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Mar 1998 Vol. 2.3
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SFRevu brings Science Fiction reviews and interviews to the web each month.
1998 by Ernest Lilley

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

Contents: News: Weird Tales to become part of Warren Lapine's SF empire.
New Titles: The First Immortal by James Halperin Dinosaur Summer by Greg Bear Moonwar by Ben Bova Dust by Charles Pelligrino Wing Commander: Action Stations by William R. Forstchen The Last Hawk by Catherine Asaro Alien Dreams by Larry Seigriff Area 51: The Response by Robert Doherty (Robert Mayer)
Interview: James Halperin: Truth, Justice and the American Future.
RetroReview: Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
SFRevu Goes to the Movies: Sphere Movie Juice
Now in Paperback! Moonrise by Ben Bova The Truth Machine by James Halperin Sole Survivor by Dean Koontz
Contact: SFRevu's forays into the world of SF Fandom. This Month on to Lunacon!
Next Month in SFRevu

But first, a word from the Editor:

Of all the creatures that had yet walked on Earth, the man-apes were the first to look steadfastly at the Moon. And though he could not remember it, when he was very young, Moon-Watcher would sometimes reach out and try to touch that ghostly face rising above the hills.

He had never succeeded and now he was old enough to understand why. For first, of course, he must find a high enough tree to climb. - 2001 A Space Odyssey

Are we living in the ashes of the future, or riding on the wings of a phoenix? Water is found on the Moon. Life is found on Mars. At least, from a certain point of view. The water is either locked in chemical compounds or in such small amounts that its utility is questionable, and life on Mars? Well, million year old microbes won't be building invincible space armadas any time in the near future. Still, I'm writing this cruising at several thousand feet flying home from Florida, where America still has a functioning spaceport. Technology changes the way we live everyday, and often we can find the echo of SF in the present. Last week a museum opened in Japan displaying nothing but reproductions painted by computer onto ceramic canvases far more stable than the originals. Voice recognition software has become a common tool, and of course, the Internet continues to sprawl, extending the consensual hallucination that is cyberspace. Some days I still ride my bike to work, but it's stronger and lighter than anything I delivered papers on in my teens, and I'm still hoping for a flywheel braking system.

The present continues to defy our dreams of tomorrow, but fails to defeat our need for dreaming. With each exploration of the universe comes a greater understanding of its limits…and its possibilities. Let's go find a taller tree.

This month, our simian SF authors' efforts include serious attempts to view things to come and a look back at an alternate future past stemming from Jules Verne's LOST WORLD in DINOSAUR SUMMER, as well as a bit of doomsaying from the irrepressible Charles Pelligrino (when mites ruled the world) in DUST. A number of futures are continued in this issue as well, including MOONWAR, Ben Bova's sequel to MOONRISE (reviews for both appearing here), ALIEN DREAMS, Larry Seigriff's YA series about a young spacer's search for his identity, and Robert Doherty's sequel to his popular AREA 51 with AREA 51: THE RESPONSE. Futurist James Halperin provides us with a new book, THE FIRST IMMORTAL, and an interview, while the CyberClassic SNOWCRASH is our featured RetroReview.

I look forward to seeing readers and friends at two Cons this month, Lunacon in Rye Brook, NY, and ICON 17 on Long Island, NY. I hope you can join the SFRevu crew for breakfast at the Port Chester Diner Saturday March 21 at 8:00am (see Contact). Speaking of Long Island, SF TV Show Infinite Possibilities host Blaine Atkins and I are discussing a regular SFRevu feature on the show. Stay tuned to this channel for further developments.

SFRevu welcomes Paul J. Giguere as a regular contributor with his review of DUST. Next month, I'll be forcing myself to let him read some of the books I really wanted myself first. Bruce Wallace (Network God and fellow biker) also joins us with a review of MOONRISE. Welcome aboard gang!

Ernest Lilley, Editor / Publisher SFRevu

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News: DNA Publications, Inc. is now publishing Weird Tales®

Warren Lapine has done more than anyone I know to revitalize the SF Magazine in recent years. Here's a press release he sent out for the acquisition of Weird Tales®. Good luck Warren.

This also kicks off our News and Current Events section. If there are goings on in the SF world you think we should know about, Email us at - Ern

DNA Publications, Inc. the publisher of Absolute Magnitude and Dreams of Decadence announced March 2nd that it will be adding Weird Tales®, the oldest genre magazine, to its publication list. The first issue will appear on the newsstands this summer and will thereafter be published quarterly. "I’m extremely proud and excited," says Warren Lapine, publisher, "to be able to celebrate the seventy fifth anniversary of Weird Tales® by bringing the name back into the publishing arena. I’m looking forward to taking Weird Tales® into the next millennium. I understand the importance of the title and I plan to publish it with the dignity, respect, and honor that it deserves."

Founded in March of 1923, Weird Tales® helped launch the careers of writers such as Ray Bradbury, Robert E. Howard, Robert Bloch, Fritz Leiber, August Derleth, and H.P. Lovecraft. March 1998 marks the seventy fifth anniversary of this venerable magazine, and DNA Publications is committed to restoring this proud magazine to the prominence that it once enjoyed. George Scithers and Darrell Schweitzer will continue in their capacity as editors of the magazine, and DNA Publications, Inc. will be honoring all subscriptions in full. Weird Tales® has fiction in inventory by Tanith Lee, Melanie Tem, Brian Stableford, and S.P. Somtow. All fiction submissions should continue to be sent to Weird Tales®, 123 Crooked Lane, King of Prussia, PA 19406-2570. All other inquires should be addressed to the offices of DNA Publications, Inc.

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

New Titles: The First Immortal by James Halperin Dinosaur Summer by Greg Bear Moonwar by Ben Bova Dust by Charles Pelligrino Wing Commander: Action Stations by William R. Forstchen The Last Hawk by Catherine Asaro Alien Dreams by Larry Seigriff Area 51: The Response by Robert Doherty (Robert Mayer)

The First Immortal by James Halperin

ISBN 0-312-865341-21 / Jan '98 Tor Hardcover 352 pgs. / Review by Ernest Lilley

(also this issue: James Halperin interview and a TRUTH MACHINE review)

James Halperin is a self made futurist whose books are platforms for him to model things to come. Of course, that’s how more than one of the best SF authors have started, and only Halperin’s mainstream popularity will keep him from joining their numbers. Despite an occasional woodenness in his characters, he has developed a solid following from his first book, THE TRUTH MACHINE, where he chronicled the development of a software driven truth detector with accuracy previously obtainable only from the Delphi Oracle and the implications for society after its acceptance. Now he’s back with THE FIRST IMMORTAL, starting early in this century and continuing over a span of 200 years. Much as Bruce Sterling does in HOLY FIRE, he posits that we are on the verge of immortality, perhaps not today, but within the lifetimes of people alive today. One of them will qualify for the book's title.

The author’s candidate for immortality is Benjamin Smith, born 1925, died 1988. For the first time anyway. Much of the book takes place after Benjamin succumbed to a heart attack and had his body cryogenically stored. Though the life of this freethinking doctor, father, lover and visionary ties the book together well enough, the unfolding future is the real hero of the book. When you ask how it will turn out, you are more often asking the larger question of mankind’s fate than that of the individual characters. Halperin’s future is so detailed and plausible that you find yourself expecting to wake to it the next day. This plausibility often stems from his awareness that the driving forces behind technological advance are at most one-third science. The greater portions being dictated by the perversity of human nature as all too often expressed through the courtroom and senate. This must be the real future! It’s as bad as the present! This is the same future as previously depicted in THE TRUTH MACHINE, and benefits from the legal boons the author wrought with that invention his first time out.

