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SFRevu: August 1997 Vol. 1.2
1997 by Ernest Lilley

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Contents: New Releases: Slant by Greg Bear How Like a God by Brenda W. Clough In Enemy Hands by David Weber (reviewed by Bob Devney)
Interviews: Author: Allen Steele - The Tranquility Alternative Author: James Alan Gardner - Expendable
SFRevu goes to The Movies: Event Horizon
Now in Paperback! Mainline by Deborah Christian Footprints of Thunder by James F. David
Contact SFRevu's forays into the world of SF Fandom.
Next Month in SFRevu: JACK FAUST by Michael Swanwick, CATCH THE LIGHTNING by Catherine Asaro, LUNATICS by Bradley Denton, PUTTING UP ROOTS by Charles Sheffield, KING OF ABSOLUTE SPACE by Allen Steele, Guest Review by Steven Sawicki, Movie Preview: GATTCA. Plus Interviews, Contact, and more…

Contents - New Releases - Interview - Movies - Paperbacks - Contact - Next Month

First, a word from the editor: August already? Better print this issue out and run for the beach before it's Fall. Seems impossible in these dog days of summer, but you'd better make the best of them. For me that means a shady spot, something cool to drink, and plenty of SF to consume. Read on for my thoughts on what that stack of books should include. Share SFRevu with your friends and feel free to use anything in the issue in your own publication, just remember to get my permission at SFReviewer@aol.com.

  Ernest Lilley, Editor / Publisher SFRevu

Subscribe now by Emailing SFRevu@aol.com with any of the following in the subject: 1) "Notify Me" to get notices when the WebPage changes 2) "Email Subscription" to have the text version sent to you vial Email.

 Contents - New Releases - Interview - Movies - Paperbacks - Contact - Next Month

New Releases: Slant by Greg Bear How Like a God by Brenda W. Clough In Enemy Hands by David Weber (reviewed by Bob Devney)

Slant by Greg Bear

ISBN 0-312-85517-6 Tor July 1997

In a society built on the therapied stability of the working class, something threatens to unravel the reconstructed psyches of the masses. In SLANT, Greg Bear paints a carefully constructed picture of America in the middle of the next century. Nanotech, body modification, dataflow, virtual living, therapy, sex and religion all swirl together in Bear's masterful style. Not only is the techno and sociological fabric of SLANT tightly woven by this master craftsman, but he has created characters with a depth and consistency equal to their environment. The story is engrossing and well conceived, building to a satisfying conclusion in the universe he created in QUEEN OF ANGELS. SLANT is one of Bear’s best.

SLANT comes together from several directions at once, but how the storylines merge is not revealed until well into the book. Bear builds his structure piece by piece, as each character develops along their own path. I discarded the breakneck pace with which I devour Space Opera and read SLANT carefully watching each character’s progress. Allow me to introduce some prominent members of the cast.

Jack Giffey - He's never met a machine he can't beat…but he keeps looking. He’s been a lot of things in his day, soldier and spy among them and now for a change of pace, perhaps grave robber. He’s lying low in seceded Green Idaho casing the impregnable Omphalos, the cryogenic tomb/vault of the wealthy, lying frozen in wait for a better tomorrow.

Mary Choy - A rising cop on the beat, she wanted the perfect cop body - so she bought one. She's had enough of perfection and now she's drifting back to her same old used to be. She’s keeping the new feet though, and they’re about to walk her into the case of her career.

Alice Grale - An erotic media star in a world where the audience can plug into your sensations. Her career is stalled and suddenly she’s being stalked by a most unusual fan. She’d like to be noticed by the right people but can she avoid the wrong ones?

Jill - One of the most powerful AIs in existence. She’s wondering about her purpose, teaching morality to a rogue AI, and trying to avoid catatonia. Some say information exchange is just another way of saying sex, but Jill has to be very careful about her partners.

SLANT is complex and worthwhile, and sports a sizable cast, I went to the trouble of making a character list which I’ve left as an appendix to the review.

A number of Heinleinian elements and situations occur in SLANT, from the seceded Green Idaho (a.k.a. Coventry) to a secret society waiting out the end of a corrupt society and the self aware artificial intelligences, readers of RAH will recognize familiar scenery. SLANT is not a mere rehashing of old news. It is a fresh appraisal of familiar themes by an author with the insight into individuals and society needed to make it worthwhile. At the beginning of chapters are quotes from the future news media or the future bestseller THE KISS OF X, ALIVE CONTAINS A LIE that are worth examining on their own. No one is safe from Greg Bear’s insight, as he dissects liberal and conservative alike.

SLANT is an adventure, a whodunit, and a critical essay. Together they show Bear to be a master among SF authors.

SLANT - a partial dramatis persona

The Omphalos - A tomb for the storage of the wealthy. A massive pyramid rising about Green Idaho. It’s indestructible, but is it impregnable as well?

Green Idaho - They don’t approve of government, fire inspectors, or messing around with the gene pool. The roads are rough and their manners rougher. On the Fourth of July they hand out dynamite for fireworks. "We ought to just drop a rock on the whole place." mutters a Fed.

Jack Giffey - He's never met a machine he can't beat…but he keeps looking. He's also not above rubbing society's nose in its own crap. Is he the man anyone thinks he is?

Alice Grale - An erotic media star in a world where the audience can plug into your sensations. Her career is stalled and suddenly she’s being stalked by a most unusual fan. She’d like to be noticed by the right people but can she avoid the wrong ones?

Terrance Crest - The Terrance Crest, a man on top of the world, with wealth, power and success undreamed of by all but a few, and in terror of losing it all.

Martin Burke - A therapist in a world where the unanalyzed is the exception. He came to Seattle to escape the constant glare of the sun, now he wishes he could escape the gray pallor he lives under. An engineer of the therapied society, he’s about to watch everything he helped create go through catastrophic failure.

