Monday, April 6, 2020


(tr. Alison Watts)
Bitter Lemon Press
$6.94 Kindle edition, $14.95 trade paper, available now


The Publisher Says: On a stormy summer day the Aosawas, owners of a prominent local hospital, host a large birthday party. The occasion turns into tragedy when 17 people die from cyanide in their drinks. The only surviving links to what might have happened are a cryptic verse that could be the killer's, and the physician's bewitching blind daughter, Hisako, the only person spared injury. But the youth who emerges as the prime suspect commits suicide that October, effectively sealing his guilt while consigning his motives to mystery. The police are convinced that Hisako had a role in the crime, as are many in the town, including the author of a bestselling book about the murders written a decade after the incident, who was herself a childhood friend of Hisako’s and witness to the discovery of the murders. The truth is revealed through a skillful juggling of testimony by different voices: family members, witnesses and neighbors, police investigators and of course the mesmerizing Hisako herself.


My Review

Thursday, April 2, 2020

And now about these reviews....

In an older piece from The Atlantic, Maria Popova meditated on the ease of making, and finding, criticism of the arts in an online world. As someone whose opinions, strongly held, are often enough mistaken for and attacked for being Statements Of Inerrant Fact, I was struck by midcentury monadnock John Updike's reasonable requests of reviewers as quoted in Popova's article:
My rules, drawn up inwardly when l embarked on this craft, and shaped intaglio–fashion by youthful traumas at the receiving end of critical opinion, were and are:
1. Try to understand what the author wished to do, and do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt.

2. Give him enough direct quotation—at least one extended passage—of the book's prose so the review's reader can form his own impression, can get his own taste.

3. Confirm your description of the book with quotation from the book, if only phrase-long, rather than proceeding by fuzzy precis.

4. Go easy on plot summary, and do not give away the ending. (How astounded and indignant was I, when innocent, to find reviewers blabbing, and with the sublime inaccuracy of drunken lords reporting on a peasants' revolt, all the turns of my suspenseful and surpriseful narrative! Most ironically, the only readers who approach a book as the author intends, unpolluted by pre-knowledge of the plot, are the detested reviewers themselves. And then, years later, the blessed fool who picks the volume at random from a library shelf.)

5. If the book is judged deficient, cite a successful example along the same lines, from the author's ouevre or elsewhere. Try to understand the failure. Sure it's his and not yours?

To these concrete five might be added a vaguer sixth, having to do with maintaining a chemical purity in the reaction between product and appraiser. Do not accept for review a book you are predisposed to dislike, or committed by friendship to like. (emphasis added because damn, this is important!) Do not imagine yourself a caretaker of any tradition, an enforcer of any party standards, a warrior in an ideological battle, a corrections officer of any kind. Never, never (John Aldridge, Norman Podhoretz) try to put the author 'in his place,' making him a pawn in a contest with other reviewers. Review the book, not the reputation. Submit to whatever spell, weak or strong, is being cast. Better to praise and share than blame and ban. The communion between reviewer and his public is based upon the presumption of certain possible joys in reading, and all our discriminations should curve toward that end.
While I will never at all understand the spoilerphobia of so very many people, I will do my best to honor it. Someone, I promise you, will *al*ways* find fault and screech "spoiler" at the most innocuous-to-my-eyes things. They, being Gravely Injured, feel free to vent copious spleen upon the perp of the heinous crime. I'm tired of hearing their collective mouth, so I am making ever more serious efforts not to give away important points. I accept that I will, from time to time, fail in someone vocal's eyes. C'est la guerre.

Here's a funny thing about writing about someone else's writing: Who cares? Why read reviews? Who asked you, as a former friend snarled at me once. I am not an academically trained critic; I follow no school of literary theory in writing about the books authors, publishers, and librarians give me, or that I buy with my very own United States dollars. What I do is called "reader response" criticism, a school of thought that has at its heart the silly idea that the reader, as opposed to the writer or the writer's intent, or the writer's execution, of the work is central to understanding the value of it.

