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Jan 1998 Vol. 2.1
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SFRevu brings Science Fiction reviews and interviews to the web each month.
1998 by Ernest Lilley

Contents - New Releases - Interview - RetroReview - Movies - Paperbacks - Sci-Fi TV - Contact - Next Month


New: Maximum Light by Nancy Kress Titan by Stephen Baxter Starship Titanic by Terry Jones Interviews: Nancy Kress: Hard SF meets Soft Science

SFRevu Goes to the Movies: The Postman James Bond: Tomorrow Never Dies

Now in Paperback! North Wind by Gwyneth Jones Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Charles Sheffield Mother of Demons by Eric Flint

Sci-Fi TV: Babylon 5 on TNT

RetroReview: E. E. "Doc" Smith: Return of the Lensman

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

Next Month in SFRevu: Anne McCaffrey back on Pern, Michael Crichton's back at the movies and Brenda Clough's back in paperback. Though we should have dug up more books on love, we seem to have fallen into Mars' spell with a spate of Mil-SF titles on the list. Well, all's fair...

But first, a word from the Editor: Happy New Year! I hope your presents included lots of SF and Fantasy, and by chance if it didn't, there's still time to take them back and pick up the books we've reviewed for January. Oddly, nobody gives me books for presents must have something to do with the mountains already in my apartment.

My New Year's resolution is to do less work this year! If you want to join the SFRevu crew I'm looking for a few wired writers to add to our ranks. Let me know if you'd like enlist. (All submissions become the property of SFRevu.)

Ernest Lilley, Editor / Publisher SFRevu

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Contents - New Releases - Interview - RetroReview - Movies - Paperbacks - Sci-Fi TV - Contact - Next Month

New: Maximum Light by Nancy Kress Titan by Stephen Baxter Starship Titanic by Terry Jones

Maximum Light by Nancy Kress

ISBN 0-312-86535-X Review by Ernest Lilley

Nancy Kress writes Hard SF about Soft Science, and she does it very well. While other authors are still trying to find something new to say about physics, Nancy has moved on to the critical science of the next millennia - biology. First she created the Hugo and Nebula Award winning BEGGARS IN SPAIN trilogy which explored the prospect of sleepless genetically enhanced humans finding a place in modern society in an examination of haves and have nots. Now she illuminates a very real problem by extending the current worldwide decline in male fertility to critical levels in MAXIMUM LIGHT. Nancy Kress's real advantage over past Hard SF writers is that in addition to well researched and presented technical detail, her stories are balanced by well conceived characters that make them exciting reading. They are hardly perfect people, but they often have an uncanny knack of becoming real.

MAXIMUM LIGHT is set in the mid twenty-first century, amid a global decline in male sperm count of nearly 80%. Once we might have applauded this as a good thing, considering the population pressure that the Earth has been exposed to over the past century, but what if the number continues to decline? Will we rise to meet the threat of species extinction or surround ourselves with what comfort we can and slip quietly into the night?

The story revolves around three central characters. The first, Shana is young, beautiful, spoiled, dangerous to herself and everyone around her. Serving her year of National Service, she desperately wants to force the government to let her into one of the few coveted ranks in the Real Army. Nick Clemente is a 75 year old doctor, a dying old man, and an appointed advisor to the Congressional Advisory Committee for Medical Crises. He wants to leave a future for his family, and a wake up call for the world, but he's running out of time. And there's Cameron, whose life is dance - because that's all that he can remember since the operation that took away his past, and who knows what else? In the midst of a world dying in denial, this trio forms an unlikely alliance of self interest and winds up trying to save the world in the bargain.

Shana is the most dynamic of the characters, bright, impatient and used to getting her way by manipulating the people around her. When she witnesses an illegal bio-tampering operation and is called to Congress to testify she manages to kill her chances of the only thing she really wants in an uncontrolled outburst. Her story alone would have made compelling reading as she works the system, rebounds and learns discipline to apply herself to the problem.

The story is a taut thriller that demonstrates the author's insight into the ages and genders of Man. The science is completely reasonable, and disturbingly foreboding, its roots trailing towards us from the author's future into our lives in the present. The character's range of ages and the shifting narrative also make the story accessible for everyone from teens to geriatrics. As a futurist work the story looks good enough to make it worth reading as part of a sociology class, but thanks to the author it's too engaging a read to be likely to wind up there.

Although the author's first books in a series are often her best, the conclusion of MAXIMIM LIGHT left me wanting more. Not because the story doesn't have a solid ending, but because the characters have grown through the book and leave you wondering what happens next. (Our interview with the author is down a few pages... Interviews: Nancy Kress: Hard SF meets Soft Science)


TITAN by Stephen Baxter

ISBN 0-06-105259-0 / Harper Prism Nov 1997 Review by Ernest Lilley

Stephen Baxter, aerospace engineer and fellow countryman of Sir Arthur C. Clarke, has written an imaginative and insightful novel about the end of the Space Program. Read it anyway.

TITAN contains some familiar elements. In fact with the exception of the monolith and HAL, it has almost everything that Clark's 2001 has - but on a tighter budget. The possibility of life on a moon of Saturn discovered by a deep space probe, mounting tensions between the US and a major Communist country, a spaceship named Discovery...haven't we seen this before? Not like this.

The ingenious part of Baxter's novel is his approach to deep space exploration in the face of the shutdown of the American space program. Charged with the task of dismantling the shuttle program after a reentry crash in the early part of the next century, NASA astronaut/administrator Paula Benacerraf listens to a radical proposal from a maverick JPL scientist determined to reclaim the high frontier. Instead of shutting the program down and parking the tired shuttle orbiters on playgrounds to remind us of our loss of courage, why not use them all up in a final mission of exploration? Why not fly a shuttle to Titan, the only moon in the solar system with an atmosphere the shuttle can land in. Of course it would be the first suicide mission NASA ever planned unless it manages to fire the imagination of the country to restart the program and provide a recovery mission. Not that that's enough to stop Paula, the JPL "double dome" who dreamed it up, or the other astronauts who would rather die in space than live on earth.