Jill - One of a few powerful Artificial Intelligences that move the boundaries of understanding forward a thought at a time…as long as they can stay sane.

Jonathan and Chloe - Married with children, the timeless balance of self and family. Approaching a crisis in marriage, Jonathan is seeking closeness, while Chloe is looking for freedom. Or is she hiding from the ghost of her past?

Yvonne - A waitress in a backwoods land, she's looking for a better man and it might just be Jack Giffey.

Mary Choy - She wanted the perfect cop body so she bought one. Now she's drifting back to the same old used to be...but she’ll keep the new feet.

Nussbaum - He's an old time police detective whose unmodified nose can still smell trouble, which he doesn’t mind putting Choy into the middle of.

Roddy - an illegal AI who appears to Jill with temptations of freedom and danger. She pulls away at first, cautious, scared, then absorbs herself in his conundrums to the exclusion of all else and the risk of her sanity. Whoever created Roddy is asking him some scary questions.

Torino - Scientist, social theorist. It all begins with sex, he says, and sex is really information exchange…as Jonathan listens despite himself.

Marcus - Jonathan’s mentor, Heinlein's old man, a door into a secret order, or just a corrupt deal maker? (All of the above)

Nathan - Creator of Jill, once a lover of Sceefa Schnee, a woman who induced a little madness in herself to become more brilliant. Jill is the AI he created, the daughter he doesn't have, and very nearly the woman he loves.

Sceefa Schnee - A radical AI scientist who entered the mouth of madness to find her voice. When she found it, her words came out with a snarl.

 

How Like a God by Brenda W. Clough

ISBN 0-312-86263-6 TOR March 1997

Rob Lewis is only human. With one little exception. He can change your mind.

Computer Programmer Rob Lewis starts out at the beginning of HOW LIKE A GOD in his daily morning routine. Get the kids to school, his wife off to her job, himself to work. Barring the unforeseen it will be another day in suburbia, and Rob is content things the way they are. That's a pity because the unforeseen is about to hit him like a tsunami.

Rob is easy to like and relate to, a dedicated father and husband, a vaguely Dilbertesque programmer who fondly recalls the comics he read when he was younger. He seems like someone you can trust. Unfortunately he's only human.

While trying to get everyone where they are going, Rob discovers that he has suddenly acquired the ability to read and alter minds. He has no idea how it happened, and it takes a while for him to believe, but soon he's off to save the world with his new power.

What Rob doesn’t count on is the difference between power and control. First, a fireman is killed because Rob had covered leaving work by imprinting the suggestion that he was around…somewhere. When he realizes that he is rewriting his kids minds involuntarily and that his wife is suddenly consumed by ambition to use his powers for their gain he does the only thing he can think of - run away. Destitute and homeless in New York City , Rob shies away from human contact while he grapples with the darkness within himself and his uncontrolled power.

A chance encounter with a neuro-scientist and the self disgust generated from nearly raping a young girl leads Rob to seek help learning to control his power before the inevitable confrontation between human and divine spirit. Rob sinks low enough in this phase to make the author's point, but I'm sure I could have sunk considerably lower before accepting responsibility for my actions. It doesn’t hurt the story much, if at all, but I think that the author pulled her punch a bit here.

From Washington D.C. to New York to Siberia, HOW LIKE A GOD takes us on a journey of self discovery reminiscent of LeGuin's LATHE OF HEAVEN, in which George Orr dreams Effective Dreams that change the face of the world. This book is considerably more thoughtfully than the reality hopping of MAINLINE by Deborah Christian (NOW IN PAPERBACK Aug '97 SFRevu 1.2). HOW LIKE A GOD is a thought provoking story about what it means not just to be a god, but to be human as well.

It's clear that author Brenda Clough has mastered her powers of persuasion. I recommend this for readers of Fantasy and SF readers alike, as well as mainstream readers that wouldn't touch Fantasy or SF on a dare. Now if I could only reach out and adjust your minds…

Honor Harrington: In Enemy Hands by David Weber (reviewed by Bob Devney)

ISBN 0-671-87793-3 August 1997 Baen Books hardcover

Friend Bob Devney (and editor/reporter for the Con activity following Devniad) made the mistake of commenting on my vast knowledge of Military SF. " It's great to see this stuff reviewed by someone who really knows the genre," he opined, "All I read is Honor Harrington…" We'll, I may get a kick out of cybernetic tanks dealing tetrawatt onslaughts, or space dreadnoughts slugging it out in the void, but I never did get around to reading Honor Harrington. Mr. Devney corrects that slight with his review - it's up to you whether he comes to praise Honor or to bury her. - Ern.

Honor's in trouble again.

She's suddenly developing feelings for an attractive older man she's liked for a while, but not THAT WAY until now. Unfortunately, he's her superior officer. Even more vexing, he's got entirely the wrong slant on some new multistage missiles with a performance envelope she'd gladly sacrifice 18 percent of her broadside for!

As if that weren't bad enough, comes the most one-sided defeat in the history of the Royal Manticoran Navy. Plus, since the book title already gives it away … let's just say that anybody whose fantasies feature Honor looking fetching in handcuffs may be pleased with this seventh far-future space navy thriller starring the beautiful and deadly Lady Dame Honor Harrington: Countess, Steadholder of Grayson, newly promoted Commodore of the Royal Manticoran Navy, and complete 40th-century fox.

The Honor books combine a dash of Danielle Steele's romanticism with a big dose of Tom Clancy's technothrills -- and anti-leftist politics -- in an SF military/adventure milieu. Usually, they're a pleasant read if you like anything in that mix.

