Tag Archives: aliens

3 (Way Cooler) Alternate Explanations for Grant Cochran’s Resignation

24 Sep

Facebook and Twitter were on fire when I woke up today, after the University of Alabama’s campus paper the Crimson-White broke the shocking, shocking, oh so shocking news that UA’s SGA president, Grant Cochran, has resigned.

Wait… what?

UA students are weaned on ghost stories of “The Machine,” the shadowy Greek organization that supposedly holds the Student Government Association in the palm of its hand, rigging elections and keeping independents from winning major offices.  A nobody like me, for example, can be appointed Ambassador to the Libraries probably only because nobody else applied.  I’m so bottom-tier, I get left off email lists.

Which means I really don’t know what I’m talking about.  BUT, I do think that if something this dramatic had to happen, it should at least be for reasons less mundane than what the CW reported at 3:27 am–that “SGA President Grant Cochran has resigned amid allegations that irregularities occurred in the selections process for the SGA’s First Year Council, a freshman leadership forum within the student government.”

Come on people–booted from office because of freshmen?  How terribly banal.  In the interest of totally unfounded conspiracy theories, here are my 3 Way More Interesting Explanations for El Presidente’s Resignation:

1. The Illuminati

Everyone knows that Alabama’s practically the buckle on the Bible belt.  The shiny, happy, hymn-singing buckle.  But what you probably don’t know is that the Illuminati have a strong presence in campus affairs as well.

That’s right.  Albino, self-flagellating monks a la DaVinci Code forced UA’s SGA President to resign.  Probably, they pressured him into putting their Catholic First-Year Council applicants at the top of the list, thus furthering their hegemonic control over campus politics.  I would suggest the Homecoming Queen watch out.  She’s next.

2. British Alien Malleteers

No list of conspiracy theories could possibly hope to be complete without positing something, anything, about extraterrestrial life.  But I don’t mean just any aliens.  I mean a creature like that British sci-fi show alien Doctor Who.  There’s a reason so many Malleteers walk s0 jauntily around campus in their TARDIS shirts–and it’s not just because they’re fans of the show.  That would be lame.

It’s because they know it’s based in reality, and that the Day of Judgment has come.

I’ve been doing some close reading of the Mallet gospel, that mystical piece of 1970s literature called “The Book of Marvin.”  Let’s look at Chapter One:

3. And the Priests raised their voices in a great wail, saying, “O Mallet, why hast Thou abandoned us? Where be the Strength of Mallet, which saveth the seat of Power, which dismayeth the Greek, which shunneth the way of conformity, which maketh us to be honored above all Men?”

5. And Mallet said, “Yea, my Priests do suffer grievous pain, at the hand of the Greek and the cockroach, of the administrator and the Department of Health.”

6.”Lo, I shall send down a new Spirit, who shall have all Power over the enemies of the Priests of the Spirit Mallet; and he shall be called Marvin.”

7. “And He shall have dominion over the fowl of the air and the beast of the field, and the Greek and the jock shall He lay low; then will the Priests of the Spirit Mallet be honored above all Men.”

Obv, that speaks for itself.  The writers of the Book of Marvin propesied THIS VERY DAY.  The Greek has been laid low–at the hands of a spirit “sent down” from space.  A spirit named Marvin.

Naturally, keeping people from seeing the connection between Marvin and the popular tv series based on his spacetime adventures, is why we talk about Doctor Who instead of the true name, Doctor Marvin.

3. Vampire Takeover

It seems curious to me that this news story was released at 3:27 am… until I considered who exactly was doing the releasing.  Quite clearly, vampires–strictly nocturnal, remember–have taken over the campus media.  If you recall, earlier in the year the CW ran a large number of articles and opinion pieces on the policies (or lack thereof) regarding student organization seating.  The point of all this was doubtless an attempt to distract from the real drama going down this football season:

Vampire attacks.

