Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Review - Fantasy & Science Fiction: Volume 117, Nos. 1 & 2 (August/September 2009) by Gordon van Gelder (editor)


Stories included:
The Art of the Dragon by Sean McMullen
A Token of a Better Age by Melinda M. Snodgrass
The Bones of Giants by Yoon Ha Lee
The Others by Lawrence C. Connolly
Three Leaves of Aloe by Rand B. Lee
The Private Eye by Albert E. Cowdrey
Esoteric City by Bruce Sterling
You Are Such a One by Nancy Springer
Hunchster by Matthew Hughes
Icarus Saved from the Skies by Georges-Olivier Chateaureynaud
The Goddamned Tooth Fairy by Tina Kuzminski
Snowfall by Jessie Thompson

Poems included:
Obsolete Theories by Sophie M. White

Full review: This issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction continues the high quality of the magazine in most of its stories, but a few noticeable weak efforts mar what could have been an excellent issue, pulling it from the superior range into the "just slightly better than average" range.

The Art of the Dragon by Sean McMullen is a strange fantasy about an art eating dragon, and the worldwide panic that it causes. The motives of the dragon are not completely understood, and the story seems to lie in the shadowy netherworld between science fiction and fantasy. The protagonist offers a possible reason for the existence of the dragon, but the ending is ambiguous and open ended. A Token of a Better Age is another dragon oriented story straddling the line between science fiction and fantasy, this time taking the form of a tale told by a condemned Roman prisoner to another.

Nancy Springer's You Are Such a One is strange ghost story told from the perspective of the ghost, but an unknowing and unwilling ghost. It is a dreamlike and sad story. Matthew Hughes' Hunchster is another sad story, but this time the villainy of the protagonist is knowing and deliberate as a collection of luddite blue collar workers take action in an attempt to halt the technological progress that will destroy their jobs.

As part of the magazine's continuing series of classic reprints, Gordon van Gelder selects Tina Kuzminski's The Goddamned Tooth Fairy, a magical love story between two wounded people who had experienced loss and sorrow. It is an excellent story, with just enough magic to offset the depressing lives of the main characters. The other classic reprint Snowfall, by Jessie Thompson, is a sad story about an abused child who is saved from her terrible situation by magic. The story is well written, but the magic is poorly defined and the story is not particularly convincing. Harlan Ellison introduces the story with a long segment titled The Short, Sad Miracle of Jessie Thompson in which he describes the personal demons faced by the author after her story was published, which explains her lack of subsequent publications. While I feel sympathetic for Ms. Thompson, given how unimpressed I was with Snowfall, I can't agree with Harlan's lamentations about the loss suffered by the genre due to her dropping out of the writing business.

The Bones of Giants by Yoon Ha Lee is a post-apocalyptic story set in a world where necromancy is real. The protagonist allies himself with a sorceress who turns out to be much more than he expects. Icarus Saved From the Skies is a translated story originally written in French by Georges-Olivier Chateaurenaud. Perhaps something was lost in translation, but the story of a man who develops wings and the obsession his wife has with him using them just didn't seem to work. The Others, by Laurence Connolly, is a sequel to the previously published Daughters of Prime and deals with the interactions between a collection of clones working on an alien planet. The clones are supposed to be interchangeable and disposable, but unexpectedly some of them develop independent personalities. This complicates the situation, and causes trouble when they are called upon to avert a threat faced by the subjects of their study.

Three Leaves of Aloe by Rand Lee is a near future science fiction story dealing with an issue that parents may have to deal with - the question of whether to impose technological controls upon their children. The story makes a strong (and I believe correct) statement concerning the limits of state authority and the nature of free will. The Private Eye by Albert E. Cowdrey also deals with free will in a roundabout way, but focuses heavily on the fantasy of paranormal powers. The final story in the issue, Bruce Sterling's Esoteric City is typical of his writing: Opaque, difficult, and bizarre. The story assumes that the world is divided between loci for good and evil, but that Turin, being a mixture of both, lies between them. The story mixes Dante with modern business, throwing in the Holy Grail for good measure. The protagonist confronts Satan with the Grail in hand, to find that Satan has taken the form of a green energy advocate. Satan and the hero both turn out to not be who the reader expected, but that is about par for the course for a Sterling story. I'm not sure if I liked this story or not, but it was certainly one that kept my attention.

In other features, Lucuis Shepard has some interesting commentary on the Watchmen movie. Overall, this is a decent issue with several good stories to keep the reader engaged and entertained. As seems to happen most months, the classic reprints provide both the best story and the worst. Fortunately, the weak stories are among the shortest ones, so the reader can move past them quickly to get to the better, longer entries. In the end, this is a fairly good issue of the flagship magazine of the field, but not one of the best.

Subsequent issue reviewed: October/November 2009

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Monday, October 27, 2014

Musical Monday - All My Guns by Sarah Donner


Since Halloween is this Friday, I was thinking I would post something spooky or scary that was made for the holiday for Musical Monday this week, maybe a song from The Nightmare Before Christmas, or something classic like Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. But none of those seemed to fit the current melancholic atmosphere of the last several days. So instead, I'm going with Sarah Donner's hauntingly beautiful All My Guns. As I understand it, one of Sarah's friends is a gun collector who sometimes gets depressed. When he is feeling down, to make himself feel better he buys more guns, which seems both tragic and terrifying at the same time. In this song, Sarah sings from the perspective of that person, and their willingness to give up their guns if only they could be loved. The aching humanity in this song makes it beautifully sad, and in many ways, much scarier than most songs that are intended to be scary. In the end, it is the plaintive heart-rending delicacy of the song that shines through, and makes this such a mournful, and yet still touching and desperately hopeful piece of music.

