A Futurist, a UFO researcher and a SF guy all walk into a bar carrying read copies of Solar Express. They sit down and get their drinks.
SF: Well, what do you think?
They look at each other. No one says a thing for a few moments.
SF: That bad?
F: Well… I’m trying to think of something nice to say.
UFO: Don’t bother.
F: The man knows hard science but he knows jack about Futures.
SF: Is he supposed to? Would it help the story?
F: It would be nice if a major SF author knew a little bit of Future Studies. Just the basics, mind. I don’t think that’s to much to ask. But this, hell, this is the worse kind of SF. The stuff I can’t stand.
UFO: Here, here.
F: He simply runs a few of today’s trends out, establishes his baseline and then that’s it. A few trends do not a future make. What about all the other trends and how they interact with the trends he’s using? Nothing. Besides, it’s never the baseline.
SF: Is that a Futures’ secret?
F: No it isn’t. It’s what they teach first day. When you run today’s trends out, you get the baseline, but the answer you’re looking for is never the baseline. I’d be shocked if it was.
SF: So you don’t like his world construction.
F: Exactly. There’s no change. His politicians are jackasses, the politics are so brazenly normal it’s shocking. Post-docs as wage slaves, on the back side of the moon. (Disgust noise.) At least the background glimpses of the society we got in Clarke’s Rama were different.
SF: That’s hardly being fair.
UFO: That’s life.
F: Let’s just say you were reading something from a hundred years ago or so, something Victorian. And they made a big deal about a woman not being a virgin….
SF: Isn’t that a plot point in Tess… something…
UFO: D’Urbervilles. Yeah, it was.
F: Fast forward a hundred years or so to us, and that doesn’t mean a thing. Victorian lit’ is quaint. Human, certainly, but quaint, and concerned with things we don’t care about. And we’re supposed to believe that there’s been no changes like that in the hundred years out to the time of the novel? I think it makes for very uneven reading.
SF: But that really wasn’t the point.
F: Point or not, the fact it’s not there, not even really considered, is important. The society in which this novel is set, is an important point, but he is either not interested in talking about it or does not have the talent to talk about it. What we get is a blasé “they’re just like us” and he moves on to com’ chatter between a shuttle and station control.
SF: That did get a little repetitive, didn’t it? That and the intricacies of station repair. Life and science in space can be quit tedious. So… what else?
UFO: From my perspective, the whole thing was based on a faulty premise. They’re here. The best minds in the field think they’ve always been here. And it’s only Human arrogance, stupidity and lies that we believe otherwise.
F: Now who’s being harsh?
UFO: He’s in a cul-de-sac. Especially a technological one. The way he talks about space travel is quaint.
F: His expression of space travel is a projection forward from the Now, but if the Now is based on a lie or faulty data, then the projection forward is useless. It can’t be a useful baseline if it’s based on faulty data. It’s gibberish.
SF: What’s the lie you mentioned?
UFO: We’ve known since the 50’s that you can go into a lab and break all three of the so-called Newtonian laws. Period. This mean they’re not laws of any sort just approximations of reality under certain conditions. Change those conditions enough and these so called laws stop working.
UFO: Since the government has know that for close to 70 years, space travel as we know it from NASA is a dog ‘n pony show for the rubes. The lie is, that’s the way it has to be.
SF: And we’re the rubes.
UFO: Exactly. The lie covers the existence of what can be called the technology of the gods. We barely survived the nuclear era with that level of technology. Do you really think we could survive “the death star has cleared the planet” levels of technology?
F: The lie is a good thing then?
UFO: Hell no.
SF: So, we’ve got faulty premises and a background society that’s just like us…
F: And M.A.D. too.
SF: Mutual Assured Destruction. Tediousness at times. What else? I’ll add that there were passages that I got bogged down in with all the science and techno babble.
UFO: I thought the arc of the story itself was really obvious. I kept waiting for something to pop up that wasn’t what I expected. I wasn’t expecting monsters or any dribble like that but… you know… observation, mission, solve some problems, get back safely, win the girl and a medal. No surprises.