I think of the reader as the source of the value a book has, not the writer or her unknowable (in my eyes) "intent." So I tell you what I felt about the book. I almost always use extended passages of the author's own prose in making my points. In short works that is sometimes impractical; in some cases it's simply impossible, like the extremely long single sentence that is Ducks, Newburyport (which I adored five stars'-worth but was unable to figure out how to review). I judge a book's success or failure based on how well it did the job of involving me, entertaining me, educating me; sometimes all of those things (and more) at the same time. Why is that valuable, I've been asked ("Who asked you" as mentioned above); yeah, so? seems to be the sneering tone I'm meant to hear.

There are, without exaggeration, hundreds of thousands of new, newly translated, newly re-translated, revised editions of books made available each and every year. I don't mean to alarm you, but the inescapable conclusion one must reach from that datum is that there are a whole helluva lotta books you will never hear about, let alone read. So let my biblioholism and seven-decade and counting lifetime of eclectic reading help you identify one or two you really shouldn't miss. I don't use affiliate links; I am unpaid by anyone; there's no advertising here. You'll get my opinion of a book's success or failure at its job, which is to impact me positively in the manner I procured it to do.

That opinion, being mine, is only of value to you if you know what it is; thereafter you can judge for yourself if your taste is close to mine, far from mine, on a different plane of existence from mine, and weigh your purchases or library holds accordingly. Hey, it's free! No ads to ignore, no secret commissions to cynically smirk about, zip zero nada rien requested or required from you. I hope you'll find my writing amusing as well as informative. I always love blog members leaving notes about what they agree or disagree with, but it's not required since you don't need to join up in order to read up.

So take what I'm freely offering with whatever sized salt measure suits you, strap on your anti-sarcasm armor, sharpen your Fork of Facetiousness, and ride!

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

It's APRIL AT LAST!! So that means...

Yes, that's right, it's the month I long for all year! Here at last! It's NATIONAL POETRY MONTH!!

As is my time-honored habit, I will feature reviews of poetry collections and anthologies from all corners of the World Poetical. Religious poets and children's poesies are, as I know you expect them to me, my very very favorites and will be singled out for devoted attention.
Now, never you fear, fellow poetry lovers: I will also seek high and low for books of poetry in translation as well! How else can an educated, cultured person like we all are expect to understand, to really *grasp* the hearts of people not like us if we don't read their poetry as filtered through a translator's eyes? It's plainly impossible! And ridiculous to try.
I will spend each and every one of April's thirty days elucidating the finer points of the poetical world, digging deep into the arcana of poetry criticism to explicate these sometimes difficult-to-grasp topics. What else can I do, my old and dear friends, except my all and my best to assist you in poetical-reading discovery? Why, it would be unthinkable for me to abandon you to the wilds of the Poetry-MFA Nexus without so much as Ariadne's Clew.

And do it I shall not.

(psst...look at the calendar)

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

THE MURDERBOT DIARIES, four gifts from Author Martha Wells for your isolation reading


I think you'd have to be a troglodyte (therefore unlikely to have developed a blog-reading habit) to have escaped the Murderbot frenzy of the past three years. I've been remiss in buying them, since I am what is clinically described as "destitute," but I've borrowed library copies and chuckled (and sniffed!) along for the past three years. However, the release of Network Effect in May 2020 (place your pre-orders now! Authors need our support during the pandemic) led me to want to re-read the entire series. I'd planned to do this one book a month...All Systems Red in January, Artificial Condition in February, Rogue Protocol in March, Exit Strategy in April...but damme if it wasn't just too too tempting to get them all and gobble them down NOW when All Systems Red went on sale.

These novellas are absolutely perfect plague-reads. Long enough and involving enough to wile an afternoon away; enough of them to form a real attachment to the world Author Wells has built; a longer book in the near term; and still can fit the reads into a schedule without busting it! All four Murderbot Novellas are available at all imaginable retailers. You should visit the Author's Murderbot site for links to your preferred bookery. I really hope that you will, and not only because I love every single one of y'all who reads my reviews but because Author Wells could use our support in this Time of Plague.

Note! These reviews are not intended to give you spoilers but, if you have not read past a particular book in the series, please don't read reviews for the later books. I have left out the usual "The Publisher Says" portion of my review format because there are four books in this review. Follow any link to Author Wells's Murderbot Page if you aren't familiar with the set-up of the series.

My Reviews:
of All Systems Red...4* of five, what a great way to start a series
There is no pleasure like revisiting a read and discovering you like it *more* the second time around. I knew Murderbot was a terrific PoV character. I remembered the exhilaration of the ending. I am still delighted by Dr. Mensah, and I want to live on Preservation like, tomorrow, thank you please.

I'm so glad I did this reread. The pleasures of this slender expedition into a future both darker and brighter than the present I am so very disgruntled with are out of proportion to the time Author Wells spends setting them up. My trip to this future can now be continued; I expect, though, that I'd best hold back my usual urge to binge every available scrap before the novel comes out in May 2020. I want to savor these pleasures. Hell of an achievement, ma'am, to make a sentient but still pleasant cyborg with a murderous past into such a sweetiedarling woolly lambkin honey pie.

of Artificial Condition...4* of five, so much fun to read back-to-back!
Murderbot's shocking actions at the end of All Systems Red come into sharp focus in this excellent romp. I love Murderbot. Its journey to becoming fully sapient, instead of merely sentient, is full of the most delightful lines and aperçus:
I guess you can’t tell a story from the point of view of something that you don’t think has a point of view.
“Sometimes people do things to you that you can’t do anything about. You just have to survive it and go on.”
I can't help but feel that sapience is its gift already, it just doesn't know it. It takes more than sentience to desire truth over comfort:
“I need to know if the incident occurred due to a catastrophic failure of my governor module. That’s what I think happened. But I need to know for sure.”
I hesitated, but what the hell, {ART} already knew everything else. “I need to know if I hacked my governor module in order to cause the incident.”
And now I knew why I hadn’t wanted to do this. It would make it harder for me to pretend not to be a person.
Author Wells, I salute you. This tale, this entire series, is some very, very high quality misdirection! You're teaching us, you clever clogs, while making us laugh and diverting our executive functions with innocuous-looking packaging.

The last words, in service of my point, belong to ART the, um, well let's say Murderbot's use of the acronym is both apt and necessary (and in the end is used by ART as its own name, in a very under-the-radar throwaway at the end of this volume):
Young humans can be impulsive. The trick is keeping them around long enough to become old humans. This is what my crew tells me and my own observations seem to confirm it.

Mommydaddy Murderbot concurs.

of Rogue Protocol...4.75* of five, damn near perfect
Oh, Murderbot!

Oh my poor, sweet Murderbot. Your pain is real to me because Author Wells is skilled in the art of inflicting pain on innocent readers. Best of the three stories by a good margin.

Murderbot continues its quest to fully understand the horrible life it's led as a slave, one sentient enough to be autonomous but still able to be customized to perform different complex security functions (which implies being programmable, therefore malleable, therefore manipulable in the vilest of ways) but not allowed to develop its sapience. Author Wells does her usual bang-up job of making Murderbot an excellent companion on a picaresque quest to install sapience into its systems:
I didn’t have the combat stealth module anyway (I had never been upgraded with it, probably due to...the whole “killing all the clients” thing, go figure)...
Who knew being a heartless killing machine would present so many moral dilemmas. (Yes, that was sarcasm.)
The core cutter had powered up and accessed my feed to deliver a canned warning and a handy set of directions. Why yes, I did want to disengage the safety protocols, thanks for asking.
The issue at hand this time, the reason Murderbot sweet-talked a fairly basic pilot bot into allowing it aboard a human-infested transport to a far outpost on the Corporation Rim...pause to appreciate that as Murderbot's quest for information (what humans call answers) to process what and why it became Murderbot in the first place that it travels in space beyond the reach of the corporation-first norms into low-security humans-first to collect more data on GrayCris. These corporate malefactors ("We were talking about GrayCris here, whose company motto seemed to be “profit by killing everybody and taking their stuff,” thinks Murderbot) are in the middle of a lawsuit war with Dr. Mensah and the entire Preservation team that bought Murderbot in All Systems Red.

The discoveries Murderbot makes are, well, unsurprising in that malefeasance and lawbreaking are involved. They are appalling in that corporate skulduggery explicitly involves murdering people to save the corporation money. Author Wells doesn't look on a safe, secure, "prosperous" world with no privacy and less respect for human dignity with the eye of faith. She sees what she sees and reports back to us. I mean, it's all a story, right, but it's not based on nothing. Is it.

