January 1999 Vol. 3.1e
Letter from the Editor: Year In Revu / A Few Words About The Hugo / Contact! Adventures in Fandom - Arisia
SFRevu's contents may be reused with the following conditions: 1) credit SFRevu@aol.com and list our URL: http://members.aol.com/SFRevu 2) contents may not be changed without the permission of the Editor
First Contact:A word from the Editor A Few Words About the Hugo Contact! Adventures in Fandom.
But first, a word from the Editor: The Year in Revu
Looking both ways before crossing the New Year (forwards and backwards), I resolved that 1999 was going to be a landmark year for SFRevu. A year I really put some effort in.
Then I sat down and went over what we did last year. As Frank Boman once said, "My God...It's full of stars..." And here I thought it was just a big black box my life disappeared into.
1998 was an incredible year for SFRevu. A fact friends and pros have been telling me all year, but I've been too focused (or maybe stressed is the better word) to stop and see where we've gotten.
Have you ever gone hiking up the side of a mountain and suddenly come through the tree line to look down for the first time? You climbed that? Wow.
Well, looking over the 3000+ website hits, 12 Interviews, 88 New Titles, 53 paperbacks, 14 RetroReviews, 21 Movies, 23 Videos, 3 Audio, and 1 TV show we covered I have exactly the same feeling. Not to mention our first Worldcon for which we did major photo coverage.
Of course the relationship between quantity and quality is a stormy one at best, but here too external reports made me take a look. Visiting Arisia, the first Con of the year, SFWA Treas.(NESFA VP) Michael Burstein, vowed to nominate us for a Hugo, if only he knew what category we were in. Now that he knows SFRevu is a Fanzine, he should have no problem with that ballot.
(In case you didn't know, if you attended last year's Worldcon, are registered for this year's, or can shell out 45 bucks for a Supporting Membership you too can nominate us for a Fanzine Hugo.)
Nor is Michael alone. SFRevu's brand name recognition keeps increasing, as does our subscriber base and access to the best of each medium we cover, from interviews with Hugo winners to those in Media SF. Speaking of Media - It's nice to see a Nebula award for Best Screenplay at last. Lit SF has an uneasy relationship with Media, as well it should, but not one that can or should be denied.
We like Media. It's not generally as deep as Lit, but it's often more fun, and there's a time and place for each. "Vegetables aren't food, they are what food eats", it said on the bumper ahead of me coming back from Arisia. Well, it seems to me that Media eats SF Lit, full of vitamins and fiber and uneasy green content, and transforms it into meat...usually served as hamburgers, only rarely presented with consummate skill as a medium rare filet be bouef...
SFRevu is an omnivore. We like both, though we try and keep the Media content manageable, lest we clog our arteries. What we like is good SF, tasty SF, and both at the same time if possible. I believe that Media needs Lit for its deep substance, even though it will never resemble it. That's not a bad thing, it's just what is. And 1999 will see some exciting Media SF appear, starting with the new Star Wars Movie, and we intend to be on hand to see it.
Given my food analogy, suddenly the comment I heard at a Star Wars screening makes more sense..."Use the fork, Luce..." Well, bon appetite.
SFRevu's mission remains the same - to find the best of each of SF's worlds and share those discoveries with you. For me, it's both an adventure and something personally important.
So let's take a deep breath, look both ways before crossing and step into the New Year...The Year is dead Long live the Year!
Ernest Lilley, Editor / Publisher SFRevu
A Few Words About The Hugo...
What's a Hugo? (It's a big pointy thing like the one Allen Steele is holding in the picture to the left.) To anyone interested in SF, it's a big deal. The Hugo Award, also known as the Science Fiction Achievement Award, is given annually by the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS). The distinguishing characteristics of the Hugo Award are that it is sponsored by WSFS, administered by the committee of the World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) held that year, and determined by nominations from and a popular vote of the membership of WSFS. In general, a Hugo Award given in a particular year is for work that appeared in the previous calendar year. The Hugo Award was named in honor of Hugo Gernsback, "The Father of Magazine Science Fiction," as he was described in a special award given to him in 1960.
Who votes? Anyone who either attended last year's Worldcon (Bucconeer), or is registered as a member of this year's (Aussiecon Three). Can't afford the $225 Australian for a full membership and the additional plane fare Down Under? You can be a supporting member for $45 Australian (about $25 US) and charge it on your credit card (and avoid figuring out how much that really is, mate, or for Currency Conversion Click Here).
What category does SFRevu fall into?
Fanzine: A generally available
non-professional publication devoted to science fiction, fantasy or related subjects which
has published 4 or more issues, at least one of which appeared in 1998, and which does not
qualify as a semiprozine (12 issues in 1998 alone, available all over the world to
web-browsers - approx. 3000 hits in '98).
Fan Writer: A person whose writing has appeared in fanzines, semiprozines or in generally available electronic media in 1998.
(Anyone who has written for SFRevu should fit the bill. Just to refresh your memories, SFRevu writers for 1998 ... Editor/Publisher/Reviewer: Ernest Lilley / Contributors:Rob Archer, Sarah Braun, Sandra Bruckner, Bob Devney, Paul Giguere, Dave Goldfeder, EJ McClure, Darcy Richardson, Robert Savoye, Steven Sawicki, Asta Sinusas, Tony Tellado and Bruce Wallace.)
Nominations must be postmarked by 23rd March, 1999 and received by 6th April, 1999
Where to get a nomination ballot: http://www.aussiecon3.worldcon.org/a3.html The Ballots are in the Business section.
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Emailing SFRevu@aol.com with "Subscribe" in
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First Contact Focus On SF Bookshelf Media SF Credits & Coming Attractions
Contact: Adventures in Fandom! Arisia '99
The folks at right are watching
"It Came From Outer Space" in Glorious 3D...click here
for more photo coverage of the Con...
It was the first New England Con of the year and a combination of freezing rain and snow followed our intrepid SFRevu crew from NY to Boston in their pursuit of SF's leather laden consters. The drive was the stuff of legend.We plunged into the snow storm with dogged determination and eventually arrived tired but triumphant, and just in time for the parties to begin.
There really was a Con during the day, and I even attended several panels where I learned some important lessons:
1) Everybody's past lives are royalty because the serfs have already moved
to higher life forms. (Robert Sacks)
2) Fans are no longer Slans. (The good news; we can talk about SF at the water cooler. The bad news: but only about Trek, Star Wars, or in extremely progressive companies...B5.)
3) Chainmail Bikinis pinch. (Esther Friezner)
By evening I learned even more important lessons. Like how to make Rocket Fuel, how to keep the elevator from overloading, and where the best party was. (Limeade, lemonade, water, grain alcohol and dry ice. Stir for half an hour. No more than 10 at a time. The Con Chair's party, by invitation only. Of course, I just happened to have a stack of invitations.)
Speaking of parties, the Libertarian Party's Party on Friday night was a blast. It was hosted by Doug Krick, Candidate for Mass. State Rep in 2K for Suffolk District #14 and his fearless campaigners. Politics and SF make strange bedfellows perhaps, but Libertarianism and SF go way back together - see the review of FREE SPACE this issue to see what I mean. Doug's Campaign website can be found at: http://leezard.polytronics.com/krick
The new hotel was nice, with the exception of finicky elevators that overloaded easily then went to the far end of their run to reset. Hotel food continues to be a challenge. Here we met Sunday for the usual buffet brunch, which cost $13.50 a head, mimosa not included.
Arisia is an urban Con, the darker spin-off of Boskone, more Media focused and leatherette clad. Once a year it's fun to sample all that decadence. Next month we'll be swilling drafts at the Tara Framingham and talking books at Boskone. Still, it was fun measuring Gwen's stiletto heels. I don't think I've ever actually seen 6 inch spikes before.