Halperin is about to come to the attention of a much wider audience with this book, which has been bought by Hallmark to be run as a TV miniseries. To the best of my knowledge, that will make it Hallmark’s first SF project and the selection undoubtedly derives from the central character’s living through WWII in Japanese concentration camps and into the future, coupled with his struggle to reconcile with a son that he is estranged from. History and family conflict.

Over the span of the book the author examines a slew of human storage and longevity technologies, starting with cryo-suspension and ending with nanorepair. In his forward he offers a reward to anyone who finds factual error in what he jokingly refers to as the most thoroughly researched and scrutinized novel about biological immortality. The book differs from most of the Time Travel/Cryo-Genre in its short time horizon. Heinlein’s DOOR INTO SUMMER, Charles Sheffield’s END OF ETERNITY, and even H.G. Well’s THE TIME MACHINE, all take place in a future far enough distant to allow the author free reign over the outcomes of our world, though the point could be argued in the Heinlein case. THE FIRST IMMORTAL follows the cultural and technological story of life suspension and longevity with contemporary characters, Jack Kevorkian among them, and given its premise, it makes sense that the people surrounding us when we are thawn in the future might just be our friends of today. Which notion fuels the idea that what goes around comes around, and that you might as well start treating people like you’re in it for the long haul. You may just have to live with your deeds forever.

The only problem with taking Halperin too seriously as a futurist is that he is making an argument and supporting it by anecdotal evidence of his own choosing. Technically, this is referred to as "wishful thinking". You may recognize this style if you ever read behavioral psychologist B. F. Skinner’s WALDEN TWO, which I found tremendously attractive as an adolescent. After creating a model society and discussing it in great detail in a book, subsequent real world attempts at communal living found reality to be very different. All of which is to remind you not to take works like this as a blueprint, or even as a likely future. Futures are made by events beyond our control, but sometimes can be affected by wishful doing. James Halperin’s characters are people who think for themselves, and I’m sure the author wants nothing less from his readers. Read THE FIRST IMMORTAL, take what you want from it, and make what you can of the future.

Dinosaur Summer by Greg Bear

ISBN 0-446-52098-5 / Warner Hardcover, 325 pgs. / Review by Steven Sawicki

Evidently Steve wanted to read Greg Bear's version of FREE WILLY, only with dinosaurs instead of orcas. What he found inside the beautifully laid out DINOSAUR SUMMER was more horrible than either of us bargained for…-Ernest

This is a book which should have been wonderful. It's got a great cover, fantastic interior illustrations, color plates by Tony DiTerlizzi, a fabulous idea, and it's done by a talented writer besides. Instead, DINOSAUR SUMMER is almost a tribute to what could have been. I think this book needed a good editor who would have returned it to Bear with some comment such as, "Great start, send it back when you've finished," instead of accepting it whole cloth.

It's an adventure story set on an alternate Earth. The main character is Peter Belzoni, a fifteen-year-old boy who travels with his journalist father during the summer of 1947. The basic premise of the book is that Challenger's lost continent really existed and dinosaurs were subsequently harvested and used to create dinosaur circuses. The public's fickle interest, coupled with a few rather nasty accidents, has left the circuses bankrupt. Thus it is that Circus Lothar gears up for one last travel - that of returning their beasts to the lost continent. Along for the ride, Bear includes Ray Harryhausen and Willis O'Brien, two real life individuals involved in Hollywood monsterdom.

This would seem to be pretty exciting stuff, yet Bear never manages to pass the excitement along to the reader. The main character, Peter, is rather undeveloped. Peter's father is so wishy-washy as to be near invisible. The dinosaurs, which one would expect to be the focus of attention, are caged for the first half and, once released, gone into the jungle.

At times Bear has it all exactly right and the book moves with an excitement and adventure that is reminiscent of Bradbury. These times seemed all too infrequent to me however. Perhaps it was that I expected so much from this book, perhaps more than was ever there to begin with. Bear also chooses a rather odd direction in terms of story development when he begins to bring in notions of evolution to the mix. Sure, if dinosaurs existed to present day there would be wonderful mutations and genetic differences. Still, that was not the story I hoped for. I wanted the story of returning T-Rex to the jungle and I didn't get it.

This book will appeal to a small segment of readers but will ultimately disappoint most. Do pick up the book, if only to look at the pretty pictures and marvel at the basic idea. Then put the book down and walk away. You'll end up having a much better experience that way.

Moonwar by Ben Bova

ISBN ISBN: 0-380-97303-0 / Avon/EOS March 1998 Hardcover/ Review by Bruce Wallace

Reading Ben Bova's MOONWAR I had the strangest feeling I was rereading Heinlein's THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS. Fortunately it passed quickly and I settled down for what turned out to be a very good read. MOONWAR is the sequel to MOONRISE reviewed in the paperback section of this issue.

The concept is much the same as Heinlein's, a colony on the moon that has been pushed too far. In this case the people of this colony are not conscripts as they were in Heinlein's novel but people of another stripe altogether. They are made up of contract workers who travel back and forth between the colony and the Earth as they please and people who have decided to make the Moon their permanent home. The hardcore of the colony is made up of people who have committed themselves to the dream of not only creating a self sustaining Lunar colony but a colony that can provide an onramp to deep space for the rest of humanity. Their lifeline and their downfall is their flagrant use of nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology, the shotgun marriage of Chemistry and Engineering, has the potential to usher in an era of self-replicating machinery and self-assembling consumer goods. Additionally such benefits as immortality, space travel and a rejuvenated Earth are very real possibilities.

The problem of course is not the hope that this technology represents but the fear that it generates amongst some peoples. This is particularly a problem with a group called the New Moral Right, an enormous political force in the United States with influence in the U.N. and they are definitely not high-tech.

As the story begins nanotechnology has been banned on the Earth for seven years. When the last holdout, the tiny island nation of Kirbati, finally succumbs to the pressure by the UN to sign the Anti-Nanotechnology treaty, it is to be banned from the moon as well. This spells disaster for the Lunar Colony and a battle for independence soon ensues. Ultimately however we learn that this is but the tip of the iceberg.

MOONWAR is not a simple us against them novel. It is also a story of revenge - personal, political and corporate and so much more. Containing a complex subset of characters as rich as any novel could boast, it continues the story of the Stavenger family introduced in the first book of the Moonbase saga, MOONRISE. At the heart of this second novel are the surviving members Joanna and her son Doug who struggle against scheming rival corporations, government collusion, and militant anti-nanotechnology factions to save Moonbase. Doug who is only about twenty is in the fight of his life. It's literally a matter of life and death for him to make sure that Moonbase stays open and can use nanotechnology. He faces a two edged sword. If Moonbase is closed and he is forced to return to Earth, he will surely be assassinated by religious fanatics who decry the use of the nanobugs that sustain his body. On the other hand if the base remains open without the use of this technology Moonbase will never become the gateway to the stars that was his father's dream as well as his own.

Although an action packed, fast paced, essentially plot driven story, MOONWAR also provides interesting and complex characterizations in this worthy successor to the equally enjoyable MOONRISE. For engaging and engrossing reading I wholeheartedly recommend both.

Dust by Charles Pellegrino

ISBN 0-380-97308-1 / Avon/EOS Hardcover Mar '98 / Reviewed by Paul J. Giguere

It is only appropriate that the opening scenes from Charles Pellegrino's latest novel take place in the prehistoric past since Pellegrino is widely recognized as the creator of the dinosaur cloning theory that Michael Crichton used in JURASSIC PARK. Pellegrino brings his vast scientific knowledge to bear in a new novel of ecological disaster.

