You won’t be surprised I first heard about this book from a review in Fortean Times.
Review: The Fortean Influence on Science Fiction: Charles Fort and the Evolution of the Genre, Tanner F. Boyle, 2020.
The price for the Kindle edition — $27.99 – was ridiculous. (Evidently, McFarland and other academic publishers think there are no non-academics who want to read their books.)
I’ve known about Charles Fort and his relationship to science fiction for 40 years since encountering Brian Ash’s The Visual Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Robert Holdstock’s Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. I’ve read Charles Forts four famous books. I’ve read Damon Knight’s and Jim Steinmeyer’s biographies of Charles Fort. I sought out the blatantly Fortean science fiction novels: Eric Frank Russell’s Sinister Barrier and Dreadful Sanctuary and James Blish’s Jack of Eagles. I’ve long known about the Fortean influence on Arthur C. Clarke. I’ve subscribed to Fortean Times for decades.
Was Boyle going to tell me anything I didn’t know?
Charles Fort was the father of what Boyle calls “maybe fiction” – all those “occult” and paranormal studies and personal accounts, all the hidden (and usually ancient) histories, and UFO abduction stories we’ve heard of, authors like Graham Hancock, Richard Shaver, and Whitley Streiber whose accounts we either believe, judge as innocent mistakes, or regard as works of insanity. These are tales we are asked to believe whether couched as academic works or autobiography.
I read this one for a couple of reasons. First, it’s mentioned as a source for the Traveller role-playing game in Shannon Appelcline’s The Science Fiction in Traveller – the book that initiated my recent burst of H. Beam Piper’s works. Second, it’s listed in “The 5 Parsec Shelf” of 50 significant science fiction novels in A Reader’s Guide to Science Fiction. (After seeing it 40 years ago, I still haven’t read the entire list.)
Essay: Dorsai!, Gordon R. Dickson, 1960, 2013.
It’s an essay this time around because I had enough trouble writing this without the stricter structure of one of my reviews.
The gears of this novel did not easily engage my brain on a first reading.
There was the violation of expectations. For a novel cited, not only in David Drake’s introduction but elsewhere, as being, with Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, the founding text of the military science fiction subgenre, only a very small portion of it has scenes of combat. (I could make an argument for including L. Ron Hubbard’s Final Blackout as an ancestor of the subgenre too.)
There is a lot of talking including in the combat scenes.
The names were, for some reason, hard to remember.
Dickson’s universe is sketched in very broad terms only. Humans have spread to the stars and are undergoing speciation of a sort with “exotics” of a rather ill-defined sort.
The Alexander Jablokov series continues.
Raw Feed (1997): River of Dust, Alexander Jablokov, 1996.
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
This is something of an oddity and not the type of book I’ve reviewed before.
It’s mostly a how-to book for would-be science fiction writers but also includes some interesting perspectives on the art by its contributors. Of course, a lot of the professional advice is outdated since the book is 41 years old now.
With Jerry Pournelle’s passing, I’m posting it now since he was a contributor, and I’ll be interrupting the Lovecraft series to post some more Pournelle material from the archives.
As usual, I’m still working on getting new reviews out.
Raw Feed (1987): The Craft of Science Fiction: A Symposium on Writing Science Fiction and Science Fantasy, ed. Reginald Bretnor, 1976.
“Foreword”, Reginald Bretnor — It is billed as advice from experienced writing veterans.
“SF: The Challenge to the Writer”, Reginald Bretnor — Nuts and bolts on some basics needed to practice sf craft including some knowledge of science, more intimate knowledge of sf and mainstream literature. Bretnor urges mastering basic story elements like characterization and dialogue. He recommends books to read and compiling own reference library as well as knowing how to use well a public reference library (and to know its staff). He advises how to avoid errors by avoiding explicit details when possible and thoroughly check facts.