Unfortunately, here the politics threaten to thwart the thrills. The book's three measly space battles are swamped by three thousand political discussions. Starting with the opening scene, which excitingly features people sitting around a conference table thinking about recent political history.

In a nod to the French Revolution, the kakistocratic nogoodniks heading up Honor's enemies, the People's Republic of Haven, are called the Committee of Public Safety. Led by Rob Pierre, get it? The Peeps are set up (and I do mean set up) as a straight Marxist/socialist bureaucracy.

While the good guys, Manties and Graysons, are enlightened products of 40 centuries of human political development. You know, a hereditary monarchy and a hereditary oligarchy ...

Weber does get your blood boiling as his bad guys commit the usual socialist outrages. Tying the hands of the military, gutting free speech, providing welfare to the poor, and so on. But in extrapolating a huge star-spanning socialist empire just to expose its sins, isn't he flagellating an extremely ex-equine?

Luckily, there are other familiar pleasures here.

We get the first inkling of a new parallel to wet navy technology, with mention of sortieing the Manties’ light attack craft from something reminiscent of an aircraft carrier. This kind of thing is an enjoyable constant in the series. Space navy technology 2,000 years from now seems to be a mixture of 1805 (broadsides and a 3D equivalent of lines of battle) and about 1985 (lasers, missiles, electronic countermeasures).

You keep waiting for Weber’s swabbies to start sponging out their impeller missile tubes.

Also returning, naturally, is Honor's cute, furry yet formidable empath/symbiote/pet treecat, Nimitz. Along with so many relatives that the next volume may be called THE TROUBLE WITH TREECATS.

Plus the usual quota of old friends, subordinates, and retainers. All so besotted by what a good person and outstanding officer our heroine is that they're glad to be slaughtered so Honor can move on to higher command in the next book …

 

Contents - New Releases - Interview - Movies - Paperbacks - Contact - Next Month

Interviews: Author: Allen Steele - The Tranquillity Alternative Author: James Alan Gardner - Expendable

Author: Allen Steele - Book: The Tranquillity Alternative

ISBN 0-441-00433-4 Ace April '97

I listened to Allen Steele talk about the writing of TRANQUILLITY ALTERNATIVE at ReaderCon '97, and was delighted when he agreed to answer some questions for this issue. As you can tell by the review that comes before the interview, I enjoyed both the author and the work. - Ern

Review: The Tranquillity Alternative

It's THE RIGHT STUFF meets The '90s. It's George Pal meets George Lucas. It's yesterday and today, and it doesn't turn out the way we expected. It's a story Robert Heinlein would have recognized immediately…gone horribly wrong and wonderfully written.

I almost picked up THE TRANQUILLITY ALTERNATIVE when it came out in March '96. The cover shows a view of the Earth with missiles poking through the Lunar crust in a menacing fashion that caught my eye. I didn't get to it until I ran into the author at ReaderCon '97 in Massachusetts and he started pulling out models of space stations and space taxis right out of my childhood, and off the pages of Willy Ley and Chester Bonel's CONQUEST OF SPACE. I went out and bought a copy. As soon as I turned the first few pages I was hooked. I consumed THE TRANQUILLITY ALTERNATIVE the way a scramjet eats oxygen clawing its way towards space (voraciously). What took me so long?

The alternate premise Steele present starts back in World War Two when the Nazis launch the Amerika Bomber - a relative of the V2 and an actually proposed spaceplane complete with pilot and bomb. American intelligence is not caught napping and the Amerika Bomber meets its American cousin, the Lucky Linda, and its demise, in low Earth orbit. The space race is on and won in a single blow. America begins the conquest of space decades before it happens in our reality, and without the warring between civilian and military agendas that crippled our efforts to stay in space. Here, Richard Nixon wins his first bid for President and drives us to take the high ground to protect Democracy from the Commies. You may not like this approach much, but Steele spins it out with plausible newspaper clippings that make you sit back and wonder.

The story itself takes place in the alternate present, in an America where Neil Armstrong was the first man on Mars, and where the nuclear deterrent included a Lunar base with nuclear missiles. We have come to bury NASA, not to praise it, I realize as the story launches Gene Parnell, last of the remaining "Right Stuff" astronauts on a mission to publicly decommission the Lunar base and turn it over to a European Consortium. Allen Steele has done a brilliant job of mixing the past we glimpse through movies like DESTINATION MOON, with the present we watch on CNN.

The trip proceeds in classic 50's SF style, with a shuttle to the Space Wheel, and on to the moon via moonship. All done the way God and Robert Heinlein intended space to be run. Neither of those figures probably counted on hackers hiding behind cosmetic surgery as part of the crew, Europeans taking over the exploitation of space, a lesbian copilot with a grudge against NASA or America's apathy toward space after a generation of achievements.

The story is deeply researched and carefully constructed. The writing is deft and fast paced. The characters are all interesting, plausible and familiar. The last line is a zinger. Several of them. It's not the robust conquest of space that might have happened a few more reality lines over, but it's all the more thought provoking for it.

If you haven't read THE TRANQUILLITY ALTERNATIVE yet, go pick up the paperback edition that came out April '97 and settle down on the command couch to blast off into a world that you almost live in.

Interview: Allen Steele

Allen Steele offered to answer some of my questions at ReaderCon '97 after I met him at his "how I wrote the book" session. Not only do I recommend the book, I urge you to go to ReaderCon '98 and meet the authors themselves. (ReaderCon '98's URL is: http://www.mit.edu/~zeno/readercon.html)

SFRevu: What started you writing?

Allen Steele: A few weeks ago, while I was packing up stuff in my attic in preparation for my move to New England, I found my earliest story, a space adventure written in longhand on yellow legal paper. I believe I wrote that when I was in the seventh grade, and it wasn't very long after that -- age 15, to be exact -- when I decided that I wanted to become a SF author.