First Contact Focus On SF Bookshelf
Media SF Credits & Coming Attractions
The Year in Review - 1998
SF Novels in 1998 / B5: The Last Best Year / Israeli SF Scene
SF Novels in 1998: The Year in Review (or Asteroids, Comets, and Bruce Willis - Oh my!) by Paul Giguere
1998 was definitely the year of the SF disaster. Big chunks of rock, "the size of Texas" no less, seemed to draw crowds to the box office so they can prepare themselves for 1999 in what will surely be the year of the new millennium. Of course if you try to explain to a millenniumalist (a person who not only believes that the world will end on January 1st, 2000 but is looking forward to it.) that the new millennium doesn't actually begin until January 1st, 2001, they will stare at you in a seizure-like trance whereby one pupil will dilate independently of the other. When they snap out of it, they will seek the nearest television and try to find a re-run of an X-Files episode to assuage their fear that the end isn't really all that near to begin with.
Well on with a discussion of SF novels. The best of novels that I read in 1998 covered quite a range. My personal favorite is THE CENTURION'S EMPIRE by Sean McMullen about a Roman centurion who is frozen in 75 A.D. and then revived throughout history, eventually becoming a living myth for a world hungry for heroes. An excellent novel in many ways and McMullen's ticket to a U.S. market hungry for literate new voices. EARTH MADE OF GLASS by John Barnes is a sequel to A MILLION OPEN DOORS which covers Girault and Margaret, a husband and wife diplomatic team working for the Council of Humanity, where the fate of a world rests in their hands. ROGUE STAR by Michael Flynn is a sequel to FIRE STAR where Mariesa van Huyten continues to push her independent space program with the ulterior motive of setting up an asteroid defense system. Kim Stanley Robinson's ANTARCTICA, a novel of exploration, would have been a front-runner for the 1998 Hugo but it was published in the U.K. in 1997 which means that its eligibility is past. Too bad, this novel really showed that Robinson is indeed one of the best writers in the field. Mary Doria Russell's CHILDREN OF GOD, a sequel to her excellent novel THE SPARROW, brings Emilo Sandoz back to Rakhat to face his old fears and some ghosts. Although not as good as THE SPARROW, CHILDREN OF GOD definitely shows Russell to be a writer of great talents. DISTRACTION by Bruce Sterling is a near-future novel where even economics and politics can be made into an SF theme. DISTRACTION is Sterling's best novel to date. DARWINIA by Robert Charles Wilson was the strangest but also the most interesting novel of last year mostly because reading it you know that it is a great novel but you can't drop it into a neat little SF label (reason enough to read it).
My top five picks for the Hugo awards for 1998 are:
THE CENTURION'S EMPIRE by Sean McMullen, EARTH MADE OF GLASS by John Barnes, DARWINIA by Robert Charles Wilson, CHILDREN OF GOD by Mary Doria Russell, and DISTRACTION by Bruce Sterling
Although there were several disaster novels published last year, I only read three books that although good, really weren't of award-winning quality. Stephen Baxter depressed us again with MOONSEED, an unusual disaster novel that actually doesn't involve comets or asteroids but rather a planetary meltdown caused by a kind of virus that causes Earth's rock to dissolve. Charles Sheffield's AFTERMATH is really the story of what happens after a disaster; in this case Earth loses all electrical power due to a bombardment of gamma radiation. Jack McDevitt's MOONFALL came closest to the disaster movies of last year with an asteroid colliding with the Moon causing large chunks to fall to Earth. Highly unlikely and at times outrageous, but still fun.
Other novels worth mentioning are Kage Baker's debut novel IN THE GARDEN OF IDEN which is a SF-romance about a time-travelling cyborg (great fun). Lois McMaster Bujold gave us KOMARR, a new novel in the Miles Vorkosigan saga (which actually pushes the overall plot forward). Alexander Jablokov's DEEPDRIVE brought us to a strange new world in only the way Jablokov can. And John Varley created a new (and notably likeable) character in the thespian actor Sparky Valentine in THE GOLDEN GLOBE. Other good reads from 1998 include:
FACTORING HUMANITY by Robert Sawyer, DEATH OF THE NECROMANCER by Martha Wells, EMPIRE OF THE ANTS by Bernard Werber, TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG by Connie Willis, PLAYING GOD by Sarah Zettel.
Novels that I am most looking forward to in 1999 include:
MANIFOLD: TIME by Stephen Baxter (9/99 - Ballantine/DelRey) , FINITY by John Barnes (3/99 - Tor), TERANESIA by Greg Egan (9/99 - HarperPrism) , SOULS IN THE GREAT MACHINE by Sean McMullen (6/99 - Tor), CRYPTONOMICON by Neal Stephenson (5/99 - Avon/EOS), and A DEEPNESS UPON THE SKY by Vernor Vinge (2/99 - Tor).
Of course the focus for the first part of 1999 will not be end-of-the-world themes but rather we will find ourselves becoming enthralled again in that great Oedipal cum Jung saga known as Star Wars. Obviously, if George Lucas screws this movie up and doesn't deliver to the fans (this one included), you can expect to see his head on a gate spike at the entrance to the 20th Century Fox studios as warning to other legendary directors who would mess with their own legend (not to mention the franchise). The failure of a Star Wars movie could definitely cause the Dow Jones Industrial average to tumble (seeing how everyone and their mother will tied up merchandising their brains out for this movie) causing a world-wide economic panic, wars, famine.... well maybe 1999 will herald the end of the world as we know it.
B5: The Last Best Year by Sandra Bruckner
Well, Babylon 5 has ended and for many ... you missed it! When Babylon 5 moved from whatever network was carrying it to TNT, a number of fans were left out in the cold. Many formed tape clubs so that people could stay in touch with the series they had come to know and love. SFRevu asked me to look back and fill in some of the highlights for the rest, so here goes!
The fifth year of Babylon 5 is probably the hardest to describe. There are a lot of people that have expressed disappointment in it - they felt that the late renewal had caused the story to be hurried and season five was just filler. There are others, however, that felt that season 5 was the best year of the entire series. It definitely had variety!
As season five opened, we see several new characters introduced. First Byron. Many looked upon this new leader of telepaths as a replacement for Marcus, who was killed off during season four. Others were unsure of him at first and then disliked what he did to Lyta. Although their relationship did make her a stronger person - it also made her a bitter one.
Season five also brought us Elizabeth Lochley, the new Captain of Babylon 5. When Claudia Christian chose to leave the series, Tracy Scoggins was cast as the new Captain, a move that resonated with the earlier loss of Jeffrey Sinclair. Like Sinclair's replacement by Sheridan, Lochley ruffled many fans' feathers. Unlike Sheridan, she didn't get a lot of episodes for them to get to know her.
There were some absolutely wonderful segments of season five. Harlan Ellison collaborated with JMS to write "A View from the Gallery" in which we follow two workmen all over Babylon 5 during a battle. This episode gives you the workingman's view of the station in a time of strife, another B5 first!
Whatever people felt about season five, however, certainly changed during the course of the season. The slow start, giving background on the telepaths, led to a state of constant turmoil - either with the telepaths, with the Centauri, the Drakh lie in wait as keepers in Centauri Prime. Garibaldi returns to the bottle and G'Kar ascends to God-hood!
The final few episodes seemed like an elongated Good-bye! In "Objects at Rest", Sheridan and Delenn leave Babylon 5 to set up permanent residence on Minbar. They have formed the Interstellar Alliance and will govern from there. G'Kar and Lyta depart together to escape the station. G'Kar can no longer cope with being a God to the Narn and Lyta is a danger to herself and everyone around her. Her increased telepathic powers have turned everyone from her in fear.
