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Worlds Without End Blog

Falling for Falling in Love with Hominids Posted at 8:00 AM by Charles Dee Mitchell


Falling in Love with HominidsThis collection of stories has been my introduction to Nalo Hopkinson. I have read a few other stories in anthologies, but I’ve never settled down with one of her novels, although I have the best intentions of doing so.

Especially after having read Falling in Love with Hominids, which is a pleasure from beginning to end. All of what I have thought of as Hopkinson’s major themes are here: race, gender, feminism and the folklore of her Caribbean heritage. (Unless you are really up on your Caribbean folklore, expect to do some serious googling with a few of these stories. I learned the Jamaican slang term for off-brand sneakers among other things.)

Hopkinson writes a short introduction for each story. In one of these she remembers her response to a student worried about tactics for suspending the reader’s disbelief. Hopkinson’s advice was, “…never give them time to disbelieve.”

I think that must work, because looking over the notes I jotted down in an attempt to remember these eighteen stories, I find descriptions that sound much weirder than the stories as I experienced them.

Delicious Monster – son visits father now living with gay lover. Why is Vishnu to leave with Garuda during solar eclipse?

The Smile on the Face – St. Margaret of Antioch. Google her. Do kids still play post office?

Raggy Dog Shaggy Dog – ruthless orchid pollination

Message in a Bottle – kids with big heads travelers from our future. All species make art.

Emily Breakfast – lazy Saturday morning for gay couple. A stolen chicken. Cats can fly. Chickens breathe fire. Lizard messenger service.

Old Habits – why would one shopping mall have such a high mortality rate?

Nalo HopkinsonSo she doesn’t give the reader time to think about all the strangeness because it surrounds you from the first sentence. Or it could also sneak up on you.

Hopkinson has contributed to the Bordertown Project, a shared world anthology begun by Terry Windling. Bordertown exists on the edge where the mundane world meets the world of magic. That actually sounds terrible to me, but “Ours is the Prettiest,” Hopkins contribution included here, navigates the terrain with grace and humor. And her description of how her protagonist made the transition to Bordertown could describe the process she puts her readers through in her own ficition.

The Change happened slowly… At some point it crossed my mind that the flashily overlit Honest Ed’s Discount Emporium seemed to have seamlessly metamorphosed into a store called Snappin’ Wizard’s Surplus and Salvage… but they were always bulldozing the old to replace it with something else… By the time I had to accept that I was no longer in Toronto and those weren’t just tall, skinny white people with dye jobs and contact lenses, it didn’t seem so remarkable. People changed and grew apart. As you aged, your body altered and became a stranger to you, and one day you woke up and realized that you were in a different country. It was just life. I hadn’t needed to travel to the Border; it’d come to me.

Hopkinson brings the border to us.

2013 Hugo Short Stories, Unleashed! Posted at 4:36 PM by Rico Simpkins



Perhaps the most popular blog series WWEnd had last year were the ones that covered free Hugo nominated content. With the recent announcement of the 2013 nominees, we are, once again, covering nominated works, including short stories, novelettes, novellas, graphic novels and related works. In the coming weeks, we will be looking in every nook and cranny to determine where you can find all of the stories that you should read in order to have an informed opinion on who should win. Here is what we have found (so far) on the short stories.

First, we highly recommend LoneStarCon 3 (A.K.A. Worldcon 2013) membership. If you can’t afford an attending membership of $200 (as of this writing, installment plan available) or can’t make it out to San Antonio, the supporting membership is only $60, and it will include digital copies of (most, if not all of) the novels, novellas, novelettes, and short stories for your perusing. The novels alone would cost more than $60 to buy.  If history is any indication, the reading packets will be out by May.

The first thing you’ll notice about this year’s nominees is the dearth of short stories.  This is apparently because of a clause in the WSFS constitution that states:

No nominee shall appear on the final Award ballot if it received fewer nominations than five percent (5%) of the number of ballots listing one or more nominations in that category, except that the first three eligible nominees, including any ties, shall always be listed.

I’m not sure what to think of that rule.  It seems to me that it might discourage diversity in the nomination process.  Well known authors are more likely to get a larger concentration of votes, and excluding the fourth and fifth place nominees just because the top three authors are hogging the votes seems counter-intuitive.  Wouldn’t you want to expose more authors rather than fewer?

