My life in outer space

Archive for November, 2015

Year’s Best SF 11 – David G Hartwell (Ed) & Kathryn Cramer (Ed) (2006)

Year's Best SF 11 (Year's Best SF (Science Fiction))

It could be argued that ‘Nature’ is helping to keep that odd phenomenon, the short short story, alive. The SSS – not to be confused with the Drabble, which is a microstory of one hundred words – presumably due to the space constraints for fiction within the magazine, runs to no more than four pages.
Thus SF has found an evolutionary niche in a non-fiction periodical, much as happened back in the Sixties and Seventies with Playboy, which regularly had its published stories reprinted in ‘Year’s Best’ anthologies.
Several SSS’s feature in this volume and very good they are too. The longer pieces are also excellent, although in many I am seeing very good writing but little innovation.
There are two so far that I find both innovative and exciting, Rudy Rucker’s ‘Guadalupe and Hieronymus Bosch’ and Daryl Gregory’s ‘Second Person, Present Tense’.

David Langford – New Hope for the Dead (Nature 2005)
Hannu Rajaniemi – Deus Ex Homine (Nova Scotia 2005)
Gardner R Dozois – When the Great Days Came (F&SF 2005)
Daryl Gregory – Second Person, Present Tense (Asimov’s 2005)
Justina Robson – Dreadnought (Nature 2005)
Ken Macleod – A Case of Consilience (Nova Scotia 2005)
Tobias S Bucknell – Toy Planes (Nature 2005)
Neal Asher – Mason’s Rats (Asimov’s 2005)
Vonda N McIntyre – A Modest Proposal (Nature 2005)
Rudy Rucker – Guadalupe and Hieronymus Bosch (Interzone 2005)
Peter F Hamilton – The Forever Kitten (Nature 2005)
Matthew Jarpe – City of Reason (Asimov’s 2005)
Bruce Sterling – Ivory Tower (Nature 2005)
Lauren McLaughlin – Sheila (Interzone 2005)
Paul McAuley – Rats of The System (Constellations 2005)
Larissa Lai – I Love Liver: A Romance (Nature 2005)
James Patrick Kelly – The Edge of Nowhere (Asimov’s 2005)
Ted Chiang – What’s Expected of Us (Nature 2005)
Michael Swanwick – Girls and Boys, Come Out to Play (Asimov’s Aug 2005)
Stephen Baxter – Lakes of Light (Constellations 2005)
Oliver Morton – The Albian Message (Nature 2005)
Bud Sparhawk – Bright Red Star (Asimov’s 2005)
Alaya Dawn Johnson – Third Day Lights (Interzone 200 2005)
Greg Bear – Ram Shift Phase 2 (Nature 2005)
Gregory Benford – On the Brane (Gateways 2005)
R Garcia y Robertson – Oxygen Rising (2005)
Adam Roberts – And Future King… (Nature 2005)
Alastair Reynolds – Beyond the Aquila Rift (Constellations 2005)
Joe Haldeman – Angel of Light (Cosmos #6 – Dec 2005)
Liz Williams – Ikiryoh (Asimovs, Dec 2005)
Cory Doctorow – I, Robot (Infinite Matrix – Dec 2005)

David Langford – New Hope for the Dead

A satirical tale in which the digitally preserved dead are recruited to police e-mail during a credit crunch.

Hannu Rajaniemi – Deus Ex Homine

A very well-written story involving man’s fight against a virus which transforms humans into godlike AIs.

Gardner R Dozois – When the Great Days Came

The first of the stories in this volume featuring rats (either literally or symbolically). A rat witnesses the meteor strike which initiates the human extinction event.

Daryl Gregory – Second Person, Present Tense

One of the best stories in this volume, Gregory tells the story of Therese, whose personality was wiped by a new illegal drug. Having had her personality and memories reassembled, Terry has trouble convincing her family and therapists and maybe herself that she is not the Therese who took the drug in the first place. Gripping and thought-provoking.

Justina Robson – Dreadnought

A grim slice of dark space opera where dead soldiers, mounted on the flanks of a damaged military space vehicle are employed to host a damaged AI.

Ken Macleod – A Case of Consilience

An update on James Blish’s seminal novel ‘A Case of Conscience’ in which a priest seeks to communicate with seemingly intelligent networks of fungus.