Previous Musical Monday: Game of Thrones Theme by Melo-M

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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Book Blogger Hop Halloween Edition October 24th - October 30th: 75 Is the Age Limit for Canadian Senators

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: You accidentally unleashed ghouls from a novel and they are now running amok. What fictional hero (book or film) would you like to help you defeat the ghouls?

I would pick Corum Jhaelen Irsei, the protagonist in Michael Moorcock's Swords Trilogy and Chronicles of Corum. As an incarnation of the Eternal Hero, Corum is a skilled and tough warrior used to dealing with all kinds of supernatural threats. In the Swords Trilogy Corum manages to arrange the defeat of three gods, while in Chronicles of Corum he fights the Fhoi Myore, a race of magical giants, so a collection of ghouls should pose no problem for him.

Previous Book Blogger Hop: The Atomic Number of Tungsten Is 74

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Friday, October 24, 2014

Follow Friday - The Destroyer Escort in The Enemy Below Is the U.S.S. Hayes DE-181


It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the two Featured Bloggers of the week - The Little Book Pixie and Shooting Stars Reviews.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: Characters, sometimes our favorites, die during books. If you’d get to choose, who would you bring back?

I would bring back Coll from Lloyd Alexander's The Chronicles of Prydain. First introduced in The Book of Three as Dallben's pig-keeper, it is revealed later in the story that Coll is an aging hero who, in his youth, had braved the depths of Annuvin to rescue the oracular pig Hen Wen. Through all five books of the series he is a voice of wisdom and paternal advice for Taran. And then in The High King he makes the ultimate sacrifice while helping Taran's small force slow the advance of the implacable and undying cauldron born. Because of this, Coll doesn't live to see Arawn defeated, the Sons of Don leave Prydain, or Taran find his ultimate destiny.

Coll's death was probably the first one of a substantial and likable character that I encountered in fantasy fiction. In retrospect, it was almost inevitable that Coll would die - he is the sort of character that authors kill off so that the reader can get a sense of how high the stakes truly are - but if I could, I'd still save him.


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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Review - Fantasy & Science Fiction: Volume 117, Nos. 3 & 4 (October/November 2009) by Gordon van Gelder (editor)


Stories included:
Halloween Town by Lucius Shepard
The Far Shore by Elizabeth Hand
Bandits of the Trace by Albert E. Cowdrey
The Way They Wove the Spells in Sippulgar by Robert Silverberg
I Waltzed with a Zombie by Ron Goulart
Another Life by Charles Oberndorf
Logicist by Carl Emshwiller
Blocked by Geoff Ryman
Mermaid by Robert Reed
Never Blood Enough by Joe Haldeman
The President's Book Tour by M. Rickert
Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot - LXXI by Ron Partridge
Shadows on the Wall of the Cave by Kate Wilhelm

Full review: So here it is, the Sixtieth Anniversary issue of the oldest running magazine in the genre. Plus, it has a fairly star studded contributor list with Joe Haldeman, Robert Silverberg, Kate Wilhelm, Lucuis Shepard, Robert Reed and a pile of other high profile writers represented. Each writer also introduces their own story with a brief story about their first encounter with Fantasy & Science Fiction, most of while make for entertaining little anecdotes. Unfortunately, even with this high-profile lineup of writing talent, the magazine is oddly average, with only a few stories deserving more than a "pretty good" rating.

My favorite story in the issue is Kate Wilhelm's Shadows on the Wall of the Cave, about the strange and sudden disappearance of a small boy and the effect this has on his two playmates. The story is appropriate scary, capturing just what people find spooky about dark caves, and the resolution is at the same time sad, hopeful, and realistic (or as realistic as one can get in a story that involves people vanishing into the shadows of a cavern). Bandits of the Trace by Albert E. Cowdrey, is also quite good. Told from a shifting viewpoint , the story is about a small town college professor and his attempts to unravel the mystery of the location of a treasure trove left by a notorious band of frontier bandits. The story is a little bit mystery, involving a complicated code left by the bandits, and a little bit fantasy, as the fate of Justice Urquhart, the worst of the bandits, is revealed. Overall, it is one of the best stories in the volume.

The longest story in the volume is Lucius Shepard's Halloween Town, which is sort of a grab-bag of odd ideas strung together: An empathic protagonist, a mysterious town in a canyon sheltered in perpetual twilight by a canopy of trees run by a strange ex-rock star in a fairly tyrannical manner, a strange cat-loving alien life form and, of course, a beautiful and dangerous love interest. The story meanders, and doesn't really go much of anywhere. I sort of got the impression that Shepard was clearing his desk of a bunch of ideas at once without a whole lot of point. I was not particularly excited by Elizabeth Hand's contribution The Far Shore. The story is a sort of fairy tale involving a ballet dance instructor fired from his job who takes up residence for the winter at the summer camp facility owned by a friend of his. He finds a strange young man naked in the snow, gets involved in a sexual fling with him (working in the tired cliche of a gay male ballet dancer) and ends up traveling to a fairy world across the lake with the young man. The story is pretty, but predictable, and there's not much to it.

Robert Silverberg contributes the Majipoor story The Way They Wove Spells in Sippulgar. Like most Majipoor stories it is quirky and weird, involving a strange mix of science fiction and possible fantasy. Unfortunately, the story involving a merchant's quest to discover the fate of his brother-in-law kind of meanders and doesn't actually come to much of a conclusion. The protagonist ends up refusing to press the issue in order to prevent the possibility of overturning his personal beliefs, in this case, the belief that the supernatural is not real. While the lack of resolution to the mystery in the story is frustrating, the personal internal tension experienced by the protagonist (reversed from the normal version of a person refusing to run the risk that their belief in the supernatural could be disproved) makes the story worthwhile, but not much more.