If students could be kept riled up over the unfairness of block seating, letters to the editor about blood-sucking monsters attacking fans could be kept out of the papers.  Those people you see passed-out drunk tailgating might not be drunk after all.  They might be half drained of blood, struggling for life and their humanity as hundreds of mindless students and alumni carouse all around them.

Hey, why do you think we call it the Crimson Tide?

China Mieville keeps getting weirder (and that’s a win for all of us)

20 Jun

“Weird fiction” writer China Mieville doesn’t write space opera (or at least he hasn’t yet), but even so (perhaps because of it), his non-human races are nonpareil.  The khepri, garuda, and vodyanoi of Bas-Lag are foreign and compelling, but Perdido Street Station, The Scar, and Iron Council are most memorable as masterpieces of crypto-communist steampunk.  Kraken was completely different, a thriller-detective-theological hybrid.  And now we have Mieville’s latest literary work, Embassytown, my favorite without a doubt (and here I was thinking nothing but Gormenghast was better than Perdido Street Station), with the most breathtaking alien race I’ve ever read (and that includes The Gods Themselves).

But let me stop title-dropping and write a little more coherently (with less parenthetical asides).

You could call China Mieville’s writing style schizophrenic–if he weren’t so good at everything.  Every book he has come out with has been different–wildly different–from the last.  Maybe he’s experimenting with narrative.  Maybe he gets bored easily.  Maybe he doesn’t want to be pigeonholed.  “Weird Fiction,” after all, as far as genre categorization goes, doesn’t tell readers much.  And neither can I, except that I’m in raptures and YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK:

Click for Amazon.

China Miéville doesn’t follow trends, he sets them. Relentlessly pushing his own boundaries as a writer—and in the process expanding the boundaries of the entire field—withEmbassytown, Miéville has crafted an extraordinary novel that is not only a moving personal drama but a gripping adventure of alien contact and war.

In the far future, humans have colonized a distant planet, home to the enigmatic Ariekei, sentient beings famed for a language unique in the universe, one that only a few altered human ambassadors can speak.

Avice Benner Cho, a human colonist, has returned to Embassytown after years of deep-space adventure. She cannot speak the Ariekei tongue, but she is an indelible part of it, having long ago been made a figure of speech, a living simile in their language.

When distant political machinations deliver a new ambassador to Arieka, the fragile equilibrium between humans and aliens is violently upset. Catastrophe looms, and Avice is torn between competing loyalties—to a husband she no longer loves, to a system she no longer trusts, and to her place in a language she cannot speak yet speaks through her.

 

This has been a production of the Scattering’s “Least Helpful Books Reviews” series.  I’m going to blame the whole “applying to grad school” thing.

The 12th Planet: I (don’t) want to believe

17 May

I realize that I read more science fiction and fantasy than is probably healthy for an individual, but even so, I think I have yet a modicum of intelligence and reason left in my head–which is why I gaped in shock and horror to find a copy of Zecharia Sitchin’s The 12th Planet in the back seat of my father’s car when we went to breakfast this morning.

For those of you who don’t know, The 12th Planet (1977) is the first installation of Sitchin’s “Earth Chronicles,” a seven-part series in which he attempts to prove that we are not alone in the universe:

Basically, all those Old Testament stories people have passed off as myths are really, literally true.  Fear our celestial overlords!  The Nefilim built the pyramids, and they can tear them down too.  (Note that Sitchin has collected indisputable proof.)

Oy vey.

The book has received some attention recently, probably because the final volume of the Earth Chronicles, The End of Days, was released just a few years ago–and what better to do in our last year of existence (or last week, if you expect to be taken up in the Rapture this Saturday) than read the “nonfiction” ravings of a crackpot writer?

I’m sorry, that’s unfair.  Zecharia Sitchin is a reasearcher, of sorts.  He is proficient in multiple ancient languages, Sumerian cuneiform purportedly among them.  He claims that his assertions in The 12th Planet are based on textual analysis of the original texts–the Hebrew OT, the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, those mysterious cuneiform tablets, etc., et al.  Of course, the more *respectable* scientists and academics reject Sitchin’s hypotheses as the work of faulty interpretation of ancient texts and flawed astronomical information.  Personally, I think he simply suffers from an overactive X-Files Mentality.  In other words, he wants to believe.

