Wednesday, August 30, 2006

2001 A Space Odyssey

Sparked by a discussion in one of the online groups that I belong to, I started re-reading Arthur C. Clarke's novelization (illumination?) of the best Hard SF movie ever made.

Once again, I'm struck, on the one hand, at the economy with which Clarke writes. Even after he gained access to the technology that caused many authors to develop bloat, Clarke has remained sparse in his prose. On the other hand, ideas drip from his pen (or his keys) by the dozens. I was startled, for example, to notice the glimmerings of Vernor Vinge's Singularity in these pages.

Sparse prose or not, there are occasions when his writing reaches the level of poetry. Read the chapters Transit of Jupiter or The World of the Gods. As astounding as the pictures the Galileo mission beamed back of its mission to Jupiter, rare were the commentators at JPL or NASA that vaguely approach Clarke's writing.

Then there are the short, sharp sentences and paragraphs that remain with you long after you've read the book. Take, for example, this from the Foreword:

Behind every man now alive stand thirty ghosts, for that is the ratio by which the dead outnumber the living. Since the dawn of time, roughly a hundred billion human beings have walked the planet Earth.

Or how about this single line from Into the Eye:

"The thing's hollow—it goes on forever——and—oh my God!—it's full of stars!"

Wonderful stuff. Accept no substitute. Many may aspire to the level of Clarke's ability, but few will get there.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Inherit the Stars

James P. Hogan: The Two Moons, Part 1: Inherit the Stars (Baen Books, ISBN 13: 978-1-4165-0936-3).

I first read this book when it was one of the first releases from Ballantine Books under its new Del Rey line of science fiction. The cover (by Darrell K. Sweet) really grabbed me: A body in a 2001-style spacesuit being examined by two astronauts in similar suits. The latest installment in what is now a multi-book series is out, so I picked up the omnibus edition containing the first two books in the series to read them again after nearly thirty years. Has the tale held up?

Yes and no. The main character, one Victor Hunt, gets involved in a mystery. There's a body found on the Moon. The problem is, nobody is missing any crew. And the suit doesn't quite match the technology being used. And it appears to have been there for some 50,000 years.

The book has relatively little action, it resembles more a gentleman's club mystery, where people sit around and solve the puzzle by talking. That's not to say nothing happens (heck, we travel to Jupiter!), but much of the action is just the conversational interplay between the characters.

I was really struck by some things in the book. Hogan gets some stuff right: One character spends some time catching up on scientific journals that appear to be not only online but contain hyperlinks to references and other papers. So, a book in the dark ages of 1977 (at least where information technology is concerned) correctly antiicpates something that we all make use of every day. On the other hand, he has characters (for example) making reservations using a picture phone built into the same briefcase that acts as a personal computer, instead of anticipating electronic transactions.

The oddest thing that struck me is the number of cigarettes, cigars, etc., that get lit up in the story...even on spaceships. How times have changed!

The reviewer's dilemma: The book was first published in 1977. How much do I keep the plot a secret to avoid "spoilage"? Oh well, in a nutshell: It turns out the body on the Moon is human, but, as I said, had been there some 50,000-odd years. What group of humans were running around with advanced technology 50,000 years ago? Eventually it is discovered that humans had been living on the fifth planet of the Solar System (where we now have the Asteroid Belt). A war lead to the destruction of the planet (some of it ended up as Pluto), and our Moon...previously circling the fifth planet...eventually settled into orbit around Earth.

Who brought humans to the fifth planet? Another discovery is made on Ganymede, one of Jupiter's larger moons. A crashed spaceship, even older than the body on the Moon, containing samples of earthly life. And peopled by...aliens. So, it seems the aliens brought sample of life to the fifth planet and then they eventually moved on.

It was an enjoyable tale when I first read it, and I enjoyed the re-read, but can't take the "science" seriously. It appears that Hogan does take this sort of thing seriously (one only has to look at his website, or see his columns, or see his list of recommended books). While I do support open discussion of scientific controversy, I think the preponderance of evidence has disproven the likelihood of planets and moons scuttling across our Solar System in historic times. (But I'd gladly be proven wrong, if anybody can chime in!)

Will I read the next book? Sure, I'm already several chapters into it. I'll pick up the second omnibus, and the fifth book (when it is out in paperback). I enjoy Hogan's tales of worlds in collision. I just don't think they are scientific fact.
Year's Best 10

Year's Best SF 10 (Eos Books, ISBN 0-06-057561-1). Edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer.