So Murderbot visits beyond the Corporation Rim to discover what it suspects is bombshell information. Murderbot wants to help the human that bought it not in order to use it but in order to stop it being used. Murderbot applied its sentience to leave, it's not proper to say "escape," Dr. Mensah to begin its quest for sapience without knowing in advance that...
...apparently once you start, you can’t just stop. I wasn’t going to just send the geo pod data to Dr. Mensah. I was taking it to her personally. I was going back. Then I laid down on the floor and started Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon from episode one.
Murderbot's heading home. Family needs it. And Family comes first.

of Exit Strategy...5* of five, there's a beautiful glow about this read, like polished sterling
This is the point in the series when Murderbot comes in from the cold. Nothing about this read is emotionally easy because Murderbot is so confused. Until the organic memories can be fully integrated into its systems, emotions will keep flooring it. Author Wells gets all five stars for this entry in the series because that integration is not an easy thing for Murderbot, or in fact for the organic being reading its diary.
(Possibly I was overthinking this. I do that; it’s the anxiety that comes with being a part-organic murderbot. The upside was paranoid attention to detail. The downside was also paranoid attention to detail.)
I was having an emotion, and I hate that. I’d rather have nice safe emotions about shows on the entertainment media; having them about things real-life humans said and did just led to stupid decisions like {the one Murderbot is telling us about}.
Huh, why did I like Sanctuary Moon so much? I had to pull the memory from my archive, and what I saw there startled me. “It’s the first one I saw. When I hacked my governor module and picked up the entertainment feed. It made me feel like a person.” Yeah, that last part shouldn’t have come out, but with all the security-feed monitoring I was doing, I was losing control of my output. I closed my archive. I really needed to get around to setting that one-second delay on my mouth.
Wonderful. Truly, and simply, wonderful prose, wonderful plotting, wonderful world-building, and a wonderful, satisfying character arc.

Monday, March 30, 2020

A JUSTIFIED STATE, first of three medium-future Scotland's awful torments, and SUPER good COVID-19 reading

(The State Trilogy #1)
$2.99 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 4.5* of five, a half-star off for the heinous w-bomb dropped at 52%

The Publisher Says: In the future, The State is ruled by the socially reformist Central Party Alliance. Poverty and homelessness have been eradicated, but overpopulation, an energy crisis and an ongoing overseas war are threatening the stability of the country. When a local politician is assassinated, Detective Danny Samson finds himself thrust into the middle of the investigation. Still grieving for his dead wife and children, Danny tracks down the assassin, an ex-military sniper called Gabriella, only to discover she may not be the real villain.

The secret behind the murder of one politician may bring down the entire ruling Party, and Danny soon learns those in power will go to any lengths to protect The State. Joining forces with Gabriella and the mysterious government agent Phillips, Danny must unearth the truth and bring the guilty to justice, before they catch up with him first.

My Review: No one is talking about this book and I can not figure out why. I think it's superb. A Justified State is really dark, involving, and quite exciting. Think Enemy of the State only written by Philip K. Dick in an unusually grim mood. It's near-future, like the In Death series, and can't fairly be classed with them because the stakes are SO. VERY. HIGH.

The world is, as I suspect you know by now, going directly to hell in a very cramped handbasket. There are 7.5 billion of us, and the planet's ability to support us all is creaking. That's not because of scarcity of resources, mind you, it's because we distribute resources in truly pathological ways. The COVID-19 pandemic during which I am writing this review, and whose assault on my nerves I read this book to mitigate, has thrown this 2018 title's central thesis into bright relief. Things, in Detective Danny Samson's unnamed-but-evidently medium-future Glasgow, are both better...the environment is recovering, the sea-level rises we're going to get (don't bother equivocating, they're coming so make your plans accordingly) are well-mitigated...and worse...we're all forced to live in Social Housing cubes, prefab characterless nightmares of conformity, and while no one is hungry only the very top echelons regularly eat natural foods. (None of this, BTW, is remotely far-fetched as we're in this situation today; you're just not used to looking at it from that angle.)

The electric grid that sustains dense city immense population is struggling. The lifespan of an average citizen is about 110 years; Danny's not quite middle-aged at 47. But it's not the years, it's the mileage, as Danny's life ceased to have any meaning after his twin children died shortly after birth, followed by his wife's depression and suicide. No one is going to be chipper under these circumstances. Danny, as a State Police Officer, is forced (note verb) to take compassionate leave to process his losses. When the story opens, a murder is in process; the lucky State Police Detective to draw the short straw of investigating the first violent homicide the City has seen in who-knows-when is Danny. That the murdered man is a Consul, a high but local State official, suggests to all and not least to Danny, that the desired result of the investigation isn't The Truth Coming Out, but the forms being filled out and filed. He's dead, it's awful, what's next.

I'll tell you what's next: Danny the Depressed needs answers because he's lost love, he's lost purpose, and he's rapidly losing the little faith in Humanity he's clung to. Solving a man's murder, even a man as far "above" Danny as the dead Consul was, will enable Danny to restore ma'at, will bring a deal of justice to a world where even-handed has been defined as fair. The reason the opening murder is committed will, I promise you, set your preconceived notions on their ear. It's a deep and twisty thing, power, and grabbing it makes enemies.

Sometimes very, very angry ones. Righteously angry.
Where there were those in power, those with more wealth, they would always seek to rise above those below them, to maintain their position and protect their interests.
I do not care what kind of social system, with what kind of social controls on thought and behavior, people invent, there will be someone who will find a way to subvert the purpose of the situation for their own gain. Every system starts with a purpose, often a laudable one; we, the hoi polloi, are assured that ALL must obey the strictures put in place to benefit the many at the expense of the few.
Openness and transparency, those were the cornerstones of the Central Alliance Party that had swept to power after years of corrupt and ineffectual governance. If {the Party} had the ability to fake {location} data, then {police} reports were at best meaningless and at worst providing alibis that allowed State leaders to go wherever they wanted and do whatever they desired.
It will surprise you to learn that this is, in fact, the least of the worms crawling out of the can that Danny and his weirdly assorted not-enemies (it's too much to call them "allies") have collectively opened. This is an iceberg whose long gestation has caused much, much displacement in the ocean of Danny's life.

I can't go more into that because the Spoiler Stasi will shriek at and dive-bomb me. (An unpleasant experience, I've found, and to be avoided even if their sensitivity seems to me outsized and outlandishly emotional.) But this is a book I want you to read, so I won't spoiler the real, and utterly appalling, motive for the murder of the Consul. The deaths that follow are, in fact, all tied to the central horror, the unbelievable (and I mean this literally, you will not want to believe the central crime could ever happen) cruelty and vileness, which the Consul set in motion.

Seriously, y'all, this book's been out there 18 months and it's not a bestseller yet?! Hop on it! Three bucks for five hours'-worth of twisty, dark, well-plotted, tautly paced, and almost entirely well-thought-out worldbuilding telling a deeply heartfelt moral story.

I do have a few minor cavils. There are, in this Brave New World, some absences that are carefully explained. No bars, casinos, or parties; only State-approved music; one mass celebration allowed, the New Year. No old-fashioned dwellings with things like fireplaces. Not in generations. And yet Danny knows how to tend a fire? And Danny knows the barman behind the bar in an illicit casino (a word he shouldn't know, a concept he shouldn't have) how exactly?

But these are cavils. I can probably MacGyver up a patch, to do with the fact that Danny's father was older when he was born and his great-grandfather was a known troublemaker, something like that. But honestly when I am so enrapt and fully invested in the story, I don't much like having to retcon myself. Call me crazy but that's the author's job to my mind.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

A quick note.

I've been gone for a while, some nasty health challenges are at last clearing up...goddesses please bless the drug industry for its many successes!...but one thing, or more precisely two things, happened in December and January that reduced my desire to do this unpaid and non-commercial blog thing.

I got snarked at by A Famous Author on Facebook for calling out authors on what he was pleased to call "your mediocre reviews" (his had four stars lest you think I was making a point of being rude to him) and two weeks later on Twitter another Famous SF Author snapped about the way people "who think they're being helpful" by highlighting typos and the like, when all it does is cause Amazon to list that product as problematic.

Well, gents, a giant "fuck you" to reviewing your books, and the crappy, badly edited, typo-ridden books of indie authors. As to whom I'm intending to help, it ain't the author who can't or won't or doesn't think she needs to hire a copyeditor and a proofreader. They're different, equally important jobs; neither should be loaded onto a developmental editor, whose art is making your story better, not your book salable.

Can't afford it? Don't publish until you can. Publish anyway? Fix the errors your readers have alerted you to.

And belt the fuck up about how anyone who's paid for your book "owes" or "should" review it at all, still less only positively. No one owes you dick. You wrote the best book you could? Gold star, muffin, now put it in a drawer and glow with pleasure at this not inconsiderable achievement. Enter it into the commercial world and you're going to have to play by that world's rules.

Among those is the golden one: Value for dollars. An ebook is about as much as a fast-food burger. A paperback is about as much as an entrée at Applebee's. A hardcover's about what an entrée costs at a hotel restaurant. You'd better give me at least that much value or I am gonna tell the world you didn't.

I want to be clear: I do not have any income stream from book reviewing by my choice. When I've written reviews for other venues, they are and will be unpaid. I can't afford to make money because the US disability system says I must be in abject, unending poverty to have access to my Social Security payments (at less than half of what they would be if I'd retired on time). I ***hate*** advertising, so I'm not going to attempt to monetize this little tiny blog. So there's no reason for me try for huge readership, or to seek out the rare paying gigs that career writers BADLY NEED. I review books because I'm a tsundoku-suffering biblioholic without the slightest will or desire to be "cured" of my addiction. So here I am, asking you to read my reader-response reviews of books I've liked, loved, or (infrequently) loathed. There's no need for me to trim my cloth to the needs of others, and I won't, but the sheer noxious idiocy of syaing in public that readers owe anything except the purchase price of the book to the author, or that a reviewer shouldn't say to a writer "I liked your book!" by mentioning that they've written a review of it, is something I won't let pass unchallenged.

Happier topics: 2019 was a *stellar* reading year! For the first time ever, I had two six-stars-of-five reads: Black Light: Stories, a debut story collection that gave me so much pleasure I read it twice (ever rarer occurance that), and the wrenching, gutting agony of Heart Berries, a memoir of such honesty and such vulnerability that I was a wreck after I finished it. I went back and forth a dozen times, first Author Parsons was the sixer, then Author Mailhot; neither book could possibly "win" for long because I couldn't get either book out of my mind.

I handed out 34 5- or damn-near-5-star reviews out of 155 reviewed books on LibraryThing and/or Goodreads; that's 22% of the total and that is a LOT. Many, even most of these (10+) were for short stories, for end-of-beloved-series novels, or for story collections. But hold on to something heavy: TWO, yes that's t-w-o dos due deux zwei два were...POETRY COLLECTIONS. Sarah Tolmie's The Art of Dying and the late Frank Stanford's collected poems, What About This: Collected Poems of Frank Stanford. Both were peak reading experiences. Another was cultural monadnock George Takei's graphic memoir They Called Us Enemy, which could not be more important for young people today to absorb.

What a beautiful year it was, to bring so many delights to my door. I hope, greedy thing that I am, that 2020 will repeat this performance. For all of us, really...honest! I didn't just add that on the end of this summing-up to make it sound less solipsistic.

In 2020, I wanted to post 10 book reviews a month on my blog. As of 26 February, I haven't posted a-one! The mitigating factors, some anyway, are listed above; but I need to get this train rollin' or the deficit will become daunting quickly. Even so, I still read a story every other day, as 2019's total of 155 (a lot of individual stories don't have entries in the sites' databases so I didn't post them individually; guess I should do more to sync the data this year) reads shows; so it's doable, and I've done better than that in the past.

I will Pearl Rule books I'm not enjoying with notes on Goodreads & LibraryThing about why I'm abandoning the read.

...and that's me done. My reports will continue to be quarterly here, the day after the end of the quarter.

Monday, December 9, 2019

MORE FREE SF! Two stories from 1957 to read in line, while waiting for the gift wrap or at the P.O.

Shopping and wrapping and waiting, oh my! Shopping and wrapping and waiting, oh my! Fire up the browser on your phone, let's get some free reads for the line.

SF blogger Joachim Boaz decided to do a project where he will review a sampling of the Golden-into-Silver Age short fictions about generation ships. The first review, and story, I read was Spacebred Generations by Clifford D. Simak. Then I read his Judith Merril review; he was pretty stoked while I, welllll, maybe not quote so much. But the reads as a whole I'd call a success, so why not follow along?