I don’t.

That back cover blurb alone should be enough to make a reader with the barest amount of sense laugh out loud.  Until she realizes that the book is being sold as nonfiction, and that there are those (including the author) who believe every word.  Then the reading experience just gets sad–and more than a little creepy.

There are a number of problems with The 12th Planet:

1. Not only does Sitchin employ (more than) questionable methodology in fashioning his claims, believing those claims requires us the readers to shunt aside all sorts of scientific explanations of phenomena for which there is actual evidence.  Oh, like human evolution.  Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter:

“The unanswered question is: Why–why did civilization come about at all?  For, as most scholars now admit in frustration, by all data Man should still be without civilization.  There is no obvious reason that we should be any more civilized than the primitive tribes of the Amazon jungles…

But, we are told, these tribesmen still live as if in the Stone Age because they have been isolated.  But isolated from what?  If they have been living on the same Earth as we, why have they not acquired the same knowledge of sciences and technologies on their own as we supposedly have?”

How about we read this instead, okay?

Astonishing!  I don’t think anyone has ever tried to answer that question before.  Except Jared Diamond.  Ever heard of Guns, Germs, and Steel?  Yeah, it’s that one that won the Pulitzer some years back.  Sorry, Zeke.

I won’t even get into that second part, in which Sitchin seems to imply that scientific knowledge is just chillin’ in the aether somewhere, waiting for some “primitive bushman” to pick it out of the air.  That’s for another paragraph.  What’s truly astonishing is where Sitchin goes from here.

One of the plethora of Discovery Channel conspiracy theory programs will attempt to raise questions about the origins of civilization–did space aliens give us knowledge and sink Atlantis in their rage, or something?  Sitchin says yes, the evolution of human civilization is actually extraterrestrial in origin.  And, he adds, modern man did not really evolve from the primordial ooze.  Male and female the aliens created them, because it would take too long to make apes talk.

That seems to me a total non sequitur, but it’s not like I can read cuneiform.  I bet those evolutionary biologists can’t either–so there!

2.  The second major problem I have with the whole “ancient astronauts” thing goes beyond Sitchin’s book.  My question is: Why is it so hard to believe that humans, with their own minds and their own contemporary technology, could have built the pyramids?  Because it’s always about the pyramids.  “They’re so geometrically perfect,” a Sitchinite might exclaim, “and how could they move those big rocks?”  There are a number of construction method hypotheses, all of them more plausible than the one that requires alien overlords cracking the whip.

Perhaps more disturbingly is the underlying racial prejudices inherent in this argument.  I had a professor of archaeology my freshman year who worked on ancient Mesoamerican cultures.  He seemed to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder when it came to the Mayans.  Why does everyone think the Mayans are so mysterious? he asked, multiple times during the semester.  He was a scientist, and had all sorts of perfectly reasonable (and more than that–empirical) explanations for the mysteries of the Maya.  And yet, the dilettantes of pseudoscience and pseudohistory seemed unable to resist groping for the mystical.

Because, of course, indigenous peoples of non-European origin must be primitive bushmen, right?

If it isn’t apparent by now that I’m intensely annoyed by The 12th Planet, let me be clear:

Zecharia Sitchin’s Earth Chronicles Series ranks among the very worst of pseudoscientific and pseudohistorical “nonfiction.”  It may be some people read books like his for entertainment, or because they have a case of the X-Files, but I for one think something like The 12th Planet cannot go without even this meager rebuttal.  Zecharia Sitchin’s books feed into the worst popular conceptions of ancient civilization, and commit an unforgivable crime: they rape history, underestimating and belittling the fully human people who lived before us.

That’s not okay.  And I sincerely hope my father was reading it as a joke.