Another Life by Charles Oberndorf is set in a world in which brain-taping - reminiscent of that used in Varley's The Ophiuchi Hotline - is used to revive dead soldiers for an extended war, with the protagonist remembering his long-ago first revival and attempts to understand the mystery surrounding the time period he lost (i.e., the time between his last brain-tape and his death). The story is fairly sordid, as he takes up with a hermaphrodite prostitute to make ends meet when he discovers that his enlistment has been mysteriously erased. One side note: There is a trend among current science fiction to make sure to include a lot of gay, lesbian, or bisexual characters and make this a feature of the story, apparently in an attempt to make the story seem cutting edge. It doesn't. First off, Samuel R. Delany got to this territory a couple decades ago, so it is not new. Second, it makes the story smack of desperation as the writer seems to be trying to prove how open-minded and edgy he is. Where it makes sense, like in Ben Francisco's Tio Gilberto and the Twenty-Seven Ghosts (Realms of Fantasy, October 2009) it adds to the story. Otherwise, it just seems tacked on for titillation like a naked breast shot in a cheap B movie.

Ron Goulart's I Waltzed with a Zombie is a fun, kind of silly story about resurrecting movie stars as zombies. It is fun to read, but not particularly noteworthy. Never Blood Enough by Joe Haldeman is another readable but ultimately forgettable story about life on an alien planet. Ron Partridge's Ferdinand Feghoot installment is, as usual, merely a set up for a pun-filled punch line. As usual, if you hate puns, you will hate this story, since there is nothing else to it. I generally find these to be a waste of a page, but they keep running them, so someone must find them amusing.

Both Blocked by Geoff Ryman and Mermaid by Robert Reed are stories about men making choices against their better judgment for emotional reasons. In Blocked humanity is, abandoning the surface of the Earth in fear of an alien invasion, and the protagonist is driven by his wife to accept this underground exile, even though he has doubts about whether the threat is real, or whether survival is worth giving up the sky. Mermaid is a fantasy about the power of the mythical creature to ensnare men with magic, even though the end result of that enchantment may not be to the mermaid's benefit. The central character is obsessed, and though he knows that his obsession is bad for both his love and himself, he struggles to break free. Carol Emswhiller's Logicist has a kind of darkly humorous element to it as well, following about a teacher of logic as he logically makes a series of fairly stupid choices ending with him turning his back on a potentially loving relationship. It is a sort of inverse of Blocked in that regard.

The President’s Book Tour by M. Rickert is a post-apocalyptic tale about the resulting mutant children and the parents who love them anyway. It is not so much humorous as absurdist, as the bizarrely mutated children grow up, begin to randomly have sex and then the President shows up to try to sell his latest book. He breaks up the one mutant couple that has been formed to make the female child his bride but then she tries to kill him and he abandons the town. The plot of the story isn't the point, rather one is supposed to focus on the bizarre post-apocalyptic life of the town’s residents, and the extraordinarily bizarre nature of the President's sojourn in the town. The ending somehow, despite the absurd dark humor of the story, ends up being touching and sad.

For a special anniversary issue, there are a surprising number of quite ordinary and unmemorable stories, and as far as I can tell, no truly superlative ones. The bulk of the stories fall into the average to good range though, and only a few fall short of this mark (Feghoot, I'm looking at you among others). While not as exciting an issue as I would have thought given the lineup of writing talent assembled, the overall quality is still an above average issue. Despite being something of a disappointment considering that this was supposed to be a special Sixtieth Anniversary extravaganza, I give it a recommendation with the caveat not to expect much more than an ordinary run-of-the-mill issue would deliver.

Previous issue reviewed: August/September 2009
Subsequent issue reviewed: December 2009

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Review - Fantasy & Science Fiction: Volume 117, No. 5 (December 2009) by Gordon van Gelder (editor)


Stories included:
Dragon's Teeth by Alex Irvine
Hell of a Fix by Matthew Hughes
Inside Time by Tim Sullivan
I Needs Must Part, the Policeman Said by Richard Bowes
Bad Matter by Alexandra Duncan
Farewell Atlantis by Terry Bisson
Illusions of Tranquility by Brendan DuBois
The Blight Family Singers by Kit Reed
The Economy of Vacuum by Sarah Thomas
Iris by Nancy Springer
The Man Who Did Something About It by Harvey Jacobs

Full review: The December issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction is a collection of mostly ordinary stories that tantalizingly seem to hint that they could have been better, with a few highlights that seem to mostly take the form of writers attempting to imitate more prominent and better writers. Overall, this issue probably would have been considered quite good twenty years ago, but now a lot of the ideas just seem a bit worn and tired.

Dragon's Teeth by Alex Irvine is a somewhat interesting fantasy about a soldier sent to kill a dragon marred by its aimless nature and the fact that all of the seemingly interesting things about the story take place entirely off-stage. The story starts and ends in media res and the background of the main character (in which he was transformed into a dog for his own protection by his brother) seems to be more interesting than the story itself. The story seems somewhat influenced by Gene Wolfe's style, but just misses the mark. Dragon's Teeth was frustrating, because it seems like it could have been a more interesting story if it had included more of the stuff that poked in around the edges. Another story that shared this somewhat aimless and pointless nature was Bad Matter by Alexandra Duncan. The story tells the tale of a woman uncovering her father's legacy, which turns out to be potentially interesting, but the finish is so vague that the story turns out to be fairly bland. I know lots of writers want to make their stories deep and philosophical by building ambiguity into their writing, but there has to be some sort of point. Just starting and then stopping in a slice of life without there being some reason why this part of the person's life might be important or interesting turns out to be pretty dull.

