SFRevu brings Science Fiction reviews and interviews to the web each month.
New Titles: Phoenix Cafe by Gwyneth Jones Phases: The Revised and Expanded Lunar Activity by Elizabeth Moon Circuit of Heaven by Dennis Danvers Spider Legs by Piers Anthony and Clifford A. Pickover Cosm by Gregory Benford GammaLaw: Smoke on the Water by Brian Daley
But first, a word from the Editor:
"Now is the winter of our discontent..."starts RICHARD III, and discontent have I sown aplenty amongst the SFRevu ranks. Although we found a number of good books to review, most of which I somehow managed to get, several of the books I asked regular contributors to report back on met with reviews which were less than complimentary...either because of an abundance of science or a total lack of it, as the case may be.
Still, as I said, there were some excellent books to review this month, with PHOENIX CAFE, the final installment in Gwyneth Jones' White Queen trilogy and CIRCUIT OF HEAVEN by Dennis Danvers topping the list. HOW LIKE A GOD, by Brenda Clough is a timely issue as we'll be seeing her at Boskone this month.
SF/Horror film seems to be following TITANIC to a watery grave while mixing the "where did everybody go" genre for variety. SPHERE dives to a spaceship found on the ocean floor, DEEP RISING prowls around an abandoned ocean liner waiting for the monster to appear, while PHANTOMS does the same thing on dry land with Peter O'Toole as the scientist de jour.
With all this water on the brain I decided to pull out one of my favorite SF Classics, Arthur Clarke's THE DEEP RANGE, for a RetroReview. Forty years old and still better and more plausible than any of the sea stories just thrown up on the beach.
February also starts our Con season, and I'm off to Boskone in Framingham Mass. to share Valentine's Day with a few hundred close friends and SF readers and my gal EJ - where we met two years ago. She was impressed because I knew Lois Bujold, as was I since Lois gave me my first published interview and remains one of my favorite writers. Incidentally, I'm hoping to bring you all a new interview and an update on her upcoming Miles novel soon.
So let's dive in and see what treasures are in store for us or what depths SF has sunk to this month.
Ernest Lilley, Editor / Publisher SFRevu
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New Titles: Phoenix Cafe by Gwyneth Jones Phases: The Revised and Expanded Lunar Activity by Elizabeth Moon Circuit of Heaven by Dennis Danvers Spider Legs by Piers Anthony and Clifford A. Pickover Cosm by Gregory Benford GammaLaw: Smoke on the Water by Brian Daley
ISBN 0-312-865341-21 / Jan '98 Tor Hardcover 352 pgs. / Review by Ernest Lilley
Those placid lifetimes lost in space when nothing much happened at all. Poor old Kumbuva and his fights with the navigators. But it was no use: you can't teach Aleutian technicians that abstract measurement matters. They said yes and yes, but as soon as his attention slipped, they were throwing out his tricks and doing exactly as they pleased.
- PHOENIX CAFE
She had returned to earth as a woman, to expiate her guilt. She was too late. The men and women she had injured were no longer here. The mystery of human sex and sexual gender has collapsed into hyperadaptive disorder, like an earth-type species at the end of its natural life. She suddenly knew, with the clarity of extreme fatigue, that the Aleutian were not to blame. Not even Catherine herself. Yo soy la se desintegracion. The aliens had simply arrived, by chance, in time to witness the last acts of a long drama: tragic, fascinating, rich and rank and strange.
- PHOENIX CAFE
PHOENIX CAFÉ completes the White Queen trilogy and Gwyneth Jones' saga of the gender and society disrupting alien invasion of the "Aleutians". The series began with WHITE QUEEN and the arrival of the alien shipworld, drifting more or less aimlessly until they stumbled onto Earth, disorganized from tectonic upheaval and ready to be pushed over the edge into full scale gender warfare.
The Aleutian aliens are a fascinating invention of the author, male or female by choice, consensually both reincarnate and telepathic by physical means of information sharing. They share consciousness by offering each other the little creatures their bodies produce called "messengers" that contain their mood, awareness, information - and eating them to assimilate the producers mental state. Yum.
They relive their past lives through experience of the detailed tapes and data collections preserved by their priests. How do they know who they were in their past life? It seems a tad arbitrary, but that doesn't mean it's glossed over, just that the line between faith and practicality is indistinct. And it seems to make sense after a while. Consensual realities. Chosen genders. Blurred lines between past lives and present bodies.
WHITE QUEEN was set in 2038, when the aliens arrived, and it related the disastrous misunderstandings between human and alien culminating in the "rape" of Johnny Guglio by Third Captain Clavel, one of the first alien explorers to meet humanity. It also introduces the last flowering of human invention, the Buonarroti engine, an instantaneous transport device that is used by the humans to attempt sabotage of the shipworld. The second book, NORTH WIND, is set 100 years later, (SFRevu 2.1) when "Bella" an alien crippled by the lack of little messenger grubs to share with other Aleutians, sets off with a human agent after the destruction of the alien's villas to find the Buonarroti engine.
In my opinion you can read each book alone, though certainly the series works to better effect. Thanks to the aliens' peculiar sense of time, the author has a natural opportunity to review past events, and PHOENIX CAFÉ provides its own framework for the trilogy as it goes along.
PHOENIX CAFÉ takes up the story another 100 years hence, as the aliens are preparing to leave Earth for their homeworld using the Buonarroti engine to transport their shipworld. Although they have promised to share the technology with the humans from which it originally came, there are doubts about both the genuineness and utility of the offer. For one thing, human consciousness cannot survive the transfer across the nonreality of FTL travel, whereas the Aleutians memory and awareness differences allow them to bridge the void. What would we do with it anyway?