Just Out! Peace Army, by Steven L. Hawk (Book 2, Peace Warrior Trilogy)

17 Apr

Last December, I reviewed Peace Warrior, a military SF novel by author Steven L. Hawk.  It was good.  Really good.  Which is why I’m thrilled to announce that the second installment is live on Amazon… right now.

A full review of Peace Army is forthcoming, but since I’m “booked up” for a few months already, I just wanted to get a quick plug up for Hawk’s second novel.  I don’t generally like to count my reptiloid alien eggs before they hatch, but Peace Warrior was such a fantastic, fast-paced read that I thought I’d start getting the word out.  When I get the official Peace Army review up, I’ll let you know if Hawk has a stunning sequel or a sophomore slump, but until then, enjoy the book blurb:

It’s been six years since Grant Justice was brought back to life to help the Peaceful citizens of Earth defeat the Minith. Life should be good. The Minith are gone. Grant now has a loving wife and a remarkable son. He is a hero to the society that once shunned him. But Grant hasn’t been taking life easy. He’s been recruiting fighters away from Peace. He’s been cobbling together an army from the dregs of society and training them to fight. Which is a good thing, because another alien Mothership is headed their way. It will reach Earth in less than a week.

Grant and his forces have been preparing for this day. They must be the… Peace Army.

For those who are interested, here are the links to my two prior reviews of Peace Warrior:

I’m with Team Human

Final Verdict: Peace Warrior

Rasputin Wants YOU! to read Whom God Would Destroy

12 Apr

Bless you, Alexis, and be cured of your haemophilia!

Or maybe that’s just my interpretation of this absolutely bizarre book trailer–and who better to have made it than the mysterious, mystical, highly heterodox Commander Pants?

The good Commander, you might recall, is the author of a delightfully blasphemous book, Whom God Would Destroy–which, as you might also recall, I reviewed a couple months ago.  If you don’t recall, you can read about the winner of the Spring 2011 Heretic Badge of Honor right here.

In any case, here’s the book trailer.  Watch and enjoy–unless you’re a person particularly susceptible to hypnosis, subliminal messages, and/or the piercing eyes of a really messed-up Russian mystic.  If you have any of the above weaknesses, you might want to click on another hyperlink, any other hyperlink, and get far away from here while you still can.  Just some friendly advice.

Bonus points to the first person to spot Rasputin.  And when I say bonus points, I mean it in the Whose Line way.

Yet Another Canadian Science Fiction Novel (Keepers of the Rose)

12 Apr

There are three major trends I’m noticing in contemporary science fiction:

1. Apocalyptic 2012 Scenarios

2. Video “Book Trailers”

3. Canadian SF authors

The first is easy to explain–we’re all going to die next year, so why not spend our leisure time reading about all the multifarious ways it might happen?  Of course, we of the Ray Kurzweil camp would rather spend our time reading about all the multifarious ways we’re going to turn into robots or cyborgs or floating brains when the end of the world (as we know it) happens in 2045, with the Singularity.  But still, I don’t see an end to the End of Days novels, at least not yet.

Another interesting trend is the “book trailer”–so long blurb!  In a society that privileges the visual, getting people to read might be hard.  Getting people to watch a brief video about getting people to read may be, paradoxically, a bit easier.  Who’da thunk it?  Anyway, when you start getting book trailers during ad slots on Hulu, you know it’s not a fad.  Book trailers are legit, and now that the novelty is beginning to wear off, us mainstream folks can join the bleeding-edge hipster crowd in watching them.