The fact that this story was inside one of three large boxes containing nothing but unpublished stories shows the length of my learning curve. I wrote my first novel -- a mainstream thriller, which fortunately never saw print -- while in college, then fell out of fiction for awhile to pursue journalism as a career. I wrote my second novel, which was straight SF, as a serious hobby-project, while holding down newspaper jobs in Washington D.C. and Worcester, Massachusetts. By the time I was sick of journalism, I had submitted that book, ORBITAL DECAY, to Ace Books. Ginjer Buchanan, who was then Ace's senior editor -- she's now the Executive Editor -- found the book in the slush pile; after she informed me that Ace wanted to publish it, I resigned from the paper where I was working and became a freelance writer. Three years later, I ditched journalism completely and devoted myself to writing SF.

I'm not surprised that a childhood dream has come true, because I worked long and hard to make it reality. What does surprise me is that it has happened so quickly; I was 29 when I became a freelancer, ORBITAL DECAY was published when I was 31, and I was 38 last year when I picked up a Hugo for Best Novella. This month I'll publish my ninth full-length book. I thought all these things would happen one day...but not before I turned 40.

SFRevu: Why did you move to New England after staring out in Nashville?

AS: When I got out high school, my main priority was seeing the rest of America. I was born and raised in Tennessee, which I still consider my home state, but I simply didn't want to stay there forever. So I enrolled in a small liberal-arts college in New Hampshire and used that as a home base for exploring the East Coast. As it turned out, the girl whom I would later marry came to New England College for the same reasons. We met as students and stayed together, including two consecutive relocations to Missouri, her home state.

This is the third time I've moved to New England, and I don't think I'll leave again. It just seems like home to me. Most of my friends live here, it's got a climate that suits me well, and there's plenty of things in the region to keep me interested. I have a country house in the Berkshires, but I can hop on the interstate and be in Harvard Square within two hours, or in my editor's office in New York within four.

SFR: Who did you read when you were younger? Who influenced you then and now?

Well, I think it's pretty obvious that I'm in that camp of SF authors who got a strong dose of Robert A. Heinlein at an early age. ROCKETSHIP GALILEO was the first novel I ever read, and I read the rest of his juveniles before I was out of grade school. When I was 18, I got a chance to meet Heinlein, and I thanked him for writing all those great stories. He was a very gracious man, and he even forgave me for stepping on his toes.

But the author who absolutely blew me away was Harlan Ellison. DEATHBIRD STORIES, in my opinion, is the finest short story collection yet published, and I closely emulated his style during my formative years. Another major influence was Arthur C. Clarke; RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA, which remains one of my two or three favorite SF novels. Fortunately, I've come to know both Harlan and Arthur, and I've been able to thank them both for being literary role models.

Late in life, I've discovered just how wonderful Theodore Sturgeon was. I took his work for granted earlier, but now I'm getting into his work, and learning a few tricks along the way. Met Sturgeon, too...had dinner with him not very long before he died...but it's probably just as well that I wasn't a major fan of his back then. I probably would have embarrassed myself.

Frank M. Robinson, to my mind, is one of the genre's underrated authors. I learned much by studying the craftsmanship of his thrillers. Ditto for Clifford Simak, particularly the work he did from the mid-50s through the 70s, and also Richard Matheson. I think it's safe to say that I'm a classicist at heart.

Outside the SF genre, I read Russell Banks (my college mentor), John LeCarre', the late John D. MacDonald, and Hunter S. Thompson. I also read a lot of nonfiction: the late Edward Abbey, John McPhee, early Norman Mailer, and the late Walter Sullivan. I'm probably just as influenced by journalists as I am by SF authors, and continue to be so.

SFR: What's the next book, and when is it due?

SA: The next novel comes out this month, and it's titled A KING OF INFINITE SPACE. It's the first new novel in the "Near Space" future history I've written since LABYRINTH OF NIGHT, which was published five years ago, and although it's connected to certain events in CLARKE COUNTY, SPACE and a few of my short stories, it pushes the continuum to the end of the 21st century and sets the stage for future events. (Our review of KING OF INFINITE SPACE will be in the September issue of SFRevu…stay tuned.)

Again, it's a space adventure -- which seems to have become my bread-and-butter -- but this time it's directly tied to our present. The main character is a 25-year-old kid from St. Louis, sort of a spoiled young Turk, who dies in a car crash on his way home from a Lollapolooza concert. Thanks to cryogenics and some very advanced nanotechnology, death isn't a permanent condition; the next thing Alec knows, he wakes up in a cloned body aboard an asteroid colony deep within the Belt, where he becomes a drudge within the household of a rather sinister individual named Mister Chicago. Young Alec doesn't particularly like mopping floors, so he contrives a way to escape...and the story goes from there.

I wanted to write a grunge-flavored space novel...think of Arthur Clarke or Robert Heinlein with a soundtrack by Pearl Jam or Blues Traveler...and this is the result. I tackled a lot of different themes with this book, not the least of which is the idea of growing up at age 126. I'm very proud of it, and I hope people like it.

SFRevu: What triggered THE TRANQUILLITY ALTERNATIVE? How did you go about researching it?

SA: THE TRANQUILLITY ALTERNATIVE came to me after I read a bad Tom Clancy-imitation technothriller about a bomb aboard a space shuttle -- there's been so many of those already, it's already a subgenre -- and decided that I could do better than that. At the time, I was experimenting with crossbreeding genre SF to technothrillers -- LABYRINTH OF NIGHT and THE JERICHO ITERATION being my previous efforts -- so it seemed natural that I would do this as my next major project.

