with strange alien races, or “nations” as they are called here, and intrigue.

But whereas Boston is a human city estranged by aliens showing up, Tempest is an ancient city, mysterious in origin, rife with aliens, where humans are just another nation.

As far as the aliens are concerned, humans, Oms as they call us, are natural bureaucrats:

This was how a lot of us Oms made our living in Tempest: we’re known for our ability to sit still for long periods and do work that makes other nations want to rip off parts of their own bodies. It was a known fact in the city that, no matter how simple the initial setup, once humans got hold of it, it became a complex, mind-numbing nightmare.

Our heroine Sere Glagolit isn’t a bureaucrat. She specializes, or did until her boyfriend dumped her and took her business, in finding useful and hidden objects in the terraced City of Tempest.

The plot centers around a real estate deal one woman, Mirquell, wants to make with the mysterious aliens known as the Case. She’s acerbic, impatient, and blunt, and was my favorite character. She’s not as rich as she used to be, but she’s better off than Sere, our narrator. Sere offers to find out who actually owns a piece of land to get a fee from Mirquell.

But the plot that follows feels equal part a detective story and a fantasy quest story.

We meet an Extirpator using some really heavy weaponry to get rid of some seemingly insignificant pests. There’s the aliens who go into undesired sexual heat at the smell of bread and other aliens that like to eat their meals on the fly. There’s a spooky alien pet gone feral, and the hunter trying to track it down in the earth of the City of Storms. There’s the aliens who insist on wearing garments to go out into public, garments decorated with lethal amount of heavy metals – and those aliens need to go to a zoning meeting. There’s also the elevator monopoly.

There aren’t really any villains or heavies or vast conspiracies though.

As you would expect from Jablokov, the plot is intricate and its whole interested me less than some of the scenes and characters. Plot threads are wrapped up, but a whole lot of mysteries about aliens and their motives remain.

Despite myself, I did become rather fond of Sere who admits she’s not as smart as she thinks she is, not as observant as she should be.

Jablokov has said he plans to write more about Tempest and Sere’s adventures.


More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

Future Boston

And the Future Boston series concludes with a look at its core work.

Raw Feed (1995): Future Boston: The History of a City 1990-2100, ed. David Alexander Smith, 1994.Future Boston

’Boston Will Sink Claims MIT Prof’”, David Alexander Smith — Fake Time article from 1923 predicting Boston, built on a filled in caldera, will sink.

Seeing the Edge”, David Alexander Smith — Basically a mainstream story with a bit of foreshadowing about Boston sinking. The “edge” of the title refers to two things: the edge of the area sinking and the edge of impoverishment as protagonist Jerry runs out of money while caring for his absent landlady’s kid. (It’s hinted she was a prostitute that was murdered.) It’s not only an ode to a city that will die but the story of Jerry drawing closer to child Travis and accepting responsibility for him and entering a new life, crossing an “edge between what he had thought he wanted to be and what he was.”  Kind of a nice, touching mainstream story.

Nomads”, Alexander Jablokov — A subtle mainstream story by Jablokov. I liked the crazy nomad character Rum, a self-proclaimed “nomad” and urban, homeless bum who looks on his lot not as privation but the price of freedom, a point worth considering. His apocalyptic ramblings of a coming urban and social collapse foreshadows Boston’s sinking and make him a sort of barbarian heralding, if not hastening, the collapse of civilization. I suppose the point is that protagonist Caius Fitzpatrick learns not to see permanency in life – be it in relationships or structures. Both are subject to complex failures. Continue reading

In the Cube

The Future Boston series continues.

Raw Feed (1994): In the Cube, David Alexander Smith, 1993.In the Cube

Another excellent installment in the shared universe of Future Boston, the same series that produced Alexander Jablokov’s  “The Place of No Shadows” and the pretty good “The Egg” (expanded as Slow Lightning) by Steven Popkes.

Like both those stories, the stars of this novel are the setting of Boston circa 2081 (the other stories are set in other times) and the very well done aliens. (Here Smith credits Sarah W. R. Smith with helping keeping the Phneri truly alien. I don’t know if she helped with the aliens in the other stories).

Boston is sinking into the sea and is an interstellar port. Most of Boston is in an arcology – the Cube of the title – heavily infused and dependent on alien biotechnology, most of it supplied by the never-seen, sinister Targive (mentioned in other stories including another Jablokov story where they take center stage). The Targives do alterations of minds for the price of performing their own choice of mental and/or physical alterations.

Here the main alien race covered is the Phneri. At first they seem like cute, anthropomorphic beavers with strange speech (they have trouble with verb tenses) patterns and superb imitative talents. One Phneri, Akktri, is the alien partner of private detective Beverly O’Meara. Continue reading

Slow Lightning & “The Longest Voyage”

The look at the Future Boston shared world series looks at the expansion of Steven Popkes’ “The Egg” and, since it was the other half of this “dos-a-dos”, a Poul Anderson story — which has nothing to do with Boston.

Raw Feed (1992): Slow Lightning, Steven Popkes, “The Longest Voyage” by Poul Anderson/Slow Lightning by Steven Popkes, 1991.TORDOB30

The first part of this short novel was Popkes novella “The Egg” which I’d read before and liked. The rest of the story wasn’t as good though it did fill in some details of this universe.

Structurally the story is very interesting.

It’s three episodes (the first being “The Egg”) which could stand alone. However, the episodes are set chronologically out of sequence, and characters from the preceding ones often show up as minor characters in the next one.

