When I was much younger I was rather taken with the short fiction of George R. R. Martin. One story, “Nightflyers”, even got made into a movie of the same name. An obscure movie.
However, I wrote no notes on those so this is the only book of Martin’s short fiction I’ve written about.
I have not read anything in the Game of Thrones series nor watched the series. And I probably won’t ever do either.
Raw Feed (1995): Sandkings, George R. R. Martin, 1981.
“The Way of Cross and Dragon” — An interesting story with a distinctly mediaeval flavor. This is part of Martin’s loosely connected Commonwealth (I think that’s the name [Martin’s ISFDB.org calls it the Thousand World series] series and features an Inquisitor of the Order of the Knights of Jesus Christ dispatched to put an end to a particularly intriguing heresy. That heresy is the best and most inventive part of the story and called the Order of Saint Judas Iscariot. The heresy is based on a lively mishmash and confusion of myth and history (with the cover of divine curses having altered memories). Judas starts out as an ambitious youth and child prostitute and then becomes a necromancer, sole tamer of dragons, and lord of Babylon. Then he moves to mutilator of Christ and, via Repentance, an apostle. After the crucifixion, he angrily kills Peter and is rebuked by Christ upon Peter’s resurrection. Judas has his gifts of tongues and healing removed and is told by Christ he will forever be remembered as the Betrayer. Eventually, after living more than a 1,000 years, he finds favor with Christ again. He consents to have Judas’ true history remembered by a few. As entertaining as this heresy is, it’s just a frame to hang a philosophical tale on about the attraction beautiful lies have be they political ideologies or religions. Only a few can stare at the true universe which has no afterlife, no Creator, no purpose for human life, and no chance for the human race to leave a permanent memorial. (Martin once described his stories as being search-and-destroy missions against romance.) One of those few is the inventor of the heresy who cheerfully admits he made the whole thing up (including forging supporting historical documents and altering others). He belongs to a conspiracy of Liars, a very long-lived group who takes it upon themselves to invent beautiful lies (including perhaps Christianity) for those who can not gaze upon the truth of the universe like they can.
“Bitterblooms” — A story exhibiting Martin’s lyrical, fantasy flavored prose. Essentially this is a story of a woman abducted – at least it seemed to me – by a stranded space traveler and forced into a love affair (a lesbian one) but this is very matter-of-fact and not salaciously played up. She escapes but develops a permanent taste for travel and, in her dying moments, thinks fondly of her time on the spaceship. This is part of Martin’s loose Avalon series. 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 →
The review series on Brian Stableford’s Opening Minds: Essays on Fantastic Literature continues.
Review: “Science Fiction and the Mythology of Progress“, Brian Stableford, 1977.
Combining his training as a sociologist and literary criticism of science fiction, Stableford does a concise summary of the myth of human progress and how science fiction has used it.
Starting in the 18th century, the notion of progress in human affairs, “softened” manners, enlightened minds, and nations being connected by commerce, a move toward “still higher perfection” as French philosopher Turgot put it, started to appear.
It was an improvement sought in knowledge and technology.
However, soon the grandiose idea of “human perfectibility” was espoused by the French philosopher Marquis de Condorcet.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels also saw progress in human affairs though not pushed by knowledge but its manifestations in production technologies. Continue reading →
It’s Bobbie Burns’ birthday. Grandpa MacDowall would not be happy I’m not doing anything to celebrate it.
Sorry, instead of something Burns related material, you get this, a continuation of the Norman Spinrad series.
Raw Feed (1991): Countdown to Midnight: Twelve Great Stories About Nuclear War, ed. H. Bruce Franklin, 1984.
“Nuclear War and Science Fiction“, H. Bruce Franklin — I read this book after reading Peter Collier and David Horowitz’s Destructive Generation which included a perhaps apocryphal story about leftist Franklin saying he was taking up scuba diving because the revolution will need frogmen. I wanted to read it when I’d be most sensitive to Franklin’s insinuation of politics into the collection. Franklin talks about the early (pre-1945) sf depiction of nuclear weapons and the feedback between sf and science, and vice versa, in the development of these weapons. (Franklin has also written an entire written book on this subject.) That part’s interesting, but Franklin’s politics began to show. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg become “alleged” spies. Franklin makes the patently false claim that the U.S. did not warn Japan prior to using the first A-Bombs. In fact a warning and appeal to surrender were given before each of the two detonations. Various military officials, including Eisenhower, are quoted as stating that the A-Bombs were unnecessary. Their saying this does not automatically make it true. The claim, probably partly true, that A-Bombs were used to have a better bargaining position with Russia is made. The tacit assumption here is that Russia was no real threat to U.S. or world freedom when the opposite was proved true before and after WWII. It is alleged that the U.S. could have ended nuclear terror by destroying its bombs when only it had some. This ignores other nations’ research efforts which had, or would have, started and the effect of spies like the Rosenbergs. [To say nothing of all the other Soviet agents who had penetrated the Manhattan Project.] Franklin sees no difference between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. The U.S. is chastened for its efforts to maintain superiority in nuclear weapons. Franklin apparently choses to ignore Soviet post-WWII belligerent imperialism. Its disarmament efforts are sincere while evil America threatens the whole world, in Franklin’s eyes, by not capitulating. Franklin also cites the hard to believe assertion that American military thinkers were convinced each technological advance in nuclear weapons systems would lead to permanent superiority. I doubt they were ever that naïve.
