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Bookends: Remembering the late, great Harlan Ellison May 12, 2019

Posted by klondykewriter in biography, Bookends, fantasy, Science Fiction, Whitehorse Star.
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SlippageBookends: Remembering the late, great Harlan Ellison

By Dan Davidson

July 18, 2018

– 900 words –

 

Slippage: Previously Uncollected, Precariously Poised Stories

By Harlan Ellison

Open Road Media

E-book

$9.99

Houghton Mifflin hardcover

299 pages

 

Harlan Ellison died in his sleep in late June at the age of 84. He’d been suffering with heart problems since before the publication of this collection of material, which came out in 1997, so between age and illness It wasn’t a surprise. Based on the notes that introduced the stories in most of the 15 or so volumes on my shelves, it’s kind of surprising that he went out quietly.

Ellison was science-fiction’s original angry young man. Her was kicked out of college for hitting an English prof who told him he had no ability as a writer, and he took his revenge by sending the man a copy of everything he published over the near couple of decades. I assume he stopped eventually, though he was known to hold a grudge for a long, long time.

I assume he stopped because Wikipedia has one entry for him and an entirely separate entry for his bibliography.. I’m going to quote the former article here just to give you a sense of his output,

 “His published works include more than 1,700 short stories, novellas, screenplays, comic book scripts, teleplays, essays, and a wide range of criticism covering literature, film, television, and print media. Some of his best-known work includes the Star Trekepisode “The City on the Edge of Forever“,A Boy and His Dog, “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream“, and ” ‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman“, and as editor and anthologistfor Dangerous Visions(1967) and Again, Dangerous Visions(1972). Ellison won numerous awards, including multiple Hugos, Nebulas, and Edgars.”

He came up with the idea for a late 1970s Canadian television (CTV I think it was) show called The Starlost, which turned out so poorly that he insisted the studio take his name off the credits and list him as Cordwainer Bird, his trademark ways of “flipping the bird” on any script of his he felt had been ruined,

On the other hand, he was the creative consultant for the entire run of one of the best SF series ever produced, Babylon Five, and even appeared on it in one episode. He also played himself in an episode of The Simpsons.

Ellison was famously litigious when it came to what he considered to be his intellectual property. James Cameron gave avoided a potential legal fight and gave him screen credit for being the source of the ideas (in scripts for the Outer Limitsthat led to the creation of The Terminator movies. If you look up “Soldier” and “Demon With a Glass Hand” on the web, you can find that story,

I hadn’t seen anything new by Ellison for years, He had a dry spell as a writer following some of the events he chronicles in “The Fault in My Lines”, the introductory essay in this book. There was an earthquake which damaged his house and nearly killed him in 1994. Then there was the heart attack, the first intimations of which hit him in 1992, and kept knocking at his ventricles until he got the big one in 1996. Since he survived another 22 years after that, you know the operations and transplants worked out for him, just as the same operation saved my uncle for decades a few years earlier.

These experiences gave him the title for this book, which has the theme prompted by nervousness, because he wasn’t sure there would be any more; “nervousness of the ticking of the clock, of the unreliability of the earth beneath our feet and the dear beating heart within our chest. The theme is: do it while you can. Slippage rules. Gravity ain’t forgiving. The theme is: you never know when it’s the last of the last. The theme is: PAY ATTENTION.”

Of the 27 items in the book, most appeared in various places between 1986 and 1997.  There is something called an Interstitial story which appears in eight segments in between other items. There is a horror story called “Nackles” by Donald E, Westlake, which Ellison succeeded in transforming into what would have been a good episode of the the revived Twilight Zone TV show, except that the network chickened out. We have the original, the story of how it didn’t get filmed, and Ellison’s teleplay, including alternate scenes to satisfy the network folks.

The rest of the stories are a mix of science fiction and fantasy, the latter leaning in the direction of horror. Ellison’s material is often somewhat downbeat, but generally insightful. He is considered significant enough that his hardcover publisher splurged on a signature line called The Harlan Ellison Collection, of which this is one volume.

There is a webpage on the man and his works called Ellison Webderland, but it hasn’t been kept current for some time. Ellison produced some nine collections of material after this book. Most are retrospectives, including two volumes of his very early magazine work, titled Honorable Whoredom at a Penny a Word, a reference the word rate when he started out. Much of this material is only available in actual book form, which is perhaps not surprising. IN 1997, Ellison was still using manual typewriters for most of his work.

 

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Bookends: A space ship seeks justice in the empire May 9, 2019

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Bookends: A space ship seeks justice in the empire

By Dan Davidson

June 6, 2018

– 1055 words –

Ancillary Justice

by Ann Leckie

Orbit

416 pages

Ancillary Justice$19.42

Kindle edition

$12.99

 

“The body lay naked and facedown, a deathly gray, spatters of blood staining the snow around it.”

Breq doesn’t know exactly why she stops to check for signs of life, why she turns the body over, or why, when she recognizes the person, she decides to save her life.

