“The Death Artist”

The Alexander Jablokov series continues.

Raw Feed (1991): “The Death Artist”, Alexander Jablokov.Death Artist

This tale of a decadent far future was a disappointment given the author and subject matter: suicide as an art form amongst constantly regenerated immortals and, the corollary, the manipulation of events among the Bound, unfortunately mentioned little more than in passing, to create spectacular mass deaths for them. (This is sort of like the manipulation of alternate histories as art in Jablokov’s “At the Cross-Time Jaunters’ Ball“)

So, here again, are some of Jablokov’s characteristic themes: art, death, and, perhaps, guilt.

The story of a sadistic man being killed by his sister and her guilt causing his personality to be reborn in her, could be compelling.

It wasn’t here, though.

However, I did like cyborg Abias loyalty to Orfea cum Elam.

The ending, where Abias is killed and the Elam personality reasserts its sadistic self for good over Orfea seemed just a horror story cliche: the evil that would not die. Appropriate, I suppose, for a story dealing with immortals.


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

“A Deeper Sea”

The Alexander Jablokov series continues.

Review (1991): “A Deeper Sea”, Alexander Jablokov, 1989.Deeper Sea

I liked this story.

It had one of Jablokov’s usual three themes (death, art, religion): religion (and a bit of death).

The story is noteworthy on the idea level for a couple of reasons.

First, Jablokov, unlike just about anyone else who deals with intelligent dolphins, doesn’t glamorize or make them into cute, playful (in fact they seem to be notably lacking in humor) creatures. He describes them through one character as: “contemptible, corrupt, sexually perverse bunch of braggarts, cowards, and fools”. They turn into terrorists to boot after the U.S.-Soviet war. Jablokov does a nice job with his near future where the war occurs in the 2020s and marks Japan’s naked ascent into military superpowerdom.

In an oh-so-Japanese touch, they imprison war criminals at Bataan in a camp named for General Homma, commander of the Japanese force in the WWII Philippines.

Jablokov does a nice job with dolphin culture, religion, language (vulgar with little sense of fiction or unliteralness) and, particularly, perceptions. Jablokov approaches the depiction of the dolphins as if they were aliens which they are. The sonic sense of the dolphins combined with their language produce a brain that can exactly depict a real place with sounds — and cause hallucinations when man reproduces the sonic map of an area. When Colonel Ilya Stasov tries to communicate with the dolphins (dolphins and humans have not communicated since the Minoan civilization fell), he unwittingly tortures them with his sonic maps.

They do anything he asks including becoming brutal cyborgs in the war. And then Stasov realizes his “crimes” (an orca tells him he only did what was necessary and, therefore, did not commit a crime). Therein lies a tale of guilt, religion, and expiation. Like Vikram Osten in Jablokov’s “The Breath of Suspension“, Stasov becomes a tool in a religious quest.

But whereas Osten is manipulated by St. Aya Ngomo, Stasov is the manipulator of cetaceans and their religion. He arranges events to get a cyborged whale, a dolphin messiah (and dolphin Weissmuller, a cowardly, very unwilling John-the-Baptist type figure for the Messiah, or, as they put it, the Echo of God), and other cyborged dolphins into space — whether they want to or not.

Exactly why this will be sufficient penance for his past crimes against dolphindom is unclear. After all, the dolphins didn’t ask for this. Stasov even knowingly tortures Weissmuller to do this — and tells him he must live with the pain of his destiny. Stasov is a Moses type figure leading an unwilling flock out of bondage. Exactly why he feels this to be penance or his destiny is unclear and the story’s weakest point. (The tortured Weissmuller will take over as a sort of Aaron after Stasov’s death.).

Like Aya Ngomo manipulating Osten’s life to gain a new space drive in Jablokov’s “The Breath of Suspension”, Stasov manipulates affairs and incidentally gets Erika Morgenstern’s dream of humans in space realized.


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

Carve the Sky

The Alexander Jablokov series continues.

