Tag Archives: reading

Retro Sci-Fi Reviews: Gotta Catch ‘Em All

18 Jan

How many times have I told this story?  Once upon a time, it was the year 2000.  I was ten, having just survived Y2k, had a new appreciation for life.  I was going to branch out–put away Oregon Trail once and for all and play that weird computer game my mother bought, “Alpha Centauri.”  Or something like that, I don’t know, maybe my timeline’s off… it was so very long ago, after all.

In any case.  Grandpa Bob–better known to badass Cold War rocket engineers everywhere as Robert Schindler–had a similar idea.  For whatever reason (maybe I’d already shown interest in Captain Picard at such an early age), he decided to give me some of his old science fiction books (along with a very enlightening work of hagiography entitled Heroes of Our Faith).  There were two collection of old-timey science fiction stories: the 1962 A Century of Science Fiction and the 1974 Before the Golden Age: A Science Fiction Anthology of the 1930’s.  Yes, the apostrophe is really there between the 0 and the s.  Cue shudder.  They’re both hardback, and were purchased used in 1985 for 85 cents and $1.25, respectively, if anyone cares.

A Century of Science Fiction was edited by a man named Damon Knight, who’s famous for writing the story that inspired the classic Twilight Zone episode of the same name, “To Serve Man.”  Before the Golden Age was edited by Isaac Asimov, who’s famous for writing… absolutely everything.  Even at that age (and now that I think about it, it was probably more like 1998–like I said, the timeline’s wonky), I knew who Isaac Asimov was, mostly because my mom told me for years that she once served him when she was a waitress in college, even though it turns out that her memory was wrong and it was really Norman Mailer.  Except that that’s a Gilmore Girls episode, and I really have no idea where I’m going with this.

Oh yes.

That second book–Asimov’s–was the first place (and this I’m absolutely certain of) I ever learned about: cosmic rays, time travel, evolution, advanced alien life forms keeping humans as pets, aliens who aren’t actually trying to take over the world, historical counterfactuals, rudimentary cryogenics, parasites, the atmospheric composition of the  planet Venus, hive minds, brains in vats, and alternate universes.  Many of those stories have stuck with me for over a decade, even after one read–names of characters, settings, and most especially the wonderful plot twists.  The other book?  Well, I didn’t really read it.

But by 2003 I was hooked, and ended up subscribing to Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine for only about a year (I cancelled in 2004… or maybe 2005? because some of those stories were just too provocative.)  Still, they stuck with me too–only I couldn’t remember the titles.

Over a year ago, I embarked on a quest to find two of the short stories I knew I had read in some issue of those magazine.  And after weeks of online research (and actually calling old used bookstores up for information–I’m that committed), I found the issue I remembered.  Jackpot.

Am I right, or am I right? This book cover is terrifying.

I was not so lucky with two of the other stories I remembered.  They weren’t in any magazine I could track down, and they weren’t in the Asimov anthology, and as far as I could tell, they weren’t in the forgotten anthology either.  I didn’t try too hard with that one, admittedly–I don’t know what, but something about it was always a little off-putting.  They wouldn’t be in there anyway–I never read it.  So I put feelers out on some SF forums and got… nothing.

Last night I pulled out A Century of Science Fiction again, just paging through the Table of Contents.  These stories had such frustratingly vague titles!  “Reason,” “The Star,” “Another World”?  These could be about anything–my mind jumped immediately to the conclusion that they were about, respectively, Thomas Aquinas,the Nativity and Epiphany, and the Rapture.  Which mostly says something kind of disturbing about me.

There was also a story listed with the title “Unhuman Sacrifice.”  I thought it seemed like something I, as a 10-year-old, would pick out of the line-up.  Which also says something disturbing about me.  When I opened up to page 152, however, I was disappointed: there was some crazy preacher trying to fix a translation machine (huh, maybe I wasn’t too far off before).  Not at all the plant people I was expecting.  And then I turned to the last page, because of this story, the thing I remembered most was that final line.

And there it was.