She had not liked Seivarden Vendaai when she had known her as an officer in her earlier life, 1,000 years earlier, when Breq was not the mere fragment of her larger, infinitely more capable self than she now was as an individual.

But she does save her, and the pair eventually, after much trial and tribulation, become quite inseparable in a way neither of them could have foreseen. In a way they have something in common, since both are strangers to the world in which they now live.

Seivarden is a stranger because she has spent the better part of the last 1000 years in suspended animation and is a person out of her time, not to mention being an addict and an insufferable classist snob when first we meet her.

Breq, the individual, is an even stranger case. As an entity, she is many thousands of years old, and most of those years were spent as the AI (artificial intelligence) in control of the starship Justice of Toren, which was how she thought of herself. In that capacity she ran the ship, had access to vast stores of knowledge, and interfaced with the organic world through the medium of ancillary bodies, at least hundreds of them, which were neurally linked such that she could survey any scene or any encounter with another entity from multiple points of view.

She (all members of the Radchaai use the female pronoun) is the sole remaining ancillary, following the destruction of the ship and all her other bodies 19 years earlier. Adjusting to being so very singular has been a struggle. Knowing that she used to know and be capable of so much more weighs on her. As an ancillary to her primary, she was not entirely human, her body equipped with all manner of biomechanical and digital extra bits, including a very handy force shield, or armor, which she can extend past her body to protect herself.

She knows who killed her larger self and all the crew that were her responsibility. It was the Lord of the Radch, Anaander Mianaai, the equivalent of a galaxy spanning emperor, who did the deed. Well, it was and it wasn’t. The Lord ruled by means of a host of synchronized bodies of her own, scattered throughout the Radch Empire, using not quite the same technology as Breq had access to when she was Justice of Toren, but with much the same effect. The Lord has developed a fragmented personality, and some of her bodies and minds have been working against the more official parts, while seeking to hide that fact from herself.

Sounds confusing? Well, it is, and it was when Breq uncovered the self-deception 19 years earlier that the Lord quite literally blew her brains out.

We enter the story from Breq’s singular viewpoint at the end of those 19 years, when she has accumulated enough capital to fund her revenge on the Lord. In alternating chapters, she drops back to her last days as a super AI, when the Justice of Torenwas in orbit around the planet of Shis’urna, which was being formally brought into the Radchaai empire, the last planet to be so acquired and forced to join.

There are some other memories that go back even further, but these are the two main strands up to the end of chapter 16, when Justice of Toren was ordered to kill her human captain and the Lord tried to cover it all up by destroying the ship, apparently unaware that one ancillary, that which became Breq, was not destroyed.

Past that point, we race to a complex conclusion in which Breq and Seivarden are forced to chose which side of the Lord they will follow.  The set up for the sequel is obvious, but this feels like a good place to stop this part of the story.

Ancillary Justiceis the first novel in a trilogy, which includes the sequels Ancillary Swordand Ancillary Mercy; the second word in each case denoting a class of star ship. The books appeared between 2013 and 2015. Since it’s reported that Leckie took six years to finish the first volume, either the next two came faster or she was well ahead of her publisher by the time they were needed.

Some books beg you to figure out just how the author decided to put them together. In the case of this book, I imagine that Leckie wrote the whole thing in chronological order and later decided to structure it as a braided novel with different time lines, perhaps deciding in the process that a few other time frames were needed just to fill in the back stories for some of the characters.

The other interesting feature of this book is that the main character, Breq, comes from a race called the Radchaai, which has not organized its people in gender identities. It’s unclear to me whether there are actual genders, or whether these shift depending on procreative requirements, as was the case with the ambisexual beings in the late Ursula K. Leguin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. Alternatively, procreation may be accomplished by artificial means, or even cloning.

Not all beings in this story follow non-binary structures, and Breg is often confused when dealing with other races as to how she should address them.

The cover notes that the book won both the Hugo (fan) and Nebula (fellow writers) awards for its year, but fails to mention that it scored a trifecta by also winning the Arthur C. Clarke Award, making it the first novel to take all three. It wasn’t finished. Other awards included the British Science Fiction Award for Best Novel, the Locus Award for Best First Novel, the British Kitchies Golden Tentacle for Best Debut Novel and the Japanese Seiun Award for Best Translated Novel.

 

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Bookends: The many ways to look at revival December 31, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, Science Fiction, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: The many ways to look at revival

By Dan Davidson

May 23, 2018

– 959 words –

 

Revival

By Stephen KingRevival

480 pages

Pocket Books

$9.99

Kindle e-book

$7.98

 

Some of Stephen King’s novels take place in a matter of hours; some span years. Revivalcovers the best part of a life, beginning when our narrator, Jamie Morton, is just a small boy, on the day that he first meets the Reverend Charles Jacobs, whose shadow falls over him for the first time while he is playing with toy soldiers in the dirt

This is the beginning of the novel, and the first phase of two lives that will ebb and flow around each other for decades. Jamie refers to Jacobs as his Fifth Business, a reference to the novel of that name by Robertson Davies, a writer King has praised in his own work. I believe it was The Tommyknockerswhere he devoted what must have been five or six pages to what amounted to an enthusiastic review of one of Davies’ novels.