Raw Feed (1991): Carve the Sky, Alexander Jablokov, 1991.Carve the Sky

I was first puzzled by this book’s title. It turns out to be a metaphor and allusion to the central theme of the book: that all of us carve and create — if we are truly to be alive — the reality we want, be it an act of artistic creation or a political creation. We are all, the book seems to say, artists to one extent or another

This is a very literary — and good — sf novel where a theme is played out in a number of variations in plot and character

The central theme is expressed in the metaphor of the Dispossessed Brethren of Christ, one of the best and most interesting features of the book. They are warrior-monks reminiscent of the Knights Templar (right down to building a Jerusalem Lost) with a strong gnostic streak. To them the world is evil and God is imprisoned in it, awaiting the art of sculpting to free him from the world as Christ’s divinity was revealed on the cross when his divinity was revealed in death administered by the sculpting tools of hammer, nail, and lance.

I don’t know how much of their fascinating theology is a Jablokov invention, but a look through the Encyclopedia of Freemasonry [yes, I do have a copy] showed that three of the four named elements in their spacedrive — Jochin, Boaz (which are the principle pillars in Solomon’s temple), and Aaron’s Rod — are associated with Royal Arch Masonry. Continue reading

“The Breath of Suspension”

The Alexander Jablokov series continues.

Raw Feed (1991): “The Breath of Suspension”, Alexander Jablokov, 1991.The Breath of Suspension

This is a prequel to Jablokov’s novel Carve the Sky.

It’s primarily a quirky, unrequited love story and a story of how a saint drags people in tow to realize her holy vision.

Jablokov’s prose is, as always, a pleasure to read.

His ambitious protagonist, Vikram Osten, provides a mournful, melancholy retrospective on his life as he relates his relationship with St. Aya Ngomo and compares himself to Brother Thomas.

St. Aya Ngomo is seen craftily manipulating the politics of the Russian Orthodox Empire that rules much of twenty-second century Earth and space to propel Osten on his way up the ladder of power — and, not incidentally (it’s her main purpose), give him enough clout to help her realize her ambition of traveling into space. Ngomo says, before she illegally heads off into space aboard the first ngomite-controlled fusion spaceship, that Osten could not return her love for him so she used him in her quest to find the Ancient Ones. There is more about the Ancient Ones in Carve the Sky but here, as with the science of this tale, they are little more than sf icons in a tale of love, devotion, holiness, and religion.

Ngomo is willing, by destroying Osten’s court career, to forsake her object of love for the holy cause of finding the Ancient Ones. Continue reading

“The Ring of Memory”

The Alexander Jablokov series continues.

Raw Feed (1989): “The Ring of Memory”, Alexander Jablokov, 1989.The Ring of Memory

A very complex story of time travel and resulting paradox — much more so than Robert A. Heinlein’s oft-cited ” — All You Zombies”.

As usual, Jablokov gives us vivid set-pieces (particularly the scene in the time of the Great Forgetting) that are quite compelling.

Jablokov weaves a knot unparalleled (as far as I know) in time travel sf.

Hugh Solomon and Andrew Tarkin criss-cross each other timelines and their own in a bewildering and, as far as Time Central is concerned, illegal fashion, creating their own ruthless personas (Solomon consigning Tarkin to a Soviet labor camp was particularly brutal), motives for vengeance, obsession, and guilt.

The idea of one’s future actions causing the situation you first try to prevent is standard time travel paradox stuff. Jablokov tries to bring emotion to it to flesh the basic idea out, to provide more than just intellectual amusement, and he succeeds.

He also tries to bring philosophy (a recurring feature, it seems, in most Jablokov stories) to this plot and here he doesn’t quite succeed except to say Time is not to blame for the plot but the characters of Solomon and Tarkin.


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

“Many Mansions”

The Alexander Jablokov series continues.

Raw Feed (1989): “Many Mansions”, Alexander Jablokov, 1988.Many Mansions

A great, funny, original story whose inspiration seems to be Marx’s (out of context) remark that religion is the opium of the masses.

Jablokov takes the metaphor literally and to much humorous effect. If religion is an opium, what do you do with opium? You smuggle it.

I loved the end with Kinbarn, religion addict and smuggler, overdosing on religion, his soul permanently in Nirvana.