And finally–I don’t mean to be overly-nationalistic or anything, but can the United States not produce star science fiction writers anymore?  We’re Americans, dammit!  My favorite contemporary sf authors all seem to hail from that punctiliously polite nation to the north, Canada.  Okay, so maybe it’s really just Cory Doctorow, but he’s so prolific that the Canadian contribution to the genre is becoming disproportionately large.  (And now checking off the to-do list: plug Cory Doctorow this month)

In any case, and to get to the point (don’t blame me, I warned you in the URL, didn’t I?)–I have come across a book which combines these three trends in a trinity of indie science fiction.  Reviews are forthcoming this summer, but why not strike while the iron is hot?  And why the hell not use as many mixed metaphors as I can?  Who knows–the Mayans could have been off a year, and we’ll be gone tomorrow.  So:

Here’s the cutting-edge book trailer and old-fashioned blurb for D.J. Dalasta’s novel The Keeper of the Rose.  From what I can see, It’s a MesoAmerican cross between Dan Brown and Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt series (my favorite books through 5th grade, for the record):

Nestled off the coast of a charming little town in Nova Scotia, Oak Island is home to the longest running treasure hunt in modern times. The secrets hidden on the small piece of land have been thwarting treasure seekers for over two hundred years, consuming millions of dollars and costing multiple lives. For famed treasure hunter, Rock Tilton, the island is nothing more than an obsession.

When Rock receives a call from his ex-wife, archaeologist Anna Riley, to help with the excavation, he finds himself on the next plane to Canada. Rock arrives at the location to find Anna wedged in the middle of an escalating feud, pulled between a covert organization, The Keepers of the Rose and an aloof but influential corporation, The Delega Group. As the two sides become increasingly hostile, Rock begins to realize that the secrets buried on Oak Island may contain lost information about the prophesized events in 2012. As he is pulled into a world of secrets and murder he must decide if the truth is worth more than the people he loves.

Just for the record, I don’t know if DJ Dalasta actually hails from Canada–but the book’s set there!  What American would set their book in Canadia!?  fnhjk gbkh Jesus Christ! cnr oho Manifest Destiny! fnrj fqogfhr bjkv xb Dubya! ncd qbehjq Grand Ole Party! chjg fiqbfh [here endeth patriotic rant]

What the Heaven and Hell!? (V gets religious)

29 Jan

Or, how a show I used to really enjoy has suspended my suspension of disbelief.

I wanted to write this a week ago, but there is no wrath, after all, like an atheist socked in the face with preachy religious messages in the middle of a science fiction program that’s supposed to be about, well, science fiction, and I didn’t want to have a completely incoherent rant splashed all over search engines for the rest of time.  After two-ish years of science fiction blogging, I still have some dignity.  Maybe.

So here goes:

I’ve been reviewing ABC’s alien invasion drama V since it premiered last year.  I was thrilled with the show: Elizabeth Mitchell and Morena Baccarin are both fantastic actresses, and to see them face off in an intergalactic war seemed pretty exciting.  I’ll admit–part of me was trying to fill that LOST-shaped hole in my heart, and FlashForward just wasn’t doing it.  FF had the plot twists, but V had the characters worth caring about.

There’s the FBI agent turned terrorist, the omnicompetent mercenary who can kill soldier aliens with a shovel, the slick tv anchor with access to the mothership,  the turncoat reptiloid traitor, and the Catholic priest who lets them plot and plan their revolution against the Visitors in the basement of his church.  Meanwhile, they banter and make Thorn Birds references.  This season they added that son of Satan from Reaper as the smart-ass scientist, and at last the cast was complete.  It would sound like the premise for a really bizarre sitcom–if the fate of the universe weren’t at stake.

It’s not surprising that the priest, Father Jack Landry, grated on my nerves at first.  He was so dreadfully naive–letting vital information slip to all the wrong people, and biting his fingernails over violence (this is a revolution, buddy).  But he grew on me–mostly because he’s just such a terrible priest.  For God’s sake, there’s a mercenary weapons expert torturing a captive in the middle of the rectory!  Not to mention the whole Jack-Landry-breaks-the-Seal-of-the-Confessional-to-his-own-personal-confessor,-the-FBI-agent thing, which is kind of a bad sin, for a priest.

Simply put, I liked the show–and I defended it against Kate the Lostie, who was all the time pushing me toward Fringe and Minecraft videos.