Catherine, the book's central character, is an alien in human form. She is the reincarnate Clavel who committed the original rape, reborn to humanity through massive gene reconstruction of an alien embryo. Clavel who seeks to atone, undo, relive, and amend the rape of Johnny Guglio throughout his ensuing lives. Catherine is both a human among aliens and an alien among humans as she prepares herself to stay behind on Earth while the aliens leave. The Earth they are leaving has been devastated in spirit by their presence. Alien biotechnology has replaced human machines, and alien superiority usurped human hubris. Catherine is drawn into a human conspiracy which she must uncover layer by layer until she can decide which side of it she herself is on.
The book is full of delightful ideas, and moves at a meandering pace which suits the alien's ideas of time perfectly. America has been walled off since it renounced the alien invasion, its only contact with the world through the mysterious USSA Exterior forces, a.k.a. the Campfire Girls. Virtual Games are the drug of choice, and their essence can be distilled into an edible narcotic. Machines that are not merely self aware, but are biologic entities designed to the users' need. The treatment of a different approach to immortality is brilliant. What is self? What is gender? After you read this book you may never be quite sure again.
ISBN 0-671-87855-7 / Baen, Dec.'97 Paperback / Review by Ernest Lilley
There is no better way to get to know an author than by reading a short story collection. Elizabeth Moon's mind appears to be made up of horses and foot soldiers and ambulances and the Texas countryside. She is serious and whimsical, factual and fantastic, each in their turn. It's a worthwhile excursion to the different faces Ms. Moon shows us in the collection. In her novels she can only tell one story, but here she can digress to her heart's content. Along the way readers are tempted to consider novels they might not have been drawn to by cover art alone as a number of these stories are spun from the threads of larger works. As (or more) informative than the stories themselves, each story comes with an introduction that illuminates the strings between art and life.
PHASES was culled from her writings between 1986 (with her first sale: "Bargains" to SWORD & SORCERESS III) and 1995 - 16 stories in all. Some were published in her previous collection, LUNAR ACTIVITY, and held over, others added in. Hence, if you have the earlier collection, check this one out at the library. Otherwise it's well worth the $5.99 US.
"Bargains", her first sale, belies that place in her writing. Sweated down from 2300 words to 1500 after five rejections from Marion Zimmer Bradley, it hardly seems like a first sale. Maybe the author just knows her subject, here horse trading and the uncertainties of staying in the saddle, but it's tightly written with a strong character's voice that must surely be close to her own. Though I come from good Vermont horse trading stock myself, I won't soon try to sell the author a horse of hidden character.
"ABC's in Zero G" again draws from her own experience, this time as a paramedic, and shows a rare appreciation for the difficulties of working in space, or with doctors anywhere. I wouldn't be surprised if NASA had tapped her for her thoughts on Paramedics in space after reading this piece.
In "A Delicate Adjustment" she tackles cloning, the global fertility crisis, and bio-ethics in a laboratory setting with a convincing knowledge of the lay of that aseptic landscape. Nancy Kress's MAXIMUM LIGHT could easily be a companion piece to this story, and neither would embarrass the other for the quality of writing, both excellent.
"Too Wet to Plow" turns to farming, or rafting on the Mississippi, as the author points out that given the increase in annual flooding could wind up being the same thing come the spring thaw. The farmers she portrays are as real as the earth they are bound to, and the drama of the future's answer to flooding as riveting as any deep space saga. More so for the sense that stripped of the barest of props it's a drama that's been played out along fertile river banks for thousands of years before and more to come, despite agribusiness and fickle weather.
Several of the stories are really short, like the three whimsical pages of "Just Another Day at the Weather Service", and a number are middling short - under 20 pages. Some short stories can, and these do, work well at this length. They become well told anecdotes, pointed pieces of humor, or slightly fractured fairy tales, told from a frog's eye view.
There are also enough stories of ground combat to remind us that the author has blooded her pen both with Anne McCaffrey and by herself in stories of future combat where she again shows her firsthand knowledge of the art. Generally I think of Elizabeth Moon as a Mil SF author, and this collection served to broaden my appreciation of her writing. Common to all her characters is a purposefulness and sparseness of introspection. These people are doers, not moaners, and in story after story they are out learning how to face the inevitable, change it if they can, and wrestle it to a draw if they can't. Like I said, reading a collection is a good way to get to know an author.
ISBN 0-380-97447-9 / Avon/EOS hardcover Feb '98 / 393 pgs. Review by Ernest Lilley
"What could he want from me?"
"Your anger of course. Revolutions always require a lot of anger."
"I'm not that angry"
"We would say our visitor quite disagrees and has plans for you". Lawrence gestured with the lantern toward the open door. "At present, though, it's time for a proper meal, and then on to beddies. We've had quite the birthday, haven't we, Nemo?"
"Screw you, Lawrence."
"There, there, now. You see? That's the very anger of which we were speaking."
- CIRCUIT OF HEAVEN
Everybody's dead. Everybody's going to live forever. Nobody can tell the difference.
The entire world, with the exception of a few holdouts, has been uploaded into a virtual reality simulation of the real world. Time and space work exactly the same way they do in the real, even though it's all a matter of convention for the inhabitants of the Bin. Well, almost exactly. Nobody ever dies, nothing ever breaks down, and virtual food is the ultimate in low-cal cuisine, and as they say, you can check in, but you can never check out. Visitors to the Bin may eat, drink and be merry, but their bodies are lying mindless and unfed. If you stay in for more than 22 hours you'd better plan to take up residency.
Why would mankind make a virtual reality look like the real thing? Why would we limit ourselves to the limits flesh is heir to? In VR you could walk through walls, appear anywhere instantly, or look like anyone...but that's just not the way this consensual hallucination is set up. It's a game with rules, and with the exception of a very few holdouts in the real world, it's the only game in town.