Well, I'll admit that I've acquired a large pile of "best of" anthologies and haven't gotten around to reading them. Thanks to the incentive provided by the fine folks at SF Signal, I'm hopeful to get through several of these this reading year.

The introduction, again, isn't as detailed as the exhaustive one provided in the Dozois anthologies. The editors are more positive on the market in this introduction than the one provided in the eleventh installment in the series. No political commentary, thank you, but also a lack of detail on anything else that might have an effect on the world of science fiction.

Made up of: Introduction (David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer); Sergeant Chip (Bradley Denton); First Commandment (Gregory Benford); Burning Day (Glenn Grant); Scout's Honor (Terry Bisson); Venus Flowers at Night (Pamela Sargent); Pulp Cover (Gene Wolfe); The Algorithms for Love (Ken Liu); Glinky (Ray Vukcevich); Red City (Janeen Webb); Act of God (Jack McDevitt); Wealth (Robert Reed); Mastermindless (Matthew Hughes); Time, as It Evaporates... (Jean-Claude Dunyach); The Battle of York (James Stoddard); Loosestrife (Liz Williams); The Dark Side of Town (James Patrick Kelly); Invisible Kingdoms (Steven Utley); The Cascade (Sean McMullen); Pervert (Charles Coleman Finlay); The Risk-Taking Gene as Expressed by Some Asian Subjects (Stee Tomasula); Strood (Neal Asher); The Eckener Alternative (James L. Cambias); Savant Songs (Brenda Cooper).

Counts as one entry in the 2006 Short Story Project.

Part of the 2007 Short Story Project.

Part of the 2008 Year in Shorts.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Meme Mania

The kind folks at SF Signal have "tagged" me, so I'm being forced to think this morning. Don't worry, I'll carefully spread the wealth further...

1. One book that changed your life?

The World, The Flesh and The Devil by J.D. Bernal.

2. One book you have read more than once?

Starlight Nights: The Adventures of a Star-Gazer by Leslie Peltier

3. One book you would want on a desert island?

Can three books count as one? Especially if the author intended it to be one book? I think it would be The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.

4. One book that made you laugh?

Anything by P.G. Wodehouse.

5. One book that made you cry?

102 Minutes by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn.

6. One book you wish you had written?

Voyage by Stephen Baxter. I actually was researching a story of alternate history like this when I read the book. No way I could top this!

7. One book you wish had never been written?

Anything by David Berlinski. Just about the most-overhyped author I've encountered. No only that, a perfect example of the need of an editor in the process of writing a book. Why use a one or two syllable word when a five or ten syllable word will do and also make you look more intelligent? Berlinski has written about some fascinating stuff, but has managed to write a series of books that I would readily toss across the room. Avoid!

8. One book you are currently reading?

Only one? Sorry, that's not the way I operate! Let's see. The Posleen books by John Ringo. More short story collections than I can shake a stick at. I think I am "currently reading" about twenty-five books. Some take a year or more. Some less than a week. I'm a multi-tasker! I'm a multi-tasker! Watch this space.

9. One book you have been meaning to read?

Only one? There are piles! O.K., let's pick a hard one. How about The Anthropic Cosmological Principle by John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler? Maybe this vacation!

10. Now tag five people.


Tuesday, August 15, 2006


Endless Frontiers, Volume IV: Life Among the Asteroids (edited by Jerry Pournelle and John F. Carr, Ace, ISBN 0441-48232-5).

So here I am, I say to myself, "Self, we really must finish all the short story collections we've started before we start another one." Fine and dandy, and what do I do tonight after dinner? Start another short story collection. Sigh. Me, myself and I will never learn.

Foreword: The Endless Frontier (Jerry Pournelle): Pournelle talks about starting this series of books nearly ten years earlier. He also talks about his experiences during the first Reagan administration when things look they might move in the space program (public and private). Well, that didn't happen, did it. One very good quote about NASA:

NASA took a Saturn V, the most powerful machine mankind ever built, a fully operational man-rated rocket, and laid it on its side as a lawn ornament, thus making sure that this monster didn't launch another SKylab to threaten Space Station Freedom.

Yep, boys and girls. We had a second Skylab and now it's an exhibit in Washington, D.C. We could have launched that puppy and had someplace for the shuttle to visit. Instead we're still waiting for the completion of the ISS (or Space Station Alpha, as it was briefly named).