Londo has become Emperor of Centauri Prime - but at a significant price! By the time we get to "Sleeping in Light", filmed at the end of season four but presented at the end of season five, we peer 20 years into the future of the Babylon 5 universe. Sheridan is now at the end of the 20-year life span given to him by Lorien after bringing him back from death at Z'ha'dum. He's now ready to join Lorien and other "first ones" over the Rim. Delenn convinces General Ivanova to take over the Rangers, Franklin is still Earth Alliances' Chief Medical Officer, Garibaldi has children and Edgar Industries is flourishing. As they meet one last time before Sheridan dies, they toast their friendship - and remember those who have departed. It was a truly touching moment.
As JMS makes a cameo to turn out the lights on Babylon 5, we realize that the episode does not provide closure on all the story threads of Babylon 5. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. Who can say that they will not continue in B5 novels or comic books?
What does the future hold for Babylon 5 fans? If you had a chance to see "A Call to Arms" in early January on TNT, you got a brief taste of what Crusade will be like. We only saw two of the main cast members in this TV movie, but I love both Galen (a technomage) and Dureena (a thief). Both are loners - and survivors. The mission of the Excalibur is to find a cure for a plague released on Earth by the Drakh. It has a 5-year gestation period - after which everyone on Earth will die. The premise will provide the means for visiting new worlds, venturing into new realms of the galaxy. There's a new crew, a new ship and a new mission. I think the future looks quite bright and I'm looking forward to seeing Crusade on the tube.
- Sandra Bruckner
Israeli SF Scene by David Chanoch
When David "Didi" Chanoch subscribed recently, I emailed him back to ask the usual questions. How did he find us? What was the local SF scene like on his planet? What did he like? The answers (see his short bio at the end) demonstrated that David is a player in Israeli SF Publishing and Fandom (He works for Opus Press and is Program Coordinator for I-con, their third local annual con. He's not ArmageddonCon in December 2000, Larry Niven GoH., as I originally posted though, that was my error) - Ern
There have been SF Fans in Israel for many years, with a few local clubs in some cities, and a successful SF magazine, Fantasia 2000, which had about three glorious years in the early eighties. Unfortunately, the success of the genre in the early to mid-eighties caused several shady publishing firms to turn their attention to the genre, and in the mid-eighties a large percentage of the genre books published were translated and copy edited very badly. This may have caused a mass exodus of readers to English language books, and drove the genre into a ten-year drought.
During this time, Fandom was largely disorganized. The only group to survive it was The Rehovot SF and Fantasy Club, a local club in a town south of Tel Aviv. I remember taking long bus rides from the north of the country (not a very big country, you know) to my friends in Rehovot, for meetings.
Of Israel's first two SF lines - Am Oved's, edited by Dorit Landes and Masada's, edited by Amos Geffen - and the half dozen or more that followed them, only Am Oved, one of Israel's biggest publishers, has been translating SF and Fantasy steadily since 1976. And while I don't agree with their selections in recent years, both the company and the editor, Dorit Landes, must be applauded for sheer longevity.
The one big success of the genre during the Bad Years was a company called Mizuv, which published an excellent translation of The DragonLance Chronicles, and sold many, many copies. They then proceeded to translate many other books (including DL Legends) but the translation and copy editing deteriorated, and the book selection was often strange. The Israeli TSR took a very similar path to the original, and crashed in 1996.
In the Nineties, the cycle began a slow upswing. In 1993, Opus Press published ENDER'S GAME. It had a bad rendering of the friggin' Enterprise on the cover, but it was a beginning.
In mid 1995 The Israeli Society for Science Fiction and Fantasy was launched, and the genre started on a gentle comeback. The ISSFF has been organizing monthly lectures on science and Science Fiction issues in the Tel Aviv City library, occasional film screenings, and two Cons annually.
On the publishing side of things, the early nineties saw Maariv Library and Kineret, two medium size publishers, start short lived SF series. Maariv terminated their series after a retched selection of books (I myself translated two horrible novels and one mediocre) and a crime-against-mankind translation of Gibson's NEUROMANCER which garnered terrible press. Kineret seem to have transformed their series in to the Pratchett's DiscWorld series, a great idea in theory, except the fact that they specialize in without-the-jokes translations.
Keter Press, another big publisher has translated quite a few SF novels from the late seventies to the early nineties. They came to a near stop in 1997, when Emanuel Lottem, Israel's senior SF and Fantasy translator, and Chairman of ISSF&F, moved to Zmora Bitan's SF and Fantasy Series.
1997 also saw Astrolog, a small New Age publisher, start publishing SF and Fantasy. It is unclear as of yet if they are to be numbered among the angels or not, however, as they have made some sad mistakes, such as spelling L. Sprague De Camp's name as "Spragoo De Camp", on the cover.
In January 1998, I talked my way into becoming Opus Press' first SF and Fantasy Editor. In the four years prior, books had been selected by the publisher, based on recommendations from fans and from book agents.
This system has had its successes, such as the Ender series, but some selections, a few of the translators, and the look of many books were below par and kept sales down. For instance, Opus is the Israeli publisher of Eddings' Belgariad and Mallorean series (including prequels) as well as Jordan's Wheel of Time. Neither author has ever graced the local best seller lists. None has come close.
In late 1997, after getting the DragonLance franchise, Opus published its first DL book, DRAGONS OF SUMMER FLAME in which the word "elf" was translated as "shed" which translates back as "demon". The outcry and backlash were a big part in the decision that someone was needed to make sure that never ever happens again.
Enter myself. With over a year's worth of books in system, with the DL franchise, with the WHEEL OF TIME and SHANNARA and such others already in the pipeline. But also with Gaiman's NEVERWHERE and KSR's RED MARS and others. After a year as Editor without a single book of my own selection getting published, the first one, David Brin's STARTIDE RISING is waiting for pagination. In February it'll be on the shelves.
That's the present, and it's not bad, but the future looks pretty damn good, both for Opus Press and for Fandom. As you may have heard, and if you haven't, pass the word around, we'll be hosting a big international con called ArmageddonCon in December 2000, culminating in an End of the World Ball on Megido Mound on December 31. If the world ends with the millennium, we'll be there, if not, we'll have a good time celebrating our survival. Larry Niven is already confirmed as a GoH.
I have equally ambitious plans for Opus. I believe many Israelis would love to come back to SF and F, and I intend to give them the opportunity. David Brin, Dan Simmons, Mary Doria Russel, Kim Stanley Robinson, Jonathan Lethem, Tim Powers, Guy Gavriel Kay, Sean Stewart, Maureen F. McHugh, Orson Scott Card and others have written great novels in the last fifteen years, and have been largely ignored by my past and present colleagues. I also intend to translate short fiction, classic stuff by the likes of Dick and Ellison, as well as current material. I intend to select one of the yearly "best of " anthologies and publish it yearly. I'll be starting with the Legends Fantasy anthology, which I believe will encourage my publisher to agree with me that short fiction is a Very Good Thing.
-- David "Didi" Chanoch
About David "Didi" Chanoch:
At age 27, David "Didi" Chanoch (In Israel, Didi is a guy's name. Really.) has been a professional translator and writer for six years. A lifelong fan of SF & Fantasy, he's had the opportunity to translate some of the worst SF ever published in Israel.
However, after five years in the trenches, Chanoch fast talked his way to a job at Opus Press, publisher of about half of the SF & Fantasy currently being published in Israel. He also managed to get elected to the committee of The Israeli Society for Science Fiction and Fantasy, and is heading programming for the next annual Con.
You can find Opus Press at www.opus.co.il, and the ISSF&F site at www.actcom.co.il/~ny/
First Contact Focus On SF Bookshelf Media SF Credits & Coming Attractions
New Titles Now in Paperback
New Titles: Mission Child by Maureen F.McHugh Radiant Seas by Catherine Asaro Moonlight and Vines by Charles de Lint Stardust by Neil Gaiman Apocalypse Troll by David Weber The Last Dragonlord by Joanne Bertin Beyond the Pale by Mark Anthony Two Tiny Claws by Brett Davis
Non-Fiction: Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam, Jr.
Mission Child by Maureen F.McHugh
ISBN:0-380-97456-8 / Avon/EOS, Dec'98, Hardcover,385 pgs. / Review by Ernest Lilley
Summary: A world colonized by simple Asian and Indian clans and tribes struggles to adjust to the arrival of offworlders - the first visitors from Earth in hundreds of years. A richly constructed world of cultures from bush to city seen through the eyes of Janna, a girl whose kin are killed at the beginning of the book and who adopts the appearance of a boy for protection and moves beyond simple definitions of gender. Reminiscent of Ursula LeGuin and Gwyneth Jones, well crafted sociological SF with no shortage of insights on culture and gender.
Review: Offworlders always bring harm.
At the Hamra Mission offworlders are teaching a different way. "To teach us to use the precepts of the appropriate technology movement to protect us against the inevitable devastation that comes when technology comes in contact with our culture."
"But what does that mean, child?" she said, although she didn't really expect me to answer.
But I did. "If offworld things come, we will want them, and soon we will have no renndeer and we will be poor. But if we can learn to do things our own way " I did not know how to explain what would happen if we could do things our own way. "It would be good, " I finished lamely.
Janna is a girl not yet ready to be a woman, living in mission village where life is simple, and the mission people like simplicity. When the Teske clan's runners come for the whiskey they make, all bachelors with no family and less sense, violence erupts and her clan is all but wiped out.
Janna leaves with her boyfriend Aslak, to find kin to take them in, along the way becoming pregnant and in the simple way of things accepting him as husband. But violence continues to spread through the bush, and war destroys what little of her clan survives. When killing cold comes, Janna survives what would kill others, partly through luck, partly because of biotreatments the missionaires gave her. "Death spits me out", Janna explains, developing an early and apt fatalism.
In the spring she wakes and takes the clothes of a dead man she finds. Slight of build, she is mistaken for a boy when she comes to the refugee camp, and understanding that without kin, alone, a woman is more vulnerable than a boy, she accepts this role. At the camp she begins to explore, indifferently, the teachings of an old Shaman, who sees through her disguise and into her true self.
Now Jan, she moves through the different worlds from bush to city and back again as neither boy nor girl, but just Jan. From the offworlders she learns English and technological skills, from her own people she learns the spirit way, but she is always a foreigner wherever she goes. Jan is an outsider to all the people she encounters, taken in and but never accepted. Neither clan kin nor offworlder, man or woman, and yet all those at the same time. Even death does not want her.
The world seen through Jan's eyes is an immediate place, without future tense, living the day to day existence of those whose existence is marked by the change of seasons or for whom the future has never held promise, only ashes. Despite this, it is not a bitter world, only the one that is.
The deserved and inevitable comparison is that Maureen F. McHugh's voice is strongly reminiscent of Ursula LeGuin, with her story of Jan's uncertain walk through cultures and genders. Likewise it reminds me of Gwyneth Jones brilliant White Queen trilogy in which a culture beyond determined gender comes to Earth. Fortunately the author's talent is of their caliber as well.
The world on which the story takes place is extraordinarily realized, not so much for its planetary mechanics, or its biosphere, but for the mixes and clashes of culture. The basic premise is not altogether new, a colony world in the throes of reconnections with Earth. The cultures that settled it are the unexpected twist - not the technological west, but the clans and tribes of Asia and India. The offworlders who come to reestablish contact over the vast interstellar distances are technological Europeans and the clash of cultures to ensue has been seen on our own world time and again.
MISSION CHILD is a tremendous book, written in a voice that allows us to see the world through eyes at once human and alien, naive and wise, male and female.
The Radiant Seas by Catherine Asaro
ISBN: 0-312-86714X / Tor Hrdcvr Nov '98 / 416 pgs, Review by Paul Giguere
Catherine Asaro's fourth novel in her Skolian Empire saga is actually a sequel to her first novel which launched the series, PRIMARY INVERSION. Sauscony Valordia, an elite fighter pilot called a Jaguarnaut, is heir to the interstellar Skolian Empire which is at odds with the Trader Empire. Some Skolians have psychic abilities that are highly desired. Those families who have a predisposition towards psychic abilities rank very high in the Skolian Empire. The rulers of the Traders, the High Aristos, on the other hand have a limited psychic ability which allows them to achieve sexual satisfaction by inflicting pain on others. The reason for the animosity between these two civilizations is obvious, Traders desire psychics for their sexual needs and Skolians fit the bill nicely.
Sauscony's family are among the most powerful psychics in the Empire and are thus the seat of power. In PRIMARY INVERSION, Sauscony meets Jaibriol who is the heir to the throne of the Trader Empire. What follows is a forbidden romance reminiscent of ROMEO AND JULIET (with great space battles, plenty of action, and great hard Science Fiction). Eventually Jaibriol, now secretly married to Sauscony, winds up in the hands of the Skoilans and Sauscony must find a way out for both of them.
RADIANT SEAS picks up where PRIMARY INVERSION left off. Sauscony and Jaibriol fake an escape from the Skolians whereby both of them are supposedly killed. They make their way to an deserted planet and begin to make a life for themselves, and eventually their children, away from the politics and war which eventually erupts between the two empires.
Eventually however, Sauscony is forced confront her heritage when Jaibriol is captured by his own people and forced to be their ruler. With both empires of the brink of total destruction, Sauscony leads an invading armada of ships into Trader space with the hopes of rescuing Jaibriol from his own people. The potential for a new empire to emerge from all of this rests on the shoulders of Sauscony and Jaibriol's son.
RADIANT SEAS helps to fill in the ambitious time line that Asaro has created for the Skolian Saga but it lacks some of the uniqueness that is present in her other novels mostly because RADIANT SEAS is a sequel and doesn't stand alone as well as it should. With that minor complaint aside, RADIANT SEAS is a great addition to the Skolian Saga. Coupled with Asaro's great storytelling skills, the combination of Hard SF, Action and Romance help make this series appeal to a wide audience. The revised time line indicates that at least two more novels are due out in the future which will enhance and enrich this exciting world and I eagerly look forward to them.
Moonlight and Vines by
Charles de Lint
ISBN: 0-312-86518-X / Tor, Hardcover, 384pgs, Jan-99 / Review by EJ McClure
The juxtaposition of gritty realism and romantic fantasy are familiar trademarks of de Lint's unique style. The bohemian world of junkies, hookers, drifters and artists in the fictitious city of Newford co-exists with a strange, dangerous and wonderful otherworld peopled by Native American folktales come to life, a visitation from Pan, and an assortment of ghosts, vampires and dwarfs. As one of the characters says, "Mystery connects us to what lies behind the obvious, to what perhaps, is the obvious, only seen from another, or better-informed, perspective." In other words, magic is all about perception.