But I stopped watching halfway through episode 2.2, “Serpent’s Tooth,” and haven’t started up again.  Here’s the thing:

Season One dealt very well with the differences between humans and Visitors.  At that time, it was all about emotion–namely, love (and even more namely, love of a mother for her children).  Reason’s great and all, but love was what worried V Queen Anna most of all.  And in a fantastic season finale twist, Anna herself experienced her first burst of human emotion (rage) when her own children (well, creepy soldier children reptile eggs) were… er… frozen to death by the Fifth Column.

This season, the emphasis has shifted.  In one of the most ridiculous television scenes I have ever had the misfortune of watching:

Apparently, what makes humans human isn’t emotion, empathy, love–it’s The Soul.

“I have human skin, I feel, but I need you to tell me something…” Ryan begs of Father J, “Do I have a soul!”

(Cut scene) “I will isolate it in the medical bay!” Anna exclaims.

(Cut again) “Every creature can feel the grace of God!” Jack tells Ryan.

(And again) “It’s too complex!” cries Diana.

*cue creepy piano music*

Oh, I’ll pick V up again when I can find it on Megavideo, I guess.  But I won’t be so naively happy about it myself, and I don’t know that I’ll ever get that immersion experience that a good story–print or film–can give you if it successfully suspends your disbelief.  If the show continues along this path, viewers have to accept that “humanity” in the world of Anna and Jack is defined in terms of religion.

No, the idea of a soul isn’t very controversial in the United States, but to base an entire science fiction series on it is… jarring (and a lot harder to deny in V than it ever was in the at-times-somewhat-spiritual LOST).  I’m an American Studies major–I’ll learn to look at V the way I do any other historical artifact: as a product of its time and culture.  But who really wants to be a scholar watching tv?

Verdict? SEAMS 16: A New Home, by Eric B. Thomasma

29 Jan

Author Eric B. Thomasma wrote his debut novel in and out of waiting rooms.  He writes as a preface to the Kindle version of the book:

My father was battling cancer at the time and I took him to all of his appointments.  Writing became a means of escaping the depressing circumstances and helped me maintain a positive attitude toward the treatments.  Sadly, my Dad lost his battle before I finished the story, so he was never able to read it, but I like to think he would approve.

With that said, SEAMS16: A New Home is a SF mystery strong enough to stand on its own without preface–Thomasma writes with clear, clean prose and solid storytelling.  His protagonists undergo realistic changes as the novel’s stream of events begins to flow (Charlie from a hopelessly innocent student to a leader in the face of… well, corporate and extraterrestrial danger).

And while Charlie Samplin’s our hero, Thomasma crafts an equally compelling heroine in Susan Samplin, the space station technician’s sharp-witted wife.  If the cover art gives the perception that Susan’s a fragile little woman clinging for safety to her brawny husband, you’re being misled.  One of my greatest pet peeves about science fiction and fantasy is how poorly authors fashion leading ladies: so often they’re either non-existent, or implausibly two-dimensional.  But Susan Samplin can hold her own.

Reading Time: From a college student at the start of a busy new semester, two weeks.

Recommendation: Science fiction has gone mainstream–at least on television.  In the recent past and present we’ve had LOST, Fringe, The Cape, FlashForward, The Event, and V, just to name shows on the major networks.  The best way I can think to describe SEAMS16 is just that: mainstream.  Readers need not fear complicated jargon or subgenre in-jokes (as fun as those can be sometimes).  With stories of space travel, aliens, and creepy corporate entities so popular these days, any one who can read can read this book.

SEAMS16: A New Home is available as an ebook from Amazon for $0.99

Serious Trust Issues (review: SEAMS16: A New Home)

29 Jan

"Trust me, I'm a really shady businessman." (Peter Fleming)

Science fiction as a genre seems to have a wary sort of affection for many-tentacled corporations running the world.  On the small screen that means Fringe’s Massive Dynamic which (spoiler alert!) runs two parallel worlds; The Cape’s ARK, Palm City’s private police force overseen by Thomas Cromwell–er, Peter Fleming; the late great Firefly’s shadowy Blue Sun; of course the Widmore Corporation of LOST, which got a shout-out from 30 Rock this week (something I tried to tell Alec Baldwin look-alike Doug, but couldn’t because his Facebook has inexplicably disappeared); and in real life, Google.