It’s a theatrical term, defined by Davies as “Those roles which, being neither those of Hero nor Heroine, Confidante nor Villain, but which were nonetheless essential to bring about the Recognition or the denouement, were called the Fifth Businessin drama and opera companies …”

It’s uncertain just how to classify Charles Daniel Jacobs. If his wife and son had not been killed in that horrible accident at the end of the first part of the novel would he have continued to be the deeply religious man, with a bit of an obsessive interest in electricity, that he seemed to be in those early chapters. Or, was there always something about him that would have led him down what became a very dark path.

Fairly early in the book, Jacob cures Jamie’s brother, Con, from the inexplicable loss of his voice that follows a skiing accident. It is only after that, that the minister suffers the loss his family and his faith, and delivers the Terrible Sermon that sends him on his way to another life.

Life goes on for Jamie as well. There’s a delightful first love story that takes him all the way through high school while, at the same time, he falls in love with rock and roll and takes the first steps towards the life of a travelling musician. That turns sour after his own accident introduces him to the life of a drug addict, and it is only after he has hit rock bottom playing for country band that he meets Jacobs again.

By this time, Jacobs has revived himself as a carny act, and has furthered his interest in the “secret electricity”, which he uses to cure Jamie of both his pain and his addiction. So far he still seems to be a good Samaritan, if a bit of a con man.

Thanks to him, Jamie scores a job with the owner of a recording studio and revives (notice how much use King has made of his title?) his own life as a successful producer and sometime session player.

Jacobs’ next revival is as a faith healer, using his secret method, along with some placebo carny tricks, to build up a tent ministry and social media following, through which he becomes wealthy. But something’s wrong. Jamie has experienced some minor side effects from his cure and, while most of the cures seem to work out well, a bit of research proves to him that this is not always the case. Some have been disasters.

This is where what has seemed to be a mundane but interesting novel about a life begins to go dark, leading to a terrifying conclusion which is the result of Jacobs’ experiments, the side effects of his cures, and the Lovecraftian horrors to which he almost manages to open the dimensional doors. He wanted to find out what was in store for people after they died.The answer, if it really is the answer, is not at all satisfactory.

Stephen King often works bits of his own life into his work. After his confessions in his book about writing, he has often included the theme of addiction. Since the hit and run incident that nearly left him crippled, a number of his characters have suffered injuries as a result of accidents.

That said, I think that Revivalis the first time that he’s made use of his love of music to this extent. He has, at various times over a two decade period, been a member of the Rock Bottom Remainders, a group of writers who also like to dabble in classic rock and roll. Their name is a bookstore pun. Its members have included Dave Barry, Amy TanCynthia HeimelSam BarryRidley PearsonScott TurowJoel SelvinJames McBrideMitch AlbomRoy Blount, Jr.Barbara KingsolverRobert FulghumMatt Groening, Tad Bartimus, Greg Iles. They’ve played a lot of charity gigs and have been joined on stage by such real musicians as Al Cooper, Roger McGuinn, Warren Zevon and Bruce Springsteen.

As far as Wikipedia knows, the group’s last performance was in 2015. Where Revivalgets kind of personal is when Jamie Morton tells us about the set lists that his various cover bands tend to follow. It contains a lot of the material that the Remainders use. Jamie himself is a fair to middlin’ rhythm guitarist, which has been King’s position in the band.

I did not like the ending of this book. Revival’speek into the afterlife is even more bleak and nasty than the one Philip Pullman gave us in the His Dark Materials trilogy, Despite that, I enjoyed the book as a whole and can recommend it.

 

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Bookends: a fantastical collection of material December 29, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, fantasy, Klondike Sun, Science Fiction, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: a fantastical collection of material

By Dan Davidson

April 11, 2018

Dreadful Young Ladies

– 615 words –

 

Dreadful Young Ladies and other stories

By Kelly Barnhill

Algonquin Books

304 pages

$34.95

 

Kelly Barnhill ended this collection of eight short stories and one novella (115 pages) with an acknowledgements section that had one of the most heartfelt appreciations of the act of reading that I have seen in a long time.  Here it is.

“It should be noted that I am, always and forever, in a state of awe and gratitude for the fact that there are readers in the world. There is, at its center, something immutably miraculous about the substance and process of reading stories. We read because we hunger to know, to empathize, to feel, to connect, to laugh, to fear, to wonder, and to become, with each page, more than ourselves. To become creatures with souls.

“We read because it allows us, through force of mind, to hold hands, touch lives, speak as another speaks, listen as another listens, and feel as another feels. We read because we wish to journey forth together. There is, despite everything, a place for empathy and compassion and rumination, and just knowing that fact, for me, is an occasion for joy.