Dust mites have attacked a town on Long Island killing hundreds and scientist Richard Sinclair is trying to discover why. In the process we come to find out that the insect populations of Earth are dying and the consequences include the death of most plant and animal life. Also, bats are attacking people and infecting them with Mad Cow disease-like symptoms. Widespread panic ensues all over the globe, economies collapse and eventually a nuclear war starts.

The characters in DUST are almost ancillary to the story and Pellegrino doesn't waste much time exploring them in greater depth. The focus is on the plot and Pellegrino takes the reader on a roller coaster ride of disaster after disaster to the point where you are almost overloaded and either uncaring or incredulous at the events that continue to unfold.

Although DUST is mostly engaging, it is a complex novel with many plot-lines happening at once and requires persistence at certain points to get through. Pellegrino almost loses his way with the complexity of the plot but manages to pull everything together in an ending that although interesting and inventive, is just an exploration of territory covered before.

In a SF market already crowded with ecological disaster novels, Pellegrino brings a familiar message to the table with some interesting packaging (and some new disasters). A good effort but it probably will not stand out among the many environmental disaster novels of late that have hit the SF and mainstream fiction bookshelves.

Wing Commander: Action Stations by William R. Forstchen

ISBN 0-671-87859-X / Baen January '98 / Review by Ernest Lilley

ACTION STATIONS is actually a prequell to the interstellar war with the Kilrathi fought out in five previous novels by some of Mil SF’s best warrior authors, and in as many cutting edge computer games fought by millions of fans, myself among them. It's a fast paced space navy slugfest that owes no apology for its tie-in roots. But then again, the WING COMMANDER game series pioneered cinematic games with actors like Mark Hamil providing the backdrop for top notch computer combat.

Admiral Geoffery Tolwyn is a familiar character to players or readers of the series, as the architect of mankind’s resistance to the Killer Cats from beyond the Confederation’s frontier. ACTION STATION fills in the details of both his early Naval career and the days leading up to the start of the Kilrathi conflict. When young Ensign Tolwyn speaks his mind to a Confederation Senator at a public reception, pointing out the danger of crippling the fleet so that his pork barrel constituents are kept happy, it seems that his days are numbered. But when Admiral Skip Bainbridge sends his old friend and former intel operative Commander Winston "Winne" Turner into Kilrathi space to bring back news of the true intentions of mankind’s warlike neighbors, Geoff is sent along, the mix of guts and expendability providing the perfect combination for this intel op. Into the no-man’s land between empires goes the intel team, posing as smuggler/traders on a suitable ship, one that had barely escaped from a Kilrathi ambush weeks before, leaving only its newest and brashest crew member captain. While the Empire readies for a devastating strike against the Confederation, and the Confederation allows itself to be drawn into a limited engagement on a false front, Geoff’s team must infiltrate a smuggler’s station, gather intel, and get out alive. Running just ahead of the Kilrathi invasion, it’s all they can do to keep in one piece, let alone alert the systems about to be overrun. Ultimately they will have the chance young Tolwyn has trained for - to stand and fight - holding the line against brutal odds in a combination of space fighter and dreadnought combat equal to anything in the genre. The characters in the book may be painted with the kind of simple brush familiar to fans of Star Wars, but to me it makes them no less engaging. Watching Ensign Tolwyn grow in the face of the enemy adds something to the story as I watched for the strengths that would enable him to rise to Admiral, and the weaknesses that would ultimately destroy him.

Obviously I enjoyed ACTION STATIONS, but I do have a gripe. In fine SF tradition, the cover bears absolutely no resemblance to anything in the novel. If you are going to ignore the book, you should at least use that license to good end, but the illustration of a square jawed hero bracketed by blondes that I missed between the covers and a Kilrathi stuck in the corner scowling off the page fails to serve that agenda.

Game tie-ins differ from movie or TV spin-offs in that fans of the game have been active participants in the universe depicted. As a fan of space warfare games, I always feel something extra when I read stories about conflicts I’ve invested hours in. Though I’ve been too busy of late to grab a joystick and defend the Earth against Alien invaders, I noticed a familiar itch in my trigger finger and the impulse to linger in the game section of a computer megastore on my day off. Stories like this both remind me of the fun the games I’ve played have given me, and allow me to play them again with more meaning.

The historical antecedents of the series are many, starting with the carrier war in the Pacific, and the "Scream and Leap" Kzinti warriors conceived by Larry Niven and chronicled in the Man/Kzin War series also from Baen. Though the roots of the series are clear, the authors have made a cast of original characters and depth of cultures that set the Wing Commander universe apart from its origins. Although I also enjoy more literate and thoughtful SF, the simplicity of a conflict like this allows me to relax for a minute and root for something I can support without reservation. Long live the Confederation!

WING COMMANDER is a registered trademark of Origin Systems, Inc. A TV series based on the game is in production for the USA network.

The Last Hawk by Catherine Asaro

ISBN 0-312-86044-7 / Tor Hardcover, 443 pgs. / Review by Steven Sawicki

This is the latest book in Asaro's Saga of the Skolian Empire. Previous books include PRIMARY INVERSION and CATCH THE LIGHTNING. Since this is not a sequential series, you do not need to read the previous books before reading THE LAST HAWK. The Skolian Empire is a vast interstellar civilization and Asaro is approaching it through the characters of its ruling family, dedicating each book to a specific character at a specific point in history.

On the unusual side, it should be noted that this book is a somewhat nifty blending of the Romance novel and hard SF novel. This is not quite something one would expect to be easy to pull off but Asaro does a credible job blending the two. There will always be those readers, however, who think there is too much implausible romance while others will think there is too much plausible science.

THE LAST HAWK is the story of Kelric, heir to the empire, who crash lands on a planet after a space battle. Kelric is rescued by the inhabitants, but this only begins his problems, as the planet is under a quarantine from the outside and aggressively protected by the ruling matriarchy from the inside. The culture and society is almost Greek-like in nature with small fiefs and city-states each trying to control what happens based on their individual strengths and the strengths of their alliances. Kelric's ship is destroyed and Kelric nearly suffers the same fate except that the controlling powers decide that he would be worth more alive, even if they need to keep him prisoner for life, than dead.

Thus begins Kelric's strange journey through the culture and his introduction to Quis, a game of complex structures combining prediction and manipulation. The game has great importance, and as Kelric is moved from estate to estate through a number of circumstances he learns more and more and becomes a powerful player. It is also this movement which produces opportunities for the romance to enter as Kelric manages to have major affairs at each estate.

At times the combining of Romance and SF seems a bit contrived, at other times it is a very natural part of the plotting and pacing. If I had one major criticism it would be that there seemed to be just one too many romantic segments for belief. Still, Asaro's culture is an interesting one and the struggles it faces seem real. The game of Quis is an interesting construct as well, intriguing in the way it gives power and control to individuals outside the established power structure.

This is an interesting book, with strong female characters in large variety. The society is complex, the situations political and the conflicts natural. Asaro runs her characters through their paces with skill and deft writing, although there are one or two places where obligation of setting and structure seems to override plot.

The blending of Romance and SF, hard or otherwise, is on the increase. Asaro is at the forefront of the hard SF/Romance contingent and she's got a lead that will have all others struggling to keep up.

Alien Dreams by Larry Seigriff

ISBN 0-671-87860-3 / Baen Jan '98 Paperback / Review by Ernest Lilley!