F: I thought the relationship between those two was… quaint. Almost like something out of the 19th century. They wrote long letters of encouragement to each other. How nice and romantic. That just strikes me as unrealistic. We’re a hundred years out. Moore’s law for computation power seems to have stalled or slowed precipitously. Hell, IBM’s Watson is practically on the level of the COFAR M.I. today. And everyone seemed to have skimped on bandwidth for reasons which seemed either lame or nonexistent.
SF: We’re back to world construction from the trends.
UFO: And those Hotnews! summaries. They reminded me of Ruby Rhod from The Fifth Element.
F: Yeah. Him. If that’s where Humanity gets it’s news, no wonder that society was M.A.D.
SF: That’s scarcely a criticism since the same can be said of our own.
F: I actually thought that stuff was quite tame. Compared to what one might get if you ran today’s crap that passes for news forward by a century.
SF: I liked the quotes.
F: But they’re so applicable to our own society as well.
UFO: That can’t be much of a criticism since one can read the political musing of Cicero and they’re equally valid.
SF: Do we know if he made those quotes up, like Herbert did all the time, or did he get them from somewhere? I assumed he did the Herbert thing. It’s a writing technique I’ve always liked.
F: No idea.
UFO: I assumed it was the author speaking to us through the quotes.
The conversation stalls for a moment as another round of drinks is brought over.
SF: I think we’re being a bit harsh. Isn’t there anything to like in this book?
F: That, I think, is the real problem. It’s solid work, if you just read it and that’s it.
SF: In the moment, it’s fine. But once you start picking at what he’s doing and why, it comes apart.
UFO: You’d have to discount fundamental scientific advancement being in a cul-de-sac since Einstein.
F: And discount the inconsistent use of the trends in your world building…
SF: Nothing memorable about the characters either…
UFO and F glance at each other, knowingly.
F: You’re not going to bring Gally into this are you?
SF: I was not. That’s really not fair. But a fairer comparison would be there’s no Paul Maud’Dib, no Sylia Stingray, no Hal 9000, no Major Motoko Kusanagi, no Deckard. There’s no one here I’m going to remember beyond next Tuesday. No one unforgettable.
F: What’s the name of the captain who leads the team onto the ship in Clarke’s original Rama book? Don’t…
F points at UFO who was about to answer.
SF: I don’t remember.
F: What’s the plot for that book?
SF: Space ship comes cruising in to use the Sun for a gravitational turn. An Earth ship can intercept, so it does, dead silence and alien stuff. Happy endings for first contact; no fatalities. Ship leaves them in the stellar dust.
UFO: The humans in that story seemed saner? more intelligent? less fracked up? than this story.
F: Less petty. But the point was, you don’t remember the fine details of Rama, so you won’t remember the fine details of this either. But a one sentence summery in 20 years? Probably. Like I said, it’s solid work, if you don’t think about it.
UFO: Safe too.
F: Very safe. It’s works on the assumption that we’re just going to teeter along, creating and solving our problems, just getting by, muddling through like we’ve always done. That is a highly dubious assumption.
UFO: And there’s that bullheaded drum beat about how far away other civilizations are, and not going faster than light speed, and why would aliens bother with this backwater. Hideously stupid.
F: Those three things are all assumptions.
SF: And if all three are wrong…can one write great SF?
F: I don’t think so. You can write solid and safe but not great.
SF: Because greatness usually breaks molds, upsets apple carts, and goes places never gone before.
UFO: Can’t accuse this book of that. (Laughs.)
They grow quiet for a moment, finishing the current round of drinks.
SF: We’ve not even skirted around the big lie which sets the book in motion.
UFO: You cannot militarize space. Bull.
SF: The minute I read that statement, which was right after the back cover of the book, I thought we were already in trouble. Another quaint idea.
F: Another assumption about how the world works which, unfortunately, isn’t true.
SF: We’re all adults here. We know N.A.S.A. was incorporated under the D.O.D. which mean anything they do…
UFO: Or find…
SF: …can be classified under national security concerns. That’s how it always starts.
UFO: The Snowdons of the world aside…
F: The exceptions which prove the rule…
UFO: …you can keep secrets. And there are many many secrets in this country.
SF: It seems to me you can militarize space all you want, you just can’t tell anyone, publicly acknowledge that you’re doing it.
