Vermilion Sands; or, Adventures in Reader Reaction

I’m off reading new stuff, so you’re getting old stuff.

Specifically, the short J. G. Ballard series continues work with this book of linked stories.

Speculiction provides an alternate perspective.

Raw Feed (1997): Vermilion Sands, J. G. Ballard, 1971.Vermilion Sands

“Preface” — A collection of linked stories from a time when futurists worried about how we would adapt to the future leisure society. Vermilion Sands is a place, cheerfully admitted by Ballard to exist in no real geographical point in the future, in such a world. Ballard says its “spiritual home lies somewhere between Arizona and Ipanema Beach” but that he sees it popping up on the northern shores of the Mediterranean where all of Europe seemingly spends its summer. Alas, this world where “no-one has to work, but that work is the ultimate play, and play the ultimate work” was not to be, and Europeans now find their vacations cut short to compete with Americans, Japanese, and the ambitious Asian nations. Vermilion Sands, says Ballard, celebrates the “neglected virtues of the glossy, lurid, and bizarre”.

The Cloud-Sculptors of Coral D” — Like his novel Crash, this story starts with a rather melancholy summary of how the story ends (though here the summary is shortened because this is a short story and not a novel). (The deaths of major characters in both cases transpire in attempting to fulfill some artistic obsession.) The invented art of sculpting clouds by silver iodide dispersing gliders is implausible but a wonderful image. This story has been described by some critics as a sf version of the movie Sunset Boulevard. There is some truth to that in that it is a tale of artists destroyed by a rich, vain woman – here out of a desire to win her approval, in the film to presumably to tap her fortune.

Prima Belladonna” — This story reminded me of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Rappacini’s Daughter” in that both feature strange, exotic women with affinities for strange plants. In Hawthorne’s story, it was a woman of poisonous breath in a poisonous garden. Here beautiful singer Jane Ciracylides appears to be some mutant hybrid of insect and man attracted to the “Arachnid orchid”. The image of singing plants is bizarre and wonderful and Ballard works it out in enough implausible, but compelling, detail to make work even better. It is strongly hinted that, like the “khan-Arachnid spider” she needs to lay eggs in it. This is Ballard’s first story, and he does a wonderful job depicting leisured young men casually pursuing art and attracted to the woman with “insects for eyes”. Ballard has wit and a knack for concise evocation of mood and character in his first work. I suspect this story with its “Recess”, a ten year period of economic slowdown and “high summer” lethargy and part-time artists, was the inspiration for Andrew Weiner’s excellent “Waves”. Continue reading

Distant Signals and Other Stories

As I was walking about the house looking at the stuff scattered in the wake of a recent remodeling project, books disarrayed and out of order, this book caught my eye.

No one mentions Andrew Weiner any more. That’s too bad. He deserves more respect, so you’re getting this bit of unedited coverage of Weiner.

I haven’t read any of his novels, and I made no notes on his other collection, This Is the Year Zero, whose title story is a memorable science fiction treatment of Pol Pot’s Cambodian genocide.

Raw Feed (1992): Distant Signals and Other Stories, Andrew Weiner, 1989.Distant Signals

The News From D Street” — Like several Weiner stories, this is a take off of someone else’s work — here Frederik Pohl’s “Tunnel Under the World”. In fact, when Victor Lazare first reveals the nature of protagonist Kay’s work, Kay’s first inclination is to ask if the studies planned in his world are advertising (the purpose of the miniature world of Pohl’s story). Still, even on second reading, I found this an interesting use of Pohl’s idea. Kay uses the model to plot social structures, how information spreads, and people’s reaction to different types of authority figures. He manages to pack a lot of film noir/hard-boiled detective clichés (the mysterious woman, the evasive client, the menacing underworld figures), but they don’t seem clichéd here.

The Man Who Was Lucky” — This story was very funny. The premise was very much like Alfred Bester’s “Oddy and Id”, another story about a very lucky man. I liked the protagonist’s tremendous string of good luck, his part in a commercial conflict, the Law of Conservation of Luck turning his luck real bad, and the formerly defeated aliens foisting him off as an ambassador of bad luck on the winners till they payoff to get rid of him. Continue reading


This is one of the first review copies I got through LibraryThing.

Ms. Casil is associated with Book View Café, a publishing co-operative that includes some fairly well known authors across several genres.

Her website is worth at least one look given that she covers topics not found on a lot of other authors’ sites.

A retro review from January 3, 2012.