Following his adventures in SPACER DREAMS, in which he went from Brighthome, "reform school for the stars" to a gang of space pirates and finally a berth on the Space Guard ship Michaelangelo, Tom Jenkins is ready for his new life to begin. With the resources of the Space Guard behind him he's sure to be able to uncover his origins before he was found drifting in a survival pod in deep space, and if he hasn't actually gotten Alex, the spacer girl he's been mooning over since she showed up at Brighthome, to reciprocate his feelings, at least they're friends and shipmates on the Michaelangelo. Hope springs eternal.

Tom is working his way up from Apprentice Guardsman with the help of Lt. O'Malley's tutoring, or he would be if he could keep his thoughts off Alex. He's working his way pretty fast, in fact, and within a few pages has managed to get bridge duty and become apprentice helmsman of he 300 meter Space Guard vessel. Right next to Alex, at her scanner station. Mostly, he's able to keep his mind on his work. When the ship encounters a gravitational anomaly that turns out to be an Alien derelict, Alex gets to fly the boarding party and another reformatory graduate, Jamie, uses his computer skills to analyze the disaster that it turns into - offering the ship a hope of rescuing its away team. Soon they're off to answer a distress call and another derelict, this time a human vessel that seems oddly familiar to Tom. It seems the missing survival pods remind him of his own mysterious origins, when he was found in a just such a pod, with no clue as to his past.

ALIEN DREAMS alternates from space adventure to a sort of high school in space atmosphere as best friends Tom and Jamie try to catch up with Alex, already a Guardsman, and Tom deals with his feelings for her.

A fair amount of credibility goes out the airlock so that Larry Seigriff's series can provide enough action and interest for his protagonist, recruited by pirates and rescued by the enigmatic Colonel Forrester working undercover at Brighthome in the last book. Still, the Space Guard ship pays homage to today's navy in asides as the author explains its history and the Guard has a crisp military feel to it. It's apparent that the author has either served in or paid attention to the military, as you watch his use of Rules of Engagement and command protocols. In fact my real complaint may be that he spends too much time explaining things to us. Even if you assume that the target audience for these books is whatever age I was when I was reading STARSHIP TROOPERS for the first time, I felt like saying; "Give it to them straight Larry...they can take it." On the other hand, things move along, and if your previous experience with SF has been series tie-ins, maybe this provides needed transition. Despite the prominent coming of age story around the central characters, there really is a considerable amount of hard SF in the book.

Bottom line: ALIEN DREAMS, like SPACER DREAMS before it, is an entertaining read, especially for younger audiences just discovering the world of SF. Definitely a "buy" for school libraries. By the way, if you like this book, be sure to read Robert Heinlein's CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY (Ace, 1957). Similar themes, different decades.

Area 51: The Response by Robert Doherty (Robert Mayer)

ISBN 0-440-22378-4 / Dell Paperback Feb 1998 / Review by Ernest Lilley

For the first time in over five thousand years it was able to bring all systems on-line. Immediately it put into effect the last program it had been loaded with in case of a full power up.

It reached out and linked with sensors pointed outward from the planet. Then it began transmitting, back in the direction it had come from, over ten millennia ago, calling out. "Come. Come and get us."

And there were other machines out there and they were listening. - AREA 51: THE RESPONSE

Last year, Robert Doherty's first book in the Area 51 series left Special Forces specialist Mike Turcotte, Presidential Science Advisor Lisa Duncan and investigative reporter Kelly Reynolds at the end of one story and the beginning of another. Thwarting a conspiracy to hide and exploit alien technology discovered buried in the Earth's past left them awaiting a reply to the signal sent out by the awakened alien computer buried on Easter Island. As promised, they're back, this time to deal with a more potent threat than something as simple as a secret American base taken over by alien mind control. Now it's time to answer the alien's reply from space.

Millennia ago, goes the story, an alien exploratory force was trapped on Earth when galactic war broke out. The aliens were divided up into two groups, one aligned with the party's government and a radical group that wanted to go its own way. Waking after 5 millennia both sides will try to claim our allegiance, but much as Earth may want friends in the stars, some lessons are too hard learned to ignore. Mike Turcotte is on the pointy end of the stick that protects Earth from invasion by far advanced technology. While the world governments prepare for an alien landing in Central Park, a mysterious agency known as STAAR is moving into action. Whether STAAR is another alien controlled organization or a human counter-alien effort is just one more mystery for our team to unravel.

Part of the fun of the Area 51 series is watching the author weave Earth's historical artifacts, including everything from the Great Pyramids and the Stone Heads at Easter Island to the Great Wall of China, into a tale of alien leftovers. CHARIOT OF THE GODS author Erich von Däniken couldn't have done better, and from Robert Doherty we get the benefit of plot as well. The other part of the fun comes from Mike Turcotte's military assaults on alien archeological digs, usually protected by another clandestine organization. It seems like he has to sort out the motives of both alien factions, deal with the Chinese army and the Russian ex-KGB. If military accuracy suffers occasionally, it does so to keep the book moving at breakneck speed.

The big difference between this and the last book is that Mike Turcotte is working with an assortment of the world's military elite, instead of being on the run from them.

If you like Mil SF, Ancient Artifacts and UFO Conspiracies…try AREA 51: THE RESPONSE.

- - -

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

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


Interview: James Halperin: Truth, Justice and the American Future.

I discovered James Halperin in the fall of 1996, when his first book, THE TRUTH MACHINE came out from Del Rey. THE TRUTH MACHINE came into being as a self published book both in paper and on the Internet because Jim couldn't get a publisher for it. After he decided to do it himself in typical Halperin style, Del Rey discovered the book and decided to publish it. Jim is far from a typical SF reader or writer, with a successful coin business behind him and a delight in the possibilities of the future. Looking over his efforts both as a writer and businessman, I get the feeling that he is exactly my sort of rebel scum - fearless and inventive. His two books are both on the way to becoming movies, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if ten years from now Halperin was as much a household word as Crichton or Koontz.

SFRevu: THE FIRST IMMORTAL is your second book, set in the same universe as THE TRUTH MACHINE. Are you planning to do an entire future history series moving from technology to technology?

James Halperin: Probably not. It was hard enough keeping all the facts straight for two books! In fact, since writing TTM and TFI, I've completed three more novels (now in various stages of editing) and am about two-thirds through a sixth, none of which have anything to do with each other. I love the entire process of researching and immersing myself in a new field until I understand it well enough, then letting a story spew forth. I also enjoy editing and rewriting, which is a very good thing because my first drafts are atrocious.

SFR: Life extension has gotten fairly popular in SF in the last few years. I can't remember whether the first time I read about cryo-storage was in Arthur C. Clarke's PROFILES OF THE FUTURE or Robert Heinlein's DOOR INTO SUMMER. When was the first time you heard about it? Besides THE FIRST IMMORTAL, what do you think of the field's other entrants?

JH: I don't read much fiction, so I must sadly report that I haven't read any of the books you've mentioned, and embarrassingly enough, have never read ANYTHING by any of those authors, not even Clarke or Heinlein. I did read Linda Nagata's cryonics novel, TECH HEAVEN, which I thought was quite ingenious. I first learned about cryonics in 1995, from an article in Spin Magazine.

SFR: You've cited two of my favorite books as SF you enjoy, SNOW CRASH (see the RetroReview in this issue) and THE SPARROW (see SFRevu interview with Mary Russell: October '97 and next month's review of CHILDREN OF GOD, the sequel). Interestingly, these are about as far apart in the SF spectrum as two books could be. What draws you to them?

