Guest Blogger and WWEnd Member, Charles Dee Mitchell, has contributed a great many book reviews to WWEnd including his blog series Philip K. Dickathon and The Horror! The Horror! He can also be found on his own blog www.potatoweather.blogspot.com. This is Dee’s fifth GMRC review to feature in our blog.
The universe is at war. Leiber’s short novel is set, on one level, in the later part of the 20th century, but it seems that war has been going of forever. Here is how Greta Forzane, our narrator, states things.
“This war is the Change War, a war of time travelers – in fact, our private name for being in the war is being on the Big Time. Our soldiers fight by going back to change the past, or even ahead to change the future, in ways to help our side win the final victory a billion years or more from now. A long, killing business, believe me.”
Greta is an entertainer at The Place, a self-enclosed environment outside space and time. Solders fresh from battle follow the change winds and arrive for medical assistance and some R&R. Picture a USO with freer alcohol and relaxed sexual attitudes. Advanced technology provides state-of-the art medical treatment and sex partners to suit every fancy. If a visiting soldier does not take to one of the on-staff entertainers, or if his alien anatomy causes complications, he can always choose from the hundreds of ghost girls kept folded into envelopes in the storage area. (It would slow things down at this point to attempt an explanation of ghost girls.)
Life at The Place doesn’t seem all that bad, although it could get a bit boring since it goes on more or less forever. But those who run the place see old friends returning from battle on a regular basis, and they stay occupied with their own intrigues and affairs. They have only to wait for their maintainer, the device that keeps The Place intact outside of space and time, to start flashing its blue lights. That’s the sign that the change door is about to open and new arrivals or possibly old friends will come crashing through.
Octavia E. Butler (1947–2006) was a bestselling and award-winning author, considered one of the best science fiction writers of her generation. Among her many awards she recieved the 1985 Hugo Award for Best Novelette for "Bloodchild" and the 1999 Nebula Award for Parable of the Talents.
Open Road Integrated Media has created the above video to celebrate their newly launched ebook series of the works of Octavia E. Butler. (More scenes from the documentary are forthcoming.) The 12 volume series covers the bulk of Butler’s books including her Xenogenesis and Patternist series which you can read singly or in their omnibus editions Lilith’s Brood and Seed to Harvest respectively.
From the Open Road site: "Butler was the first African-American woman to come to prominence as a science fiction writer. Published early in her career in small print runs and without much attention, she evolved into a major force in both science fiction and mainstream literature as audiences came to appreciate how her work dealt boldly with such topics as race, religion, gender and social structure."
This is the first time her works have been made available in ebook format and each includes an illustrated biography featuring never before seen photos.
Chris Uhl (chuhl) can’t remember a time when he wasn’t a science fiction fan. He has a B.A. in Classics from Vassar College and an M.A. in English Literature from the University of Virginia. He has worked as a teacher, a legal assistant, a college development officer, a salesman, and a film extra. Chris may be the only WWEnd reviewer who has no blog. This is his first GMRC review to feature in the WWEnd blog.
When I saw the synopsis of L. Sprague de Camp‘s Divide and Rule, I knew I had to read it. It takes place in the 23rd century in Poughkeepsie, NY. Poughkeepsie happens to be my hometown, and during my Junior Year Abroad in England, they actually called me “the Duke of Poughkeepsie.” So this is my story.
Assuming, of course, that I survive to the 23rd century, when the Hudson Valley, like the rest of the planet, will be conquered by “hoppers,” aliens who look like oversized kangaroos. The hoppers will ban high tech and reduce America to a state of medieval feudalism. As if that weren’t bad enough, Poughkeepsie will be at war with Danbury, CT over high tolls. So it looks like I’ll have my work cut out for me.
The point of the story is the juxtaposition of the medieval and the modern. When these New Yorkers talk about the new model Ford, they’re not talking about cars, they’re talking about suits of armor. And they use 20th-century American slang to describe their chivalric adventures.
The problem for me at first was that de Camp doesn’t delve too deeply into the implications of this society beyond the bare description. It’s an interesting setup – let’s explore it! It’s fun to bandy around names like Baron Peekskill and hear about knights fighting at the Battle of Mt. Kisco, but once the novelty of medieval New York wears off – and I would think that the novelty would carry me along further than most readers – then what? The juxtaposition between the medieval and the modern loses its impact when the “modern” now seems a bit quaint to the contemporary reader.