At first I was excited by the idea of a cheap space mission to Titan, but soon realized that the author had adopted Brutus' tone, come not to bury NASA, but to praise it...not. Stephen Baxter scores some telling hits as he reviews the ongoing dismantling of our space program, probing wounds from the abandonment of the Delta-X SSTO program to our inability to protect the planet from asteroid strikes and the antagonism between the Air Force and NASA (also favorite themes of Clarke). There are too many telling hits for comfort.

The hardware is well researched and it all makes a frightening sort of sense, but unfortunately the author offers us neither humor nor optimism as things go wrong. Nor does he appear inclined to write a sequel. The bottom line is that Stephen Baxter has done a tremendous job exploring his low rent space exploration and geo-political tension premise, but he has done it to paint a dour face on the future. Nations turn inward. Heroes die. This may well be the face of the future, and perhaps such cautionary tales are more to the point than paneceic prose about better days to come, but it's not the most fun I've ever had reading SF.

TITAN is well thought out and well executed, though I'm not entirely convinced that this British author understands either the American or Chinese psyche well enough to make the predications within. Certainly the industrialization of the Chinese will present one of the most significant challenges of the next century, but hopefully one we will grow to meet rather than shrink from. On the other hand, his accusation that America has been actively trying to prevent cheap access to space has the chilling ring of plausibility to it.

I recommend TITAN for the hard look it takes at a dying dream. I just hope we can make it a false future rather than a tale of things to come.

Douglas Adams: Starship Titanic by Terry Jones

ISBN 0-609-60103-2 / Harmony Books

Review by Ernest Lilley

And now for something completely's time for the parrot in the CD ROM game to write a novel...or...Monty Python meets Life, the Universe and Everything...or...Not.

- Ed

Although this amusing if halfwitted tome came out a few months ago, I picked it up recently in self defense against the latest round of Titanic sightings in the media. I would far rather read about a starship from the warped imagination of Douglas Adams that undergoes Spontaneous Massive Existence Failure than relive the genuine tragedy of the great liner again. Pity that Douglas Adams fobbed it off on Terry Jones, being too busy with the CD-ROM game of the same title from Simon and Schuster Interactive. Jones, former Python member and now the voice of a parrot in the aforementioned game reputedly agreed to write the novel if he could do it in the nude. Perhaps he knew he couldn't quite fill Adams' shoes...or socks.

Jones has written scripts with other Pythoneers. He's written CHAUCER'S KNIGHT a "controversial academic book" (it says so right here in the press release so it must be true) and he's written a number of children's books. Some oddly enough which have won quite reasonable sounding awards. Now he's written this. While Douglas Adams manages to marshal the forces of unlikelyhood and irony to humorous and thought provoking ends, Terry Jones can only manage silliness and predictability, though he does it with a fair number of funny bits.

The story is constrained by Adam's throwaway comment in LIFE, THE UNIVERSE AND EVERYTHING that the Starship Titanic sustained Spontaneous Massive Existence Failure (SMEF) early in its maiden flight and from the CD ROM game it inspired. Hence it opens as the Great Blertonian Designer, Leovinus, discovers on the eve of the ship's launch that after bankrupting the planet of Yassacca and its consequent construction by the Union of Unwed Mothers the ship is nowhere near completion and about to be scuttled in an insurance scam by his accountant. Of course he learns this just before being trapped aboard and launched into space and the promised SMEF, which drops the gigantic starship on (you'll never guess) Earth.

During its brief stop on Earth (it's there just long enough to wreck a dream) it acquires a trio of humans, Lucy, Nettie, and Dan, who fortunately have exactly the right skills for first contact work with a Starship full of class conscious robots, being travel agents themselves. They quickly discover that they have to find a way to return the ship to earth where its designer appears to have gotten off, with Titania, the last component of the ship's brain. Since there is a very smart bomb in the engine room that only the ship's massive artificial intellect can disarm, this may be considered a pressing problem. Along the way they encounter romance as an investigative journalist trapped when the ship took off falls in love with Lucy, who had been formerly engaged to Dan, while Dan's attentions wander as well in a predicable episode of the Love Boat in Space. Aside from the occasionally clever bon mot there's not a lot to chew on here. I did like one spot where the ship is under attack by the Yassacans, its primary builders - who never got paid a dime and want the ship back. Between attacks they swarm over the hull repairing the damage to the ship in an unstoppable reflex to fix things. A race of born engineers if ever there was one.

What this book is really missing is a competent villain, or possibly pop up pictures. What passes for tension is provided by the easily confused bomb counting repeatedly down from 1000 in what is probably an inadvertent tribute to the movie DARK STAR, itself a parody of 2001. What it boils down to is that STARSHIP TITANIC is often amusing, even occasionally funny, enough so to make it of interest to Python fans, if not required reading for those of the HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY.



Contents - New Releases - Interview - RetroReview - Movies - Paperbacks - Sci-Fi TV - Contact - Next Month

Interview: Nancy Kress: Hard SF meets Soft Science

SFR: What happens next? Is there going to be another trilogy starting with MAXIMUM LIGHT? What are you working on besides?

Nancy Kress: No, MAXIMUM will not be a trilogy. Not only because I consider the story over, but also because I discovered with the BEGGAR TRILOGY that I don't really like doing a trilogy. Or maybe I'm just temporarily burned out on that arduous length. The book I'm finishing now, however (just to contradict myself) is a sort of sequel to my thriller OATHS AND MIRACLES. It uses the same characters, but not the same situation, in the thriller-mystery tradition. In the new one, called STINGER, my protagonist, FBI agent Robert Cavanaugh, is confronted with a reintroduction of malaria into Maryland (not hard to do: the carrier, anopheles mosquito, is still here). This version of malaria, however, has been genetically altered in a peculiarly nasty way. The book will be out from Forge next fall.