I was elated.  Thrilled.  I literally shouted aloud, alone in my dorm, “I FOUND YOU, DAMMIT!”  It was really friggin’ exciting.  A great victory for the memory of Isabela Morales.  I came up with the idea that I would blog about the 1958 story, so between classes today I re-read it in full.  And still, the waters of my mind were troubled, because there was one last story I needed to find.  That one I really thought would be in the Knight anthology, but I just didn’t have the patience to go through ever story and fish for key words like “strangle” and “invisibility” and “opium den.”  And then I realized: I’ve never been patient.  When I was ten, having finished “Unhuman Sacrifice,” I would have chosen the path of least resistance–start on the story directly after.

There is was, “Aliens Among Us,” with the telling subtitle–“What is it?”

I was elated. Thrilled.  I literally pulled out my phone with a triumphant laugh and texted to my dear Charlie:

AAAAHHHH!  I found the other story I’ve been searching for for years!  I have all 6… GOTTA CATCH EM ALL!

And so, after this long and frustrating quest, and even longer and more frustrating blog post, I would like t0 announce that indie science fiction reviews are hereby and forthwith to be supplemented by reviews of those epic stories of a bygone age, starting with “Unhuman Sacrifice.”  Look for it, like, tomorrow.


Reading for the End of the World: Luminous and Ominous, by Noah K. Mullette-Gillman

30 Dec

The Apocalypse is so in.  Not only do we have just one year left before the Mayan End-of-Days (unless the Singularity happens first, which would be epic), but end of the world scenarios are everywhere in popular culture: Justin Cronin’s The Passage was a major bestseller this summer (I was reading it on my Kindle in Greece, for goodness’s sake), and on tv we have AMC’s new original series The Walking Dead.

Whether it’s by vampires, zombies, robots, rapid pole shifting or the wrath of God, there’s plenty of Apocalypse to go around.  Which is why I’m getting out the Kindle for Noah K. Mullette-Gillman’s latest novel, Luminous and Ominous (Nov 2010).  From the book description:

If you had three days’ warning of the end of civilization and a safe place to hide: What would you take with you? Who would you save? And who would you leave behind?

Henry Willingham and his friends have three days to make the most terrifying decisions of their lives. The world has been infected by an inescapable living nightmare of alien vegetation that will replace all life on Earth. They must get everyone they love safely underground into a fallout shelter. There’s not enough time. There’s not enough room for everyone. Who will they save? Who will they leave behind? How will they live with the consequences?

After hiding underground for a year, the last three survivors must brave the otherworldly infestation and travel through what used to be upstate New York struggling for their lives and their humanity.

I very much enjoyed Mullette-Gillman’s last book, The White Hairs, as you may recall, so making Luminous and Ominous my first review of the New Year’s kind of a no-brainer.  Oh, and for another really selfish reason: my self-esteem soared when I opened up (virtually, I mean), the front cover.  On the “Praise for The White Hairs” page, the Scattering got quoted.  I’m friggin thrilled.  We’ll just have to see if this newest novel’s worth praising too.

Now Reading: The White Hairs, by Noah K. Mullette-Gillman

5 Aug

Moving from “hard” sci-fi to the deeply mystical, next up is The White Hairs, a work of “spiritual mythology.”  The novel may be slim at 122 pages, but it currently defies description, me having read only the back cover:

The White Hairs is a work of spiritual mythology. Somewhere on a white and snowy mountain, is a young creature learning how to leave his body and travel the world inside of the wind.

The wonders and terrors that he will see are the beginning of an adventure that will feel familiar to anyone who has been fed upon by life, and wanted to fight to get back the joy and soul that they were once able to take for granted.

And the first lines:

“Farshoul watched as the long white hairs on his arms became translucent. He watched as they faded away. Soon he could see through the skin and bone of his arms to the ice beneath him. The frozen water that he could see through his phantom arm seemed more real than his own body. He watched as the others blurred in his vision, their white fur becoming indistinguishable from the snow around them. They appeared to disappear. Then Farshoul began to move.”

