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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Book Briefs: Nina Kiriki Hoffman's Time Travelers, Ghosts, and Other Visitors

Time Travelers, Ghosts, and Other Visitors
Nina Kiriki Hoffman
Gale Group/Five Star

This collection was a finalist for the Endeavour.

"The Skeleton Key" [F&SF] Nominated for a Nebula award, this tale relates teenage girls--Sasha and the narrator--who want to give their lives to a Greek god.

But then the narrator dates Steve, a young man who is a leader of a Satanic cult.  But when she is shackled and slowly killed, the god Hermes arrives:  "I'm sorry I'm late."  She's not quite ready to go, though.  He hands her skeleton key that allows her to unlock the souls of others.  She opens up the souls of her parents and relates what has happened to her.  They reunite with Sasha and find Steve....

The girls in their youth are charmingly sketched:
"We taught ourselves the Greek alphabet to the extent of using it as a replacement code for regular letters, and we wrote each other notes we had trouble decoding."
Another great tale by Hoffman.  Skeleton key and the afterlife interaction with life is pretty cool.  Look for it.

"Objects of Desire" [Alien Pets]   In a world where even kids have credit ratings, everybody at school is getting skewlis, so desires our   narrator even though her family can't afford.  She gets one for her birthday.  Her skewlis, she named Vespa, doesn't quite behave the same.  Vespa puts its paw to her head and says that its an alien, studying humans.  It tries to train the narrator to stop wanting so much.  But is wanting part of who she is?  Would she become less, become a zombie?  This trails off--perhaps because she's in a better place.

Reader’s Guide for "Yesterday Was Monday" by Theodore Sturgeon


Although yesterday was Monday, Harry Wright wakes up, walks to work, and finds out it's Wednesday.  Somehow he's lost a day.  Folks talk of actors and set builders, but Harry just wants to do his job, only a short guy's already doing it.  Harry is actually one of the actors, but he doesn't get it.  "Wednesday isn't a time," they explain; "it's a place."  When Harry asks about Tuesday, they point the direction and their hand disappears.  The play, they say, is for "Ones who may be amused."

The producer  says actors like Harry are "sending requests for better parts. Listening carefully to what I have to say and then ignoring or misinterpreting my advice.  Always asking for just one more chance, and when you get it, messing that up, too."


  1. What are some cliches people say about time?  Which has Sturgeon literalized here?  
  2. List at least two that the story thwarts our expectations of reality.
  3. What about Harry Wright, an ordinary mechanic, makes him right for this experience?
  4. Who might the producer represent?
  5. What might it mean that your life is an amusement for someone else?
  6. What does it mean that Harry has to label himself differently than he's used to?
  7. Harry arrives in his own time/place.  Will everything be the same for him?
  8. Instead of talking about time, what does Harry say towards the end of the story that shows his perspective is skewed?  Why might he have stumbled over his words?
  9. What advantages might there be to reframing how we see the world?

Selected Bibliography (ISFDB):

  1. Unknown Fantasy Fiction, ed. John W. Campbell, Jr.
  2. Masters of Fantasy, ed. Martin Harry Greenberg, Terry Carr
  3. The New Twilight Zone, ed. Martin H. Greenberg
  4. The Mammoth Book of Fantasy, ed. Mike Ashley
  5. The Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century, ed. Harry Turtledove, Martin H. Greenberg
  6. Microcosmic God, ebook

Monday, April 29, 2013

Book Briefs: Nina Kiriki Hoffman's Courting Disasters & Author's Choice

Courting Disasters and Other Strange Affinities 
Nina Kiriki Hoffman
Wildside Press

Collection nominated for a Locus award.

"Compandroid" [Science Fiction Review; Second Science Fiction Megapack] is programmed to help a woman's son, but some of her wipe keeps peeking through.  Moving tale of how an almost-person keeps breaking through, forging her own personality despite wipes and changes people try to make to her.

"Little Once" [Weird Tales; Best of Weird Tales] was the little child of the mother protagonist.  She seems a bit off, trying to kill her child, trying to sell it.  When she does manage to pawn it off, we get the sense that maybe it isn't she that's off but the child itself, but then we learn the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

"Courting Disasters" [Weird Tales; Best of Weird Tales]  Simon has just got out of a car accident.  He lies in a hospital where his girlfriend, to whom he has not been kind.  He has visions of his accident where he sees it from three perspectives: his, his cars and the nearby tree, which not only keep him live, but also possess/haunt him.  He befriends a boy about to lose his life and confronts his old girlfriend.  This is a story of letting go (although Simon hasn't been kind, I'm not sure I understand his reasoning for behaving poorly to begin with nor his renewed spurning--except maybe he's afraid of repeating the past.  Nonetheless, the speculative play is fascinating with a fantastic final line that sums up the tale well:
"Underneath the bandages, he knew there were bones of wood, bones of steel, and safe within, a human heart."

Author’s Choice Monthly Issue 14: Legacy of Fire 
Nina Kiriki Hoffman

"Savage Breasts" [Pulphouse; Best of Pulphouse; Smart Dragons, Foolish Elves]  Formerly flat-chested, the narrator cuts out a comic-book ad from Charlotte Atlas and starts the exercises.  When her boyfriend tries to befriend them, they knock him out.  At work, her breasts interfere with typing, so her boss says it's okay not to work, but she looks pretty these days.  Her boss introduces her to Mr. Weaver, a big account for the company, but of course, when he tries something...  Humorous.  Probably a classic of its kind.

Reader's Guide to Theodore Sturgeon's "The Hurkle is a Happy Beast"

Summary:  Through a mishap in another dimension, an alien pet is sent through a scientific device that lands the creature outside a school room.  The teacher, Stott and students immediately begin to itch, but Stott spots the being and startles it.  When it returns, he's ready with powdered DDT--only things don't go as either the alien or human had planned.

Commentary:  What a heady shot of ingenuity from such a humble title.  This is good for science students as well cultural studies:  What works well on some organisms, does not work the same for all.  Moreover, how a drug works on one human does work the same in another.  Even within a body, drugs can have different effects on different cells.  The same holds true for those moving between different culture--even within cultures.


  1. What was your initial impression of the title?
  2. How does your interpretation of the word "happy" transform over the course of the story?
  3. Contrast how the Lirhtians think to the humans.
  4. Who is narrating the story?  Who did you think was narrating it?\
  5. How does the narrator get into the mind of the other creatures? (or does it?)
  6. What does it mean that both the Lirhtians mistakes turn things toward very different directions?
  7. Knowing that the teacher has forty students under his charge, the students are called "animals", the Moscow is discussed with places on Lirht, and the story begins, "Lirht is either in a different universal plane or in another island galaxy. Perhaps these terms mean the same thing," could the story be interpreted differently?
  8. If you buy #7, what does it mean that the humans scratch themselves?
  9. What does it mean that Stott's actions not only fail but also exacerbate the situation?  Is this not unlike his early overreaction with the ruler?