SFR: How much guess and how much science is the premise of ML? Is there any idea why world fertility is falling? Shouldn't we just be grateful that there might be less mouths to feed while technology makes up for the labor? Can't we just build Betan Incubators (see Lois Bujold's Vorkosigan Novels) and grow children artificially if it comes to that (seems like an awful lot of sperm are wasted the natural, though more enjoyable way)?

NK: The science in MAXIMUM LIGHT is pretty real. Many scientists think sperm counts in the world have already fallen over 40% since WWII, although others dissent--it's similar to the global warming division. If true, the falling rate is due to exactly what MAXIMUM says: estrogen-mimicking environmental pollutants. Many of the individual studies mentioned in the book are real. As for Betan incubators--well, we don't have them yet, do we? We do have in vitro fertilization, and although it is just as expensive and iffy as I said in the book right now (my cousin and her husband have tried for years), the press of a future such as I describe might well bring down both effort and expense. So perhaps I fudged a bit there. My own feeling is that decreased fertility would be a blessing in India, etc., but might well cause just the sort of social disasters I describe in the USA, where the birth rate is already below replacement level.

SFR: I heard a rumor...ok, ok - I'm starting a rumor that you are marrying a Space Alien. Is there any truth to it?

NK: Yes, Charles Sheffield and I are marrying January 10. Men and women always seem like aliens to each other, so every marriage is a Human/Space Alien duo. I'm not saying which is which. (Ed - actually this started with my contention that British authors are aliens - based on the way they think, and of course by definition, they are. I pointed this out to Nancy and she was kind enough to take the bait.)

SFR: Do you have any Con appearances planned for '98 yet?

NK: In '98 I'll be GOH at Chattacon and Confluence. I'll be at Worldcon, since Charles is toastmaster, and both of us always go to Philcon. In addition, I'm teaching at Clarion East in July. Beyond that, the year is still open.

SFR: If I was really clever and insightful, what would I have asked you that slipped my mind?

NK: You would like to ask me, if you'd thought of it, what my New Year's Resolution for 1998 is. It's to read more short SF. I've fallen very far behind, and there are good new writers coming up out there I haven't yet read. I want to.

(The following portion was previously printed in Sci-Fi Talk Frequencies Nov. 1996 issue and comes from an interview I did with Nancy at Albacon '96. Thanks go to Tony Tellado and Sci-Fi Talk for allowing me to reprint it here. - Ed)

SFT: You write pretty hard SF. How has SF treated women who write Hard SF? Does it have anything to be proud of? To answer for?

NK: As a woman who writes Hard SF now, I've been on some panels with members of the Hard SF establishment and have been given a very condescending attitude. Not by all, but by some. However, I want to point out two possible reasons for this and why I'm reserving judgment.

One is that I don't have the degrees of an actual scientist. So the fact that I have been given sometimes less than first class reception by people who are qualified may not be completely gender based. I say that because Stan Robinson has said the same thing. He's not perceived as a Hard SF writer and he's not treated as a Hard SF writer despite the incredibly hard Science Fiction involved in the RED MARS, GREEN MARS, BLUE MARS books. Part of that is because he doesn't have the credentials and he relies on others to help him with the science. He has said to me that he isn't treated very well either as a full fledged Hard SF writer. It may be not gender so much as credentials.

The other thing is that this century was the century of physics. The major scientific discoveries from Einstein's groundbreaking in 1905 on have been in physics, and most of our hard SF writers who have science degrees have them in some subject related to physics. Brin, Benford, Sheffield, these people are all in physics. But the next century, the 21st Century, is going to be the century of biology. This is where the breakthroughs are starting to happen - with the human genome, gene therapy and assaults on the immune system. Along with mutating viruses and the resistance of existing viruses to antibiotics. This is where all the exciting stuff is going to be happening. I'm interested in whether or not biology is given equal rank to hard science in the Science Fiction community in the decades to come.

SFT: Who do you read? What would recommend to others?

NK: Ursula Le Guin is my very favorite SF writer. I think she walks on water. Her style is just breathtakingly beautiful. It's spare, not lush, not florid. Her characters seem to be very, very real. My favorite story is THE DISPOSSESSED. Shevek is one of the most real people in Science Fiction. She deals with some of the same questions that have consumed me in the Beggar's Trilogy, which is: "How do you create an equitable society which is fair to people and yet still recognizes individual differences?" I can see Shevek struggling with some of the same issues as Miranda, my character, although they take substantially different directions. I think those are important issues, and Le Guin has had a very great influence on me, although I also think that she is not quite cynical enough - but I admire her tremendously.

SFT: I think that if she were to write THE DISPOSSESSED today it would be much more hard edged, but the naiveté is part of what I like about the book.

NK: That may be true, and the stories in FOUR WAYS TO FORGIVENESS are just breathtaking. The authors I read growing up were Clarke and Sturgeon, who was my favorite. Among the people I read now are Karen Joy Fowler, Freida Stile, Jean Wolf, but I've also been reading a lot of the Hard SF writers. I very much admire Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy. I also like Charles Sheffield's Hard SF very much for the ideas, and I like Bruce Sterling for the infrastructure, which I steal from liberally, and for the sheer intellectual pleasure of his ideas.

Wonderful as Le Guin is, the science ideas are not what interests her. So she has not wedded those with her terrific characters. It would be wonderful to see somebody who could combine the two. Sometimes Kim Stanley Robinson comes close.

SFT: Do you remember the first SF book you read?