UFO: Plausible deniability. Exactly. You need secrets being kept, black projects up and running, with compartmentalization of those projects.
F: Oh my, none of that around here.
UFO: And boatloads of money.
SF: How many times has a D.O.D. head made the trek up the hill in the last 30 years and said…(In a passable Goofy voice) Garsh, hyuk, we seem to have misplaced several trillion dollars. Hyuk.
UFO: More than once.
F: If we have secret space stations…
UFO: Or bases on the moon…
F: Who’s going to know it in the civilian population…? And spill the beans…? And be believed…?
SF: Still, it’s a nice idea.
UFO: I’m too old for nice ideas. Democracy is a nice idea too.
SF: Let’s definitely not go there. That certainly wasn’t part of the novel. I’m really bothered by a feeling that for all our harping, I think you’re right. It’s a solid novel.
F: Except for…
SF: Except for everything which we don’t like about it. I finished. Does that count?
UFO: Do you want a reward? Milk and cookies, perhaps?
F: I see no contradiction in the idea that a solid work can also be complete B.S. Yes, it is forgettable, isn’t it?
SF: Only a handful of books published each year, or maybe each decade, have any staying power at all as the generations pass.
UFO: This isn’t one of them.
SF: So, are we agreed? Solid, Safe and Forgettable.
After a pause, they all nod. They get up to leave.
SF: I’m off to sell my copy.
F: I’m just going to donate mine to the YWCA’s used book sale.
UFO: I have a plant stand that needs a support under one leg….
SF: I thought you’d give it to one of your friends upstairs.
UFO: That’s were I got mine originally. Some of them read a lot.
They all laugh before dispersing into the night…
I had this as an advanced reader’s copy through Net Galley, and I went into it knowing nothing of the author or the plot. I don’t know, however, that much prior information would have helped me with the first couple of chapters. Meloy dumps us into a netherworld where the planet Mars takes the place of the moon, and characters I sensed were the good guys kept to their side of the street while a pub across the way served as a passageway for very bad things to enter their world. The next chapter involved a farm house bothered by a zombiefied relative who ate hot stew with his bare hands, had to be led away on the tines of a pitchfork, and set on fire in a field.
It took me several pages into the next sequence to realize that Meloy was settling down to his plot. A housing estate somewhere in the UK, with its boarded up shops, council flats, graffiti-covered walls, and threats of violence suggested a dystopian, post-apocalyptic setting, but no, this is just a miserable place to live. Meloy can really pack in the information. With the background of a mass shooting at a day care center, he introduces us to a feckless estate patrolman, an alcoholic hanging onto some sense of dignity, and a social worker whose cases have begun to either kill themselves or others. And there are monsters, hideous creatures that can possess the weak and pursue those who might be a threat to them.
Meloy has worked as a psychiatric nurse, and this section grounded in the world of the housing estate, with his hero Phil Travena dealing with suicidal and homicidal clients, a weaselly new boss brought in to “tighten the ship,” drunks and a growing sense that these monsters may not be hallucinations sets the action in both a very real and very creepy world. Once we are part of the pitched battle between good and evil, things take on the more predictable cast that such battles usually entail. But Meloy continues to create inventive situations, engaging characters, and grand set pieces. His monsters are spectacular creations that wear their debt to Lovecraft lightly. The talking animals are a problem, but that could be my inherent resistance to talking animals.
Much of the plot involves the impending birth of Chloe, a child whose existence is crucial to victory over the dark forces. In one of Meloy’s most successful narrative devices, we get to know Chloe as an adult character, stranded in a dangerous world as she waits to be born. There are also a man and his son who start as characters in a children’s book who become major players in the battle.
At times I felt that Meloy’s story needed a larger canvas than he provides, but when I weighed that against his ability to wrap things up as quickly as he did, I decided he made the right choice. He ties things up well. That illogical zombie scene from the first pages even makes sense by the time the story is over. And although he doesn’t end with cliffhangers, Meloy could easily return to this world for further novels.