Life Among the Asteroids (Jerry Pournelle) This non-fiction essay has been collected a number of times in various Pournelle authored or edited anthologies. He takes a look at how a constant-boost vehicle (atomic pile or fusion reactor) could open up the Solar System. He outlines a couple of scenarios (the first of which you'll see in the next entry). A good non-fiction piece, it even seems to have inspired a website or two (first appearance: Galaxy Science Fiction).

Tinker (Jerry Pournelle): This story is another one that Pournelle has anthologized multiple times. It is part of the so-called Hansen series, made up of multiple short stories (most found in the collection High Justice) plus the novel Exiles to Glory. Pournelle takes some of the ideas from the essay mentioned above and applies them to a short story. Why did the stockholders of Jefferson and Freedom Station want to charter a ship without having any cargo to ship? Pournelle has explored this setting further with another essay and with a novel, I wish he had done more with this. However, he seems to excel in setting up scenarios and not using them more than once or twice! Oh well (first appearance: Galaxy Science Fiction).

Tool Dresser's Law (Jack Clemons): Blue collar workers in outer space! Anybody else find it odd that while the rest of the solar system gets various explorer types in their stories, the Belt inevitably gets grungy worker types? (Speaking as a grungy worker type, myself...) (first appearance: Amazing Stories).

The Grand Tour (Charles Sheffield): A good story, other than the fact that it does not take place in the asteroids! A bicycle race (!) to circum-lunar space and back. Yes. Bicycle race! Sheffield explains all, never fear (first appearance: Project Solar Sail).

Industrial Revolution (Poul Anderson): Hey, a previously unread Anderson! Cool! A pretty good tale that reminded me of Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress in various ways. A good revolution by mistake/unintention tale (first appearance: Analog).

Those Pesky Belters and Their Torchships (Jerry Pournelle): Non-fiction by Pournelle, a companion piece to Life Among the Asteroids. Considers various propulsion methods for travel among the asteroid belt and to and from the planets (above) (first appearance: Galaxy Science Fiction).

Traveling Salesman (Peter L. Manly): Pretty good short story in which the Belt is settled not only by various miners, but splinter societies. A traveling salesman (no jokes, please) approaching a religious splinter society suffers a massive systems breakdown in his drive and other ship systems. How to survive to the point where the salvage ships get him. He wants to survive, naturally, to live, but also so they can't profit from salvage (first appearance in this volume).

Teddy Bug and the Hot Purple Snowball (Philip C. Jennings): Far Frontiers was one of the many Jim Baen edited or created "bookzines" (along with Destinies, New Destinies and others). I spent some time over the past two years recreating my collection (lost during a basement flood), so I'll look for other tales by this gentleman when I start reading/re-reading these. Jennings' tale is interesting in that it predates Charles Stross' stuff in Accelerando by many years but has much in the same "technology". An odd society is depicted, but one you could see coming to pass. As for the technology, I'm not convinced anybody could "live" in such a manner, but it would be a fascinating existence! Like I said, I need to find more by Jennings (first appearance: Far Frontiers).

Stealing a Zero-G Cow (Brooks Peck): Funny tale of an asteroid family seeking revenge on another (larger and wealthier) asteroid family. Strong overtones of earlier Jerry Pournelle stories (which had overtones of early Heinlein stories; there is nothing new under the sun!). Good background and plot, so I'll need to seek this author out to see if he? she? has written anything else (first appearance in this volume).

Asteroids: The Better Resource (Eric Drexler): Long before he became known for his work in nanotechnology, Drexler was involved in the L-5 Society, a group dedicated to the development of colonies at the Lagrange Points, as well as things such as mining the Moon and the Asteroid Belt. In this non-fiction entry, Drexler argues against Pournelle (who is something of a Lunatic, that is, a lunar advocate) as to where would be a better place to put our space-faring efforts: developing lunar resources or developing Belt resources (first appearance: L-5 News).

Iceslinger (John Hegenberger): Interesting background, not much in the way of story or characters (first appearance in this volume).

Ginungagap (Michael Swanwick): Definately the feel of a John Varley story here. A lot of fun, and another good tale from Swanwick. One question, though. What is it with SF writers and cats? Go figure (first appearance: TriQuarterly).