JH: SNOW CRASH is astonishingly clever and off-the-wall, almost like a 300-page Gary Larson cartoon (or a Steven Wright monologue with a plot), while THE SPARROW was a beautifully written allegory about human nature and the dynamics of civilization. In both books, every scene made you want to know what would happen next. I've started quite a few SF books I couldn't justify finishing, but I never even considered putting these two down.

SFR: What was the first SF you read? When? Who do you read now?

JH: The first SF I ever read was in comic books, back in the early 1960s when I was nine or ten. My favorites were the pre-trend ECs like Weird Science and Incredible Science Fiction. (EC, which created MAD, first as a comic, then as a magazine, also published Tales from the Crypt and many other popular titles). I still collect EC comics, and consider them classics of American literature! But today I read mostly nonfiction books, usually about science or history.

SFR: Is the first immortal alive today? What do you think your own odds are on being part of that group?

JH: I certainly think so, and I guess I'd peg my own odds of achieving biological immortality at somewhere between 10 and 50 percent.

SFR: I'm of the opinion that people (like myself) find your work fascinating because you are more of a Futurist than an SF author and it's your vision of the possible future that people find so compelling. (If you are sitting there wondering what I think the difference between Futurism and SF is, it's that a Futurist actually tries to explore the future, while SF uses the future as a metaphor by which to explore the present. No, really.) What's your opinion?

JH: That is exactly what I was shooting for, so I hope you're right.

SFR: I was watching CONTACT the other night, and one of the characters challenges science by pointing out that it may be capable of making lives easier, but has never done anything to give it meaning. In a future where machines are smarter than we are, will we have a reason for living? Can science help us find meaning in our lives? If you have all the time in the world, why get out of bed?

JH: I explored that question as best I was able to in THE FIRST IMMORTAL, although I'm sure others have done it better than I could because I find it so difficult to imagine people not wanting to learn and accomplish things. And, optimist that I am, I tend to believe that machines are unlikely to become smarter than we are in every single way -- at least not anytime soon.

SFR: Your protagonists remind me of Ayn Rand's characters. They believe in themsleves and are constantly being held back by the mass of society. Have you read any Ayn Rand? Do you sympathize with John Gault, her character that believed that living for anything but yourself was wrong?

JH: I've read WE THE LIVING, THE FOUNTAINHEAD and ATLAS SHRUGGED, and found the latter utterly hypnotic. Objectivism is a brilliant philosophy, but I think it has a flaw or two. Personally, I believe altruism is worth preserving in many cases.

SFR: One of your upcoming books, BEGINNER'S LUCK, is clearly not in the TRUTH MACHINE universe, being an Alternate History more in the style of Harry Turtledove's World War series. How did that come about? What else is on the burner?

JH: I originally conceived BEGINNER'S LUCK: THE ASSASSINATION OF ADOLF HITLER as a parable about memetics and the nature of history, but I wound up rewriting it as a historical novel, and removing most of the alternative history portion. I will probably expand that removed section into a sequel. My fourth and fifth novels are currently titled NORA'S ARK and THE GREAT RED SEA. The former is a Technothriller set in 2002 about a billionaire-scientist (Nora Adler), who knows that the Earth is about to flip cataclysmically on its axis. The latter is a Fantasy set mostly in 2009 about a dying race of little big-eyed creatures who have been responsible for everything from ancient mythology to alien abductions to Bigfoot and Elvis sightings.

SFR: You quoted Andrew Tobias as saying you show absolutely no signs of literary grace, but that was before either of your first two fictions were written. Do you feel you've grown as a writer over the decade since he said that?

JH: I sure hope so.

SFR: Your own story is pretty impressive. Not only did you make your own success in numismatics, you started self-publishing before Del Rey discovered THE TRUTH MACHINE. Were you always a self-starter? Who are your heroes?

JH: I've always been entrepreneurial, and somewhat obsessive. I believe that there is a great deal of luck involved in almost every aspect of life, yet this belies another conviction of mine that every person can make a difference, which is a theme of every novel I have thus far written. My greatest hero, and I think the greatest historical figure of the past thousand years, is George Washington. Without him, the United States would probably be a dictatorship or monarchy and the world a far bigger mess than it is now. Yet in a recent LIFE Magazine special on the hundred most important people of the past thousand years, Washington wasn't even listed! Go figure.

SFR: Any idea on when the first movie version of a book of yours will come out? Did it surprise you that Hallmark was interested in THE FIRST IMMORTAL? Did you get any input on the screenplay?

JH: I'm told that Hallmark is planning to air THE FIRST IMMORTAL as a Hall of Fame miniseries on CBS sometime next year. As for THE TRUTH MACHINE, which is now at Twentieth Century Fox, that could take one year or ten. I try not to get too hung up on stuff I have no control over, and most book authors wield about as much clout with the films of their novels in Hollywood as the key grips do. But so far, at least, both the studios' checks have cleared.

SFR: Have you been to any SF conventions? Did you make it to WorldCon in San Antonio last year, or are you planning on going to it this year in Baltimore? Do you go on the road to promote your books, and if so, where can we find your itinerary?

JH: I was at WorldCon in San Antonio, my only SF convention thus far. I liked it, and expect to do many more. I haven't decided about Baltimore yet, though. A brilliant Web maven and cryonicist named Roderick A. Carder-Russell (who also very helpfully vetted THE FIRST IMMORTAL) offered to set up and manage a site for me. So, very soon, all of my appearances will be listed at

SFR: Thank you for all your answers, and for two fascinating books on a future that I'd like a chance to see for myself.

JH: Me, too!


Other stories about Cryo-storage and Life Extension include: DOOR INTO SUMMER (Cryo-storage) - Heinlein / TOMORROW AND TOMORROW (Cryo-storage and Life Extension) - Charles Sheffield / RED, GREEN, and BLUE MARS (Life Extension) - Kim Stanley Robinson / HOLY FIRE (Life Extension) - Bruce Sterling


goto for an introduction to memetics

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RetroReview: Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

ISBN 0-553-56261-4 / Bantam Spectra June ‘92 / Review by Ernest Lilley

In 1981, Vernor Vinge wrote "True Names", about a clash of virtual titans on "the other plane" after experiencing what must have been one of the first online chat sessions in history. Though he used magical metaphors for his reality, he created a well-fleshed out and technologically sound notion of Virtual Reality that is still viable and readable. Three years later, in 1984, William Gibson moved on to create a genre and set a standard rarely (if ever) matched, with NEUROMANCER and the synthesis of adolescent punk culture and VR. Eight years later Neal Stephenson produced one of the few challenges to the virtual reality pioneer with SNOW CRASH, a wild ride through two ingenious worlds; the mall and franchise riddled future and the ever-present cyberworld. SNOW CRASH has elements of both "True Names" and NEUROMACER in it, but moves them onto a higher plane of its own.

Hiro Protagonist (yes, that’s a pun, but don’t let it get to you) is many things. The world’s greatest swordsman, ace Mafia pizza deliverer, classic underachiever, and one of the hacker creators of the Metaverse, the cyberworld descended from what we know as the Web. Y.T. is a young Californian roller boarder, a high tech courier with a knack for "pooning" passing vehicles on her smartboard to negotiate the clogged arteries of L.A.’s future. When she poons Hiro, already racing against the clock to deliver his precious cargo and save face for the mob, he winds up in a wrecked car in a swimming pool and she winds up making the pizza delivery for him, saving face for him and the mob. What happens when Cosa Nostra pizza is late? You don't even want to thinkaboutit. Hiro is over the hill, maybe even thirty, and Y.T. is in her teens, so the cultural differences between them are uncrossable. The two wind up somewhat antagonistic partners in information retrieval, each skilled in their own worlds. As someone said once, the start of a beautiful friendship.