Each of the stories in MOONLIGHT AND VINES is a variation on that theme. In "My Life as a Bird," Mona, struggling to launch a new comic strip after her boyfriend walks out on her, gives two dollars to a grumpy, bad-mannered little man she takes for one of Newford's street people. Until he disappears before her very eyes. "Wild Horses Running" recounts the tale of a fortuneteller who uses a magical deck of cards to find a young woman's brother who is dying of AIDS in a hospice, waiting for his spirit to be set free to chase the dream horses of the spiritland. "The Pennymen" is a lighter take on life. Reaching down to pick up a penny, Eliza is startled when the coin transforms into a tiny man and scoots away between the cracks in the floor. Her best friend is forced to choose between daring to believe Eliza, and retreating into the safe and lonely world she created during a childhood tyrannized by a schizophrenic mother. As varied as the settings and characters are, in each of the stories someone experiences a shift in perception as their eyes are opened by a magical encounter.
Only two of the 21 short stories in de Lint's latest book are original to this Urban Fantasy collection, but most of the previous printings were limited edition chapbooks or small press magazines, so this is a fine opportunity to sample some rare goodies. De Lint is a compassionate writer, his vision of the world a cotton-candy flavor of New Age mysticism seasoned by a keen understanding of the needs and fears that drive people together, and apart. If you are a fan of his work, you will be pleased to meet Jilly and other familiar characters from earlier books. If you haven't read anything by de Lint before, this will be a delightful introduction.
Stardust by Neil
ISBN: 0-380-97728-0 / Spike, Hardcover, Feb-99 / 256 pages, $22 US/ Review by EJ McClure
STARDUST is a delightful fairy tale reminiscent of Tolkien's shorter works, FARMER GILES OF HAM or SMITH OF WOOTTON MAJOR. The premise is deceptively simple: a young man promises the girl he loves a falling star. Not merely any falling star, but the one that just fell to the east as they looked up at the autumn sky. She, disdaining him yet amused by his presumption, agrees to give him anything he desires if he returns with the star. So young Tristran Thorn sets off eastward, through the gap in the wall that separates his quaint Victorian village from a strange land in which dreams can come true and nightmares take shape in the waking world.
Neil Gaiman has written numerous graphic novels. One can easily imagine him sketching out the storyboard for STARDUST as Tristran is swept from one adventure to the next, buoyed up by his sturdy good humor and innate optimism. The land beyond the wall is peopled with witches both wise and wicked, talking birds, fratricidal princes and unicorns. Gaiman has captured the essential mythic quality of fairytale characters. Nothing is what it seems, and every encounter is fraught with possibilities. The hairy little peddler who speaks in nonsensical riddles eventually gives Tristran the the means to achieve his quest. The poor old woman sheltering in a twig hut has power over princes. Simple acts of kindness are more potent than clever schemes.
The prose is crisp and lucid, the dialog refreshing and witty. Though STARDUST is short on introspective passages, I felt I came to know the characters well through their choices and actions. Gaiman's imagination soars from the sublime to the unexpectedly earthy as Tristran's fate tangles with that of kings and commoners. In the end, Tristran discovers that his heart's desire has a very different shape from the one he expected. The closing chapter neatly ties up all loose ends, as a fairy tale should, but it can't be said that they all lived happily ever after.
Apocalypse Troll by
ISBN 0-671-57782-4 / Baen Hrdcvr Jan '99 / 311pgs $22 US / Review by Ernest Lilley
When a UFO dogfight erupts over the South Atlantic the US Navy scrambles to intercept the incoming hypersonic warcraft and gets caught in nuclear crossfire. So the Navy throws everything they have at the hypersonic interlopers. Our weapons may be slow and weak by the standards of interstellar warfare, but contempt proves costly to the alien invader and our guided missile Navy lands some telling hits.
Things start to get really interesting when Captain Richard Anson, US Navy, almost Ret., pulls one of the two survivors of the UFO conflict from its survival pod. Richard has seen a few things in his day, and read enough SF to imagine more, but the sight of an attractive, if wounded, human female in a downed spaceship that had just lost a nuclear engagement is enough to set him back a bit. Its turns out she's part human, part alien symbiote, and not (as the saying goes) from around here, or even from around now. Fortunately for Richard, she's friendly. Very friendly.
And she won't be born for another 400 years.
Eighty seven years from today, when the Kanga first meet humans, they try to do what they always do to other races, wipe them out off the face of the galaxy. Mankind, much to their surprise, has other ideas. Several hundred years later finds the Kanga on the run and Mankind closing in for the kill.
The TNS Defender, flagship of a tired battle group heading Earthward for repairs, sights a Kanga battlegroup going in the same direction, but using a dimensional space vector that would send them back in time. A costly stern chase ensues as the fleets wear each other down, trading ship for ship they fight all the way down to the surface of Earth, today's Earth. An Earth that the Kanga fleet has been sent to destroy.
To help even the odds against humanity, the Kanga had genetically altered captured humans, linked them to alien war machines and burned hatred into their bio and cyber brains. We call them Trolls. After the encounter over the Atlantic, one Troll and one human survive. The Troll is freed from his cyber-slavery to his alien masters, but that doesn't make him a nice guy.
The story's not bad, but it falls short of Weber's usual Space Operatics. I'd have liked him to pace things a bit, winding up with more than one big battle after the Earth forces hunt down the Troll's lair. You knew there'd be a battle between the alien survivors. What you didn't know was that the Troll would mount an army of every hate filled human he could reach his telepathic powers out to.
It's a little Tom Clancy, a little Tom Cool (SECRET REALMS, SFRevu 2.6), and a bit of Robert Doherty (AREA 51, SFRevu 1.5). It's a pretty good read on the edge of SF, and it kept me up late to find out how everything turns out, but for David Weber it's only fair. True, having elevated Honor Harrington to sainthood he needs to find a new worlds to conquer, but APOCALYPSE TROLL doesn't quite fill those boots.
The Last Dragonlord by
ISBN: 0-312-86429-9 / Tor, Hardcover, Dec'98 / Review by Rob Archer
If you want a whole new perspective on dragons, look no further than THE LAST DRAGONLORD by Joanne Bertin. She starts with the usual portrayals then presents them in a new and refreshing light. Dragons (or at least DragonLords) are not all - knowing, all powerful creatures to her, but a blend of power, magic, and integrity. Perhaps she is able to accomplish this due to the fact that these are "weredragons" as opposed to "truedragons". Nevertheless, it is nice to be able to really feel their personalities come through the story. Gone is the overwhelming awe of the dragons, but it is replaced with a caring and respect for them.
The main character is a Dragonlord named Linden Rathan, known as the "Last Dragonlord" since there have been no others since he first changed over six hundred years before. The reader comes to realize that while he is not perfect, he is the perfect hero - flawed in some ways and pure in others. There is a large cast of characters, and Bertin does a good job of meshing them all into the story. Perhaps the best aspect of this tale is the way she introduces individuals and explains situations without using tedious detail. She does a wonderful job of setting up the events happening in the book through dropping little bits of background information. There is no set out explanation of how the Dragonlords function, it is revealed over the course of the story.
THE LAST DRAGONLORD contains a little bit of everything, blending together for a first rate story. There is good vs.evil, royal intrigue, black magic, murder, friendship, loyalty, romance, and of course . Dragons. The Dragonlords themselves present an interesting dichotomy of wisdom and honor, and pure rage and power. They are opposed by the "Fraternity of Blood". Those making up the dark forces in the story range from merely malevolent to pure evil incarnate. While there is no question who the "bad guys" are, these characters display an ability to not behave in the prescribed diabolical fashion at all times (though this doesnt come apparent until the second half of the story). I find that this is what helps bring them to life, since they are not robots simply filling the role of foils.
Joanne Bertin has written a very interesting and engaging story. The book is a real page turner and she does a superb job of switching between characters and situations to keep the reader involved. This was one of the better books Ive read recently - pick it up and enjoy!