Afterword: Nunc Dimittis (Jerry Pournelle): Pournelle makes the case (as he did in a few other entries) for lunar colonization as well as the development of waldo technology (first appearance: Analog).

Made up of: Foreword: The Endless Frontier (Jerry Pournelle); Life Among the Asteroids (Jerry Pournelle); Tinker (Jerry Pournelle); Tool Dresser's Law (Jack Clemons); The Grand Tour (Charles Sheffield); Industrial Revolution (Poul Anderson); Those Pesky Belters and Their Torchships (Jerry Pournelle); Traveling Salesman (Peter L. Manly); Teddy Bug and the Hot Purple Snowball (Philip C. Jennings); Stealing A Zero-G Cow (Brooks Peck); Asteroids: The Better Resource (Eric Drexler); Iceslinger (John Hegenberger); Ginungagap (Michael Swanwick); Afterword: Nunc Dimittis (Jerry Pournelle); various bits of material in between stories (counting as one entry, written by Jerry Pournelle).

Counts as eleven entries in the 2006 Short Story Project.

Counts as four entries in the 2007 Short Story Project (collection completed).

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Jorkens Compleat

Lord Dunsany: The Collected Jorkens, Volume One (Night Shade Press).

I had, on occasion, run across Lord Dunsany's Tales of Jorkens. There are a few scattered in the Dunsany volumes of Ballantine Books famous Adult Fantasy Series of the 1960's and early 1970's. And there are a number of references and homages to the series scattered all through science fiction: Clarke's Tales of the White Hart, Niven's stories of Draco's Tavern and much, much more. So it was with loud cries of joy that I discovered that Night Shade Books had come out with a three-volume collection (in faux leather hardcover editions) of the Jorkens tales.

The stories are all rather short and generally follow the same format. Jorkens is the member of a gentleman's or adventurer's club in London. The scene usually is of one of a member proclaiming loudly about an adventure he had. Jorkens stirs, rumbles, and somebody hands him a whisky-and-soda to keep his throat moist. And we're off! Sometimes to Africa (where we encounter close cousins to men, or a huge diamond, or see a showman captured by ape-like creatures to be put on a show for other ape-like creatures). Sometimes we go to Mars. Sometimes we border on science fiction, sometimes we border on fantasy or horror. Always we get a wonderful tall tale and, like the members of the club, wonder how much of what Jorkens has told us is the truth and how much is fabricated.

All the Jorkens stories are relatively short. You'll have no trouble getting through a half-dozen or more at one sitting and you'll be constantly amused and amazed that you'll have to force yourself to stop before you read them all! Good stuff!

Made up of: Preface (Edward Plunkett, Lord Dunsany); Foreword (Sir Arthur C. Clarke); Introduction (S.T. Joshi); Bibliographical Notes; The Travel Tales of Mr. Joseph Jorkens (Preface; The Tale of the Abu Laheeb; The King of Sarahb; How Jembu Played for Cambridge; The Charm Against Thirst; Our Distant Cousins; A Large Diamond; A Queer Island; The Electric King; A Drink at a Running Stream; A Daughter of Rameses; The Showman; Mrs. Jorkens; The Witch of the Willows); Jorkens Remembers Africa (Preface; The Lost Romance; The Curse of the Witch; The Pearly Beach; The Walk to Lingham; The Escape from the Valley; One August in the Red Sea; The Bare Truth; What Jorkens Has to Put Up With; Ozymandias; At the End of the Universe; The Black Mamba; In the Garden of Memories; The Slugly Beast; Earth's Secret; The Persian Spell; Stranger Than Fiction; The Golden Gods; The Correct Kit; How Ryan Got Out of Russia; The Club Secretary; A Mystery of the East).

(Counts as 39 entries for the 2006 short story project.)

Lord Dunsany: The Collected Jorkens, Volume Two (Night Shade Press).

