Copyright 1997 by Ernest Lilley
This issue is dedicated to the memory of author Paul Edwin Zimmer (1943-1997) who died of a heart attack while attending Albacon '97. He was a thoughtful and gracious man, and I'm sorry I won't have the chance to know him better, except through his works.-EL
New Releases: RUNNING WITH THE DEMON by Terry Brooks THE REALITY DYSFUNCTION : PART I: EMERGENCE/PART II: EXPANSION by Peter Hamilton HOW FEW REMAIN by Harry Turtledove (reviewer: Linda Zimmerman) I AM LEGEND by Richard Matheson DRIVING BLIND by Ray Bradbury
Interviews: Author: Mary Doria Russell - Book: THE SPARROW Author: Bruce Sterling - Book: HOLY FIRE
RetroReview: THE DEMON PRINCE by Jack Vance (review by Steven Sawicki)
SFRevu goes to The Movies: GATTACA
Now in Paperback! Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold
Contact SFRevu's forays into the world of SF Fandom.
Next Month in SFRevu: War (and Peace) break out in the November issue of SFRevu... when we bring you review and interview of FOREVER PEACE and author Joe Haldeman and a look at STARSHIP TROOPERS as the book and movie slug it out.
But first, a word from the Editor: Welcome to the fourth issue of SFRevu. Autumn is in full swing and the cold weather finally seems to have arrived, just in time for the spirits to walk the earth in the gathering darkness. For our Halloween tribute, we lead off with Terry Brooks' Dark Fantasy, RUNNING WITH THE DEMON, and reprise Richard Matheson's I AM LEGEND for one of the finest pieces of Vampire fiction ever written. Ray Bradbury's latest collection of short stories left me with that same feeling of disquiet he gives me every year about this time, and Steve and Linda offer reviews to round things out.
Be sure to read the Mary Doria Russel interview and the review of her first book: THE SPARROW, now out in paperback. She's one of my favorite new authors, and I'm looking to spread the word. Tony Tellado let me reprint an interview I did with Bruce Sterling when HOLY FIRE came out, and it accompanies the paperback release of the book.
Leave the leaves alone for an afternoon and heat up some cider to go along with the darker titles we've selected this month. Lock the door and enjoy yourself if you can.
Ernest Lilley, Editor / Publisher SFRevu
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New Releases: RUNNING WITH THE DEMON by Terry Brooks THE REALITY DYSFUNCTION : PART I: EMERGENCE/PART II: EXPANSION by Peter Hamilton HOW FEW REMAIN by Harry Turtledove (reviewer: Linda Zimmerman) I AM LEGEND by Richard Matheson DRIVING BLIND by Ray Bradbury
ISBN 0-06-105286-8 Harper Prism / September 1997 (hardcover)
And now for something completely different from the author that brought us the Sharnarra novels and occasional lighthearted romps in fantasy like KINGDOM FOR SALE. Well, it is the time of year for some HORROR, or at least Dark Fantasy, so Terry Brooks latest book is only fitting. When the forces of classic Fantasy grapple with the power of demons in small town America it all seems vaguely familiar...
A bit more graphic than Bradbury, a bit more hopeful than King, Terry Brooks latest book, RUNNING WITH THE DEMON is Dark Fantasy teetering on the edge of Horror.
Magic runs in the Freemont family. For seven generations the women of the family have been charged with the stewardship of Sinsinippi Park, warding off the mindless "feeders" that no one can see and maintaining a balance of magic with the help of Pick, a Sylvan ("Don't call me an Elf!") and his forest friends. Nest Freemont is a normal 14 year old girl. Well, normal if you discount her prodigious athletic ability and the strength of the magic inside her, or the way her future self keeps popping up in visions of a dark future. It's her uniqueness that makes her the focus of good and evil in this story, and why she is summoned in the night to stop the dark magic in the park from driving humans to self destruction.
Nest's mother died mysteriously when she was an infant, and no one will tell her about her father; not her grandmother, who wielded the power in her time, not her grandfather who can't see the magic, not even Pick.
Two men, or things that were once men, come to town as it readies itself for the Fourth of July, and tries to forget the strike that has shut down its sole source of industry, the steel mill. One is a demon in human flesh, come to tip the balance of power towards an apocalyptic future, the other a Knight of the Word, sworn to the service of an ancient power, sworn to stop the demon and his kind, forsaking his humanity in that service. They have both come for Nest. On her future rests the future of mankind, a future that John Ross, Knight of the Word, dreams all too vividly in the desperate visions of what the future might be if he fails.
Terry Brooks lies somewhere between the implied horror of Ray Bradbury's dusty attics, and the conspicuous carnage of Steven King's hatchet wielding minions. In RUNNING WITH THE DEMON, he maintains a fine balance between hidden and obvious evil. He also spends his violence with care, obtaining its best dramatic effect by not wearing it out through overuse. Set in a contemporary small town in the heart of "Reagan Country", the story builds steadily toward a battle for the Nest's future on which the balance between good and evil teeters.
The story climaxes in a battle which is clearly part of a larger war. This awareness, along with the author's superb storytelling skill leaves you in suspense as the story moves towards its conclusion. Nest and her band of teenage friends are as well realized as the adult and elderly characters. Though there is some adult content, it is handled with restraint and should make this acceptable for mature teens as well as the adult readers it's aimed at.
ISBN 0-446-60515-8 Aspect / July 1997 (paperback)
It's massive! It's an epic Space Opera (Klingon, if you ask me). It's a serial with 600 page installments. It's British, by the way.
Joshua Calvert is a cross between Indiana Jones and Hans Solo. When we first meet him he's digging around an asteroid belt laden with treasures from a lost civilization and being chased by desperados after his treasure. Soon thereafter he's bedding the beautiful 18 year old ruler of the local bitek habitat and repairing the starship his father left him so that he can roam the galaxy spoiling for adventure. The crisis waiting in the wings to make a story out of is the cause of the lost civilization's demise. From the evidence it looks very much like a starfaring civilization not that different from our own ran up against something so terrifying that they committed racial suicide rather than face it. Sensible people want to know if it's still around. Meanwhile on the muggy colonial world of Lalonde, the convicts sent along to do the colonist's dirty work are organizing a Satanic cult and plotting to revolt...or at least jump the next starship home to settle old scores. This could work pretty well, but the author isn't content to leave well enough alone. What do you suppose the odds are that the civilization killing something might enter their bodies and create an army of unstoppable zombies? Not long enough, evidently.
And that's the good news. The bad news is that the author drags everything out in the best example of gratuitous world building I've ever seen. Indeed, if this be Space Opera it must be Klingon Space Opera. It seems longer and more painful than the 600 pages that I slogged my way through, owing to the author's endless exposition.
Not only does Peter Hamilton drone on and on (and on) about the locales and technologies, the dress and customs, and the climate and life forms, but his characters, when he gets around to them, come in a limited variety. They are either 18, gorgeous, willing, and very female, similarly young handsome and male, or doomed to horrible death in the next chapter. Young Joshua has his choice of beauties to bed throughout the book, starting with the ruler of Tranquillity, then the wanton colonial girl, the prickly starship captain, and the 16 year old plantation owners daughter, oh and her mother too. Did I leave out his chief engineer and the free fall sex cage?
He does come up with some nice examples of technology. Sentient genetic engineered habitats and starships "affinity" linked to their human counterparts in a technological approximation of telepathy. Space suits made of nanotech particles that flow over an individual feeding sight through neural linkups and full of local processors to interpret free fall maneuvering. He's inventive all right, just out of control. And somebody ought to pass a law limiting the amount of nanotech used in stories. For a technology not yet started it's gotten to be quite a crutch in SF.
EMERGENCE takes about 600 pages to set the stage. It doesn't actually end in a cliffhanger, it just ends. The cover promised that Part 2 would be out in August '97, and indeed it was, but the two books could have been edited down into one with vast improvements in their readability (The British edition is one volume, with all the words).
The Reality Dysfunction Part 2: Expansion by Peter Hamilton
ISBN 0-446-60516-6 Aspect / August 1997 (paperback)
EXPANSION takes up where EMERGENCE left off, with the colonial planet of Lalonde under siege by a force that can posses bodies, making them nearly indestructible and able to throw off energy beams that make mincemeat of the hi tech battle gear the author allows his defenders. Researchers on the Tranquillity bitek habitat are trying to decode a memory core from a lost race that suicided rather than face some crisis, and the dashing Starship Captain Joshua Calvert is still bedding his way across the galaxy in the starship his father left him.
The army of possessed colonists has overrun the fetid jungle world of Lalonde and the Confederation Navy is sending in troops to take it back, still unready to accept that they face something besides a human uprising. Joshua, the maverick Han Soloesque captain of the Lady Mac Beth has signed on to deliver a company of augmented Confederation Marines to the planet, along with a gorgeous reporter. On the planet's surface nothing stands in the way of the soul devouring blight, until Horst, the alcoholic priest introduced in the first book, takes a stand on faith to oppose what he believes is Satan's incursion into this world.
There are space battles, ground battles, jungle battles and town battles. There are even mental battles and spiritual battles! Part 2 is much more of a slugfest than the first book, and it's much improved by the change. With the stage setting done in PART 1: EMERGENCE, the story is able to move along at a much better pace. Suddenly it's downright readable. I remain firm in my appraisal that some tough editing could have made a better single volume than the combined two part 1100 pages, but even so, the story continues into THE NEUTRONIUM ALCHEMIST to be published in April and May of 1998.
ISBN 0-312-86504-X Orb / October 1997 (trade)
What would an October issue be without at least one Vampire story in it? Orb obliges us with a reprint of the classic "I Am Legend" by one of the most influential Horror writers of all time.
You may not have read the title novella in I AM LEGEND, but you've probably seen it at the movies. So far at least two films have been based on it, THE OMEGA MAN and THE LAST MAN ON EARTH starring Charlton Heston and Vincent Price, respectively. Written in 1954, the story is a modern vampire story about the last human's efforts to survive. Vampirism as a disease is explained in a fashion that still looks fairly good some 40 years after the story was written, and even the shifting weather patterns in the story evoke a familiar pang of worry.
Vampire fans may not swoon over the rational treatment of the subject, but the emotional content of the story is potent and accessible as it moves from despair, through hope and finally into irony.
There are other stories included, and while I could tell that they were dated, not badly so. If the children of the 50's were the models for the teens in "Dance of the Dead" for instance, one need only change a few details to see Generation X'ers in their stead. In "Witch War" the coven of young witches is instantly familiar, whether you saw THE CRAFT and its teen witches or stop to consider the darker side of SABRINA, THE TEENAGE WITCH. If Matheson is out of sync with today, it is probably in not trying to make the evil in his book too appealing. The humanity of his characters is intact, allowing us to identify with them, but they haven't quite developed the knack of copious angst. The collection is very readable today, creative and original. Recommended reading for students of Horror and SF alike.