The main characters are Justine, only 6 weeks into the Bin, a 20 year old singer with a hazy past, and Nemo, a.k.a. Newman in tribute to the inventor of the process of human upload, one of the few holdouts for life in the real. Supporting players include the Christian fundamentalist neighbors and Lawrence, Nemo's genetically crafted dragon/nanny with the genes of a big lizard and the memories of a Texan, a British Nanny, and a silent Buddhist.
Justine lives in the Bin and is aware only that she wants to sing. Nemo defies its existence and condemns his parents for abandoning him in the real world, though they did leave him Lawrence. Despite his vow to never visit them after they leave the physical world, he dutifully makes the trek to a coffin sized box where his consciousness is uploaded into the Bin twice a year, Christmas and his birthday. On each visit he suffers his parent's efforts to get him to join them in the virtual '50s suburbia they have created for themselves. Suffers, that is, until he meets Justine decorating his uncle the Senator's arm, and as out of place there as he is in the Bin. Then his problem is much simpler, but no easier to resolve; my reality or yours? Of course if it were his, there would be the small matter of a live body for Justine to be downloaded into.
There are dreams within dreams and realities within realities as Justine and Nemo struggle to find out the meaning behind Justine's nightmares and the impossible past she remembers. Watching the truth come out of the shadows is very scary, and I was delighted to fall for more than one trap laid by the author's deft hand and aided by my overconfident plot assessment. The truth, when it does come, is very cool. When the truth behind Justine's identity is revealed the book is far from finished, suddenly shifting from Mystery to Thriller as billions of lives hang in the balance.
CIRCUIT OF HEAVEN would play well on the screen. Ironically, the SFX would have to do more to establish the "real" world than the virtual one, editing out all the people. Of course they'd just shoot it in the early morning, when the world seems abandoned anyway.
I liked CIRCUIT OF HEAVEN more than I expected from its droll cover art. It is intense character driven SF whose reality draws ever nearer as our lives online eclipse those lived solely in flesh. Danvers is evidently working on a sequel (of sorts) to CIRCUIT OF HEAVEN. With all the simulated and real world to play in, he certainly has enough material left to work with.
ISBN 0-312-86465-5 / Tor hardcover Jan 1998 / 301 pg. - Review by Ernest Lilley
Return with us now to the Sci-Fi days of yesteryear; with monsters from the deep, vacationing professors from prestigious institutions, damsels in distress, and science gone mad in an orgy of bloodshed terrorizing a Newfoundland fishing village!
SPIDER LEGS reads like a cross between JAWS and a 50s Sci-Fi movie. The monster, a giant sea spider the size of an elephant, is up from the deeps to find food after humans have fished out its habitat. The sea spider is sort of a cross between a lobster, a spider and a mosquito and it's a messy eater. The story has a variety of damsels and scientists, mad or heroic. It's got a preachy Eco-pretext about overpopulation and species death. It even gets around to the global reduction in male fertility. Frankly, I'd be surprised if the authors aren't rubbing their hands together gleefully waiting for Hollywood to call. Relax guys. Even though I sat down and read this tale of evil from the deep in one sitting, I doubt that it will ever make more than a low budget TV movie. Though Fred Olin Ray may be interested in directing.
Despite the authors' excessive eco-exposition, handy when they have to shorten it to script length because it will all get mercifully cut, the book moves along briskly. From the opening encounter with the monster to the final pitched battle on a hovercraft ferry in the North Atlantic the book's pace makes it readable despite an unfortunate excess of exposition.
The scientist hero is tall, gangly, middle aged, a professor from Harvard, and a specialist in invertebrates with a passion for fishes. Which might explain why his first wife was a cold one and why he's never seen a woman naked. It does not explain how he came to know how to ride a motorcycle, which seems further out of character, and Newfoundland must be an interesting place if you can rent sport bikes on an international drivers license.
The heroine is a 28 year old policewoman from New York who came to the area on vacation and never left. The authors can't seem to make up their minds as to who should play her in the film, describing her as tall and lean, she pretty clearly has a body image problem not helped by the copious numbers of busty beauties they serve up for the sea monster's human sushi, but both the male leads manage to notice her without any trouble. Of course, after a bad marriage to an alcoholic she's not looking for love anyway. I'm guessing they want Michelle Pfeiffer, but will settle for an unknown.
Then there's Elmo, the local fisheries officer, with interesting birth defects, who's in love with the beauty in his sister's fish store but knows she could never get past his abnormal hands and pointed teeth. He's a nice guy though, so hey...maybe if he could get to save her from the monster later in the book. Nah, what are the odds of that happening.
And there's Elmo's sister. Another monster in her own right. With the same deformities as her brother, she's not pretty, but she's smart. She's also up on a pulpit damning mankind for pollution, overfishing, overpopulation and species extermination. Pity that she's so unlikable, since a number of her points are worth noting. With Ph.D. in hand she set off to roam the troubled world and do good. When that didn't work out she settled back home in Newfoundland to sell fish mail order and do research in a lab off the back of the store. She hates everyone pretty much equally, except her brother, though you'd never know it from the way she treats him.
That pretty much sums things up for SPIDER LEGS. Throw the characters together around the framework of monster attacks and local color, juice it up with some atmospherics and sex, and let the carnage begin. I'm less than wild about the ending, but figure they'll change it for the movie anyway. Still, If you like stories about creatures of the deep (which I do) and enjoy horror movie carnage (which I don't) you'll definitely get a kick out of this.
(If you want a good SF sea story, you might want to go back and read Arthur Clarke's THE DEEP RANGE - featured in this month's RetroReview.)