The fact that it was also an alternative-history novel was second-priority. I wanted the story to take place on a lunar base in 1995, and the only way to do that was to invent a different history of the U.S. space program. Fortunately, I had already developed the pseudohistorical background with a couple of short stories, "Goddard's People" and "John Harper Wilson," so the foundation was established, and I went from there.

Research comprised almost eighty percent of the effort behind this book, and most of it came through library work: finding and digging through `50s and early `60s books on spaceflight, tracking down obscure aerospace trade-magazine articles, that sort of thing. The R&D phase took almost two years on its own, and continued up until I was writing the novel's last chapter, so I could go back and correct stuff I had written earlier. If I screwed up any details in this book, believe me, it was purely by accident, not neglect.

I wrote this novel out of a certain sense of rage over the lost opportunities. Although I'm more than happy that the U.S. never put nuclear missiles on the Moon, which the Air Force actively studied through 1959, I'm still upset that my country abandoned the Moon after the Apollo program. It's practically a lost continent of Earth; why the hell don't we have people living there now? So this novel, while being an "entertainment" in the Graham Greene sense of the word, is also a protest. I was lobbing a brick through the window.

SFRevu: What's your idea of fun?

AS: Well, since I've pretty much grown out of illegal forms of fun, nowadays I usually stick to things that won't get you arrested. Even though I do SF for a living, I'm still a fan at heart, so I go to a lot of Cons...more now that Con committees are inviting me as a guest. I've got a large collection of first-edition SF paperbacks and I'm beginning to collect hardcovers and old magazines, so I spend a lot of time in the dealer room. And I love a good art show.

I've also gotten into model building in a major way. It's sort of a carryover from my childhood, but I think I'm better at this now than I was when I was a teenager. I collect and build model spacecraft, and my house is littered with stuff I've assembled and painted. Some of these things find their way into my stories and novels, so there's some recognizable `50s kits in THE TRANQUILLITY ALTERNATIVE. The last few years, I've also gotten into kit-bashing...that is, assembling original spacecraft from bits and pieces of unrelated models...so I've built a Skycorp construction pod from ORBITAL DECAY and the "TBSA Comet" from "The Death of Captain Future."

This year, I've rediscovered my love of the outdoors. I used to hike and camp a lot, and briefly got into rock-climbing when I was in college, but I got away from it while living in St. Louis. Now I seem to be finding my way back into this sort of thing. Last winter my wife and I kayaked through salt marshes on Florida's Gulf Coast, and earlier this summer we hiked through a portion of the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee. Now that I have the Berkshires as my back yard, I plan to do much more. I'm really looking forward to the coming winter, so I can take up cross-country skiing again.

SFRevu: What's your Con schedule for the near future?

AS: Since I'm preparing to buckle down and start writing another book after Labor Day, I'm not planning to do as many Conventions as I usually do, so I've been turning down invitations to many Conventions, including a few I've attended in the past and have greatly enjoyed. But I'm going to be at LoneStarCon, the next World Science Fiction Convention in San Antonio, Texas. After that, I'm slated to be a guest at WindyCon in Chicago next November and at I-Con on Long Island early next year.

Like I said earlier, I love Cons, but they are distracting. I lose a couple of days of work-time when I go to one, and a good weekend can leave me exhausted for a week afterward. I don't plan to become SF's answer to Thomas Pynchon --William Gibson has already filled that role, in more ways than one --but neither will I be going to as many Cons as I did when I lived in the Midwest. These stories don't write themselves, y'know.

SFRevu: What changes would you like see in the world?

AS: One of the most interesting developments of the last few years is that the human race seems to on the verge of becoming a spacefaring civilization. I was becoming pessimistic about this occurring when I wrote THE TRANQUILLITY ALTERNATIVE, yet the events of the last few months have changed my mind. The success of the Mars Pathfinder probe has led NASA to begin planning for manned missions to Mars by early in the next century. The recent crises aboard the Mir space station are demonstrating that people can endure catastrophes in this environment. Private industry is taking an active, as opposed to a reactive, role in planning for manned space exploration, even while NASA seems to be shaking off its doldrums and assuming the leading position once again. So I think we'll see more people go into space within the next few years, and perhaps many of things I've envisioned in my stories will come to fruition.

I also think the generation coming up under us is much smarter than they've been given credit for. I've met a lot of teenagers lately, and I'm far more impressed with them than I was with my own generation when we were the same age. My peers were mainly interested in smoking dope and getting laid, and damned little else. Teenagers today seem to be more broad-minded; it's no longer hip to be dumb, and even cynicism seems to be eroding as a universal mindset. I like this new attitude, and I think the next generation is going to do well when they take over the planet a decade or two from now.

The problems we face are obvious, and I won't waste bandwidth by reiterating them here. But none of them are unsolvable, so far as I can tell, and I think we're going to be pleasantly surprised by many of the events of the next few decades. The 21st century is going to be really, really cool.

 Author: James Alan Gardner - Book: Expendable

Survey team fiction is one of my favorite kinds of SF yarn. Who among us doesn't yearn to boldly go once in a while? James Alan Gardner puts a different spin on this durable formula, and I was so intrigued by it that I looked him up to find out where it came from. His answers follow my review. - Ern

Review: Expendable

In a future where disease is rare, death uncommon, and physical beauty the norm, the heroes of the Terran survey teams aren't the square jawed hunks of classic space opera. It's dangerous out there and losing handsome hunks of herodom is bad for moral. Instead, explorers are carefully culled from the deformed and misbegotten, the kind of people you don't miss after they go. Going "Oh, Shit" is the typical end for an explorer's career, muttering surprise and dismay into their subcutaneous throat mikes as something alien and unexpected cuts them down. Still, there is another end for explorers that nobody talks about. Nobody talks about it because it's Earth's dirty little secret.