Tobias S Bucknell – Toy Planes

An interesting little piece which relates the West Indies entry into the space race, from the viewpoint of a young pilot.

Neal Asher – Mason’s Rats

The rats in this story have mutated into a tool-bearing species which are raiding the grain from an automated factory. The question is, who are the true rats when one examines the bigger picture.

Vonda N McIntyre – A Modest Proposal

Like Macleod’s story, this is also a response to an earlier piece, in this case Swift’s (?) ‘A Modest Proposal to Improve on Nature’.

Rudy Rucker – Guadalupe and Hieronymus Bosch

As befits the artist, this is a surreal and colourful piece in which an alien takes a woman back in time to kidnap her hero, Hieronymus Bosch. The alien appears to be planning some kind of art installation of his own, featuring the relationship between the two, but things do not go to plan

Peter F Hamilton – The Forever Kitten

A short and fairly standard piece from Hamilton, which again looks at one of his favourite themes, that of longevity. It has a shock ending, which is unexpected, despite the brevity of the tale.

Matthew Jarpe – City of Reason

Asteroid dwellers, in a universe where disaffected radicals can set up their own communities in the asteroid belt. A one-man ship intercepts another ship hidden inside an asteroid containing a young couple. The girl, however is not what she seems and they are carrying a nuclear weapon, to destroy the City of Reason. A tale of advanced human augmentation.

Bruce Sterling – Ivory Tower

A very brief tale about physicists setting up their own university on the internet

Lauren McLaughlin – Sheila

A beautifully atmospheric and engaging story about AIs, humans and religion. AI worship also features in the following story by Paul McAuley

Paul McAuley – Rats of The System

When transcendent AIs abandon Earth, fundamentalist sects proclaim them as gods and set about destroying anyone who dares to believe differently. A scientist and a pilot are attacked by the Fanatics while studying one such AI, who is dismantling a binary star system. The Rats here are metaphorical.

Larissa Lai – I Love Liver: A Romance

Just as the title says, a researcher falls in love with the liver he has designed.

James Patrick Kelly – The Edge of Nowhere

One of my favourite stories in this volume, this is set in a virtual world atop a plateau, where the residents can order anything they wish to be constructed. One of them, however, is trying to write The Great American Novel, and this original work provokes the interest of three intelligent dogs who suddenly appear, enquiring about the book.

Ted Chiang – What’s Expected of Us

Another excellent short piece from nature examining the concept of free will and determinism.

Michael Swanwick – Girls and Boys, Come Out to Play

A story which takes place in Arcadia, replete with artificially created gods such as Dionysus, satyrs, nymphs, and the author’s regular characters – Darger and Surplus. see also ‘The Dog said Bow-Wow’

Stephen Baxter – Lakes of Light

Part of Stephen Baxter’s ‘Xeelee Sequence’, this features a contact unit who find human colonies living under domes on a Xeelee constructed shell around a sun.

Oliver Morton – The Albian Message

Aliens have apparently left messages encoded in human DNA which points to a location at the Trojan asteroids.

Bud Sparhawk – Bright Red Star

A grim militaristic tale highlighting the realities of war and desensitisation.

Alaya Dawn Johnson – Third Day Lights

‘a strange creature living within a bizarre ‘body’ with a two-dimensional friend, is visited by a human. He is able to respond to the challenges which she sets him, and reveals that humanity is in the process of retrieving all humans who may or may not have ever lived, before using the energy from all universes, no matter how strange.’ from bestsf.net

Greg Bear – Ram Shift Phase 2

Another short short story from Nature

Gregory Benford – On the Brane

Humans visit a parallel Earth in a universe which is dying far faster than ours, where the laws of physics are very different and intelligent life of a very odd sort has evolved on Earth.

R Garcia y Robertson – Oxygen Rising

A human negotiator is involved in a war between humans and various bioengineered human decendants

Adam Roberts – And Future King…

King Arthur is recreated and decides to run for government. Another very short piece from ‘Nature’

Alastair Reynolds – Beyond the Aquila Rift

Reynolds is expert at the incredibly dense universe he creates. Here, we find a ship which has taken the wrong turn somehow through a wormhole and ended up somewhere else, but exactly how far have they travelled, and for how long?