ISBN 0-312-86504-X Orb / October 1997 (trade)
The title of this collection of Bradbury short stories, 21 in all, came to the author in a dream in which he found himself riding along a country road in a car driven by his inspirational muse. Blindfolded. To trust or not to trust? In the afterward, Mr. Bradbury talks about following the muse, "when the muse speaks, I shut my eyes and listen". Once in Paris he touch typed 150 pages of a novel in a dark room, without seeing what he had written. If that doesn't sound like something out of a Bradbury short story, I don't know what does.
The stories in DRIVING BLIND evoke the old familiar disquiet borne by the author's writing. An America gone by, full of attics, musty air and children without enough sense not to ask how the magician pulls the rabbit out of his hat. These stories take me back to a small town and long gone friends and relatives, to the smell of leaves in the autumn and mown lawns in the summer. Ray Bradbury owns a time machine that steals the reader into their past and then returns them to the present unmarked, but not unchanged.
A number of the stories are retellings of the author's own experiences, with varying fidelity. "Driving Blind" the title piece, recalls a human fly he knew as a child. "That Old Dog Lying in the Dust" recounts in crisp detail a one ring border circus he saw as a young man. The eerie experience of seeing his high school chums faces seem to appear in yearbooks encountered by chance became the equally eerie story, "Nothing Changes" and in "Night Train to Babylon" a traveler makes the mistake of standing between the irresistible force of a con and the immovable faith of the fleeced.
The stories often answer the question, "What happened to so and so? I wonder how he came out?" You may rest assured that in the hands of this master, the answer will be something as unexpected as it will be unforgettable.
Del Rey, 1997
When Harry Turtledove's HOW FEW REMAIN showed up on my doorstep, it was only the work of minutes before I had my favorite Civil War author and reviewer on the phone asking if she would like to follow her Retro Review of GUNS OF THE SOUTH (SFRevu 1.2) with another look at the world's foremost Alternate Historian. Though I know that the liberties taken with what she considers perfectly good history irk her from time to time, I'm pleased to share Linda's insights in this review. - Ern
From the moment of Lee's surrender at Appomattox in April of 1865, people have been asking, "What if?" What if one thing could be changed about the Civil War that would have resulted in the South gaining its independence? In Turtledove's last venture into "What if", GUNS OF THE SOUTH, that change was in the form of AK-47 automatic rifles being delivered to the Confederates thanks to racists from the future. In a far more plausible scenario in HOW FEW REMAIN, the change simply involves a good cigar, or three, to be precise.
On September 9, 1862, General Robert E. Lee issued his now famous Special Order 191, an order that split his already outnumbered army. Four days later, Union men found a copy of these orders, wrapped around three cigars, which had been left behind in a Confederate camp, thereby giving General McClellan the precious opportunity he needed to crush the rebels. Ostensibly, this information led to the failure of Lee's army at Antietam, which led to Lincoln's decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which ended the South's hopes of intervention by England and France, etc.....
One could argue that the inept and bungling McClellan wouldn't have known an opportunity if it ran into his headquarters and bit him in the hindquarters, but that could be the subject of many more books. Suffice to say in Turtledove's alternate universe, the orders are not left behind and the South has won the war. We are then immediately transported to 1881, where due to the growing Confederacy's acquisition of Mexican territory along the United States southwestern border, a second war between the states is about to commence. And since the South had won the first war in 1862, there were no battles at Chancellorsville in 1863 or Yellow Tavern in 1864, so the two great generals Stonewall Jackson and Jeb Stuart are alive and well, and more than ready and willing to kick more "damnyankee" butt.
However, since there was also no Little Big Horn, the Union still has George Armstrong Custer. Throw into the mix the youthful and fiery Teddy Roosevelt, a disgraced, but still-powerful Abraham Lincoln (Booth would have had no reason to assassinate him), an unpublished Samuel Clemens (a.k.a., Mark Twain), Frederick Douglas, Longstreet, Rosecrans, Geronimo and a cast of what often seems to be thousands, and the fun really begins.
HOW FEW REMAIN is a thoughtful, provocative journey into a strikingly real alternate world; a world which might have been if not for a few lost cigars. Turtledove expertly captures the essence of some of history's most colorful characters and successfully projects them into situations where they act believably and naturally. The reader may not like what is happening in the alternate countries of the Union and Confederacy, but he can not disagree that it would not have all happened exactly as Turtledove portrays it.
Toward the latter part of the book, one gets that sneaking suspicion that there is more than a post-Civil War story going on. In fact, it clearly gives off the aroma of a set-up. If I was a betting woman (and I am), I would give odds that Turtledove's next venture into alternate history will involve World War I. By projecting ahead from the ending of HOW FEW REMAIN, one can see a future President Teddy Roosevelt investing heavily in high-tech weaponry, which along with a Berlin-educated Pershing, would aid our new German allies, and make France and England sorry they ever looked twice south of the Mason-Dixon line. Of course, a victorious German state would have had no need for Adolf Hitler, which in turn means...oh, never mind, you get the picture.
Alternate histories, written well, can be as addictive as your favorite junk food, but instead of adding empty calories, they take your brain on a healthy jog around the world of "What if?" So how about a "What if?" where North and South settled their differences amicably, slavery was quickly abolished and we all remained one big, happy united country? Sorry, some plots are too far beyond belief.
One day a little over a year ago, I got an Email that made my day. Not only had an author seen my review of her book, but she thought I got the point. Over the next few days Mary Doria Russell and I conversed about THE SPARROW, her first book. Now it's out in paperback and here's my review, some excerpts from our conversation, and an addendum by the author about what her experience has been like a year later. - Ern
ISBN: 0-449-91255-8 Villard (Random House) / October 1997
Review: The Sparrow
After the first exquisite songs were intercepted by radio telescope, UN diplomats debated long and hard whether and why human resources should be expended in an attempt to reach the world known as Rakhat. In Rome offices of the Society of Jesus, the questions were not whether or why but how soon the mission could be attempted and whom to send.
The Jesuit scientists went to Rakhat to learn, not to proselytize. They went so that they might come to know and love God's other children. They went for the reason Jesuits have always gone to the farthest frontiers of human exploration. They went for the greater glory of God.
They meant no harm.
- from THE SPARROW
"...Like we say back home, when you find a turtle settin' on top of a fencepost, you can be pretty damn sure he didn't get there on his own."
It's not unusual for a scientist to reach a point where they decide to put pen to paper (or electrons to glass) and talk about their work in the context of SF. Many of the best Hard SF authors have come to us this way, mostly physicists and astronomers with a love of science that eclipses their characters.
With her first book, THE SPARROW, Dr. Mary Dory Russell, Biological Anthropologist, has shamed them all. From every conceivable angle it is an extraordinary book, worthy of all the praise it will doubtless receive. The hand of a cultural and physical anthropologist is clear in human and alien construction alike, and the Techno-SF components are convincingly hard edged. Yet all this fine craft merely builds the stage for a compelling search for love, faith and redemption on distant and alien earth.
THE SPARROW is written in two narratives that pace each other through the book, some 40 years apart. One tells the story of the discovery of radio signals from the region of Alpha Centauri, and the Jesuit mission launched to investigate them. The other follows the painful recounting of the failure of the expedition by the sole survivor, a gifted priest and linguist who followed his faith outward to find himself stripped of all he loves and ravaged, almost mute.
Reading THE SPARROW and knowing that the mission ends in tragedy is a very odd thing. The two narratives dovetail beautifully as they exchange adventure and discovery with terror and despair. The book is so well written and the characters so engaging, that I felt as though I was watching someone I loved go through a car wreck - horrified but unable to look away. The author wrote this book, I am sure, in part to express and examine her own views of faith. Like the best such searches it answers nothing, but leaves the reader asking themselves new questions long after the last page is turned.
THE SPARROW has joined my collection of books for non-SF readers where it has met with almost perfect success in luring friends that have never considered reading SF into the fold.
A Correspondence From The Author:
Dear Mr. Lilley,
You are a reader of taste, intelligence and discernment. Why the Hell didn't you spell my name right?! It's Mary Doria Russell, not Dory Russel or Mary Dory Rusell, but what the Hell, you're forgiven and I am very grateful for the fabulous review you gave THE SPARROW. You got it. You got everything I was trying to do. I absolutely loved your "two narratives dovetail beautifully as they exchange adventure and discovery with terror and despair." And that part about watching someone you love go through a car wreck--perfect! That was just what I wanted the reader to feel, but I never thought of such a wonderful image for it. Can my publicist quote you? Jesus, I wish I'd had you to write the book flap copy. Yours is the best short description of the story anyone has written. When THE SPARROW comes out in paperback next year, maybe I can get my editor to use your description. Anyway, I wanted you to know how really thrilled I was by your review. Thanks so much for being the kind of reader I wrote for.
Sincerely, - Mary DoriA RusSelL
(Shucks...OK, I'm guilty of a little vanity here. Of course they never did get around to immortalizing me on the book jacket...but I'm not bitter. - Ernest)
And Now...A Year Later...A Few Questions For The Author:
SFRevu: It seemed that support for the book grew slowly. I liked it so much I would move it around on bookstore shelves, but after a while it started getting good placement by itself. How long did it take to catch on? What awards did the book earn?
Mary Doria Russell: From the beginning, we all believed that sales would be driven by reviews and word of mouth, and that was the case. The interesting thing was that the book had real "legs." The USA Today review didn't come out until 6 months after publication, for example--new reviews popped up for months. Being interviewed on NPR's Diane Rehm show was a big boost, as was the NPR All Things Considered review by Alan Cheuse.
But mostly it was one person after another, falling in love with the book and wanting other people to read it. It was almost like an Amway pyramid! Readers didn't just close the book and put in on a shelf. They would go grab 4 friends by the face and shout, "BUY THIS BOOK!"
The Sparrow won the 1996 Tiptree Award (Science Fiction) and second runner-up for the Campbell Award and made 12th on the Locus List, the only book that made the list without having been recommended by the magazine earlier. The book has also just been nominated for the International Dublin Literary Award, which is administered by the City of Dublin Public Libraries. All nominations come from national libraries around the world, so this was a real thrill. About 150 books are nominated, world-wide, and the prize is 100,000 Irish pounds. I don't know how much an Irish pound is worth, but 100,000 of anything is pretty interesting!
SFRevu: I was impressed by how well you treated the tragedy in the book and by your understanding of recovery. I also noted that when the bad things started to happen I wasn't as distressed as I might have been. Not because the characters had become less important, but because you had let them each achieve so much.
MDR: God, tell me about it. I felt like a literary sniper. I started the story with a sole survivor, so I had to kill everybody off, of course. But I couldn't let them go until the last moment.
Part of what led me to write the book was observing two close friends who had terrible losses--unexpected deaths of young healthy people. The religious person was devastated--this was the second child she had buried, and she simply couldn't reconcile that with the loving God she once believed in. The Atheist was actually responsible for the car wreck that killed his beloved wife (he fell asleep at the wheel at 4 in the afternoon--incredible). He grieved greatly but without that added burden of trying to understand God because an Atheist has no faith to be shaken.
SFRevu: As an SF reader, rather than the mainstream types that will hopefully find the book engaging as well, I enjoyed the AI and hardware portions of the book. You were probably right not to lean too heavily on them though, as they age less well than the human parts.
MDR: Exactly. I wanted no more high-tech stuff than necessary because good science fiction can become bad history so quickly. I needed to put the story in the future, so I could place modern sophisticated well-meaning people into the same position as the 16th century missionaries to the New World. It's a bitch of a game to play, and there's almost no way to win. Mistakes will be made. It's an inherently tragic situation.
I found out why I was getting little slams like one in Entertainment Weekly (which was otherwise a rave and gave me an A), in which the guy says, "The science is a little shaky, but ..." I was really offended by that, since I was meticulous about the science. Then one day, I was killing time between signings leafing through the book and almost screamed. Some copy editor did me a "favor" by deciding that "32 feet per second per second" was a typo and eliminated the second "per second." So I have acceleration occurring at a constant speed, and now appear to be ignorant of a basic high school physics fact! This change was made after I approved the galleys. Imagine my delight.
SFRevu: THE SPARROW is a first contact novel being marketed as mainstream. It's one of the books I use now to suggest SF to readers as something more than rockets and rayguns (though I personally love rockets and rayguns). Do readers realize they're reading SF? Are they seized by the desire to run out and read LeGuin as well?
MDR: Of course, they know they're reading SF! God! It's about a Jesuit mission to another planet, for crying out loud, with aliens and spaceships. But it's very classy Science Fiction (it's got Latin, and everything) and atypical in many ways, because at its heart, it's about the human reach for the divine, whether or not a Divinity is there to reach back.
I love LeGuin and have recommended her books to a number of friends who say they hate SF. To my surprise, they have uniformly told me they couldn't get into LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS. I can't account for this. Anyway, if your real question is, "Has THE SPARROW expanded the market for SF?" I just don't know, but I'm afraid maybe it didn't. (SFRevu: Funny, I could never get into LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS either. Maybe they should try THE LATHE OF HEAVEN or THE DISPOSSESSED, my two favorites.)
SFRevu: What did you read growing up? Who do you read in SF (if anyone). Have you ever read A CASE OF CONCIENCE by James Blish? It's another story about a priest on a first contact mission that ends badly.
MDR: When my husband and I were first dating, back before the earth's crust cooled, his first present to me was a copy of CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ, which remains one of my all-time favorite books, decades after I first read it. People always mention Blish's story. If I read it, I can't remember anything about it except that it had a priest. I loved LeGuin, and a few CJ Cherryh's books (THE CUCKOO'S EGG was wonderful). I've also read my share of Star Trek books, eating them like popcorn years ago. Now mostly I read biographies, historical novels (Dorothy Dunnett is my favorite author) and a lot of nonfiction, religious studies, philosophy. Also anything Dave Barry publishes.
SFRevu: What does your husband do besides search the Net for news of your books?
MDR: We just celebrated our 26th anniversary. He is definitely a keeper. He's also an engineer, so he makes a nice steady salary that allowed his wife to quit teaching anatomy and write novels.
SFRevu: How is the sequel doing?
MDR: Done, and being copyedited as I type. It'll be out in March, and it's called CHILDREN OF GOD. Early response has been very gratifying. My publishers took a big chance, buying a sequel to a book they hadn't even published yet, but they are now feeling very pleased and expect the gamble to pay off.
SFRevu: What have you been doing Conwise? I see you are on the ReaderCon '98 program and I know you went to WorldCon in San Antonio this year - was it fun? What is your Con schedule for the coming months?
MDR: World Con was lovely, as was San Antonio--great town! I loved WisCon last year and intend to go again in '98. And you're right--I'll be a ReaderCon as well. Anyway, thanks so much. I was hoping there would be readers like you out there and it is wonderful to find out I wasn't deluded! --Mary Russell
I interviewed Bruce Sterling for Sci-Fi Talk last year when HOLY FIRE came out in hardcover. Tony Tellado, Host and Producer of the radio show was more than willing to let me run it here with a review for the paperback edition. - Ernest
ISBN: 0-553-57549-X Bantam Spectra - October 1997
Review: Holy Fire
From crone to European runway model, HOLY FIRE takes us on a breathless search for sex and self through the adventure of an old woman suddenly turned young by a radical life extension technology. In her new self, she forsakes the dryness of her former life in order to seek the Holy Fire, the conceit of the generation's artistic vision. Bruce Sterling's latest book may well be his best. I was easily caught up in this world of human and post humans, not to mention post-canines, and recommend it to both genre and non-genre readers alike.
Life extension figures into much Science Fiction, more so as the population ages, but often as a sidebar to the main story. As we come to grips with the problem in real life, the measure of difficulty represented by serious life extension is reflected in fiction. Larry Niven's (RINGWORLD) Tree of Life root gives way to Kim Stanley Robinson's (RED, GREEN & BLUE MARS) complex and piecemeal bolstering and replacement of one's failing body and mind. Bruce Sterling, with typical panache and expressing the consumer expectation of a generation of aging boomers, takes both tacks. In setting up the story, he introduces us to Mia a vital, if very careful, woman of 94 who has maintained herself in the accepted way - diet, exercise, and the expensive avoidance of death. After the death of an old lover and an encounter with a young woman living the very "vivid" life of youth - she realizes that she cannot continue her desiccated, post-sexual, post-human existence. Enter the big gamble approach to life extension. Essentially by regrowing her body in a vat (while she's in it) she emerges young, vital, and out of control in a rush of hormonal energy she had almost forgotten existed.
She is most definitely not the woman she was, and flees her treatment consortium to live on the run among the artists and gypsies of Europe. The reader is whirled along in the vortex created by Mia , now Maya, as she integrates her new and old self and comes to accept coming of age for a second time. This time around she has the advantage of both fore and hindsight. The characters have that noir edge of rebellion that makes Sterling's writing so attractive, but it is tempered by Mia's past awareness as "the establishment", allowing her to provide both point and counterpoint.
Interview: Bruce Sterling
SFRevu: In HOLY FIRE, despite the technology of life extension and a fair amount of virtual scenes, the book seems more character than technology driven.
BS: Well, I would point out that the character is technology driven, it's true that her life is sort of "exploicated" in a very intimate way. You're always seeing things through her eyes. She's a person who is physically impossible in our current historical period. A 90 year old woman in a 20 year old body. If you can make that convincing you've made a very intense Science-Fictional move. I think this is a technique that works for me. I like embedding ideas in the character. I think it's a useful literary technique.
SFRevu: What's the quest that Mia, the central character in the book, is on?
BS: She's someone who's never been an artist and finds herself in a position where self realization and artistic expression become really a vital part of her personality. So like a lot of artists she's trying to discover who she is and what she has to say.
SFRevu: How did you settle on life extension as the technology for the book?
BS: I've always been interested in life extension. I think it's one of the simplest tricks that you can use in a Science Fictional method to really make the world seem strange. Even my first two novels had people routinely living to 200 and 300. I consider that interesting because my theme as a writer is the impact of technology on society and I think this is truly one of the most radical things that could happen to a human being...to outlive every other human being who has ever lived and remain vigorous. Just not age. If you could just remove that one aspect of the human condition I think it would be completely revolutionary, really strange, it would put people in absolutely new realms of experience.
SFRevu: I was struck by a scene where Mia dismisses a boyfriend and someone else not life extended comments that she is really cold. It struck me that immortals might not be as concerned with the lives of mortals.
BS: Well, it depends on the circumstances of the society I guess, but a lot of the things that we consider cast in iron like marriage unto death, but if you remove death, then what becomes of commitment?
SFRevu: What did you read growing up?
BS: Science Fiction.
SFRevu: Anyone in particular?
BS: I remember Edgar Rice Boroughs' Mars novels as being tremendously involving things when I was eleven or twelve. I also read quite a bit of J.G. Ballard when I was about 13 or 14, and I really think that wrecked me for life.
SFRevu: Speaking of Mars, what did you think of the life extension done by Kim Stanley Robinson in his Mars series?
BS: Stan and I both come from a generation where we recognize that it's not right to talk about science and technology as though they were magic pills or something that comes off a silver pedestal on angel wings. It's something that exists and is part of your makeup and becomes part of your personality. It's part of your expectations and part of your society. It's the process of bringing extrapolation into your daily life. Which is sort of different than the standard early 20th century SF rhetoric that always just uses the stuff in the way that a Fantasy story uses a winged horse or something. It uses technology as a charm or a means to invoke wonder. I think Cyberpunk writers in particular are not really into wonder, we're into ecstasy and dread.
SFRevu: Have any of your books been made into movies, or are there any movie projects?
BS: I've sold some rights over the years, but no, I'd never want to do screenwriting, so it doesn't happen.
SFRevu: Of the short stories you've written, are any your favorites?
BS: Well, I tend to prefer my first short story collection, CRYSTAL EXPRESS to my second, GLOBALHEAD. Although the stories in GLOBALHEAD are a lot better written, they're not in as wide a range. CRYSTAL EXPRESS has got truly off-the-wall stuff in it. It's got Fantasies and Historical Fantasies and Space Opera and really weird things whereas GLOBALHEAD is - how can I put this - more mature.
SFRevu: Novel-wise, what are you working on?
BS: I'm writing a novel right now which is about power, politics, and big science.
SFRevu: In Texas?
BS: Yeah, actually it's in East Texas and Louisiana...and Washington.
SFRevu: Is this supercollider stuff, or Net stuff?
BS: I believe it is gonna be set on the site of the old superconducting supercollider. Something very weird went down there. In fact there is a whole sea change in the way society and government treat science now and I think it's very little examined. Eventually it will have an enormous effect on SF because SF is the bastard child of science and American SF is the bastard child of American Science. So when things go badly for Mom, things are gonna change for the little gutter imp that is SF, and it's gonna wind up changing its ways.
SFRevu: Does SF have predictive value?
BS: Well yes, it does. A lot of people are dismissive about this. I certainly wouldn't claim that any SF writer is an actual prophet or anything, but I would actually argue that SF writers can be useful harbingers. They often have the tone of what is coming down pretty well. Even if they don't have technical specifics.
SFRevu: You've mentioned civilization a couple of times in different contexts, and it reminded me of something David Brin said to us a while back - that he doesn't hear people say very often that they are a member of a civilization, that they own a part of it. Are we becoming more of a civilization or are we becoming more fragmented? Does technology have a role in it?
BS: Well, it depends on where you are. If you're in Bosnia right now you sure as hell don't feel much like you're part of a civilization. Power and liberty are always sort of at one another's throats. I could kind of concur with David that people need to make some sort of commitment to some sort of larger abstract. I'm something of a Civil Libertarian. That's where I spend my political energies, such as they are. Especially electronic Civil Liberties, as it's something I happen to know a bit about. It's an area in life in which I feel I can do something useful for society as a whole. I think that people ought to speak up and take an interest in society, especially if you have children as David and I both do. Real futurists have children. Children aren't something you can neglect. You have to commit yourself to their welfare and try and see to it that they survive and are in a world worth living in.
SFRevu: Who do you recommend as alternate reading to Bruce Sterling?
BS: I think you ought to read William Gibson. You ought to read Neil Stevenson, and you ought to give some really serious thought to reading Greg Egan. Neil and Greg are where it's at in 90's SF. There are plenty of people of my generation that are established and it's not hard to find our work. It's a little bit harder to find Pat Cardigan's work, John Shirley's work, Louis Shiner's work. You can find it if you are looking for it. The people who really need help right now are the people who are just beginning to break out. If you're going to try and help them, to help the genre develop, you need to read the magazines. In fact you need to subscribe to the magazines because this is the testing ground of the next generation. Which is why SF thrives and other genres have their own little wire racks somewhere off in the middle of nowhere. SF has a good infrastructure, but like any infrastructure it needs to be maintained.
RetroReview: Jack Vance - The Demon Princes (review by Steven Sawicki)
THE DEMON PRINCES VOL. I, VOL. II,
ISBN 0-312-85302-5 Orb/ , ISBN 0-312-85316-5 Orb /
These two oversized paperbacks actually consist of the following five novels: THE STAR KING, THE KILLING MACHINE, THE PALACE OF LOVE, THE FACE, and THE BOOK OF DREAMS. These novels have been available, essentially as individual books, in various forms and from various publishers since the early 1960's. Such staying power says a great deal about the writing between the covers and perhaps more about the man behind the words. Additionally I would imagine that one of the main definitions of 'classic' would be a book's remaining in almost constant publication.
I suppose I should also note here that I have been a Jack Vance fan since long before he published his 30th book and even longer before he was named a Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers' Association. Vance is only the fourteenth such author to be so honored. I don't know why they waited even that long. Vance is a writer who has won all the awards; Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy and Edgar. Vance is a writer who has toiled for better than five decades at his craft, the past decade or so with failing eyesight. Vance is one of the more literate writers that Science Fiction can lay claim to.
If you're wondering why I am spending so much time talking about Vance instead of talking about the books, it is very hard to separate the author from the art. Vance does not so much write as caress words onto the page.
Vance's style is fluid, his dialogue melodic, his plotting first rate and his story telling nearly epic in scope. Vance is a writer who is not afraid of putting his 'common' man in the very big picture. This is the basis of the Demon Prince novels which encompass the very big story of said Princes who are a race of beings disguising themselves as humans and delighting in power and destruction. One of the lesser beings, indistinguishable to the Princes, is Kirth Gersen (and you either hate or love Vance's names) who has had not only his family killed by the Princes but his world as well. Needless to say, Kirth is pissed and out for vengeance. Kirth roams the universe, in his pocket is a list with five names--each a Demon Prince. Five names for five novels, each a story of Kirth's hunting and confronting a Demon Prince.
You read Vance not merely for the story he weaves but for his use of language. There is, perhaps, no greater wordsmith active today. If a word does not exist, Vance will create it. If a place needs naming, Vance will discover it. If a language needs rhythm, Vance will find it. Vance has an eye for structure and an ear for elegance. Vance is actually almost more enjoyable read out loud. Vance is, in fact, fun to read, period. Here are Vance books which better represent his plotting and there are Vance books which showcase his language manipulation and word creation and there are Vance books which shine with his talent at naming. The Demon Princes books are perhaps the best example of Vance running on all cylinders. These five books, collected here in two volumes, showcase one of the better writers of the current millennium.
Some of Vance's others books include the Planet Of Adventure series; the Alastor series; ARAMINTA STATION, BIG PLANET, ECCE AND OLD EARTH, GREEN MAGIC, THE LAST CASTLE and his most recent, NIGHT LAMP.
British filmmaker Andrew Niccol wanted to make a film longer than 60 seconds. With the release of GATTACA, billed by Columbia Pictures as a "science fiction thriller", he has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. Alas. Not only is GATTACA longer than a minute, its pacing appears to stretch the time spent watching the movie like some relativistic time dilation.
Ethan Hawke (EXPLORERS, DEAD POET'S SOCIETY, REALITY BITES) plays Vincent, a child conceived out of love and good intention, into a society where conception is a matter of careful genetic screening and manipulation. Although he escapes the intervention of the pre-natal geneticist, at the moment of his birth he receives his sentencing as a drop of his blood is read into sequence analyzers to be interpreted like the entrails of a sacrificial fowl. Damned by a litany of probable shortcomings, including a tendency towards violence and an expected coronary failure by age 30, Vincent is a willful weakling, ever in the shadow of his genetically flawless brother, the product of his parents' recantation of nature and society's taste for gene tailoring.
Though the odds are on the genetically perfect, Vincent possesses that popular element of classic SF - the indomitable spirit, manifested in the desire to become an astronaut. Specifically a "Navigator Third Class" on the upcoming first mission to Titan, a role that none but the most genetically pure could be considered for. Vincent may not be perfect, but he never accepts his limitations. Through a very special broker he finds a member of the genetic elite who has suffered a crippling injury and assumes his identity through a bizarre symbiosis where the cripple, Jerome (Jude Law) provides him with a name and enough body waste and clippings to fool the genetic scanners at the GATTACA space agency. Why they call it GATTACA is one of the film's little mysteries. Nobody ever says. Vincent, now Jerome, rises to the top of the organization and reaches out to accept the coveted space on the Titan mission.
When the agency's director is beaten to death with a keyboard and the entire organization is subjected to increased scrutiny, Jerome/Vincent's deception becomes even more fragile. At the same time he falls in love with Irene (Uma Thurman - BATMAN AND ROBIN, PULP FICTION), despite the androgynous 1940s business suits that everyone wears. Will he manage to avoid the murder investigation and join the Titan mission? Will Irene lose her flawed heart to Jerome/Vincent? Will this movie ever end?
A remarkable cast assembled to create this deadpan dystopia. Alan Arkin plays a future Colombo on the killer's trail. Gore Vidal is the Mission Director who has devoted his life to the exploration of space, Ernest Borgnine (Borg-9? Any relation to Seven of 9?) is a janitor whose role in the film is only hinted at. His real contribution to the film is lying, I suspect, on the editing room floor.
Andrew Niccol wrote and directed this bit of supposedly serious SF, but I suspect that he's never read SF and is a bit put off by it. Mr. Niccol's future is as devoid of trappings of technology as he could make it. The only science evident exists in black boxes that pop up pictures of the owners of whatever bit of hair, skin or spittle is fed into them. Evenings are spent in classic smoke filled salons in formal evening wear and "hovercraft and epaulets" have been strictly banned from the set. Mr. Niccols has taken it on himself to reinvent Science Fiction by removing the techno-glitter from Sci-Fi and creating the world in a retro-classic image. Although the cast praised his vision, comments by the writer/director are conspicuously absent from the studio's press kit. His moral message of the inadequacy of class distinction is delivered with little enthusiasm, and less plausibility. Yes, it is a frightening prospect that testing may reveal so much about us that we never dream of challenging our proscribed limits. No, I didn't believe that Jerome/Vincent could get away with it, or even that he should. Worse, I strongly doubt that anyone will remain interested in the film long enough to come to their own conclusion. Even if you were to remove the minute traces of SF from the film it would teeter shakily on its underpinnings of Mystery and Romance. If studios cannot bear the thought of turning to authors of SF for good SF scripts, they should stick to Sci-Fi SFX extravaganzas.
If GATTACA is the Science Fiction Drama of the year, 'tis a lean year indeed.
Memory by Lois Bujold
ISBN 0-671-87845-X Baen / October 1997
Death before Dishonor. Miles has already been dead, in MIRROR DANCE, the tour de force Mark comes into his own novel. Now, thanks to his own demons, and the author's decision that it was time for him to grow up, Miles fills in the second half of the phrase in Bujold's latest installment, MEMORY. In fact, he experiences it in the first few pages, and with an intensity that left me reeling in sympathy with one of the best liked characters in all of SF. Past or Present. The title of this book tries to convince us that the story is about Simon Illyan's memory chip going glitchy. In reality, that's only the vehicle that Miles takes for a ride in this character building saga.
The story opens with Miles waking from a blackout that stemmed from the after effects of being dead in the previous book. Mile chooses a particularly poor time to black out, of course, in the middle of a rescue he was leading in his Naismith persona. Blacking out is one thing, but cutting the Imperial courier you are trying to save in half with a laser in the process is another. Both pale beside trying to hide the truth from Simon Illyan, Miles' boss and the head of Barryaran Intel. All of which Miles does, and none of which goes unnoticed.
The rest of the book is about Miles' redemption. For a character who has spent so much time trying to become something, to have his feet pulled firmly out from under him seems almost malicious. In a lesser author's hands perhaps. Realizing that Miles cannot run around playing Admiral for the rest of his life, she stuffs him into an oven and warms him to a glowing red before quenching him in duty and friendship. Miles survives the ordeal, emerging tempered by the process, but only time will tell if Miles the adult will capture us as his prolonged adolescence did.
An excellent piece in the Vorkosigan Saga, but neophytes should start with WARRIOR'S APPRENTICE and MIRRORDANCE before taking the plunge.
ALBACON '97 October 17-19, 1997, E-mail: email@example.com
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 it's on to Philcon!
Afterword: I just came back from Albacon and decided to add this update from an enjoyable gathering of fans and professionals in SF and Fantasy. There I met pros and fans that illuminated my understanding of the subject and affected my own views as a reviewer and fan. I also met Paul Zimmer, an author and the brother of Marion Zimmer Bradley while on a panel about American Mythology in Fantasy. I was impressed by Paul's warmth, knowledge and careful preparation on the subject and looked forward to getting to know him better as the weekend went on. It was not to be, as he collapsed an hour later to die at age 54. I'm glad I had the chance to meet him and sorry that I won't have the chance to know him better except through his works. - Ernest Lilley, Editor SFRevu
A not necessarily complete bibliography: THE DARK BORDER SERIES: THE LOST PRINCE (1982), KING CHONDOS' RIDE (1982), A GATHERING OF HEROES(1987 with Marion Zimmer Bradley)
Next Month in SFRevu: War (and Peace) break out in the November issue of SFRevu when we bring you a review and interview of FOREVER PEACE and author Joe Haldeman and a look at STARSHIP TROOPERS as the book and movie slug it out.
Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman, Nanotime by Bart Kosko, War of the Gods by Poul Anderson, Earthquake Weather by Tim Powers, X-Files: Antibodies by Kevin Anderson, Screamplays by Richard Chizmar, The Two Faces of Tomorrow by James P Hogan. Starship Troopers: Book Vs. Movie and more (more or less).
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