Earth isn't alone in Gardener's universe. Much as in David Brin's stories, we are new kids on the block and there are rules we have to follow. Including a sticky one about not intentionally killing sentients, including our own people. The penalty is loss of space flight, the monitors infallible, and the Admiralty has a problem with its senile members that have taken one rejuv treatment too many or just won't toe the company line.

What they need is a planet that looks habitable, begs for exploring, and no one ever comes back from.

When veteran Explorers Festina and Yarrun draw the assignment to accompany the evidentially senile Admiral Chee down to a planet of no return, they do what any sane person would do, but unfortunately the Admiralty has foreseen mutiny and blocked that avenue. At least by going on the mission they should have a chance. Only after they arrive on the planet does Festina learn that survival isn't all it's cracked up to be…there's freedom and revenge to be Considered as well.

The story lags a bit after the away mission begins and the mystery of the planet of ultimate Oh Shit begins to unravel. I would have rather had a series of shorter survey missions than the Robinson Caruso shipwreck novel that this ultimately becomes, but even so the story works fairly well and held my interest to the end.

The survey team remains one of my favorite story types in SF and EXPENDABLE sets out to debunk the genre's pomposity. Warp envelopes are called sperm fields because of their shape as they whip along behind the ship, the heroic explorers have defects that make the polished spacers look away, and the Admiralty has something on its mind besides a thirst for knowledge. James Gardner has a fine sense of the ironic, which may get lost in the business of providing a plot, but he keenly hunts out the weaknesses of many of the more popular space epics.

 Interview: James Alan Gardner

I hunted up author James Gardner to ask how the book came about. He graciously answered my questions in this SFRevu interview…

SFRevu: How did you come to the premise of the book, that ideal explorers were expendable ones? Were you reacting to stereotype?

James Allen Gardner: It sounds silly, but the whole idea of using "ugly" people as explorers appeared out of nowhere. Here's the history. In 1976, I was a writer for a musical comedy called FASS, put on annually at the University of Waterloo. That year we were doing a parody of Star Trek and someone (I can't remember who) suggested that we should have a running joke of calling for a red-shirted crew member to keep coming on stage and getting killed in classical Trek fashion. In the script, we referred to this character as the expendable crew member, and we kind of took it for granted the actor would be male...but when the director cast the show, the part was given to a woman (probably because we had more women than men show up at auditions that year).

Now something that I used to do (and still do sometimes) is start writing in someone's voice -- call it an exercise, or a form of brainstorming when I don't have anything better to write: pick a character and just let that character talk. Sometime in about 1980 I was doing that, and happened to pick the expendable crew member from FASS. Something along the lines of "Oh yeah, you think it's so funny, just call in a character to die because she's expendable. You want to know why I'm expendable? Because I'm ugly. Because I have a huge birthmark on my face..."

That was completely unplanned (and certainly had nothing to do with the woman who had played the part in the show). But the words just started blurting out. In very little time, I had produced a diatribe from the character, explaining the cruelty of the world and her place in it. This had nothing to do with the Star Trek universe any more -- the circumstances that this voice described were very differently. In fact, after a page or two of the voice coming up to speed, I wrote something that was very close to what ended up as the first 100 pages of EXPENDABLE. The writing took place over the course of a few weeks, but the voice kept flowing and I kept typing. I really didn't think it through at all -- just pure character improvisation. (I did a lot of theatre improvisation back then.)

So the flow kept coming right up to the point where Festina, Yarrun and Chee get to the planet and go incommunicado ...then it stopped and I had no idea what came next. I tried several directions, but none of them worked; so the 100 pages ended up in a drawer for a while. Now and then I brought them out and took a stab at carrying on...but I never came up with something that clicked.

Time passed. By the fall of 1995, I had published a number of short stories and had written two novels that were good but didn't get sold. (See my web site for one of them: http://www.thinkage.on.ca/~jim). I wanted to start another novel; so I took out EXPENDABLE again and promised myself I would work on it until I got it moving again. There were a few false starts and dead ends, but eventually I found my momentum again and finished the book in about nine months.

So the answer to your question -- I didn't plan the set-up, it just grew. Improvisation is an amazing thing.

SFRevu: There has been a lot of Survey Team fiction over the years. Who do you like? Who do you think missed the shuttle?

JAG: One good example that comes to mind is Stanislaw Lem's INVINCIBLE. It's about a survey ship sent out to find out what destroyed the previous survey ship that landed on a particular planet. Lem emphasizes an interesting point -- that the second ship has exactly the same equipment and exactly the same type of crew as the first. So what can the second ship do that the first couldn't? Nothing. They just have to be more paranoid and perhaps less logical than the first. It's an interesting situation to play out.

As for bad survey team fiction...I don't want to name names, but I'm really tired of survey teams acting like badly-trained badly-equipped morons. For example, doesn't anyone care about micro-organisms? So many teams land on a planet, discover they can breathe the atmosphere, and take off their spacesuits. Arrgh! The more livable a planet is for humans, the more likely it is to have evolved diseases that can affect us. And the opposite is also true -- doesn't anyone care that we might give terrestrial diseases to any friendly aliens we might meet? Of course there are ways around such problems, but it would be nice if books at least addressed the issue.

SFRevu: Does the universe EXPENDABLE takes place in resemble the one in David Brin's Uplift series? I noticed the older galactic order theme popping up.

JAG: If I had to compare the League of Peoples to any other "Galactic order" in SF, I'd have to say they're closer to the Organians in the original Star Trek -- the most advanced races in the League are so powerful they're like physical laws of the universe.

I like that I've created a universe where war is effectively impossible. Yes, the people on a particular planet can fight with each other, but they simply can't take the battle out of their home system. By eliminating the possibility of physical violence (or at least the most extreme types of it), I think I've forced characters into more interesting types of Confrontations.

SFRevu: What's the next book? When's it due?