At any rate, all three nominated short stories can be read for free online right now.  I also included the original publication dates, in case you just want to go out and buy the original book or back issue:

  • Immersion”, by Aliette de Bodard was nominated for Nebula and BSFA awards, so has been online for a while, now.  It was first published by Clarkesworld in their June 2012 issue.  Enhance your daily commute by listening to the audio version, downloadable here.
  • Mantis Wives”, by Kij Johnson is also available in the pages Clarkesworld, in their August 2012 issue.  The audio version of the story is available here.
  • Mono no Aware”, Ken Liu was published as part of an anthology by VIZ Media, engilted  The Future is Japanese.  To read it, go to click on the “Look inside” preview feature from the book’s Amazon listing (or just click here) and scroll down to the first full story.  No, it may not be the most convenient method for accessing the story, but you could always buy the anthology (the Kindle version is only $3.99).  If the publisher makes the story available elsewhere online, we’ll update this page.

It’s a tad disappointing to see such a short list, but maybe it’s enough to keep you occupied until we publish the novelettes list (coming soon).   On the bright side, it won’t be hard to read every nominated short story, so that part of the ballot will be easy for you to fill out.

Next up: Novelettes!

Read Total Recall for 99¢ on Kindle Posted at 10:05 PM by Rico Simpkins


Yes, we know.  This remake is slap in the face to the Ahnold.  Even director Len Wiseman seems a little sheepish about it in his latest interview.  Just remember, even the “original” Schwarzenegger engine wasn’t an original, either.  It was an adaptation, of course, of Philip K. Dick‘s classic short story, We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.  Before you see the movie, read it!  To commemorate the release of the new film, Amazon has released the story under the latter day title, Total Recall.

Short Stories, Unleashed! Posted at 2:55 AM by Rico Simpkins


TSWotNDIt’s true that Worlds Without End mainly covers award winning SF/F/H novels, but, as we all know, novelists write in all kinds of formats. With the recent announcement of the 2012 Hugo Award nominees, we though you might be interested in reading all of the stories that were nominated, including novellas, novelettes and short stories. Our crack team of researchers (okay, just me) has been feverishly working to find where you can find all of the stories that Worldcon members have chosen to put before us fans. Here is what I found.

First, I highly recommend Chicon7 (hence Worldcon 2012) membership. If you can’t afford an attending membership of $215 (as of this writing, installment plan available) or can’t make it out to Chicago, the supporting membership is only $50, and it includes digital copies of all five novels, six novellas, five novelettes, and five short stories for your perusing. The novels alone would cost more than $50 to buy. Chicon7 has told us that the reading packets will be out by May.

Of course, we know that you don’t want to wait until May to read some of these outstanding stories, so here are some more fruits of our research labors. All five nominated short stories can be read for free online right now (except one…but it’s coming it’s here). I also included the original publication dates, in case you just want to go out and buy a back issue:

We hope that this keeps you satisfied for a little while, while we wait for our Worldcon readers packets. I know my personal goal is to read every nominated story, so that I can actually fill out a whole Hugo ballot.

Next up: Novelettes!

Reviewing Miller, Part 5: “But now to nourish death.” Posted at 8:53 PM by Jonathan McDonald


Dark BenedictionThis series reviews the short stories found in Walter Miller’s Dark Benediction collection. This is the final installment. (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

The Darfsteller

Also known as Walter Miller’s other Hugo-winning story, "The Darfsteller" presents an episode late in the life of aging theatrical actor Ryan Thornier. Years ago human actors have been bullied off the stage by mechanic automotons called dolls which have been imprinted with the personality patterns of popular actors who have signed their careers away to the Smithfield corporation. Those actors popular enough got a Smithfield contract, and the rest got a stolen dream, but none of them got to stay on stage. Thornier has never given up on artistic integrity, even though he had to make a living as a janitor in one of the robotic theatres, but while he "had stood firm on principle… the years had melted the cold glacier of reality from under the principle." This story is an account of his last attempt to save himself.