Beyond the Pale by Mark
ISBN: 0-53-37955-0 / Bantam Spectra,Trade, Nov'98 / Review by EJ McClure
BEYOND THE PALE heralds the debut of yet another Fantasy series in which ordinary people from our world are magically whisked to another land to face daunting perils and villeins, a formula familiar to readers of Stephen Donaldson, C.S. Lewis and Barbara Hambly, among others. BEYOND THE PALE introduces us to Travis Wilder, an easy-going Colorado saloon keeper, and Grace Beckett, a single-minded ER resident at a Denver hospital. After the dark magic of Eldh breaks through the boundaries between worlds and takes his only real friend, Travis is left with a mysterious iron box and a fierce determination to survive. Grace's crossing is more traumatic. She is a superb doctor, utterly possessed by the need to make a positive difference in the world that treated her so cruelly in childhood. But the grim carnage wrecked by a man she already pronounced dead exposes her to a shadowy conspiracy that forces her to flee for her life.
Once in Eldh, Grace is rescued by a knight, mistaken for a princess and employed as a spy by the wily King Boreas. Who wouldn't prefer that to the grueling routine of medical residency? Like Grace, Travis is a loner without much to lose, and soon decides that traveling in company with Falken the bard, brave Sir Beltan and the powerful sorceress Melia is more interesting than pulling pints. Especially once he discovers he has a talent for the magic of runespeaking.
Mark Anthony takes great pains to describe the routine of travel and living in medieval Eldh in detail. If you ever dreamed of being a princess in a castle, this is your chance to find out the drawbacks of life beyond the drawbridge. Though I found most of the supporting characters likeable, or at least amusing, the political intrigue of King Boreas' court was convoluted, and not entirely believable. But once Travis and Grace meet and begin to put together clues about the magical conspiracy that threatens their new friends, the pace picks up and we get to enjoy some fine sorcery and swordplay. To be continued in Book Two, THE KEEP OF FIRE.
Tiny Claws by Brett Davis
ISBN: 0-671-57785-9 / Baen, Paperback, Jan'99 / Review by Asta Sinusas
Preparing for a fossil hunting expedition out west Barnum Brown, the famous paleontologist, is beset by a woman with a strange tale. It seems she was on a dig in the same area of Montana 31 years ago and ran into some aliens that wanted the bones they were excavating. Brown listens, but ignores her assertion that history might repeat itself. Alas, as we all know, those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it.
Apparently, dinosaurs were part of a little genetic fun the aliens had on a tiny backward planet a few million years ago. However, they want to gain admission to the intergalactic council. In order to be considered, they have to clean up some of their old messes. It gets better. The aliens are having problems. Two of the crew are impostors. The spies are actually lizards that believe that they are descended from the dinosaurs on Earth. They have a religion that dictates when all the bones of all their ancestors are together, they will be able to vanquish their enemies (including the Swedes). The skeleton Brown is excavating is the same one that the Swedes and the lizards want. Unfortunately, a T Rex can't be split three ways...
What makes the book sparkle are little one liners that seem to creep into the text and make it as surprising as finding a gold vein in them thar hills. For example, "Oh, just here with an archaeological team from outer space. Botched the job thirty one years ago and had to come back, you know." or "What will you say? Please, sir, You're walking over our spaceship and we would like for you to stop?" There are also enough plot developments that twist and turn to make roller coasters envious and amusement park owners rethink their expected attendance. TWO TINY CLAWS is actually the sequel to BONE WARS, by the same author. However, Davis has decided to not be tedious and the first book is not required reading.
Even though there are so many elements, the book does not suffer from excess. The only problem I had was with the exposition of the character Barnum Brown. His status as a recent widower is mentioned, and in fact gives him the edge over the alien competition because the loss of his wife makes him that much more determined to get the bones. Davis mentions the emotions only briefly, instead of coloring Barnum's personality and explicitly mentioning how his feelings are dictating his actions. Despite this I found TWO LITTLE CLAWS delightful reading and urge you to consider picking it up on the way back from your next trip to the the dinosaur exhibit.
Boys - A Memoir by Homer H. Hickam, Jr.
ISBN: 0-385-33320-x / Delacorte Press, Hardcover,368pgs , Oct-98 / Review by Ernest Lilley
No sooner did I finish this review when the trailer for the movie came out. http://www.universalpictures.com/octobersky. "OCTOBER SKY", which gets its name from the October Sputnik launch at the beginning of the book, looks like a faithful adaptation. As this review indicates, that means I'm looking forward to it.
Synopsis: When Sputnik is launched by the Russians in 1957, Homer Hickam and his friends decide to build rockets and become part of America's space efforts. Set against the backdrop of a West Virginia coal town where the local passion is for football not science, the story is an insightful drama of growing up, overcoming obstacles, and seizing opportunities. The story is real and the rocket launches punctuate Homer's adolescence with exclamation points. Note: This book is about the early days of amateur rocketry, and though the author and his friends managed to keep all their fingers and toes, they were both careful and lucky.
Review: Why am I reviewing this if it's not SF? Because it's the real life counterpart to ROCKET SHIP GALILEO, Heinlein's classic Juvenile in which a group of teenagers team up with a Rocket Scientist and build a rocket to the Moon in his backyard. Because life can be more interesting than fiction, and in ROCKET BOYS it is.
Sputnik launched in 1957, when I was three years old. I remember much of the early space program, but unlike the author of ROCKET BOYS, that one passed me by. Like many Americans old enough to note its passing, but to a degree only a few would be touched, Homer Hickam, Jr.'s world changed the morning his mother dragged him out of bed to explain what the electronic beeps on the radio meant.
Homer was equal to the task of explaining, because at the age of 14 he had already consumed Tom Swift, Jules Verne, Clarke, Bradbury, and Heinlein. OK, quick SF quiz: After you consumed those authors, or their contemporary equivalents (let's not quibble) what did you go out and build? Homer and his friends build rockets.
Homer was named after his father. His mother did it, the author speculates, to make a point. Since he already had a football hero for a son, Homer Sr. wanted a daughter. Instead, he got Homer Jr. Not a major geek by today's standards, but enough to be trod upon by jocks. Until Sputnik, a school moratorium on football, and the death of the coal industry.
In a very real way Homer and his friends are building rockets in a desperate attempt to flee a dying world. It's not a world in the path of an asteroid, but it's going to be destroyed just as surely. Coalville is a progressive, coal town, run by a benevolent mining company. The only problem is that the coal is going to run out and alternatives are going to replace it. Homer doesn't quite realize it, but he's involved in a lot more than launching steel pipes heavenwards.
Though I was raised thousands of miles away just outside NYC, and almost a decade later, in Homer's recollections of his youth and his love for rockets I see my younger self very clearly. When I was 14, there were Estes rocket engines, safely manufactured and sold in hobby shops, designed to push paper tubes hundreds of feet into the air in total safety. Before that, when I was 10, I found a book in the Hayden Planetarium gift shop on model rocketry and took it home to read in rapt fascination. This was the book Homer and his friends needed. Perhaps it was the result of their work. Its title may have been A HANDBOOK OF MODEL ROCKETRY, but I'm not sure. I remember my astonishment that such a book would be allowed into my hands, because it was about steel tubes and rocket nozzles, about solid fuels and hand loading rockets, and concrete blockhouses. Incredibly dangerous stuff by today's standards, but exactly the stuff Rocket Boys were made of. And I wanted to be a Rocket Boy.