“Star-flights and Fantasies: Sagas Still to Come”, Poul Anderson — Like most essays in this book seem to be (at cursory glance), this is interesting as criticism as well as how-to advice. Anderson’s definition of a saga is larger than life story of a non-introspective character who wants to do something. In addition, a saga must have the right feel as far as language goes. Anderson names some of his candidates for sf epics (L. Ron Hubbard’s Final Blackout, Jack Williamson’s Darker Than You Think and The Humanoids, A. E. van Vogt’s Slan and The Weapon Makers and World of A; Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore’s Fury) and why he classifies things as he does is revealing. Anderson also (and I agree) says the saga is only one of many legitimate fictional modes. He also makes the valid point that sf (and maybe fantasy) is the last refuge of the outward turning hero. Other hallmarks of epic sf are (according to Anderson) bold language, a hero bending fate (or refusing to be bent). Anderson also gives interesting details on how study of Olaf Stapledon helped him in writing Tau Zero. Continue reading
Since I haven’t made much headway on the backlog of titles to be reviewed, the Peter F. Hamilton series continues.
Raw Feed (2005): Pandora’s Star, Peter F. Hamilton, 2004.
As with his Night’s Dawn trilogy and Fallen Dragon, Hamilton’s exhibits his characteristic strengths of worldbuilding — the technology, politics, science, topography, geography, and most especially (and rarely — and least in a credible sense — for sf writers) the economics of his worlds.
In a certain sense this is a fond, sf version of the British Empire in the Belle Époque era, a Commonwealth of worlds literally bound together by trains that travel through wormholes, the only fly in the ointment being (as with troubles in the Balkans pre-World War One) some terrorists who are convinced that the government has been infiltrated by a vast alien conspiracy. This rather utopian world is then suddenly propelled into a war with aliens.
Despite the absence of a schism in the human ranks as represented by the Adamists and Edenists in the Night’s Dawn trilogy, the flavor of the Interstellar Commonwealth is quite similar to the Confederation. The world of both features mysterious aliens and alien ruins. In Night’s Dawn it was the Kulu and their ruins. Here it is High Angel and the mysterious, rather moronic seeming Silfen.
The longevity of the humans — people put aside money for their physical regenerations like we put aside money for retirements and “first lifers” are regarded sexually, psychologically, and socially as something special by those who have lived long enough to undergo rejuvenation therapy — is reminiscent of the longed lived characters in Hamilton’s stand alone novella “Watching Trees Grow“. (Those whose physical bodies are actually destroyed and who find their edited and recorded memories loaded into cloned bodies have a traumatic time of it.) Continue reading
There seems to be enough interest in James Gunn’s work that I’ll continue.
I’ve read most of Gunn’s work. Unfortunately, I didn’t write anything up on a lot of it.
I think he deserves a detailed treatment like some of the other authors I like. That is in the future, though, since I already have more immediate projects I want to tackle.
Apropos of little, I always think of this book when visiting the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota — close to an entire town given over to medicine.
Joachim Boaz took a look at the novel too.
Raw Feed (1990): The Immortals, James Gunn, 1962.
This novel belongs to that sociological sf school of the fifties and early sixties — a time of much great sf. In it, one sociological trend is extrapolated — often to absurdity — to see where it might lead. This may seem like an absurdly unrealistic style — especially in the age of cyberpunk authors like Bruce Sterling who extrapolate several trends at once — but it’s perfectly valid. It’s not sf’s job to predict the future. Any success in that regard is usually limited and coincidental. Extrapolation is ideally suited to philosophically examining the issues surrounding a matter — which is Gunn’s forte.
Here the scientific extrapolations, at least technology-wise are limited — mainly a gamma globulin factor in the blood of the Cartwright family which grants immortality. The novel uses the now dated concept of cancer, arteriosclerosis, and old age as one disease that can be cured by keeping the circulatory system operating.. (Now we know, of course, cancer has many causes and that good arteries aren’t the only secret to long life.) Gunn uses the concept of immortality transferred by blood transfusion to explore a variety of questions.
Gunn looks at the way humanity handles the idea of death. As is repeated throughout the book, we’re all dying. It’s just that with some death is more imminent. Life is a chance to produce. Gunn’s attack on the idea of intensive medical care to prolong life includes the argument that those so treated are often not the most productive members of society. The book is also a call to live life fully. As Dr. Pearce says to Leroy Weaver — ruthless, evil millionaire — you must feel religious about your job or not do it. Continue reading