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Worlds Without End Blog

GMRC Review: The Big Time by Fritz Leiber Posted at 10:22 AM by Allie McCarn


WWEnd Grand Master Reading ChallengeGuest Blogger, Allie McCarn, reviews science fiction and fantasy books on her blog Tethyan Books. She has contributed many great book reviews to WWEnd including several Grand Master reviews featured in our blog.

The Big Time

The Big Time by Fritz Leiber
Published: Galaxy Science Fiction, 1957
Awards Won: Hugo Award

The Book:

“Have you ever worried about your memory, because it doesn’t seem to recall exactly the same past from one day to the next? Have you ever thought that the whole universe might be a crazy, mixed-up dream? If you have, then you’ve had hints of the Change War.

It’s been going on for a billion years and it will last another billion or so. Up and down the timeline, the two sides–“Spiders” and “Snakes”–battle endlessly to change the future and the past. Our lives, our memories, are their battleground. And in the midst of the war is the Place, outside space and time, where Greta Forzane and the other Entertainers provide solace and r-&-r for tired time warriors.”

This is my second-to-last novel for WWEnd’s 2012 Grand Master Reading Challenge. Fritz Leiber was an author with a wide-ranging imagination, who applied his skill to many kinds of speculative fiction. He wrote a number of Hugo award-winning science fiction stories (including this one), but he was also the author of many acclaimed works in horror and fantasy. Last year, I reviewed his horror/urban fantasy novel Conjure Wife, which may soon get its 4th film adaptation. The styles of Conjure Wife and The Big Time are so different that they seem almost written by different people. I think that Conjure Wife was written more for wide appeal, which could be one of the reasons why it has been adapted to film so often. The Big Time, on the other hand, is a very unusual book, and one that I could see having a smaller audience through the years.

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GMRC Review: The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin Posted at 10:05 PM by Daniel Roy


WWEnd Grand Master Reading ChallengeDaniel Roy (triseult), has contributed over 50 reviews to WWEnd including this, his fourth GMRC review to feature in the WWEnd blog. Daniel is living his dream of travelling the world and you can read about some of his adventures on his blog Mango Blue.

The DispossessedCalling this book “perfect” would do it an injustice. Its brilliance is not so much in meeting SF standards, but in exceeding them and leaving them far behind.

The Dispossessed is a complex novel. It’s not complex in terms of structure or themes; it’s not a hard book to read. Quite the opposite. But it manages to touch on so many aspects of the human experience at once that it’s hard to sum up what makes it so fascinating.

At the heart of it all is Shevek. Shevek, so complex and delightful to read. Shevek’s a hero, an outcast, a brilliant physicist, an idealist, an alien, a father, a lover, and a bit of a goof. He’s so many things at once that the only word to describe him is real. He anchors the whole story, brings it to life, fills it with emotion and thought. Through Shevek, Le Guin explores a plethora of themes: anarchism, politics, science, inspiration, love, responsibility, injustice, freedom. He’s the most realistic and inspirational fictional scientist I have ever read, and yet there is still time for him, in a mere 300 pages, to be a caring father and a poignant lover. Shevek’s awesome.

Some readers see in this book a plea for anarchism. I like the political theory, especially Noam Chomsky’s take on it, which he calls social libertarianism. By tackling anarchism, Ursula Le Guin is doing what SF should aspire to do every time: she explores a Great Idea, playing with it to see if it’s possible. In that sense, yes, she gives anarchism center stage, and gives it the space to make its plea. But I don’t think she set out to write a straight-up inspirational Utopia. Anarres doesn’t sound like such a great place to live.

Grand Master Ursula K. Le GuinThe utopia of The Dispossessed is Shevek, not Anarres. Anarres’ brand of anarchism is broken, bogged down by the usual power struggles and human pettiness. Anarres forgot that a revolution must continue, lest it becomes the new order. The real anarchist revolution of this story is Shevek. He is a stranger in his own home, and he exiles himself to another world to find it again. In so doing, he touches both worlds in unexpected ways–and far beyond.

I can already see that this first read of The Dispossessed won’t be my last. This is SF of the first order, one that enriches my own world by its mere existence as a thought experiment. And besides, I have a feeling I’ll miss Shevek if we spend too much time apart.

SF Manga 101: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind Posted at 8:25 AM by Glenn Hough


Glenn Hough (gallyangel) is a nonpracticing futurist, an anime and manga otaku, and is almost obsessive about finishing several of the lists tracked on WWEnd. In this series on SF Manga Glenn will provide an overview of the medium and the place of science fiction within it.

To a certain section of the population the name Hayao Miyazaki should be familiar.  If you’ve ever paid any attention to the Oscars, especially in the animated feature category, the 2002 win by Spirited Away should leap to mind.  Miyazaki was the director.

