Little Fuzzy

Review: Little Fuzzy, H. Beam Piper, 1962.

And so we come, at last, to Piper’s by far most famous novel. He started it on March 18, 1958 according to John F. Carr in Typewriter Killer. Damon Knight recommended that Berkley publish it, but they didn’t. Bill McMorris, Putnam’s editor thought it was “too adult for the teenage market” and of no interest to the adult reader. It would be rejected by more than twelve publishers and rejected three times by Avon, the company that eventually published it.  He finished it in March 1959 after several false starts.

Janet Wood, editor at Avon, was enthusiastic about the book and envisioned a series and a movie and toys. (Piper did sell the movie rights, but, of course, nothing came of it.) The novel would finally be published in 1962.

John W. Campbell rejected it for serialization in Analog because its many characters made it confusing in his mind. Carr thinks the problem is that the novel’s has many viewpoint characters, and it’s hard to know, in some scenes, which is the viewpoint character. I’d add that Piper doesn’t always tag characters sufficiently in scenes with dialogue. Carr says Piper is much better in his later Space Viking about keeping characters straight, and I would agree. 

Piper did not consider this one of his better works. I agree and would place all the Fuzzy novels in the bottom tier, along with First Cycle, of Piper’s novels. 

However, a lot of authors have written sequels to it. John Scalzi is one, of course, but there’s also William Tuning, Ardath Mayhar, Wolfgang Dieher, and Carr himself (the last two published by Carr’s Pequod Press). William Barton’s dedication to his Acts of Conscience alludes to it. 

Continue reading

Year’s Best SF

Yes, I am well aware that the countdown is going backwards on all these Hartwell anthologies I’ve been posting reviews of. Like the previous ones, this has alternate history material.

Raw Feed (2001): Year’s Best SF, ed. David G. Hartwell, 1996.years-best-sf

Think Like a Dinosaur“, James Patrick Kelly — Hartwell, in his introductory notes, says this story is part of a dialogue about Tom Godwin’s “The Cold Equations”. That’s true. It does involve the killing of an innocent to balance some equations, here the obscure equations involved in quantum teleportation of humans to an alien world. However, the story, in its plot of birth and death via teleportation, has echoes of Algis Budrys’ Rogue Moon. This story is more emotional than Godwin’s tale. The narrator, a person counseling skittish people on how to handle the teleportation process, kills, rather gleefully, one of his charges. He learns to “think like a dinosaur”, like the alien Gendians who are the ones who insist on the equations being balanced in their teleportation process.

Wonders of the Invisible World“, Patricia A. McKillip — I’m not really sure what the point of this story was. Most of it concerns the narrator’s interaction, as a time traveling researcher, with Cotton Mather (the story’s title is an allusion to a work of Mather’s) as part of a project to investigate the imagery of primitive, “Pre-Real” (presumably as in “virtual reality”) peoples’ mind. At first, the narrator seems appalled by both the poisonous uses that Mather puts his rather impoverished imagination to yet sad by the lack of imagination by most adults in her world. Yet, she’s appalled by the atavistic imagination of her boss. The narrator seems to reach the conclusion, at story’s end, that the powerful computer tools of her age enable a much healthier imagination for her son — though that imagination may be lost when he gets older. Why a library of pre-conceived icons and notions should necessarily mean greater imagination among the youth is not really explored — though it probably would. And McKillip definitely doesn’t explain why this imagination should suddenly be lost in the narrator’s society when people reach adulthood. It seemed like more of an excuse to comment and criticize Mather than anything else.

Hot Times in Magma City“, Robert Silverberg — Once again Silverberg proves why he’s a master. He takes a rather hackneyed idea, Los Angeles threatened by volcanic eruptions, and breaths new life into by sheer technical skill and a little technological extrapolation. (To show what a hackneyed idea this is, about two years after this story was published, the movie Volcano came about — about Los Angeles threatened by an eruption.) Silverberg has the great metropolis threatened by a whole series of magma eruptions. The technical skill of the story comes in telling it in a chatty, present-tense style and, perhaps even more importantly, who he selects as the heroes: a bunch of drug addicts sentenced to mandatory community service. They fight the magma upwellings in special suits. Silverberg handles those action details well. But it’s the addition of their interactions, the flaws and quirks that made them addicts, and their attempts at self-rehabilitation through their work fighting magma, that make the story special. Continue reading

A Plague of Cowards

Another retro review, this one from October 8, 2008, of another William Barton work. This one is recommended only for Barton completists.

Since I hadn’t seen mention of a lot of new Barton work, I thought maybe he had abandoned writing. However, I see from his Amazon page, he most definitely hasn’t. His new output looks to be self-published, so it looks like the job of reading his corpus just got bigger.

And, yes, you can buy an e-book version of this title. Barton says his first three novels were the Starover Universe trilogy. The e-book version has material originally edited out for this version. The third novel, This Dog/Rat World, never published through conventional channels, is now available. I have not read the first in the trilogy, Hunting on Kunderer, which was half of the last original Ace double.