Elena clutched the gyroscope and stared Brian down. I couldn’t think of any scientific explanation for what Brian had just done. A gyroscope stays upright because of its angular momentum. Ideally, it would never fall, since the torque that gravity supplies is not sufficient to offset its gyroscopic inertia. In real life, however, friction gradually erodes the rotation, causing it to precess more and more, until finally the rotation degrades and gravity takes hold.
This left one of two options. Either Brian had managed to eliminate any appreciable friction from our tabletop–not to mention air resistance–or he had a way to inject more energy into the system without touching the gyroscope, thus overcoming the effects of the friction. I couldn’t think of any way he could do either of those things.
“Okay, I give up,” I said. “How did you do it?”
Brian looked grave. “They showed me. The quantum intelligences.”
“I see. The little fairies are spinning the gyroscope?” I tried not to let the cynicism creep into my voice, but it was hard.
“Of course not,” he snapped. “It’s ground state energy. The energy of a single particle’s spin. It never stops. It’s an infinite source of power.”
I hesitated, finding it hard to believe, but at the same time hard to discount the evidence of the gyroscope. “So you took a feature of the quantum world and made it apply in the larger world,” I said.
“Amazing, isn’t it?” Brian said quietly. “Gonna change the world.”
“If it were real, that would be a technology worth trillions of dollars,” I said. “Is that why you’re here? Are there people chasing you, trying to get this from you?”
“They’re chasing me,” he said, “but they’re not people.”
I threw up my hands. “You’d better start talking sense.”
“One more example, then,” he said. He reached under the table, and suddenly there was a Glock 46 in his hand, the barrel pointing at Elena.
I was on my feet in an instant, my chair toppling over behind me. I held my hands up, palms out. “Put it down,” I said. “Brian, listen to me.”
Elena stared into the gun’s barrel, motionless, hardly breathing. “Don’t do this,” she whispered.
“It won’t hurt you,” Brian said. “The bullet will just diffract around you.”
“You’re talking crazy,” I said. “Look at me.” He didn’t move. “Look at me!” I shouted. He looked. “It’s a bullet, not an electron,” I said. “If you pull the trigger, it will kill her. You don’t want that.”
He stood. “You won’t believe me unless I show you.”
I started to ease around the edge of the table toward him. “I do believe you,” I said. “Let’s just sit down, and you can tell us all about it.”
“No, you don’t. You call them fairies and make fun of me. But they’re real, Jacob. I’m not going to hurt anybody. I just want to prove it to you.”
“Point the gun somewhere else, then,” I said. “Point it at me.”
“It won’t hurt her,” he said, and pulled the trigger.
Dover Books has begun a new series of reprints called Doomsday Classics. Not the cheeriest series, perhaps, but they are pulling together a group of titles from the past 150 years that promises to combine academic interest with popular appeal for a broader science fiction readership. So far they have brought back into print Darkness and Dawn, a trilogy of novels from 1914 by George Allen England. England is largely forgotten today, but at the turn of the 20th century he was considered the American H.G. Wells. Also already on the shelves is Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague (1912). Coming up is Robertson Jeffries After London, a piece of Victorian science fiction new to me. Japan Sinks (1995) by Sakyo Komatsu is major work of Asian science fiction currently out-of-print in English.
Their July 2015 release is The Night of the Long Knives, a disappointing effort by Fritz Leiber. Leiber wrote it as a short novel for the January 1960 issue of Amazing Science Fiction Stories, and it reads like a truncated version of what could have been a better, longer novel. Leiber sets up a convincing if by now familiar post-apocalyptic world, but the plot, such as it is, gets talked to death before it has a chance to take advantage of what Leiber is building on.
He opens with a scene familiar from classic Hollywood westerns, replacing the desert Southwest with an irradiated wasteland in the central United States. Two strangers warily approach one another, not sure if the next moments will bring bloodshed or comradeship. Actually, since this is a man and a woman, the option is bloodshed or sex, but even taking option number two will not discount resorting quickly to option number one. A propensity for murder has become second nature to those who wander the Deathlands. Leiber never satisfactorily explains why this is, but since he has created a first person narrator, such analysis would not be an option. Things just are the way they are.