SNOW CRASH has something for everyone, including but not limited to sex, drugs and rock and roll. It also has cybersex, cyberdrugs and cyberrock and roll. Elevating it from enjoyable Cyberthriller to SF classic are a Jungian plot, endless insights into the future of culture and technology, and substantial research into the structure of language, mind, information and religion. Hiro and Y.T. encounter and must understand and stop the spread of Snow Crash, a cybervirus in the Metaverse that is destroying the minds of its inhabitants back in the real world. The virus is a brilliant invention by the author, an information virus based on the deep language structure of the human brain which becomes a physical virus once it acts on the individual, so that it can be passed on in the real world as well. The author traces the roots of the virus to ancient Sumeria and the book follows Hiro’s efforts to understand the relationship between language, religion and mind and to stay alive in both real and virtual worlds. Something for everyone, an intelligently constructed crisis and plenty of gunfire, technotoys and attitude to keep your pulse racing.

You may blitz past the sequences in Hiro’s virtual library discussing language and religion, but don’t skip them completely. Some really interesting ideas are kicked around here, and you may want to re-read SNOW CRASH again when your pulse has dropped back to normal and you can take the time to appreciate the work that went into researching the book. Evidentially a lot of the background is quite accurate, and I was fascinated by the implications of the transition from oral to written religion and its analogies to the growth of computer information systems. Not to mention that the historical back text provides a mythic framework for the story for the hero protagonist to work against that would delight Joseph Campbell.

Visions of cyberspace have matured in the decade and a half since NEUROMANCER, losing much of its polygonal abstraction and developing a seamless look to go with the evolution of special effects and digitized images. Neal Stephenson’s vision still looks good to me. He started from a more reasonable point than Gibson, eschewing the neural jack, and accepting VR goggles and body sensors as the more likely approach to VR interaction. Once the story shifts into VR, he lets technology take a back seat to the virtual world Hiro and his friends created, now inhabited by some hundred million people at any given time.

Stephenson’s writing is excellent. His characters are deep and interesting. The technology and culture of a completely privatized world are richly imagined and the action moves along rapidly through everything from franchised jail cells to a vast flotilla of refugees surrounding the privately owned USS Enterprise. If it didn’t all work so well, I'd say the author put too much stuff in one book, but my brain never quite saturated, staying hungry for the next act and idea throughout.

In the evolution of Cyberpunk, NEUROMANCER may have drawn the landscape, but SNOW CRASH shows us what it means to really live there.


"True Names" by Vernor Vinge was first published in Dell Binary Star #5 in 1981, and again in 1987 by Baen in TRUE NAMES…AND OTHER DANGERS.

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SFRevu Goes to the Movies: Sphere Movie Juice

Sphere Review by Ernest Lilley

Cast :Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, Samuel L. Jackson, Peter Coyote, Liev Schreiber

Director: Barry Levinson Writer: Stephen Hauser, Paul Attanasio

SPHERE is the latest movie based on a Michael Crichton novel, and though remaining faithful to the book and its delivery by a tremendously talented group of actors and filmmakers, nothing can save the film from its watery grave. On the other hand, the first half of the film is a whole lot better than most SF you will see on screen, the ending however, just lies there flopping on the deck.

Crichton wrote SPHERE in 1987. It was a novel about a team of civilians pressed into a First Contact situation at the bottom of the ocean while a storm topside forces them to deal with the alien presence outside, the military inside, and their own pasts (including the male and female leads' breakup) under pressure, as it were. Then in 1989, James Cameron filmed THE ABYSS, which was about pretty much the same thing, but with ET rather than Alien and a DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL kind of ending which didn’t make the theatrical release. Orson Scott Card wrote the novelization the same year. Now SPHERE is finally out as a movie. Moving the focus of the film from the alien presence to the conflicts within the First Contact team was a good idea, but it comes a decade too late.

Dustin Hoffman plays a psychologist who specializes in disaster trauma. Back when George Bush was President he wrote a report for the government on First Contact procedures…with Extra Terrestrials. At the time, it seemed like all he would ever have to do was to keep a straight face, take the money, and run. Even he admits that he cribbed much of it from the experts - you know - Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke…

Now flown to a Naval task force in the middle of the ocean, he has plenty of time to regret the easy money as he descends in a minisub towards a massive spacecraft buried beneath 300 years worth of coral on the ocean floor. The rest of the First Contact team regrets his report too, especially since he threw their names in because they were all close friends back in those days but have now managed to accumulate enough history between them to make the close quarters of an undersea habitat much too close. Add the pressure of an active alien intelligence in the presence of a shimmering golden sphere on the spacecraft and the inevitable military intel type (Peter Coyote) running the operation, and you get a WHO’S AFRAID OF VIGRINIA WOLF dinner party atmosphere. Sharon Stone returns to film after a year’s hiatus for the role as Hoffman’s former mistress and patient and general life scientist, and Samuel L. Jackson and Liev Schreiber play an antagonistic Mathematician and Astrophysicist to round out the party. The movie lurches between each tense and often deadly encounter with the alien intelligence, which is communicating, via computer. Hoffman's character makes an excellent point when the first words from the intelligence are that it is very happy and he is the only one to see a downside to up emotions. Hoffman would be thrilled if the alien had no emotions at all, rather than the potential to be very, very, angry.

Early on the party visits the spacecraft, where they manage to access the flight recorder on the bridge and witness, firsthand, the ship’s journey through a black hole from the future to come to rest here on the ocean floor. If I were making the trailer, I would have shamelessly included some of the spectacular CGI footage from the best visual scene of the movie.

The good news is that SPHERE is faithful to the book. The bad news is that the book wasn't all that good to begin with. Even worse news is that the acting, filming, SFX, and direction are all top notch. More than a Monster Movie, SPHERE is an intense character study starring a cast of well-chosen actors. While the movie, and even the script, has some fine points, I doubt that the right audience will ever find the movie during its theatrical run, though hopefully it will do better on home video.


Movie Juice: deconstructing the bullshit that is Hollywood


WARNING: contains strong language and sexual content. It's also addictive and may cause acute pain, typically from uncontrolled laughter.

The most frequent complaint I get about my reviews and SFRevu is that we're too nice. Sawicki calls me a Boy Scout. Which was true once. I never ever use a big big D. Well, hardly ever. But my favorite take no prisoners movie reviewer is Mark Ramsey whose Website is a collection of scathingly funny movie reviews - as accurate as they are acid. Here's an excerpt from his STARSHIP TROOPERS review:

It's Babe vs. Bug, and the bugs are giant Arachnids (genus Arachnophobia Animatus).  "They colonize planets by hurling their spore into space," thus explaining the popularity of the Jerry Springer Show.  Ok, I admit the animation's terrific.  Except for the fact that the bugs sorta glide like Aladdin's carpet and swarm like the cartoon animals in The Lion King.  But the trooper animation is superb!  If not for some wood-like acting, these kids would actually resemble impossibly beautiful humanoids!

Not only do these nasty bugs kill humans, they also suck out their brains.  Coincidentally, Starship Troopers will have the same effect on you.  It's Night of the Impossibly Beautiful Living Dead!  Some of these bugs also breathe fire, incinerating foolish troopers and bringing new meaning to the expression "fire-arm."