“That we still, in this frenetic and bombastic and self-centered age, have legions of people who can and do return to the quietness of the page, opening their minds and hearts, again and again, to the wild world and stuff of life, pinned into scenes and characters, sharp images and pretty sentences – well. It sure feels like a miracle doesn’t it? I thank you, readers, and I salute you. With an open heart and a curious mind, I, too, return to the page. Let us hold hands and journey forth.”

Barnhill, who is a past winner of the World Fantasy Award (for The Unlicensed Magician, the long piece in this collection) and the Newbery Medal for The Girl Who Drank the Moon). is probably better known for her books for younger readers. On her website she posts she is “a former teacher, former bartender, former waitress, former activist, former park ranger, former secretary, former janitor and former church-guitar-player.”

A lot of the stories in this collection are about relationships. There’s the widow who marries a sasquatch; a series of letters linking a narrative about a failed marriage; the story of a girl who fell in love with poetry; a tale of four dreadful young ladies; an adventure in taxidermy; an elegy to a persecuted and marvellous young woman; a fractured fairy tale with transformations; a debate between two scientists, neither of them quite normal; finally, the story of the magical girl that almost no one can see.

These are an odd bunch of stories. I’m left with the impression that the writer is playing with forms of story telling and trying different things to see how they work out. I found the longer works the most satisfying and liked the novella best of all.

Various reviewers have compared her work to that of Neil Gaiman and, reaching quite a ways back, to the late Ray Bradbury. I think both references are apt, as both writers, in their times and in different ways, tinker with the stuff of fantasy and faerie and make it their own, as she does. She doesn’t make references to any particular source material, but it lurks under the surface of all these works.

Her website, https://kellybarnhill.wordpress.com, is full of interesting musings not unlike the bit that I quoted so extensively at the beginning of this essay. Browsing among her blog posts makes me want to read more of her books, so I probably will.

 

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Bookends: Tracking Reality back to the Source April 16, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, fantasy, Science Fiction, thriller, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Tracking Reality back to the Source

By Dan Davidson

December 13, 2017

– 718 words –

Savior's Game

By Sean Chercover

Thomas & Mercer

272 pages

$10.49

There are lots of disadvantages to coming in on the third volume of a trilogy. From the clues in this book, it appears that in The Trinity Game andThe Devil’s Game, Daniel Byrne, a former investigator for a secret Branch of the Vatican, in charge of authenticating miracles, has undergone a crisis of faith. After debunking 721 such events over a ten-year period, case number 722 turned out to be something different.

It involved Daniel’s uncle, an ecclesiastical con man named Tim Trinity who called himself a Reverend, and who suddenly began to manifest actual precognitive powers. Eventually these seem to be accounted for by a mysterious mental virus, which causes people to have visions and eventually become mad and catatonic. They call it the Plague.

This problem continues into book two, which introduces a couple of secret organizations. Daniel is recruited by the Foundation to work against the Council, which seems to have plans for world domination, but eventually decides to take matters into his own hands and eliminate the Council’s chief agent. Along the way, he began experiencing some of the symptoms of the Plague, beginning with what he believes to be auditory hallucinations.

Along with the doctor who had assisted him in the second book he drops out of sight, changes his name, and seeks to understand what might be happening to him. By the time we join the story in book three, he and his partner have had to separate to remain hidden, and Daniel has begun to have visions to go with the voices he has been hearing.

He learns, from his previous allies in the Foundation, that the Plague, which they have renamed AIT (Anomalous Information Transfer) is spreading, and that thousands have been infected, more each week.

Gaining some level of control over his visions, he finds himself able to visit what seems to be an alternate reality, one in which things seem to be more real than the reality he has always known. He meets the woman who goes with the voice he has been hearing and learns that this other place had been experiencing a population growth that matches the spread of AIT.

Visitors refer to the place as the Source. This used to be a friendly place, but lately it has come to be dominated by one individual, who has a vast amount of the “magical” energies (teleportation, other mental abilities, manifestation of objects and food, among other things) that every one seems to possess to some degree in this place.

This individual has used his abilities to create a massive tower, and seems to have enslaved most of the other visitors to the place, using their – I almost want to write “worship”, though that’s not quite the right term. They are in an addictive, meditative state.

This man has come to think of himself as a god-like being, and he intends to harness the power of AIT to extend his control from the Source into the real world, which he considers to be just a pale facsimile of the world he controls.

Daniel has to come up with ways to survive in both worlds, stop the AIT plague which threatens to overtake most of humanity, and stop a plot to plunge the world into a devastating conflict which will further the plans of the being who calls himself Noah.

From what I’ve written you’ll get the impression that this is an oddly shaped book, one which partakes of some features of the action thriller genre, while other parts seem more akin with something out of Dr. Strange. To some degree there’s a touch of the Matrix here, or that Christopher Nolan film, Inception.

From the Amazon.ca descriptions of the first two books (which I admit to mining for this review), I would venture that they have far less of the mumbo-jumbo/alternate reality flavour than does this final volume. If this whole story line intrigues you, might want to pick up used or Kindle editions of the first two books (available for around $2 each). I got enough out of book three to be content without doing that.