One could quibble and ask why the Temporal Constabulary seems to be so unaware of the magnitude of the smuggling operation, or one could wish for more details on how religious addicts get their fix (going through the rituals? handling the icons? studying the theology?), but plausibility takes a back seat to this inventive, humorous tale.

Jablokov can handle humor here as well as horror in his “Deathbinder“. He is a writer of many moods and tones but always inventive.


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

“At the Cross-Time Jaunters’ Ball”

The Alexander Jablokov series continues.

Raw Feed (1989): “At the Cross-Time Jaunters’ Ball”, Alexander Jablokov, 1987.At the Cross-Time Jaunters Ball

Jablokov creates many memorable scenes in the space of a novellette — particularly the monks testing atom bombs on the ruins of Venice and dying artists, poisoned by radiation, creating a sculpture of exquisite beauty.

Jablokov does, to my knowledge, two entirely new things with the parallel worlds/alternate history concept.

First parallel worlds are created in great numbers as an art form.

Second (as with all art forms), critics like the protagonist exist to analyze that art.

There is an underlying tone of callousness and horror as these artists destroy entire worlds or create perverted societies to achieve the desired effects in the Shadow worlds (shades — no pun intended — of Roger Zelazny’s Amber series). The artists regard these worlds as unreal, subjects for aesthetic and intellectual examination not empathy.

The revelation to the narrator and critic, Jacob Landstatter, by his friend and world artist Samos Halicarnassus, that Jacob and his world are a shadow created by Halicarnassus and that the latter’s world is also a Shadow creation creates a snese of unease. There seem to be no “real” worlds. It’s art all the way down. Continue reading


It’s going to be a while before I get any new reviews up, so I thought I’d do another series.

This one will be on Alexander Jablokov, a science fiction author whose literary career started in 1985 and went through 1998 followed by a hiatus and a return to fiction in 2006.

I’ve read most of his work and reviewed a few pieces of his before.

Raw Feed (1988): “Deathbinder”, Alexander Jablokov, 1988.Deathbinder

A truly innovative (at least to my limited knowledge) twist on the traditional ghost story — staking ghosts out till Judgement Day so their presence does not taint the lives of the living ( a new concept to me also).

I liked the genuinely eerie, creepy touch of Doctor Harmon’s wife staked to the bed beside him and constantly muttering in her half “sleep”.

Jablokov came up with a good link between hauntings and life support technology. This is the second story I’ve read by him, and he seems innovative and a competent stylist.

I also liked the longing for life of the ghosts, and the bitterness Dr. Harmon feels over his ability to see, hear, and talk to ghosts. His anguish and dedication at binding ghosts to death was well expressed.


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


Year’s Best SF 4

The alternate history series continues though there are only two stories in this book that fits that description.

Hartwell’s series is the only one I followed fairly consistently apart from Brian Aldiss and Harry Harrison’s Best SF series which was started me reading science fiction regularly.

Raw Feed (2001): Year’s Best SF 4, ed. David G. Hartwell, 1999.years-best-sf-4

Market Report”, Alexander Jablokov — I like Jablokov, but I didn’t think this story was good enough to be included in this anthology (of course, I didn’t read all the sf short fiction published in 1998). Still, on skimming the story again after reading it, I appreciated it more. It has a wry humor about it with its portrayal of retired suburbanites hanging out in a planned community which they’re planning to restock with Pleistocene flora and fauna and the women have primitive rites in its jungles, and the narrator’s parents, members of that community, try to comprehend his job as a spotter of self-defined groups that need to be marketed to. At first glance, the story doesn’t seem to be about much apart from its near-future extrapolation of sociological-based marketing and Pleistocene hobbyists. But, with its plot of a man finding a home amongst parents he’s spent a lifetime trying to understand, to “catch” the meaning of their conversation and the same narrator getting over a failed marriage, I suspect Jablokov was trying to do a sf imitation of John Cheever or John Irving, writers, I believe, Jablokov has expressed an admiration for. However, not being sf writers, my exposure to them has been minimum.