That may be a benefit: turning the first page (metaphorically, I suppose, since I’m inevitably reading on my beloved Kindle), I have no idea what to expect.  Besides those two short passages above, all I know is that the author’s favorite color is blue, his favorite number is 8, and that this, his first novel, was published in June 2010.

Now on to the reading.

Verdict? Kidnapped, by Maria Hammarblad

15 Jul

Sure enough, the fairy tale has a sweet, happy ending.

Hopefully that’s no spoiler—Kidnapped, though it did feature a totalitarian galactic empire and band of revolutionaries, never masqueraded as anything dystopian.  The strength of the Maria Hammarblad’s story lies in a charming, straightforward plotline with likeable protagonists.  Essentially it’s a traditional tale with a slight science fiction twist.  And in a genre where minutely-detailed descriptions of nanorobots in the blood stream make quite a few appearances, Maria Hammarblad makes her traditional narrative refreshing—not cliché.

The jury approves.

Reading time: One week, give or take a day—swinging on the hammock, by the pool, or an hour before lights-out.

Recommendation: Not for hard-SF devotees; Kidnapped is a breezy romance with the power to make a reader tired of dystopia smile.

Kidnapped, by Maria Hammarblad, is available as an ebook for $2.99 on Amazon Kindle, as well as in paperback.

Now Reading: Blood Orbit, by John Derderian

8 Jul

Next up on my reading list of indie science fiction authors is John Derderian’s March 2010 Blood Ordbit, which is available in Kindle ebook format for $1.99.  It’s a short book–maybe novella’s the best designation–and rates a 4.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon.  the Scattering’s reviews and commentary is coming soon.  For now, here’s the publisher’s product description– I’m thinking psychological space opera?

Fred and Ted live a pretty quiet, peaceful life as independent shippers hauling cargo around the solar system. Coasting in space for months at a time, touching down at ports only occasionally to deliver or pick up cargo, they are safe even from the constant warfare on the planets below.

That is, until Ted wakes up two days out from Jupiter to find Fred brutally murdered–his head bludgeoned into a bloody mess, and a trail of blood leading away from the body. A trail that makes no sense.

Not only can’t Ted imagine who would want to do this to his friend, there isn’t anyone who could do it. There is, after all, no one else on their ship.

Ted has until planetfall at Jupiter to come up with the answer–to find a murderer who can’t possibly exist. Otherwise the authorities there–the tyrannical megacorporations who control travel around the Solar System–will pin the murder on him.

In the meantime, the real murderer could still be on his ship… Or is the answer the obvious one, that the murderer is Ted himself?

Now Reading: Pale Boundaries, by Scott Cleveland

4 Jul

Science fiction readers on the bleeding edge might want to check out an oft-overlooked source of new science fiction: indie or self-published authors.  This summer, I’m putting indie SF at the top of my reading list, and will keep the Scattering posted on thoughts and progress.

First up: Pale Boundaries (Jan 2010), by Washingtonian Scott Cleveland.

Pale Boundaries is available on Amazon Kindle for $0.99.  And here’s the product description:

Where do you go after you’re torn from the only planet you’ve ever called home? What do you do when your new home despises foreigners? Who do you blame when they kill someone you care about….and how do you take revenge?

Terson Reilly knew things would be different on Nivia. But he wasn’t prepared for the draconian environmental laws, harsh population control measures or the prejudice against outsiders-and they didn’t expect what he was willing to do to defend himself.

Terson finds love when he meets Virene, an independent young woman chafing under the strict social controls herself. The couple do their best to conform, but their rebellious streak leads them beyond the colony’s boundaries where their attempt to rescue the crew of a crashed spacecraft unwittingly sets in motion a chain of events that threatens to expose not only Nivia’s dark secret, but that of a powerful criminal organization as well.

So now, dear reader, we’re at exactly the same part in the book: the back cover.  And now, off to chapter one…

“Step Aside, Shakespeare” ?

31 Aug

Don’t mess with the Bard.