The story starts to fall between two stools – not quite satisfying as science fiction or as historical novel – and like a knight it full armor, it has trouble getting up again.
But it does rise up, when our hero finds himself forced to kill a hopper to defend himself and a damsel in distress. In a nicely-observed description of the moment immediately afterwards, DeCamp writes:
“Sir Howard leaned on his sword, waiting for the roaring in his ears to cease. He knew that he had come as near to fainting as he ever had in his life. A few feet away lay the hopper’s head, the beady eyes staring blankly. The rest of the hopper lay at his feet, its limbs jerking slightly, pushing the sand up into little piles with its hands and feet. Blue-green blood spread out in a widening pool. A few pine needles gyrated slowly on its surface.”
Divide and Rule is dedicated “To Bob Heinlein,” and I imagine that Heinlein must have been pleased with the offering. It’s his kind of story, with scrappy, pragmatic characters getting their political education at the hands of a didactic, Wise Old Man. But the resistance leader in this story is a gentler, more patient man than the cantankerous gurus of Heinlein.
And Sir Howard is a bit like the protagonist in a Heinlein juvenile. He’s a mature adult, but intellectually and politically he’s been kept in a state of arrested adolescence by his alien overlords. Once his consciousness is raised, though, he’s quick to make up for lost time, and so is de Camp.
Rhonda Knight is a frequent contributor to WWEnd through her many reviews and her excellent blog series Automata 101 and Outside the Norm. This is Rhonda’s seventh featured review for the Grand Master Reading Challenge. She won the GMRC Review of the Month for March for her review of The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin.
Poul Anderson‘s Hrolf Kraki’s Saga is a retelling of the Icelandic saga by the same name. Scholars believe the Icelandic saga was composed between the mid-eleventh and the mid-thirteenth centuries. Most of the Icelandic sagas written during this time record the history of the settlement of Iceland (beginning in the late 800s) or the rise of the first families of Iceland. Famous examples of such are Erik the Red’s Saga and Njal’s Saga. Hrolf’s is different from these family sagas, as they are usually called. It is a legendary saga, set in a long ago and far away Denmark. Scholars date the events occurring in Hrolf’s Saga to the late fifth and early sixth centuries. Interestingly, Hrolf’s ancestors, who figure prominently in the saga, are probably the same historical figures who appear in the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf. The Scylding clan found in Beowulf is called the Sköldings in Hrolf’s: the Hrolf figure is Hrothulf in Beowulf; his grandfather is Halfdan/Healfdane; his father is Helgi/Halga; and his uncle is Hroar/Hrothgar.
Anderson was, of course, aware of Hrolf’s origins and connections. With these in mind, he created a tale that stays very close to its origins, yet expands to encompass the saga’s connections to other legends and stories. Anderson incorporates bits from other sources, such as Saxo Grammaticus’s Gesta Danorum and Snorri Sturlusson’s Poetic Edda to fill in the saga’s gaps In constructing his tale, Anderson thinks about the multiple paths that this legend might have taken as an oral tale. Clearly, one of those paths led from Denmark through many countries and centuries until it reached medieval Iceland where it was written down, but there are multiple paths of transmission for any oral tale. In his intro, he writes:
Scott Lazerus is a Professor of Economics at Western State College in Gunnison, Colorado, and has been a science fiction fan since the 1970s. Recently, he began branching out into fantasy, and was surprised by the diversity of the genre. It’s not all wizards, elves, and dragons! Scott’s new blog series, Forays into Fantasy, is an SF fan’s exploration of the various threads of fantastic literature that have led to the wide variety of fantasy found today. FiF will examine some of the most interesting landmark books of the past, along with a few of today’s most acclaimed fantasies, building up an understanding of the connections between fantasy’s origins, its touchstones, and its many strands of influence.