JAG: My second book is called COMMITMENT HOUR and it's coming out from Avon next April ('98). It takes place on Earth, in the same universe as EXPENDABLE, but with none of the same characters. Basically, it's about a little pioneer town where the children switch sexes every summer. The action takes place in the last twelve hours before the twenty-year-old narrator has to choose which sex he will be permanently.

Thanks again for giving this kind of coverage to EXPENDABLE, and I look forward to the next issue of SFRevu.

James Alan Gardner

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SFRevu goes to the Movies - Event Horizon

Premier Friday August 15th, 1996 - Paramount

I went to the screening of EVENT HORIZON hoping for something better than the Sci-Fi Action SFX extravaganzas that have been pouring out of Hollywood, or Pinewood, England for that matter. Something to sink my teeth into. Something like what the poster promised. Will I ever learn? EVENT HORIZON is replete with carnage, it's true, but it's senseless carnage and by the end of the film, it becomes stale. One of the few post screening comments I heard was from a 20 something girl to her friend, "I really felt like throwing up!" Most of the exiting crowd passed without comment on the film.

I don't usually review things I didn’t like, but for EVENT HORIZON I'll make an exception.

As Science Fiction, it is appalling. Sam Neill (JURRASIC PARK, THE MOUTH OF MADNESS) watches drops of water fall slowly to the sink. I thought, he was on the moon and how clever, then they pulled back to show he was aboard a zero-gee space habitat. Soon he is being zipped into a High-G tank filled with water the color of urine to sleep or to avoid being crushed by the 30 G acceleration on a 70 odd day trip to Neptune. Considering the size of the rescue ship Lewis and Clarke, they'd better be using antimatter to power the ion drive as the rescue ship is about the size of a space shuttle - sans external boosters. When we arrive at Neptune, the abandoned hulk of the Event Horizon (in a decaying orbit) is floating amidst the thick, turbulent and lightning strobed cloud cover of "Neptune's ionosphere". So thick are these clouds that the rescue ship almost rams the EH while trying to approach it. Merrily calling out range by radar all the time. If they know it's there, is slowing down too much bother? Were these clouds supposed to be thick enough to hold it up? Nothing else seems to. Yet these spacefarers are obviously masters of gravity, as demonstrated by throwing a switch and watching everything come crashing down in the abandoned vessel. Not to mention the generation of a black hole at the heart of the space folding FTL drive. So why bother with the Gee Tanks? No, there is no good science to prop up the Science Fiction. There is no shortage of people willing and capable to act as technical consultants for SF scripts, besides the unfair limits it would place on scriptwriters, why doesn't somebody use them?

Not that any of this bothers the producer, the SF is just there for a dungeons and stormy night horror setting.

Despite the success on the film's part in getting me to jump out of my seat from time to time, the terror was pretty poor too. The cast is assembled from poor copies of ALIEN crewmembers, with a blond Ripley, cynical Doc, and lovable if crude spacehands. They are stalked by the manifestation of the horror that has taken over the ship looking like the guy from HELLRAISER, but with messier scars. There is no consistency in the way the evil on the ship works. One minute it's killing the crew off, and the next it's trapping them to stay aboard as crew. Aside from vague descriptions of a dimension of Pure Evil, there is no explanation given for why the original crew of the EH went berserk and killed each other, just some gory video footage. The film follows the '90's no sex edicts: plenty of gore, no nooky. George Carlin has already covered this moral mindlessness though so I'll just refer you to him with my complete agreement. I'd rather have kids subjected to sex than violence any day. There is a brief bit of frontal nudity, but fortunately the offender kills herself shortly afterwards.

The idea that Faster Than Light travel is Hell is not new. Asimov explored it in a short story several decades ago. Though I can’t quite remember the name, it was in one of the Robot anthologies, possibly I ROBOT. U.S. Robotics ( not the modem maker, this was before that) made a super-AI specifically to solve the problem of FTL travel. Unfortunately the passage between the Normal and FTL space was remarkably like dying and being resurrected. Those of you who remember the Asimovian Three Laws of Robotics realize that being forced to do this would drive any positronic brain batty. Which it did. The brain developed a twisted sense of humor, much like the executive that gave EVENT HORIZON the go ahead, and subjected the crew to a journey through Virtual Hell to pass the time in FTL space.

Somebody should post a navigational beacon in the area near EVENT HORIZON so no one stumbles on it by accident. Go see THE FIFTH ELEMENT or MEN IN BLACK again. You'll be much happier.

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Now in Paperback! Mainline by Deborah Christian Footprints of Thunder by James F. David

Mainline by Deborah Christian

ISBN 0-812-54908-2 TOR August 1997

"Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose..."

Janis Joplin

What if you could slip across timelines to the next world over? Even better, what if you could look before you leap? You might not want much of a change, just a break at the traffic light, or the odd gunman to miss his aim by a bit. Of course you'd be in a different world each time, and the people around you would be almost, but not quite, the ones you left. Wouldn't it be worth it? Would it? That's the central dilemma of MAINLINE, Deborah Christian's first novel, published in June '96 and just out in paperback.

Reva, is young, attractive and very independent. She is also a timeslipping assassin, able to perceive the alternate realities adjacent to her and select the one she doesn't get caught in. By the time she has grown enough to control her impulses and live with at least some of the unpleasant effects of causality, she has fled her childhood and family to timelines where her temper has killed her mother in childbirth, voided her brother and estranged her father. But that's all behind her now. Now she flits from timeline to timeline killing for the highest bidder. No ties, no regrets. The perfect assassin.

Until she gets involved with a smuggler that reminds her of her younger self, and worse, winds up saving the life of a government investigator. Saving lives and making friends is a real burden when your best act is moving on. Not to mention that her past in this timeline is starting to catch up to her and her future here involves fulfilling a contract on her newfound friend. Reva is in deep...but she could always slip away.

Through much of the book I couldn't decide if the author was making it up as she went along, letting the characters twist and gyre anew each chapter, but when the various elements of customs agents, smugglers, free traders and the avenging agents of Reva's victims started to come together I decided to go with Locus's assessment as "a fascinating, complex high-tech thriller." Though the story moves along fairly well, I got somewhat tired of Reva's distancing of everyone around her. All the women in this book are clever, assertive, and determined to keep the world at arms length. For some, the tone of these characters will draw them into the writing, but it held me back. I wouldn't mind if the characters seemed comfortable with their self imposed exiles, but they don't, and the endless low grade angst failed to do anything for me. That's just me though - I'm sure that lots of people will find this to be an engaging yarn that hits close to the mark. It bothered me that the only time the characters expressed the anticipation of pleasure they were contemplating the painful death of an enemy.

The concept of timeline shifting bothered me too. I wondered if Ms. Christian had really thought through the implications for an assassin. If you kill X in world A, and slip away into world B, where you didn't kill X, what was the net gain? Worse, if your awareness pops into the you in world B what happens to the you who was here already? This is a neat trick, but on reflection, it comes with a pretty high price tag, which is much of the point of the story. Reva learns not only the meaning of TANSTAFL* , but that you get what you pay for.

MAINLINE reminded me a bit of LETHE, Tricia Sullivan's first book, full of darkness and action in a waterworld setting like much of this book. I wished several times that it would remind me more of SLOW RIVER by Nicola Griffith (where the main character embraces the people around her, stranger in a strange land that she is), but it never quite does. Reva does grow through the course of the book, though with plenty of room for a sequel.

Not Hard SF, but an angst driven character study, MAINLINE does establish Deborah Christian as an up and coming author to watch. I just hope she lightens up a bit.

*There Ain't No Such Thing As Free Lunch

Footprints of Thunder by James F. David

ISBN 0-812-53402-0 TOR Paperback edition July 1997

 It was the dinosaur foot stepping next to a sand castle that got me. LOST WORLD didn't do it for me, and I still wanted my summer dino dosage. Maybe FOOTPRINTS OF THUNDER would make up for it...dream on.

 If Irwin Allen made a Dino-Disaster film, it would be FOOTPRINTS OF THUNDER. When the temporal face of the world is shattered by chunks of the past dropping out of the sky, or switching places with their modern counterparts, the world wakes to a landscape that leaves it dumbfounded. Aliens would be easier to comprehend than the patchwork time-quilt that the author visits on us. I wanted to read this story to see how the characters faced the impossible, and then what man made of dinos in his midst.

Some never face it at all, despite wading in and dealing with it. For the most part everyone seems to put the question of how aside to just deal with the here and now. One of the first things the characters do is to walk into the Cretaceous forest to find their ways home. While not the brightest move, it's certainly the most action producing. The story follows several groups as they confront the bizarre occurrence, a family seeking refuge from their wrecked sailboat on an apatosaur's back, a young man who saw it coming and found no one to believe that the sky was indeed falling, and two women caught between bikers and brontosaurs*. A number of the stories in here might have made pretty solid short stories, but they never tie together well enough to create anything better than the patchwork countryside they reveal. There is a nice urban drama about an old woman who befriends a massive iguanodon in a riot torn section of what's left of New York. To confuse matters more, the "gone" sections of the present keep leaking back into the present, as time oscillations damp themselves out. At the end of the book the author passes up some fairly juicy possibilities in a sudden rush to finish the book. I'd say more but that would spoil the ending, so Email me at SFRevu@aol.com and we can talk it over.

I read the first few chapters thinking that aside from the unexplained phenomena notes at the beginning of each chapter that James David wouldn't dare trying to lay a scientific foundation under this yarn. When he did, I had to stop and admit that it's not really much more absurd than the premise of EINSTEIN'S BRIDGE (reviewed in SFRevu Jun '97 0.0) where the Texas supercollider punches through into another universe, or at least makes a signal strong enough to be noticed there. If John Cramer (legitimate high energy physicist) can base a story on that, then the intersection of nuclear test created time ripples caused by superstrings created at the explosions core doesn't sound so bad. No, it still sounds pretty bad, but barely defensible.

Do I recommend FOOTPRINTS OF THUNDER? That depends on your taste in movies. This is a Sci-Fi B movie looking for a place to happen. If that's what you yearn for, then settle back and ignore the yard for a while. GODZILLA won't be out until next year and this should do something about your craving for dinostories while you slog through the Cretaceous forests for the book's 500 pages.

* I know it's really apatosaur, and the story used T-Rex, but I liked the alliteration.

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Contact SFRevu's forays into the world of SF Fandom.

WorldCon '97 is being held Labor Day weekend in San Antonio, Texas and despite some swell invitations to parties, I'm not going to be able to make it. Sigh. If you want to torment yourself, or seriously consider going down to Texas, stop by their extensive Web Site at http://www.io.com/~lsc2/

ALBACON '97

- The next Con I'll be going to is a swell little Con in Albany, where Steve Sawicki and I should be sharing some panels - which is always worth seeing. ALBACON '97 October 17-19, 1997, E-mail: rothman@sff.net

Web Site: http://www.sff.net/people/rothman/albacon.htp

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Next Month in SFRevu: JACK FAUST by Michael Swanwick, CATCH THE LIGHTNING by Catherine Asaro, LUNATICS by Bradley Denton, PUTTING UP ROOTS by Charles Sheffield, KING OF ABSOLUTE SPACE by Allen Steele, Guest Review by Steven Sawicki, Movie Preview: GATTCA. Plus Interviews, Contact, and more…

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