Made up of: Preface (Edward Plunkett, Lord Dunsany); Foreword (T.E.D. Klein); Introduction (S.T. Joshi); Biographical Notes; Jorkens Has a Large Whiskey (containing Preface; Jorkens' Revenge; Jorkens Retires from Business; Jorkens Handles a Big Property; The Invention of Dr. Caber; The Grecian Singer; The Jorkens Family Emeralds; A Fishing Story; Jorkens in High Finance; The Sign; The Angelic Shepherd; The Neapolitan Ice; The Development of the Rillswood Estate; The Fancy Man; The Lion and the Unicorn; A Doubtful Story; Jorkens Looks Forward; Jorkens Among the Ghosts; Elephant Shooting; African Magic; Jorkens Consults a Prophet; A Matter of Business; The Invention of the Age; The Sultan, the Monkey and the Banana; Pundleton's Audience; The Fight in the Drawing Room; The Ivory Poacher); The Fourth Book of Jorkens (containing Making Fine Weather; Mgamu; The Haunting of Halahanstown; The Pale-Green Image; Jorkens Leaves Prison; The Warning; The Sacred City of Krakovlitz; Jorkens Practices Medicine and Magic; Jarton's Disease; On the Other Side of the Sun; The Rebuff; Jorkens' Ride; The Secret of the Sphinx; The Khamseen; The Expulsion; The Welcome; By Command of Pharaoh; A Cricket Problem; A Life's Work; The Ingratiating Smile; The Last Bull; The Strange Drug of Dr. Caber; A Deal with the Devil; Strategy at the Billards Club; Jorkens in Witch Wood; Lost; The English Magnifico; The Cleverness of Dr. Caber; Fairy Gold; A Royal Dinner; A Fight with Knives; Out West; In a Dim Room); Appendix (containing After Many a Summer; Jorkens' Problem).

(Counts as 65 entries for the 2006 short story project.)

Lord Dunsany: The Collected Jorkens, Volume Three (Night Shade Press).

Made up of: Preface (Edward Plunkett, Lord Dunsany); Foreword (Michael Dirda); Introduction (S.T. Joshi); Bibliographical Note; Jorkens Borrows Another Whiskey (containing Preface; The Two-Way War; A Nice Lot of Diamonds; Letting Bygones be Bygones; The Lost Invention; On Other Paths; The Partner; Poulet a la Richelieu; A Walk in the Night; One Summer's Evening; A Friend of the Family; An Eccentricity of Genius; Influenza; The Unrecorded Test Match; Idle Tears; Among the Neutrals; An Idyll of the Sahara; The Devil Among the Willows; A Spanish Castle; The New Moon; The Gods of Clay; A Rash Remark; The Story of Jorkens' Watch; The Track Through the Wood; Snow Water; The Greatest Invention; The Verdict; A Conversation in Bond Street; The Reward; Which Way?; A Desperado in Surrey; Misadventure; A Long Memory; An Absentminded Professor; Greek Meets Greek); The Last Book of Jorkens (containing A Fatal Mistake; A Prophet Without Honor; A Big Bang; Jorkens' Regret; The Two Scientists; The Lost Charm; Bringing Things Up to Date; A Snake Story; The Deal; In the Mojave; A Modern Conqueror; The Little Light; Across the Colour Bar; A Bit of Counter-Espionage; A Wonderful Day; Not Guilty; The Explanation; A Deal with a Witch; Jorkens' Dilemma; A Plaything of Our Betters; The Visitor; On Wings of Song); Uncollected Tales (containing The Two Jenets; A Meeting of Spirits; The Ultimate Goal).

Counts as 64 entries in the 2007 Short Story Project.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Somebody Comes to Town, Somebody Wanders Around Town

Some friends had been urging me to read Cory Doctorow's novels. Certainly comments in articles in Locus and other sources made it look like he was the hottest thing since sliced bread. I was already familiar with him from his co-edited site BoingBoing (a place that equally enchants and irritates me on a regular basis). So, I got a hold of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.

But, before reading that, I came across free (yes, free!) and legitimate copies of two of his other books in multiple eBook formats: Eastern Standard Tribe and Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town. So it just so happened that I ended up reading these two first.

To be quite honest, I'm glad I got them for free.

Tribe has its viewpoint split between the first person viewpoint (the thread of the story that takes place "now") and the third person viewpoint (the events that took place in the "past", that eventually lead up to the "now"). Our main character is in an institution, for having done something bad to a co-worker. The tale in the present details his efforts to get out, while the tale of the past details what happened.

There just wasn't anything really compelling, to me, about the story. The technology mentioned here and there in the story isn't very futuristic or innovative. The main idea of the story (that people would be attracted to different locales or groups, and "time shift" to keep up with that group, developing "time tribes") isn't explored in much detail. And there is a bit of a disconnect between the event that causes Our Hero to be institutionalized and the eventual ease with which he gets out of the institution. Overall, I got the feeling that Doctorow had read Pattern Recognition by William Gibson and decided to write something in a similar vein. He's no William Gibson, alas.

O.K., I got it for nothing. Sometimes you get what you pay for.

Town is a much better novel. Doctorow shows that he has grown significantly in experience in the time between the writing of Tribe and the writing of this novel. However, we're still not quite there yet. It's a "urban fantasy", something in the vein that Gene Wolfe might produce, or Tim Powers, or several authors who are published by Baen Books. A relatively realistic tale with elements of fantasy.

There is one "cute" literary technique that drove me bonkers though. Several of the characters change their names in the narrative. Constantly. Heck, it gets so bad that the author makes a mistake in the flow of the story involving these names.

Then there's a pacing problem. One of the main character's brothers is in the process of offing other brothers. The character witnesses the kidnapping (and possible murder) of three of his brothers. So what does he do? Does he rush off home to try and rectify things? Does he mount a rescue effort? No, he spends twelve weeks or so setting up a wireless network in town. Excuse me?

Town was a much better novel than Tribe. As I said, Doctorow grew as an author between the two books. But to me, this shows that he really could not decide what kind of novel he was writing. Are you writing a gritty urban fantasy where primal elements are fighting for control? Or are you writing a near-future social commentary about how the internet, wireless networks, etc., can change society and bring it back to a world of "Third Places" and alternative lifestyles?

As with Tribe, I get the feeling that Doctorow is channeling another author here, in this case Neil Gaiman. But, since Gaiman is a shadow of Tim Powers, things are quite diluted from where they could be.

Again, it was free. I would have been really irritated if I had purchased it in hardcover.

Addendum (June 14, 2006): Ah. I understand now. It is all metaphor.

Addendum (July 16, 2007): Once again, proof that I ain't no academic!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Three From the Legion

Over at SF Signal, the management threw down the challenge to name three books that you've read and liked and that others probably have missed. Given my collection, I had many choices. As with many of these "meme"-like challenges, the problem was not so much finding choices but restricting them. Here are my choices. I figured that if I took the time to construct the comment there, I ought to be able to use it as a posting here!

Choice One: The Planet Strappers, Raymond Z. Gallun. You would be hard pressed to find a fan of SF today who would know who Gallun was. And that's a crying shame, because he produced many short gems. And even if that fan knew who Gallun was, you'd be hard pressed to find somebody who read this rather obscure book.

Written in 1961, it depicts a grimmer solar system and grimmer space program than much of what was being written at the time. It also probably depicts a solar system that was closer to what we eventually found in reality once we started exploring ourselves than what most professional astronomers believed.

A group of space enthusiasts gets a chance to get into space. They build and/or restore equipment including space suits that produce their own food and oxygen and inflatable ships that are powered by ion drives. (Sounds incredible? Try "googling" "Bigelow Aerospace" and see what is happening in orbit now!). Once they make it into orbit, the group breaks up, some going to the Moon, some to Mars, some to the far reaches of the system. There are mysteries a plenty and even some tried and true plot devices (asteroid mining and space pirates) that are dusted off and seem fresh. Published only once that I know of, by Pyramid in 1961 I've managed to score a dozen copies. I pass them out to good friends.

Choice Two: The Enemy Stars, Poul Anderson. Once you get past the three giants that I read the most in my misbegotten youth (Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein), you move into folks like Andre Norton, Alan E. Nourse and Poul Anderson. Of the authors that I discovered after the Big Three, Anderson is probably the one that influenced me the most. And this book, in a list of rated books that sparkles with "10's", is the one that affected me the most.

They called her the Southern Cross and launched her. Ships need to travel slower than light to bring the matter transmitters to new planets. The Southern Cross wasn't destined to go to a planet, but for a scientific mission that lasted generations. Year after year she was crewed, as civilizations rose and fell and governments changed. Now she's nearing her destination. However, things go horribly wrong.

Expanded from a story called "We Have Fed Our Sea", you'll get a hint of what the story is about if you parse the meaning of that phrase. Science may have gone past what Anderson knew, but most practitioners of science fiction are not fit to carry Anderson's pencil case when it comes to plot, character, use of literary motifs and care in writing.

My two copies are a Berkley edition (paperback) from 1965 and a hardcover published by Lippincott in 1958. I don't think the book is currently in print; like much of Anderson's works, the publishing world has let it go out of print. What a shame!