Another story in which the author seemed to be attempting to emulate another author's style is I Needs Must Part, the Policeman Said by Richard Bowes, which seems to aspire to be a Philip K. Dick story. The protagonist is an elderly surgical patient plagued by what appear to be supernatural visitors who have an agenda that is both confusing and somewhat frightening. The story is told in a disjointed style, which seems to me to be effective at catching the disorientation and confusion of a patient alternatively in shock from serious illness and then subjected to anesthesia and a variety of hallucinogenic medications during their treatment. Through the story (in the best Philip K. Dick tradition) the reader isn't sure whether the information being passed on by the narrator is real or a delusion caused by his illness and the drugs that have been administered to him.

Inside Time by Tim Sullivan is a sort of twisted morality play in which time travelers (both intentional and accidental) get caught in an inter-temporal way station for unknown and unexplained reasons. The characters deal with moral choices which they must later face up to. The story is quite confining, taking place in a constrained space in the middle of a vast expanse, which gives the story both a claustrophobic and agoraphobic feel at the same time. It is interesting, but the morality of the story seems fairly basic, and the arbiters of that morality are so vague that the story is somewhat undermined.

Interestingly, this issue contains two stories about lunar colonization. In the first, Illusions of Tranquility by Brendan DuBois, a second generation lunar dweller undertakes an assignment to bring needed money into the impoverished colony. The story paint a fairly grim picture of lunar colonization, with a sort of Potemkin village feel to the story. It seems to me that there is something of Heinleinian or Campbellian influence in the story, as brave humans battle the harsh environment using all the means at their disposal. Illusions of Tranquility ends on a hopeful note, which makes it markedly different from the other lunar colonization story The Economy of Vacuum by Sarah Thomas, which details the sad story of the first lunar colonist who ends up abandoned by humanity as it descends into chaos, and then later betrayed by her would-be rescuers based upon the repugnant application of religious dogma.

The best story in the issue was probably Hell of a Fix, in which an inadvertent demon summoning results in an infernal crisis that affects everyone, and ends up revealing an unexpected aspect of God. The story is lighthearted and funny, and has the added bonus of having a comic book fan as the protagonist. Farewell Atlantis by Terry Bisson is also a fun story, with an interesting twist on the shaggy god subgenre (which was refreshing given the vast disappointment that the ending of the new Battlestar Galactica series, which was a bad version of the shaggy god story). The Man Who Did Something About It by Harvey Jacobs humorously puts an auto mechanic in the position to potentially save the Earth from destruction, although I found the ending confusing and not particularly satisfying. Less well executed, but amusing in a different way is The Blight Family Singers, which is a sort of science-fictional cross between the story of the von Trapps (famous from The Sound of Music) and the religious fundamentalism of various polygamous sects of Mormonism that have splintered away from the mainstream church.

It seems that just about every issue of a genre magazine these days has at least one story that seems entirely out of place. Iris by Nancy Springer fills that role in this issue. Though Iris is a somewhat interesting story about being old and alone, there is no real fantasy or science fiction aspect to it. I was left wondering why this story was included. While the story was told well, I kept waiting for something interesting to actually happen and get the ball rolling on a plot. Overall, this issue as a whole seems to be a lot like Iris as it is fairly uninspiring with mostly pedestrian stories punctuated by a few tepid highlights.

Previous issue reviewed: October/November 2009
Subsequent issue reviewed: January/February 2010

2010 Locus Award Nominees
2010 Nebula Award Nominees
2010 World Fantasy Award Nominees

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Musical Monday - Game of Thrones Theme by Melo-M


There is no doubt but that the Game of Thrones opening credits theme song is one of the greatest television theme songs ever created. The only real question is whether it is possible to make a version of this theme song even better than the original. The answer is yes: Have the cellist trio Melo-M do a rendition of the song and bask in the cello goodness of everyone's favorite Westerosian music.

Previous Musical Monday: Ennui (On We Go) by The Doubleclicks
Subsequent Musical Monday: All My Guns by Sarah Donner

Melo-M     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Book Blogger Hop Halloween Edition October 17th - October 23rd: The Atomic Number of Tungsten Is 74

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: You're going to a Halloween party and you're going to take a book along just in case you get bored. What book would you bring?

I would probably bring whatever book I was reading at the time. Right now that would mean bringing Ann Leckie's Ancillary Sword, Kameron Hurley's The Mirror Empire, or L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future, Volume 30. I'm not that big of a fan of most parties, so maybe I'd bring all three.

Subsequent Book Blogger Hop: 75 Is the Age Limit for Canadian Senators

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Follow Friday - 180 Is the Highest Score in One Turn in Darts


It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the Featured Blogger of the week - Reading YA Rocks.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: Share the song you can’t stop listening to.


I love Linda Ronstadt. Almost nothing puts me in a better mood than listening to My personal signal that my weekend has begun is when I start blasting her music, and I almost always start with either It's So Easy or Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me. Although both are great songs made even greater when sung by Linda, It's So Easy showcases her voice and sassy attitude better. It's also a generally happier song than Poor, Poor Pitiful Me, and is thus a superior way to kick off a good weekend.