Selected Bibliography for the story (ISFDB):

  1. The Magazine of Fantasy, Fall 1949, ed. Anthony Boucher, J. Francis McComas
  2. The Best Science-Fiction Stories: 1950, ed. Everett F. Bleiler, T. E. Dikty
  3. The Science Fiction Roll of Honor, ed. Frederik Pohl
  4. The Great Science Fiction Stories Volume 11, 1949, ed. Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg, 
  5. The World Treasury of Science Fiction, ed. David G. Hartwell
  6. The Perfect Host, ebook

Sunday, April 28, 2013

"Gone to Heaven, Shouting" from Nina Kiriki Hoffman's Permeable Borders

Permeable Borders 
Nina Kiriki Hoffman 
Fairwood Press
Originally appeared in F&SF

With "Key Signature", this makes a lovely pair of musical bookend stories about music.  In this, a wandering magician steps into a grange hall to join a musical group with his fiddle and reads their thought-stream through the music.  But when they finish, the narrator hears another faint song and follows it.  It is the ghost of a girl who's singing the song of the title.  One of the ladies of the group, Alma, helps him reach the girl.  When the lady was a child herself, she met the ghost's fleshly self inside a building marked with a green man.  They'd tried to feed but only unintentionally killed her. The narrator calls out this ghost, part of his "family," who is her actual family, and helps to transition her.

"Here We Come A-Wandering" from Nina Kiriki Hoffman's Permeable Borders

Permeable Borders 
Nina Kiriki Hoffman 
Fairwood Press
Originally appeared in F&SF

Like "Home for Christmas" and "Trees Perpetual of Sleep", this story has the same recurring character, Matt Black, who appeared in her novel, A Stir of Bones. 

Matt Black, a female, sees what she thinks is the dream of plants, from the vines of a wall.  But he steps from the wall.  He is the moss man, who has just healed a cemetery wall that had asked for his help.  Like Matt, he wanders until he finds something that needs.  He takes, drains the weeping from her, but she feels violated.  Does she go with him or avoid him?

As a series, I find myself swept away by the stories.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

“Trees Perpetual of Sleep” from Nina Kiriki Hoffman's Permeable Borders

Permeable Borders 
Nina Kiriki Hoffman 
Fairwood Press
Originally appeared in Enchanted Forests

Like "Home for Christmas" and "Here We Come A-Wandering", this story has the same recurring character, Matt Black, who appeared in her novel, A Stir of Bones. 

In a forest, Matt and Terry settle to do some magic.  Matt, who normally doesn't hear trees, but hears this one--an enchanted witch who'd been dueling spells with his sister.  Hoffman plays up the awkwaedness of the boy wizard's nakedness as Matt helps out the boy.  Not as strong as "Here We Come A-Wandering" possibly because it doesn't develop the relationships or the speculation.

Book Briefs: new ebooks: Paul di Filippo's Emperor of Gondwanaland

Emperor of Gondwanaland: As Paul di Filippo promised, this non-themed collection does have something you'll like, a probably a few less flavorful, depending on your tastes.  Five stories, including the collection itself, were nominated for the Locus award, the title story placing highest at third.

It opens with the over-varnished "Anselmo Merino", which reenvisions Melville's "Benito Cereno" with aliens and forbidden love at sea.  (At SF Site, I favorably reviewed "Clouds and Cold Fires" in di Filippo's short ebook collection, After the Collapse).

The title story, "Emperor of Gondwanaland", first appeared in Interzone.  Mutt Splender is an editor at PharmaNotes, a job he hates.  Surfing the net, he comes across a micro nation--an imaginary country--called Gondwanaland.  He strikes a chat with IlonaG, one of the many folks who seem to be keeping up the elaborate make-believe country.  Mutt finds himself in love with her, so he travels to find not just the country but this woman.  This updated Borgesian--the fact that Mutt travels to Buenos Aires, Argentina seems a nod to Borges--search for an imaginary country impresses and is one of the finest jewels of the collection.

"And the Dish Ran away with the Spoon" graced Dozois' Year's Best.  It tells the narrator's woes with smart house appliances.  As a child, the narrator had his parents killed by such appliances, so he's reluctant to move in  with his girlfriend who wants them.  But the appliances force him to change his ways.

Friday, April 26, 2013

"Home for Christmas" from Nina Kiriki Hoffman's Permeable Borders

Permeable Borders 
Nina Kiriki Hoffman 
Fairwood Press
Originally appeared in F&SF

Finalist for the Nebula, Sturgeon, and World Fantasy awards

Like "Here We Come A-Wandering", this story has the same recurring character, Matt Black, who appeared in her novel, A Stir of Bones. 

On Christmas Eve, Matt finds the wallet of "James Plainfield, Architect".  It told her so (Matt is female though she looks like a young boy, which is what James mistakes her for).  James rewards Matt by inviting her to dinner, later to his home for Christmas because he doesn't want to be alone.  She reads his dreams and says, "What the hell."

There, she talks to his things and learns about his missing family.  James realizes she's not a boy.  When she wants cocoa, she asks, and his things danced.  She explains, demonstrating with his couch.  The wrap-up comes a little out of left field.  Although Matt's personal life is touched on, it uses that to close.

This story is typical of the story Kristine Kathryn Rusch's F&SF (and Dean Wesley Smith's Pulphouse) published--full of fresh, clever ideas that surprise, yet you wonder why you hadn't thought of that.

Book Briefs: new ebooks: Paul di Filippo's Joe's Liver and Fractal Paisley

Despite the advert copy, this reads more like Thomas Pynchon than George Saunders.  Orphan, Reader's Digest (named after the magazine), pilgrimages in a picaresque adventure to the said magazine's home town in New York, to find this America it describes.

Fractal Paisley: This collection, a humorous triptych to the strange, mashing up people in unusual mixes, was up for the World Fantasy award.  The main characters of "Master Blaster and Whammer Jammer Meet the Groove Thang", Master Blaster and Whammer Jammer are moving men while the Groove Thang is a music-making alien.  It is also a good-mood-making and a trouble-making one as well, but they manage to bring a bigger sense of semi-religious wonder to the lower classes.  "Lennon Spex" hit the Nebula nominations and the year's collection.   With his spex, he can see that people have medusa tendrils (shades of A. E. Van Vogt?).  These tendrils represent connections to the world--patriotism, obedience, loyalty, familial love, and partner love.  Babies and monks, though, have a single tendril going who knows where.  The narrator uses his spex to do good in the world.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

“How I Came to Marry a Herpetologist” from Nina Kiriki Hoffman's Permeable Borders

Permeable Borders 
Nina Kiriki Hoffman 
Fairwood Press
Originally appeared in Twice Upon a Time
Available online here.

Librarian Fanchon Bufo doesn't talk because if she does, she speaks "toads and snakes" into being.  She has to call Sheila, an animal handler, to get them out of her apartment.  Her sister, on the other hand, is pretty and speaks pearls.  However, one day, as the title goes, she meets a rich ecological herpetologist who sees her beauty.  They marry but not happily ever after.  She sees one attractive toad who, when she kisses it, changes into a prince.  She kisses all of them and they change back into princesses and mermaids.  What about the earlier enchanted lizards she spoke into being?  What will she do with them, all taken from their time?  Will her  husband still accept her?

“The Weight of Wishes” from Nina Kiriki Hoffman's Permeable Borders

Permeable BordersNina Kiriki HoffmanFairwood Press
Originally appeared in Children of Magic
Available online here.

The narrator's daughter, Lisa, has magic abilities and transforms her father into an elf when he walks in.  Under this transformation, he is able to wrap presents and finish decorating the tree.  But what happens when she becomes a rebelious teenager?  How will they control her?  The self elf has a plan.