Joe Haldeman – Angel of Light

In the future Ahmad Abd al-kareem, an adherent of Chrislam finds a preserved copy of the Summer 1944 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories belonging to an ancestor. After much soul-searching he takes it to the bazaar and barters it to an alien for an eternal light.

Liz Williams – Ikiryoh

A fascinating story about Japanese society and a woman who is asked to look after a child which has been given the bad spirit of the ruler, an Ikiryoh. While the bad spirit is trapped in the child, the ruler will be kind and beneficent.

Cory Doctorow – I, Robot

One of the best stories in this collection, it follows a man whose brilliant wife defected to the East where technological controls are less severe, and he suspects she is responsible for the recent terrorist software attacks on the West.

Advertisements

To Say Nothing Of The Dog – Connie Willis (1997)

To Say Nothing of the Dog (Oxford Time Travel, #2)

The second of Willis’ excursions into the past via Mr Dunworthy’s Time Travel lab sees the entire team in a frazzle. Lady Schrapnell (an American tyrant) has employed all of Mr Dunworthy’s resources in an attempt to locate ‘the Bishop’s bird stump’ in order that it can be in its proper place for the consecration of the rebuilt Coventry Cathedral.
Meanwhile, one of the team, Verity, has accidentally brought something back from the 19th Century that should never have been brought back.
Ned Henry, who is suffering from time-lag, is sent by Mr Dunworthy back to 1888 to convalesce.
Thus begins a complex farce of manners and causality. Ned is approached by Verity as she fears that Ned’s arrival has pushed two people together who should never have been together, a pairing which may affect the outcome of World War II.
It is clearly a precursor to Willis’ much longer and more serious ‘Blackout’ and ‘All Clear’ which again features worries over increased slippage of time-travel arrival times.
On the whole this is a far more satisfying novel. There are mysteries to be solved, temporal wrongs to be righted, fake spiritualists to be dealt with, dueling professors, a cat, a dog and a pond full of fish.
Willis references Agatha Christie as she does in ‘Blackout’ where Agatha actually appears at one point, effectively showing her face briefly before disappearing.
In essence here, Willis distracts the reader by telling them they’re being wrongfooted, whilst neatly wrongfooting the reader in the process.
Willis throws in some curveball mysteries of her own. Some time in the future St Paul’s Cathedral is destroyed by a pinhead bomb and, due to a completely unrelated feline pandemic, domestic cats have become extinct.
The title of course is part of the title of Jerome K Jerome’s ‘Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of The Dog)’, another work which is quoted and referenced and is possibly the source for the style of the novel which is a lighthearted comedy of manners and errors.
There is a certain stereotyping, such as in the characters of Professor Peddick and the Colonel. This extends into the future Oxford where the Rottweiller-esque Lady Schrapnell is bullying everyone into her service. Willis rather missed a trick by not keeping Lady Schrapnell off the page as they do with the ‘unseen character’ TV archetype, whom everyone talks about but the audience never sees such as Niles’ wife Meryl in ‘Frasier’ or Mrs Mainwaring in ‘Dad’s Army’. One suspects that Willis was initially employing a literary version of this device with Lady Schrapnell – a tyrannical do-gooder US Socialite – until she appears in the denouement, after we have heard everyone’s tales of her terrifying demeanour. Her entry into the sightline of the reader therefore becomes something of an anticlimax.
Fortunately this is the only criticism I can offer. It’s a delightful novel which leaves one feeling quite joyous.


The Automated Goliath – William F Temple (1962)

The Three Suns of Amara/The Automated Goliath (Ace Double, F-129)

‘Man – yes; Machine – no!

While the age of automation had brought leisure and luxury to Earth, it was also bringing disaster down upon the human race. For a group of unmerciful migratory monsters settled down on Earth, to enjoy for themselves the results of our progress. In no time at all, they would be able to turn the world of automation into one single master machine, which they alone would control.’