“To Still the Drums“, Chandler Davis — This very political story (circa 1946, I suppose the title’s “drums” are war drums) has not dated well. It involves a soldier stopping a military plot to involve the U.S. in a war — with atomic weapons much like ICBMS — against Congressional wishes. This story cites the old chestnut that preparing for war and building weapons ultimately leads to war and the use of the weapons, not necessarily consciously but almost as an inevitable social dynamic and metaphysical precipitation. More than forty years of atomic cold war has proven this supposition wrong as has the almost universal restraint in the use of chemical and biological weapons. As for Congress being a naïve dupe of alleged militaristic technophilia for nuclear weapons, that most definitely is not true. Congress has often said no to new nuclear weapons systems. Continue reading →
I’m off working on reviews of new books, so you get old stuff.
The choice was between a review of an economics book or more James Gunn.
I think we can all agree I made the right choice.
Raw Feed (1994): The Listeners, James E. Gunn, 1968.
A very good novel especially considering, like most of Gunn’s novels, it is a fix-up with all chapters, except Chapter 5, being published originally as stories. That format works very well for a novel spanning 97 years which deals with the issues of interstellar communication between man and an alien race. Gunn has said that, at least in the short story and novelette form, sf must first stress the primary of idea over character. Another of Gunn’s critical tenets, that sf is racial fiction, is followed here as the dialogue with an alien race greatly alters human society. There is, in fact, a counterpoint to the idea of communication between sentient races in that most of this book is filled with troubled, failed communication between characters and, each chapter usually concludes with the Project overcoming another hurdle by not only solving interstellar communication puzzles and problems but also communication advanced – or at least instrumental in changing minds – between human minds.
The first chapter has legendary Project director Robert MacDonald failing to recognize the despair of his wife Maria before she attempts suicide. The third chapter has Robert MacDonald convincing Solitarian (a new religion whose central creed is “We are alone.”) leader Jeremiah Jones that the Project is not a theological threat to him and gives him an opportunity to be one of the first to view the first message from the alien Capellans (which he interprets as a haloed angel). Andrew White, protagonist of the fourth chapter and the U.S.’s first black president, can’t understand his son’s disdain for politics, can’t communicate his zeal for maintaining the progress blacks have made in society, that the progress can be reversed, that inequality exists. The fifth chapter has Robert MacDonald and his memories of his failed communications with his now dead father, the Project Director. The chapter concludes with him leaving to read unopened letters from his father.
The larger scope of this book involves two things.
Continue reading →
An unproductive day new writing-wise, so you get a retro review from June 12, 2009.
Review: The Fantasy Hall of Fame, eds. Robert Silverberg and Martin H. Greenberg, 1983.
The reputations of some of these stories and that of their authors may have waned in the 26 years since this anthology was published. None of the stories are bad though a few aren’t that special. The stories were selected in a manner similar to the Silverberg edited The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One. Attendees of the World Fantasy Convention chose stories to honor that were published before the convention begin doing their annual awards.
The stories are arranged chronologically, and the first is Edgar Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” (1842). This classic tale of a plague, mysterious colors, and death coming to a cloister of aristocrats is the grandfather of all those far future tales of decadents on a dying Earth. Poe influenced the prose and poems of Clark Ashton Smith, but the influence isn’t very evident in the latter’s “The Weird of Avoosl Withoqquan” (1932). It’s a story of an avaricious man who hears an ominous prophecy from a beggar he snubs. Smith’s Zothique series, very definitely a series of far future decadence, is not represented here directly, but it’s certainly echoed in Jack Vance’s “Mazirian the Magician” (1950), part of Vance’s Dying Earth series. In a story full of Vance’s exuberant palette of colors and exquisitely named magic, a sorcerer determines to possess a woman who has avoided him.
Of course, Poe was not just an inspiration but an idol to Smith’s friend, H. P. Lovecraft. He is represented here by “The Silver Key” (1937). It’s an odd choice, perhaps dictated by its length. There is nothing wrong with the story. Featuring Lovecraft’s alter ego Randolph Carter, it’s Lovecraft’s most autobiographical work. Carter, a man in his thirties, goes on a quest to find his way back to the world of dreams – and its innocence – that he knew as a child. There are many better Lovecraft stories though. Lord Dunsany was an influence on Lovecraft’s dream tales, and he’s represented here by “The Sword of Welleran” (1908). A wry tale of a city no longer defended by its legends and full of humor and despair and perverse emotion. Dunsany’s oddly syntaxed voice is probably still unique in fantasy. A lesser influence on Lovecraft was Ambrose Bierce. He shows up here with “An Inhabitant of Carcosa” (1886), a short, eerie tale of life after death in a far future land. Continue reading →
A literary hoax pulled off by Jean Shepherd of A Christmas Story fame and with special appearance by Theodore Sturgeon: Frederick R. Ewing’s I, Libertine.