A Dance to Strange Musics”, Gregory Benford — This is a brilliant, austere, unsentimental, humbling, Stapledonian, classic sf tale. Its classicism is that it’s pure hard sf, a detailed working out of a surprising ecosystem in our galactic backyard — the Alpha Centauri star system — and little emphasis on individual characters (though Benford does put in some wry bits about how scientists relate to one another). The plot progresses from one hard sf wonder to another. A vast, elevated lake is found on a planet in the star system. It seems to be formed in the remnants of a crater and literally floats kilometers above the surface, the power to do so coming from the piezoelectric forces generated by tidal stresses from the three suns in the system. The planetary system is covered by tile-like creatures who constantly move about, dancing to “strange music”. Eventually, it’s speculated that their movements (they, and the whole ecology of the planet, feed off electrical energy rather than chemical energy) represent some giant, planetary computer at work. A manned probe into the atmosphere finds, before the pilot dies, surprising levels of electrical power and a sort of memory in the system. The giant, floating lake turns out to be a giant laser system which periodically sends messages to other star systems. More die exploring the planet, learning that the tiles feed on electricity and exchange, in sophisticated protocols, data with each other, and that planet fires off messages into space not intended for man. The first expedition descends to the planet but not before they realize that the lifeforms on the planet are engineered, that the intelligent life there has either left for space or engineered themselves into the tiles. Another expedition is sent from an Earth where people live in the “disposable realities” of computer created environments. They meet odd, disconcerting facsimiles of the first expedition. The facsimiles are a disturbing group mind with facial expressions that flicker at precise intervals and who each speak separate words in their sentences while inviting man to join their Being Suite, their bodies precisely spaced in a hexagon. The humans are appalled by what they see and, out of fear, do not go to the surface. They don’t know if the first expedition was seduced or raped into becoming part of the Being Suite. The second to last paragraph has a classic passage about the unknowability of the universe, its forever closed community of sentience: “It is one thing to speak of embracing the new, the fresh, the strange. It is another to feel that one is an insect, crawling across a page of the Encyclopedia Britannica, knowing only that something vast is passing by beneath, all without your sensing more than a yawning vacancy. Worse, the lack was clearly in oneself, and was irredeemable.” A classic sf statement, a classic sf tale. Continue reading


Something a little different in the alternate history series — a partial satire of alternate histories.

Once upon a time, I was a fan of Alexander Jablokov — still am, but, as with many authors, I’m a couple of novels behind in his output.

I’ll just have to take my younger self’s word for how much I liked this novel. I remember almost nothing of it.

And that, after all, is why I made notes on it in the first place.

Raw Feed (1994): Nimbus, Alexander Jablokov, 1993.nimbus

In some ways this novel – Jablokov’s self-described attempt to do a cyberpunkish film noir – is Jablokov’s best novel. The story has the needed suspense and mystery to not only do credit to Jablokov’s attempt at homage but also to compel the reader to read more.

The themes include, but are not restricted to, Jablokov’s usual death and art as jazz musician and seller/installer of black market mental prosthetics, Peter Ambrose, is forced into the role of detective as his former fellow veterans of the Group (a secret research project in the Devolution Wars – Jablokov has a knack for suggesting complex historical events in the background of his stories with just a well-chosen phrase or bit of nomenclature) begin turning up dead. Naturally, for a film noirish story, he meets a woman and falls in love with her.

I liked what Jablokov did with some fairly off the shelf components of modern sf. Nanotechnology is used to redecorate homes casually overnight. Brain modifications (a lá George Alec Effinger’s Budayeen series) are common with implanted abilities, personalities, neuroses, and psychoses. Jablokov seems to be satirizing some elements of modern science fiction, particularly the alternate history and cyberpunk aesthetics. In this novel’s world, constructing alternate worlds is a craze. Ambrose’s friend Sheldon has constructed an elaborate time line where jazz took a different path and rock-n-roll was never invented. He fabricates supporting artifacts like photos and musical instruments and scores. Fellow Nimbus member Hank Rush, utterly devoted to transforming himself into a machine, ridding Earth of man, and a cohort of a ring of extorting environmental terrorists, has fake fossils which purport to document the evolution, from the Cambrian era, of his machine evolution. Cyberpunk is wryly poked fun at with passing references to a fad involving a fetish for industrial era relics including motor oil in coffee and on penises. Jablokov also makes the valid point that a computer Net is not a magic pathway to education and enlightenment but just another pathway for more of the same with “datadork” foolishness, error, rumor, and conspiracy theories.