The man and woman go for option number two, and the best part of the novel is their silent, methodical self-disarmaments, neither one willing to remove a weapon or an article of clothing until he or she is certain the other is making a similar concession. They also don’t speak, talking not being an accepted Deathland first-date behavior. And in this bleak, poisoned world beauty criteria have changed. The man –whose name, by the way, turns out to be Ray, the woman is Alice – is self-conscious about his eggshell baldness, but he is attracted to Alice’s radiation scars. One that traces a line from her eyebrow, across her forehead, and into her hairline provides “just the fillip” needed to make her beautiful. (Nice to think that after an atomic war the term “fillip” may make a comeback.)
This opening encounter takes up almost a third of the narrative, but things fall apart once it is over. Ray and Alice murder a handsome and to them offensively healthy man who shows up in a flying machine. They meet an old geezer they call Pop. He’s a scrounger, possibly too cracked to be dangerous. The trio flies off in the dead man’s aircraft that is preprogrammed to take them to the edges of the civilized zones where yet another war is in progress. There is little action and much boring talk. When the ship returns them to the Deathlands location they started from, they find the dying woman their civilized victim had come to save. There is more talk and the story winds down.
Leiber’s novel is a mess starting with the title. Evoking the series of assassinations that secured Hitler’s rise to power brings nothing to the narrative. The one other component that sparks any real interest is Pop’s proselytizing for his newfound commitment to stop wholesale murder. He has found a group of like-thinking ex-murderers who get together informally to help one another fight the urge when it comes on them. The loosely organized band is setting up meetings across the Deathlands. Right now it is just men, but they are thinking they should admit women. They joke about calling themselves Murderers Anonymous.
Leiber was an alcoholic who sought treatment several times. Among the Leiber papers held by the University of Indiana, there are several folders dated 1960 that contain Alcoholics Anonymous material. I don’t know how obvious or coded the AA references in The Night of the Long Knives would have been to readers of Amazing Science Fiction when the novel was published, nor what Leiber hoped to accomplish with their inclusion His recovery process must have been weighing heavily on his mind at the time, but Pop’s enthusiasm and Ray’s and Alices’s cautious curiosity about what he has to offer becomes just another loose end in the hodge-podge of the novel.
I place The Night of the Long Knives among the Leiber works for completists only.
(This review is based on an advance ebook provided by Net Galley.)
I so wish I had seen this last month! It would have been perfect for our Month of Horrors series and it looks totally bad ass. Check out the wicked-cool illustrations by Santiago Caruso. They are the stuff of nightmares. And Joe-freakin’-you-had-me-at-Bubba-Hotep-Lansdale is the author! You want to get your creep on in style? THIS is the way to do it. The leather slipcase and cover for Black Labyrinth Book I: The Walls of the Castle by Tom Piccirilli is just beautiful and you can expect more of the same for book 2.
Now here’s the bad news. As it is, there are only 3 days left for this Kickstarter campaign so if you want in you have to act now. Chris Morey, owner and publisher of Dark Regions Press and creator of the Black Labyrinth imprint and his team are really close to funding so you could be the person to put them over the top. If not you, then perhaps someone you know would be interested so help us spread the word.
OK, whatever you think of the steampunk sub-genre you have to admit this lamp is freakin’ awesome. And if you are a steampunk fan what better accessory to have in your home?
This lamp comes from Machine Age Lamps and they have a plethora of options for you to choose from including custom lamps built to your specifications. Each sculptural lamp is one of a kind, signed and numbered and all the gauges and gears are real antiques. Beautiful. I’ve spent a good half hour lusting over these lamps and thought you might like to see them too.
Of course, once you get your funky-awesome new lamp you’ll want something to read under it. Here is a selection of steampunk books for you to enjoy. With everything from vampires to cowboys to Victorian spies to dragons, and even a Dyson sphere for good measure, there is something here for just about everyone.
What steampunk books have you read? Do you have any recommendations for the uninitiated?
I think it’s about time we gave away some more books! Thankfully, Touchstone agrees with me and they have provided us with 5 autographed copies of Tom King’s new book A Once Crowded Sky to give away to you. For your chance to win, all you have to do is re-tweet our tweet, share our FB post, or leave a comment below! Do all three and triple your chances. The contest is open to all and will last until next Wednesday when we’ll draw 5 names from the hat.