 

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Bookends: Adventures in Alternate Realities March 17, 2018

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Bookends: Adventures in Alternate Realities

By Dan Davidson

October 25, 2017

– 786 words –

 

The Bloodline Feud: A Merchant Princes Omnibus

Bloodline Feud

 

By Charles Stross

Tor Books

Kindle edition

$10.99

576 pages in book form

 

Miriam Beckstein was an up and coming tech journalist with an eye for a story on the day she and her research assistant stumbled on something they shouldn’t have and both got fired. It was while she was sorting out what to do with her life that her adopted mother gave her a box of family keepsakes and totally changed her life in another way.

n the box was a locket with a strange engraved pattern on it, and when Miriam stared at it she suddenly found herself and her home office chair in the middle of a forest in a very different place.

The combination of the pattern and her genetic heritage had unlocked her ability to travel to another world, physically like ours, but with a very different history and social structure, where it turned out that she was a related to an extended family, some of whom were not happy to see her.

In addition to all this, she has to figure out how to survive when it becomes clear that someone is trying to kill her.

Miriam is actually Countess Helge Thorold-Hjorth, missing since the disappearance of her mother, decades earlier. That she is not dead inconveniences a number of the members of her clan family, who are involved in what amounts to an interdimensional smuggling ring. Family members with the talent for world walking are able to flit back and forth between our world and the technologically and socially backward earth (think Medieval level) that is their home, and have enriched themselves in bot wealth and power by so doing.

Miriam has to learn a whole new social order and a new language, master the mechanics of her new position in life and try to survive attempts by two different groups to end her life. It is while accomplishing the latter task that she learns something no one else seems to know, that there is another group of travellers who originate on a third alternative earth, one that is sort of a 19th century version of North America called New Britain.

The six families of the Clan are the power behind the throne in Gruinmarkt, the world that Miriam was conceived in, but there is a seventh family, lost to the others sometime in the past, that is waging a clandestine war of revenge. They live in the third earth.

Miriam’s adventures take place in all three dimensions, and involve, unusually for a science fiction novel, a lot of discussion about how to run businesses and economies. I know how that sounds, but Stross makes it interesting. Further, his work of fictional economics is admired by no less than renowned economist Paul Krugman. I watched the two of them in discussion at a World Con in Montreal a few years back, and their mutual admiration was obvious.

This volume is a omnibus edition of The Family Trade (2004) and

The Hidden Family (2005). It’s been revised slightly with once necessary recaps and reviews removed and some material added. The new edition is seamless and I really couldn’t tell where the first book ended and the second began.

The “stranger in a strange land” story is one of the effective ways of easing a reader from the world we know into stranger places. This story begins as a kind of “lost princess” tale, and we identify with Miriam as she struggles to both adjust and get the upper hand in her new circumstances.

She is very much a 21st century woman, and in Gruinmarkt, which has a sort of Germanic/Dutch feel to it, the status of women is very low, their lives controlled by their fathers and husbands, or, in Miriam’s case, her uncle. The clan hierarchy have absolute power over the areas they control. They live in comparative luxury whole ordinary folks live like serfs in the Middle Ages. The gap between the 1% and the 99% is that incredible.

Miriam sets herself the task of transforming the societies of both alternate realities by importing old technology from the world she grew up in, and changing the business model of Gruinmarkt, which has devolved to profiting from interdimensional drug smuggling, to one based on trade in ideas.

It’s an uphill battle and one that’s just beginning as this book comes to an end.

In his author’s note at the end, Stross credits a couple of SF giants of the past with influencing some of his choices in this series. I’m going to deal with one of them next week.

 

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Bookends: Some Adventures on the Road to Glory March 1, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Robert Heinlein, Science Fiction, Uncategorized.
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Bookends: Some Adventures on the Road to GloryGlory Road 1

By Dan Davidson

September 20, 2017

– 945 words

 

Glory Road

Written by: Robert A. Heinlein

Narrated by: Bronson Pinchot

Length: 9 hrs and 34 mins

Blackstone Audio, Inc.

$23.07

320 pages in paperback or hard cover

available in 43 different formats, including e-books

 

As the 1950s rolled over into the 60s, Robert Heinlein produced three quite different novels, each of which shared some common themes. Starship Troopers seemed to glorify the military life. Stranger in a Strange Land suggested that making love was better than making war, and became a kind of hippie bible for some of my friends. Then there was Glory Road, which was the SF grandmaster’s earliest approach to a fantasy novel. There were fantasy elements, and even horror, in some of his earlier short stories, but he tended to stick to straight science fiction until his last half dozen books.

In common with Troopers, it has a soldier as its protagonist, but he has none of the gung-ho enthusiasm of that novel. E.C. “Scar” Gordon served his time in Viet Nam for the express purpose of being able to use the GI Bill to finance his education later on, only to discover, when he was discharged, that this war had never been officially declared so that option didn’t apply. It did, later on, but by then Gordon had left the planet.