I never made a steel tube rocket, mostly I listened to the wisdom of my elders, though a few of my experiments left marks that my old neighborhood still bear. But between 1957 and 1960, Homer, the leader, Quentin, the brain, and a handful of friends went from blowing up a rose garden fence to launching a rocket that soared miles above the Earth.
I've read a lot of Science Fiction, and gnashed my teeth at the artifice of characters who could master any subject through their incredible brainpower. No, not so much today's SF, but back in the golden age. ROCKET BOYS is full of real teens who made themselves rise above the poverty of the environment and the seduction of not asking too much of themselves to achieve their dreams. Who demanded of themselves that they learn machining, trigonometry, and calculus in order to design and construct a rocket that would fly the way they planned. They had some breaks too, but it's what you do with the breaks that count.
It's a true story I was unable to put down (I kid you not.) It's about geeks and jocks, coal miners, unions and the death of an industry, losing your heart, and finding your dreams. I strongly recommend this book for everyone who has dreamed of joining the scientists pushing the edge of technology, whether it's outerspace or webspace - read ROCKET BOYS, then pick your own dream.
Here's to all the Rocket Boys. To everyone who has tried to make their dreams into reality.
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Now in Paperback/Trade: Free Space by Brad Linaweaver & Edward E. Kramer, Eds.
Free Space by Brad Linaweaver & Edward E. Kramer, Eds.
ISBN: 0-312-86720-4 / Tor, Trade, Dec-98 (orig.pub. Jul-97) / Review by Ernest Lilley
There are as many kinds of freedom as there are stories in this anthology of Libertarian SF futures.
FREE SPACE is a collection of tales set over a 300 year span in a common universe where three human factions have formed as the conquest of space progressed. A conquest made possible at the beginning of the book by the privatization of space flight against the wishes of the government. There is the Federation, consisting of basically planetary civilizations devoted to the military attainment of peace, the public good, and (looking around so as not to cuss in front of a lady) taxation. Then come the Jeffersonians. Limited governmentalists who set up shop in space habitats that can be as oppressive as the Feds. And finally the Free Spacers - those unshaven, freedom loving, rugged individualists whose lassiez faire lifestyles drive people with a love for running other people's lives, to distraction.
The anthology was assembled by Brad Linaweaver and Edward E. Kramer, and includes stories by some of SF's best and most notable:
In "Tyranny", Poul Anderson tells a tale of humans engaged in desperate revolt against a machine ruled society but the moral may not be the one you expect. Anderson is a natural for collection, and the characters from his early trader/explorer stories, notably Nicholas Van Rijn, would have fit right in.
"Demokratus", likewise is a cheerful tale brought to you by Victor Koman, who's excellent KINGS OF THE HIGH FRONTIER was reviewed in a recent issue (SFRevu 2.11). It's about a spacer who's had enough freedom and wants nothing more than to live in a dirty gravity well as the willing cog in some government tyranny. His education in the realities of life speak to the core of this collection as he learns about freedom from the most unlikely source.
Robert Sawyer's future gumshoe murder mystery - "The Hand You're Dealt" is one of his best pieces. It's a genuine SF murder mystery. The only thing he missed was that the gumshoe is supposed to get, or at least lose, the girl. Still, well, there are some useful insights into what it means to really know yourself.
Twenty very eclectic stories. More brand name authors, more rising stars than I can make space for. It's a thought provoking collection where the technology being examined is that of government, or the lack thereof. The strongest aspect of FREE SPACE is that the diversity of authors guarantees that no one view holds sway and the weaknesses of each is happy prodded.
Each of these groups have their own proponents in SF Lit, but the great utility of this anthology is to watch them clash in the twenty stories by a remarkable assemblage of SF's best. Whether you think Robert Heinlein was a saint, devil, or crotchety old man, whether you're a devoted fan of Trek or think Barney is a Federation plot there is something here for everyone. The pursuit of liberty, it turns out, is not only conducted by unshaven ruffians mining asteroids as far from civilized folks as one can get. It can take place anywhere people are willing to think for themselves.
Ironically, I'm writing this driving south to the Kennedy Space Center, the shrine of space exploration as a government only enterprise. I don't mind if the government wants to build the highway, but it's about time they let the taxpayers ride on it or let us do our own off-roading to the stars.
Previously Reviewed in SFRevu
SFRevu's recommended reissues. Recently published in trade or paperback editions, reviewed in Sfrevu as new releases:
To Say Nothing Of The Dog - Connie Willis Bantam paperbk Dec '98 / SFRevu 1.6 Circuit of Heaven - Dennis Danvers Avon/EOS paperbk Jan '99 / SFRevu 2.2 Phoenix Café - Gwyneth Jones Tor Trade Jan '99 / SFRevu 2.2 Maximum Light - Nancy Kress Tor paperbk Jan '99 / SFRevu 2.1
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SFRevu Goes to the Movies: Virus Video: Sawicki's Picks
Virus Universal Pictures
Cast: "Kit" Foster (Jamie Lee Curtis), Steve Baker (William Baldwin), Captain Everton (Donald Sutherland), Nadia (Joanna Pacula), Richie (Sherman Augustus)
Directed By: John Bruno
Looking out the window of MIR, the Russian space station, astronauts see a blue cloud of energy sweeping towards them. Too bad they don't have shields, cause seconds later the alien energy life form in the cloud is surging through the Comm system in brilliant bolts of high energy, and downlinking itself towards the Russian research vessel Volkov and Earth's communication networks.
A week later, the Sea Star, a sinking sea tug hiding in the eye of a Force 5 hurricane, comes upon the empty research vessel adrift in the calm. To Donald Sutherland and his crew it's more than just a ship that's not sinking...it's 3 million bucks salvage for each.
Early in the movie, we see Donald Sutherland contemplating suicide, thoughtfully sucking on a revolver. One can almost hear his thoughts..."If the scriptwriter lets me kill myself in this scene, I'll miss the rest of the movie..." Slowly his finger pulls the trigger towards him. Shoot us too!, I nearly cry out in the theater's darkness. Both our pleas go unanswered. Greed wins out.
It's not really a terrible film...worse, it's just not very good. Plenty of graphic violence. No sex or science to make viewers uncomfortable. The only waste isn't the way the cast gets killed off in a predictable evolution. One wonders why they miscast Jamie Lee Curtis as the crisp and focused first officer. Maybe she just wanted to play Sigourney Weaver. William Baldwin signed on as the Engineer, though he never does anything resembling shipcraft. He doesn't do much at all, except make reluctant eyes at Ms.Curtis.
VIRUS steals liberally from ALIEN, SPHERE, LEVIATHAN, DEMON SEED, RUNAWAY, SATURN FIVE and others. The biomech-robots look like a cross between SHORT CIRCUIT's Johnny Five and the back of a BBQ joint. Does the movie bring anything new to the table to redeem itself? No, it's just a soggy B movie with predictable elements.
My final gripe is the title. Designed to suck money out of the wallets of those who queued up for everything from ANDROMEDA STRAIN to HOT ZONE it has nothing to do with viruses. When we contact the alien intelligence via computer and ask it what it wants, it comes back with a shopping list of human parts, one of the few funny bits in the film. Then it goes on to look up "Man" in the dictionary and decides that Man = Virus, and it should wipe us out. Like, it really needed a reason.
Inoculate yourself against this one by renting any of the films that it was spawned from.
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SFRevu Video Review (by Steve Sawicki)
The New Year brings hope of new and better films to watch, quicker releases to video, intelligent (yeah, I know but these are hopes remember?) scripting, plotting and direction, and a more rigid adherence to genre. In the meantime were left with the usual selection facing us from row after row of tapes. What to pick, what to watch, what to ignore, what to throw to the floor and dance on, what to use your cash to vote with. With the beginning of the end of the universe fast approaching--the millennium, remember--weve only got a year--maybe two if you want to get truly technical--to watch all we can. Given the downer nature this year is about to be let me suggest some appropriate videos.