He sends up movies across all genres, and he does it with devastating humor. He's an equal opportunity abuser too, ripping into the best and the worst with equal glee. Each review is accompanied by press pics with captions worth the legendary thousand words. True, he gets 103 more hits a month than we do, but humor is the next best thing to porn, and his is consistently triple X. Mark claims not to know anything about movies, but for once he's dead wrong. His attacks have roughly the same accuracy as the military claims for smart munitions. Often I've left theaters muttering, "If they'd just asked me what I thought, they could have saved themselves a whole lot of trouble." I concede. Ask Mark Ramsey what he thinks. If this boy were a corporation, I'd buy stock.

Here’s a listing of his in-genre reviews as of this issue.

DARK CITY - Blade Dumber / SPHERE - Close Encounters of the Turd Kind / DEEP RISING - Truly, Badly, Deeply / PHANTOMS - Chasing Mothra / THE POSTMAN - Return Receipt Requested / TOMORROW NEVER DIES - Wussy Galore / ALIEN RESURRECTION - Monster Mush / STARSHIP TROOPERS - Of Mites and Men / GATTACA - Uma-ttaca / STAR TREK VOYEUR - T & A the Star Trek Way / MIMIC - Mira Mira on the Wall / CONTACT - Viva Las Vega / MEN IN BLACK - Ray Guns, Ray Bans / XENA - Dominatrix Flex Appeal / THE LOST WORLD: Jurassic Park - Danger! Dino-snore! / THE FIFTH ELEMENT - Thanks a Milla

Movie Juice can be found at:

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Now in Paperback! Moonrise by Ben Bova The Truth Machine by James Halperin Sole Survivor by Dean Koontz

Moonrise by Ben Bova

ISBN // Review by Ernest Lilley

(This review aired on Sci-Fi Talk 1/2/97 and is reprinted with permission of Sci-Fi Talk)

For nearly as long as there have been Americans in space, Ben Bova has been scouting the high frontier to bring back tales of the uncharted future. In recent years he has focused on the view from the top of the next rise, the near and possible future with books like his recent MARS in which his vision of Martian exploration extrapolates from missions currently being considered.

In MOONRISE he projects forwards a few decades to a time when aerospace companies are holding onto the remnants of a space program largely abandoned by the government and a Moonbase consisting of a collection of cramped temporary shelters under constant threat from the universe without and the corporate axe within. The story begins with Paul Stavenger, a black ex-astronaut turned aerospace executive and the force behind Masterson Aerospace’s successful Clippership SSTO project as well as the visionary defender of the Moonbase. Unfortunately for Paul, it also begins with a desperate trek across the Lunar surface trying to escape nanomachines intended to erect Lunar shelters, but instead targeted at his personal deconstruction. Though a heroic figure, Paul has spaceboots of clay, and the story quickly tells us who he has made enemies of along the way. Paul’s story gives way to that of his wife Joanna, who becomes Chairman of the Board, and the rivalry between her two sons; Greg, the brilliant son of the founder of Masterson Aerospace, and Doug, her son with Paul. The family’s ongoing strife follows the growth of the Moonbase, and its uncertain future. There are echoes of earlier Lunar sagas here, from Heinlein’s THE MAN WHO SOLD THE MOON to Lester Del Rey’s MOON OF MUTINY, and Bova’s style is easy to get lost in as it races across the Lunar frontier.

Though it doesn’t draw on it, a reference to MARS tells us that both books are in the same universe. MOONRISE does as much to set the stage for more explorations in Bova’s future as to explore the conflicts of two generations of Stavengers and left me hoping for both prequels and sequels to the engaging story.

(see Bruce's review of the sequel; MOONWAR also in this issue.)

The Truth Machine by James L. Halperin

ISBN / / Del Rey, Sept. 1996 / Review by Ernest Lilley

James Halperin's first novel is less about the title character than the chronicle of the future that forms the backbone of the book. It's an exercise in predicting the future to make a point, and whether or not I buy all the conclusions the author comes to, they merit an audience. When I went trolling on the Net for opinions, what I found was that most everyone, including the author, thinks Halperin has a way to go before he becomes a really competent wordsmith. Still, the book has garnered a following and while I found it just shy of compelling, it's certainly interesting enough to recommend (Note: at the outset, the author disclaims his writing style in the guise of an Intel 22g designed for reportage, and hammering out the life story of the celebrity crime of all time. Shoot me, but I liked it.)

Two themes dominate the book. First, that out of the 16 billion people the Earth may be able to support, more than a few are going to be smart enough and dangerous enough to do vastly disproportionate damage to humanity as technology continues to leverage the destructive power of the individual. Lee Harvey Oswald with nuclear or biotech weapons for example. Second, despite the tragedy in convicting an innocent man by accident, the converse tragedy of freeing dangerous criminals due to lack of certainty is so much greater that it outweighs the concerns of individual rights and freedoms. The first point is made using a statistical analysis of the kind once reserved for computing the number of stars which have planets with intelligent life. The second is argued anecdotally and by plausible statistics (If you kill 14,000 criminals, and reduce death by violent crime by 41, was worth doing. Right?)

Halperin uses the future history he constructs in this book to prove his points, future newsfactoid by future newsfactoid. Brand names and celebs litter the landscape, but on the other hand, that’s what they do in real life. Like a shadowboxer in the ring alone, the author seems to land telling hits, but the lack of an opposing view robs the story of a certain amount of credibility. He carefully lays out a tough on crime wish list, centering around a "Swift and Sure" capital punishment law, which clears the prisons and the streets of violent criminals. To counter the inevitable loss of innocents, he devotes the energies of the nation to the development of an infallible Truth Machine which, while an interesting idea, is the least technically supported device in the book. It is this lack of technical strength that proves the cover's assertion that this is a "Speculative Novel" rather than actual SF, but as a futurist exercise interesting nonetheless.

Starting in the present, the story follows the life of supergenius Randal Peter Armstrong - "Pete", whose brother is killed by a paroled murderer at the age of five, six years before Pete enters Harvard. I personally have mixed feelings for supergenius stories, being a failed prodigy myself, but much of the power of this book rests in the believability of Pete’s character. If Pete falls down as a character toward the book's conclusion, he does it for the noblest of reasons - to add conflict to the plot. Pete finds a friend, and a fiend, to balance him, which would be fine if he could tell them apart. Unfortunately, his rare genius and eidetic memory lend themselves more to writing code and creating one of the wealthiest software companies in the world than to deciphering the complex code of relationship. After building a software giant and finally constructing the ultimate in veracity verification, Pete’s lack of human savvy betrays him, and the last third of the book is spent waiting for him to face the music.

Though the characters are accused of being flat, I found a lot of internal dialogue that rang true - not prose, but truth. And though the author will probably mature in style, I found the idea of utopia pulled me along enough to want to hear him out. I hope James Halperin writes another book so we can gauge his progress, but for now I look forward to continuing the dialog he has started with THE TRUTH MACHINE.

(THE TRUTH MACHINE was originally self published by James Halperin, who is president of "the largest rare coin company in the world" before attracting the attention of Del Rey books. Del Rey ultimately bought up the remainder of the 35,000 original hardcovers published by Ivy Press Inc. Like his protagonist in the story, Halperin went to Harvard and lives in Dallas, TX.)


Sole Survivor by Dean Koontz

A year after losing his wife and two daughters in an airline crash in Colorado, former crime reporter Joe Carpenter isn't going to make it. He's lost too many of the things that made life worth living, and the anger that has followed him all his life has nowhere to go but inward. So trailing him to see if the impossible sole survivor of the crash tries to contact him turns out to be the classic villain mistake - it gives him a focus for the rage eating him alive. Better, as they say, to be pissed off than pissed on. When Joe finds an enigmatic woman photographing the gravesite of his family and recognizes the men who show up to pursue her, guns blazing, he starts investigating the one case he could never bring himself to open before he quit the LA Post; the mystery of flight 300, and the possibility that someone walked away from the crash of a 747 that plowed into the Colorado countryside with both engines at full throttle in a nearly vertical dive.

SOLE SURVIVOR is a page-turner with afterburners. I couldn't stop until it was done, despite the author's occasionally telegraphed punches. Secret government projects, a child in danger, genetic monsters, a hero struggling back from the loss of his loved ones. Standard Koontz, and it's not earthshaking literary fare, but it's nice to occasionally read something where who the bad guys are is the big question, rather than what a bad guy is, as often seems the case in more serious fiction.

The story's 400 pages take place over a fairly short timespan as events accelerate around Carpenter's investigation. One woman, Dr. Rose Tucker, last seen getting onto the ill fated flight, shows up making the rounds of survivor's families with photographs of the gravesites like the one she had been taking when Joe Carpenter saw her. As he follows her trail through LA, the trail becomes increasingly bloody as the recipients show first overwhelming peace and joy in the light of whatever message she brings, and then suddenly dispassionate suicide. No notes, no screams, just swift self-destruction, by whatever means is at hand. Racing to stay ahead of whatever agency put a homing transponder in his now bullet riddled Honda Accord, Joe Carpenter follows the trail towards Rose Tucker with a mix of hopes; that he can uncover and avenge whatever conspiracy surrounds the 747's crash, that he can help stop the tide of death that seems to be following in Rose's wake, and if she is a survivor, that there were others as well. Not a rational hope, as Joe Carpenter knows intellectually, but he will use anything he can to fuel the rage he knows will mobilize him. Since his childhood defending his crippled father against the town's taunts he has nursed and battled his "wide streak of wildness", becoming human only through his love for his wife and daughters. Now he needs all the inhumanity he can muster to survive the attentions of a web of intel professionals out to stop Dr. Tucker from using whatever it was she stole from the secret biological research project she fled the night of the crash. Rose is not without some good friends though, and in classic Koontz style, they come from startling but ultimately believable directions. Thoughtful amateurs, remarks Koontz's character, and it's fun to watch them come out of the woodwork.

Koontz is one of those authors that lives on the edge of Science Fiction, often confusing the issue by mixing spirituality with technology, but always in a fashion that makes him engrossing reading. Dean Koontz has never been content to expound on the power of technology without making an equal pitch for the necessity for human values as well. SOLE SURVIVOR isn't my favorite Koontz, that honor falling either to WATCHERS or LIGHTNING, both with a tad more SF in them, but it was certainly fun while it lasted.

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

Lunacon '98 - March 20-22 e-mail:


Held each year in Rye Brook, NY in a hotel that features a genuine transdimensional corridor, Lunacon is the closest thing NYC has to a home SF Con. It's run by the Lunarians, the NYC SF group, and this year they have managed to span the genre's extremes. Octavia Butler will be appearing as GOH, as eminent a force in Literary SF as one could hope for, while the programming is being done by John Ordover, the man who presides over Pocket Books Star Trek empire. There's irony here somewhere. I'd love to see the two of them on a panel together. (Before I either get red shirted or have a really heavy book fall on me, if you read my reviews you know I love deep lit SF as well as tie-in novels.) John promises to take full advantage of the unnatural density of SF Publishers in the NY area with lots of opportunity for them to tout their titles. Although the programming is still being finished up, a few events in the not to be missed should be noted:

Fri: "Meet the Fans" - SFRevu will be holding down a table at the meet the fans gathering sponsored by the SFABC's Phil De Parto. / "My Favorite Webzine" - show up and help me lobby shamelessly for SFRevu. / "Meet the Pros" - What would a Con be without Pros?

Sat: "SFRevu's Unofficial Lunacon Breakfast 8:00am 3/21/98" - If you missed the '96 Lunacon Up All Night panel with Ernest and Steve Sawicki (and you did) you also missed us driving around the neighboring towns looking for a diner to feed us breakfast at 6am. Every year Steve and I try to come up with a new and improved activity for Lunacon, '97's being the party that will live forever in infamy. Honest, I said dancing BEARS…anyway, this year we searched the Web for a diner near the Con to infest. And we found one. The Port Chester Diner. I called the owner and said I'd be stopping by with a few hundred friends. He said sure, no problem. Be sure to ask for the Lunacon Special. Since they probably won't have one it should confuse them no end. SFReviewers will be there with plenty of copies of the zine to pass your time waiting for more java. We'll also be lobbying heavily Friday night to get the pros to come, so come on by and see what we bag.

Directions to the Port Chester Diner:

From: The Lunacon Hotel @ 699 Westchester Avenue, Rye Brook, NY

To: The Port Chester Diner @ 317 Boston Post Road, Port Chester, NY

1: Start out going East on WESTCHESTER AVE/NY-120A towards N RIDGE ST.1.1 miles

2: Turn RIGHT onto S PEARL ST.0.4 miles

3: Turn RIGHT onto BOSTON POST RD/US-1.0.0 miles

Total Distance:1.5 Estimated Time:3 minutes (


Icon 17 '98 - March 27-29th


Icon mixes Media and Written SF on the SUNY Stony Brook campus. It's a great Con with something for everyone. This year, that something includes Claudia Christian (B5 ) and Nana Visitor (DS9's Kira). Icon is the interface between SF and Sci-Fi, Media and Literary fandom. It's well organized and pulls great guests. To steal a quote from their Web page: ""I-CON (Island CONvention) … is a little different. We hold an event that is a celebration of both science and science fiction. We also have guests ranging from well-known authors and science fiction television actors to book cover illustrators and scientists. Run by unpaid volunteers for fun, not profit, I-CON is equal parts festival and conference. Our goal is to educate as well as entertain and we believe that variety is the key to doing both."

Funny, that's the goal of SFRevu too.

Icon is also the home Con for Infinite Possibilities, a 1/2 hour Science Fiction show airing throughout Long Island and NYC. Hosted by Blaine Atkins, the show has reviews, interviews, and coverage of SF events. Host Blaine Atkins and SFRevu editor are discussing a regular SFRevu feature on the show.

Infinite Possibilities:

Cons, Discussion Groups and Appearances:

March 14th - SFABC Meeting Guest: Editor/Writer/Producer Ted Bohus - Horror: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. 8PM Upper Saddle River Methodist Church, (or call 201 447-3652) Note: this is the modern church across the street from the normal meeting place in the Cultural Center.

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 Brook, New York - Guests of Honor: Octavia E. Butler, Donato Giancola (Artist GOH), John & Perdita Boardman (Fan GOH) e-mail: Web:

March 27-29 - Icon - Stony Brook, New York - Icon is a great Con, with a superb mix of media and literary SF.

April 7th: SF Classics Discussion Group - Barnes and Nobles Superstore, Rte 17 South, Paramus, NJ at 8:00pm. Book: RENDEVOUS WITH RAMA by Arthur C. Clarke / Moderator: Carol Smith

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:

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, Maryland

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

Next Month in SFRevu: Among the titles we're considering...

Children of God by Mary Doria Russel / Dragon's Winter by Elizabeth Lynn / Flanders by Patricia Anthony / Manjinn Moon by Denise Vitola / Steeldriver by Don DeBrandt / The Alleluia Files by Sharon Shin / Between The Rivers by Harry Turtledove / Helm by Steven Gould / Outpost by Scott Mackay / 3001 The Final Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke / Star Wars: Rebel Dawn by A.C.Crispin / User Friendly by Spider Robinson / Corrupting Dr. Nice by Johhn Kessel / Slan by A.E. Van Vogt 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:

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