This plays off Jerome Bixby's classic SF tale, "It's a Good Life" -- to good effect.  If you have a child who suddenly develops supernatural power, what does an ordinary parent do?  Hoffman tries to handle this realistically.  Next, she asks, where did those abilities come from?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

"Key Signature" from Nina Kiriki Hoffman's Permeable Borders

Permeable Borders 
Nina Kiriki Hoffman 
Fairwood Press
Originally appeared in F&SF
Available online here.

Former foster child, Zita Wilson is looking for a place to call home.  She finds it in a small community where they treat as one of them.  She learns to fiddle, somewhat and attends a dance where the music suddenly takes on a whole new dimension for her.

Some great descriptive passages here, capturing the character of the people:
"Bill was wearing a guitar, cowboy boots, jeans, and a western shirt with pearl snaps. He had a villain's mustache, and the portable atmosphere of a cigarette smoker. He also had flesh-colored hearing aids in each ear."

"Monsters, Finders, Shifters" by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

Originally appeared in Lightspeed

No one wants to become a monster when they grow up, but everyone wants to be a monster finder--not that you have a choice.  Bertram wakes up feeling different.  He spots a monster growing in Kalinda's womb, the third such monster.  Even though Kalinda had just given him sundrop cookies, Bertram is supposed to turn her in.

Meanwhile, Bertram's brothers are jealous.  Dark, an older brother, tortures Bertram until Bertram shifts or changes Dark's feet so that he trips and falls or suffocates him.  Finally, Dark realizes Bertram is just protecting himself and accepts Bertram.

He tries to treat Kalinda's child, but he's caught.  He's put on trial and they will determine his fate.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

"The Man Who Lost the Sea" by Theodore Sturgeon

Available in this collection
and online at Strange Horizons.

Nominated for a Hugo award
Reprinted in

  • Best American Short Stories
  • 5th Annual of the Year’s Best S-F, ed. Judith Merril
  • Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction: Ninth Series, ed. Robert P. Mills
  • Arbor House Treasury of Science Fiction Masterpieces, ed. Robert Silverberg & Martin H. Greenberg
  • World Treasury of Science Fiction, ed. David G. Hartwell
  • Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories: 21 (1959), ed. Isaac Asimov & Martin H. Greenberg
  • A Century of Science Fiction 1950-1959, ed. Robert Silverberg & Martin H. Greenberg

Summary/Discussion (of entire story):
This narrative feels confused--third person, then second with some unnamed narrator, advising--until you learn this character has crash landed on Mars and is semi-delusional.  He believes he is stranded on a beach... No, he is a boy talking to boring man who looks like he is from Mars.  He realizes by his footprints that he's alone on the sands of Mars, alone.  Despite his inexorable demise, he cheers, "God, we made it!"

Ironic title as he gained something more.

Close reading of "Future Memories Market" by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

Originally appeared in Clarkesworld
Reprinted in Hartwell's Year's Best SF

Geeta gives people memories, experiences not their own.  The memories are always fresh and experience strange worlds as if the worlds love her.  Her memories are so child-like because her memories are extracted before visiting any new worlds.  Although another beat follows, the story ends on a bittersweet kiss before Geeta's memory is lost.  Geeta will never remember all of the kisses she's given the narrator.

This is a good metaphor for how Nina Kiriki Hoffman's fiction impacts its readers.  Not that Ms, Hoffman has her memory erased after every story (although she is rather pleasant to be around--I met her at Wiscon), but that this could be--intentionally or not--a metaphor for how she works:  Moving the reader to a new world, even if the situation is unpleasant, her characters often work to make the best of a bad circumstance.

Monday, April 22, 2013

"Plebiscite AV3X" by Jason Fischer

Apex magazine & The Book of Apex: Volume 1

A dystopian future where the plebes, or common people, vote what government actions should be taken.  The future is one where you can buy sex, weapons, medicine, and criminal activity.  They judge criminals and vote people "off the island," so to speak.  They also are required to report suspicious neighbor activity, whether there is any or not.

"The Silken-Swift" by Theodore Sturgeon


  • F&SF 
  • The Best Fantasy Stories from the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, ed. Edward L. Ferman
  • Masterpieces of Fantasy and Enchantment, ed. David G. Hartwell
  • The Oxford Book of Fantasy Stories, ed. Tom Shippey
  • The Fantasy Hall of Fame, ed. Robert Silverberg
  • online
  • ebook
The events are intriguing enough.  Del chases after Rita, but Rita won't be had by any man.  Del is so lusty she temporarily blinds him.  He runs into Barbara, the vegetable stall girl, who tells him of a unicorn, but he thinks it's Rita and chases her off.  

When Del can see, he corners Rita.  Rita still won't be had, and no, she never said anything about a unicorn.  But since she's a virgin she'd like to capture it for herself.  However, the unicorn isn't fooled.

Interestingly, the story wasn't widely collected until thirty years later.  It must have had something to say to that generation--probably about sexuality.  I enjoyed Barbara getting the upper hand, but the character's are unusually flat for Sturgeon, who usually takes time to imbue nuances of depths.

The language is sometimes magically inspired (after describing how animals and plants help Barbara out):
"[I]f a fruit stayed green for two weeks longer until Barbara had time to go to the market, of if a mole could channel moisture to the roots of the corn, why it was the least they could do."
Other times, the language oversweetens as it stretches for poetry.  I might need to read what the above editors wrote in regards to this story.  I may have missed something.  Dozois wrote, "[O]ne of the most renowned of all unicorn stories, [Sturgeon] explores the subtle differences between those who are blind and those who will not see."  If you've read it and found nuance, let me know.  I have changed my mind--"Microcosmic God" for one.

"Flotsam" by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

Reprinted in Datlow/Grant/Link's Year's Best Fantasy & Horror

Becky, playing basketball, finds Poppy tossed against the fence like blown leaves.  She takes him home where he meets her game-playing, twin brother, Jeff.  Poppy turns out to have very little understanding of simple things like jeans and underwear, but he also can play with water and other elements.  He can mend slashed basketballs because he is from a different universe.  He's been traveling through some many gates that he's lost his way.  He needs to send a message to his parents.  But will Becky's mom let them help?  Poppy's a catalyst for change in himself and the family--possibly all he needs is someone to help.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Close reading of "Bloodsport" by Gene Wolfe

Discussions/Questions Elsewhere:

Summary (the entire story is discussed--read at your peril):

The first to note is the title, which sets the tone:  This is going to be a game ("His head struck the wretched stony soil")--chess except some of the pieces are unusual, i.e. bowmen--but it's a brutal game.  The narrator, Valorius, doesn't want to kill.  He holds back a full blow: "The spectators were not pleased with me, but I was pleased with myself."

Then he meets Lurn, a pawn of the moon goddess, who bests him but spares his life.  A spark kindles between them.  Lurn tells of how the moon bests the sun, his god (presumably during the eclipse.  His statement shows that he believes they can get along:  "I have seen the sun and the moon in the same sky.... They did not engage."

Lurn and Valorius join forces with regular people ("They were farmers and farriers, tinkers, tailors, and tradesmen, not soldiers and certainly not Game pieces.") to battle the Hunas.