Review: Imago, Amy Sterling Casil, 2001.Imago

In the future of this 2002 work, the vast corporate giant DisLex, provider of entertainment and utilities and some government services, and its psychopathic CEO, Harman Jacques, not only round up victims of the Human Mutational Virus (HMV) and put them in de facto work camps but have also developed a vast, miniaturized simulacra of the world. In this PerfectTown, duplicated living and historical personages, the imagoes of the title, exist including Harman and his secret assistant, a little side project in complex personality simulation – one Richard M. Nixon, Harman’s personal hero.

I feared, initially, that we were in the world of implausibly rationalized fable and another tired tract on the evils of the white man and his power structure. After all, HMV is a biologically improbable disease which renders most of its victims human-animal chimeras or, in rare cases, clown-like figures complete with huge noses. Also, Casil is not the most consistent in the prophylactic measures needed to prevent infections. These “freaks” are seemingly not only inspired by early fears of AIDS victims but are stand-ins for all kinds of social outsiders. And they are oppressed by white, powerful Harman. And Harman has a bizarre, creepy plan to infect his new assistant, Julie Curtez, with the disease. Her and husband Frank, who, as a district attorney, is trying to nail DisLex on drug trafficking charges, look suited to be our non-white heroes. Continue reading

The Best of Frederik Pohl

Fred Pohl and Me

I met Pohl once. It’s actually a pretty short story.

In November 1988, I attended a talk by Pohl at the University of Minnesota. After the talk, whose subject I have totally forgotten, I handed him my slightly battered, old second hand copy of The Age of the Pussyfoot. Not only did I have the indecency to have him sign such a book. It wasn’t even something he considered one of his better works. Sign it he did, though, and he also answered a question from my callow 25-year-old mouth. I asked him why he had chosen to write a biography of the Roman emperor Tiberius, to me the most interesting of the lot, and do it under the pen name Ernst Mason. The answer to why went something like “I wanted to write about someone who had all that power and still led a miserable life.” As to the pen name, he said he came from a poor background and a name (his mother’s maiden name was Mason) was the only inheritance he had.

In my case, Pohl certainly lived up to his reputation as a gentleman.img054

Frederik Pohl is an author I’ve been aware of and reading on and off for a long time. Looking through the reference works The Visual Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction in my early days of reading the genre, he was there.  In my hometown’s Ben Franklin store and drug store I remember seeing his Jem, its paperback cover a stark red with the title embossed in gold. (Some kind soul donated old issues of Galaxy magazine to our high school library including an issue that serialized the first part of that novel. It wasn’t until 2007 that I actually read the whole book.) I also was aware of his famous Gateway when it came out though I still haven’t read it.

It wasn’t until the early eighties that I actually read some Pohl. I have fond memories of reading, on a bus trip back to college, his Demon in the Skull aka A Plague of Pythons, a minor, but enjoyable, novel of possession. A few years later I read Midas Worlda collection of his work which included “The Midas Plague” which I’ll get to. Next was The Coming of the Quantum Cats, a memorable alternate realities farce.  I followed that with the excellent novel The Years of the City which, as I’ve noted elsewhere, is sort of a modern, very readable utopian work.

I found Man Plus superb and deserving of its acclaim, a work combining 1970s pessimism with an earlier anticipation of the cybersphere we have now as well as being a pioneer transhumanist work. I found the sequel, Mars Plus, co-written with Thomas T. Thomas, less compelling. Next was Pohl’s most famous work, the justly celebrated The Space Merchants (first edition, not the updated version done a few years before his death) co-written with C. M. Kornbluth and The Merchant’s War, both of which I’ve commented on.

In all those years I’ve read a fair amount of Pohl’s stories, but there’s a lot of his work, including some of his most famous work, that I haven’t read yet. And the influence of Pohl as a fan and editor flows through a fair chunk of significant science fiction history. He brought back Robert Silverberg back into the science fiction writing fold in 1962. After the crash of the science fiction market occasioned by the bankruptcy of magazine distributor American News Company, the market for Silverberg’s fiction greatly contracted. In 1961, after Horace Gold left the editorship of Galaxy magazine, Pohl took over. Aggravated by Silverberg’s hack work and thinking him capable of better, Pohl agreed to buy all Silverberg’s short fiction — even if he didn’t publish it — and only require, at most, one rewrite.

In later years, as a book editor, Pohl discovered new talent including Joanna Russ and Samuel R. Delany. It was, in fact, Pohl who pushed Bantam Books into publishing Dhalgren. I think it a lapse of judgment and taste. Others disagree.

After looking at the Pohl tributes in the October 2013 Locus, I decided to — finally — finish The Best of Frederik Pohl. I started it in November 1988 shortly after finishing Pohl’s The Age of the Pussyfoot.

Thus I have an answer to a question in a recent SF Signal posting: how long do you have a book before you read it?  The answer in this case, at least, is 9,354 days. Continue reading