What all this means is that Eric B. Thomasma’s SEAMS16: A New Home provides the reader a bit of dramatic irony when our hero Charlie Samplin goes to work for the Space Equipment Authority–an innocent-enough company with completely harmless employees who just happen to say things like:

“The universe is a huge place and the company has connections… everywhere.”

So maybe I added that ellipsis myself, but seriously–any self-respecting SF reader knows exactly what to expect from the SEA and it’s Maintenance Station #16: sinister plots, shadowy overlords, nefarious goings-on and all sorts of drama.  The reader can see it coming a mile away.

Unfortunately, our hero Mr. Samplin cannot.

Charlie’s like a kid in a candy shop–tapped by a major corporation for a cushy job on a high-class space station.  So what if he’s had a spotty employment record in the past, or isn’t much more than a technician?  The Samplins deserve a break, and Charlie just takes it as a compliment when an innocuous employee comments:

“They’d already checked you out long before they made the offer.  Don’t worry…”

Again, ellipsis mine.  But I think you’re getting the picture.

Of course, this only makes Charlie more endearing in his naivete.  At one point on his first tour of the station, when asked a question, the man literally raises his hand to answer.  He’s a good student (let’s not get into the issue of his mysterious boss being an old professor), but his wife–Susan–is a little less rosy-eyed (as she says, “I have serious trust issues).  Enter the class troublemaker.

Susan Samplin can’t articulate why, but from the moment she steps on-board SEAMS16, she senses something’s wrong.  Their tour guide dissembles, no one knows the name of the Head of Service, and even the pastor admits he called up her on-planet church to, you know, surveil.  Susan’s shrewd, but she’s also in love, and when she realizes how much Charlie wants this job–well, there’s no going back.  It’s to infinity and beyond for the Samplins–or rather, to a shiny space station that seems far too good to be true.  The Samplins run right into the arms of a corporation they depend on for the very air they breathe.

And we all know what to think about SF corporations.

Don’t stone me if this little summary sounds like a series of spoilers strung together.  Technically, I suppose, it is, but you’ll get all this in the first two chapters alone.  Thomasma writes excellent dialogue, and uses it to great effect in the early part of the book to set the stage for the later action.  The Samplins’ station tour is a device for exposition–that’s pretty obvious–and the technical details, stats and background come fast and hot in a dense question-response format.  But this doesn’t mean that this introductory section isn’t engaging in itself: the very questions they ask, and their reactions to shifty-eyed, dark-suited employees tell us a whole lot about our cast that sets the psychological stage far better than a description of trapezoidal rooms and docking bays.

And the story’s right in the line of mainstream science fiction.

SEAMS16: A New Home is available as an ebook from Amazon for $0.99

Attack of the Anthropologists (Retro SF Review #1)

19 Jan

Katherine MacLean is a fey young woman whose career is curiosity.

Even if it didn’t have the connotations it has today, “fey” is kind of a weird term to describe someone by.  The dictionary gives three definitions:

1. giving an impression of vague unworldliness

2. having supernatural powers of clairvoyance

3. fated to die at the point of death (Scottish)

These definitions make perfect sense when we’re talking about Eowyn calling Aragorn “fey” in The Return of the King, but none for a science fiction writer whose short stories aren’t paranormal romance, or whatever they’re calling it these days.  And while he story “Unhuman Sacrifice” in the anthology A Century of Science Fiction references God many times, it’s not because there’s spooky stuff going on down yonder planet–it’s because one of the characters is a crazy missionary trying to witness to an alien people who become convinced that he’s an evil spirit who lives inside the translator machine… and shouts at them.