Lurn and Valorius make the last leg of the journey to where the game started:  the garden (Eden).  Lurn expects to be crowned, which is when Valorius battles her and uses the sun to his advantage to kill her.

Not a strong narrative story, possibly due to the nature of its teller:  a bit deceptive and  cruel ("like a wolf [author?] stabbing and slashing")--see title--this note seems critical in interpretation.  Another missing key left out of other interpretations is when Lurn and Valorius join forces:  They are not essentially opposed.

Both point out the religious aspects and the game of chess, which is about all that is clear on the first reading, but that they join signals they are allied on spiritual matters even if she is not able to discern ghosts as he is able to do--at least not until it's obvious ("Who is that?").  They are key players who guide the normal--their game on display.  They are not the major players.  Valorius is surprised to have made it midway up the ladder (this argues against his being a Christ figure).  When she proclaims herself queen, Valorius is moved to kill her.

The big question mark for me is the last line where just before he'd listed all possible paths:
"Choose your road and keep to it, for if you stray from it, you may encounter such as I....  We shall not meet again."
So all paths are equal? (This despite Lurn's outcome.)  The only problem is taking the wrong road (which Lurn did).  The ending appears to open a new can of worms.

"The first rule of writing is not to omit the thing you meant to say."  
--Ralph Waldo Emerson 

from First We Read, Then We Write 
Emerson on the Creative Process 
Robert D. Richardson 
University Of Iowa Press

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Close reading of "The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories" by Gene Wolfe

Published in Orbit 7
Collected in The Best of Gene Wolfe

Theme: A common complaint of SF has been that it is escapist.  Gene Wolfe embraces this definition and makes that a positive thing.  (The entire story is up for discussion here.)

Summary:  "You," a young boy named Tackie, escapes into a world where our hero, Ransom, battles Dr. Death.  At the moment, though, Ransom is a prisoner of Dr. Death and soon to be the subject of the doctor's experiments.  Meanwhile, the boy lives with his single mother who has a boyfriend that stays the night.  They throw a party and Dr. Death leads Tackie to discover his mother, arms marked up with needle tracks.  Dr. Death asks Tackie what's the matter and he says he doesn't want Dr. Death to die.  Tackie can "start the book again [and] we'll all be back.... It's the same with you, Tackie."

Important Quotes:

  1. "Ransom and I are a bit like wrestlers, under various guises we put on our show again and again--but only under the spotlight."
  2. "I am going to demonstrate my technique to you.  It is so seldom that I have a really appreciate audience." -- in context Ransom is about to watch a beautiful woman be operated on before it's Ransom's turn.
  3. "to illustrate something of your own fare."
  4. "fastened in place straps of the same kind as those that held Ransom pinned to the wall." 
  5. "This is my third trip.  Not a good trip, but not a bad trip. But I should have had a monitor--you know, someone to stay with me."
  6. Mother is inside on the bed, and Dr. Black is standing over her filling a hypodermic.... and all you can think of is Dr. Death bending over Talar on the operating table."

This story was nominated for a Nebula award.

Free ebooks

Eyes Like Sky And Coal And Moonlight by Cat Rambo 

Mayhem at Grant-Williams High by Vera Nazarian

Three Names of the Hidden God by Vera Nazarian

Friday, April 19, 2013

Review: Fringe Science

Fringe Science
Parallel Universes, White Tulips, and Mad Scientists
Edited by Kevin Grazier
BenBella Books
This one I picked to review, forgetting I'd already bought it, attracted to the sound of tantalizingly possible or possibly dubious science.  Out of touch with pop culture, I didn't realize that Fringe was a TV show.  By watching the pilot episode, I remedied that lack and have a sense of what issues the book addressed. The program, like the book, does cut some broad territory.

The first three essays relate with the series' genre, with growing relevance.  David Dylan Thomas says that "Paranormal Is the New Normal" and that the show is focused on SF.  An interesting point but it may go on too long.  Amy H. Sturgis provides literary ancestors to the Fringe, some of which will send me flipping through classics, but it offers no profundities.  Paul Levinson concludes this trio saying the Fringe is "The Return of 1950s Science Fiction", describing examples from Alfred Bester to Philip K. Dick.  Levinson digs a little deeper, explaining how the show's aspects fit into the larger scheme.

Max Tegmark and Mike Brotherton discuss parallel universes.  Tegmark's contribution, the more technical of the two, had me on the edge of my seat, both in fascination and in confusion.  I'm not sure if it's the author or reader's fault, possibly a little of both.  What's cool, though, is that the author explains three types then argues for and against them.  Mike Brotherton, on the other hand, is more user-friendly guide to earlier, parallel-universe TV programs, stories and comic books.

The meatier articles, for my money, treat human biology (and time, below).  Garth Sundem's "The Malleability of Memory" treats the problems that come with memory.  He discusses which of the show's ideas are mistaken and which work.  Memory can be manipulated--through wording and through convincing someone that something that did not occur, actually did.  Memory, Sundem points out, isn't stored in one place, either.  While regrowing memories is unlikely, you can trigger memories, la Marcel Proust's tea-soaked cake or another food or sound.  Interestingly, rigid believers are easier to brain-wash.

In "Fringe Diseases" Jovna Grbic also tells what the show got right and wrong, explaining why.  This one is largely familiar, but that may be since my education was in biology, chemistry, and medicine.  Surprises are still here--from designer diseases to slime-mold robots.

Brendan Allison's "The Fringes of Neurotechnology" brings us the latest and future developments that interface the human mind and technology--BCIs, brain-computer interfaces.  Is mind reading possible?  Not yet, not close.  Mind control?  Not really.  But the possibilities are dealt with.

Stephen Cass treats time travel.  Is it possible?  What is time?  In order to build a time machine, we'd need a better understanding.  Cass discusses how wormholes and other methods of getting to the future.

Amy Berner discusses cows (agriculture, cloning and huma-cow chimeras).  Nick Mamatas wins the prize for the most unusual pairing:  Gordon Liddy and Timothy Leary in "Walthered States" where the two famous gentlemen of the sixties and seventies represent Walter from two different universes.  Robert T. Jeschonek talks about the ethics of experimentation.

This eclectic collection is sure to tickle a couple of your fancies.

"All that can be thought can be written."  
--Ralph Waldo Emerson 

from First We Read, Then We Write 
Emerson on the Creative Process 
Robert D. Richardson 
University Of Iowa Press

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Review of Twenty-two Tall Tales

Of 22 Tall Tales, I have already reviewed over half of these stories in The Best of David Farland: Volume 1 and 2Three Tales ("The Stonemother's Curse," "At the Virgin's Doorstep"and "Sweetly Dreams the Dragon"),  and "Against Eternity," which is packaged with one of the Nightingale songs.

I feel like a lad who's worked hard at collecting all of the songs of an artist and then bam! A retrospective album comes out, negating all that hard work of collecting.  However, I had asked for a collection, and here it is at last.  The hunt is over.  A cause for celebration.  Bring out the wine and fatted calf!

Among the sixteen SF and fantasy works here are collected three Star Wars tales and four "mainstream" works.  If you're counting, that makes twenty-three, which intriguingly makes one not a tall tale. Clever.  I love literary games.  The volume closes with the bonus essay, "The Stress Induction/Reduction Theory of Storytelling."

"The Sky Is an Open Highway" is a rather complex, political tale.  You may have to read it a few times to sort out the factions (or find someone who's done the work for you).  Abudoh supplies carbohite to Kwon, a smuggler who blows up planet's continent for reasons unfathomable to Abudoh.  This time Abudoh and the rebel group, Pentat, blow up Kwon, in part because he has been destructive but perhaps, more so, to show the Pentat's rulers that they are the true rulers of the planet.  There are some touches here involving the men's different responses to the native life, and Abudoh's own judgment of himself and Kwon--as well as Kwon's surprising reaction when Abudoh, a slave, makes an overture of friendship to a powerful prince.

"Charley in the Wind"  Charley is the narrator's new friend who had been bullied at school, so the narrator helps him.  They become blood brothers.  The narrator doesn't cry after his father taught him to kill a puppy that had been run over.   Charley wants to be The Thing, indestructible.  When Ben, Charley's brother, gets burned as they dance across a fire they built, Charley takes off before his father could discipline him.  He teaches Charley not to cry, but Charley doesn't take it in quite the way expected.

Steve, his brother Mike, and their father go hunting in "No Bird".  The father repeatedly tries to get Steve to shoot, but the rifle doesn't fit well and one eye is bandaged.  They go on a shooting spree of ugly vultures, killing twenty-eight eating carp along the river.  Steve finds a vulture, half-alive, and it tries to peck his eye out.  "[N]o bird, no bird shall ever eat me."

An adult, Steve calls his brother, a SWAT team member, who has just shot and killed a man who went berserk at a daycare center.  He is unfazed.  Back at Steve's guard-tower job, he talks to a guard speaks with a little too much relish about killing ten Vietnamese on one occasion during the war.  A guard wants to shoot a bird that keeps hitting the guard tower.  He's given the okay, but the bird wasn't as big as he'd though

During a prison break, Steve doesn't react zealously, which makes him a hit with his boss and his wife--himself as well, no doubt--even if he's not as popular with the other guards.  Interesting meditation on restraint.

Of these resonant tales, I suspect "After a Lean Winter" will become a classic, but all are resonant and have an emotional punch.

"Good writing and brilliant conversation are perpetual allegories."  
--Ralph Waldo Emerson 

from First We Read, Then We Write 
Emerson on the Creative Process 
Robert D. Richardson 
University Of Iowa Press

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Review: Cozy Classics

Cozy Classics: 
War and Peace 
Les Miserables
Jack Wang, Holman Wang
Smith Publicity
In these infant primers, Jack and Holman Wang handcraft the figures themselves and photograph them in startlingly expressive, emotive poses, such as the young lady looking out the window above and below the destitute man below.

Had I known what they were, I might not have reviewed them--I assumed an older-aged audience--but they represent not only the creativity of the Wangs pictured above, but they also call upon the creativity of the readers/storytellers.  Each book has twelve images paired with one word to tell their (originally) epic stories.  With only twelve words like "rich," "poor," and "sad," kids are called upon to fill in the blanks of what the story is.  This may be this series' most admirable strength to pull in buyers.

As this image from the Vancouver Sun shows, other books in this series include Pride and Prejudice and Moby Dick.

Thought for the day

Reading Emerson's book, which reveals a man of original thought--even if I don't agree with all he thinks--and this article "Information technology amplifies irrational group behaviour" makes me wonder if our technological society isn't stamping out original thinkers.  Can this be good for humanity, for its literature and science, if we only read/see/think like everyone else?

Sometimes it feels like society is becoming ever more a TV talk show where everyone agrees with the lovely host bully on who to beat up verbally.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Review: First We Read, Then We Write Emerson on the Creative Process by Robert D. Richardson

First We Read, Then We Write: 
Emerson on the Creative Process  
Robert D. Richardson  
University Of Iowa Press
As Richardson points out, Emerson is the master of the sentence, influenced by the book of Proverbs.  I put up many of his quotes earlier this year (see the Ralph Waldo Emerson tag below).  "[Emerson] talked and wrote," writes Richardson, "especially in his journals about the art and the craft of writing.  But he never wrote an essay on writing."  This slender volume might be considered  a corrective.  Richardson pillaged Emerson for writing wisdom and collated it into this book--an Emersonian craft-of-writing book, packing more information than most at twice the length.  The author even manages to convey a sense of the man behind the writing--and his peculiar take on the art.  

Who was Emerson?  Emerson was an essayist and minor poet of the early nineteenth century.  He formed a group of Transcendentalists as well as The Dial. After changing hands, it eventually became a paragon of modernism. Its contents listed a Who's-Who of the era--from T.S. Eliot to Pablo Picasso.  

Emerson would encourage the first modern poet, Walt Whitman, as well as Henry David Thoreau.  But beyond his wide-spread influence and Trancendentalism, Emerson had much original thought, which Richardson captures much of in the topics:  Reading, Journaling, Practical Hints, Nature, Natural Language, Words, Sentences, Symbols, The Art Path, and The Writer. (I have altered titles slightly.)  

The first section talks of Emerson's views on reading.  He advocated active reading.  You don't read widely but deeply.  If it is too absorbing, the reader should stop.  The reader is in charge of what he puts into his mind.  "Each book I read invades me, displaces me."  He skimmed until he found something of use, something he found true to himself, and poured himself into that passage.  He pointed out that great writers are human, so don't put them on pedestals.  He would not read entire categories of literature.  Reading was personal, and he accepted as many interpretations as there are readers.  Reading was allied with and inseparable from writing, so lazy writers need to be avoided. 

The next section treats journaling.  He advised Henry David Thoreau to do so, and Emerson's system at first was to make a list of topics to fill in.  Later, though, it was random, full of dreams, the best parts of one's life and one's reading.

"Practical hints" are advice such as approaching writing as if it were a battle where you've lost your ammunition and all that's left is throwing yourself at the enemy.  He advised writers to write--and without a plan, following an organic form.  We should aim for prominent objects, not make something prominent.  Writers avoid adjectives in favor of nouns.  Writers should not satisfy readers but leave them guessing, thinking.  Moreover, coherence and consistency were anathema to Emerson.  These are the job of the reader.  Failure and inconsistency were part of the game.

We approach "Nature," in the following section, by using words that lead us to symbols.  Since words have lost their connection from the nature it sprouted from, it is "the writer's job to 're-attach things to nature.'"  Writers leave what is given to us to find the symbol which is more real.

In "Street [or Natural] Language" Emerson wanted to capture the world as it is lived, not that he wanted to live the life of a common laborer, but to capture the man's essence.

The "Words" Emerson disliked were abstractions, polysyllabics, and the wrong word.  "[I]n writing, there is always a right word, and every other that is wrong."

On "Sentences", Emerson writes, "[E]very new sentence brings us a new contribution of observation." Because of Emerson's love of the sentence, he moved away from essays to  sentences not unlike those in Proverbs.  But he also played games where he reversed expectations.

The poetic effects "Emblem, Symbol, Metaphor" stretch toward the spiritual.  And humans, even, are symbols.  The text refeerences Paul Scott's use of this in his Raj Quartet.

Emerson considers his "Audience":  "You must never lose sight of the purpose of helping a particular person in every word you say."  In fact, Richardson suggests that Emerson gained his style from public speaking.  In "Art Is the Path" Emerson values process over product.  He believes all men are creative but only half a man if he does not access it.  Finally, "The Writer" discusses Emerson's influences and influencing, as well as his place in the canon.

