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November 1997 Vol. 1.5
Copyright 1997 by Ernest Lilley

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

New Releases: Nanotime by Bart Kosko The X-Files: Antibodies by Kevin J. Anderson The Gift by Patrick O'Leary ScreamPlays edited by Richard Chizmar Mind Snare by Gayle Greeno
Interviews: Author: Joe Haldeman- Book: Forever Peace
SFRevu goes to The Movies: Starship Troopers from book to box RAH turning in his grave?
Now in Paperback! The Postman by David Brin The Two Faces of Tomorrow by James P. Hogan Area 51 by Robert Doherty
Contact SFRevu's forays into the world of SF Fandom.
Next Month in SFRevu:

But first, a word from the Editor: Welcome to the November edition of our review project. As you browse through the issue, you'll see we've changed the look a bit, adding covers and pics, though still sparingly. It's great fun to splash graphics all over the place, but I'm still committed to the words telling the story.

Ernest Lilley, Editor / Publisher SFRevu

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

New Releases: Nanotime by Bart Kosko The X-Files: Antibodies by Kevin J. Anderson The Gift by Patrick O'Leary ScreamPlays edited by Richard Chizmar Mind Snare by Gayle Greeno

NANOTIME by Bart Kosko

ISBN 0-380-97466-5 / Avon Books Nov '97

Bart Kosko knows too much. No, he's not a character in NANOTIME, with secret agents out to get him, he's the author and he just plain knows too much. He's an authority on neural networks, the economics of oil, mathematics and philosophy, and has given a great deal of thought about the future - all of which spills out in a flood in his first fiction (he's written three textbooks and articles for magazines from Buzz to Scientific American). Fortunately, one of the things he knows is how to build an exciting near future thriller.

John Grant knows too much too, the only difference being that he is a character in NANOTIME, with CIA and Mossad agents and Sufi terrorists after him. He's the main character, the owner of a patented Super-molecule that will revolutionize power production in the oil starved near future, and Israeli intel's best chance at bringing down Hamid Tabriz, a brilliant mathematician and terrorist. John's best friend is the 18th century philosopher John Stuart Mills, personified by an "intelligent agent" he has carefully fed everything written by or known about the philosopher and who talks to him through a "raisin" tucked into his ear. What with his human friends being turned into microchip controlled killers and the world slipping into an orgy of cruise missile madness, he could certainly use a friend. He could also use a good driver, as his insistence on manual driving rapidly racks up more infractions than his bank account can stand. Personally, I could have used a measure of angst to leaven the anger that builds through a plot that admittedly keeps looking for ways to kick him when he's down.

NANOTIME reads more like a spy thriller than SF, but the world of 2030 is created through a terrific piece of futurist extrapolation by the author. Chinese expansion (Forget Mars, it's China that needs women!), Arab oil, border guards between US states and the incessant drone of news on the Internet. Unlike much Cyber-Fiction, the central characters aren't the disenfranchised recyclers of technology, they are its creators, unbottling the djinns of cheap power, cybernetic brain control and smart missile diplomacy.

This is a book about world building, chock full of ideas about the social and technological implications of oil, population, philosophy and artificial intelligence by an accredited futurist. It is not a warm and fuzzy tale about love, though occasionally it manages to score a few points for friendship. The intel types are callous, the politicos driven by their own agendas and oblivious to fact, and the hero self absorbed and angry. If you live for character driven plot, Bart Kosko isn't your man. If on the other hand, you like spy novels and fast paced technothrillers or futuristic World's Fair dioramas, if your fancy runs to Clancy (Tom) rather than LeGuin, you may find just what you are looking for in NANOTIME.

Like James Halperin's THE TRUTH MACHINE, I expect readers to be split on this book, but for the many it is aimed at, it should score a direct hit.

THE X-FILES: ANTIBODIES by Kevin J. Anderson

HarperPrism, September, 1997 - Review by Linda Zimmermann

After centuries of trying to make things bigger and better, the latter half of the 20th Century will be remembered as the era of smaller and faster. Computers, which once took up a room, now fit in the palm of your hand. With these incredible achievements, how far off is the time when microscopic devices will actually function inside the palm of your hand?