ISBN: 0-380-97435-5 / Avon/EOS hardcover '98 / 340 pgs / Review by Linda Zimmermann
I hooked Linda up with COSM because I thought the author of Bad Astronomy, A Brief History of Bizarre Theories would get along well with the Ultra Hard SF of Gregory Benford. I'm not sure either the reviewer or author are speaking to me anymore. Ouch. - Ed
There are ways of blending hard science into an enjoyable story line, unfortunately, COSM fails to do it. That is not to say that there aren't some great characters, or some interesting plot elements between the covers of this Nebula Award-winning author's latest book, it's just what you have to wade through to get to them.
COSM is about the world of physics; not the pure and noble pursuit of ultimate truths, but the down-and-dirty, every physicist for himself world, where the old adage 'publish or die' has been replaced with 'discover all the deepest secrets of the universe or be trampled underfoot by those who can'. In this regard I applaud Benford; having spent a decade under a lab coat myself, I know all too well that scientists are no less motivated by self-interest than the finest Italian-suited Wall Street types. Political campaigners could learn a thing or two from scientists looking for grants, tenure or good, old-fashioned recognition and fame.
In this light we are introduced to Alicia Butterworth (one can only hope Benford did not decide upon this name with his morning pancakes), a brilliant, pushy, unattractive, love-starved, African-American physicist who won't play by anyone else's rules; not Brookhaven Labs, not the university where she teaches, and ultimately, not even God's. While smashing together uranium atoms in a supercollider, Alicia creates a new universe. Immediately, like Daffy Duck and the pearl, she grabs the new bowling ball-sized universe and declares, "Mine, mine, all mine."
Up to this point in the book, the reader is optimistic that their $23 was well spent. Enter the theorist, Max Jalon. Now don't get me wrong, physics is arguably the most fascinating subject the human mind can ponder, but when Max embarks on his numerous theories about Alicia's discovery, it's like encountering knee-deep mud on a previously well-groomed trail. There is no doubt these theories are the result of the best and brightest minds in physics today, but once Jalon, a.k.a., Benford, gets on a roll it's a case of damn the reader and into the college lecture hall.
While I'm at it, there was one other aspect that irked me. Alicia finally announces to the world that she has given birth to a bouncing baby universe, yet she manages to hold other scientists, not to mention the entire media-crazed world, at bay, just because she wants to be alone with her little Cosm. She does allow the President of the United States to step inside the lab for just a moment to view it, but "just the President", no one else. Yeah, right.
As the end of the book drew closer, I still clung to that hope that I hadn't just wasted all of those precious leisure hours. However, as Alicia's love life blossoms, even as the Cosm universe begins to fizzle, I came to the inescapable conclusion that had I spent an hour simultaneously playing tapes of Nova and As the World Turns, I might have saved a good deal of time. Gregory Benford himself once admitted, "I'm a physicist, not a writer," which is not entirely true. He is a writer of considerable talent, he just needs to know when it's time to hang up the lab coat and stick to the keyboard.
GammaLAW: Smoke on the Water by Brian Daley
The first book in a four volume story arc, GAMMALAW: SMOKE ON THE WATER, picks up after the colonization of our galaxy is well underway, though recovering from an epidemic of computer viruses that swept outward from Earth at the speed of light, corrupting and shutting down the computer controlled colonies that possessed godlike knowledge and power, courtesy of their AIs, but also freeing whole worlds from chip implanted slavery.
With mankind threatened by an outside alien invasion, the outlying free colonies are being assimilated back into the Periapt civilization to meet the external threat. On Concordance that means assimilated at gunpoint, and the story opens as the remaining handful of Ext troops prepare for their annihilation by the much larger and well equipped LAW (Legal Annexation of Worlds) force. Professional soldiers all, dug in with their backs against the mountains, they are ready to make sure their world's assimilation drips red on more than a balance sheet.
At the last minute, the Periapt makes an offer they can't refuse. Rather than martyr the leader of the Ext troops, they allow them to surrender and join the LAW forces as suborned troops to serve offworld, or watch the population of their planet undergo cyber-enslavement before the Ext force is wiped out. When they have served their term, they can come home as citizens. Soon the Exts find themselves stranded in orbit above the political intrigues of the Hierarchy's capital world.
Meanwhile political skullduggery is afoot. Dextra Haven - maverick politician, decadent hostess, senator, playwright, and generally lusted after (by all genders, don't know about the aliens, but probably them too) socialite - has gotten wind of the deal made with the Exts - and she intends to see it kept. She also intends to see that an expedition is mounted to return to the watery world of Aquamarine, home to an oceanic intelligence of elemental powers. Dextra is convinced that on this world lies the answer to the alien threat.
SMOKE ON THE WATER is the setup for the three novels to come. Its chief job is to introduce us to the Exts, principally their leader, Burning, his sister Fiona/Ghost, their foppish cousin Lod, and the psychotic Zone, sworn to kill Burning, but not while there is a bigger enemy to face. A SCREAMING ACROSS THE SKY is the next volume, scheduled for a May '98 release and continuing the story. This is pretty good Mil-SF, and the remaining stories should be coming out fast enough to maintain the momentum of the first book.
Author Brian Daley conceived the GammaLAW series while in Nepal in '84 and finished it 12 years later in 1996. He earned his familiarity with military matters first hand in Vietnam and published his first novel, THE DOOMFARERS OF CORAMONDE, in 1977. Brian has also written a number of other SF novels as well as being half of a writing team with 21 Robotech novels to its credit. The morning after the wrap party for the recording of the radio play for RETURN OF THE JEDI, which he scripted, Brian died from the cancer he had been fighting for a year. No author is truly gone as long as his works are read.