Dark Benediction

Much like "Dumb Waiter," this story takes place in a future that is, if not exactly post-apocalyptic, at least a pessimistic take on the human race. Meteors have fallen to earth which contained a parasitical infection that has already spread to one-third of the human race, causing the structures of civilization to collapse. The infected are known as "dermies" because the infection is spread by physical touch of hand-on-skin, and because the infected possess an almost irresistable urge to touch the uninfected. The dermies’ skin turns grey, and they are said to experience hallucinations that some think are tied to a restructured nervous system. It’s unclear to many if the dermie infection is even harmful, but mass panic has caused all social systems to collapse and has driven the world into a state of perpetual fear. The "benediction" of the title is a play on the religious practice of the laying on of hands to give a blessing, and indicates the belief of the dermies that they are giving a gift to those they infect. (Incidentally, the sperm-like creatures on the book cover above is a representation of the alien parasite from this story.)

The Lineman

Set on the moon in the late twenty-first century, "The Lineman" is a brief look at the harsh life endured by lunar workers in the early stages of extraterrestrial colonization. The twist that gets the story moving—the arrival of a space-bound brothel—reminded me of the old C.S. Lewis story "Ministering Angels," but without the wry sense of humor Lewis brought to the subject. This is one of Miller’s weaker stories from this collection, and it never really comes together coherently to make a point.

Vengeance for Nikolai

This story, on the other hand, is a short but frightfully vivid nightmare of a near-future war between an America that has been overtaken by a nationalist party and the Soviets (this was written in 1956, mind you). A woman, Marya Dmitriyevna, has recently lost her infant son Nikolai in an attack, and is given the chance to revenge herself upon the Americans by a Russian colonel. The American military has a general, Rufus MacAmsward, who may be half-mad, but whose strategies have thus far managed to overcome any obstacle. He also has a thing for women. I won’t ruin the ending, but it is dark and funny and disturbing all at once.


In Closing

All things considered, this is a pretty solid collection of science fiction stories. It shows off Miller’s talent as well as his versatility. I suspect he could have written a dozen novels, and each one would have been both brilliant and entirely different than any of the others. It’s a pity his output mostly stopped with A Canticle for Leibowitz, especially after seeing the potential only hinted at in this collection.

Next up for review, Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman?

Reviewing Miller, Part 4: “Where is his peace?” Posted at 8:01 PM by Jonathan McDonald


Dark BenedictionThis series reviews the short stories found in Walter Miller’s Dark Benediction collection. (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

Blood Bank

Commander Eli Roki shoots down an emergency supply ship from Earth in what is apparently cold blood, but why? He has suspicions about the cargo the ship was holding, but has no proof of any wrongdoing. He is stripped of his rank and sets out to prove himself right… or die trying. In “Blood Bank” Miller creates a galaxy of planets which individually hold various evolutionary lines of the human race, each having adapted in some way to its environment. While Miller overestimates the speed at which the Darwinian theory of natural selection allows for such change, it does make for some fascinating speculation. There is also in this story a brief touch upon Miller’s favorite theme of abandoning or limiting the use of technology.

Big Joe and the Nth Generation

It is Mars in the far future, and the artificial atmosphere humans generated eons ago is slowly leaking out into space. Add to this problem the fact that Martian inhabitants have regressed into a primitive society which only has legends about the trees and the air being planted from the heavens by the Ancient Fathers, and you’re in a lot of trouble. Asir is an idea thief who has spent his life collecting—society calls it stealing—fragments of ancient wisdom which have been passed down through oral tradition, and having put these fragments together he realizes that the world will end soon if he doesn’t do something about it.

The Big Hunger

This is Miller’s poetic ode to space travel. Told from the perspective of some enigmatic and abstract observer, mankind reaches out to the stars over and over again. He leaves Earth and finds a habitable planet; he settles down, gets comfortable, builds a new civilization; he gets tired of the comfort, yearns for the stars, and leaves, beginning the cycle anew. Over and over he spreads himself across the galaxy, looking for something, maybe some kind of paradise from which he was banished. Many planets eventually lay claim to the name of Earth, to being the place of origin, but will the restless race find happiness even if it can find its roots?