I have no complaints.  It's an excellent little book to spur the writer, the historian curious about the nineteenth-century thinkers, and fans of Emerson.

Monday, April 15, 2013

"Rescue Party" by Arthur C. Clarke

I thought I'd read this, but I hadn't.  Eric Flint compared this to Theodore Sturgeon's "Thunder and Roses," but this is more of the optimistic side of humanity's future.

A group of aliens see that Earth's Sun is about to go supernova (not sure where science was in regards to stars, but scientists do not believe it could go nova--and definitely not within two hundred years.  I read a more recent SF story where this occurred, but I forget whose).  So a starship arrives to whisk the inhabitants away.  However, they cannot find any.  They cover the planet, they look under the ocean, and they even take an elevator through Earth.  Nothing.

SPOILER / discussion:

Finally, they realize humanity had already left, using what little technology it had.  The aliens admire them, even fear them.  Interesting last note to end on.  It reminds me a bit of Mike Resnick's note in "Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge."

The power of this tale is how Clarke takes what looks like a traditional disaster tale and turns it on its head.  "Oh, no!  Humans are all gonna die! ... Oh, wait. They're actually going to thrive."  Instead, the aliens themselves need rescuing--perhaps in and out of the narrative.

How to Get an A on the Final & other education, technology & science-related links

What is space?
Astronomy thought for the day:  What if a planet replaced our moon?
Hopefully, students will recognize different problems: Higher tides and quakes. But what a beautiful view.

Stephen Hawking encourages us to get off planet because we will probably kill this one.

Next NASA mission:  Capture asteroid!

What are waves?
Classic pendulum video.

Why do familiar songs enchant?

OMD has a new album addressing technology.  Nice sound, well-rounded album, although nothing especially catchy.  A good album album, though--as opposed to packed with singles.

What is technology?
Combining several smaller solar power units to become one.

Iranian time machine?

It may be better if you don't complain about everyone on Facebook.

Assure your students if they do this simple coordinated robot army to play this sweet little 
song, they'll get an A.

What is education?
When people "code-switch" or change languages/lingos.

Teacher Peter Brown Hoffmeister explains how he used to be a loner and a high-school gun-toter (we also had kids who brought weapons to school that they ought not to have), but he didn't play video games.  He suggests that practicing violence can lead the violent to commit actual violence.  There may be some truth to this.  I recall reading that the U.S. military learned to train soldiers because the majority of soldiers weren't shooting in war (WWI?).  A cursory search didn't turn up anything, but maybe one of you know.

Mamas don't let your babies grow up to be teachers.

Here's a blog against home-schooling although I've known many normalized home-schoolers who were happy.  Probably many youth loathe education.  I know a number of public school students who would rather not deal with the bullying and the popularity games.  People all have bad experiences, and of course, it's sad to hear every case.

What is life?
The Shadow Biosphere:  Is there unusual life on this planet already?

Ethics (food for thought--I have no dog in this fight except I do have a joke--very black humor--do skip if you don't appreciate such jokes):

  1. "“Both a fetus and a newborn certainly are human beings and potential persons, but neither is a ‘person’ in the sense of ‘subject of a moral right to life’."
  2. It could be argued that since the frontal lobe isn't yet developed until ~ age 25, parents should be able to abort teenagers.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Review: Now Dig This by Terry Southern

Now Dig This 
The Unspeakable Writings of Terry Southern, 1950-1995 
Terry Southern
Josh Alan Friedman, Nile Southern, Editors
Open Road

Terry Southern is a major cultural figure of Sixties and Seventies, not unlike famed beats Alan Ginsberg or William Burroughs, but possibly more obscure for having dabbled in a variety of writing arts:  from novels, to scripts, new journalism, and comedy sketches.  He wrote novels Candy and The Magic Christian.  In one interview, Southern states that a novel brought his attention to Peter Sellers, who brought the novel to Stanley Kubrick who then changed his mind about the tone for his movie adapting Red Alert as a film.  Southern wrote screennplays for Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove and Dennis Hopper's Easy Rider, the movie that ushered in a new life to cinema.  During this same time period he invented the New Journalism.  After struggles drugs in the Seventies, his career went south although he wrote for National Lampoon, which led writing for Saturday Night Live in the early eighties.  He has also written for Esquire, Paris Review, and Playboy.  One story was reprinted in the O. Henry Awards.

These "Unspeakable Writings"--unspeakable in part because they are occasionally controversial, sometimes erotic, in part because they are mostly not intended to be performed as  movie--provide excellent snapshots into Southern's peculiar frame of mind.  The first interview introduces much about Southern's career, but considering the erotic tone it sets and the current political climate, some readers may be turned away.  Southern appears to be of the old-school American Liberal mind-set where women's liberation meant more sexual freedom.

But the primary herbs flavoring one's reading Southern is his sense of absurd, reminiscent of Joseph Heller's Catch-22.  It seasons all that he writes, be it journalism, stories, novels, or screenplays.  Some of his nonfiction feels fictional while his fiction captures a tone of realistic nonfiction.  Even the interviews have a feel of the surreal:

William Burroughs:  Now here's something that goes straight in the wastebasket--"Non-narcotic."  I don't want nything non-narcotic on these premises!
Terry Southern:  Listen, they can say "non-narcotic" but they may have some really weird definition of narcotic, like something out of Dracula...
The best here, for my tastes, are the New Journalism pieces.  "Fiasco Reverie" travels to Guatemala on a part party trip, part military chess game preparing for the Bay of Pigs.  "Grooving in Chi" talks about escaping the Chicago police with Allen Ginsburg, William Burroughs, and Abbie Hoffman during the 1968 riot while the Democratic Convention was carrying on.

My personal favorite would be "The Straight Dope on the Private Dick" wherein Southern investigates whether private investigating is a racket that cooks up evidence.  He cooks up an absurd story (for the time, the Sixties) about his mixed-race son experiencing prejudice from African Americans at his school.  He ends up discussing cases with a P.I. whom he trusts.  The PI tells how he exposed various men who were ruining the lives of other men, including Lenny Bruce.  This piece fits well with what's called the first "Tale" even though it introduces itself as a nonfiction investigative article probing cons and hustles in Hollywood.

This book may not be a book for everyone.  Included is an article about Southern's relationship with Kurt Vonnegut, which would make most readers uncomfortable if not apoplectic.  It was written for a tribute to Kurt Vonnegut but was left out.  Nonetheless, it is another key to understanding a time period and generation that is disappearing.

Works available online:

  1. "A Run of Dimes"
  2. Art of Screenplays (The Paris Review)
  3. "Grooving in Chi" (PBS News Hour)
  4. Niles Southern on his father (Gadfly)
  5. Excerpt from the novel, Candy

Saturday, April 13, 2013

"Killdozer" by Theodore Sturgeon

Before Richard Matheson and Steven Spielberg's Duel, before Stephen King's Maximum Overdrive/"Trucks," Theodore Sturgeon built the first intelligent (?) rampaging killing machine.  Our planet had another intelligent race inhabiting it before ours--a race destroyed by the metal-inhabiting aliens.