Interview: Brenda Clough - How Like a God
Brenda Clough has previously written four fantasies, starting with THE CRYSTAL CROWN, which was the first book she finished, and was surprised when Daw bought it on her first submission. After those successes, and a juvenile (AN IMPOSSUMABLE SUMMER, 1992), she has been teaching writing "every now and then" at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, MD., and growing a garden that threatens to take over the lawn. HOW LIKE A GOD burst onto the scene last year to a very receptive audience, (SFRevu Vol. 1.2:) and is now available in paperback. The sequel is written and awaiting publication.
Brenda answered SFRevu's questions from her "cottage by a forest" before heading off to Boskone 35.
SFR: Was HOW LIKE A GOD a breakthrough novel for you? I know you've said that it differs from your earlier works in that you were more of a worldbuilder before. What happened?
Brenda Clough: From my point of view it seems to me that all my work is of a piece, progressing in a steady linear kind of way, but then I realize that not all of my work is out. There are at least two novels, unpublished, that I wrote between my four DAW Fantasy paperbacks and HOW LIKE A GOD. And one of these books is, I swear, the best novel I will ever write. That one, SPEAK TO OUR DESIRES, is the breakthrough book, and one of these days the world shall know it. Of course I haven't found a publisher who agrees with me - yet.
SFR: Where did the idea for HOW LIKE A GOD come from?
BC: I did have, for about ten years, the sense that there was something wrong with the way that Superman was revamped. You remember how Superman was Superboy when he was young, and a Superbaby before that? (The movie starring Christopher Reeve dates from that era.) The folks at DC Comics decided to change all that. They decreed that Clark Kent just got up one morning when he was in his late teens, and discovered he was super. He climbed into the cape and tights, and became Superman, bing, just like that. No. That's wrong. I tried to show how it was wrong.
SFR: Have you read LeGuin's THE LATHE OF HEAVEN and what do you think of it? (I enjoyed both, and think they share enough concept to be grouped together, but that they provide point and counterpoint.)
BC: I haven't! There are many many things I haven't read. But I did see the dramatization on PBS, which seemed to me to be very fine. LeGuin does know her Jung.
SFR: Did you read a lot when you were growing up?
Enormously. My school library had a limit of three books at a time, and I would go through three books a day, after school.
SFR: What was the first SF or Fantasy you read, and who were your favorite authors when you were devouring books as a young reader?
BC: My volume was such that my memory is no longer very sound. I was (and still am) a devout re-reader too, so well-loved books get recycled so often I can't remember the first time. I remember reading FREDDY GOES TO MARS very early, maybe in second grade. Surely that counts as Fantasy? And Dr. Doolitle? All the classic British fantasists, because I spent a number of years overseas in Brit-dominated areas. I do know I first read the Narnia books in fifth grade. I remember in my high school in Hong Kong, they only had the first volume of THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Maddening!
SFR: Does writing provide a fantasy outlet for you? Do you want Gilgameshian powers of your own?
BC: No. In fact I deliberately have a really cushy and stable existence, very dull. There are writers who can write in the midst of chaos, as war correspondents do, maybe Ernest Hemingway. And then there are those of us who are like honeybees. We need quiet, and plenty, and peace, to get any good work done. I don't even try to write between Thanksgiving and Xmas, for instance -- the stress of cooking two turkeys in such close succession renders writing impossible, not to mention the shopping and the cards and the decorations.
SFR: What audience are you writing for? Do you work out a story arc before you start? Are you able to write every day (and do you?) or do you blitz out a story and then wait until the next idea comes along?
BC: The most important audience for any writer to write for, is him or herself. If you are bored, heaven help your reader! Luckily, I am very easily bored indeed. So every time my story bores me, I do something about it. That keeps it hopping right along. I try to write every day, but in fact the novel has to take off and fly, and when it does it zooms along at amazing speed. So I will putz along at a page a day, and suddenly escape velocity is achieved, and I'm writing 20 pages a day.
SFR: The jacket blurb on HOW LIKE A GOD calls it magical realism? What is magical realism, anyway?
BC: You got me -- I don't know. Isn't magic realism a feature of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's works, and South American fiction? I've never read any of his books.
SFR: When did you start writing fiction for the first time?
BC: I am one of the very few writers I know with a degree in Creative Writing. So I've been writing fiction at least since high school. However, the first novel I finished was THE CRYSTAL CROWN (Daw, 1984).
SFR: How did you come to be a journalist?
BC: I got a job as an editorial assistant in Washington DC. In DC editorial work always revolves around the news business, the way editorial work in New York City inevitably means books. Essentially everybody is a journalist here.
SFR: How do you feel about your childhood as a world traveler?
BC: I'm sure it was excellent experience for a Science Fiction writer. We can't really travel to other planets for research, but there are plenty of places on Earth where the culture is as alien as you could wish for. And all you need is a plane ticket.
SFR: You've done extensive analysis on HOW LIKE A GOD, but how much research did you do before you wrote it? Did your analysis of the book make it easier or harder to write the sequel?
BC: Almost none. I just sat down and began. It was very easy indeed to write the sequel -- only took about six weeks! -- so analysis can't have hurt.
SFR: You've mentioned you make a guest appearance as a commuter. Have you recognized people in the book after you wrote them in without knowing it?
BC: Oh, absolutely. I found a photo of Edwin (the scientist character in HOW LIKE A GOD) in DISCOVER magazine the other day - eerie!
SFR: When will the sequel to HOW LIKE A GOD come out? What's its title and what will you tell us about it? Did it turn out the way you expected, or have you given up expecting?
BC: I have no idea when it will appear, but the working title is FLING WIDE THE PORTALS until I think of a better one. All kinds of things happen: Edwin becomes a lunar colonist; Rob returns to Kazakhstan; Edwin goes on 60 Minutes and tells all.