So, maybe we don’t know if “Shakespeare” was an alias, or whether the writer of the plays and poetry was Sir Francis Bacon or Edward de Vere or really and truly the son of a farmer from Stratford-upon-Avon.  What we can agree on, however, is that he was one of the greatest (heck, he was the greatest) writers in English history.

Or at least, I thought we could agree on that.

Apparently not, according to my lovely university student newspaper, which ran an article today stating that the consensus of the editorial board wants a “reform” of English education.  “Learning,” they say:

Should not be a chore.  Rather, it should be a pleasure.  It’s time to reform the way we teach people to embrace reading.  Make way for education, not anguish.  Step aside, Shakespeare.

Now generally, I have little to complain about when it comes to the Crimson White.  Mediocre writing on moderately interesting topics usually makes for a thoroughly mild reading experience.  There’s the occasional angry letter to the editor, of course, and the self-important guest column from some student luminary, but overall—there’s just not much to say about the Crimson White.

Which is why I’m not too surprised to find contempt for “a thick classic filled with incomprehensible prose and old-fashioned themes” within its pages.

I agree with the editorial board that English education in most high schools and elementary schools doesn’t always instill a ravenous hunger for knowledge in its students.  But don’t fault the material for that—fault the completely undeserved stigma that you, campus journalists, are perpetuating in your own columns.

Shakespeare was a friggin’ genius.

You might not understand some of his “incomprehensible prose,” but did anyone ever tell you just how much of the prose we use today, in our most prosaic conversations, was invented by good ol’ Bill?  Here’s a small sample:

“All that glitters is gold” (Merchant of Venice)

“The be-all and end-all” (Macbeth)

“Best foot forward”  (King John)

“Dog will have his day” (Hamlet)

“Eaten me out of house and home” (Henry IV)

“Jealousy is the green-eyed monster” (Othello)

“Kill with kindness” (Taming of the Shrew)

“In a pickle” (The Tempest)

“There’s a method to my madness” (Hamlet)

“Neither rhyme nor reason” (As You Like It)

“Too much of a good thing” (As You Like It)

“Wild goose chase” (Romeo and Juliet)

And that’s only a small selection.  Along with common turns of phrase we use, he coined words as well:  accused (n), accommodation, amazement (n), bachelorship, bandit, birthplace, cold-blooded, coldhearted, to compromise, dauntless, deafening, dexterously, to educate, enthroned, eyeball, eyesore, fortune-teller, gloomy, hoodwinked, housekeeping, invitation, lackluster, leapfrog, majestic, manager (n), multitudinous, obscene, puppy-dog, bedazzled, and many many more.

(Yes—you can thank William Shakespeare for the name of that staple of infomercials with which you can stick rhinestones on your jeans, or whatever.)

So while the sentence structure might be difficult for us today, just think: people in Shakespeare’s time didn’t know what the heck he was talking about either.

But not only this (and this is no small matter, to essentially reinvent the English language into its modern form), Shakespeare also wrote some of the most beautiful poetry in this language:

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players:

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts  (As You Like It)

This is by no means the best example, but it does refute the Crimson White’s assertion that “classics” deal only with “old-fashioned themes.”  Read the lines above and tell me that they don’t apply just as well today as they did in Elizabethan England.

Not to mention that Shakespeare was way ahead of his time dealing with issues such as race (Othello) and gender (Merchant of Venice, As You Like It), which a lot of Americans didn’t start thinking about until the 1960s and 70s.

Even the structure of his plays show how far ahead in the game Shakespeare was: Antony and Cleopatra, for example, switches between wildly different settings– Rome, Alexandria, Messina, Syria, on board a ship at sea.  And he didn’t have CGI, either.  Shakespeare was anticipating the screenplay.

Yes, I agree that English education is not always inspiring, but that doesn’t mean we should take writers such as Shakespeare off of the pedestal they very rightfully deserve.  Don’t lower the bar and erect a monument to Averageness: show students that there already are monumental works of literature, and that they are understandable, and that they are incredibly relevant even today.


Coined quotes and words from: