Sunday, December 30, 2007

How do you know you're a geek?

I’ll tell you how. You know you’re a geek when you and a friend of yours meet to give each other Christmas gifts, and you have both, unbeknownst to the other, bought Robert E. Howard books.

Though not the same book, sadly. That would have been cool; like an O. Henry story, but with more brutal violence and rippling thews.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

New stuff

I’m back! It feels good, too. I’ve been busy- recovering from my hospitalization, seeking more work, getting my exercise routine up and running again, and getting some computer problems dealt with. Now, back to business.

Something I stumbled upon while searching an upcoming Neal Asher book entitled Shadow of the Scorpion that is apparently a prequel to the Ian Cormac series, featuring Ian Cormac as a young man in the aftermath of the Prador War. It’s listed as being published by Night Shade Books, though it’s not on their site yet.. I’ll definitely be looking forward to this one.

This is very neat - via Geoffrey Plauche comes news of the Libertarian SF Forum. It’s always nice when two of my nerdly interests combine. If, like me, you always find yourself finishing a new science fiction book and thinking, “You know, that was cool, but there weren’t enough privately owned arbitration firms,” check it out. This could be great if it takes off.

Alastair Reynolds has an interview up at Physics World. Sadly, there is still nothing from him on the all-important subject of labor relations.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Review of "Fleet of Worlds" by Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner

My review of Fleet of Worlds by Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner is up at Check it out.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Quick thoughts on Steven Erikson

I'm not generally a huge fantasy reader, compared to science fiction. I love Glen Cook, Robert E. Howard, and George R.R. Martin, as well as the fantasy work of David Drake and John C. Wright, but it's definitely secondary to science fiction for me.

I bought Gardens of the Moon because of all the raves I had heard about Steven Erikson and his Malazan series, and especially because I'd heard his work compared to Glen Cook's Black Company series. I liked it, but I wasn't stunned by it, and I didn't really get why Erikson was such a big deal. Still, I enjoyed it enough to try out the sequel, Deadhouse Gates.

Holy crap.

This book is just stunning in every respect- action, imagination, emotional impact. I really can’t do it justice, but in my opinion it launches Erikson into the first rank of modern fantasy and fully justifies the Black Company comparisons.

The sequels haven’t let me down, either. Memories of Ice is a great followup (especially if, like me, you finished Deadhouse Gates thinking “All that epic adventure and thrilling martial heroism was great, but there just wasn’t enough cannibalism in it.”) More great characters, great battles, and, jokes aside, one of the most terrifying concepts I‘ve seen in fantasy in the form of the hunger-crazed, cannibalistic Tenescowri.

Truly great stuff. If you’ve only read Gardens of the Moon and weren’t inspired to read the rest of the series by it, I can’t emphasize enough how worthwhile continuing is.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

I guess I'll have to drop out of that ass-kicking contest

Sometimes life takes a crap on you. I just got out of the hospital, after a minor blister on my right big toe became badly infected and refused to respond to the antibiotics I was originally prescribed, developing into an abscess and leaving me unable to walk. It was huge- it looked like I had sprouted an extra toe. By the time I was admitted to the emergency room to have it lanced, it looked like it was about to gain sentience and subsume the rest of me into its own malignant consciousness.

I'm okay now, though I was in the hospital for five days on IV antibiotics and, I'm told, came close to losing the appendage in question. My foot is none too pretty after having my big toe cut open and drained, but at least I can walk now.

On the plus side, I've got something very cool in the works for Stay tuned.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Review of "Sniper Elite: Spear of Destiny" by Jaspre Bark

I have a review of Jaspre Bark's Sniper Elite: Spear of Destiny over at Check it out.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Next, I want the "Jem" theme in Sanskrit

You may, if you're around my age, remember the Super Mario Brothers Super Show. You may also remember the intro sequence. Now, revisit the magic… in German!

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Monday, July 23, 2007

The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction

I discovered The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction quite by chance while browsing at a local bookstore. I’d never heard of Solaris, but the cover’s promise of new stories by Neal Asher, Peter F. Hamilton, and Stephen Baxter caught my eye. So, I thought, why not?

Happily, that decision paid off, because this is an excellent collection, bringing together a wide variety of stories. My favorites were:

“The Bowdler Strain” by James Lovegrove- Havoc ensues when a mind-altering “logovirus” that makes its victims unable to swear escapes from a government lab and spreads across Britain. Very funny.

“Personal Jesus” by Paul Di Fillipo- Humanity has found a technology that allows direct two-way communication with God, and now everyone carries a personal “godPod” that dispenses advice. Society has become near-utopian. But just what does God want from us? Starts off humorous, then gets… well, I don’t want to give it away. Great use of a very bizarre premise.

“If At First” by Peter F. Hamilton- Amusing story about the uses and abuses of time travel. Very similar to a scheme I once came up with for misusing time travel, actually.

“A Distillation of Grace” by Adam Roberts- The story of a strange sect in the distant future, carrying out an elaborate breeding program to create the “Unique,” who will be the combined genetic essence of God’s holiest followers. For the sake of this holy cause, the wills of individuals are a minor concern…

“Last Contact” by Stephen Baxter- Brings together two of the things Baxter does best: cosmological speculation and being depressing as hell. The first story I can remember reading that deals with the idea of the “Big Rip.” Baxter is often more emotionally effective than people give him credit for, and he shows that here.

“The Accord” by Keith Brooke- I can’t really describe what this is about, or what makes it interesting, without massive spoilers. It’s an example of a surprise twist ending done right, in which the ending is a surprise but still flows naturally from what came before, and makes you see everything that happened before in a new way.

In addition, there are also fine stories by Jeffrey Thomas, Neal Asher, Jay Lake and Greg van Eekhout, Mary A. Turzillo, Simon Ings, and Eric Brown. There isn’t reall any unifying theme or mood, although “creepy” would be a good description of a good number of stories. (Though by no means all, so don’t let that put you off if that’s not your thing.)

There are some clunkers. The weakest entry is definitely “Four Ladies of the Apocalypse” by Brian Aldiss. There’s very little plot, the writing style struck me as badly overdone, and I get the impression that the author was trying to make some sort of profound point and botching it. I also didn’t care for “Third Person” by Tony Ballantyne (the titular drug is an interesting idea, but the setting didn’t make much sense), “Cages” by Ian Watson, or “Jellyfish” by Mike Resnick and David Gerrold. The misses are badly outnumbered by the hits, however.

I’d definitely recommend The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction to any science fiction fan. Lots of great stories, and it’s a great way to find new authors. You can check out what else Solaris has to offer at their website.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Casting books

I’m not dead! I vanished for a while due to personal stuff (Good stuff, but time-consuming) and let the writing slide. I’ll try to be more consistent in the future.

Alastair Reynolds mentions something interesting- he envisioned Clavain from the “Revelation Space” series as Sean Connery- specifically, Sean Connery as he looked in “The Hunt for Red October.”

I have, on occasion, envisioned characters in books as actors while I read. When I started reading A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, for instance, I almost immediately imagined King Robert as Brian Blessed- partly from his role as the Duke of Exeter in Henry V, but mostly from when he played Richard IV in Black Adder.

For somewhat less clear reasons, I always imagined Garrett from Glen Cook’s Garrett, P.I. books as looking (and sounding, which makes no sense) like Gabriel Byrne’s character in Miller’s Crossing. Don’t ask me why. I also always imagined either Crask or Sadler (I don’t recall which) as looking and sounding like The Dane from the same film.

Anyone have any examples of their own?

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Review of "The Quest for the Trilogy" by Mel Odom

I have a review of Mel Odom's The Quest for the Trilogy over at Have a look.

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Friday, June 8, 2007

Alastair Reynolds news

Here's something cool: Alastair Reynolds has a blog. Hopefully Reynolds' much-sought views on labor policy will be forthcoming.

I just snagged a copy of his story collection Galactic North, actually- one of the rare times I haven't waited for the paperback edition. Expect something on that soon.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Lloyd Alexander, R.I.P.

I just read at the Science Fiction Book Club Blog that fantasy author Lloyd Alexander has passed away. He is best known for the Chronicles of Prydain series. He holds a special place for me, so I wanted to say something in his honor.

In fifth grade, we had a contest to see who could read the most books from a list provided. I participated vigorously and ultimately won; I was Class Nerd and was pleased to have a method of competition where I could crush the jocks. One of the books, which I picked up out of curiosity, was something called "The High King" by Lloyd Alexander. Despite the fact that I was not much of a fiction reader at the time, preferring science and history books, and despite the fact that I was reading the climax of a series out of order, I was entranced. I hadn't known there were books like this! It wasn't the book that turned me into a hardcore SF geek- The Mote in God's Eye holds that distinction- but The Chronicles of Prydain started me down that path, and it's very special to me.

So, Mr. Alexander: Thank you. You opened up whole new worlds to me, and brought a great deal of happiness to a little boy during a very unhappy time in his life. Rest in peace.

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

This and that

The Libertarian Futurist Society now has its own blog. It's always nice to see two of my obscure interests combined.

Here's something neat I found while perusing the archives of Neal Asher's blog: a timeline for the Polity universe. Beware of a small spoiler for The Skinner.

Finally, completely unrelated to science fiction, but too awesome to disregard, I give you: the greatest comic strip in the history of man. And even more here. (Hat tip: Hit and Run.)

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Saturday, May 5, 2007

Review of "The Skinner" by Neal Asher

I've got a review of Neal Asher's The Skinner up as my debut review for Fantasy Book Spot. Have a look.

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Friday, April 27, 2007

The nether realms of the subconscious

I occasionally have dreams that relate to books I've read or authors I like. Here's one I had a few nights ago; maybe someone out there can tell me what deep truths about my mind it reveals.

I dreamed I was reading a column written by one of my favorite authors, Alastair Reynolds. So, what was the column about? Science fiction? His new book, The Prefect? Cutting-edge physics? Astronomy?

No. It was a column about labor disputes. Unions, picket lines, collective bargaining. Maybe it was a prophetic dream, and in his next Revelation Space book the Ultras will unionize. You'd certainly have to pay me pretty well to work on one of those creepy lighthuggers.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Glen Cook reissue

Well, related to my last post, I was at the book store the other day, and was pleasantly surprised to see that Glen Cook's Sweet Silver Blues, the first book in the wonderful Garret series, is back in print from Roc books. Previously, the only way to get that one (and most of the other Garrett books) new was through the Science Fiction Book Club. I hope the rest of the series will follow; it deserve the exposure.

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Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Bringing back old favorites

A reader comment at this post got me thinking: what out-of-print works would you like to see reissued?

My first choice would be Poul Anderson, which is why I'm so pleased that Baen has released their second book of Anderson stories. I hope they sell well enough to do more; there are so many Anderson stories and novels that deserve an audience. What I'd really love to see is the complete Technic History gradually brouight back into print, but that would be a huge project, and I dimly recall reading on Baen's Bar that there's some sort of rights issue that would make it a difficult undertaking. The other stumbling block might be tone- the Baen editors have talked a lot about wanting to publish stories with an upbeat and optimistic sensibility, and the Technic History has a rather melancholy feel.

David Drake has been getting some reissues from Tor, first The Forlorn Hope and then Bridgehead. What I'd like to see out again is The Sea Hag, one of Drake's lesser-known fantasy books. I can understand why it wasn't a huge hit- it's a weird book with a sort of fairy tale structure- but it's greatly underrated in my opinion.

So, those are my picks. What are yours?

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Movin' on up...

Some nice news: I have been accepted as a reviewer at Stay tuned.

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

New Tor site

I've always found it a bit disappointing, and rather ironic, that science fiction publishers have generally not taken much advantage of the possibilities of the internet, the big exception being Baen. The most egregious example was Tor, which despite being SF's preeminent publisher had a pretty poor website. Well, they've completely revamped, and their new site is one of the better science fiction publisher sites on the internet, with extensive author sections and listings for all their books. Have a look.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Mindstar Rising by Peter F. Hamilton

Mindstar Rising, published in 1993, is the debut novel of Peter F. Hamilton, and the first book in the Greg Mandel trilogy.

The book is set in a high-tech
Britain in what appears to be the mid-21st century, although a firm date is never given. Britain has been ravaged by global warming and is struggling to recover from the social and economic devastation left by a decade of socialist dictatorship that has only recently come to an end.

The hero of the story is Greg Mandel: detective, former resistance fighter, British Army veteran, and telepath. He’s a product of the Mindstar Battalion, an abandoned attempt by the British government to tap and augment the powers of the human mind for military purposes. He can read the feelings and moods of those around him thanks to special implants, which comes in handy in his work.

After a short prologue, the story begins when Mandel is hired by wealthy industrialist Philip Evans, owner of technology firm Event Horizon, to root out sabotage in the company’s zero-g orbital factories. As the story progresses, Mandel find himself up against assassins, saboteurs, hackers, corporate mercenaries and more as he tries to unravel the mystery and protect his employer.

I thought Mindstar Rising was an excellent book and a great combination of mostly-realistic science fiction (psionics aside) and action/espionage. It’s got an interesting setting, some neat technology, and lots of action. It’s got memorable characters too; once you meet Mandel’s friend Royan, you won’t forget him for quite a while.

Hamilton does a nice job of portraying a ravaged nation just pulling itself out of ruin- slums, crumbling highways, former coastal towns half-submerged by the rising oceans. He does a nice job of creating a feeling of both bleakness and a bit of hope. It’s a type of setting you don’t seem to see that much- a recovering former dystopia.

The existence of psionic powers, something not seen much in print science fiction anymore, is handled well- it’s important to the story but doesn’t utterly dominate it. I especially like the way prescience was handled. Interestingly, whereas many works that deal with psionics imagine the discovery of such powers being a radical social change, perhaps even the next step in human evolution or some such, in this book it is described as being far less spectacular- Mindstar Battalion was an expensive failure, not useful enough to the Army to justify its cost. I found the idea of the telepathic supersoldier as costly boondoggle sort of amusing.

I highly recommend Mindstar Rising to anyone who likes a lot of action in their science fiction, people who like near-future speculation, and fans of Hamilton’s later works. Check this one out.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

John C. Wright interview

One of my favorite authors, John C. Wright, has a great interview up at SciFi Weekly. The descriptions of some of his upcoming projects sound especially promising.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Jabootu is back!

I'm hitting this a little late, but better than never: Jabootu's Bad Movie Dimension, the funniest movie site on the internet, is back in action with a new site. If you get a kick out of cheesy movies, or just like to laugh, be sure to check it out.

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Thursday, February 1, 2007

Science fiction and fantasy in bookstores

Robert Sawyer has a provocative suggestion at his blog: shelve science fiction and fantasy separately in stores. The idea has a certain appeal- I like precision of categorization, and it would make finding certain things quicker- but I think it would be a bad idea. Two reasons:

1. I don't buy Sawyer's claim that the long-standing association between the genres of fantasy and science fiction is a mere historical accident. There are simply too many major authors who have written in both genres- Poul Anderson, Jack Vance, Greg Bear, David Drake, Gordon R. Dickson- for me to believe they are "diametrically opposed," as Sawyer suggests. The commonalities between the two are something for another post, though.

2. On a more practical level, because many people (for whatever reason) write in both fields, it would mean that many authors would have to have their fiction split into two different sections, which would be a pain. Or, alternately, the store would have to pick one section to put all of an author's work in, which would also be a pain.

All in all, I prefer the status quo. I enjoy the narrower categories at online booksellers like Amazon (which does let you search separate fantasy and science fiction sections) but in a physical bookstore I'd rather things stay as they are.

Hat tip: SF Signal.

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Cordwainer Smith news

According to their updated schedule, Baen Books will be publishing a second Cordwainer Smith collection this September, entitled When the People Fell. Smith's total output was fairly small, so this second volume may well make all of his science fiction work available in stores again. Baen's collections have introduced me to some new authors, so hopefully this will bring Smith to a bigger audience.

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Friday, January 12, 2007

Gridlinked by Neal Asher

Today I'll be examining Gridlinked (Tor Science Fiction) by Neal Asher, a British author who has only been published in America within the last few years, though he has been writing for some time now. The book is the beginning of a series set in Asher's "Polity" future history.
The setting is a futuristic A.I.-ruled human society called the Polity. Travel throughout the Polity is accomplished principally through teleportation devices called "runcibles," which can turn people into energy and instantly transmit them across light-years. When a runcible on the remote world of Samarkand is sabotaged, destroying the settlement there, Earth Central Security agent Ian Cormac is sent on the Polity spacecraft Hubris to investigate. Meanwhile, a ruthless terrorist leader from his last case is gunning for him, and mysterious, inhuman beings are at work.


Ian Cormac: Cormac is a long-serving agent of Earth Central Security. He has been rendered all but emotionless by the 30 years he has spent gridlinked- joined by brain implants with the Polity's computer network and the A.I.'s he works with. This is considered very dangerous- remaining gridlinked for longer than 20 years is highly discouraged. He is encouraged to give up his gridlink after he blows an undercover investigation because of it- he is so emotionally undemonstrative that he is mistaken for an android by the Separatists he was infiltrating.
Cormac is fairly robotic at the beginning- he has very little emotion, and is continuously frustrated by the fact that people are not as reliable or efficient as machines. It's interesting to see him try to adjust to losing his link- for instance, he has to get used to actually talking when he wants information, instead of simply downloading it into his brain. Getting used to relating to people normally is also a challenge for him at first, though he improves as time passes.

Arian Pelter: A ruthless terrorist and Separatist leader, obsessed with getting revenge against Cormac for killing his sister. Utterly ruthless and driven

Mister Crane: A homicidal two-and-a-half meter tall android under Pelter's command. When not tearing people apart with his bare hands, he likes to examine the various toys and knickknacks he carries around in his coat.

John Stanton: An experienced mercenary in Pelter's service. Stanton isn't a good man by any means, but he still has a few remnant bits of conscience, and working for a man like Pelter gives them quite a workout.

Dragon: A bizarre alien organism/machine of unknown origin, consisting of four linked kilometer-wide spheres. Decades ago, Ian Cormac encountered this enigmatic being on the Polity world of Aster Colora, just before it vanished in a cataclysmic explosion. Now, Cormac sees traces of Dragon on Samarkand. Before it vanished, Dragon claimed to have been watching humanity for millennia. But what is its true nature?


Gridlinked is very solid enjoyable space opera/action story. I found the setting interesting (more on that in a bit), with some interesting locations. The story moves at a nice, quick pace, and made me want to keep reading. In particular, the central mystery of Dragon's true nature and intentions kept me interested in what would happen next. The action scenes are exciting and well done, though not for the squeamish. I liked the characters quite a bit- Ian Cormac is a likable hero who has an interesting psychological challenge to deal with, the psychological and moral progression of John Stanton is well done, and Pelter is very good as a villain.
I have two complaints. First, I wish more had been done with Cormac's adjustment to living without his gridlink. There's a lot of potential in the idea, and I don't think the book fully exploited the possibilities. Second, the ending seemed a bit rushed. These are only minor problems, however, and they don't detract significantly from the book.

Gridlinked is one of the few works of science fiction I can recall that really deals with the implications of a "convert people to energy" style-teleporter- namely, the fact that the mass of an entire human body yields a lot of energy, and that this energy could be incredibly destructive if turned lose. I'm kind of surprised that Star Trek, to the best of my recollection, never did anything with this, considering how many episodes revolved around transporter malfunctions. (Though Trek was seldom very good about thinking through the implications of its own technology.)

I loved the mysterious Dragon. Plenty of science fiction stories have had enigmatic ancient aliens, but Dragon is just so damn creepy. The biblical allusions in his dialogue, his strange mixture of flesh and machine, the bizarre reptilian servitors- it creates quite an atmosphere. Excellent character.

The story touches a bit on some of the possibilities of human alteration. Several characters make use of electronic brain implants to enhance their thought processes or help them link to machines. The aging process has been defeated, though some people choose to look old to project more authority or gravitas. (An idea that also comes up in David Drake's Cross the Stars.) Some people have been genetically engineered to live in heavy gravity or in deep space, and many people undergo extensive cosmetic alterations.