It is not a overstatement to say that Hayao Miyazaki is one of the gods of animation in Japan.  He should be mentioned in the same sentence with early Disney and Chuck Jones.  His movie My Neighbor Totoro has been compared to a perfect summers day; were both the movie and the day are equally, delightfully, plotless.  It’s said of Spirited Away that it’s a reflection of the Japanese soul, which includes bathhouses, spirits, and the ever recurrent need of youth to find and embrace their courage in the world.

What does this have to do with SF Manga?  It’s simple.  In Miyazaki’s early days, he was the mangaka who slowly wrote and drew, taking 12! years, the manga that’s in second place on my list: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.

Yes, the name of the title character comes directly from Homer’s Odyssey.  Homer’s Nausicaä is a young princess.  Miyazaki’s Nausicaä is a young princess.  And that is where their similarities end.

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GMRC Review: Ensign Flandry by Poul Anderson Posted at 8:05 AM by Carl V. Anderson

Carl V.

WWEnd Grand Master Reading ChallengeOn his blog Stainless Steel Droppings blogger Carl V. Anderson reviews SF/F books and movies, conducts author interviews and even hosts his own reading challenge: The 2012 Science Fiction Experience. This is Carl’s sixth GMRC review to feature in our blog.

Ensign FlandryPoul Anderson is one of the authors I chose earlier this year as part of the Grand Master Reading Challenge hosted by Worlds Without End. Anderson was a prolific author whose career spanned many decades and consequently many eras of science fiction so I was unsure exactly where to start. I had toyed with the idea of starting with his Flandry series though the covers of the more recent collected editions tended to make me think these might be like the oversexed wish-fulfillment of Heinlein’s later years. I did not want that. When I saw this Michael Whelan cover for the first novel in the series my hopes rose and I decided to go ahead and snag the book for its cover, hoping that when I got around to reading it I would not be disappointed.

Guess what? I was not disappointed, not by a long shot.

My first foray into one of Poul Anderson’s created universes proved to be one filled with rip-roaring adventure, political intrigue, Bond-style romance and not a little bit of commentary on the soul-blackening compromise of world, or in this case Imperial, government. Ensign Flandry not only provided me with some of the everyman-hero-overcoming-all-odds storytelling I was hoping for but was also full of surprises.

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Another Hobbit Production Diary to Whet Your Appetite Posted at 11:41 AM by Dave Post

Dave Post

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is due to premier in just a few weeks and Peter Jackson and crew are in serious over-drive to get the post production effects wrapped up.  This new production video has some great looking scenes that we haven’t seen before to whet your appetite and gives a pretty good idea of all the work that goes into making a huge movie like this.  Can’t freakin’ wait!

GMRC Review: Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison Posted at 8:05 AM by Glenn Hough


WWEnd Grand Master Reading ChallengeGlenn Hough (gallyangel) is, among other things, a nonpracticing futurist, an anime and manga otaku, a gourmet, a writer of science fiction novels which don’t get published to world wide acclaim, and is almost obsessive about finishing several of the lists tracked on WWEnd. This is Glenn’s third featured review for the GMRC.

Make Room! Make Room!Let’s just get this out of the way right now. (And if you don’t know, this was the novel which was the basis for the 70s era classic SF movie Soylent Green.)

It’s not people! Soylent is not people in the novel. The novel doesn’t even hint at that. Frankly, it would’ve made the thing more interesting.

Harry Harrison presents us with a novel of squaller. New York has 35 million people in it. Most are poor, underfed, on the welfare; everything is falling apart since there are no supplies left to fix anything. Electricity is spotty. When the main character gets called to his police job early because of pending water or food riots, they have to send someone physically to his apartment to get him. Technology is in retrograde. People are either overworked or unemployed. The black-market deals in the rarest of commodities: beef. Occasionally, someone captures a rat. What a feast that will be for them.

The U.S. is a third world shithole.

Make Room! Make Room! is message fiction. It takes the Malthusian theory and runs it forward to a hard and nasty place, giving us fiction which we then want to Prevent in the real world. This is very clear when one of the main characters lays the blame for everything on population. And how social, political, and religious institutions around the world refuse to address the issue. This book predates Ehrlich’s seminal work, The Population Bomb by two years. The Club of Rome, a Futures thinktank, started in ’68 as well and their first big splash was in population projections. This issue was on the minds of many social thinkers and futurists.