SFR: Since you mentioned it, do you think the space program is still worth doing? Should we be pumping money into it and building Lunar bases or going off to Mars? Does mankind need a high frontier or should we leave it to cheap robot probes?
BC: There's an interview up in the Explorers exhibit at the Air & Space Museum in downtown DC, with a woman who is one of the premiere deep-ocean explorers -- bathyspheres, Alvin, that kind of thing. Much of that work is also very suited to robots and Waldoes. She said that certain tasks call for people, while others are very suited to remote probes. So it's the job that should dictate how it should be done.
SFR: Have you discovered what it means to be the SFWA liaison person for this year's WorldCon?
BC: Haven't done anything much about it yet, except to think about baking cookies. If I made and froze a couple hundred chocolate chip cookies, surely they will get put to good use?
RetroReview: The Deep Range by Arthur C. Clarke review by Ernest Lilley
Arthur C. Clarke's reputation is inseparable from 2001, A SPACE ODYSSEY and a host of other outer space novels, but this unfairly overshadows the author's own personal love, the sea. Though he may never see orbit he has been an aquanaut for more than forty years. He has explored the waters off his adopted Sri Lanka and has written several books that expound (with Mike Wilson, Clarke's exploration partner; BOY BENEATH THE SEA, THE FIRST FIVE FATHOMS, INDIAN OCEAN ADVENTURE, INDIAN OCEAN TREASURE and THE TREASURE OF THE GREAT REEF.) or exploit (DOLPHIN ISLAND, THE DEEP RANGE) the undersea world.
Written in 1957, THE DEEP RANGE lacks most of the conventions of modern SF, even at sea. Rather than an ecologically and economically devastated future, THE DEEP RANGE is about a managed Earth. In response to a teeming world population, mankind has taken stewardship of his home, and among other things, farms whales for food. If you have just thrown your hands up in horror, well, Clarke isn't too wild about it either, making the question of animal rights an emergent theme as the book progresses. Considering when the book was written, the book is in part a platform to discuss the elimination of whaling, not so much on the grounds of species kill, but for the higher notion that it was immoral. But I digress.
Walter Franklin was a promising astronaut on the Earth-Mars run until an accident in space left him psychologically crippled and unable to return to space, incidentally separating him by an uncrossable void from his wife and family. Knowing he is too good a man to waste, and betting on the restorative nature of the sea, he is teamed with Warden Don Burley in the South Pacific to learn the craft and science of whale herding. The story follows Walter as he tries to build a new life surrounded by the living ocean, his eyes resolutely cast away from the unreachable heavens. I like the simple story of his rise through the Bureau of Whales, finding a new love, building a friendship with Don. I enjoyed the respite from doom and the return to a world where man and science can meet challenges, not with hubris, but by working together both with a world in accord and accepting responsibility for the environment.
Clarke envisions future cowboys of the sea roaming the (deep) range keeping tabs on pods of whales groomed to be a food source. The book paints a picture rather like a Worlds' Fair diorama, fleshed out with little stories added to the characters you see as your tour mobile goes past the ocean of the future. Clarke spices it up with the odd crisis; a sub trapped under girders at the limit of a diver's ability to work, a search for an elusive large marine animal (Sea monsters everywhere!) that haunts their subs long range sonar, and anecdote by anecdote, he spins a comfortable yarn about a future that might yet be.
The technology is only mildly dated, missing some of the newer robotic gadgetry we use to explore the depths, and I'd love for the author to revisit the premise with the array of gear and deep diving subs we have today. In truth, the central device of the story, the fast long range minisub is only now being developed, so perhaps there is still enough future in the story to maintain the SF quality.
Undersea stories provided a fertile arena for SF in the 50's and 60's including Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (novelized from the 1961 movie by Theodore Sturgeon - think SeaQuest without Lucas and the dolphin...) and its precursor written a hundred years before, VINGT MILLE LIEUES SOUS LES MER (1870) which you may know better as TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, by Jules Verne. Today, SF shies away from the sea as a bold frontier and since Jacques Cousteau's death last year no one has risen to champion the undersea world. Reading THE DEEP RANGE takes us back to an age in SF where the future was full of possibilities, an exercise from which you may surface and ask: Don't we have more options today instead of less? Couldn't a better world be one of them?
(Edited highlights of a BBC interview with Arthur C Clarke, talking about the future, his childhood, Sri Lanka, and his measure of a true artificial consciousness, as well as a photo gallery with pictures of the author scuba diving and quicktime movies showing him in his Sri Lanka home can be found at http://ftp.bbc.co.uk/works/s3/index.htm#clarke.)
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Starring: Peter O'Toole, Rose McGowan, Joanna Going , Liev Schreiber, Ben Affleck, Nicky Katt, Clifton Powell
Directed by: Joe Chappelle Screenplay by: Dean Koontz (based on his novel) Length: 95 min.
Bad girl Rose McGowen (Neve Campbell's bud in SCREAM) is being taken to the fictional Northern Californian town of Snowflake by her sister, (Joanna Going), the town doctor, to get her away from the city and her alcoholic mother. When they arrive they find no one in the streets and the good doctor's housekeeper dead. Upon looking around town they find Ben Affleck, a former FBI man turned small town sheriff, who was investigating the town's radio silence. Later to round out the cast, Peter O' Toole joins the team as a defrocked scientist whose outlandish theories of an ancient evil now have him writing for tabloids. O'Toole is such a great actor that he can tell you any theory, and you would believe it. Yet, I can't forget Liev Schrieber as the deputy who starts out weird and winds up weirder by film's end. Enough said there. Director Joe Chappelle keeps most of the scenes dark and knows a good camera trick or two to help the story along. We also never see more than we should of the monster, leaving the imagination to supply the rest. This a solid horror story mixed with some SF and laced with good scares. The payoff wasn't bad either.