As I mentioned above, the Polity is ruled by artificial intelligences. I rather like the way Asher addresses the idea- it is portrayed as neither a cure-all for social ills, nor as some sort of oppressive dystopian nightmare. The A.I.s seem to do a reasonably good job of it- the Polity has a very high standard of living and appears to be fairly free; people can travel anywhere they want in the Polity without restriction, and free enterprise seems to be thriving. This does not greatly affect the plot, but some social effects are briefly touched upon- it is mentioned, for instance that certain humans, including Cormac, have all sorts of wild, larger-than-life legends attributed to them by a public desperate for proof that humans can still control their own destiny. The people of the Polity do not seem to object to their masters- it is mentioned, late in the book, that most people take it for granted that humans are not fit to rule.

The obvious comparison, of course is the Culture universe of Iain M. Banks. The Polity, while portrayed as attractive, is a good deal less utopian then the Culture, where the A.I.s (or "Minds") do pretty much all the work while humans live in total leisure. (By the way, what's the deal with British space opera authors and these vague names? I half-expect Alistair Reynolds or Peter F. Hamilton to come out with novels about "The Society" or "The Regime." I kid, I kid.) The only other A.I.-ruled society in recent print SF that comes immediately to mind (I'm missing some, I'm sure) is the Consensus from David Drake's Northworld trilogy, and in those books it's just a minor background detail, albeit an effective and atmospheric one.

I would highly recommend Gridlinked (Tor Science Fiction) for anyone who likes action-oriented science fiction or interesting future societies, and I look forward to reading more from Asher. Fortunately, his books are becoming more readily available in the United States.
For more information about Neal Asher, you can check out his website and his blog at The Skinner.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Nebula awards

Here's some neat news: SFWA has posted this year's Nebula Award preliminary nominees. I'm a bit embarrassed to say that I haven't read any of the nominated novels; most of my recent reading has been old out-of-print stuff from used book stores, and even my new books are usually a few years old. My favorite author of those nominated is Jack McDevitt, though.

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Sunday, January 7, 2007

The Man From Earth by Gordon R. Dickson

Today I'll be reviewing The Man from Earth by the late Gordon R. Dickson, best known for the Childe Cycle (AKA the "Dorsai" series.) This is a collection of 10 short stories by Gordon R. Dickson, with publication dates ranging from 1952 to 1969, mostly dealing with interaction between humans and aliens, usually in situations of conflict. My favorite stories from the collection are:

"Call Him Lord"- On a distant future Earth that has been preserved in an ancient condition by a starfaring human empire, the son of humanity's emperor is put to an ancient test. I liked the way the story is set up- Dickson takes an Earth much like ours, and yet makes it strange and alien. He also does a good job of inspiring emotional sympathy for a character that only appears in the last page, which isn't always easy to do, especially when it's not a viewpoint character.

"Ancient, My Enemy"- A group of prospectors and a young anthropology student are exploring in lethally hot territory occupied by primitive aliens when the youngest of the prospectors finds himself the target of a bizarre alien rite of battle. But the savage aliens aren't the only brutes out in the desert, and violence from without isn't the only enemy the young prospector faces. This is my favorite story in the collection, with an interesting alien culture and an emotionally effective conclusion.

"Steel Brother"- A story of a man who guards humanity's frontier's against alien aggression, with an interesting wrinkle- he wears a mechanism in his helmet that contains the recorded thoughts and memories of each man who served and died in his place before him, which he can access by thought. Does he call on that accumulated experience in battle and risk having his own personality swamped, or go it alone without the experience that might be vital to victory? Thought-recording and downloaded personalities are common tropes now, but it was neat to see it in a story from 1952.

"Love Me True"- Nice and creepy, and it has the good kind of twist ending- the kind that surprises you, yet seems obvious when you read the story a second time.

All in all, The Man from Earth is an enjoyable collection. The stories deliver plenty of excitement and some emotional punch. If you like science fiction from this era, or if any of the stories outlined above sound interesting, then by all means seek out a copy.

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Monday, January 1, 2007

Jack McDevitt interview

There's a nice interview with Jack McDevitt over at SciFi Weekly. If you don't know McDevitt's work, you really should check him out.

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