It is while he is living in France, using up some of his accumulated leave before going home to the USA, that he meets the woman he would come to call Star, and finds himself recruited for a mission that is literally out of this world. He is hired to be her champion. The first 56 pages of the book lead up to the moment that he and Star, along with a strange little fellow name Rufo, leave the Earth.

The next 150 pages are the adventurous portion of the novel, involving a number of battles, Oscar’s difficulties in dealing with otherworldly customs and morays, some monsters and a clutch of dragons. Some of this is quite funny. Some of it seemed quite risqué when I first read it back in 1966, but seems extremely tame now. RAH would get to be much more explicit 20 years or so later.

Apparently, the original publishers would have liked to have had the book end at the point where the quest (for it was that sort of story) came to an end, but Heinlein had other ideas: thoughts about relationships; an examination of duty and human nature, an expansion of Arthur Clarke’s dictum that any sufficiently advanced technology might as well be called magic; and a running commentary about all the things that he really didn’t like about the society he had grown up in.

So the last 80 pages or so mark, for me, anyway, the beginning of the “Heinlein as philosopher” part of his career, where there were a lot of conversations about this and that, and there was usually some “wise old man” character on hand to puncture everyone else’s illusions. Much to my surprise, this turns out to be Rufo in this book.

Glory Road foreshadows those later books, and introduces the notion of the multi-verse which is key in his last novels. Indeed, the character of Star, who turns out to be someone even more impressive than our narrator, Scar, thought she was, would go on to make a cameo appearance in RAH’s next to last novel, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls.

The last chapter bookends the novel, taking Oscar back to Earth, where he tries very hard to fit in, finds, ultimately, that he cannot, and embarks on some other version of the Glory Road, returning to his happiest identity as a knight-errant.

One of the reasons why this last section of the book matters is that it is made clear just exactly how long and to what degree, the young E.C. Gordon was groomed, almost from birth, to become the man who would answer the strange newspaper and magazine ad that sent him on his way. That it would describe him perfectly turns out to be no accident.

“Are you a coward? This is not for you. We badly need a brave man. He must be 23 to 25 years old, in perfect health, at least six feet tall, weigh about 190 pounds, fluent English with some French, proficient with all weapons, some knowledge of engineering and mathematics essential, willing to travel, no family or emotional ties, indomitably courageous and handsome of face and figure. Permanent employment, very high pay, glorious adventure, great danger. You must apply in person, 17 rue Dante, Nice, 2me étage, apt. D.”

Scar, or “Os-car”, as Star calls him, cannot be anything but the man described in that paragraph, and he is no longer suited for the quiet life once the adventure is over.

This book is wonderfully narrated by an actor named Bronson Pinchot, who captures perfectly the voices of our narrator, Oscar, and the two other central characters, while still having vocal space for the others who are less important. All the way through the book Rufo refers to Star as H-h-her and Sh-sh-she, and I wondered why until I dug out my 1966 paperback edition and discovered that her pronouns were almost always in italics when he said them.

Finally, the book is full of witty little aphorisms, and this one probably says a lot about the ideas behind the story: “The person who says smugly that good manners are the same everywhere and people are just people hasn’t been farther out of Podunk than the next whistle stop.”
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Bookends: Beating back against the Apocalypse March 1, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, fantasy, Science Fiction, Uncategorized, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Beating back against the Apocalypse

By Dan Davidson

Fuller MemorandumSeptember 11, 2017

– 749 words –

 

The Fuller Memorandum

By Charles Stross

Ace

320 pages

Kindle edition: $8.99

 

 

This is how Bob Howard warns us not to read this book.

“This is the story of how I lost my atheism, and why I wish I could regain it. This is the story of the people who lost their lives in an alien desert bathed by the hideous radiance of a dead sun, and the love that was lost and the terror that wakes me up in a cold sweat about once a week, clawing at the sheets with cramping fingers and drool on my chin. It’s why Mo and I aren’t living together right now, why my right arm doesn’t work properly, and why I’m toiling late into the night, trying to bury the smoking wreckage of my life beneath a heap of work.”

Bob, an agent name picked for its resemblance to the writer Robert E, Howard, creator of Conan, and member of the Lovecraft circle of American fantasy writers, is an agent in an arcane branch of the British Secret Service which is known as The Laundry. It deals in sorcery and magic or, as Bob prefers to term it, a branch of applied mathematics.

You don’t apply to join the Laundry; you get drafted (or killed) after you’ve accidentally almost done something very dangerous with numbers, generally (these days) involving the use of a computer, although such things have been done in the past without them.

Stross’s Laundry novels are what happens when eldritch fantasy of the Cthulhu type gets dumped into a literary blender with various sorts of spy/thriller fiction. Each one is a little different than the one before it, with the ghosts of assorted spy master authors from Green to Fleming and others lurking between the lines. In addition there’s always a healthy dose of bureaucratic spoofing of the “Yes Minister” or Farley Mowat (the first chapters of Never Cry Wolf) variety.