There is formula for a good Horror film. First get the audience's attention, secondly sprinkle in some good clues throughout, and lastly don't disappoint them on the final payoff. PHANTOMS doesn't hurt Dean Koontz's track record in this better than average Horror/SF film, despite the unavoidable realization that it's all been done before.
ISBN: 0812571363 / Tor Feb '98 / Paperback, 288 pgs - review by Ernest Lilley
Rob Lewis is just like you and me. With one little exception. He can change your mind. No, I mean really change your mind.
Computer Programmer Rob Lewis starts out at the beginning of HOW LIKE A GOD in his daily morning routine. Get the kids to school, his wife off to her job, himself to work. Barring the unforeseen it will be another day in suburbia, and Rob is content things the way they are. Which is a pity because the unforeseen is about to hit him like a tsunami.
Rob is easy to like and relate to, a dedicated father and husband, a vaguely Dilbertesque programmer who fondly recalls the comics he read when he was younger. He seems like someone you can trust. Unfortunately he's only human.
While trying to get everyone where they are going, Rob discovers that he has suddenly acquired the ability to read and alter minds. He has no idea how it happened, and it takes a while for him to accept, but soon he's off to save the world with his new power.
What Rob doesn't count on is the difference between power and control. First, someone dies because Rob had covered leaving work by imprinting the suggestion that he was around...somewhere. When he realizes that he is rewriting his kid's minds involuntarily and that his wife is suddenly consumed by ambition to use his powers for their gain he does the only thing he can think of - run away. Destitute and homeless in New York City , Rob shies away from human contact while he grapples with the darkness within himself and his uncontrolled power.
A chance encounter with a neuro-scientist and the self disgust generated from nearly raping a young girl leads Rob to seek help learning to control his power before the inevitable confrontation between human and divine spirit. Rob sinks low enough in this phase to make the author's point, but I'm sure I could have sunk considerably lower before accepting responsibility for my actions. It doesn't hurt the story much, if at all, but I think that the author pulled her punch a bit here.
From Washington D.C. to New York to Siberia, HOW LIKE A GOD takes us on a journey of self discovery reminiscent of LeGuin's LATHE OF HEAVEN, in which George Orr dreams Effective Dreams that change the face of the world. This book is considerably more thoughtfully than the reality hopping of MAINLINE by Deborah Christian (NOW IN PAPERBACK Aug '97 SFRevu 1.2). HOW LIKE A GOD is a thought provoking story about what it means not just to be a god, but to be human as well.
It's clear that author Brenda Clough has mastered her powers of persuasion. I recommend this for readers of Fantasy and SF readers alike, as well as mainstream readers that wouldn't touch Fantasy or SF on a dare. Now if I could only reach out and adjust your minds ...
ISBN: 0-671-87854-9 / Baen 1996 / review by EJ McClure
THE SHIP ERRANT is Jody Lynn Nye's first solo voyage into the enduring series that began with Anne McCaffrey's popular THE SHIP WHO SANG. The lively cast of frogs, griffins, pirates, a spacefaring knight and his damsel rollick along through three solar systems, dabbling in diplomacy, fist-fights and starship battles with equal felicity.
We are first introduced to Carialle, the brainship, and Keff, her brawn, in a scathing series of official memos. The Powers that Be have it in for the unorthodox team from the very beginning. Despite reservations about their mental stability, or suitability for delicate diplomatic endeavors, the two end up assigned to the mission of escorting a delegation of colonial "globe-frogs" back to the long-lost homeworld. The slapdash couple quickly make friends with the telekinetic froglike aliens, and introduce them to a futuristic version of Dungeons and Dragons, in which Keff takes on the role of the Good Knight, and Carialle his Lady Fair. En route they pass through an area of space where Carialle was once marooned and nearly killed by a mysterious salvage crew. Her flashbacks to that long-ago trauma seem to support the Inspector General's concerns about Carialle's sanity, but she insists she is being framed. Before Keff can clear his partner's name, or get the Cridi (as the frogs call themselves; humans haven't gotten over the politically incorrect habit of nicknaming foreigners) to sign a treaty with the Central Worlds' government, they are ordered off the mission by the scheming Inspector General.
The brainship team sent to replace them is ambushed by pirates. This bit of wicked mischief goads the impulsive Keff into jumpstarting the Cridi's stalled space program, and with these enthusiastic green neophytes for allies he and Carialle jet off in hot pursuit of the renegades. But the archaic patchwork ships Carialle handily defeats certainly are no match for her this time around! The winged catlike creatures, promptly dubbed "griffins" by the Good Knight, don't seem to have the technological sophistication to have built the ships they are flying. So who are the real villains? The mystery turns on a comedy of mistaken identities, sweetened with a touch of romance between Keff and one of the more good-hearted pirates.
The kaleidoscope of settings are quickly sketched so as not to slow down the pace of the action. Anne McCaffrey has tutored Nye well in the construction of entertaining and intriguing alien societies, and in the art of writing dialogue that serves both to amuse and to advance the storyline. There is a good deal of slapstick comedy, and a climactic battle scene that leaves missiles ricocheting about the landscape of the griffins' home planet.
Technically, this is one of the most painful Pseudo-Science Fiction books I've ever plowed through. "She knew he wouldn't want to let a single erg of information get away." Isn't an erg a measurement of energy? And a "byte" a measure of information? There are entire paragraphs of pseudoscience babble that would boggle a Star Trek Chief Engineer, no mean feat in itself. For instance; "She had no wish to allow an alien bug to run rampant through her memory banks. Surely the protections in her chips were sophisticated enough to circumvent any intrusions. Just in case, she added a further layer of noise-suppression between her own memory functions and the empty bay she had prepared...bad bytes bounced away, disintegrating into sparkle. Now and again she saw a spray of them like a meteor shower when the crystal structure of the disk-matrix was violated. 'They've been experimenting with that keyboard, but they didn't know how to purge bad files or compress over bad sectors,' she said."
Aaaargggggh! Is Science Fiction supposed to make science illiterates out of its readers?
Well, let's put the best face I can on this .... farce, or folly. I'm not sure which is the better description. But for some reason, the series is wildly popular and the book ends happily ever after--as every good tale of knight errantry should.
Boskone! Named (erroneously) after the Evil Organization in the E.E. "Doc" Smith Lensman series. This NESFA Con held every year around Valentine's Day is a friendly gathering of SF readers and authors in a hotel far enough out of Boston to let urbanites relax, but close enough to make getting there a snap. The folks who run it are well organized, the panels stocked with knowledgeable (and amusing) folks. Mark Olsen's Friday Trivia Contest keeps me humble (as if that was a problem) and the Saturday banquet always includes a lavish production number performed by the author Guest of Honor and many SF luminaries. The hotel is nice, the bar serves great New England clam chowder as well as a suitable collection of draft beers, and the bookish Bostonian crowd is friendly. My first Con was a Boskone, and I've made friends at every one I've gone to. I'll be there, as will friends and contributors Steve Sawicki, Bob Devney, and EJ McClure.
This year Boskone features a number of authors we've reviewed (or interviewed) recently, including Michael Swanwick (September '97 SFRevu Vol. 1.3) and Brenda Clough (this issue, August '97 SFRevu Vol. 1.2:). If you've never been to a Con, you really should go. The most interesting things always happen. - Ed
Selected Boskone panels and events as of January 25, 1998:
Friday 2/13/98: The Society, Morals, and Economics of Star Trek / Crossing genres: Romance, SF, Historical, Mystery / You Can't Take It With You / The Way the Future Wasn't -- Speculation of the Future that Never Was / Mining Legends: How Myths and Legends are Used in Science Fiction / The Alien Casino: Meet the VIPs / NESFA Hymnal Singing / The Other SF on Television: The X-Files / Golden Oldies / Convention Running 101 / Who's Line Is It Anyway? / The Boskone Trivia Contest / Open Filking
Saturday (Valentines Day) 2/14/98: Sufficiently Advanced Technology and Magic / Rediscovering Classic SF Writers / Whatever Happened to Tom Swift: YA Science / Special Guest Interview: Stanley Schmidt / Reading by Brenda W. Clough / The New Frontier: Australian SF / SF Without Large Reptiles / Guest of Honor Speech by Walter Jon Williams / Flying Saucer Lands in Cambridge: SF in the National Enquirer / Space Opera: Better than Ever / Plot Fidelity: What Does It Mean for a Movie to Be Faithful to a Book / Hard Fantasy / Did Fandom Invent the Internet?
Sunday 2/15/98: Reviewer vs. Writer: The Reviewer Strikes Back
Cons, Discussion Groups and Appearances:
February 13-15th : Boskone 35 - Framingham Mass. -Guest of Honor: Walter Jon Williams. (see above)
February 17th: SF Topic Discussion Group - Borders Books and Music, Garden State Plaza Rte 4&17 in Paramus, NJ at 8:00pm. Topic: Better living through applied genetics in SF New Title: MAXIMUM LIGHT by Nancy Kress / Classic: BEGGARS IN SPAIN by Nancy Kress / Moderator: Ernest Lilley - SFRevu Sr. Editor
March 17th: SF Topic Discussion Group - Borders Books and Music, Garden State Plaza Rte 4&17 in Paramus, NJ at 8:00pm. Topic: Virtual Realty in SF or Oh Auntie Em there's no place like the web / New title: Circuit City by Dennis Danvers / Classic: Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson / Moderator: Ernest Lilley - SFRevu Sr. Editor
March 20-22 - Lunacon - Rye New York - Guests of Honor: Octavia E. Butler, Donato Giancola (Artist GOH), John & Perdita Boardman (Fan GOH) e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org Web: http://www.lunacon.org/lunacon/lunacon.html
April 28th SFABC Author Discussion Group: William Gibson, Borders Books and Music, Wayne Town Center, Wayne, NJ. Moderator: SFRevu Editor Ernest Lilley
July 10-12 - Readercon 10: Guest of Honor: Bruce Sterling, Lisa Goldstein Location: Westborough, Massachusetts URL:http://www.mit.edu/~zeno/readercon.html
August 5-9 - WorldCon 1998 BucConeer: Guests of Honor: C.J. Cherryh, Milton A. Rothman, Stanley Schmidt, Michael Whelan, Toastmaster Charles Sheffield Special Guest J. Michael Straczynski Location: Baltimore, Marylandhttp://www.bucconeer.worldcon.org/
Next Month in SFRevu: Among the titles we're considering...The First Immortal by James L. Halperin / Sphere / Area 51: The Reply by Robert Doherty / Someplace to be Flying by Charles De Lint / Moonwar by Ben Bova / B5: In the Beginning by Peter David / Dust by Charles Pellegrino / Action Stations: A Wing Commander Novel by William R. Forstchen / Excession by Iain M. Banks / Tales from Wathership Down by Richard Adams / Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson and a preview of Lunacon '98, a Lois Bujold interview and the usual much much more.
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 to enlist. Tell me what your point of view is and who you like to read. Include titles from our next month list that interest you. All submissions become the property of SFRevu. Contact: SFRevu@aol.com
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