In “The Egg”, orphaned Ira Bloom and alien nanny Gray are the main characters.

In the second story, Ira’s parents are the main characters and the tale of Gray’s discovery is told. The story ironically ends happily though the reader knows both of Ira’s parents will soon be killed in a labor dispute.

The last story tells how Ira’s aunt and mother became orphans. Continue reading

River of Dust

The Alexander Jablokov series continues.

Raw Feed (1997): River of Dust, Alexander Jablokov, 1996.River of Dust

This is part of the same Jablokov future history as his Carve the Sky and precedes that novel.

Jablakov seems better at shorter lengths, and I think, after reading this novel, I know why.

What seems subtle and sketchily worked out as per the length restrictions of short story or novella comes off as too obscure or too cryptic to work at novel length.

This seems particularly true for some of the characters in this novel.

Rudolf Hounslow is sometimes characterized as mad in the book, but this conclusion is never really justified.  Yes, he seems a charismatic leader who often, perhaps inadvertently on a subconscious level, inspires others to take the violent actions he is too hidebound, indecisive, irresolute to take, but he doesn’t seem mad. Nor is his political philosophy ever really explained. Thus we have no idea why it is so appealing. His “Pure Land School” seems a combination of Neo-Confuscianism and stoicism but is never really explicated.

Assassin and ex-prostitute Brenda Marr is a cipher. Her rage and affinity for the Pure Land School is never explained. Her actions propel most of the novel’s events, and I suspect Jablokov is making a statement about how history is a combination of noble and petty motives with the ultimately unknowable motives of a few producing a cascade of events. Continue reading

“Above Ancient Seas”

The Alexander Jablokov series continues.

Raw Feed (1993): “Above Ancient Seas”, Alexander Jablokov, 1992.Above Ancient Seas

With his “The Death Artist”, this is probably my least favorite of the Jablokov stories I’ve read.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with it.

The future it depicts on a colonized, metal poor world is interesting though I found the lack of explanation as to how one family supplanted the other in territory and status annoying.

Jablokov says that a failure to properly bury a dead family member would show a weakness that would be exploited by other families. What kind of weakness? While the physical journey to bury the dead seems annoying, it isn’t shown as particularly difficult – even granting that the four member family sticks together even though two could have probably done the job. Jablokov tells us that the funeral is a test of

strength, stamina, and solidarity … an indication that the family could … maintain … its holdings

but he doesn’t show this concept in action. Continue reading

A Deeper Sea

The Alexander Jablokov series continues with an expansion of an earlier Jablokov work into a novel.

Raw Feed (1993): A Deeper Sea, Alexander Jablokov, 1992.Deeper Sea

I didn’t like this novel version as well as the novella version of the same name.

The dolphins – the best part of this novel and the novella – are just as obnoxious, petty, irritating, and sexually perverted as in the original novella. They, in fact, seem more vicious here as do the philosophical orcas: drowning sailors when no one’s around and saving them dramatically when someone is.

But their motives seemed diffused by the novel’s length.

Their religion only comes across has half understood, an unclear motivation for driving whale Clarence on the rocks and for orcas taking an interest in dolphin messiah and God’s Remora Weismuller.

Jablokov does a nice job in evoking the phrases of a dolphin language as well as their obsession with hierarchy, sex, and eating. After all, with no opposable thumbs and no fire, there’s not a lot for them to do. And the idea of a dolphin language that mimics the echoes of real objects is a great idea.  The act of echoing, in dolphin mythology, is an act of creating and describing the world. Continue reading

“Living Will”

The Alexander Jablokov series continues.

Raw Feed (1991): “Living Will”, Alexander Jablokov, 1991.Living Will

A very poignant story built around a simple premise: what if you could encode a simulation of your personality into a piece of software and let it make the decision when a disease had changed you so much (here Alzheimers) your old, encoded self wouldn’t want to go on living and burdening others and would tell you to kill yourself?

Jablokov deals with this painful philosophical and emotional issue well and also does a nice job with the relationship between the protagonist and his wife.

Another rendition of one of Jablokov favorite themes: death.


More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

“The Place of No Shadows”

The Alexander Jablokov series continues.

I’ll return to this story at another time since it’s part of the Future Boston shared world series Jablokov wrote some stories for.

Raw Feed (1991): “The Place of No Shadows”, Alexander Jablokov, 1990.Place of No Shadows 

This story’s main flaw is that it’s too short.

Ostensibly, the story’s main conflict is whether Lester Kronenbourg can talk Chris Tolliver, zoologist/student of alien physiology, into joining him in an institute to define man’s place in a strange universe full of aliens. That universe is well symbolized in a stinking Boston that’s become an interstellar port full of strange, sometimes sinister aliens.

As with the cultural conflicts of human’s history, the alien/human meeting has produced poignant, silly, sometimes tragic attempts at human imitation (sometimes even radical surgery) reminiscent of Melanesian Cargo Cults and pathetic American Indians.

This is well portrayed in the subplot of Gavin Mercour, graduate student in Systematic Physiology. Mercour turns on his alien spiritual teacher who promises to let Mercour see the world — via telepathy — as he does. The experience — a view of the universe unorganized by chronological sequence or surface appearances — is senseless. Mercour’s hope that each alien has a unique insight, a light, to illuminate the world,is dashed, and he is murdered (petrified alive by the sinister alien Targive with their obscene technology of twisting living matter to their ends).  Continue reading