NK: Oh yes, I was 14 years old, and I had not experienced Science Fiction. I had my first serious boyfriend who was practicing to become a concert pianist. He would spend 3 hours every day after school practicing, and my job as a teenage girl was to gaze adoringly over the piano while he practiced. I'm tone deaf and I only hang adoringly for about ten minutes. So after that I edged away to the bookshelves in the room which were far more interesting to me than music, and pulled books off and started opening them one at a time. They were his father's books and among them was Arthur C. Clarke's CHILDHOOD'S END. Within three pages I was in love and not with the concert pianist. This was one thing I had been looking for without even knowing it. The largeness, the size of the canvas. I never stopped reading SF.


Contents - New Releases - Interview - RetroReview - Movies - Paperbacks - Sci-Fi TV - Contact - Next Month

RetroReview: E. E. "Doc" Smith: Return of the Lensman review by Ernest Lilley

Triplanetary by E.E."Doc" Smith / ISBN 1-882968-09-3 / Middle Earth Books Trade Paperback

First Lensman by E.E."Doc" Smith / ISBN 1-882968-10-7 / Middle Earth Books Trade Paperback

"The LENSMAN books represent that rarest of all qualities in SF: the sense of wonder, given form and texture and epic scale.

These are the books I cut my teeth on as a fan, and together comprise one of the true milestones in science fiction literature.

Let me be plainer: BUY THESE BOOKS.

You won't regret it."

- J. Michael Straczynski, creator of Babylon 5

The essence of the sense of wonder. The Lensmen books had the shape of dreams.

- John Clute, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

"...all the help you can give us. Samms-Cleveland-Rodebush - anybody of Triplanetary who can hear me, listen! This is Costigan, with Miss Marsden and Captain Bradley, heading for where we think the sun is . . . Trace my call. One Nevian ship is overhauling us slowly. We may or may not be able to dodge it, but we need all the help you can give us. Samms-Cleveland-Rodebush - anybody of Triplanetary. . ."

- Triplanetary

Whenever a starship raises its shields to ward off an attack, or a wormhole opens to another universe, or the traces of a race that spawned the sentient races in our galaxy are discovered, homage is being paid to the Lensman series. Edward E. Smith's series had it all, and he had it before television was invented. It's easy to dismiss the Lensman series as over the top and out of touch with contemporary reality, with its overtones of genetic purity and gender differences, but to do so is to blind oneself to the tremendous epic Smith wrought and one of the really seminal works in SF.

The story starts long before the birth of mankind, when an entire galaxy shifts cross dimensionally into our space. And this written in the 1930s, no less. The galactic shift was engineered by the Eddorians, a race of super-intelligent, super-powerful, super-telepathic, really, really bad types who had pretty much worn out their own universe in an orgy of destruction. They immediately run into a lone representative of our universe's resident caretakers, an Arisian. The Arisian's are very Greek types, deep thinkers, peaceful, and protective of this continuum. Never having heard of Chaos theory, they liked nothing better than to sit around figuring out which side the dice will come up on a specific roll a thousand years hence. Even a young Arisian like the one who runs into these monsters from another dimension is able to block their attack, but not even the combined strength of the Arisian world, telepathic masters that they are, is sufficient to destroy the invaders. Now comes the fun part.

Rather than rush in and get beaten to a draw, or worse, the Arisian's create a weapon of sufficient power to do the job. The weapon is in part the Arisian Lens, a powerful tool that amplifies the psionic abilities of its wearer. In part too the weapon is the wearer of the Lens, a being who is himself the product of forced evolution, and perfect moral fiber. The notion of a pure human is the central SF device of the story, and unless you are willing to accept it on its own terms nothing else works. For many, this will require historical blinders. To me it is simply a romantic notion, a remnant of a simpler era. It certainly simplifies the story though. Only someone trustworthy can wear the lens. Period. The good guys are clearly delineated. The bad guys are often redeemable. The battles are big and colorful. Massive Spaceships hurtle through the void. Aliens come as friend or foe, my favorite being Worsel, a telepathic dragon of Lensman grade himself. How can you not love this stuff?

One of the several races used by the Arisians is Man, and here there are two genetic strains kept carefully apart while being meddled with to create a prematurely advanced human. One line will culminate in Kimbal Kinnison, the hero of the last 4 books, and the other in Clarrisa MacDougal, the only woman to ever wear the Lens of Civilization. It's a guy thing. Not that Smith doesn't have respect for women, in his pre WWII way, and not that he doesn't see them as capable of doing anything a man could. He just chooses to set them up as fundamentally different than men, with strengths that compliment rather than duplicate. In the final book in the series, it is Clarrisa whose strength and drive reaches across multiple realities to find Kinnison, abandoned by the Arisians who lack the force to reach him. No, Smith doesn't relegate women to the sidelines, but he does choose to see women as different than men. Though this caused considerable outcry in the 70's and 80's perhaps it's an idea whose time is returning.

TRIPLANETARY (you thought I'd never get to the actual book didn't you?) is a series of novellas spanning the time from the fall of Atlantis (at Eddorian hands) to the near future when space travel within the system is routine and the Earth is under attack by its first intergalactic invaders. It ranges from prehistory to near history to the future we lost somewhere in WWII. It's classic SF, all right.

FIRST LENSMAN follows mankind out into the galaxy and the career of the first human to reach the evolutionary level required for a wearer of the Lens. Of the two, TRIPLANETARY is the more enjoyable read, written as it was before the series was conceived and rewritten to fit into it as a prequel. I'm tempted to say it has a Buck Rogers sort of feel, but that's not doing it justice. Indiana Jones and Star Wars come much closer to the mark.

The Lensman series has been out of print since about 1983, something I can't fathom as I've loved the books since I discovered them in the late 60's when Pyramid books put them out in paperback with some pretty garish covers. In none of their numerous incarnations have the books had covers that did them justice, with their massive space battles and galaxy spanning epic stature. If I were putting them out now I'd get Bob Eggleton or one of the current crop of talented SF artists to do them, but Mike Walsh, who is reprinting the series as Old Earth Books, went with the classic option and reproduced the original covers.