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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Review - Fantasy & Science Fiction: Volume 118, Nos. 1 & 2 (January/February 2010) by Gordon van Gelder (editor)


Stories included:
Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance by Paul Park
The Long Retreat by Robert Reed
Writers of the Future by Charles Oberndorf
Nanosferatu by Dean Whitlock
City of the Dog by John Langan
Bait by Robin Aurelian
Songwood by Marc Laidlaw
The Secret Lives of Fairy Tales by Steven Popkes
The Late Night Train by Kate Wilhelm

Full review: The January/February 2010 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction is filled with mostly good stories with one glaring exception. Unfortunately, that glaring exception is the featured novella in the issue. Despite the generally good quality of the remaining stories, Paul Park's tedious Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance is so awful that it drags down the whole issue, and has made me push A Princess of Roumania way down my "to read" list.

As the longest story in the issue, written by one of the more famous authors represented, one would expect that Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance by Paul Park would be a decent story. Instead, it is a self-indulgent waste of paper and ink. In the story the protagonist Paul Park (yes, the protagonist is a fictionalized version of the author as an old man) spends his time trying to unravel mysterious family mysteries that come down to him from both sides of his family. This is, of course, set in the future, where urban decay has emptied cities, a militarized United States has apparently become something of a dysfunctional police state, and rates of autism among children have climbed to twenty percent. The story meanders through the fictional Park's memories as he jumps from thread to thread (and some of the threads are even known to be fictional by the fictional Park) until Park apparently decided that he'd written enough to get paid a check large enough to cover this month's rent. And then the aimless, pointless, and useless excuse of a story ends. This story by itself drags down the entire issue like a lead weight.

The Long Retreat by Robert Reed is a somewhat funny tale about the imperial court of a losing nation that is wandering from place to place, always one step ahead of the invading armies. The paradox is that as long as they avoid being captured, their nation is supposedly big enough that the invaders can never conquer everything. This is a sort of "Czar fighting Napoleon" story writ even larger, and set in a fantasy world. The end of the story contains a moderately predictable twist, but it is still a decent read.

Writers of the Future by Charles Oberndorf is the most interesting story in the issue. Set in a future in which massive AI's have taken control over most of Earth, the remaining humans while away their lives in more or less idle pursuits indulging in literature that looks backward to the past and rehashes old glories. The story is told through the lens of a writer's workshop, and introduces a new writer who wants to look forward rather than backward. While one might think that a story that extols the value of science fiction as a genre would be somewhat indulgent of a topic for a science fiction writer to address, the story still works well and was but fun and thought provoking.

With its mixture of condemnation of corporate greed and class warfare, Nanosferatu by Dean Whitlock seems to be a product of the current "string up the wealthy" sentiment that is popular in American politics right now. Despite this, the story is not too bad, although the big twist at the end is pretty much telegraphed by the title of the story.

Bait by Robin Aurelian is a story about a family hunting trip in a world where fairy tale creatures are the quarry for such expeditions. The central character is the oddball in his family, as he is lousy at hunting and attracts bites and stings like he were made of candy. He gets infected and the tables are somewhat turned, at which point the story ends. I think there was some sort of oblique political statement about the evils of hunting in the story, but it wasn't very clear if it was there. Still, the story is silly and funny, and seems very much like an adult version of one of Bruce Coville's juvenile works. The Secret Lives of Fairy Tales by Steven Popkes is a funny take on several fairy tales - a sort of "behind the curtain" version of The Emperor's New Clothes, Snow White, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rumplestiltskin, and Cinderella in which the "true" story of the classic tales is revealed with a healthy dose of tongue-in-cheek humor.

Songwood by Marc Laidlaw is a fantasy that sees the return of the gargoyle Spar (previously seen in Laidlaw's story Quickstone in the March 2009 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction) stowing away on a ship and falling in love with the figurehead. What results is a kind of star-crossed love story that has a kind of touching ending. On the other hand, City of the Dog by John Langan is a dark and twisted love story involving betrayal, loss, and obsession. The story is somewhat disjointed, and much of the fantasy element is thrown at the reader in a giant info-dump, which is kind of an artless way to go about doing things, and there is no real reason given for the betrayal that takes place. To a certain extent the lack of explanation makes the story seem even darker and fouler, so maybe the mysterious motivations of the ultimate villain are better left unrevealed.

Finally, The Late Night Train by Kate Wilhelm is a kind of story that seems to me to be becoming more and more prevalent. That is, the suicide (or murder) by fantasy story. I'm not sure if this is the result of the aging baby boomers staring their own mortality in the face and trying to come up with a poetic alternative, or merely that I am noticing these stories more. In any event, I'm not a huge fan of the seemingly growing subgenre. In this case, the story is one of abuse and the toleration of that abuse which is a creepy backdrop for any story. The fantasy element is very slight, almost nonexistent, but apparently real. In the end, any story that can make me angry at every character in the narrative has probably done its job well.

While every other story in this issue is at least good, Park's story is just a waste of space. Even the regular movie and book review columns are good, but none of it is enough to raise the issue as a whole above average. I give a cautious recommendation for this issue with the huge caveat that one would simply be better off skipping the roughly seventy pages that Park's story occupies.