But the rest of Damon Knights description of MacLean’s writing sounds right:

“Unhuman Sacrifice,” first published in Astounding in 1958, is a subtle interweaving of anthropology, social comment, depth psychology, irony, deadpan humor.  There are pointed comments here on good intentions, religious differences, the pursuit of happiness, and how not to interpret anthropological data …”

Note: This is a review about retro sci-fi, written in the retro Scattering style.  Meaning it’s scattered, rambling, and self-indulgent.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Oh, anthropology.  Dear, dear anthropology.  Do any of ye readers not know that the two groups of people I unswervingly despise are sopranos and anthropology majors?  I always thought it was because they have an elitist attitude toward historians, their methodology is ridiculous, and they are, frankly, second to none in obnoxiousity when students (second place: English majors who talk too much in class, but never actually get to a point, and all the while don’t wear shoes).  But maybe I loathe them because at a very young age, I read “Unhuman Sacrifice.”

When Revent (read Reverend) Winton comes to the planet–well we don’t really know the name of the planet–on engineers Charlie and Henderson’s ship, he is elated to find that the new found land has a native population he can witness too.  Pity he’s a terrible preacher–as Charlie and Henderson are sure, Winton was made a missionary to get him as far, far away from human beings as possible.  Charlie and Henderson, as well, threaten Winton with the disapproval of anthropologists were he to tamper with the natives.

“Revent, I appeal to you, tampering is dangerous.  Let us go back and report this planet, and let the government send a survey ship.  When the scientists arrive, if they find we have been tampering with the natives’ customs without waiting for advice, they will consider it a crime.  We will be notorious in scientific journals.  We’ll be considered responsible for any damage the natives sustain.”

The good Revent doesn’t really give a you-know-what.  God is on his side!  He annointed Winton with His Holy Seal of Faith to do His Mighty Purpose.  Or whatever.  The result is, as I’m sure you can guess, disaster.

But let’s stop with Henderson’s quote a few lines up.

Take a deep breath.

Am I reading this right, or am I reading this right?  There is a government-sponsored, Intergalactic Department of Anthropology?  A part of me cheers that academia hasn’t died; and a bigger part cries that they wouldn’t send historians.  John Lewis Gaddis in The Landscape of History speculates that, if multiple extraterrestrial intelligences were found, history would be more than a social science–it would be a natural science.  Natural sciences such as geology, paleontology, astronomy, and others, after all, are concerned with studying change over time–comparatively.  Historians study change over time in human behavior.  Once we get aliens: it’s comparative, and we move into the fancy new buildings on campus with the nice lecture halls.

Score!

But not in MacLean’s universe–in MacLean’s universe, it’s the anthropologists directing the search for and study of extraterrestrial life.  To their credit, it seems that they’re strictly opposed to interference.  I means, historians already know not to interfere with their subjects because they… kind of can’t.  But I’ll take what I can get.

The point of all this is that the fey Katherine MacLean composed a flawlessly-written story with a horrifyingly good twist ending, incorporating issues of religious hypocrisy and academic integrity all the while.  Oh, and did I mention the native population has a stage of life in which they turn into plants?  And that even the scientist visitors (Charlie and Henderson) completely misunderstand this and try to stop what they see as barbarity?

Funny, that sounds like another book I’ve read: Xenocide, by Orson Scott Card (third in the Ender series).  Let me give a brief summary of Xenocide:

Anthropologists control interaction with alien life forms.  A religious mission sets up on a planet with an indigenous population.  This population has a stage of life in which they turn into plants.  Scientific visitors completely misunderstand this and try to stop what they see as barbarity.

OSC does insert an interesting subplot about OCD, religion in a population of the seriously mentally-ill, discussions of genetic determinism, and an emergent superintelligence on the intergalactic Internet.  But the parallels between Xenocide and “Unhuman Sacrifice” are clear.  And when I look at Speaker for the Dead–something of a science fiction manifesto for the writing of history–I wonder if OSC didn’t meet some snotty anthropologists in his life too.  And I wonder, too, if Card read Astounding in his youth, and a particular story by a few young woman whose career was curiosity…