The Lensman series was written between 1937 and 1947 as four books, GALACTIC PATROL, GRAY LENSMAN, SECOND STAGE LENSMAN, and CHILDREN OF THE LENS. Ironically, the two books that have just been reprinted, TRIPLANETARY and FIRST LENSMAN, were added to provide prequels to the main story. Egads! Another way in which the series anticipated STAR WARS! The main four books of the series are waiting for John Clute to finish the forward, but the first two are in bookstores now. While the best is yet to come, you should seriously consider getting the first two while they are available. It's a limited printing and something every serious reader of SF should read at least once.

When GALACTIC PATROL comes out, I'm liable to RetroReview it too, so you might as well start reading now.

For more information on the LENSMAN series:


 Contents - New Releases - Interview - RetroReview - Movies - Paperbacks - Sci-Fi TV - Contact - Next Month

SFRevu Goes to the Movies: The Postman James Bond: Tomorrow Never Dies

The Postman

Starring: Kevin Costner, Olivia Williams, Will Patton and Larenz Tate.

Directed by: Kevin Costner Screenplay by: Eric Roth and John Helgeland (Based on the book by David Brin) Length:188 min.

The good news is that Kevin Costner makes a terrific Postman and I find I am fond of this moving post apocalyptic film, despite the bad news. Which is that the movie bears only a passing resemblance to the classic SF work by David Brin. Ironically the first sacrifice was the book's action packed opening, replaced by 45 minutes of pre-ramble that was transplanted from the end of the book. Like most movie versions you need to let go of looking for the book in order to enjoy the film. When the book is as good as THE POSTMAN, (SFRevu 1.6) that's hard to do.

It's 2013. America and the world have been destroyed by war and the collapse of civilization. In the northwest an army of racist marauders roams the land demanding tithes from the walled towns now only just getting back on their feet as global weather conditions stabilize.

Kevin Costner plays a drifter who performs abbreviated Shakespeare for food along with an acting troupe consisting solely of his mule, Bill. When the Holnist marauders, led by a copier salesman turned General (Will Patton), catch him trying to sneak out of town as they are in the process of conscripting townsmen into their army, he and Bill are given the opportunity to serve. It is an offer they can't refuse, much as they'd like to. Ultimately, Bill becomes stew and Costner manages to escape. This whole sequence takes too long and should best be viewed on video with a remote in hand. It resembles a part of the book almost at the end when...there I go again, let's just forget the book and watch the movie.

The real story begins when Costner on the lam stumbles across a postal jeep in the freezing rain. He settles down in the postal carrier's jacket, taken off the skeletal remains, and warms himself by burning mail and drinking from the mailman's flask. All this to establish that Costner's character doesn't care for anything outside himself at the beginning of the film, unlike Brin's character in the book.

Without Bill he's going to have to find a new scam to grub for food so, clad in Postal jacket, Costner braves the gate of the next walled town he comes to. When they tell him to clear out, he demands to see someone in authority. He demands it as a representative of the Restored United States Government charged with establishing mail routes in the northwest. When the townsfolk are reluctant to believe him, he starts going through the postal carrier's sack for letters to the town, now 15 years late, until he finds one for a person still alive. He's in. The Postman cometh.

Right away you can see the mythic stature of the Postman run away with Costner's scam. I hope you can feel the pride the townsfolk show when the American flag is raised by the old Post Office. It's the sort of thing that gets me, and even though I had to sit through 3 hours of uneven action, I got choked up at all the places either Brin or Costner could have hoped for. It's not just the American flag, it's the whole notion of being part of something bigger than yourself that I fall for every time.

Because the postman is a drifter by definition, Abby (Olivia Williams), a young woman whose husband was left sterile by a bioengineered form of the mumps asks him to make her pregnant, sparing the complications that asking someone in the town would cause. Costner, who has survived by being a loner, finally loses his internal argument as Abby's dress slips to the floor in his room. Like most loners, Costner shies away from love not because he doesn't want it, but because he can't afford to lose it. For the Postman, the quest is to regain this moment of connection, while for everyone around him it is to embrace the resurrection of external propose. The Postman has arrived just as a new generation of adolescents look around to find something worth doing with their lives. Unfortunately they will have to throw off the shackles of tyranny (which turns out to be as hard to do as it is to spell) in order to raise the nation from its ashes. Larenz Tate turns in a great performance as a young black who embraces the Postman's creed and makes the lie truth.

The amount of work that goes into a film like this is staggering. If you take a look at the website for the film you will see that a lot of thought went into it as well. Costner went online during the production to show the shooting live in a movie first and you can review that from downloads at the site. There is even an educator's packet that uses the film as a starting point for discussions of responsibility and citizenship. I find it interesting that both of the classic SF novels made into films recently, Heinlein's STARSHIP TROOPERS and THE POSTMAN, share the theme of citizenship. Unfortunately Costner also suffers from the same disease that ruined Robert Heinlein's later works, terminal artistic freedom.

The official film website is at:


  James Bond: Tomorrow Never Dies

I found Chris Meadows' review of the latest Bond flick online and liked it well enough to ask him to write one for SFRevu. We agree on almost everything...I liked Terri Hatcher. When Chris isn't off at the movies, he's Co-moderator of the newsgroup. He can be found at

Bond: You handled that hook pretty well.

Wai Lin: It comes from growing up in a tough handled the bike pretty well yourself.

Bond: It comes from not growing up at all.

- Tomorrow Never Dies

If you don't like this movie, then either you never liked Bond to begin with've grown up. Brosnan redeems the worlds suavest secret agent with the only credible Bond since Connery. The character has moved beyond frivolity, beyond angst, into something that looks very much like maturity. Like everything else he wears, it looks very good on him.