Previous issue reviewed: December 2009
Subsequent issue reviewed: March/April 2010

2011 Locus Award Nominees
2011 Nebula Award Nominees

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Monday, October 13, 2014

Musical Monday - Ennui (On We Go) by The Doubleclicks


The redhead and I went to CapClave this past weekend. For those who don't know, CapClave is an annual literary oriented science fiction convention held near Washington D.C. So we spent the last few days listening to authors on panels, talking with authors, finding new books to read, getting our books signed, and generally enjoying the heavy dose of nerdity provided by the convention. We got to meet authors such as Holly Black, Alex Shvartsman, Sarah Avery, Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Day Al-Mohammed, and Lawrence Watt-Evans, as well as several others. We went to a book launch party for Dark Quest books and another party promoting the Washington Science Fiction Assosication's bid to host the 2017 World Science Fiction Convention. We even played a few games - trying out Puerto Rico and Cities and Knights of Catan. And we also managed to throw in a reasonable amount of volunteering to help the convention function - moving boxes for the dealers, working at the registration desk, and generally doing whatever we could to help out.

But now all that is over, and we are both experiencing the inevitable con-drop: That listless feeling that comes after a convention is over when you're dead tired but wish the fun was still happening. And few songs capture the feeling of ennui that one feels after a convention is finished quite like The Doubleclicks song Ennui (On We Go). They aren't actually talking about the feelings of post-convention let-down, but even so, they capture the emotion perfectly.

Previous Musical Monday: Best Game Ever by Mikey Mason
Subsequent Musical Monday: Game of Thrones Theme by Melo-M

The Doubleclicks     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Book Blogger Hop Halloween Edition October 10th - October 16th: In the 1940 NFL Championship Game the Bears Beat the Redskins 73-0

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: What is the scariest book title you have either read or heard about?

When I was thirteen, and staying with friends in South Africa because I needed surgery on my hand, I found a copy of Alan Dean Foster's novelization of the movie Alien. I had not seen the Alien movie. I actually had no idea that there was an Alien movie, since I was living in Zaire at the time and popular media took a long time to get there. It was the scariest book I have ever read. Maybe it was because I was reading the book when I was thirteen. Maybe it was because I was in an unfamiliar house, thousands of miles away from most of my family. Maybe it was just that Foster wrote a damn scary book. I don't know. I just remember that it was terrifying. It was, in fact, so scary as a book, that when I finally saw the Alien movie some years later I was disappointed in how comparative tame the film was.

Subsequent Book Blogger Hop: The Atomic Number of Tungsten Is 74

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, October 10, 2014

Follow Friday - 179 Is Not a Palindromic Number in Any Base


It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the Featured Blogger of the week - Living on Borrowed Days.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: Book Merchandise – show off some of your stuff – posters, t-shirts. Whatever you got!

The redhead and I are attending CapClave right now. While we don't have any merchandise to show off, we have acquired a number of books and two comic book issues. The most interesting book in the bunch handed out to CapClave attendees appears to be Interstellar Travel and Multigenerational Ships, a collection of essays about the practical realities of interstellar space travel edited by Yoki Kondo, Frederick C. Bruhweiler, John Moore, and Charles Sheffield. Also included in our CapClave packets were the novels Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi, and Shoggoths in Bloom by Elizabeth Bear. We also got two comic book issues: Guardians of the Galaxy, and Futures End, issue zero of The New 52.

I also acquired both Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie and Lock In by John Scalzi. I did have to buy these two books myself from one of the book dealers at the convention, but when it comes to books by Hugo-winning authors, I am more than happy to do that. CapClave doesn't end until Sunday, so I'm sure we'll be getting more cool stuff before it ends, but since I don't have it yet, I can't show it off yet.


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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Biased Opinion - The Screaming Temper Tantrum of "GamerGate"

If you have missed the raging storm of undirected and pointless fury that has been dubbed "GamerGate" by its supporters, then you should probably count yourself as lucky. To bring those unfamiliar with the faux controversy up to speed here is a brief synopsis: On August 16th, Eron Gjoni, the jilted ex-boyfriend of game developer Zoe Quinn, wrote and posted a sleazy, tell-all screed of somewhat dubious validity about why he had broken up with Zoe, and her alleged cheating during their relationship. One might think that this poorly conceived rant airing his dirty laundry would have resulted in a few people pointing out what bad judgment Gjoni had displayed by posting it, but instead some people seized upon the fact that one of the men Quinn had a relationship with was Nathan Grayson, a writer for the gaming website Kotaku. This was quickly decided to be evidence of "corruption" in gaming journalism, complete with claims that Quinn had only had a sexual relationship with Grayson in exchange for a favorable review of her free game Depression Quest. Never mind that Grayson never reviewed Depression Quest, and only made a single mention of Quinn as part of a larger article that touched upon multiple topics. Minor league celebrity and major league conspiracy theorist Adam Baldwin got involved in the issue on twitter and dubbed the events "GamerGate". And then the portion of the internet dominated by individuals with the maturity of small children exploded.

Under the banner of "GamerGate", the disgruntled, infantile portion of the population who identify themselves as "gamers" launched a campaign of harassment against Zoe Quinn. And by "harassment", I mean rape threats, death threats, and other threats of violence, including the revelations of personal details about Quinn that would permit people to locate her and directly harm her if they so chose. When the fact that their attacks were blatantly misogynistic in nature, the "GamerGate" proponents loudly declared that their campaign was actually about "ethics in game journalism", but didn't really do much that was different than before, except now they included individuals like Anita Sarkeesian, Jenn Frank, and Leigh Alexander on their hit list. The stream of misogynistic harassment and vitriol continues more or less unabated, but as of yet, the "GamerGate" proponents have yet to identify a single legitimate instance of actual corruption in gaming journalism. Before I go any further, let me repeat that: "GamerGate" proponents have yet to identify a single legitimate instance of actual corruption in gaming journalism. GamerGate proponents have spun wild conspiracy theories, including wild theories that game journalists are censoring them whenever a website like Reddit or 4Chan gets tired of the GamerGate parade of disinformation and hatred and shuts down conversations on the topic, but they have not identified any actual ethical lapses by any actual game journalists. Milo Yiannopolous, who never met a conspiracy theory he didn't like (and who is just about the last person a rational individual would turn to to learn about journalistic ethics), uncovered an online group where gaming journalists talked to one another, and hyped this non-ethical breach as a massive scandal. And by "uncovered" I mean Yiannopolous talked about something that the game journalists involved had publicly talked about for months. "GamerGate" proponents are still flailing about ineffectively, searching for actual substance to justify their unfocused rage, and still failing to find any.