Thematically, at its most basic level, this is a novel on the perils and human toll (in alienation, loneliness, depravity, and death) of a mechanistic view of the universe – or, more correctly, an extrapolation on the consequences of mechanistic thought as applied to the human psyche. Narrator Ambrose supports himself by modifying brains to spec with everything from custom neuroses to increased associational abilities to increased sexual potency. He sees his clients brains as “complex gray oatmeal” and, as his ex-wife Corinne notes, he compulsively views others as little more than machines to be modified. Yet, he has resisted most modifications to himself – with the large exception of blocking his old memories of the Nimbus project and reconstructing a new personality – and realizes that his modification don’t “force the universe to make sense … [or] make you a better human … just a more efficient one”. Self-modification is practiced by several characters. Anthony Watkins, another Nimbus alum, habitually takes psychoactive drugs and deliberately induces psychoses in himself. Rush is utterly devoted to becoming more machine like and moving off world. Nimbus alum Lori Inversato has extensive modifications allowing her to change her body, sex, and personality at will. However, if psychic and body manipulation can be voluntary, it can be coerced too. Helena Mennaura, another Nimbus messenger, has constructed an elaborate fantasy life of marriage and a family complete with supporting artifacts (again, a sort of play on a personal alternate history) and has accepted, as part of her employment conditions, that she can only consciously recall her research when at work. Priscilla McThornly, Gideon Farley’s mistress and Ambrose’s lover, was covertly brought up to be a high price prostitute.

The methods used are social and psychological with no high tech but the goal of creating a personality by coercion is the same. Gene Michaud, as head of a security company, socially manipulates urban gangs in order to develop them into mercenary troops. Rush wants to force humanity to become like him and stop infecting Earth. Jablokov seems to thematically be saying that these scientific tools can be used, like all technologically and science, for good and ill. Sometimes the destruction is deliberately self-inflected as when Mennaura chops her mind to induce aphasias. And, of course, the novel ends on the note of Linden Straussman possessing, in sort of demonic fashion, the recently modified brain of Gideon Farley and somehow controlling, even after death, the Nimbus group. Of course, with manipulation comes deceit which also is engineered with the tool of this society. Corinne becomes an unknowing lock to Ambrose’s memories; Michaud is spied on by a supposedly inert machine of Rush; Mennaura is blackmailed into giving the tainted “virt” to Ambrose for implant in Farley.

In this world where everything – including the human soul and mind – can be broken down into bits for processing (the evil fallout of present tech trends) the only salvation, Ambrose seems to say, lies in honesty as he learns to confide in his ex-wife and current lover. It’s also significant that one of the moral compasses of this novel is a cop, Amanda TerAlst who, as an “Inherent Potentialist”, is philosophically opposed to modification. In short, this novel is thematically sophisticated, perhaps more than any other Jablokov work.

Yet, the novel didn’t quite work at the end. Jablokov does a little bit of handwaving at end to explain the book’s murders. I accept the psychic possession of Farley via the Straussman tainted implant. Yet, the explanation at to how Straussman was kept alive in the minds of the Nimbus Group was incomplete (especially given Ambrose’s technical expertise – Jablokov could have given some pseudo scientific explanation). It’s a notion that doesn’t mesh well with Straussman’s personality being resurrected accidentally because of TerAlst’s investigation. (I bought Straussman implanting tropism and different gifts in the Nimbus Group to be used later, but what “crimes” they committed and blamed on Straussman is not clear.) The philosophic point of the ending is that chance plays a role even in this mechanistic universe. Straussman dies in an accident; Priscilla’s transformation to whore is derailed by incest with a brother; TerAlst revives Straussman’s pysche by mistake; and Rush says that chance drives evolution; Farley’s original personality emerges to commit suicide.

Continue reading