I went back to the first one, then got ahead again...comme d'habitude.


The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
July 1957 issue, free

Rating: 3.5* of five

What better time is there to give yourself a booster shot of resistance to Faux Smarmy Cheer? Here it is, readers, a tale of how irredeemable Humanity is! A good part of my mingy rating, and for an author whose work I have always liked before!, comes down to this:
As a matter of fact, Bob was the closest thing to a friend he had ever had. There had been a few girls, but that was different.
It's hard for me to choose which thing to object to the most here: Bob's relegation to not-friendship despite clearly behaving as a friend, or the appalling-to-me notion that "girls" can't be a male's friends. The assumption that men are either studs or cucks (though I don't think Professor Oliver, deceased 1993, would've used those terms, I know he'd "get" them right away), and that studs are always tall and strong and a little bit ugly, is reductive and objectionable in today's landscape. It's also wrong, both factually and conceptually.

From there, the logical lapses just built and built...why would the designers of a closed system allow books that contained Earthly images like ships, seas, clouds in reach of people for whom those words mean nothing? if the movie the people saw on Founding Day has images of Earth, how would the first-time viewers know what they were looking at? Sam comes across space suits, things he's never seen before, and just knows what they are HOW?!...but all that pales into insignificance held against The Big Reveal.


I assume you're curious enough to read the darn thing yourself but I'll say this much: Oliver's low opinion of Humanity didn't start late in life. He was only thirty-ish when this tale, and the more famous Transfusion of 1959, appeared. Even famously cynical SF writer and fellow Austinite Howard Waldrop got nothin' on the bitterness of this tale, or the cynical outrage at the pusillanimity of our species. I might not be thrilled by the read, but I am in sympathy with it, being as bleakly unimpressed by the inner workings of Humankind as Oliver was before me.


Science Fantasy
December 1957 issue, PDF read-only link above

Rating: 4.5* of five UPDATE 11 DECEMBER 2019 Distinguished SF blogger James W. Harris reviews this generation-ship tale.

This is a Brunner story I haven't read before! He's an old favorite of mine (see my review of Times Without Number, others came before I was reviewing). So when Joachim Boaz posted the link to this story, well, I don't have much impulse control when it comes to reading....

Like Judith Merril's story reviewed below, this one takes place as things are reaching a crisis or inflection point; in Brunner's case, opposite to Merril's, the point-of-view was adult...well, aged Earthborn people, the ones who started the trip to a new world that was planned by a visionary called Yoseida, so obviously a Japanese person. This sort of surprised me. Japan was on the come-up in 1957, but it wasn't the economic and technological powerhouse it would become. But Yoseida was the money-man as well as the macher behind this effort to colonize a new world. Prescient, or very lucky? I suspect Brunner himself wouldn't know now.

Franz Yerring is the head of the ecological section of the generation ship. He's Earth-born, aging out of his position, hoping that he won't have to deliver bad news to Captain Magda Gomez about their steep decline in food and air availability looming within a month. Wish granted, Franz, the ship will now be in orbit over Trip's End around Tau Ceti in about two weeks!

Then the fecal matter impacts the rotary ventilation enhancement device in quantities previously undreamed of.

The shipborn aren't much interested in getting off the ship.

You see, this development would (in less devious hands) set the rest of the story onto the rails of conflict and Clifford D. Simak's Spaceborn Generations, reviewed in November...but no, our lad John takes that expectation and shakes it hard, until its wallet falls out and disgorges the serious gelt. There is no conflict between the spaceborn and their elders. They aren't interested enough in the Earthborns's issue, planting a colony, for it to matter enough to cause a fight.

Read the story, the real conflict is much, much higher stakes than passive resistance to The Plan. A lot scarier, too. But the problem is that the ending relies on science that seemed more plausible in 1957 than it's proven to be in modern times. The issue it raises is bleeding-edge current, and the problem it posits is also bleeding-edge current. It's a wonderful way to bring up a painful discussion in sociopolitcally polarized families. But the central premise is debatable in its form presented.

I'm getting dangerously close to irretrievable spoilers here. Let me say this to you, dear readers: The story is free at the link provided and it will richly reward the 30min you spend reading it with hours of rumination.