The work of Grand Master Jack Vance can be segmented into science fiction and fantasy (actually, he wrote some mysteries, too), but they all straddle the borderline between the two genres. Both his fantasy, beginning with The Dying Earth (1950), and his science fiction, beginning with Big Planet (1952), can be seen as the earliest of the modern “planetary romances” – stories set on alien worlds, with plots involving exploration of the sociological and anthropological aspects of these worlds. An important precursor is Clark Ashton Smith, whose tales were often set in far future settings where “technology is indistinguishable from magic,” to borrow Arthur C. Clarke‘s maxim. Leigh Brackett‘s stories of Mars and Venus, in turn influenced by Edgar Rice Burroughs, are also important early examples. These stories are not hard science fiction – the nature of the technology is not a focus of the stories, and there are no technological problems to understand or solve. But they are not pure fantasy either, since they are set on alien worlds or in the far future of Earth, and may include the trappings of SF such as spaceships and aliens.
New WWEnd member, Ellie Bogomazova (alchymyst), is a bookseller, geek, gamer and reader of all things sci-fi and fantasy. She works at Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, DC, and reviews books on her brand new blog Spacetalkers From Outer Shelf. Speaking of new, Ellie has just started on the GMRC and this is her first review.
I think it’s a little strange to start reading Frederik Pohl with his latest book, All the Lives He Led. After all, the man has been writing award-winning sci-fi since way before I was born. And after reading this book, I realize this is also not perhaps the best introduction to Pohl’s work, because unless you know about Frederik Pohl’s track record and are determined to read more of him, this book alone would not inspire you to do so.
The main character is Brad Sheridan – born into a well-to-do family, his fortunes change with the eruption of a super-volcano in Yellowstone that covers half of United States with ash. Brad’s family loses their fortune and moves to a refugee camp on Staten Island. Brad grows up committing petty crimes and getting mixed up in shady deals. He then signs up as an Indentured person and moves first to Egypt, then to Pompeii, to work at what is now a tourist theme park, complete with Roman currency, people selling Roman wine and food, and the city rebuilt via virtual reality.
At its core, the story is a thriller set in a dystopia – terrorism is common world-wide, with attacks happening virtually every day; people start dying of a mysterious disease nicknamed Pompeii Flu; Brad’s girlfriend, a mysterious and beautiful woman named Gerda, disappears without a trace; his coworker is found dead. And yet despite all these things happening, the story just seemed rather boring. Perhaps it is because Pohl’s writing seems ill-suited to the thriller genre and does not convey a sense of suspense and mystery. Perhaps it is the characters. Brad is extremely difficult to sympathize with. He is not likeable or smart – he is a pretty crude (for lack of a better word) guy, especially in the way he talks about women. He is also, despite having grown up in a rough environment, somewhat lacking in street smarts – he talks about things he probably shouldn’t talk about, fails to observe the fairly obvious. His pining for Gerda does not elicit any sympathy either and actually starts grating on reader’s nerves after a while. The problem also is that Brad is one of those main characters who has things happening to him rather than making things happen. This, unfortunately, makes for a very shallow story – there is a multitude of events and characters, but the only way we know what is happening is to read about Brad’s reactions to all these events.
This is obviously a work of a writer with many novels under his belt, because even despite the unsympathetic character and at times slow action, you keep reading, because the narrative is just so smooth. It is a good read, but it does not read like Pohl’s best work.
This one gets 2 denarii out of 5 from me. Never fear, I will read Pohl’s other stuff (a copy of Gateway is on my nightstand).
Jeremy Frantz (jfrantz) reviews SF/F books on his blog The Hugo Endurance Project where he has given himself just 64 weeks to read every Hugo Award winner. This is his sixth GMRC review to feature in the blog.
Sir Richard Francis Burton died in 1890. He was resurrected along with every other human being that ever lived, hairless and naked in a vast river valley on an unknown planet in an unknown time. Burton eventually bands with an unlikely group which includes a prehistoric Neanderthal, an adolescent girl, an alien from Tau Ceti and a number of others from varying places and times. Armed each with a towel and “grail” (I pictured a metal trash can that provides food and supplies when placed under a mushroom shaped “grailstone”), the group sets out to find out what exactly is going on.
The best way I can describe this first installment in Philip José Farmer’s Riverworld Saga is to say that it is ripe. With people from all times and places resurrected in one place, an epic river adventure, mass promiscuity and some gratuitous violence, what could possibly be off limits? Within just four short chapters of beginning this book, the juice of possibility was dripping down my arm like an over-ripe peach.
Leaning heavily on all that is possible, the story eventually develops a good head of steam which culminates in a river battle with a group of slaveholders led by none other than Herman Göring. To that point, there had been something Zelazny-esque about the journey that despite little more than a vague conception of the goal or possible outcome, nonetheless moves forward determinedly and is punctuated by alternating periods of despairing self-examination and then of ultra-violence.