Touchstone, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, publishes commercial & literary fiction, narrative non-fiction, biography/memoir, diet & fitness, sports & entertainment, and more.
The superheroes of Arcadia City fight a wonderful war, and play a wonderful game, forever saving yet another day. However, after sacrificing both their powers and Ultimate, the greatest hero of them all, to defeat the latest apocalypse, these comic book characters are transformed from the marvelous into the mundane.
After too many battles won and too many friends lost, The Soldier of Freedom was fine letting all that glory go. But when a new threat blasts through his city, Soldier, as ever, accepts his duty and reenlists in this next war. Without his once amazing abilities, he’s forced to seek the help of the one man who walked away, the sole hero who refused to make the sacrifice- PenUltimate, the sidekick of Ultimate, who through his own rejection of the game has become the most powerful man in the world, the only one left who might still, once again, save the day.
The Stephanie Saulter free books re-tweet contest closed on Monday but work and life kept us from announcing the winners until now. We had, in all, 47 entries – thanks everyone for participating. After copying all names into a spreadsheet and assigning each one a number, we used a random number generator to select our five winners. For the record, the numbers we generated were 10, 16, 21, 27 and 39.
Congrats to our winners:
If you are one of our prize winners please send your mailing address to us at “info [at] worldswithoutend [dot] com” so we can get your autographed books in the mail right away.
Thanks to the good people at Jo Fletcher Books we have 5 autographed copies of Stephanie Saulter’s debut book Gemsigns to give away. For your chance to win all you have to do is re-tweet our tweet, share our FB post, or leave a comment below! Do all three and triple your chances. The contest is open to all and will last until next Monday when we’ll draw 5 names from the hat.
Jo Fletcher Books, an imprint of Quercus Publishing, is a specialist science fiction, fantasy and horror imprint in the UK with plans to come stateside. Jo Fletcher’s own personal tastes in fiction have always been wonderfully eclectic and JFB is dedicated to being as broad a church as possible, hopefully publishing something for everyone. WWEnd has the complete JFB catalog in our database so check out the selection on the JFB publisher page.
For years the human race was under attack from a deadly Syndrome, but when a cure was found – in the form of genetically engineered human beings, Gems – the line between survival and ethics was radically altered.
Now the Gems are fighting for their freedom, from the oppression of the companies which created them, and against the Norms, who have always seen them as slaves. The conference at which Dr Eli Walker has been commissioned to present his findings on the Gems is the key to that freedom.
But with the Gemtech companies fighting to keep the Gems enslaved, and the horrifying godgangs determined to rid the earth of these ‘unholy’ creations, the Gems are up against forces that might just be too powerful to oppose.
From the publisher:
Gemsigns is a fast-paced and exciting story, full of engaging, memorable characters. It’s old-fashioned storytelling in that there is a clear sense of what is at stake, who is on which side, and that the threat is huge and horrifying; but it’s unusual and quite modern in that it leaves it up to the reader to decide what they think is the right answer to the central moral question. There are characters you will probably like but not necessarily agree with, and characters you might find appalling, but think are actually in the right. And the ending is a real shocker – almost no one who’s read it sees what’s coming. Will you?
For those of you participating in the Women of Genre Fiction Reading Challenge, Mz. Saulter would be an excellent choice for a new author since this is her first book or even to satisfy the 1 random author requirement. I’m looking forward to seeing some reviews for this one. Good luck to all!
Edit: We just added an excerpt for Gensigns so you can get a little taste.
Last week we posted a dozen new books to the SF Masterworks list and now we’re back again with some new Fantasy Masterworks! Gollancz has re-started the series with 6 new books for your reading pleasure. But more than just new books they’ve totally re-designed the cover art for the new additions into something very clean and iconic. The new look is a complete departure from the previous books in the series but they’re coming out of the gate with some strong titles so I don’t think anyone will mind all that much. I would have preferred something that relates to the old design a bit more, like the relationship between the old and new SF series artwork, but these really are quite beautiful.
So what do you think of the new titles and the new design? Are you as excited as I am that they’ve resurrected the series? I always thought they stopped too short at just 50 titles.