As a 21st century sort of magician, Bob carries a loaded PDA around with him instead of a grimoire, with incantations pre-inscribed and ready to cast at the push of a button. About midway through he has to replace it and trades up for a tremendously amusing spoof of a certain Apple product. At the office, he’s sort of the local IT expert, but he’s also a field agent, as is his wife, Mo.

While Bob is more of a traditional magic user, Mo is bonded to a particularly powerful demon that appears in our reality as a bone white violin. When she plays it, with bleeding fingers, spells are cast and, generally, nasty people die.

This book is partly about what happens when Mo’s work follows her home. She’s been on an assignment. Imagine something like Israel taking out an Iranian nuclear facility, only make it an attempt to breach the protective walls that are keeping some proto-nasty beings from crossing over into our dimension. They used to rule here, and they’d like to come back. Mo put an end to that, but the human agency working with them decides to take its revenge back in London.

It doesn’t work, but the implications are bad. To get to Bob and Mo and pass the wards around their home implies inside knowledge, which means the Laundry has been infiltrated – again. On top of this, Angleton, Bob’s top boss and the head of the agency, vanishes, after sending Bob off on a routine sounding investigation that turns out to be anything but.

As a result, an apparently innocent human being is killed in an eldritch burst of power. Bob is held responsible for this and placed on kind of administrative leave, pending a review of his actions – kind of like a police officer being investigated for having discharged a firearm.

This leads Bob to the question of the existence of a document called the Fuller Memorandum, which outlines how a extremely powerful entity, with the lovely name of The Eater of Souls, was bound into symbiosis with a human agent, and how, if the bad guys in this story manage to gain control of this being, they could invite all the elder gods to come and sample the buffet on planet earth.

Bob’s job – on leave pending an Audit or not – is to figure out just what the ungodly have in mind and prevent it from happening. It is a tale with many twists and turns, no small amount of sarcastic humour, and moments of both sheer terror and tenderness. I highly recommend the series.

 

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Bookends: The Saga of Mr. Mercedes Comes to a Suitable End February 16, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, mystery, Science Fiction, thriller, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: The Saga of Mr. Mercedes Comes to a Suitable End

By Dan DavidsonEnd of wATCH

July 10, 2017

– 888 words.

 

End of Watch

By Stephen King

Scribner

$14.16 (paperback)

$10.99 (Kindle)

448 pages

 

In at least one previous book, Rage, first published under his nom de plume, Richard Bachman, Stephen King described a high school shooting spree. He wrote it in the early 1970s and it was published in 1977, before such things became nearly annual horror shows. Not surprisingly, there were people, who want to blame this sort of behaviour on anything other than the vast American home arsenals just waiting to be misused, who blamed the book for inspiring such atrocities. In response, King allowed the novel to go out of print.

I have to hope that the Bill Hodges trilogy won’t meet the same fate. End of Watch brings the Hodges saga to a satisfying conclusion, but adds a touch of the paranormal that was not present in Mr. Mercedes or Finders Keepers, both of which were pretty much mundane mysteries with a touch of the thriller genre mixed in.

It’s the set-up sequence in each novel that might give the books a bad reputation. In each of the books, people are dealing the ramifications of Brady Hartsfield’s decision to steal a lonely woman’s Mercedes automobile and drive it into the midst of a large group of victims waiting in line for a chance at a job fair.

We have recently had a spate of these activities in England, France and other European countries, but I don’t think you can blame them on King. He didn’t invent the idea. There were such cases in he USA, and at least one in Canada, before he wrote the first book.

The killings in the book were inspired by an actual event which had taken place at a McDonald’s restaurant. King ramped up the body count and spent quite a bit of the book guiding us through the mad mind of the killer, who followed up his original evil deed by taunting the poor woman whose car he had used until she killed herself.

His big mistake was going on to taunt former homicide detective Hodges, who had been unable to solve the case before he retired. Energized by the attack conducted by telephone and e-mail trickery, Hodges, along with some young associates, does solve the case, and Hartsfield is institutionalized with brain damage as a result.

The book won the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award in 2015.

Finders Keepers ,which is the name of Hodges’ private eye practice, goes off in an entirely different direction, but still deals with people whose lives were impacted (sorry, couldn’t resist) by the original crime, which is recapped from a different point of view in the opening chapter.

End of Watch returns to the villain of the first book, whose brain has been altered by the events of his capture, and by some very unethical experiments that one of the doctors tending him has been conducting. Hartsfield slowly discovers he has the ability to project his consciousness into the mind of a person who has been slightly hypnotized by a certain frequency of flashing lights. Eventually he is able to control such persons – first a slow witted hospital orderly, and eventually the doctor – and walk around using them as his meat puppets.

Add to this the discovery that a certain brand of defective hand-held video games can emit this frequency, lure victims to log on to a special website, and thus extend his reach beyond his sick room, and Hartsfield is ready to take his revenge on the people who stopped him when he attempted to be a suicide at a boy band rock concert several years earlier. He arranges to buy up a stock of the units and us them to target people who are connected to Hodges and his young friends, people who were his immediate targets at that concert. There is a sudden spate of suicides and it takes a while for Hodges to make the connection.

Hodge is distracted by the fact that he has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. While he does not want to die, having found fulfillment in his new career, he is more worried about his autistic partner, Holly, who has blossomed so much while working with him.

He has always suspected that there was more to Hartsfield than the seeming vegetable in that hospital bed, but getting anyone else to think seriously about his suspicions is an uphill battle. Finally his old partner does offer some encouragement, but even that is limited. By this time Hartsfield has left his original body, which dies, and is fully in the mind and body of the neurosurgeon whose unethical use of drugs has boosted his powers of telepathy and telekinesis.

Hartsfield’s attempts to draws Hodges into his plot so he can mind control him as he has done his other victims backfire in the same way as in the first book, but with far more terminal results.

The title has a number of possible meanings, and most of the ones I can think of fit the story well. So, I do hope the books don’t do out of print, and this is a trilogy that make a good set of movies.

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Bookends: The Great Lorenzo’s Role of a Lifetime February 16, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Science Fiction, Uncategorized, Whitehorse Star.
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Double Star audiobookBookends: The Great Lorenzo’s Role of a Lifetime

By Dan Davidson

June 28, 2017

– 821 words –

 

Double Star

Written by Robert A. Heinlein

Narrated by Tom Weiner

Unabridged Audiobook

5 hrs and 31 mins

Blackstone Audio Inc.

$20.97

 

Print version: 240 pages

Gollancz

$15.99

 

Imagine a world and time when a ham actor of dubious morals could become the leader of an interplanetary government, elected supreme minister to the Emperor of this system.

Oh well, given the current state of affairs south of our border, maybe it’s not such a fantastic idea any more, but it was in the mid 1950s, when Double Star was being serialized as a novel in Astounding Science Fiction, and later published between hard covers and finally in paperback, where small print squeezed 240 pages into the 128 pages that I read back in 1969 and still have on my shelves.

Science fiction fandom was impressed, and voted the book the Hugo Award as best Novel of the year for 1956. It remains a classic and its most recent paperback incarnation was as part of Gollancz’s “SF Masterworks” series.

When we meet Larry Smith (aka the Great Lorenzo) he is on his uppers on Earth, with hardly the price of a cup of coffee to his name. He is engaged by a spacer named Dak Broadbent to serve as a body double for an important man who is indisposed, for mysterious reasons.

As it turns out, the mysterious reason is that John Joseph Bonforte, the former Supreme Minister and leader of the opposition in the Imperial government, has been kidnapped. There is an important ceremony – a nest adoption – on Mars, that Bonforte absolutely has to attend, even if they can’t locate and free him before then.

By the time he knows all of this, Smith is on his way to Mars, having been smuggled off planet, and it’s too late to back out. It’s by appealing to his vanity as an actor that Bonforte’s aides get him to continue, but a funny thing happens.

The more he absorbs his subject, the more he watches videos of him and listens to his speeches, the more he reads about him and tries to copy him, the more he becomes Bonforte.

The Martian ceremony is a success, and not long after that they manage to find the missing man, but the Bonforte they find has been horribly abused and shot full of mind altering drugs. Larry is persuaded to carry on until the great man can recover his wits and health. He continues out of a sense of obligation (a new thing for him) and applies himself to the task by continually asking himself “what would Bonforte do?”

Weiner’s reading of the text was important to my understanding of what was happening to Lorenzo/Larry. When I first heard this first person narrator I didn’t like his voice. It wasn’t my memory of the book which, granted, was 48 years old. Interestingly, the voice changed as Larry did.

Larry learns how to be Bonforte so well that he starts improving on the speeches he’s being handed by his scriptwriters, applying his actor’s sensibility to his increasing knowledge of his subject and model. He does so well in this department that one of his broadcast speeches causes the incumbent government to call for an election and resign, forcing Bonforte’s party to form an interim caretaker government.

As Bonforte has still not recovered – has had a stroke, in fact – Larry is forced to continue with masquerade and does so by being true to his “what would Bonforte do?” dictum.

This leads to some friction within the group and the departure of one member. That man, Bill, becomes a dangerous loose cannon who could expose the entire substitution plot, which had been his idea in the first place. He had expected Larry to continue to be a ventriloquist’s dummy, and when it doesn’t work out that way, when Larry starts questioning his interpretations of the Bonforte legacy, he decides to scuttle the operation. The tension is delicious.

While there’s a thriller aspect to this book, and there is also a political drama, the real story is about a man learning to improve himself more than he ever thought he could, or, as Theodore Sturgeon, Heinlein’s SF contemporary liked to phrase it, this is a story about “a man who learns better.”

The book has a coda, written a quarter century later by the man who lived most of his existence wearing another man’s life, and becoming more like that man with every year. He is unsparing in his assessment of the Great Lorenzo, though he does recognize that without the talents of “that seedy actor” he could never have managed to live up to the task he set himself.

Larry Smith was improved by his elevation to high office and his understanding of what behavior was required to be worthy of it. We could only wish that this would be true of a certain American president.

 

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