- Ed

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Jonathan Pryce, Michelle Yeoh, Terri Hatcher

Director: Roger Spottiswoode Screenplay: Bruce Feirstein

From that first magical moment when the spotlight sweeps across the black screen and James Bond turns and fires, accompanied by that oh-so-familiar musical sting, TOMORROW NEVER DIES delivers the kind of Bondian punch that was sadly lacking in GOLDENEYE. TOMORROW NEVER DIES brings us fully back to the old familiar Bondian formula, a formula which has been sadly lacking in recent Bond movies. And it brings in a few new tricks as well.

As far as the storyline is concerned, TOMORROW NEVER DIES owes a lot to past Bond films. As in MOONRAKER and THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, Bond runs into and must work with an agent from a foreign intelligence outfit with whom the British Secret Service normally competes. In a uniquely '90s twist on the old SPY WHO LOVED ME/YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE formula, the villain, Elliot Carver (played with panache by Jonathan Pryce) wants to start a war not to rule the world, or kill everyone in it and found an empire based on his eugenically-handpicked select few. He just wants the media rights.

TOMORROW NEVER DIES, more than any other Bond film in at least the last ten years, is a Bond devotee's delight. There are literally dozens of scenes harking back to Bond movies of the past. Guns, girls, gadgets, vodka martinis, jaw-dropping stunts, the venerable Desmond Llwellyn as Q -- TOMORROW NEVER DIES offers all these and more. Even the good old original Monty Norman James Bond theme makes repeated appearances in the soundtrack, after being absent from the last several films.

Many people are prone to knock films for being "formulaic." In many cases, they're right. Formula can be the deathknell of many a film, due to Hollywood's habit of jumping on a bright new idea and wringing every last penny out of it, and beating the dead horse until it resembles finely-ground chuck. However, with Bond films, "formula" has meant something else--with one or two notable exceptions, it meant a near-guarantee of some good, solid entertainment. The appeal of "Tomorrow Never Dies" to fans of past Bond films may be summed up in just one word: nostalgia.

However, this is not to say that this is strictly "same old same old" Bond. There are some interesting new twists, most notably perhaps the first Bond girl ever who is not simply around to look pretty and be rescued by Bond in time of need. Michelle Yeoh plays Wai Lin as an almost exact reprise of her "Inspector Yang" character from the Jackie Chan movie SUPERCOP. Michelle even gets a one-on-many fight scene all to herself, which she handles with great grace and poise, thanks in part to the Hong Kong stunt crew she brought in to play the bad guys.

How do all the Bond regulars do? Pierce Brosnan seems to have settled into the role of Bond, playing him with a kind of spirited panache not seen since Connery's portrayal of the agent. Judi Dench plays M in a dry-witted manner much after the fashion of Bernard Lee's portrayal of Bond's old boss. Samantha Bond's Moneypenny is a witty foil to Bond in the scenes they share, and gets one of the best lines in the entire film, about James Bond's linguistic skills. Desmond Llewellyn is inimitably Q, though at his age, surely he won't be for very much longer. Even Joe Don Baker is back for two scenes, reprising his Felix Leiterish role of Wade, Bond's liason with the CIA.

As for the villains and the bit players, they are mostly also to the film's credit. Elliot Carver (played by Jonathan Pryce) is a wonderful evil mastermind, harking back to the Blofeld/Goldfinger school of villains--the kind who are megolomaniacal and aren't afraid to show it while explaining precisely what they plan to do and how they plan to do it. Gotz Otto plays Stamper, the consummate henchman, who is more than up to the task of giving Bond a hard time.

The bit players are mostly unremarkable; they come on screen, they speak their parts, they (for the most part) die. Vincent Schiavelli renders a brief but interesting turn as Dr. Kaufman, a hit man who just happens also to be a forensic doctor and pistol marksman. Terri Hatcher, the film's "other" Bond girl, is supposedly an old flame of Bond's, but she is nonetheless so flat that we the audience have a hard time figuring out just how James Bond could have fallen for such an uninteresting person. Fortunately, Miss Hatcher's role in the film is rather abbreviated compared to the far more interesting and vital Michelle Yeoh's.

The view is not all bright, of course. On the negative side, the film could be considered somewhat heavy on action, short on plot, even for a Bond movie; the product placement is often blatant, there are one or two violations of the laws of physics, and Bond's depression over Hatcher's character seems sorely out of place. Nonetheless, it does provide two hours of solid Bondian entertainment.

The storyline, as stated before, borrows from prior Bond films. There are also scenes that are very familiar, harking back to past Bond movies. Detractors may sneer and say, "So? Why watch them again, then?" For Bond fans, however, I suspect this will be much like meeting a long-lost friend after a long time of separation. It's the formula that makes Bond movies Bond movies, and the minor variations that make them worth watching individually. Forget the line at the end of the credits crawl that says "JAMES BOND WILL RETURN." He has already, and he was long overdue.

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Now in Paperback! North Wind by Gwyneth Jones Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Charles Sheffield Mother of Demons Eric Flint

North Wind by Gwyneth Jones

ISBN 0-312-86396-9 / Tor trade paperback Dec '97 Review by Ernest Lilley

NORTH WIND is the second book of the story of the alien Aleutians, and follows the authors previous WHITE QUEEN by about a hundred years. In the first book the Aleutians came to Earth (galactic crossroads that we are) in their immense worldship, and by their undeniable realities of reincarnation (they assimilate the recorded experience of their previous lives, preserved by priests and librarians) and gender assumption, they have turned human society upside down and shaken it vigorously. Humankind is now involved in a "Gender War" where whole continents have chosen which sex they will be. Tolerance is not a key feature in human society.

Reading the first book may make elements of the plot more obvious, but teasing things out as the book proceeds worked fine. Certainly the main character, an alien librarian named Goodlooking, doesn't have the advantage of knowing what's going on. Just to keep us on our toes, Goodlooking changes her/his name to "Bella" early on, a name that has implications about her/his possible former existence.