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The Strain, by Del Toro and Hogan Posted at 8:20 PM by Jonathan McDonald


Every vampire story writer wants to make the genre his own, for good or ill. There seems to be an unspoken competition as to who can come up with the most interesting “rules” for the nature of vampires, particularly their strengths and weaknesses. Often this just gets silly (sparkles, anyone?), but occasionally it gets fascinating, and the choices an author makes sometimes has a deeper philosophy at its root. Why else would so many post-religious authors make a point of laughing at characters who think that vampires will be afraid of crosses? Why else would some writers re-imagine vampirism as a biological plague instead of a more spiritual threat? The authors of The Strain make both these changes, and also re-think the bodily structure of the vampire while they’re at it. No longer a long-fanged pretty boy with mesmerizing eyes, the vampire here drinks its victim’s blood through a sucker in its overgrown tongue and spreads its curse through virus-like worms.

This is film director Guillermo del Toro’s first novel, though not professional novelist Chuck Hogan’s first by a long shot. It’s not entirely clear which co-author took what responsibilities when writing this story, but my suspicion is that del Toro wrote the outline while Hogan wrote the prose. Based on this assumption, I have to place the blame for many of The Strain‘s rough patches on Hogan. Too many times Hogan showcases the research he put into this novel in excruciating detail. While the CDC workers vest themselves in preparation for exploring the dead airplane which sets off this unfortunate chain of events, the prose describes every single part of their containment suit in the most boorish of details. Later during an eclipse, the prose is sure to remind us that a solar eclipse is more properly termed an “occultation,” and proceeds to explain how odd it is that the sun’s corona is much hotter than its surface. None of this really matters to the story, and it feels like filler to keep the reader from noticing how thin the plot is.

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American Science Fiction: Nine Classic Novels of the 1950s from the Library of America Posted at 1:53 PM by Scott Lazerus

Scott Laz

As the year of the Grand Master Reading Challenge at Worlds Without End winds down, some of you may, like me, be scrambling to complete it. It seems timely, then, that the Library of America has just released the two-volume American Science Fiction: Nine Classic Novels of the 1950s, which contains four Grand Master novels, along with five that probably should be (how can Theodore Sturgeon not be a Grand Master?).

This beautiful set includes:

Four Classic Novels 1953-1956
Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth, The Space Merchants
Theodore Sturgeon, More Than Human
Leigh Brackett, The Long Tomorrow
Richard Matheson, The Shrinking Man

Five Classic Novels 1956-58
Robert A. Heinlein, Double Star
Alfred Bester, The Stars My Destination
James Blish, A Case of Conscience
Algis Budrys, Who?
Fritz Leiber, The Big Time

More information on the books, including introductions to each by current writers such as Neil Gaiman, William Gibson, and Connie Willis, along with a timeline of 1950s SF, a gallery of cover art, contemporary radio and TV adaptations, and essays by editor Gary K. Wolfe, Robert Silverberg, and Barry Malzberg, can be found at a website created by the Library of American to accompany the set. (Consistent with the Library’s policy from its inception, the books themselves contain the novels’ texts, without introduction or commentary.)

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SF Manga 101: Ghost in the Shell Posted at 9:22 AM by Glenn Hough


Glenn Hough (gallyangel) is a nonpracticing futurist, an anime and manga otaku, and is almost obsessive about finishing several of the lists tracked on WWEnd. In this series on SF Manga Glenn will provide an overview of the medium and the place of science fiction in it.

Hi. Hi. Glad to see you again. Welcome. It’s practically time to say pull up a chair by the fire. It’s the dampness. That’s what gets me.

Since I know we can all go wiki-wiki and have all the summery one could want in seconds, I’d like to concentrate on the questions: why these mangas? Out of all of the possible SF mangas, why should we, why did I, pay attention to these?

Well, when it comes to the top SF mangas out there, I think the top three spots are basically agreed upon. Their order, however, is not. It’s a matter of personal appeal. Do you go for the ecological collapse and resource wars as humanity lives on in the twilight world of Nausicaa? Or do you go for the forced human evolution and the releasing of psychic powers which can not be controlled in Akira? Or do you go with the cyberpunk ethic, wrapped in a police procedural, which ends in something that looks very much like what the Kurzweil crowd would call the singularity in Ghost in the Shell?

Personally, I think Ghost in the Shell takes the top spot. Yes, definitely, all three have transformation at their cores but I think Ghost is more relevant as a motif for what the 21st century will be about.

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Jim Butcher on Sword & Laser Posted at 9:48 AM by Jonathan McDonald


I’m one of the many fans impatiently waiting for the release of Jim Butcher’s 14th Dresden Files novel, Cold Days. The YouTube genre show “Sword & Laser” recently featured Butcher’s work in an episode, including an extended interview with Butcher himself. He doesn’t spoil much about the new book, but he does tease the “apocalyptic trilogy” he plans to write to close out the series in the near future. Check it out: