Copyright 1997 by Ernest Lilley
Contents: New Releases: A KING OF INFINITE SPACE by Allen Steele SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME by Tricia Sullivan FIRST TO FIGHT: STARFIST BOOK ONE by David Sherman and Dann Cragg FINITY'S END by C. J. Cherryh (review by E.J. McClure) PRESENT TENSE by Dave Duncan (review by Steven Sawicki) Nonfiction: STAR WARS: THE ANNOTATED SCRIPTS by Laurent Bouzerau (review by Tony Tellado) Interviews: Author: Michael Swanwick - Book: JACK FAUST Author: Catherine Asaro - Book: CATCH THE LIGHTNING RetroReview: Tom Swift Jr. Appreciation (by Tom Ippolitto author of THE ULTIMATE TOM SWIFT COLLECTOR'S GUIDE) SFRevu goes to The Movies: Contact (review by Tony Tellado) Now in Paperback! IDORU by William Gibson Contact SFRevu's forays into the world of SF Fandom. Next Month in SFRevu: October's festive at SFRevu, and maybe even a ghoul or two.
First, a word from the editor: Summer may be over, but the Autumnal splendor beckons. I guess I think all the seasons are perfect for reading, but I'm enjoying the cool fall air with a good book as you can tell from the rave reviews we came up with for this issue. For September, I'm joined by reviewer Steve Sawicki, E.J. McClure, and Sci-Fi Talk's Tony Tellado who add some great reviews to the mix. Don't miss the JACK FAUST/Michael Swanwick review and interview in this issue.
Ernest Lilley, Editor / Publisher SFRevu
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New Releases: A KING OF INFINITE SPACE by Allen Steele SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME by Tricia Sullivan FIRST TO FIGHT: STARFIST BOOK ONE by David Sherman and Dann Cragg FINITY'S END by C. J. Cherryh (review by E.J. McClure) PRESENT TENSE by Dave Duncan (review by Steven Sawicki) Nonfiction: STAR WARS: THE ANNOTATED SCRIPTS by Laurent Bouzerau (review by Tony Tellado)
ISBN 0-06-105286-8 Harper Prism / September 1997 (hardcover)
I became aware of Allen Steele when I read "The Death of Captain Future" in THE 13th ANNUAL YEAR'S BEST SF COLLECTION, then I had the opportunity to interview the author (SFRevu 1.3) and ask how his alternate Lunar story, THE TRANQUILLITY ALTERNATIVE came about. A KING OF INFINITE SPACE reaffirms my faith in this talented post Heinlein author as he revisits the universe he created in CLARK COUNTY (1990). - Ern
Steele mixes a fondness for Golden Era SF with an excellent grasp of today's cynicism. He has the unique talent to make palatable the Classic SF adventures with contemporary characters. Like those in A KING OF INFINITE SPACE, for instance.
Dying in a car crash on the way home from a Lollapalooza Concert isn't the way most characters would like to start their stories, but it's the way Alec's begins nonetheless. Against the odds, it continues a hundred years later when he is brought out of deep freeze, thanks to his father's foresight...and wealth. Unlike Robert Heinlein's DOOR INTO SUMMER, where the central character wakes from cryo-suspension into a future he helped engineer, Alec wakes to virtual slavery as a servant in a gang lord's asteroid mansion/hideout and some serious discontent with the afterlife, as it were.
Along with Alec are some 30 other "deadheads", all performing the same menial duties for the amusement of the self styled "Mr. Chicago", and all under the constant surveillance and tutelage of their brain implanted AI's. Despite his former life as a spoiled rich kid, Alec manages to survive in captivity, until he realizes that somewhere in this future imperfect a girl he thought he had left behind in time lies in her own cryogenic suspension. Across the Solar System and through the bowels of the corrupt and aging future, Alec searches for Erin, the only survivor of the car crash that killed him and his best friend - Chris, a.k.a. "Shemp". Incredibly, Shemp is here too, having been frozen along with Alec, by status conscious parents. Ironically though, Alec's best friend may also turn out to be his worst enemy. Alec's character slowly drags himself up from childhood to save the girl he loved, and in the effort may save himself...if Mr. Chicago's goons don't catch up to him.
If this all seems like a lot of trouble to go to just to get good help, trust Allen Steele to make sense of it in the end. A KING OF INFINITE SPACE is a coming of age novel set against the background of futuristic window washing. A distinct departure from the bold adventures of SF's yesteryear, but a pretty reasonable take on how to get by in the future on 5 Liquid Oxygen Credits a day.
A KING OF INFINITE SPACE is a must buy for all high school libraries, bridging the gap between adolescent rockers and anti-heroes of the future.
ISBN 0-553-57702-6 Bantam Spectra September 1997 (Paperback)
In a time when the Cyber-noir visions of the genre's seminal authors are starting to show their age, Ms. Sullivan has created a fresh and exiting work on the ashes of the present and the hopes of the future. SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER Me is Tricia Sullivan's second book, and shows remarkable growth for an author whose potential is only starting to be revealed. The book reads well and the story holds together nicely.
Her central character is the classic Cyberpunk hero, loner, marital artiste, unattached from everything - and everyone. Adrien is a semi autonomous meat puppet for the mysterious person we come to know as "C", who jacks into his mind through a satellite linked implant in his brain. When we meet Adrien, he is bleeding and beaten, stumbling towards a safe haven, forced to rely on the kindness of strangers after doing C's dark bidding in a failed transaction in Moscow.
Sabina is the stranger whose life he stumbles into, and in doing so starts the wheels of change turning for both of them. Before Tricia Sullivan's narrative is through, they will find and lose everything they dream of, sometimes more than once. Sabina is a young woman who has seen little but death and destruction, but is driven only to create music. She is as full of life as Adrien is of denial and fear. Losing her parents and childhood isn't the most traumatic thing that could happen to her, as the story demonstrates, in a future where it may be possible to lose your self as well as your soul. Villainy is provided by Max, a Russian mobster, fronting for the powerful and shadowy net presence called "The Deep". The more complex villain is C, mysteriously pulling its human puppet strings in a play of dark design.
Tricia has fun playing with myth and archetype throughout the book, stopping her characters to discuss KING KONG as a story about the power of animism and echoing the theme later in her characters actions. Watching Kong undress Jessica Lange in the remake of the original, Sabina comments:
"You see," Sabina went on, only peripherally aware of Tomaj's half smile, "they try to make more sexy, but they interpret her all wrong. She is not really afraid of him, but of herself. She needs this big gorilla to confront her power, which scares her, but -"
"But which can't be denied."
The book takes place in Moscow, Zagreb, and New York - all similarly urban settings, varying only in the unintelligibility of the natives and the degree of destruction wrought upon them. I was struck by the power of the characters and the grit of the environment as conveyed by the author's well crafted prose. The technology is a mix of contemporary net ware and hypothesized wet ware (biological computing components) and the neural links she employs are the stuff respectable Cyberpunks have been backing away from in recent years. The tech serves her story, but only as a prop. The characters remain the author's focus and carry it along with aplomb.
The most interesting technologies in the book are not SF in nature. Adrien turns inward to karate, seeking himself in the repetition of the katas and the benediction of his former teacher. Sabina's composing and love of music hint at worlds as fantastic as any in cyberspace.
Although she complains about the difficulty of writing, Tricia Sullivan is developing rapidly as she moves from book to book. If solid work like SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME is the result, I hope she suffers diligently until the next book is done.
ISBN 0-345-40622-2 Del Rey October 1977 (Paperback)
Between them, David Sherman and Dann Cragg have an impressive list of fiction and non-fiction military titles to their credit. FIRST TO FIGHT teams them up to sortie on the future battlefield with plasma weapons blazing in the hands of the distant descendants of the USMC, the Confederation Marines.
Marine Staff Sergeant Charlie Bass doesn't like a lot of things. And what he doesn't like, he tries to avoid. Dying for no reason for instance. Being sent out into enemy territory to "field test" new gizmos for another. So when his squad is cut off from transport, communications and supplies by 85 miles of desert filled with nomadic warriors packing stockpiled modern weapons he elects to survive, take the fight to the enemy, and walk his men home for the privilege of buying a round of beers and taking apart the company tech rep.
The flavor of the story is only slightly tainted by the SF elements. The marines carry energy weapons. It all takes place on another planet. The gizmo they are testing is closer to Trek (say "Tricorder" boys and girls) than current tech. None of which affects the story in the slightest. The real resemblance is to Kipling. Modern troops outnumbered by nomads on hostile soil far from home. If you can't win, at least you can show them how Men die. That sort of stuff. It's been done before, on alien soil and Middle Eastern sands alike and it still works pretty well.
The problem I have with this is simply that it just ain't SF, and the attempts at SF in it just gets in the way. Sherman and Cragg are a decent writing team, and the book is intended as the first in a series, so hopefully they will find ways to integrate SF into their storyline in the upcoming installments. As Military Fiction, FIRST TO FIGHT is reasonably well done. I enjoyed reading it and recommend it if you have run out of David Drake, or are just tired of Drake's insistence on killing troops every page just to remind you how tough war is. Beyond that, I'm waiting to see Charlie Bass and the Confederation Marines get into a scrape that justifies the SF logo on the spine.
E.J McClure is a friend of mine who happens to be a Chief Engineer on an Aegis Destroyer, a mutual friend of Lois Bujold, and when time permits to finish polishing her manuscripts, a promising author in her own right. A longtime C. J. Cherryh reader, E.J. consented to review the latest Pell Station novel for SFRevu. - Ern
ISBN 0-446-52072-1 Warner Books / August 1997 (hardcover)
FINITY'S END is a welcome return to C. J. Cherryh's universe of space-faring humanity divided between the Union of purpose-built clones colonizing the outer fringes of space, and the parochial Companies that run Sol system for profit. Striking a delicate balance between these two superpowers is the merchanter's Alliance, based at Pell Station, which orbits the only world yet discovered to be inhabited by an intelligent humanoid species, the hisa.
A life of work and study among the aboriginal hisa is all that Fletcher Neihart wants. After his mother's suicide and a troubled childhood bouncing between foster homes, the only emotional connection left to Fletcher is his illicit friendship with two of the hisa. But his true heritage lies in the stars, aboard the oldest and most prestigious of the merchanter Family ships, FINITY'S END.
Aboard FINITY another young man is growing into his heritage. FINITY is a Family ship, and tradition forbids hiring outsiders to crew the ship. This burden rests heavily on the shoulders of JR Neihart, and the handful of other young Neiharts who survived both the Company wars that freed Union and Alliance from Earth's rule, and the following years of guerrilla war against the fleet of renegade Company starships, the piratical Mazianni.
Readers of MERCHANTER'S LUCK and RIMRUNNERS will enjoy being welcomed aboard one of the Family ships at last.
Delivered to FINITY by legal and financial negotiations beyond his ken, Fletcher struggles to adapt to the time-dilated culture of a star-traveling family of cousins more alien to him than the hisa. JR faces his first command challenge in trying to integrate the rebellious station-reared teenager into a tightly-knit crew that doesn't welcome the intrusion. In the process, both young men must discover what the Neihart family honor means, and what it costs.
This is a classic coming of age tale, set against the vivid backdrop of a warring culture on the verge of peace after so many decades of ambush and treachery none of the younger generation can remember a time when life did not hang in the balance of an armscomper's reflexes or the ominous presence of the starcarrier NORWAY. In delicious irony, it is the primitive but peaceful hisa who hold the key. In her most accessible book to date, Cherryh continues to explore the complex politics of interstellar economics, and adds a new level of realism to the lives of the Families that crew the faster-than-light trading ships. The star-spanning tale begun in her 1981 novella DOWNBELOW STATION and continued in the award-winning CYTEEN trilogy reaches a satisfying conclusion with the change of the watch aboard FINITY'S END.
ISBN 0-380-97325-1 Avon Books / November 1996
Steven Sawicki reviews small press for SCAVENGERS, writes a column with attitude for PIRATE WRITINGS, and often appears on panels (or at the bar) at Cons in the Northeast. I asked him for a review for this issue, and while I'm happy with the result, I'm sure Aliens abducted the real Sawicki and planted an impostor in his Connecticut home. Steve never says this many nice things about a book. - Ern
I've been a Dave Duncan fan since I picked up, quite by mistake, a copy of the first book in the A MAN OF HIS WORD series. As I read I became sure of two things - first that this was a pretty good book in terms of plotting and story and characterization; and second, that there was no way the writer was gong to make the second book better. I became even more sure of the first and pleased that I had been so wrong about the second after reading the second book. The third, fourth and fifth left me even more spellbound. Now, as the editor of this zine will affirm, I generally don't do gushy reviews. There are times, however, when one stumbles upon a work that recaptures the feeling and sense which brought one to the genre in the first place. Call it sense of wonder, call it a page turner, call it a book you can't put down and you'd be pretty accurate in describing any of Dave Duncan's works. That Duncan has managed to maintain not only a high quality in the series format but manages to improve each series above the last is nothing short of amazing.
PRESENT TENSE is the second book in THE GREAT GAME series. The first book, PAST IMPERATIVE having been published in paperback just recently as well. The series is about an alternate Earth and the few individuals who can pass between that alternate Earth and our own Earth. The time is the early 20th century and we are fighting world war one, or rather we are being made to fight World War I after being manipulated by beings from the alternate Earth. Thrust into this situation is one Edward Exeter, wrongly accused of murder and now a fugitive. Exeter is brought from our Earth to the Earth "Nextdoor" and introduced to the ways of magic. Well, not real magic since anyone visiting Earth or the alternate Earth has powers to one degree or another. Powers, in fact, which can approach godliness. And this is where this series gets interesting. Duncan has been moving toward mixing religion and philosophy in his books for the past couple of series. Here he melds the two by giving average beings the potential to be godlike. Exeter is one of these beings, falling into the role of the Liberator when he is on Nextdoor. Exeter struggles not only with his role but with the whole concept. Occasionally the struggle goes on a bit too long and one begins to think that the Exeter doth protest too damn much. These are but passing fancies however and Duncan soon has us moving onto another and more menacing adventure--for it is the destiny of the Liberator to bring death to Death.
Duncan flips us back and forth between Earth and Nextdoor with ease and surrounds Exeter with an engaging cast of supporting characters. (One of Duncan's strengths is characterization and creating secondary characters that, at times, are almost more fun to be with than the protagonist.)
PRESENT TENSE is an excellent continuation of this series and one expects a third book "FUTURE INDEFINITE" to be out very shortly. It's my guess that the third book will be the final book in the series as after past, present and future you run out of tenses.
This is a great book in a great series from a great Canadian author (not that being from Canada has anything to do with it) with a wonderful story line populated with characters who are intriguing and engaging.
Nonfiction:STAR WARS: THE ANNOTATED SCRIPTS by Laurent Bouzerau (review by Tony Tellado)
ISBN: 345-40981-7 / Del Rey Books
A worthwhile addition to any Jedi knight's collection, and pretty interesting for the rest of us, STAR WARS: THE ANNOTATED SCRIPTS delivers more than the title promises. The book not only contains scripts from STAR WARS, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK AND RETURN OF THE JEDI, but almost every scene is shown with alternate treatments that show how the story evolved along the way. George Lucas gives insight into the creation of scenes and characters of STAR WARS that never quite were while illustrator Ralph McQuarrie talks of how he shaped the look of STAR WARS and the various physical changes the characters took. Other worthy interviews are with film editors, Paul Hirsh, Richard Chew and Duwayne Dunham; EMPIRE and JEDI Script Writer Lawrence Kasdan, EMPIRE Director Irvin Kirschner and many others. But what would a story be without conflict? Director Kirschner shares his disappointment with a scene where Darth Vader was unmasked in JEDI, transformed suddenly into kindly old man, supplanting the dark force that had stalked us through three movies. George Lucas reveals the influences on the trilogy such as the work of famed Japanese Director Akiro Kurosawa and Producer Rick McCallum gives his insights on producing the special editions with lines from the specials added scene by scene. What emerges is not only an entertaining book for STAR WARS fans but also an opportunity for film buffs and students to get to see how films are shaped from draft to draft, to the final print. STAR WARS: THE ANNOTATED SCRIPTS takes us on a wonderful journey of story and creativity which is worth going on again and again.
Interviews: Author: Michael Swanwick - Book: Jack Faust Author: Catherine Asaro - Book: Catch the Lightning
JACK FAUST is wonderful. Despite my limited knowledge of the original legend I thoroughly enjoyed the Alternate History on steroids romp that JACK FAUST provides. JACK FAUST is full of irony and inspiration, but it hardly lacks for lust and adventure in the bargain. I read this book carefully, not wanting to miss anything...but as the chapters progressed, I began to read faster and faster as I was drawn into Michael Swanwick's deal with the devil, unable to put it down until the last page was turned. - Ern
Review: Jack Faust
If a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, JACK FAUST shows just how much worse limitless knowledge could be. FAUST has stood for centuries as a fable about a man who made a deal with the devil for knowledge and is little better for it in the end. As much as he loved the classic versions, Michael Swanwick felt that there was a story still ripe for the telling, and has created a masterpiece that is full of irreverence, energy, and inventiveness. JACK FAUST is a delight for anyone who has given thought to life, the universe, and everything - and a spur to anyone who hasn't. This tale of enlightenment, desperation, romance and reason is absolutely fabulous.
The story opens when Johannes Faust, scholar, surgeon, philosopher, and by his own estimation one of the most learned men of his age, that being the 16th century, is tossing his library into the hearth, book by book. Faust has climbed the mountain of knowledge contained in the texts of the day, and from that vantage point he finds that all he can see is contradiction and obvious fallacy. From the inaccuracies of Ptolemy's astronomical observations and the empirical absurdity of Aristotle's physics to the multitudes of inconsistencies in the bible, Faust despairs in finding a single source of truth in a wasteland of prideful pontification.
At his moment of greatest despair, he opens his mind to listen for a voice that he begs to exist, a voice searching for someone to enlighten...and one comes to him.
In the classic versions, the devil offers Faust mere tidbits of knowledge. Here, the voice that comes to Faust provides nothing less than omniscience...from the relationships between atoms and galaxies to the levers that would move the heart of the most virtuous woman to offer herself carnally. There is little noble about Johannes Faust, and nothing noble about his muse, but between his love for knowledge and desire for the one woman that seems denied him, Johannes Faust, a.k.a. Jack, will rewrite the face of the world with a vengeance.
Hardly a traditional devil, this Mephistopheles is the representative of a race that wishes nothing more for man than that he burn himself to ashes on the pyre of progress, and the sooner the better. Hence their offer to Faust, whom they bend to their own devices. Left to himself, he might be content to explore the vast field of knowledge provided to him, but he is driven by his love for Margarete, a.k.a. Gretchen, as was Faust in Goethe's version. For her he will compress the progress of centuries into mere decades, oblivious to the strain on the social fabric of the world.
JACK FAUST is full of boisterous fun and sobering revelation. I'd love to see it read in schools alongside (or in preference to) Goethe's FAUST...but its heresy would probably be more than even our enlightened age could stand. Read this book before someone gets the idea to toss it on a hearth for your own good.
Interview: Michael Swanwick
SFRevu: How did JACK FAUST come about? How long did it take to write?
Michael Swanwick:That's a tougher question than you'd think. I read Marlowe's "TRAGICALL HISTORIE" OF DOCTOR FAUSTUS when I was in high school and fell in love with the thunderous language therein--like great chiming bells! At that time I intended to become a scientist, and I was consumed with ambition, so the story reached me on a very basic level.
But once the good doctor sells his soul for knowledge, what does he get? A few drunken pranks, a chance to humiliate the Pope, a glimpse of Helen of Troy, and then it's down the coal scuttle with him. I wanted to write the true story of Doctor Faust, of how he bargained for knowledge and was by knowledge destroyed. I wanted to write about damnation by science. But at that time--I was seventeen--I knew I was a long way from being a good enough writer to tackle it. So I put it aside, to wait.
Twenty-five or so years later, I started assembling notes. A year after that I began writing.
Two years after I began, I was done.
So the short answer is anywhere from two to thirty years.
JACK FAUST is perhaps an extreme example of how long it can take me to get something down on paper, but it's not unique. I have at least one story that I started working on when I was fifteen which still hasn't found its way onto the page.
SFRevu: - A lot of my consternation over the book stems from the nagging feeling that I should have read FAUST already, so that I can appreciate JACK FAUST in context. How much Goethe is in your version?
MS:Relax. Nobody needs to read Goethe to understand my novel completely. Everything that's necessary for comprehension is right there on the surface.
That said, there is a level on which this is my argument with Goethe. In his version, Faust agrees to surrender his soul if he is for one instant satisfied and happy with his life as it is. At the end, angels come to raise him up to Heaven for the redemptive virtue of divine discontent.
Goethe was, of course, writing during the Enlightenment. Faust's salvation looks much more dubious in an age that has known the Holocaust. Hitler died discontent--but I refuse to believe that fact redeems him in any way.
Goethe also invented Margarete, a.k.a. Gretchen. To the modern eye she is only a cipher, a marker for Faust's desire, someone for him to yearn for and suffer over. She's never in danger of damnation, any more than she's in danger of being ugly. She's not fully human. My Margarete commits the cardinal sin for a woman in her position--she surrenders her judgment to a man, Faust. In so doing, she is damned. Later, she redeems herself. Margarete is the heart and soul of my novel. She and Wagner (who came from the original chapbooks of the sixteenth century) are sort of an everyman Yin and Yang. Both are corrupted by Faust. One learns better, and the other does not.
Someone who is well-read in Goethe will have a richer experience reading JACK FAUST, just as someone who has studied Medieval art will spot the origin of the Philosophers in the Bath House scene in an etching by Durer, and an engineer will appreciate the inherent humor in the accelerated technological history. But I wouldn't advise someone to bone up on Goethe or art or the history of technology just to read my novel.
Every reader brings his or her own learning and experience to a book, and the quiet dialogue between the two is the better for it.
SFRevu: JACK FAUST is a special case of the Alternate History novel...can you say a few words about the timeline differences in your version?
MS:I would argue that whatever genre Jack Faust is--Fantasy, SF, Mainstream, Horror are all possibilities--the one thing it is not is Alternate History.
The first thing I did when I began researching was to obtain a map of 16th-century Wittenberg. I discovered that it was far too small for my purposes. So I multiplied its population by four.
You simply cannot do this in a historical novel--even an alternate history. It's a violation of the basic contract between writer and reader. However, in a work of fabulation, extreme alterations of reality are allowed, and so I felt free.
The chief difference between JACK FAUST's timeline and "reality" is that in the novel five hundred years of scientific and technological progress are compressed within a single lifetime. It all comes down the pike too fast for anybody to question what's happening to them.
They can only go along for the ride.
Of course this is essentially what's happened to us in the last half-millennium. But the Faust legend exaggerates this process. It gave me the tool with which the subject--which, like Davy Crockett's buffalo, is so big it normally takes three men just to see it--could be looked at, examined, and judged.
SFRevu: - Somehow, I've managed to miss your books until now. A mistake I will rectify. Where should I start?
MS:Start at the end and work your way backwards. After JACK FAUST, try THE IRON DRAGON'S DAUGHTER, which is about a girl, Jane, who is stolen by the elves and forced to work in a factory, building dragons. Then STATIONS OF THE TIDE, which won a Nebula back in 1992, I think it was. I also have two short fiction collections, GRAVITY'S ANGELS, still out from Arkham House, and A GEOGRAPHY OF UNKNOWN LANDS, new from Tiger Eyes Press. I published my first story in 1980, and I've been getting steadily better ever since.
SFRevu: Who did you read when you were young? (first SF title?) Who do you read now?
MS:When I was young I read everything I could get my hands on, and never bothered to remember authors' names--it didn't occur to me that somebody who'd written something I liked might well have done it more than once. More importantly, I didn't realize that SF was supposed to be inherently different from "mainstream." To me it was all literature, and I read it and enjoyed it as such.
I read all of H.G. Wells' Science Fiction when I was twelve. But a far greater influence was a story I later discovered was written by A.E. Van Vogt called "Recruiting Station." He had a formula at that time of introducing a new idea every two hundred words, and it resulted in a narrative that was wildly, profligately inventive. I admired it vastly, and it taught me not to hoard my ideas but to spend them freely, generously--because you can always make up more.
Currently I read ASIMOV'S magazine every month, because it prints most of the writers I like best. The writer whose work I most admire is Gene Wolfe. Best neglected writer would be Ian MacLeod, who is one of the best writers at short length around today. Hot new prospect is Andy Duncan, on the strength of "Beluthahatchie", "Lisa and the Crazy Water Man" and a few others. Beyond that I'd have to list dozens of names ... There are a lot of good writers out there today.
SFRevu: What/when is the next book?
MS:Some people can talk about what they haven't yet finished, and others cannot. I am one of the latter, alas. But I can say that the next novel will have a lot of the same feel as JACK FAUST--bright colors, a large cast of interesting people-along with a genuinely upbeat ending.
One that will send the audience out of the theater humming the theme song.
SFRevu: Do you go to Cons? Where will you be next?
MS:I go to three or four Science Fiction conventions a year. The next will be Philcon, November 14-16, here in Philadelphia.
I'm afraid I've run on a bit with my answers, but some of your questions were trickier than they looked to be on the surface. I hope they're of use to you anyway.
All best, - Michael Swanwick
Catherine Asaro is a rocket scientist in the true sense of the appellation. A quantum physicist, working for Molecudyne Research, she's done projects for NASA as well as the Institute for Theoretical Atomic and Molecular Physics at Harvard and more prestigious institutes than I can list. She enjoys relaxing with Heroes, Villains, and the Future Fantastic in the best manner of Sense of Wonder SF. CATCH THE LIGHTNING is the second book in her Saga of the Skolian Empire.
Review: Catch the Lightning
In a parallel universe not far from ours a 17 year old girl of Mayan descent is trying to survive amidst the gangs and turf wars of Los Angeles. Tina is very young, very beautiful, and very much in need of a champion. When a cybernetically enhanced fighter pilot from an alternate future crashes in the midst of her strife torn world, her hero has arrived. But by the time they have fallen in love and escaped back to his universe, you start to wonder if the cure is worse than the disease. Drug Lords don't seem so bad when you're being tortured by wanna be Galactic Emperors...
CATCH THE LIGHTING is a fast paced space adventure in which teen readers should find themselves able to relate to Tina's dilemmas. Physicist Catherine Asaro's day job threatens to intrude constantly as the characters break off into digressions about spatial equations and Psionic technology which hobble the story's pacing a bit, but the author never loses track of Tina's plight, keeping the human aspects of the story moving along. The blend of Heroic Fantasy and Hard SF evoke the best of Classic Sense of Wonder SF, but with a real connection to today's gritty realities.
Althor, the wounded cyberpilot, is essentially a crown prince as well, and has crashed on 1980 something Earth when his ship was crippled on its way to a diplomatic reception in Washington DC - in a different time line than the one where it winds up. Althor and the ship are psionically joined and it's no easy feat to tell where the man stops and the machine begins. All Tina wanted was to break out of the cycle of gang violence that surrounds her and find a life where people have jobs and go to school. She didn't count on becoming the fulcrum in a struggle for survival in an alternate future, but events move too quickly for her to look back.
My only gripes with the story are that my favorite character, the sentient fighter ship, the JAG, doesn't get as much development as I'd like, and that the central character often reflects in a past tense voice that robs the story of suspense while never adding the perspective the technique could be justified by.
I'm sure the Skolian Universe has plenty of stories left for Catherine Asaro to tell, and I'll be looking forward to hearing them.
Interview: Catherine Asaro
SFRevu: Your books successfully blend Hard SF and Heroic Fantasy in a way that few authors can manage. Do you plot out your stories or are the antics of your characters as much a surprise to you as the reader?
Catherine Asaro: I've been imagining stories for as long as I can remember. When I was a little girl, the tales were all about heroines and their cats saving the universe from nebulous evil plots. So I populated the galaxy with preadolescent girls zipping around in space fighters. Heaven knows what the galaxy thought of this phenomenon.
Gradually the cats lost their place to handsome young fellows who wanted rides with the heroines in their ultracool spaceships. If I was feeling risqué, the boy and girl held hands.
The stories matured as I grew older. Given all the marriages and children my characters produced (after they progressed past the hand-holding stage), I ended up creating an entire dynasty, what eventually became the Ruby Dynasty of the Skolian Empire books.
SFRevu: What made you decide to start writing?
CA: In graduate school I decided to give it a go, as a way to unwind from working on my doctorate. Boom! It took over. I was soon seeking critiques, and one comment kept coming back: "Where, pray tell, are the villains?"
No Evil Overlords! Actually, in most of my early stories, the situation was the villain. Hal Clement, one of the greats in our field, pulls off this no-villains feat with style. It is a tribute to Hal's gifts as a writer that he does it so well, because it is difficult to make such a story work. Not being Hal Clement, I decided I needed villains. So I made up the Traders, a race created by an innocuous genetic project meant to increase pain tolerance. The project had only one glitch, but it was a doozy: the Traders had no capacity to feel empathy. I figured a race with no compunction about hurting people would make for some useful perfidy.
So I had my nasty Overlords. Turns out, though, that villainy ain't as easy to write as it looks. Reviewers pointed out that my heroes and heroines were far better developed than my villains. So my future books, like THE RADIANT SEAS, will delve more into the Trader culture and psyche. How do they interact with each other? How do these people live with themselves, given what they inflict on the rest of the galaxy?
SFRevu: What was the first SF book you read? Who influenced you then? and now?
CA: It's all Space Cat's fault! I loved those stories. From the time I was six years old, I read every Science Fiction book I could get my hot little hands on: Asimov, Heinlein, Norton, Clarke, Moorcock, all the greats. I suspect this is why my work has been compared to Golden Age writers, despite its modern slant; those writers molded my view of Science Fiction.
I stopped reading Science Fiction when I hit my teens, though. As I became more aware of my own femininity, it became difficult to relate to the stories. The roles I liked best were generally reserved for male characters. Not exclusively, though, and I think this gets overlooked in many debates about the Golden Age stories. For all the criticism in regards to their portrayal of women, the stories do have a tradition of women in non-traditional roles, particularly in science and the military. True, those roles are constrained by the culture of that time. But given that culture, the Golden Age Science Fiction was actually rather forward looking.
I started reading Science Fiction again in graduate school and much enjoyed the expanded diversity of the field. I still have great fondness for those books of my youth, though.
SFRevu: Do you have a particular reader in mind for the stories?
CA: Not really. I get readers with a wide spectrum of interests, including hard Science Fiction, Romance, Heroic Fantasy, and Space Opera. It doesn't break down along conventional lines, though. I've had hard SF readers tell me how much they enjoy the love stories and romance readers say how much they like the science. I'm just glad people read the books.
Most of my readers are adults, though. The subject matter is a bit sophisticated for younger audiences, both the science and the more intimate scenes. I try to write the love scenes in a responsible manner, however. People do say they give my books to their older children, so perhaps it works. In fact, I was rather pleasantly surprised when the aspect of CATCH THE LIGHTNING that received the most critical acclaim was the love story between Althor and Tina. I loved the comment in the Locus review, where Gary K. Wolfe wrote how he enjoyed that Althor's idea of romantic swooning consists of lines like "Your influence has migrated to all of my processors." That was one of my favorite lines in the book.
SFRevu: How does CATCH THE LIGHTNING fit into the saga of the Skolian Empire? Is there a story arc that you are developing, or is each book separate?
CA: It actually comes late in the Skolian timeline, about seventy years after PRIMARY INVERSION, which is itself fairly late. The order of the Ruby Dynasty books doesn't really matter, though, because they are all stand-alone novels.
However, I do have a story arc worked out. Every member of the Ruby Dynasty has at least one story to their name and many have more. Readers have been asking how each book fits into the overall structure of the empire, so I made a family tree and timeline. Tor printed them my third book, THE LAST HAWK, and I've also agreed to put them on the web. They can be found at:
Readers interested in free sample chapters from PRIMARY INVERSION, CATCH THE LIGHTNING, and THE LAST HAWK can find them at http://www.sff.net/people/asaro/chapters.html
What ties the books together are the relationships among the Ruby Dynasty characters. To create the dynasty I drew from my imagination, from the history of real dynasties, and from various mythologies, as with the Maya background in CATCH THE LIGHTNING. Then I add in problems created by the future universe, such as the Imperial Assembly forcing the members of the dynasty to interbreed. This is not something the Ruby Dynasty takes kindly to, which makes for all sorts of good plot complications.
I also draw on Greek plays, which offer juicy possibilities. Problem is, my characters don't like being in dysfunctional situations and keep trying to get out of them. Once I realized what a good source of tension that created, I worked with it. I like to deal with human emotion as much as with the science. To my mind, the best hard Science Fiction involves both the inner and external life of the characters.
SFRevu: When is the next book coming out? Have you considered doing something outside the Skolian Saga?
CA: THE LAST HAWK ships next month, October 1997. This is a big fat epic that spans nearly two decades. The hero is Kelric, the brother of the character Soz from PRIMARY INVERSION. Like his sister, Kelric is a cybernetically enhanced fighter pilot. He is a large man, tall, strong, powerful, an ideal warrior with a gift, of all things, for abstract mathematics. After his fighter is crippled in a skirmish, he crashes on the planet Coba, in the boondocks of the Skolian Empire. Big Problem: the people there won't let him go.
Coban culture is based on a strategy game called Quis. Everyone plays it, from babies barely able to hold the playing pieces to great grandmothers on their death beds. Kelric, it turns out, has a phenomenal knack for the game. I won't say more, least I give away too much.
Well, okay, one teaser: the last third of the book resembles the Helen of Troy story - except here it is warrior queens who go to war over Kelric.
The RADIANT SEAS will probably be out in 1998.
Although it continues the story from PRIMARY INVERSION, it is a stand-alone, so you don't need to read PRIMARY INVERSION first. This one is epic Science Fiction on a grand scale, full of political and royal intrigue, a blazing space war, science, romance, and rip-roaring adventure. Part of it is seen through the view point of Imperator Kurj, the notorious half-brother of Soz and Kelric. Seven feet tall, a massive tower of muscle, commander of the Imperial Fleet--you don't mess with this guy. We also meet the Trader Emperor, who unknown to almost everyone, is actually the son of his father's slave mistress.
Of course Soz from PRIMARY INVERSION plays a big role.
Teaser: if you value the peace and well being of your galactic empire, it is NOT a good idea to make Soz Valdoria mad.
I'm also working on a book with no connection to the Skolian Saga. It's a web thriller set on Earth in the near future. It does deal with some of the same themes as my Skolian books, though, in particular the idea of people from opposed cultures trying to bridge their differences. And of course it's chock full of adventure, intrigue, love, and computers.
SFRevu: In the first book, PRIMARY INVERSION, you introduced the Faster Than Light technology of Inversion, as well as Psionic Websurfing and Direct Neural interfaces. In this book you add in the abduction of humans by an ancient alien race. Do you have any hope that these are technologies that have potential?
CA: The kidnapping is pure fiction. I always thought it would be a hoot if we finally got out to the stars and surprise! our siblings are already there, busily building empires.
So I figured out a way to do it.
The math that forms the basis for the inversion drive is in a paper I wrote that appeared in the April 1995 issue of the American Journal of Physics.
When I was teaching physics, I found that special relativity intrigued my students because it involved wonderfully strange effects. They found it both fascinating and frustrating that light speed prevents anything from going faster than light. I had already been thinking about this because I wanted a star drive in my fiction based on reasonably solid principles. I figured out that making speed complex allows us to go around light speed the way a car faced with an infinitely tall road block might leave the road to go around that barrier. Of course one small problem exists; no known physical interpretation exists for the imaginary part of a complex speed. So I doubt we (or our cats) will be zipping around the galaxy any day soon.
However, the paper did get me invited to the NASA Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Workshop, a conference about finding new physics to make interstellar travel more feasible. The Breakthrough Propulsion people aren't looking for improvements on known methods, such as anti-matter propulsion or light sails. They want new physics.
It was an exciting conference. I've a display about it on my science web page, at http://www.geocities.com/CapeCanaveral/Lab/7439/
In regards to computers and the brain, I expect we will eventually develop the ability to link the two. Rudiments of the technology already exist. If we ever do find a way to manipulate files in our brains, the concept of PSI will become moot. Upload your mental processes to someone else's brain and you've invented electronic telepathy. In his novelette, "Wang's Carpets", Greg Egan makes wonderful plays on the possibilities of such technology. Whether or not we will ever achieve it, I don't know. But it wouldn't surprise me if it happens.
If we do combine the computing power of our machines with the creativity of our minds, I don't foresee any Borg-like dystopia. Rather, I suspect we will produce more intelligent humans, just as advances in medical science have created healthier humans.
I also play a lot with genetics in my fiction. I've a Ph.D. in chemical physics and an AM in physics, both from Harvard, and BS in chemistry from UCLA. So I've always enjoyed molecular science, which is one reason I like Joan Slonczewski's novels. I had fun figuring out a neurological and genetic basis for how the Ruby Dynasty folk perform their mental hijinks. Although it derives from known principles, it's all fictional extrapolation. One evening I got online with Claire Maier, a neuroscientist, and we spent the night throwing ideas back and forth.
It was great.
When I first started writing, my books had almost no scientific exposition. It just didn't occur to me to put it in, since my natural writing voice doesn't include it. However, my editor's suggestion to add the science made a lot of sense; it is easier for a writer to establish herself in the hard Science Fiction field if her books come out the starting gate that way. I enjoy writing the science, and reading it too, especially from authors like Charles Sheffield and Nancy Kress.
But it is a balancing act deciding where to draw the line, particularly given my varied readership. Some readers say: Give us more! and others say: Enough already! CATCH THE LIGHTNING details the science background for the Ruby Dynasty, so future books won't go into it as much. That way, I can move plots along but still have CATCH THE LIGHTNING (and PRIMARY INVERSION) for readers who want to know more.
Actually, the original version of CATCH THE LIGHTNING was written from the narrator's point of view as a seventeen year old, which meant it had almost no science exposition. I ended up adding a lot of the science after the fact, close to deadline, so it may not have blended as well into the story as it could have. The LAST HAWK is more in my natural writing voice. The science is still there, just in much smaller bits that blend with the action.
SFRevu: What do you do for fun?
CA: I like to spend time with my family. We never watch TV or go to movies, not because we don't like them, but because we have so little free time and we want to spend it together.
Last year, when my daughter was six, I used to take her to a nearby state park. We would have a picnic and she would run around, yelling to her heart's content. I can see her in my mind as I write this, late afternoon sunshine pouring across her as she does cartwheels. That was fun.
When we lived in Germany, we used to go to the Alps on the Austrian border. I remember a field with tall grass and yellow flowers, the Alps all around us and the sky full of scudding clouds. My daughter was just barely two, so she wasn't a whole lot taller than the grass. She was standing among the flowers and laughing while my husband made nutty faces at her.
Cons are fun. When I first started going to them, I acted like I was at a physics conference, which meant after dinner I went to bed. Finally one day my friends dragged me out of my room and hauled me off to some parties. And you know, I had a good time. I feel at home among Science Fiction writers and thoroughly enjoy talking to fans. The people who organize cons do a huge amount of work. They give us a chance to promote our books and all they ask in return is that we be entertaining. So I always do my best.
SFRevu: Now that you're back from WORLDCON '97 in San Antonio, are you planning on attending any Cons in the near future?
CA: With the paperback of CATCH THE LIGHTNING and the hardcover of THE LAST HAWK both out now, I'll be doing a lot of appearances. I'm at Context Oct. 3&5 and Albacon Oct. 17&19. The Sci-Fi Channel/Dominion web site (http://www.scifi.com/) has invited me to participate in an online Con on Halloween weekend. Then Philcon is on Nov. 14 -16 and Chattacon is Nov. I'll be doing signings too, if I don't keel over from exhaustion. My schedule is at: http://www.sff.net/people/asaro/schedule.html
SFRevu: How bright is the future? Will we have to wear shades? Cyberpunk shows it bleak and exploited, while the Golden Age revivalists (e.g. Brin) think we might put together a civilization by and by. What's your take?
CA: I'm optimistic about the future. The bleakness in some visions may come in part from modern generations growing up with the knowledge that our weapons have the ability to destroy life on Earth. I wonder if the resurgence of optimism is due to the end of the Cold War. For all our destructive capability, we have discovered it is in us to avoid the apocalypse.
I think it is a good thing to look at the darker visions too, though, least we become complacent and see the world through rose-colored glasses. But I have a confidence in humanity, that despite all our stumbles, set-backs, and mistakes, we will continue to overcome our problems and improve.
RetroReview: Tom Swift Jr. - An Appreciation By Thomas R. Ippolito
When I was in my early teens I read and reread my Tom Swift Jr. collection, along with books from the original Tom Swift series and those of my other favorite boys' science series: Rick Brandt. One summer I came home to the classic tragedy - my mother had thrown them all out while I was away. A common enough story...but it took me a while to get over it. On second thought, I must still not be over it yet because I've paid dearly for a nearly complete collection in recent years. Tom Ippolito hosts a Swift website and is coming out with THE ULTIMATE TOM SWIFT COLLECTOR'S GUIDE. I'm grateful for contributes this appreciation of the boy genius and his pals. - Ern
In 1954 Dwight D. Eisenhower was president of the United States. Minimum wage was $ .75 per hour. You could buy a loaf of bread for $ .17 and a gallon of gas for $ .28. America's most popular television shows included "The Ed Sullivan Show", "I Love Lucy", "The Jackie Gleason Show" and Walt Disney's "Davy Crockett". It was the year that Bing Crosby appeared in "White Christmas", Marilyn Monroe married Joe DiMaggio and Grosset & Dunlap launched a new series of juvenile books featuring the son of a fictional hero of a generation or more prior . . . Tom Swift Jr.
My first, personal exposure to the Tom Swift Jr. series came in 1962, when I spotted more than a dozen of the books on a shelf in a local department store. My eyes were immediately drawn to the bright yellow spines, each sporting the face of a clean-cut, blonde-haired youth framed against a blueprint. I remember scanning the titles and being intrigued. The one that initially captured my interest was TOM SWIFT IN THE RACE TO THE MOON. I slid the book from the shelf and was thrilled to find a full color picture cover depicting a truly fantastic spaceship (the Challenger) heading toward the moon, with a more conventional rocket speeding past. Some of the crew of the former ship could be seen peering out of large, rectangular viewing ports and dashing about in alarm.
I rummaged through my pockets and counted out $1.07 in change . . . the purchase price of the book. By the time I was called to dinner that evening, I had finished reading it and was begging my mother for an advance against my weekly allowance to buy another.
For the next five years I consumed every Tom Swift Jr. book that was available, rereading each several times. I loved them. I remember keeping extensive notes on all of the characters, inventions and locales mentioned in the series. I even developed a rough layout of the Swift Enterprises grounds and created a crude timeline of events. Nearly all of those original notes were ultimately lost, along with most of my Tom Swift Jr. collection, in the years that followed.
Sometime during the late sixties, the boy inventor took a back seat to other interests, not the least of which was girls. Almost a decade passed before my interest in Tom Swift was renewed when I happened upon a well-worn copy of a book from the original series, TOM SWIFT IN CAPTIVITY. I was shocked. Up until that time, I had been unaware of the earlier series and the discovery triggered a four year effort to not only rebuild my Tom Swift Jr. collection, but to obtain all forty of the titles that had been published in the original series. My interest in Tom Swift has never waned since.
The original Tom Swift series had been published between 1910 and 1941 by Grosset & Dunlap, in cooperation with the Stratemeyer Syndicate (a packager of juvenile books that later produced many other popular series including the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and the Bobbsey Twins). These stories about a brilliant young scientist who invented many of the wonders of the modern age, including the submarine, motion pictures, the war tank, television and countless others had been immensely popular. It was the best selling juvenile series of its time, having sold an estimated thirty million copies. Now, over a decade later, its publishers hoped to recreate that magic.
In addition to the millions of young readers the publishers expected to attract with the new Tom Swift Jr. series, it was hoped that a considerable number of adults who had enjoyed the original Tom Swift series would also be interested. With this in mind, great care was taken to tie the new Tom Swift Jr. series as closely as possible to its famous predecessor. The integration of old with new was handled superbly. Tom Sr. was now the head of an ultra-modern, four mile stretch of laboratories, factories and criss-crossed airstrips known as Swift Enterprises. The complex was located outside of town of Shopton, a locale that figured prominently in the original series. Several of Tom Sr.'s inventions from the original series were still in use, albeit with some enhancements (e.g. his giant searchlight and giant magnet). The old Swift Construction Company, which manufactured Tom Sr.'s earlier inventions, was still run by his lifelong best friend and constant companion in the original series, Ned Newton. Ned's daughter Phyllis, a pretty seventeen year old brunette, was Tom Jr.'s favorite date. Tom Swift Sr. had married Mary Nestor in "Tom Swift and His House on Wheels" and Mary was back, still predisposed to worry and still called upon to christen the Swift inventions from time to time.
Tom Jr. was certainly a chip off the old block. Since earliest childhood, he had shown all his father's flair for invention. By the tender age of eighteen, he become one of the most knowledgeable scientists in the country. Like his father, the young inventor was keenly intelligent, resourceful, hard-working and patriotic.
With the release of the first three books in the series, the Stratemeyer Syndicate rescued Tom Swift from oblivion and carried a family tradition into the atomic age. In the series opener, we were introduced to the first of Tom Jr.'s marvelous inventions . . . a mammoth, flying laboratory for use in high-altitude experiments. The triple-decked, atomic-powered aircraft was capable of speeds in excess of 1,000 m.p.h. and had jet-lifters that gave it vertical take off and landing capability (well before VTOL technology was first introduced with the Harrier jet). This was followed with a miniature, two-man atomic submarine (almost a year before the world's first atomic submarine, the U.S.S. Nautilus, was launched) and a conventional rocket ship, in which the young inventor made a two-hour orbital space flight (nearly eight years before manned space flight actually occurred). A host of other inventions followed, few of which turned out to be as visionary as those in the original series but none the less sated our youthful appetites for Science Fiction gadgetry.
During the series' remarkable seventeen year run, Tom Swift Jr. tackled a variety of villains perpetrating nefarious schemes in various parts of the globe. There were modern day pirates who were ravaging the sea lanes off our southern coast, brilliant rogue scientists with dreams of world domination, international spies working for hostile foreign powers and more. Invariably, science, ingenuity and courage conquered each within 180 pages or so. The Stratemeyer Syndicate continued its tradition of leaving the reader on the edge of his/her seat with a cliff-hanger ending to each chapter. With each chapter being only about ten pages long, a Tom Swift Jr. book could easily be read in an hour, leaving millions of young readers eagerly awaiting the next offering in the series.
Joining Tom Jr. in each of these fast-paced, action-packed stories was his stalwart pal Bud Barclay, a rugged, athletic youth with a man-sized appetite for adventure. Others in the supporting cast included "Chow" Winkler, the Swift's balding, rotund, happy-go-lucky cook who joined them on most of their expeditions and brought an element of humor to the series; Hank Sterling, their talented chief engineer; Harlan Ames, the chief security officer at Swift Enterprises; the stocky, blond-haired security assistant, Phil Radnor and a dozen others. Tom's family, including his younger sister Sandy, made frequent appearances throughout the series.
In keeping with the Stratemeyer Syndicate's long-standing tradition, the new Tom Swift Jr. adventures were written by a half dozen ghost-writers under the pseudonym Victor Appleton II. James Duncan Lawrence, who wrote extensively for both children and adults in a variety of media including books, magazine articles, film, radio and comic strips was the primary author of the series. Overall, the writing in the series was far better than contemporary juvenile series and still have an enormous appeal to young and old alike.
The cover art and illustrations for most of the titles in the Tom Swift Jr. series was superb. The books were printed with full color picture covers that typically portrayed the featured invention and/or a tantalizing depiction of Tom and his inseparable friend Bud Barclay in action. Graham Kaye, the illustrator of the first seventeen books and creator of the Tom Swift look, was outstanding. Unfortunately, the same could not be said of his successors, who managed nothing more than rough sketches as compared to Kaye's masterful illustrations.
The Tom Swift Jr. series was a worthy sequel to its famous predecessor and continues to enjoy enormous popularity among collectors of out-of-print juvenile series books, rivaled only by the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. This, of course, makes it extremely difficult to assemble a complete collection of the series.
The last five volumes in The Tom Swift Jr. series are notoriously scarce and command prices ranging from $40 for Tom SWIFT AND THE CAPTIVE PLANETOID to $175 for TOM SWIFT AND THE GALAXY GHOSTS. Prices vary widely but, in my estimation, the entire Tom Swift Sr. series (any format in VG condition) can be valued at approximately $800 at today's market prices.
For more on the literary incarnations of Tom Swift from 1910 to 1993, visit The Ultimate Tom Swift Collector's Guide at http://pw2.netcom.com/~raven43/Pers1.htm
Contents - New Releases - Interview - RetroReview - Movies - Paperbacks - Contact - Next Month SFRevu goes to the Movies - Contact (review by Tony Tellado - Sci-Fi Talk)
CONTACT is by far the best movie of the summer. It's also probably the most engaging SF film of the decade. Jodie Foster just can't seem to give anything less than an Oscar worthy performance and her scientist Ellie Arroway is no exception. The movie deals with her relationship with her father who nurtured her interest in astronomy. David Morse plays a father that is nurturing and supportive in a wonderful father-daughter relationship. But the crux of the film deals with the long awaited answer from outer space that we are not alone. The film follows her trials and tribulations as she attempts to fund a project that listens for the signals via radio telescopes and fights to keep her share of the credit. Matthew McConaughey is impressive as the man in her life a religious man of faith who conflicts with scientist Arroway's just the facts attitude. This is one of the wonderful themes of CONTACT, the balance between science and faith. It seems that we all need a little of both to venture out in space. The cast includes James Woods as a wonderfully obnoxious Government official and the seldom used Angela Bassett who shines. Tom Skerritt and John Hurt of ALIEN fame add their talents to this ensemble, playing a cut throat scientist and eccentric billionaire, respectively. Director Robert Zemeckis of Forrest Gump fame has a reputation as a technical director, but handles his actors very well here blending special effects nicely. They enhance the story not dominate it. CONTACT is a story of exploration maybe not so much of outer space but humanity, and our reaction to this type of even. The film is dedicated to Carl Sagan who wrote the book along with his wife. This is a wonderful legacy to a man who tried to make science fun for us all, and shared his wonder of the universe.
Now in Paperback! Idoru by William Gibson
Gibson returns to the near future he created for VIRTUAL LIGHT in IDORU. The place is Neo-Tokyo, risen from the ashes of whatever destruction the author favors, here a millennial quake, and the story revolves around Pop Culture: where a Rez, a rock star, has announced plans to marry an Idoru, a virtual computer generated Japanese media star.
The action comes from two quarters, first as Chia McKenzie (yes, named by parents who watched way to much TV) 14, flies to Japan as an emissary of the Seattle chapter of Rez's fan club to separate media hype from reality, and second as Colin Laney, a man with a unique gift for fishing in the sea of information and seeing the truths it conceals, is hired by Rez's people to understand the Virtual Fiancée's motives and manifestation. Along the way, things are complicated by Russian nanotech smugglers and the incessant media frenzy of neo-Tokyo itself. As the story unfolds both paths snake towards each other to meet in the story's climax in a Tokyo love hotel.
Gibson pens Chandleresque prose in the noir future he was a primary architect of. As with other authors of the maturing genre, the texture of Virtual Reality is changing in fiction as fact races to catch up and fantasy bows to reality. Gone are the wire plugs connecting us directly to the Net, replaced by sensor gloves and goggles that link our real senses intimately with the cyber world. Handled adroitly by the author, the whole near future world seems casually familiar as we weave from theme nightclubs to love hotels in future Tokyo's relentless un-night.
The line between virtual and real is never very clear, either to us - or to the characters in the story, which no doubt is Mr. Gibson's way of telling us that the difference is arbitrary, occasionally invisible, and often irrelevant.
IDORU is probably most notable for its examination of the concept of a virtual celebrity, an idea which the moving line which separates reality from speculation has already passed over in Japan. Shortly after reading IDORU for the first time I heard a news item about fanzines devoted to characters from a Japanese video game about dating and the ardor of its fans.
This isn't the best Gibson has done, and in the VIRTUAL LIGHT sequence I much prefer VL. Much as he likes to capitalize on a world once he's created it, William Gibson's best books seem to be the first in a series, not the sequel. If you haven't read the author before, start out with either VIRTUAL LIGHT or NEUROMANCER, if you've already read those and want more, IDORU should sate your hunger pangs for Cyberpunk pleasantly, though after half an hour you may find yourself hungry again. If you do, consider reading SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME, by Tricia Sullivan (SFRevu 1.4 New Releases).
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ALBACON '97 October 17-19, 1997, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
I'll be on a few panels at Albacon, this year, a few with friends and contributors like Steve Sawicki, and others with authors we've reviewed recently, like Catherine Asaro. Hope to see you in Schenectady!
Here are a few of my panels to date: Subgenres of Fantasy: Frants (m), Lilley, Jackson - Friday 5:00 PM, American Mythology in Fantasy: Lilley, Zimmer, Macdonald (m), Reimann - Friday 10:00 PM, Science in SF -- Do we need more?: Levinson, Lilley, Gresh (m), Asaro - Saturday 11:00 AM, Are Critics Necessary? Sargent, Sturgis (m), Porter, Sawicki, Harris, Lilley -Saturday 12:00 PM, Women in Combat: Lilley, Sargent, Price (m) Saturday 5:00 PM, SF vs. Sci-Fi: Ryan, Porter (m), Sawicki, Lilley Sunday 10:00AM, Is Progress a Myth?: Strock, Lilley (M), Sargent - Sunday 4:00 PM
Next Month in SFRevu: RUNNING WITH THE DEMON by Terry Brooks, HOW FEW REMAIN by Harry Turtledove, SF at the movies: GATTACA, FOREVER PEACE by Joe Haldeman, DRIVING BLIND by Ray Bradbury, A MIND FOR TRADE by Andre Norton and Sherwood Smith, FRAMESHIFT by Robert Sawyer, THE SPARROW by Mary Doria Russell...and much much more.
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