But that doesn't stop the "GamerGate" proponents from venting their rage - almost always venting it in the direction of women, many of whom aren't even journalists. One might wonder, for example, if "GamerGate" is about corruption in gaming journalism, why so much ire had been directed towards Quinn, who is not a journalist. Or why so much vitriol is directed at Sarkeesian, who is not a journalist either. The answer seems pretty clear: To the extent there is any coherence to be found amongst the mostly incoherent rage of "GamerGate", corruption in games journalism isn't the target, women are. But the larger point is that "GamerGate" is really, at its heart, a screaming temper tantrum thrown by children that people like Frank, Alexander, and Sarkeesian tried to treat as adults. And for their pains, they got in return, wails of rage and anger.

Shortly after "GamerGate" got started, several articles were posted concerning "gaming" culture in general. ArsTechnica published an article titled The Death of "Gamers" and the Women Who Killed Them, BuzzFeed posted an article titled Gaming Is Leaving "Gamers" Behind, and Gamasutra put out a piece titled Gamers Don't Have to Be Your Audience. Gamers Are Over. Kotaku phrased their article differently, stating We Might Be Seeing the Death of an Identity. Even Forbes got into the act, publishing The Gamer Is Dead: Long Live the Gamer. These articles all shared a common thread - that the gaming industry was moving beyond niche status as the basis for a geeky ghettoized hobby to become a mainstream past time, with all of the attendant benefits and drawbacks that this entailed. These articles generally made the point that when "video game player" had become a description that could fairly be applied to such a large segment of the populace, talking about a "gamer" subculture populated by "gamers" was not a particularly valid approach any more. These articles were, at the very least, the potential start of a conversation about where games fit into the culture at large using fairly commonly used rhetorical devices such as "The Gamer Is Dead". In short, these authors that wrote and organizations that posted these articles, assumed that their target audience of readers was mature enough to read these pieces and respond in an adult manner.

Instead, the portion of the audience that identified with "GamerGate" reacted by throwing what can only be described as an epic screaming fit. Many of the "GamerGate" proponents seem to have never read the articles in question, and in some cases seem to have not even actually seen the titles, referring to them as all being "Gamers Are Dead" articles. These articles have been asserted by "GamerGaters" to be a huge affront to gamers. "They are insulting us by saying we are dead!" many "GamerGater" have fumed. Many "GamerGate" proponents seem to prefer to ignore the sordid, misogynistic basis for their movement and identify these articles as the catalyst for it (a claim that is specious, as one will discover when reading the articles, as all of them are explicitly reactions to "GamerGate", which means they cannot be the cause of "GamerGate"). But when anyone who isn't in the tiny, but very vocal minority that identifies with "GamerGate" sits down to read these articles, the very childishness of the "GamerGate" response becomes readily apparent. "Gamers" were given the opportunity to show that they didn't fit the stereotype of the socially maladjusted child-men that popular culture had long held them to be, and in the most spectacular way, the "GamerGate" proponents failed this test. After years of self-identified "gamers" insisting that games and game-players should be treated as adults and not basement dwelling troglodyte babies, the gaming press presented a series of articles dealing with the gaming community in an adult manner, and the response of "GamerGate" was to scream and shake with anger.

Sadly, this is the common thread that runs through "GamerGate", and even predates "GamerGate" among certain segments of those who self-identify as "hardcore" gamers. For years many fans of video games have insisted that their preferred media could and should be treated as an art form. So when Anita Sarkeesian took them up on this claim and engaged in critical analysis of video games from a feminist perspective, which is something one does with a serious art form, one would think that gamers would have been pleased to have the object of their affection finally being taken seriously. One would be wrong. Gamers have expressed outrage that their precious games are being evaluated in this manner. They have expressed this displeasure with a vitriolic campaign of constant harassment leveled at Anita, including among their spurious charges that she has lied about the games she has evaluated, that she hates games and never plays them herself, and that she has invented stories of harassment in order to claim victim status. These claims, as one might expect, are dubious at best, and most of them are either rooted in the objector's ignorance of the topics Anita is discussing or are simply blatantly falsehoods invented to personally smear Anita. The reaction displayed by "gamers" in all of these cases, amounts to nothing more than an infantile temper tantrum.