Like Zelazny’s Hugo winners, the more that is uncovered along the way, the more questions readers are left with, which creates a kind of slow building and eventually snowballing tension that could have no other outlet than a violence that would have you convinced that real people fought and died. The river battle with Göring’s minions is sweaty, bloody, disturbing and represented the high-point in the book for me.
The June GMRC Review Poll is now closed and the winner is Emil Jung (Emil) for his excellent review of Deathbird Stories by Harlan Ellison. Emil is our first two-time winner in the poll and has written many fine reviews for WWEnd over the years. Congratulations and well done.
Emil will receive a GMRC T-shirt, a GMRC button and a set of commemorative WWEnd Hugo Award bookmarks as well as his choice of another book from the WWEnd bookshelf. All runners up will be getting a button and a set of bookmarks in the mail. Thanks to all our reviewers!
With 6 months under our belt, the Grand Master Reading Challenge is still forging ahead with no signs of letting up. We’re sitting pretty with 145 participants, up 17 from last month, and went from 353 books read to 419 with an additional 23 reviews taking us to a nice round 150 total. That 150 readers goal seems quite doable now and with your help I’m sure we’ll get there. Tell your friends that it’s not too late to start the challenge – it’s only 12 books in 6 months you know. And if your friends don’t read, well, they’re no friends of mine.
Long time WWEnd member and Uber User, Emil Jung, is an obsessive SF/F reader and as such he’s become a huge supporter of WWEnd. (We often refer to him as our “South African Bureau.”) Besides hanging out here, Emil writes poetry on his blog emiljung.posterous.com. This is the fifth of Emil’s GMRC reviews to feature in our blog.
In the late 1960s Brian W. Aldiss became known as part of the New Wave in British science fiction, along with J. G. Ballard, whose The Drowned World shares some common themes with Hothouse. He remains a major voice in SF, and his history of the genre, Billion Year Spree, is still referred to by literary critics and fans alike. A fascinating observation is that almost all of his novels are narratives of exploration in one way or another, with the possibility of personal enlightenment open to the protagonists. Hothouse is no different.
What is today known as a full-length novel was first published in 1962 as various short stories. It was only in 1976 that the novel was published in its entirety. It is often referred to in blurbs on the various editions as “The Hugo Award winning novel,” but a close scrutiny of the Hugo Award winning novels reveals no such entry. That’s because the five stories that make up the novel, as a collection, won the 1962 Hugo Award for best short fiction, published in the following sequence in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, from February to December 1961:
Guest Blogger, Allie McCarn, reviews science fiction and fantasy books on her blog Tethyan Books. She has contributed many great book reviews to WWEnd and has generously volunteered to write some periodic reviews for our blog.
“One minute, down and out actor Lorenzo Smythe was – as usual – in a bar, drinking away his troubles as he watched his career go down the tubes. Then a space pilot bought him a drink, and the next thing Smythe knew, he was shanghaied to Mars.
Suddenly he found himself agreeing to the most difficult role of his career: impersonating an important politician who had been kidnapped. Peace with the Martians was at stake – failure to pull off the act could result in interplanetary war. And Smythe’s own life was on the line – for if he wasn’t assassinated, there was always the possibility that he might be trapped in his new role forever!” ~WWend.com
I’ve read a fair amount of Heinlein (The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Starship Troopers, Stranger in a Strange Land, and various short stories), and I enjoyed Double Star. It seemed much lighter and action-focused than other Heinlein novels I’ve read so far.
Double Star is a pretty short, fast-paced novel, with a kind of light, not-too-terribly-serious tone that made it a lot of fun to read. I don’t think that Double Star is really comedic sci-fi, but it just has an enthusiastic, good-natured attitude that really makes it easy to get caught up in the story. The novel focuses on the actor Lorenzo Smythe, the highly skilled—and incredibly conceited—man who gets caught up in the great impersonation. At first, I thought I would find his narration irritating, since he spends an awful lot of time thinking very highly of himself, or alluding to great works of theatre. However, his whole character seems to be treated with a certain amount of humor. Rather than making me roll my eyes, his pomposity seemed to invite laughter. I also really enjoyed the way his character develops throughout the story.