Species II, MGM, Rated R., 93 Min.
Starring Michael (Square jawed and monotoned) Madsen as Press Lenox, Natasha (Biblically dressed) Henstridge as Eve, Marg (smile when you call me Doc) Helgenberger as Dr. Laura Baker, Mykelti (cover me in blood again?) Williamson as Dennis Gamble and George (pop me please) Dzundza as Colonel Carter Burgess Jr., Directed by Peter Medak, Written by Chris Brancato.
Following after the 1995 entry of the aptly named Species, you would think the government would have learned its lesson the first time around, but no, some hotshot must have decided that being brought to the brink of extinction must have been a fluke so they went ahead and made a whole new alien. Using DNA, and isnt it marvelous how anytime we need something recreated we just whip up a batch of DNA, scientist Baker makes a new species alien and names her Eve. The first alien, Syl, if you remember, was quite the goddess of destruction. Eve has been tinkered with. Shes kept in a lab where no men are allowed, at least until the plot requires it and then they get in quite easily. This intrusion sets Eve off and soon shes gallivanting across the countryside, looking for the new alien species which came back with astronaut Gamble after having combined with his DNA. Seems the planet Mars is just rife with the stuff--alien DNA that is. The movie speeds along from nude scene to cheap plot twist to fatal character error until there are few characters left and weve shot enough film for a movie leaving the odd back door for sequels.
Fast paced, incomprehensible logically at times, lots of blood and alien breeding scenes. What more could you expect? Rent it for the shear joy of seeing aliens bite the dust once again.
Phantasm IV: Oblivion, Orion, Rated R., 90 min
Starring Reggie (surprise casting #1) Bannister as Reggie, A. Michael (surprise casting #2) Baldwin as Mike, Bill (grown up but still stupid) Thornbury as Jody (huh?), Angus (angular and grim) Scrimm as The Tall Man, and Heidi (watch me act, strip and die) Leigh II as the naked and dead girl extra, Directed by Don Coscarelli, Written by Don Coscarelli, catered by Coscarellis, wardrobe by Cosacrelli Tall Man shop, Coscarelli appears courtesy of Mr. and Mrs Coscarelli.
The flying balls are back again in this film which depends on cuttings from previous versions as much as it does from new acting. Okay, Im hard pressed to call what these guys do acting but it still fills the time and rolls tape. The original movie and the first two sequels for that matter, really dealt with The Tall Man and his function here on Earth using it as a recruiting station by stealing the dead, shrinking them and making them gnomish little people full of yellow goo. With this video though, the tall man is back again, sort of. Actually hes not up to much at all since this entry is not so much a tall man story as an anthology of trying up loose ends and of showing pretty desert scenery (cheap) while muddling the plot and showing that with enough justification, inaction is indeed, a form of decision making. Everyone runs around with great purpose and in the end there is no ending. The original was creepy, produced on a low budget and fun. This one is stupid, produced on a low budget and not fun. Skip this one and rent the original again.
Dark City, New Line Cinema, 100 min.
Starring Rufus (See me agonize) Sewell as John Murdoch, Keifer (limp and hunch me doc) Sutherland as Dr. Daniel Poe Schreber, Jennifer (who do I play again?) Connelly as Emma Murdoch and Anna, Introducing Richard (next time I want the whole body) OBrien as Mr. Hand, and William (Just the facts) Hurt as Inspector Frank Bumstead. Directed by Alex Proyas, Written by Alex Proyas.
Easily the best genre movie of 1998 and I review it here again because it did not get the notice it deserved. This film was underseen in the theaters and the only way to make it up is for people to rent the video. I refuse to really say anything about the film because any kind of plot summary would give something away and this film is so full of discovery that it would be criminal to do so.
Let me just say that there are images here, ideas here, actions here that will stay with you long after the final frame clicks through. Wonderfully shot, brilliantly acted, incredibly well written and with a story that keeps your mouth hanging open in wonder and amazement. Brilliant film. If you buy only one video this year this should be it. Great acting only enhances the set design and the tone set by Director Proyas. This is what a genre film should look and feel like. Part mystery, part noir, part science fiction, part fantasy, this movie has it all and in just the right amounts. Enough gushing--go and rent.
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Asimov's Science Fiction (Dec 98)
Asimov's Science Fiction (Dec 98), Gardner Dozois, ed / Review by Ernest Lilley
Of the three short stories this issue, the one that shines for me is the Michael and Sean Swanwick collaboration (father and son) "Archaic Planets: Nine excerpts from the Encyclopedia Galactica". Nine delightful short shorts, each clever and intriguing. It's kind of like an entire short story collection in miniature, but having seen this one, I see no need for the expanded version. The stories each tell a future history of the planets some Bradburian, some Asmovian, all indisputably Swanwickian. Mercury worships, Alt.Venus conquers, the Earth is Terraformed by returning colonists, the best and brightest colonize Mars to find the meaning of life, Jupiter lies in wait, Saturn keeps it's secrets for another day, She's one cold bitch Uranus, I mean, Neptune is no place to send a man, and Pluto endures.
There are two novelettes, and again I have a favorite. "Building the Building of the World", by Robert Reed is a gripping adventure in Science Education. Honest. True, it reminds one of every conversation every had with Hal Clement at a Con, but this cautionary tale of the fallibility of reason is chilling in its accuracy. Who will triumph? Bacon or Machiavelli?
The other stories are fairly good. I liked "Down in the Dark" by William Barton, though a shorter treatment would have made it a better story and the editor should absolutely refuse any story that includes another asteroid impact.
James Patrick Kelly's "Fruitcake Theory" could easily have been a tale from the Cross-time Saloon, in fact, elements of it may already have been. As fruitcake goes, it's edible, which is saying a lot for fruitcake.
Tony Daniel contributed "Grist", a novella about, um, Priests and stuff. OK, I bounced off that one pretty hard. I loved Daniel's EARTHLING last year, but "Grist" just wasn't my speed. I guess the religious connection compelled inclusion in the "Holiday Issue".
What I really want to know is how Editor Gardner Dozois manages to get these things out on time, month after month. Or earlier even. I notice that the March issue just arrived on my doorstep. Maybe time travel stories aren't all that farfetched.
Credits (in process)
Cover Art: Azimov's -Bob Eggleton; Beyond the Pale - ; Ender's Game - ; Rocket Boys - Phil Rose; The Apocalypse Troll -Jack Keegan; The Radiant Seas - Julie Bell; The Last Dragonlord - Bob Eggleton; Two Tiny Claws -
Posters/Photos: Arisia photographs by Ernest Lilley; Virus - Univeral Pictures
First Contact Focus On SF Bookshelf Media SF Credits & Coming Attractions
Next Month in SFRevu
Titles we are considering include: Contraband - George Foy Dream; A Little Dream- Piers Anthony and Julie Brady; Engine of Dawn - Paul Cook; Not Exactly the Three Musketeers - xxx; Outward Bound - James Hogan; Termination Node - Lois H. Gresh & Robert Weinberg; Wing Commander -William Forstchen and William H. Keith
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Errata: a) Darwina Author b) Didi is I-Con programmer, not Armageddon c) fixed the link to Contact and added Cris Shuldiner, Con Chair to the Arisia page. d) fixed the time on the 3d pic from 3am to small hours off the morning. e) changed publishing information for The Radiant Seas to Tor from Warner. Rocket Boys author to Hickam, f) corrected Mchael Burstein's title Treas SFWA, VP NESFA