The story roams a future and fairly well ravaged Europe. Goodlooking is an alien cripple, born without the ability to produce or assimilate the "wanderer" symbiotes that contain the thoughts of each alien and provide a unique kind of telepathy. When the locals rise up and destroy the alien enclaves in an orgy of protest, she/he is the only member of her/his benefactor's house to survive. Not that this pleases her/him. Sidney Carlton, an undercover secret agent posing as one of the many Aleutians wanna-bees has to drag her/him out in the midst of the melee to save her/him. Goodlooking would rather die and be reborn with the rest. Given the concrete mechanism of rebirth, Sidney's motives are immediately suspect. That Sidney and Goodlooking become lovers (the name is a misnomer from the description in the book by the way) serves to complicate matters for this classically mismatched pair.

Sidney's boss is, "The Fat Man", searching for something that Goodlooking, now Bella, may be the key to finding. Not the Maltese Falcon, but the secret of instantaneous travel, lost when saboteurs used it to board the alien worldship and attempt to prevent the colonization of Earth. Bella begins the story as an invalid librarian and grows through travails to become as Cyberpunk a protagonist as ever there was, living in war torn Europe and surviving through gambling in VR arcades.

Much of the story is told from an Alien viewpoint, and I sometimes had to stretch my own to accommodate it. In NORTH WIND, several genres collide - Cyberpunk, literary SF and something reminiscent of Cold War Spy novels. You remember, the kind where politics and deceit keep lovers apart. It also has a nice cover, which unfortunately has nothing to do with the book. Though this is a time honored SF tradition, and one assumes the picture shows the worldship in orbit around Earth, no action takes place there, so why bother? Sure, it sucked me in, so I guess it works.


Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Charles Sheffield

Things are getting crowded at the end of time. Maybe that's not surprising, considering that the end of time is a point called the eschaton , when the universe contracts to a point and according to some theories, all time becomes accessible.

The eschaton is the climax of TOMORROW AND TOMORROW, but it's also the focus of Frederik Pohl's new series that started with THE OTHER END OF TIME. There the resemblance ends. While Pohl's aliens revere the end of time, it's just a place that Charles Sheffield's character winds up.

Drake Merlin is a stubborn man. Possibly the stubbornest man ever to live, and die, and live again. When his wife dies from an incurable disease, he refuses to accept it as the end. Freezing her body at ultralow temperatures, he forsakes classical music composition in order to amass a fortune composing popular music. His financial future assured, he joins her on ice.

When he awakes 6,000 years hence he finds neither the cure for her disease nor the wealth he created. Science has found ways to prevent illness making cures moot, and society has lost interest in the latter. They still like music however, and are curious about its earliest forms.

But Drake isn't here to compose, he's here to resurrect his wife. If not in this millennia, then a future one. He steals her cryocapsule and a spaceship and takes off for a distant star. Charles Sheffield being the rigorous Hard SF writer he is, there's no faster than light travel, so the relativistic velocities of the trip allow thousands of years to pass on earth, much like the relativistic shuttle at the end of Joe Haldeman's FOREVER WAR. Unfortunately Drake didn't take the manual for the cryocapsule along and interrupts its support functions when he opens the lid to look on the face of the woman he has come so far for. Oops.

The book is epic in scope, spanning countless galaxies and millennia. Drake goes to lengths you simply couldn't imagine to find a way to restore his wife to his side. He clones himself and downloads his memories and personality into the clones so that he can survive the endless searching for an answer. He outlives mankind itself, and then finds a last chance at the eschaton itself as the universe collapses to its endpoint. The delightful irony is that after waiting countless epochs for the end of time, he nearly runs out of it.

If this is a measure of the authors own commitment, then one can only wonder how he would word his wedding vows.


Mother of Demons by Eric Flint

ISBN 0-671-87800-X / Baen Paperback, Sep '97, 367 pgs.

Review by Steven Sawicki

I nearly gave up on this book in the first 100 pages, mostly because, Eric Flint created an alien world and made it nearly too alien to bear. His creatures are somewhat of a cross between a slug and an octopus and Flint starts using detail about their society, their culture and their language to a point where I nearly got confused. Frankly the aliens spooze just too much. I made a decision to stick with the book for a few more pages though and my stubbornness (unlike the patience of others who made the book fly long before this) paid off. I can tell you that, for the most part, plugging onward was well worth it.

This is a book about history and about the lessons it teaches and about what such knowledge means. It is a book about an alien culture on the cusp of change. It is a book about a band of humans who have crashed onto this alien planet. It is a book about cooperation and the struggle which goes along with it. It is, mostly, a book about individual decisions and choices.

Flint has created a clouded planet inhabited by a couple of different, but related, types of beings. This planet is invaded by a small party of humans who crash land there. The humans begin setting up camp and learning not only about the planet but about the beings which inhabit it. Years pass. Years in which human children grow and learn more about aliens. Years in which aliens learn more about humans. Years in which the humans begin to collect a growing community about them of previous inhabitants, converts and pilgrims. The humans do this due to that most basic of human natures, the desire to change things. Ultimately, the human/alien community is faced with the threat of war as an invasion force approaches. It is this point which drives the book as one of the few remaining human adults, a historian, controls the knowledge of history. Which includes the knowledge of ancient war, which fits quite nicely into the medieval level technology the current planet inhabitants operate at. The problem is, this historian is aware of the negatives of history as well. She knows what went along with the advancements in warfare--basically death and destruction--and she is reluctant to impart such knowledge to the aliens and to the now nearly grown human children. The struggle reminds one of the old adage: a spoonful of sugar helps the aliens learn about Greek battle formations. Still, the joy in reading this comes more from learning about the alien culture than following the plot structure.