Similarly, when a game developer like Zoe Quinn tackles a serious subject like depression and creates a game like Depression Quest that explores the topic in a serious and sober manner, one would think that gamers would appreciate that their medium had an entry that dealt with an adult topic from an adult perspective. One would once again be wrong. Even before Eron's diatribe against her, Zoe was reviled for having the temerity to make a game that some gamers didn't like. Making a game that doesn't involve running about and shooting or stabbing people in the face, it seems, is an affront against "true gaming" and, predictably, the seething rage-filled wing of "gamers" reacted with torrents of abuse and harassment. And during "GamerGate" many of the complaints about "games journalists" seem to have reflected a similar sentiment. Demands have been issued that call upon game reviewers to limit themselves to "objective" issues, like frame rates, control responsiveness, and how detailed the game graphics are, demanding that issues related to the story, including sexist, racist, or otherwise unsavory elements found in games, be left unremarked upon. But if one wants the medium to be taken seriously, then these are the very issues upon which game reviewers should be focused. Almost no one who reviews a film spends much, if any, of their time talking about the quality of the lenses used to film the piece, and instead they discuss elements like the plot, character development, and whether the film had questionable content including displays of sexism or racism. A reviewer tackling The Legend of Bagger Vance might fairly consider the racial implications of Will Smith's character as a representative of the long-standing, and problematic trope of the "magical negro". And if they do so, no one in the ranks of the cinema going audience is going to scream that this reviewer should go back to evaluating just the film speed used to capture the scenes in the movie. By demanding "objective" reviews, the proponents of "GamerGate" reveal that they are still sitting at the kiddie table and are not mature enough to be taken seriously.

The upshot of "GamerGate" is this: Time and again its members have been given the opportunity to deal with the world in an adult manner. Time and again, they have conclusively failed to do so. The reason that "GamerGate" remains a movement that almost no one regards as a serious expression of anything other than inchoate rage with heaping helpings of misogyny is that, thus far, its members have not done anything but behave like spoiled children. The "movement" such as it is, may have gotten Intel to pull advertisements from a single website, but that isn't an indication of anything other than the fact that screaming rage sometimes gets someone to try to appease the mob. What is striking is how empty the rage is. Even when one gives those who support "GamerGate" the opportunity to explain what they think is wrong with games journalism, they rattle off a collection of points that are either entirely specious or demonstrably untrue. They complain that a cabal of "games journalists" are keeping "their side of the story" from being told with biased articles (conveniently ignoring that outlets such as Forbes and The New Yorker have published articles on the subject and also found the "GamerGate" side lacking in enough merit to include). In many cases, the arguments of "GamerGate" proponents boil down to "only write about games in the way we want you to", which would be a standard that itself would violate anything resembling ethical journalism. Perusing the conspiracy theory laden websites that argue for the "GamerGate" position, it becomes clear that the reason that media outlets have not included their "side" in their articles is that the "GamerGate" side is devoid of any merit. In the end, "gamers" have been given the opportunity to show that they, and their chosen art form, have grown up, and in turn "gamers", at least those who have rallied under the banner of "GamerGate", have demonstrated that this has yet to happen.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Review - The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov


Short review: An unlikely discovery provides limitless energy with a hidden cost. Aliens in a strange universe are confronted by an ethical dilemma. And then everything is fixed effortlessly.

Haiku
What if energy
Came from a strange universe
With odd aliens?

Full review: The Gods Themselves is one of Asimov's relatively few stand alone novels, and the one for which he received the most awards. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite reach the level of excellence that I would hope a novel that won the Nebula and Hugo awards should have attained, although it is still quite good.

The plot of the novel stems from, essentially, a physics trick: Under what circumstances could the impossible isotope Plutonium-186 exist, and what would it mean if we could locate a parallel universe in which those conditions existed. The novel also explores what a wholly and completely alien society without any contact with humanity (and only limited contact of any kind with our universe) might be like.

The first part of the novel is basically a story that asks the question: What if we discovered a dangerous perpetual motion machine that requires an impossible element, and explores the political ramifications that might follow. This section is interesting, but not particularly exceptional, mostly focusing on the fact that once people have something that is immediately beneficial, the long term negative consequences, no matter how destructive, will usually be ignored.

The second part of the novel is by far the best section of the story, as Asimov tackles a universe with entirely different physics from ours, as well as creating a wholly alien culture of creatures living in that universe. As a science fiction author who rarely included aliens in his works, and was clearly uncomfortable dealing with sex, Asimov seems to have saved up a decade's worth of both for this book, creating some very unique aliens, an entirely alien culture, and throwing in a fair amount of alien sex. This is the most interesting and well-written section of the book, as it focuses on how the aliens deal with a huge ethical problem, including an explanation as to why they can not simply turn their back on a process that provides immediate benefits but potential long term negative (and unethical) consequences.

The final section of the book is the weakest - so weak in fact that that it serves to restrospectively drag down the first two. In this portion of the story, the problems raised by the first two sections are wrapped up neatly in an entirely facile manner that avoids inconveniencing anyone. As a matter of fact, the final solution makes everyone better off than before, and with little more than a hand-wave eliminates all the problems previously established by the story. This ending is really too simplistic for the rest of the book, and essentially gives all the short-sighted characters in the first two sections an easy solution to what should have been an almost intractable problem..

Still, The Gods Themselves is considered to be a classic of science fiction, and the middle section of the book alone makes it worth reading. Sadly, the opening and closing parts of the story are not nearly as strong as the middle, transforming what could have been a superlative book into merely a decent one. This novel isn't as good as Asimov's best work, and of his books, this is not the one I would have picked to win a stack of awards, but it is still a good book.

1972 Hugo Award Winner for Best Novel: To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip José Farmer
1974 Hugo Award Winner for Best Novel: Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

1972 Locus Award Winner for Best Novel: The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin
1974 Locus Award Winner for Best Novel: Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

1972 Nebula Award Winner for Best Novel: A Time of Changes by Robert Silverberg
1974 Nebula Award Winner for Best Novel: Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

List of Nebula Award Winners for Best Novel

1973 Hugo Award Nominees
1973 Locus Award Nominees
1973 Nebula Award Nominees

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