Conditionally Human

Inspector Norris is in charge of a pound, and his new wife is very unhappy to find out about this. In the near future, population growth has led to draconian limits on procreation, and subsequently to the creation of mutated animals that have just enough intelligence to fill the emotional void of the child that is not there. Dogs can talk gibberish and chimps have been altered to look almost human, and have their physical development arrested at the level of a toddler. Mommy’s little baby. Norris catches strays and unwanted “children,” and quietly disposes of them as needed. It is a cold, frightening look at the things we are willing to do to keep ourselves comfortable at any cost.

Next time we close out this collection with “The Darfsteller,” “Dark Benediction,” “The Lineman” and “Vengeance for Nikolai”

Reviewing Miller, Part 3: “Pain Button” Posted at 8:07 PM by Jonathan McDonald


Dark BenedictionThis series reviews the short stories found in Walter Miller’s Dark Benediction collection. (Part 1, Part 2)

I, Dreamer

It’s a setup disturbing enough to be from the mind of Harlan Ellison: infants are stolen from mothers and their brains are used to operate sophisticated war machines for the conquest of Earth. Bouncing between free indirect style and first person point-of-view, Miller tries to show the inner consciousness of a being who thinks it is an artificial intelligence but is really human. It is a life of anxiety, desire and frustration, as the being known as Clicker is tortured by his “TwoLegs” handler at the merest sign of insubordination. The story is at the same time horrific and touching, as the maybe-reunion at the end is consummated in an act of irreversible destruction.

Dumb Waiter

This is a longer story that feels in some ways like a rough draft for A Canticle for Leibowitz, in theme if not in plot. There has been a war that was fought mostly by means of an artificial intelligence built to run a city and all its mechanized systems. The local city was made uninhabitable not only by the radioactive dusting attack but by “Central,” the city’s learning system that still keeps police, traffic and energy bills running in perpetuity long after the war is over. Jaywalkers or anyone breaking long-forgotten laws are arrested by self-propelled robotic policemen and tossed in jails with crumbling infrastructures, and handed foodless trays every day until they starve to death. Even rusting bomber planes are sent out every day on missions to drop bombs they no longer possess. The rural population that survived is intent on destroying the machines once and for all, ridding themselves of all technology, but a strange man named Mitch who is inexplicably heading into the city has other plans. While this story isn’t as deep as Canticle, it’s fascinating to see what amounts to an early draft of Miller’s ideas for the novel.

Next time: “Blood Bank”

Reviewing Miller, Part 2: “Quiet Misery” Posted at 7:18 AM by Jonathan McDonald


Dark BenedictionContinuing our series from two weeks ago (apologies for the week-long gap), we will now proceed with the third and fourth short stories in Walter M. Miller’s Dark Benediction series, “Anybody Else Like Me?” and “Crucifixus Etiam,” two very different stories.

Anybody Else Like Me?

This story has the feel and narrative structure, oddly enough, of an H. P. Lovecraft short horror story. Thankfully, Miller does not copy the New Englander’s penchant for purpling his prose, and sticks with his workmanlike vocabulary. The protagonist of this short and chilling tale is Lisa Waverly, a wife and mother who is “well-read, well-rounded, well-informed…. Then why this quiet misery?” (30). Miller makes you briefly think that he is going to give you an early-feminist story of self-created female angst and misery like Virginia Woolf’s or Sylvia Plath’s, only to pull out the rug and expose the terrifying reality that is causing Lisa’s mental anguish. She is a mutant and a telepath and feels emptiness in the absence of others like her. Unfortunately, when she finally does meet another of her kind, he turns out to be a frightening scientist who decides they need to be together at any cost. From the early unraveling of Lisa’s mind, to the growing terror of the danger imposing upon her, to the final confrontation between the two mutants, Miller has a firm grasp on the reader’s adrenaline level through the whole ride.