In ANTIBODIES, Kevin Anderson's third X-Files novel, that time is now. When the Kennessy brothers combine their talents (one is an unconventional biochemist, the other a microchip whiz) with large sums of suspicious government money, the stage is set for miracle cures; cures the government would prefer to keep secret at any cost. There are conspiracies on top of conspiracies, which of course is de rigueur for the X-Files, but tends to bog things down just a bit after the first few dozen.

However, Anderson is able to keep this plot afloat with the monster-type elements produced by the experiments that weren't exactly successful. But as often happens when animals get into the act, it is a dog who really steals the show. An aging black lab, fiercely loyal to his young master stricken with leukemia, quickly becomes the emotional focus of the book. Anderson is so adept at portraying the faithful and long-suffering canine, and the roles of Mulder and Scully are so thin and ineffective, that this third book of the series might better be classified as the first of the Dog-Files books. Which doesn't mean that ANTIBODIES isn't enjoyable reading; but it will leave Scullyphiles and Mulderites with unsatisfied appetites.

It is clear that Anderson does do his homework for his books, as anyone who has recently taken the FBI tour in Washington, D.C. can attest (although Anderson's tour was no doubt a private one). He also captures the flavor of the wilds of Oregon, which certainly adds a needed dose of grounding to a tale which could easily have gotten out of control (see his second book, RUINS).

The bottom line is that ANTIBODIES is a fun read. For an X-Phile, it is de rigueur as a government conspiracy.

THE GIFT by Patrick O'Leary

ISBN 0-312-86402-7 / Tor Nov '97 Hardcover

"They are going to tell you this man writes like Sturgeon. Like Wolfe. Like LeGuin. Like Zelazny, or Knight or even like the immortal Edgar Pangborn.

They lie. He writes like Patrick O'Leary. But don't blame them, for he is of that company. As this elegantly crafted fantasy shows, he has The Gift..."-- Spider Robinson

"THIS IS A STORY ABOUT MONSTERS. The real ones, not the ones we tell children about." -- The Gift.

On a ship becalmed in the night the body of a young girl is fished from the water. A storyteller, respected as a mage, begins a tale that unfolds the fulfillment of the last desperate efforts of the age of wizards, weaving the tale of the Usher of the Night together with a woodcutter's son and the King of the land. It is the entrancing story of a time of darkness, and the quest to oppose it, oddly enough, by bringing death back to the land. The storyteller's voice manages to create that same web I remember from my childhood, listening to stories read to me. What happens next? What happens next?

Told by a storyteller in a time when stories were regarded for their own magic, and the storyteller's weaving of tale a revered act, THE GIFT weaves the teller and the tale together in a compelling narrative. Patrick O'Leary's prose has a wonderful tone, evoking a world all the more compelling for the connection between reader and narrator.

Three boys begin their lives in the story. The first, an orphan left to the care of a selfish woman who warps him into the creature that will become the Usher of the Night, traveling through the land offering healing magic much more terrifying than the ills it replaces. The second is Simon, the son of the old king, quickly to become king himself and afflicted with deafness that only a magician can cure. Simon's cure by the Usher is to have hearing so acute he can hear a whisper at the edge of his kingdom, leaving him in pain and torment. The third is Tim, the son of a woodcutter, gifted with the magic of the winds, destined to oppose the Usher. Tim will only discover his gift after paying a price beyond his imagination, and then use it only at a cost no less dear.

The story takes place long after that age of wizards, creature makers that constructed races to hold their stories and to fulfill destinies foreseen long after the wizards had gone. One such race is the Watermen, Gollumesque half men, half frogs whose brains have been tailored to hold the lore of the wizards, and one of whom takes Tim in to school him in the ways of the winds. Along the way there are witches, women, the occasional dragon (appearing as either of the former), magical animals and dear friends possessed by terrible enchantments.

Spider Robinson warns that we will be tempted to compare O'Leary with the likes of LeGuin and Zelazny, and he's exactly right. O'Leary is of that company, though thoroughly his own man. His prose is beautiful, and I would read him for that alone, but the story he tells is as well crafted as it is told, surprising and enchanting me along the way until at the end he manages one more surprise...and one more yet. The magic is that the book never lets the reader down by meandering aimlessly or by ending in sudden artifice. THE GIFT is a wonderful book with a strong voice and the first Fantasy offering by the author, whose Science Fiction novel DOOR NUMBER THREE received acclaim. Whatever he does next will be well worth watching for.

ScreamPlays edited by Richard Chizmar

ISBN 0-34539429-1 / Del Rey Trade Paperback Sept. '97 - Review by Steven Sawicki

This thick offering contains seven complete, never before published, movie and television scripts. The seven scripts include "General" by Stephen King, "The Legend Of Hell House," by Richard Matheson, "Moonlighting," and "Killing Bernstien," by Harlan Ellison, "Dead In The West," by Joe R. Lansdale, "Track Down," by Ed Gorman, and "The Hunted," by Richard Laymon. Reading these screenplays will help you answer the following questions; Is this turkey the director's fault? Can anyone really write that poorly? Do screenwriter's have over-inflated egos? And, finally, Just what does a script look like?

Understand that a script is very different from a short story or a novel. A script is writer's shorthand to a director. A script is rarely longer than 120 pages for big screen and 58 for television. A script contains three pieces; dialogue, scene setting and scene placement. A script does not contain; internalization, exposition, justification, fluff or padding. This book, therefor, will either enlighten you or bore you to tears.

Perhaps the best script in this book is Matheson's "Legend Of Hell House." Matheson is a good writer and a great screenwriter. This is a great script and a great movie. Rent the video and follow along, if only to see how the director interpreted the shorthand. Don't expect a line for line, page by page copying. Directors are funny like that. Actors are funny like that. Producers are funny like that. They all think they can do better than the writer when it comes to placing a vision on the screen. Makes you wonder why they hire the jerks to begin with.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Richard Laymon's "The Hunted," which will surely convince you that some scripts indeed do deserve the full blame. The difference between Laymon's tired and uninspired and hackneyed effort and Matheson's is an eye-opener. Laymon's script reads like a B-movie gone bad--so bad that you actually wince at parts just imagining it on screen.

Ellison's offerings show just how much control Ellison needs as he includes camera directions (a real no-no for writers), time frames, and his own personal thoughts concerning such things as the proper way to hold a gun. You can generally cut Ellison's scripts in half since you can get rid of all this stuff right off the bat. Still, the writing is Ellison's and the scripts are based on short stories so in this case you can compare the scripts against the short stories to see just how one was transferred to the other.

You can do the same for Lansdale's effort, which is based on his novel. Lansdale is more traditional in his scriptwriting and if you're looking for format and a template then Lansdale gets it right.

All in all this is an interesting book if you have any desire to see just what it takes to transfer an idea from printed word to silver screen. Don't be surprised if you are shocked at the brevity or at what gets left to the imagination. Remember, screenplays are meant to end up as visual representations and not as things to be read. Fun, interesting, intriguing at times. I only wish Chizmar had taken the effort to include some of the writer's thoughts as well as their works. There is an introduction from Dean Koontz who is quite accurate in his description of Hollywood and the types that slink there. Koontz also has some savage opinions concerning reviewers and compares book reviewers to film reviewers managing to shed unfavorable light on both. Just goes to show, just like Hollywood and the films that spurt from there, you can't please everyone.

MIND SNARE by Gayle Greeno

Lucy Schmeidler joins us this month with a review of a book that's been on her mind, perhaps you could say it caught here attention back in September when it came out. Lucy has previously had reviews published in the Australian fanzine THYME, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and Terra Incognita.

ISBN 0-88677-749-6 / DAW Books, New York, September 1997 - Reviewed by Lucy Cohen Schmeidler

MIND SNARE marks a major development in the career of a writer worth watching. Greeno's earlier books, in the series of THE GHATTI'S TALE (FINDERS-SEEKERS, MINDSPEAKERS' CALL, and EXILES' RETURN), already demonstrated her ability to depict sympathetic characters caught up in dramatic crises. However, the basic premise of those books, the partnership of sensitive humans with large, telepathic cats, while appealing, is rather derivative in flavor. After all, if people can bond with telepathic dragons, why not with cats?

MIND SNARE takes place in the mid-22nd Century, partly on Earth and partly on Waggoner's Ring, a circle of satellites orbiting L5. The main characters are members of a classical theatre company, the Stanislaus Troupe, which is one of several groups touring the Ring; and members and associates of the religious ministry of Rhuven Fisher Weaver, in the Texas Republic, on Earth. The novel contains references and flashbacks to periods of turmoil, including a mention of the forty-fourth, and last, President of the United States, before the states voted for the demise of the federal government and reconvened as the Confederacy of States--the Untied States of America, as some jokingly called it._ There is also a detailed description of the founding of the Stanislaus Troupe in Lower Chechnya, at a time when all able-bodied men above the age of fifteen were drafted by "whichever army now battled to liberate or defend their land." The troupe was organized so that women acted all the male roles, and young boys, the female roles, while nobody saw who handled the backstage properties. The troupe has retained the tradition of cross-sex acting, with boys retiring at the age of fifteen to backstage support. The novel starts with the last under-fifteen performance of Glynn, son of Jerelynn, one of the troupe's female "leading men". Shortly after his performance, his mother is fatally wounded, and Glynn prevails upon their friend Chance to install Jerelynn's brain in a box designed for the purpose.

Greeno tackles the question of not brain death but brain life: In the absence of any other bodily life, does it constitute life in a meaningful sense for someone who had been very active physically as well as mentally? She also plays some wickedly clever variations on the politics of religious establishments.

Gayle Greeno is a talented writer, just reaching out from the comfortable domain of "feel good" Science Fantasy into the realm of plausible near-term futures. It's a colder and less cozy terrain, but she navigates it handily. And this is presumably only the beginning of what she can do.

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

Interview: Author: Joe Haldeman - Book: Forever Peace

ISBN 0-441-00406-7, Ace Oct 1997 - Review & interview by Ernest Lilley

Julian chase is the ultimate telecommuting soldier, jacked into the senses of his Soldierboy and the shared consciousness of his platoon. In STARSHIP TROOPERS, Robert Heinlein's remake of WWII in the pacific, the author pointed out that one man was more efficient than any group, no matter how well trained, because there was no communications lag in an individual. Joe Haldeman's Soldierboys rebuke the master's wisdom by asking, "But what if a group could think as one?".

It's 2043. America is at war with the a Third World collective called the Ngumi. America the Wealthy, thanks to its hoarded nanoforges, machines that take raw materials and turn them into anything the constituent elements are available for. Nanoforges create everything from food for the masses to lethal robotic killing machines through which the future's soldiers deal death in the jungle via VR links to their weapons - and each other. In an echo of the present, there are conspiracies within the government, racial tensions across the land, and the end of the world on the horizon. Julian Chase, professional soldier and part time physics professor may just be the one thing standing between man's evolution and oblivion. If he can decide not to kill himself first.

Haldeman and Heinlein have been adding to the dialogue about war for decades now, with questions formed through the conflicts we have fought since WWII. THE FOREVER WAR, Joe Haldeman's Hugo, Nebula, and Ditmar winning epic about interstellar war fought at slower than light speeds by the best and brightest, rather than the most willing, added the author's personal experiences in Vietnam to the genre. Now 22 years later, and coincidentally just before STARSHIP TROOPERS' movie premier, Joe Haldeman has decided to flip the coin and show us its other side in FOREVER PEACE. Since the first thing an author does in a sequel is to undo the resolution of the previous book to create conflict, I'm just as glad that this is not actually a sequel in any sense except that it is a further examination of the means and meaning of war, not the deconstruction of a really good book. FOREVER PEACE stands on its own, but if you've read the first book you can ponder the differences.

Fans of conspiracy theories should love this book as much as traditional SF fans. The book follows classic edict of SF, limiting the technologies the author allows himself and asking what their consequences will be, and ends on a note that seems more like something from Asimov's Foundation series than RAH's first person heroics. FOREVER PEACE serves to glorify war even less than THE FOREVER WAR, and its ending is less satisfying - which is just about right for a book on war in the 90's.Will VR give foot soldiers the same insulation from violence that high altitude bombing gave aviators in WWII, or will it bring the world into an empathic bond that makes us stop and say we "ain't gonna study war no more"?

Read FOREVER PEACE and watch this master storyteller flip that coin.

Interview: Author: Joe Haldeman

Q: Thank you for not writing FOREVER PEACE as a continuation of THE FOREVER WAR. It's very popular to undo a happy ending to give characters conflict to form a sequel, but I'm glad you didn't. Did it cross your mind?

A: No, I don't think in terms of sequels -- or, in a way, I see every novel as a sequel to all the ones that preceded it. You just write this one big book, and every novel reveals a different facet of it.

Q: How close are we to achieving the kind of direct neural interface that you use in the book? Is the evolutionary pacifist wishful thinking on your part or is there evidence to support it?

A: We aren't very close, and in fact it may prove impossible. Of course, in the novel it's used as an extended metaphor for brotherhood and cooperation. Like most Science Fiction stories, FOREVER PEACE is not meant to predict the future; it's meant to help us understand where we are now, and what directions of growth we might want to encourage or prevent.

Q: When FOREVER WAR came out there was controversy over the mixed gender combat troops and the notion that we would feed drugs to soldiers to control them. In FOREVER PEACE the biggest scandal seems to be that the country has moved back towards open racism, which is inconvenient for the black central character. Are we running out of taboos with the capacity to shock us?

A: Anybody who's lived from the fifties through the nineties can see that racism is cyclic in America. It's certainly more subtle now than in the days of Orville Faubus, and I do think it's a "two steps forward; one step back" situation. But a black American (I'm white) must feel discouraged right now, his or her problems marginalized, as opposed to living in the sixties and seventies, when we seemed to be moving slowly but constantly ahead.

I don't think America is going to run out of taboos. We have always had an iconoclastic minority for whom almost nothing is taboo but conformity; we will always have a majority that values propriety over nonconformity.

Q: Robert Heinlein's STARSHIP TROOPERS remains one of my favorite pieces of Military SF. How did you react to it before you went to Vietnam, and how did you feel about it afterwards - or was FOREVER WAR the answer to that question?

A: My attitude toward STARSHIP TROOPERS the book is about what it was when I read it before and after I went to Vietnam. It's a good book, a curiously successful didactic novel. I say "curiously successful" because it's really just a bunch of speeches with a few combat scenes thrown in; a writer with less skill than Heinlein would have made a real snoozer out of it.

THE FOREVER WAR is no more an answer to Heinlein's book than STARSHIP TROOPERS is an answer to THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE. In other words, yes, Heinlein no doubt had read Crane's book, and it must have had some effect on his. I read Heinlein's -- and Crane's, and Hemingway's, and Mailer's -- and they had an effect on mine. But THE FOREVER WAR was not an answer to STARSHIP TROOPERS. Harry Harrison and Gordon R. Dickson had already done that.

Q: I just saw a screening of STARSHIP TROOPERS, and despite my fear that there would be nothing of the book left in the movie, I thought that they actually did a pretty good job, with the exception of trivial details like axing chunks out of the storyline and making the political philosophy a parody of the book. Interestingly, I think that FOREVER WAR had an impact on the script. Have you, or will you see it? Any comments on the film?

A: I've been overseas and haven't had a chance to see it. My friends who've seen it tend to hate it if they're Heinlein fans and like it if they don't know anything about Science Fiction. I'll try to view it with an open mind.

Q: Who has the film rights to FOREVER WAR? I've heard that Director Verhoeven (STARSHIP TROOPERS) has expressed a strong interest in doing it as a film. How do you feel about it?

A: I don't know who actually has the rights to it; I sold them to Boss Films a couple of years ago, and Boss has dissolved. I assume that the rights will go to the highest bidder. Verhoeven would be great; I'd love to see something as intense as BASIC INSTINCT; as stylishly cool as ROBOCOP. Verhoeven's academic background (like mine) is mathematics and physics; it would be wonderful if he could bring some of that aspect of THE FOREVER WAR to the screen.

Q: What's your Con schedule like in the near future? Will you be at Boskone or any other Northeast Cons?

A: Won't make Boskone. My schedule for the next half-year is Anaconism (Jan 16 - Denver), International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (March 18 - Fort Lauderdale), Kubla Khan (April 17 - Nashville), and the Nebula weekend (May 1 - Santa Fe).

Q: What's coming out next?

A: I'm working on an actual sequel to THE FOREVER WAR, tentatively called FOREVER FREE.

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

SFRevu Goes to the Movies: Starship Troopers

Directed by Paul Verhoeven,

starring Casper Van Dien, Dina Meyer, Denise Richards, Neil Patrick Harris, Clancy Brown, Michael Ironside.

Written by Edward Neumeier, based on the novel by Robert A. Heinlein.

I went to a boisterous screening of STARSHIP TROOPERS in NYC, part of a NY radio station promotion that happened to coincide with my schedule. Instead of the 30 something reviewer crowd I usually see movies with, these folks were younger, rowdier and much freer with their opinions of the film.

They liked it a lot.

A confirmed Heinlein juvenile fan from way back, I loved the book and feared the movie. The trailers make it clear that they deliberately overplayed the soldier citizen philosophy. I was prepared to tolerate it if the rest of the film was at least good Sci-Fi. They did a much better job than I expected, including much more of the book than I dared hope. The important thing for RAH fans to note is that they dumbed down much of the soldier/citizen stuff to protect it from ridicule in a hostile political climate. Taken out of historical context it may seem silly, but in the movie they have managed to keep its core intact under a veneer of parody. It's a bloody film, and the SFX are so good I totally forgot to question them until after I had left the theater. The story gets compressed by chopping huge parts out, but that's inevitable when a book goes to film. In truth, the working fascist government may be the bravest representation of a future world we've seen yet. If we are extremely lucky, the notions of earned citizenship, licensed parenting, and civic responsibility will raise more than eyebrows.

I can't remember another SF/Sci-Fi film to generate the kind of controversy that I've seen on the Net over this. Even here at SFRevu we are pretty well divided. I loved it, Linda enjoyed it immensely, EJ (our gal in the Navy) liked it with reservations, and Steve out and out hated it. Each for excellent reasons. Linda and I thought it was great fun, occasionally exciting, and truer to the book than we expected. EJ agreed with all that, but got hung up in the Mil stuff, no air cover, dumb choice of ground weapons and appalling ship tactics, and Steve was all over the poor science. Odd, because Bad Science is normally my job, and Linda has written a book on the subject (BAD ASTRONOMY) - but he points out that we're back to aerodynamic handling in vacuum, as well as slow burning fires on the beaten fleet returning to base. Right. Absolutely. Pick, pick, pick. I'm pretty sure Steve didn't like the original book either. My personal beef was the loss of the armored suits from the book. Talk about special effects! I had great hopes of seeing the reentry sequence described in the book, or to watch a squad bound across a war torn landscape in 40 foot jumps. I'm convinced that the suits were victim to the humanization of the troops. Making the soldiers more vulnerable serves the directors efforts to connect the audience with the soldiers, hence the poor choice of weapons. Alas.

As far as I know, none of us rebelled at the STARSHIP TROOPERS 90210 concept, where all the recruits were clean cut (not to mention well scrubbed) unknowns that could have walked off network TV's teen and 20 something hits. Actually, I put that under the Heinlein authenticity. I thought it was a nice touch to keep Buenos Aires as the home town from which the main characters came, along with the Geneva world government headquarters. Of course if those kids are really from BA, then a lot of Baby Boomers must have retired there and brought their kids along. Adding female ground troops would have been news to Heinlein, as would male flight crews, and EJ had serious trouble with the fraternization going on, but some variation of this may well be inescapable.

I give it 4 stars and suggest to any one who feels the book was mistreated to 1) give copies of the book to everyone they know for Christmas, and 2) to go out and get financing to make their own movie and 3) quit their bitching.

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

Now in Paperback! The Postman by David Brin The Two Faces of Tomorrow by James P. Hogan Area 51 by Robert Doherty

The Postman by David Brin

In a land that was once America, a traveler is set upon by thieves and left to freeze in the gathering darkness. When he comes upon a postal carrier's jeep and he borrows the postman's jacket and satchel for his survival, he has no idea that this is how legends, heroes, and countries, are born.

THE POSTMAN is one of the most moving stories in all of SF, and rereading it now, a decade after it first came out, I found it still as powerful, and as much fun, as it was when I first read it. Post Holocaust fiction is a whole sub-genre in itself, and THE POSTMAN is about the best offering it holds. If you haven't read David Brin's epic yet, now is a great time to pick it up. Next month Kevin Costner will bring the story to the screen (THE POSTMAN opens December 25th). When I interviewed the author several years ago, he confessed that he had hoped Tom Hanks would play the title role, but Costner may turn out to be a better choice - adding a dramatic gravity to the film. But no matter how good the film is, the book is already great, and you should run out and get it before you see the movie.

Gordon, The Postman, finds that clothes make the man, and despite his protests at the first village he comes to after donning postal blue and gray, in him people see what they want - the rebirth of order, the structure of America rising again from its ashes. Gordon has been roaming the countryside for more than a decade telling stories of the time before the fall for his supper. What starts as a way to survive becomes a crusade to breath life back into the world - binding the disparate villages together through commitment and communications borne by the U.S. Mail.

But where there is boon, there is sure to be bane. The descendents of survivalists mass to swarm over the towns regaining their footing and some who would be allies remain isolated in their enclaves. The Postman must find a way to oppose the last vestiges of the 20th century's war machine, for the leader of the survivalists is a renegade military experiment, an augmented human designed for killing.

Along the way, Gordon meets the Wizard of Oz, so to speak, falls in love, and fans the spark of civilization wherever he can. This is a unique book, unlike anything Brin has written before or since, but through it you can see the author's beliefs shine clearly. David Brin places a high value on civilization, and laments the lack of pride in it he sees in most people. Reading THE POSTMAN certainly serves as a reminder that we are part of a nation, and that it is something worth defending.

The Two Faces of Tomorrow by James Hogan

I have a shelf devoted to books about computers that went bad. Hal, Colossus, P1, Mike, and the star of THE TWO FACES OF TOMORROW - Spartacus. (For the grand prize, match the book with the AI). This one is one of the more enjoyable because it mixes a Mil-SF in what is often a purely intellectual exercise.

One of the best moments in the book occurs in the prologue when a computer on the Moon responds to a request by a construction crew by nearly killing them, though it does clear the hill blocking their progress. Which gives credence to the adage that to really screw things up you need a computer. Following the well meaning if harrowing performance of the Tycho computer, a major push is given to develop an AI with common sense as well as uncommon brilliance. The result is the test of Computer Scientist Richard Dwyer's self aware AI Spartacus on the space habitat Janus, where everything can be controlled, including the destruction of the station should need arise. Not that it's likely to come to that, of course.

The story really begins in Dwyers' City University of New York computer science lab valiantly trying to teach a fledgling AI how to make breakfast in its virtual world. Like all of Hogan's early writing it is heavy on displaying the mechanics of science, which is its strength and weakness. Especially since AI today doesn't look a whole lot like it did when the book was written almost 20 years ago. Still, the scientists and engineers he peoples the book with all have an enviable passion for their work, and Hogan conveys the sense of excitement inherent in being part of world changing discoveries. Hogan includes a romantic subplot or two out of habit, but the real action takes place after the scene changes to a massive space habitat where an AI is turned loose to evolve in a "controlled" environment.

As Miles Vorkosigan has been known to say; "No plan survives contact with the enemy." Or did he get that from Murphy? Either way, things go rapidly wrong, until Richard and his researches are in a heated ground war inside the habitat against a rouge AI with factories, worker drones, and a really good imagination at its disposal. And for some reason it's decided these human things are out to turn it off. Just to make things interesting, there's a spurned lover who hates computers running around with a hand held missile launcher.

If you've read Hogan's first, and possibly best book, INHERIT THE STARS, you'll recognize the style instantly. It's a clever story, full of smart people and machines essentially trying to solve a big problem. He's just added armed conflict to the tools of problem solving.

A fan of AI-SF, and the Clarkian style of Hogan's earlier work, I vastly prefer this to some of his conscientiously more character driven later work. Hogan may have been the last proponent of the Scientist as Hero, before Cyberpunk stepped in and assured us that like other myths we tell children, he just isn't real. Maybe that's why I still enjoy this book so much.

Area 51 by Robert Doherty (Robert Mayer)

ISBN 0-440-22073-4 Dell Paperback March 1977

Alien technology under wraps at Area 51? Been there? Done that? Maybe you have, but Robert Doherty is just getting started.

AREA 51 is the first in a series of stories written under the Robert Doherty name by Mil fiction writer Robert Mayer. The author's considerable military experience comes through clearly in this UFO thriller as well as his strong command of plot and his interests in archeology and psychology. Though completely original in his treatment, the author echo's another book in his unraveling of the mysteries of alien technology - INHERIT THE STARS by James Hogan, and you should consider reading both books if you like either. Area 51 has reached the level of contemporary myth, paraded in popular magazines, regularly visited on the X-FILES, and ready to launch that important counterstrike against alien invasion a la ID4. As I scanned the paperback releases over the summer I found this and impulsively picked it up. It's not great literature, but it's fun. From a certain point of view. The author's point of view is a function of his extensive special forces experience and it shows in the nonstop action he generates.

A tape arrives with an Air Force pilot's fatal encounter with something beyond his understanding, inside the controlled airspace around Area 51. Investigative reporter Johnny Simmons climbs into the hills around the base to follow up on it and disappears completely, except for a copy of the tape sent to a friend, documentary filmmaker Kelly Reynolds.

Mike Turcotte, a special forces expert and former member of an anti-terrorist unit operating with Germans arrives to join Nightscape, the elite Area 51 security forces. Mike doesn't know it yet, but he's been hand picked for this job because of something his superiors would consider a liability in his work - a conscience.

In Egypt, an archeologist learns of a German expedition before the war into the Great Pyramid, an expedition that found radioactive artifacts and looted them for the Reich. Incredibly, he finds that a member of the German expedition is still alive and living in the United States. What he doesn't know is that he's part of Area 51's scientific staff, and because he's urging caution before the test of an incredible piece of Alien technology, he's become a liability that Area 51's commander cannot tolerate.

AREA 51 hurtles across the familiar landscape of government conspiracy as these 4 try to uncover the extent of the alien cover-up in America and stop the possible annihilation the government is counting down to as it prepares to power up technology far beyond its understanding. An understanding that is limited to being able to read just enough to decipher the DANGER: DO NOT PRESS THIS BUTTON warning left by the original owners. That's not about to stop the General in charge of Area 51, but just maybe Mike Turcotte and his fellow draftees can.

(If Mike and friends survive, they'll all be back this spring when Dell publishes AREA 51: THE RESPONSE.)

- - -

The short form of Robert Mayer's military experience: West Point, brigade reconnaissance platoon leader in the 1st Cavalry Division, A team command - 10th Special Forces Group, currently a major in the Army Reserves assigned as an instructor/writer at the Special Forces Qualification Course at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg--the course designed to train new Green Berets.

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

With the oncoming holiday season, saving money for all those presents and whatnot, We won't be heading off to any Cons until '98. Here's the '98 List of Activities so far:

Discussion Groups and Appearances:

January 20th: SF Topic Discussion Group - Borders Books and Beyond, Garden State Plaza Rte 4&17, Paramus, NJ, 8:00pm. Topic: After The World Ends: New Title: Earthling by Tony Daniel, Classic: The Postman by David Brin.


February - Boskone - Framingham Mass.

March 20-22 - Lunacon - Rye New York

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Next Month in SFRevu: Robert Sawyer is our featured interview, Tony Daniel proves you don't have to be human to be an EARTHLING, Sigourney Weaver explains she's not dead yet in Alien IV, and the usual suspects (Tony Tellado, Linda Zimmermann, Steve Sawicki and Ernest Lilley) review a bunch of books for the holidays...

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