Review: A Plague of All Cowards, William Barton, 1976.A plague of All Cowards

This is Barton’s second novel. After it was published, he took 14 years off from being published and returned a much better writer.

The plot of this short novel has Captain Tharkie hired to track down and apprehend the assassin who almost killed the legislative body of the Terran Colony System. Tharkie is a Starover, sort of privateer and bounty hunter rolled into one. Helping Tharkie are his shipmates and fellow Starovers, most veterans of bitter war. And the assassin also fits that bill. Wrapped up with this is a 1000 year old police robot, an amalgam of a telepathic human and “psychic incongruity” seeking transcendence, a plot to expand the human sphere of space, and a pointless subplot involving an aristocrat and his wife.

The novel has far too many inane conversations and descriptions of characters and clothings, an air of pseudo-sophistication in the talk of cocktails, many descriptions of switches being flipped, and lengthy descriptions of starflight.

There are hints of the future Barton in the incoherently expressed idea of soldiers and lovers banding against the universe, finding comfort only with each other – even if it’s merely the comfort of a polite execution. As with some of his later work, one can detect a bit of the influence of Cordwainer Smith and H. Beam Piper.


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

Sherlock Holmes in Orbit

I read the Sherlock Holmes stories in grade school, enjoyed them, and haven’t returned to them sense.

I haven’t felt the need to seek out the many sequels by other others or most of the tv or movie adaptations. (Though I am very fond of the Jeremy Brett series of about 30 years ago.) There’s even a well-regarded series by a local architecture critic and historian, Larry Millett, which bring Holmes to Minnesota.

Still, I have stumbled across a few fantastic additions to the Holmes universe.

Decades ago, I read Robert Lee Hall’s Exit Sherlock Holmes which reveals Holmes and Moriarty as clone brothers from the future. Geoffrey A. Landis’ “The Singular Habits of Wasps” is an excellent science fiction story though it uses the hero-villain pair-off so many authors do: Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper. I’ve read Peter Cannon’s insertion of Holmes into the Cthulhu Mythos, and you’ll eventually be getting a review of the anthology around that whole theme, Shadows Over Baker Street.

I read this anthology, though, solely for the William Barton collaboration — which did not disappoint.

A retro review from October 5, 2008.

Review: Sherlock Holmes in Orbit, eds. Mike Resnick and Martin H. Greenberg, 1995.Sherlock Holmes in Orbit

Resnick’s introduction talks a bit about the film and literary additions to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes’ canon including some attempts to put the detective in a science fictional or fantasy context. While he says he required each story in this original anthology do that, even that requirement is not honored.

There are tales where Holmes is simply the exemplar of rationalism. Vonda N. McIntyre’s “The Adventure of the Field Theorems” mixes, not for the last time in this anthology, Holmes and Watson up with Arthur Conan Doyle. The most clever thing in this story is the title. The “field theorems” are crop circles which show up in the late 19th century and are, suggests Doyle, an attempt by the spirit world to communicate with us. Holmes as debunker of the supernatural shows up in Frank M. Robinson’s “The Phantom of the Barbary Coast”. It makes good use of a San Francisco location and the tragic circumstances of Irene Adler’s sister, Leona.

There isn’t even alleged paranormal activity in William Barton and Michael Capobianco’s “The Adventure of the Russian Grave”, but it is one of the best tales in the book and makes very good use of Professor Moriarty’s training in astronomy. Continue reading

Acts of Conscience

After reading his thoroughly depressing, disturbing, and memorable When Heaven Fell, I decided William Barton might be one of those authors whose entire output is worth reading.

You will be getting some reviews of his stuff in the future — but not When Heaven Fell which I didn’t review.

We’ll start with this retro review from April 30, 2008 …

(Of course, this is another reading project I haven’t actually completed yet.)

Review: Acts of Conscience, William Barton, 1997.Acts of Conscience

Gaetan du Cheyne is a bit of a loser. A mechanic on starships, he’s no randier than many a male, but he can’t keep any of his many lovers. In fact, apart from the artificial intelligences inhabiting his spacesuit and work tools, he doesn’t have any friends. But he does have a bit of luck when corporate intrigue and technological progress put one of the first faster than light starships in his possession.

He heads out to the colony world of his childhood dreams, Green Heaven. And there he finds a world of great beauty, women he wants to bed, his first friend, and aliens being hunted to extinction and exploited in other ways.

That the threatened aliens turn out to be sentient will come as no surprise given that the book is dedicated to H. Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzy series which dealt with the same topic. The theme of exploitation, especially of a sexual nature, is something of specialty with Barton, so we get the dollies – little “cowgirl” aliens who look like small, velvet covered women, their pheromones and anatomy making them irresistible sexual toys for men. And it is this race, enmeshed in a terrible relationship with another sentient race on Green Heaven, and Gaetan’s feelings about it, which are the moral pivots of this novel. Gaetan’s alien friend, a rogue member of a race capable of a telepathic-like rapport with other life – including the ones they literally suck the life juices out of, turns out to have secret. Continue reading