Blurb from the 1962 F-129 Ace paperback edition

Magellan is intrigued when a rather forceful woman insists that she will be buying his home in Hampstead. Little does Magellan realise that the woman is working on behalf of the Mackees, alien invaders who have exploited humanity’s need for automation in order to take control of the planet.
Magellan, and presumably Temple, is against the impersonal automation of the jobs that humans used to do. In an odd moment of prescient extrapolation he describes a time when one may visit a bank and not speak to a human teller at all. In fact, your withdrawal will be dispensed from a machine along with a printed receipt showing your balance.
Imagine that!
The Mackees also have devices built into TVs that can mass-hypnotise the world so their victory is soon complete.
It is up to Magellan to defeat the invaders and take back back the Earth.
It’s nice to see a British view of such shenanigans. The action, a refreshing change, is centred in the UK and, at the finale, an alien world.
It’s definitely one of the more readable Ace Doubles, oddly structured with other character viewpoints in a couple of sections, but is not really anything out of the ordinary.


The Door Into Summer – Robert A Heinlein (1957)

The Door into Summer

In his witty moments, Heinlein could be very funny. Certainly this is one of his lighter works which he apparently wrote within the space of a few weeks.
The title and the story were suggested by Heinlein’s observations of the family cat who, on snowy days, would go to every external door in the house and look out, before moving on to the next. Heinlein’s wife quipped that the cat was ‘looking for a door into summer’.
The cat in the novel is called Pete (short for Petronius) the faithful pet of Daniel Boone Davis, a talented engineer and inventor.
Danny and his partner have set up a business specialising in household cleaning robots. However, Danny has been hoodwinked by a femme fatale who has arranged for him to unknowingly sign over his stock and patents. She has hooked up with his partner and Danny is elbowed out of the business. Having already been signed up to be cryogenically frozen until the year 2000, Danny decides to confront the pair.
There is a showdown which ends up with Danny getting drugged and being taken to the deep sleep tank before he can take legal action against his partners.
Then he wakes up in the year 2000 in a strange new world where he discovers it just may be possible to travel back in time to get his revenge.
The oddest thing about this book is Danny’s relationship with his partner’s daughter, a young girl of about twelve who is determined that she will marry Danny when she grows up. That’s all very well but Danny ultimately seems just as keen. Because of the effects of time travel and cryogenics they end up at around the same age but the initial premise is a tad creepy.
Heinlein’s vision of the year 2000 is good in parts. We are still using typewriters and Danny has designed a mechanical ‘Autocad’ – to all intents and purposes – which draws plans, as well as a spellchecker and various other useful machines. Sadly he has not envisioned a world where women have any level of equality.


The Long Tomorrow – Leigh Brackett (1955)

The Long Tomorrow

Cousins Len and Esau Coulter are two young boys living in a family community in a post-nuclear war US. The States has sunk to the point where a theocracy has taken over, opposed to the scientific excesses of the past and with a strict ruling that communities can not hold more than a thousand people.
Len and Esau however, fueled by their semi-senile grandmother’s tales of prewar cities and glamour, yearn to learn more. They have also been infected with tales of a forbidden town, Bartorstown, where people still live as they did before the bombs fell.
Comparisons can be drawn between this and John Wyndham’s ‘The Chrysalids’ where, in a post-nuclear Canada, a group of telepaths have to hide their true nature from their Christian fundamentalist community. Both novels feature a Christianity adapted for circumstances, and both feature young people desperate to escape the straitjacket of their lives.
Perhaps wisely, Brackett chose to avoid the SF clichés of mutations and consequent psychic powers and focus on the question that Len has to ask himself which is, put bluntly ‘Is it better to live in ignorance and be happy, or be knowledgeable and depressed?’
Ultimately, what is learned can not be unlearned, as is reiterated to Len in various ways by his father, by the mysterious Mr Hostetter, and by a pastor with whom Len was lodging.
Brackett has, quite elegantly, taken the national paranoia of the time with its fear of communists-among-us and nuclear destruction and converted it to a fear of knowledge itself. The ‘aliens-among-us’ who, in other works of the time such as The Puppet Masters, are a metaphor for un-American outside influences are replaced here by the people of Bartorstown; ordinary humans who have a deal more knowledge than the rest of the country and no doubt practise forbidden science.
In one of the early sections, the boys sneak away from their Amish-esque village to visit a fair. It is a turning point in their lives as they witness a preacher rousing a congregation against the ideals of Bartorstown. A man is pointed out, denounced and duly stoned to death.
Because Brackett avoids proselytising from either viewpoint and concentrates on letting her characters express themselves within this strange world it becomes a work far greater than the sum of its parts. It’s about people, society, happiness and the perennial battle between technology and religion. It’s also one of the finest novels about the best and the worst of America that one is likely to read.