The last remaining mutant alien inhabits a pocket of neutronium on an obscure Pacific island.  I suspect Sturgeon's use of the term goes back to Andreas von Antropoff's 1926 usage as an element with an atomic number of zero--first element of the periodic table.  This gives it an atomic feel and perhaps fear of the mysterious coming atomic power (publication date 1944).

The story is familiar, but it is an early model of its kind.  Without a doubt, this is a meditation on men and machines.  We built machines, but can we master them?  Any motorhead is enchanted by their mechanical puzzle, their cohesive ecology that comes together to do work.  But what if it strikes back?  What can we do to stop it?  What if it finds ways to work around its limitations?

This may be also be a meditation on race, but if so, I will need to reread it a few more times to tease out the details.

Availability (list from Locus & William G Contento online)
  1. Astounding Nov 1944
  2. Best of Science Fiction, ed. Groff Conklin, Crown 1946
  3. Best of Science Fiction, ed. Groff Conklin, Crown 1963
  4. Spectrum 3, ed. Kingsley Amis & Robert Conquest, Harcourt, Brace & World 1964
  5. Wondermakers, ed. Robert Hoskins, Fawcett Crest 1972
  6. Strange Orbits, ed. Amabel Williams-Ellis, Blackie 1976
  7. The Great SF Stories 6 (1944), ed. Isaac Asimov & Martin H. Greenberg, DAW 1981The Golden Years of Science Fiction: Third Series, ed. Isaac Asimov & Martin H. Greenberg, Bonanza/Crown 1984
  8. Machines That Kill, ed. Fred Saberhagen & Martin H. Greenberg, Ace 1984
  9. A Touch of Sturgeon, Simon & Schuster UK 1987
  10. Cinemonsters, ed. Charles G. Waugh, Martin H. Greenberg & Frank D. McSherry, Jr., TSR 1987
  11. 13 Short Horror Novels, ed. Charles G. Waugh & Martin H. Greenberg, Crown/Bonanza 1987
  12. To Marry Medusa, Baen 1987
  13. The Mammoth Book of Golden Age Science Fiction, ed. Isaac Asimov, Charles G. Waugh & Martin H. Greenberg, Robinson 1989
  14. Astounding Stories: The 60th Anniversary Collection, Vol. 2, ed. James Gunn, Easton Press 1990

Reader's Guide to "Thunder and Roses" by Theodore Sturgeon

David Drake wrote, "If you were a kid [in the Fifties] who read SF, the feeling of dread [of nuclear war] was all the more acute."

Eric Flint says that this story has "[h]eroism, which has none of the trappings of heroes, and is therefore all the more reliable."


Pete Mawser and Sonny are survivors of one-half of a nuclear war, stuck on a military base, both plagued by thoughts of suicide.  They discover a formerly hidden door that has unlocked due to the high-level of radiation.  They get spooked and leave.  Starr Anthim is a popular singer but gives a performance without being flashy.  She sings the "thunder and roses" of the title:
With thunder I smote the earth
With roses I won the right
With the sea I washed, and with clay I built
And the world was a place of light
Starr says of her song "All that is fresh and clean and strong about Mankind is in that song."  She discusses that it doesn't who bombed them, but that they ought not to retaliate.

Pete Mawser hunts down Starr to interrogate her:  Why is she spreading this message?  A nuclear key to launch the missiles remains and they are looking for it.  However, though she's dying from radiation, she doesn't want a doctor.  She wants him near.

Sonny wants to send the missiles to retaliate, though, and thinks he has found a way\.


  1. What is the significance of the characters names:  Pete (rock) Mawser (maw), Sonny (son? or sunny? yet a fighter), Starr (star) Anthim (anthem)?
  2. Reread the song's stanza.  So thunder is the sound of violence, but what of roses?  It wins the right to do what? to smite or to do what follows?  Why roses?  The outcome in the last line:  Is it good or bad?  How does one arrive at that good?
  3. After being bombed, why shouldn't they retaliate, according to Starr?
  4. Why does Bonze's cot shake?  What did you think at first?  How does the change from your first impression to the reality enhance the theme?
  5. How do Pete and Sonny represent different responses?
  6. Explain why Pete both hits and strokes Sonny's head.

Availability online:

Also available here:
  1. Astounding Nov 1947
  2. Strange Ports of Call, ed. August Derleth, Pellegrini Cudahy 1948
  3. My Best Science Fiction Story, ed. Leo Margulies & Oscar J. Friend, Merlin Press 1949
  4. The Astounding Science Fiction Anthology, ed. John W. Campbell, Jr., Simon & Schuster 1952
  5. The First Astounding Science Fiction Anthology, ed. John W. Campbell, Jr., Grayson 1954
  6. A Way Home, Funk & Wagnalls 1955
  7. A Way Home, Pyramid 1956
  8. Thunder and Roses, Michael Joseph 1957
  9. Astounding Tales of Space and Time, ed. John W. Campbell, Jr., Berkley 1957
  10. The Second Astounding Science Fiction Anthology, ed. John W. Campbell, Jr., Four Square Books 1965
  11. Mind in Chains, ed. Christopher Evans, St. Albans: Panther 1970
  12. The Astounding-Analog Reader, Volume Two, ed. Harry Harrison & Brian W. Aldiss, Doubleday 1973
  13. The Best of Astounding, ed. Anthony R. Lewis, Baronet 1978
  14. The Road to Science Fiction #3, ed. James E. Gunn, Mentor 1979
  15. Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories: 9 (1947), ed. Isaac Asimov & Martin H. Greenberg, DAW 1983
  16. War and Peace (Anthology #6), ed. Stanley Schmidt, Davis 1983
  17. Countdown to Midnight, ed. H. Bruce Franklin, DAW 1984
  18. The Golden Years of Science Fiction: Fifth Series, ed. Isaac Asimov & Martin H. Greenberg, Bonanza 1985
  19. Science Fiction, ed. Patricia S. Warrick, Charles G. Waugh & Martin H. Greenberg, Harper & Row 1988
  20. Nuclear War, ed. Gregory Benford & Martin H. Greenberg, Ace 1988
  21. Thunder and Roses: The Complete Short Stories of Theodore Sturgeon, Vol. 4, North Atlantic Books 1997

Friday, April 12, 2013

Reader's Guide for "The Other Celia" by Theodore Sturgeon

Available as an ebook.  Story online.

This deceptively simple story is a heart-breaker.  It begins with a simple man, Slim Walsh, with a simple yet overwhelming desire:  curiosity.  He wasn't looking for hurtful information, but just information.

He's laid off work because a co-worker applied a wrench to his head.  This isn't bad as he gets to snoop in his neighbors' apartments.  One especially odd single woman captures his attention that he stands at her door even to listen.  When she's gone, he sneaks into her apartment to see what's inside.  When he finds a human-sized skin, he bores a hole into her apartment to watch what she does.  When he learns, he has to find what happens if she can't do what she normally does after work as a store clerk, studiously not drawing attention to herself.

What's amazing here is how Sturgeon takes so small an indiscretion and makes it feel criminal.

  1. How might Slim's name fit this narrative?  
  2. Knowing Slim's imperfections, why might the coworker have hit Slim in the head with a wrench?  What might this foreshadow--if not directly?
  3. How does the quote below fit in thematically?
  4. What aspect of this story might be more relevant today than Sturgeon's (and vice versa)?
"[W]ithin the anthill in which we all live and have our being, enough privacy can be exacted to allow for all sorts of strangeness in the members of society, providing the strangeness is not permitted to show."