This is an interesting and, ultimately, fun book but not for the reasons that Flint intended. The plot is fairly straightforward and while the philosophical posturing is meant to be important there have been Star Trek episodes that have tackled the same issues. No, this book is fun because the aliens Flint creates are likable in themselves and interesting in themselves and because we come to want to see them survive. Oh, the humans survive too if you are interested in that kind of thing.


Spooze: A vague and mutable function Mr. Sawicki attributes to aliens, specifically damnaliens, in his SCAVENGERS NEWSLETTER column. Steve seems determined to get the whole world doing it. Fine, I tell him. I just hope it's not something that you have to clean up.


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Sci-Fi TV: Babylon 5 on TNT

Sandra Bruckner, who wrote B5 Buzz for Sci-Fi Talk Frequencies while I was editor, offers us her perspective on the new Babylon 5, now airing on TNT. Here is a review of the Movie: IN THE BEGINING, which aired Sunday 1/4/98 and establishes the series premise for anyone who hasn't seen it. As soon as our preview of the first episode comes in I'll be adding it to the web issue and sending it on to subscribers. - Ed

In The Beginning: TNT Movie Prehistory of Babylon 5

Review by Sandra Bruckner

When TNT commissioned J. Michael Straczynski to write and produce season five of Babylon 5, he was presented with a delightful opportunity and dilemma -- write and produce a movie that would serve as an opening statement for this sci-fi series. IN THE BEGINNING strives to introduce the story and some of the characters that will comprise the Babylon 5 universe.

Londo Mollari (marvelously played by Peter Jurasik), is our storyteller. Now the doddering old Emperor of the Centauri Empire, he looks out over the ruins of his once great people and tells a story of wars, great courage and passion to two small children who have wandered into his chambers. I was there, at the "dawn of the third age of mankind." There are a LOT of tremendous lines in IN THE BEGINNING. One of my favorites involved Londo and Gen. Lefcourt, commander of Earth Alliance. The General has brought Londo to Earth for a private conference - one in which he asks for information about the Minbari - a mysterious race that the humans have discovered in their quest to expand their sphere of influence. Londo cautions the humans to not interfere with the Minbari, but the over-confident humans have just defeated the Dilgar and are certain in their military superiority. Londo's response, "Arrogance and stupidity all in the same package. How efficient of you."

ITB pulls a lot of characters together into one story, giving a little more background on each. We see Delenn as she joins the Grey Council and first learns about the Vorlon; we witness Lt. Commander John Sheridan's victory over the "Black Star" in a confrontation with the Minbari; Susan Ivanova, still at university, catches a moment with her brother Ganya, before he goes off to fight war. We even see Stephen Franklin, thrust into confinement because of his refusal to divulge information gathered on the Minbari people while hitch-hiking around the galaxy before the war.

My only criticism of the movie - it tried to do too much. I could have done without the Ivanova and Franklin sequences. I would have preferred to learn more about Sinclair, the one that was! Even a brief, chance meeting between Sheridan and Sinclair in a briefing room before the "Battle of the Line" would have reinforced the continuity of the story. I realize that he was just a fighter pilot at this point in time, but he would become the central character for this entire saga -- Valen! He was the reason the war ended! He just pops into sight during the "Line". Like Sheridan, I'm sure Sinclair had distinguished himself in the service of his country and probably exhibited some qualities of courage and judgement that we'd see brought to the fore in the coming pilot and season one episodes.

"The truth points to itself" and as Delenn picks Sinclair's fighter out of the remaining ships in the "Battle of the Line", the saga begins. The President announces the institution of Babylon project and Delenn promises to keep an eye on the humans.

"Did they live happily ever after?" asks the young girl of Londo as he hastens to end his story. I guess we'll all have to wait to see.


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

Cons, Discussion Groups and Appearances:

January 10th - EOS Con Online - 12 - 8pm Avon Books launches EOS, its new SF imprint with an online Convention featuring guests including Gregory Benford, Ben Bova and Ray Feist. Chat rooms galore, but bring your own munchies. I've been to the construction site and the panels and authors look like a lot of fun. Hopefully I'll see you there.

January 10th - SFABC Meeting 8PM Upper Saddle River Methodist Church, Literary Agent Lucienne Divers (or call 201 447-3652) Note: this is the modern church across the street from the normal meeting place in the Cultural Center.

January 20th: SF Topic Discussion Group - Borders Books and Music, 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. Moderator: SFRevu Editor Ernest Lilley

February 13-15th : Boskone 35 - Framingham Mass. - Guest of Honor: Walter Jon Williams.

February 17th: SF Topic Discussion Group - Borders Books and Music, Garden State Plaza Rte 4&17 8:00pm. Topic: Tinkering with Humanity: New Title: MAXIMUM LIGHT by Nancy Kress, Classic: BEGGARS IN SPAIN by Nancy Kress Moderator: Ernest Lilley - SFRevu Sr. Editor

March 20-22 - Lunacon - Rye New York - SFRevu garage and bake sale.

April 28th SFABC Author Discussion Group: William Gibson, Borders Books and Music, Wayne Town Center, Wayne, NJ. Moderator: SFRevu Editor Ernest Lilley


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Next Month in SFRevu: Among the titles we're considering...The Seige of Eternity by Frederick Pohl / The Masterharper of Pern by Anne McCaffrey / Smoke on the Water by Brian Daley / The Ship Avenged by S.M. Stirling / More Than Honor by David Weber, David Drake and S.M. Stirling / Phoenix Café by Gwyneth Jones / Alien Dreams by Larry Segriff / Action Stations: A Wing Commander Novel by William R. Forstchen / SPIDER LEGS by Piers Anthony & Clifford Pickover / Phases by Elizabeth Moon / The Stainless Steel Rat Goes To Hell by Harry Harrison / How Like A God by Brenda Clough / The Physics of Star Trek / Movie: Sphere based on the Michael Crichton novel

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