Crucifixus Etiam

Unlike the previous three stories, this one begins far away from the mundane world we know, in the far future of 2134 A.D. and the distant locale of Mars. The protagonist is Manue Nanti, a Peruvian worker who has been sent to Mars as a manual laborer for a mysterious project. Martian residents have the help of implanted oxygen tubes to help them survive in the thin and alien atmosphere. The life-giving oxygen is pumped directly into their blood such that they do not even need to breath, which leads to such a severe weakening of the lungs that those who return to Earth in that condition cannot live without lifelong medical assistance. Manue does not want to become a “troffie,” one of those whose lungs are so atrophied they can barely even speak, but the pain of forcing himself to breath the wispy air slowly takes its toll, as does his ignorance of the work he is doing. Why do the engineers and corporate heads hide their goals from the common workers? “There could be no excuse for secrecy, they felt, in time of peace. There was a certain arbitrariness about it, a hint that the Commission thought of its employees as children, or enemies, or servants” (60). He likewise feels distanced from the practice of his native religion when he attends Mass, which seems out of place “under the dark sky of Mars…. Faith needed familiar surroundings, the props of culture” (56-7). The resolution of both of these realities of alienation comes about by way of a movement hinted at in the story’s title, taken from the Nicene Creed. It is a sad ending, but one appropriate to the themes of the story.

Next week: “I, Dreamer” and “Dumb Waiter.”

Reviewing Miller, Part 1 Posted at 8:25 AM by Jonathan McDonald


The Name of the WindWalter Miller’s fiction has long been a favorite of mine. A Canticle for Leibowitz is not just one of my favorite science fiction novels, but one of my favorite novels altogether. There’s something peculiarly epic about that story, and I don’t mean that in the cheap way the word “epic” is generally used these days. I mean it in the way that scholars use it, as a way of describing a story that is universal in scope and powerfully vivid in detail. Leibowitz follows the historical development of mankind after a near-future nuclear inferno, during which we relive the great sweep of civilization from the Roman collapse to the modern, technological age. Miller gives us monks and politicians and radiation-born freaks who remember enough of the past—of our past—that they fear repeating it even as they fatalistically drive towards it. Like I said, it’s one of my favorite books, and it was not a small disappointment to hear that its sequel, Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman, was very poorly made and published by way of some major contributions from another author after Miller had committed suicide with only a partial manuscript in hand. You can imagine my glee upon discovering that a collection of his earlier short stories have been published.

This collection, entitled Dark Benediction (originally The Best of Walter Miller Jr), has been recently republished by the Orion Publishing Group as a part of the SF Masterworks series. The very trippy cover art can be seen to the left. I purchased it a few weeks ago, and have been slowly making my way through the stories, and I decided that reviewing them one by one would make a great blog series. The first few stories in the collection are quite short, and as such I will combine these together into groups of two. The first two stories in the collection are “You Triflin’ Skunk!” and “The Will.”

Both of these stories share a common sort of setup and development, in both senses of the word “common.” They are set in poor, rural places, and feature largely uneducated people as protagonists. Miller instills in the reader a sense of the mundanity of these people and their surroundings, of their ignorance and simpleness. These people are not great, learned, or even adventurous, but they are all about to experience a collision with the uncanny.

You Triflin’ Skunk!

“You Triflin’ Skunk!” is exceptional firstly for its unusual title, which would seem to suit a Flannery O’Connor story better than one of alien visitation. Indeed, the rural isolation of the religious protagonist Lucey seems like the perfect setup for one of O’Connor’s morality tales, and it helps that Miller takes his time developing the ordinariness of the situation, only revealing the back story of Lucey and her epileptic boy Doodie one piece at a time. Doodie, you see, hears voices during his fits, and he claims he actually hears the voice of his father, who can speak to him telepathically through the tumor-like growth in his forehead. The boy claims to be one of many half-breeds, the son of a priapic alien and a human mother, whose purpose is to prepare the earth for invasion. Lucey mocks this revelation, but that doesn’t stop her from carrying a shotgun with her outside on the night her son warns of his father’s coming.

The Will

This is the sad story of a boy, Kenny, who is diagnosed with an unspecified terminal disease. He loves watching the televised exploits of Captain Chronos, “Custodian of Time, Defender of the Temporal Passes, Champion of the Temporal Guard,” so when he finds out about his disease he hatches a plan to save himself. I won’t ruin it for you, but it isn’t that hard to figure out. As with the first story, “The Will” builds up the mundane world of Kenny and his parents before Miller sets to ripping the rug out from beneath your feet. One of the things Miller does so well is to make you care about these characters before he starts to bother you with fantastic elements of science fiction. His characters are never mere plot devices, but real people who matter very much. These aren’t exactly morality plays—and Leibowitz definitely had a moral character—but the stories are at least about people rather than ideas.

Tune in next week when I review “Anybody Else Like Me?” and “Crucifixus Etiam.”