Choice Three: The Legion of Space, Jack Williamson. I could be snarky and put down an omnibus of John W. Campbell, Jr. tales or the entire Lensman or Skylark series by E.E. "Doc" Smith. However, I chose this single slime book to represent the sub-genre of Hard SF that I have returned to again and again, especially whenever it is "revitalized" by subsequent generations of science fiction authors.

Thrills! Chills! Nasty aliens! Journeys across interstellar space! A journey on foot across an alien planet loaded with nasty creatures to make any "naturalist" from the Animal Planet or Discovery channels faint dead away. A female character that is no shrinking violet. Characters with hearts of gold. Amazing technology.

I've got a Fantasy Press edition from 1947, a Pocket edition of the original trilogy from 1980 and a SFBC omnibus from 1980 as well. I don't know if it is still in print, but it is worth seeking out either solo or with the other two novels. They are fun, but not as good. A fourth was later written, The Queen of the Legion, that I've yet to get to.

Only three choices. It was tough, but they are all solid, I think.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Two By Ringo

A couple of entries into the annual book-a-thon...

Note that I've hyperlinked to the "free samples" that Baen provides. I'll try to do this on an ongoing basis whenever a publisher offers such a service.

A Hymn Before Battle (John Ringo, Baen Books, ISBN 0-671-31841-1). The first in the Legacy of the Alldenata series, and Ringo's first (August 2000) novel. He's been busy since then, with twenty-two other books (including the other one reviewed here), either as solo author or co-author. All are part of a series (Into the Looking Glass, reviewed here, will have a sequel, this time officially co-authored by Travis S. Taylor in the near future; The Road to Damascus is part of Keith Laumer's long-running Bolo sequence.)

O.K., after that introduction...A Hymn Before Battle! Earth is contacted by a federation of aliens that are under attack by hordes of aliens called the Posleen. It seems that the federation is made up of races who decided that they ain't gonna study war no more, so they are essentially unable to do anything but line up for the Posleen to use as feedstock. Lucky for them, humanity hasn't gone that course, so they hire most of Earth's armies (and other armed forces) to stem the tide (in exchange for various galactic goods and services).

Is all as it seems? No. There are some back story and side story items that will probably be expanded on in the subsequent volumes. Even in the events of the novel you can see that there are wheels within wheels.

Not much in terms of characterization, but a lot in terms of action and technology. Some occasional slow bits where the author shows his love of technology (especially military technology), but not too many. I read the book in two days thanks to the action and the desire to see if the main characters could work their way out of various situations. Will I read the other books in the series? You bet! I find echoes of authors such as Andre Norton, Robert A. Heinlein and Jerry Pournelle in here, so, what's not to like?

(Note that the series order does not match the order of writing. For example, Watch on the Rhine takes place around the time of the first book. The Hero takes place about a 1,000 years after the first book!)

Ghost (John Ringo, Baen Books, ISBN 1-4165-0905-4). This one appears to have been a risk-taker for both Ringo and the publisher. Ringo could have continued to grind out SF books and done himself and his publisher well. But apparently he had an odd story in his head and convinced Baen Books to publish it. It's not science fiction. More of an odd cross between techno-thrillers and slightly harder porn than that found in romance novels (not that I read any; I'm working off what some co-workers gush about in the kitchen). The story sequence is something like this: military action, large explosions, sex sequence. Interlude, military action, more explosions, longer and more detailed sex sequence. Interlude, military action, bigger explosions, more sex! End of book!

Did it hold my interest? Apparently, as this was another one consumed in a relatively short time. Will I continue to read the other books in the series? More than likely, as despite the depiction of a "scene" that does not interest me, it is fun to watch Mike Harmon (the "Ghost") take on a seemingly endless supply of enemies and knock them all down. An utter hoot!
Beer Here!

It seems appropriate (after trying to beat the lawn and weeds into submission from 10:00 AM until 5:30 PM) to sit down with Spider Robinson's Callahan's Key and drink a cold one. The cold one in question is Sierra Nevada's Pale Ale. Several years ago I discovered pale ales, in a brand I've forgotten. I recall it had a story on the label about how the beer (ale) was originally made in the holds of ships on their way to India. I have searched for that liquid several times recently (mostly since starting to buy the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale again this summer—it's been a long hot summer of mowing and weed wacking!), without luck. Does that brand ring a bell with anyone?