    "A Saucer of Loneliness" by Theodore Sturgeon

    Available here. This was also made into an equally moving radio play for X Minus One.

    Samuel Delany wrote in his introduction to Sturgeon, "One of Theodore Sturgeon's themes is love."  That's nowhere more apparent than in "A Saucer of Loneliness."

    A young man stops a young woman from committing suicide.  She is not grateful, but she does tell her story.  She is the woman to whom the small flying saucer spoke.  The government hounds her, but she won't tell.  Her mother is embarrassed and shuns the young woman.  Wherever she works--in a diner or as a maid--she is hounded by men who pretend to be interested in her just to get the story from her.  Finally, she has been throwing bottled messages out to sea.  It turns out the narrator, a flawed man himself with a club foot, had found one and sought her for two years.  He knows just what the alien message.

    Thursday, April 11, 2013

    Review: Mark Twain's Medieval Romance and Other Classic Mystery Stories

    Mark Twain's Medieval Romance And Other Classic Mystery Stories Otto Penzler, editor Open Road Media
    Would a reader choose to read a book of mysteries that included that included some of his all-time favorites:  Roald Dahl, Ray Bradbury, and Mark Twain, yet it's theme is based around a puzzle story he absolutely loathed:  "The Lady or the Tiger?" by Frank R. Stockton?

    Imagine being left there without an answer.  Are you biting your nails, anxious with anticipation?  If so, run out and buy this collection.   If you like solid closure, however, these may not be the mysteries you are looking for.  Penzler selected these riddle stories to stump confound readers.

    The answer to the previous riddle is yes, apparently.  I picked this up, thinking, "Yay! Mysteries! Great authors!  I'll bite the bullet on the Stockton tale."

    In case you haven't come across the Frank R. Stockton story before, it treats a young man who, after dallying with the king's daughter, is faced with picking two doors:  one he marries the lady behind it, the other he feeds his body to the hungry tiger.  The king's daughter knows which door has what behind it.  There the tale ends.  The author leaves it to you to decide.  How you think the tale ends shows what kind of person you are.

    Unfortunately, if we don't the characters well enough to know what they'd do, it's not a very well written story, in this humble reviewer's opinion.  You, dear reader, are free to disagree.  Whether you agree or not show what kind of reader you are.  Nonetheless, some of these stories are more sophisticated than Stockton's.

    The first two are not especially sophisticated yet clever.  Stanley Ellin's "Unreasonable Doubt" presents two young men who go to trial.  When one is on trial, the other takes the stand to confess himself the guilty party.  S. Weir Mitchell's "A Dilemma" has a poor young man receive a box of jewels that's wired with dynamite to blow should he try to open it.  However, this one has a clever  out on it's final scenario.  It asks a final question--using a key word--that adds a thin veneer of moral complexity to his characters, not present in Stockton's.

    Roald Dahl's "Nunc Dimmitis" is ambiguous but in a good way.  The narrator, Lionel Lampson, is told that his girlfriend, Janet de Pelagia, thought he was a bore.  To get back at her, he has a famous artist paint her.  But the artist has an unusual method of painting:  he paints them in the nude and adds layers of clothes, so that no one know that underneath the clothes is a nude.  Lionel scraps off the paint and presents the painting to all of their friends.  Lionel's girlfriend does not respond how he expects.  However, her reaction may not show her true feelings.

    Of course, Stockton's original is here, plus his own sequel, "The Discourager of Hesitancy."  Being enamored with his previous scenario.  He repeated the performance.  This time a man has married a woman, but he doesn't know which of forty beautiful women.  Is it the one who frowned or smiled?  This is slightly more sophisticated in how it presents the male's common conundrum when interpreting women, but it is essentially the same.

    However, Jack Moffitt answers Stockton in "The Lady and the Tiger" in a surprising if gruesome way.  Interesting work although the many narrative layers seem unnecessary.

    Reader's Guide to "Microcosmic God" by Theodore Sturgeon

    Gene Wolfe wrote, "The first [sf] story I read was 'Microcosmic God' by Theodore Sturgeon. It has sometimes occurred to me that it has all been downhill from there."

    Summary: Voted as one of SF's best stories of all time, "Microcosmic God" tells of James Kidder, jack-of-all-sciences, who invents dozens of things to improve the world.  He invents tiny creatures, Neoterics, which evolve at an incredibly fast rate.  Kidder wanted them to out-evolve humans due to his impatience to see further.  He tortures them, so that they had to become inventive to protect themselves against the elements he subjected them to.  As they grew intelligent, Kidder created laws that must be obeyed or he'd wipe half of them out.

    Meanwhile, his banker, Conant, is power-hungry.  He ruthlessly climbs the corporate ladder, then worries about Kidder.  Afraid that Kidder might one day try to wield power, Conant puts Kidder on the job of creating a new power source (interesting to create the literal for what he figuratively wants).  Kidder overhears Conant's designs, but dismisses it since he was in no one's way.  When Kidder has the Neoterics come up with the model, he brushes off Conant.  But Conant, not to be put off, arrives on the island with a team of engineers, engineers who slowly realize they were well-paid prisoners of Conant's, but for what they didn't know:
    "Conant liked that man [his engineer, Johansen].  He was, for a moment, a little sorry that Johansen would never reach the mainland alive."
    However, Conant overreaches to take over the United States government and bomb Kidder's island, Kidder has to save the Neoterics.


    1. In what ways may the word, Microcosmic, be intended?  Break the word into micro and cosm as well.
    2. Why is Kidder named kidder?  Who might he be kidding?
    3. Does Kidder like his fellow humans?  How does his misanthropy affect events?  Is he out to get humans?
    4. What aspect might the Neoterics represent that Kidder is more fascinated to the exclusion of all else?  What do the Neoterics provide?
    5. What aspect of society does Conant represent?  Do his machinations succeed or fail?  Why?  
    6. Who is the microcosmic god?  Kidder who is literally the god of the Neoterics?  Or Conant who wields Kidder's powers ruthlessly?  Or are the Neoterics, as a race, the actual god since their powers do the saving?
    7. Is Kidder any better a human than Conant?  Consider how he behaves toward his created beings?  Support your answer from the text.  If you think his behavior is okay, how do you justify his perpetual near-genocides?  If reprehensible, what do you make of what has become of the Neoterics compared to where we started?  If you find it difficult to pick sides, what might the authorial perspective be?

    Collected Theodore Sturgeon stories here at last

    The stories of Theodore Sturgeon, the man who inspired Kurt Vonnegut's Kilgore Trout, are now available in ebook formats.  

    Sturgeon was a writer of not only style--even early on (one of my favorite's of his voice is "Poker Face" included in Microcosmic God)--but also of the heart.  Other famous stories in The Ultimate Egotist are "It" and "Bianca's Hands"; in the Microcosmic God are the famous title story (discussed below), "Yesterday Was Monday" and "Shottle Bop."

    The first story in The Ultimate Egotist is "Heavy Insurance" is more of a quickie mystery, where a con artist is trying to make off with carbon ice.  Two things stand out in the next, "The Heart":  One, we have a tough-guy-voiced female character who, two, delivers  some good lines:
    "In that second I was deathly afraid of her, and that in itself was enough to get me interested."