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A Deep Look by Dave Hook

About Me: I am a California native and a reader of speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, and related genres) for most of my life. I love older material, including pulp magazine stories, but I am challenged by the racism, misogyny, colonialism, etc. often found there. I also love current SF/fantasy, and enjoy nominating/voting on the Hugo awards. Although I am a latecomer to active fandom, I love participating in Worldcon. I am a moderator for the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction Group on Facebook. In other worlds, I am a water resources civil engineer, bicyclist, Deadhead, radio programmer on 91.5 FM KKUP, comic book fan, and husband and dad.

Blog and website list:

Some of my favorite online resources are:

  • Fun with Epistolary Novels and Short Fiction at Chicon 8

    I was fortunate to be selected for a panel at Chicon 8 on epistolary novels in speculative fiction. We (author and moderator Meg Elison, author Caroline Stevermer, publisher and editor Sarah T. Guan of Erewhon Books, Professor Leigha McReynolds, and myself) had a wonderful and spirited discussion of many facets of epistolary writing and some of our favorite examples. Here is a link to my list of epistolary speculative fiction, updated by examples from the panel and audience. See below for more information and caveats.

    The Full Story. When I found out that I could be considered for Chicon 8 (Worldcon) panel participation and that one of the panels was on “The Resurgence of the Epistolary Novel”, I was quite excited. I have been a fan of this form of story telling for a long time, especially in speculative fiction. I immediately started to prepare for this panel, regardless of whether I was selected.

    One useful definition is that from Wikipedia, “An epistolary novel is a novel written as a series of letters.[1] The term is often extended to cover novels which intersperse documents of other kinds with the letters, most commonly diary entries and newspaper clippings, and sometimes considered to include novels composed of documents even if they don’t include letters at all.[2][3] More recently, epistolaries may include electronic documents such as recordings and radio, blog posts, and e-mails.”

    Epistolary fiction has a long tradition in speculative fiction, starting with “Gulliver’s Travels” (1726) and “Frankenstein” (1818, originally published anonymously!) among others. As was noted on the panel description, some think it is undergoing a resurgence. One aspect of this is clearly the new modes of communication which were envisioned in some ways and which are now actual, such as email, text messages, twitter, etc. We could have equally argued that epistolary fiction never went away.

    I am not going to try to summarize the panel discussion in any detail. I was too busy to take notes, but I certainly received a master-level education on the form and what it means to readers, writers, editors and others from the panel. My thanks to my fellow panel members for this, including:

    1. Moderator Meg Elison (on Twitter @megelison), author of “The Pill” (first published in the 2020 PM Press collection “Big Girl Plus The Pill Plus Such People in It and Much More”) and other great stories
    2. Caroline Stevermer, co-author with Patricia C. Wrede of the 1988 Ace Books novel “Sorcery and Cecelia: An Epistolary Fantasy” and two sequels
    3. Sarah T. Guan (on Twitter @Sarah_Guan), publisher and editor of Erewhon Books
    4. Leigha McReynolds (on Twitter @LeighaMcR), Assistant Clinical Professor at the University of Maryland

    I did learn from my fellow panel members that epistolary fiction can be a wonderful way to tell certain stories without some of the challenges and overhead of dealing with multiple points of view. I also learned that epistolary fiction can be a challenge for people who are used to “normal” narrative structure that most of us are used to in literature.

    Many of the novels and stories we discussed as being epistolary were speculative fiction, but many were not. I know I was quite enthusiastic about this as only a fan can be, and I sure hope I did not go over the line on the panel.

    I started out preparing for this by identifying stories and novels that I knew or thought were epistolary from my own reading. I received some great suggestions from the members of the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy – Short Fiction group on Facebook, which is a great resource and place for anyone interested in speculative fiction at less than novel length. I searched the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (www.isfdb.org) for works with an “epistolary” tag. I did read many of the ISFDB tagged works, which had quite a number I had not identified as epistolary. I found that a few are probably incorrectly tagged as “epistolary”. I’ll update ISFDB eventually after checking again.

    I read, or reread, as many of those as I could find, and summarized my very personal opinions of them in a Google Sheets file, “2022 Epistolary SFF“. I shared an earlier version of this file with the panel, and suggested to our moderator Meg Elison that we discuss short epistolary fiction as well.

    Some of my top Short Fiction epistolary stories are:

    1. “Flowers for Algernon”, a novelette by Daniel Keyes, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (F&SF) April 1959
    2. “This Is How You Lose The Time War”, a novella by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, 2019, released as a book by Saga.
    3. “That Only a Mother”, a short story by Judith Merril, Astounding June 1948
    4. “Asymmetrical warfare”, a short story by S.R Algernon, Nature, March 26, 2015
    5. “Little Free Library”, a short story by Naomi Kritzer, Tor.com, April 8, 2020
    6. “My Brother Leopold”, a novelette by Edgar Pangborn, 1973, from “An Exaltation of Stars: Transcendental Adventures in Science Fiction”, Terry Carr editor
    7. “Piper at the Gates of Dawn”, a novella by Richard Cowper, F&SF, March 1976
    8. “The Trap”, a novelette by Howard Fast (variant of The First Men), F&SF, February 1960

    It was interesting to see that 3 of my top 8 epistolary short fiction stories were from Fantasy & Science Fiction. I assume this is coincidence.

    Some of my favorite epistolary novels are:

    1. “Freedom & Necessity”, Steven Brust & Emma Bull, 1997, Tor
    2. “A Fire Upon the Deep”, Vernor Vinge, 1992, Tor/Millennium
    3. “Excession”, Iain M. Banks, 1996, Orbit
    4. “Parable of the Sower”, 1993, Four Walls Eight Windows & “Parable of the Talents”, 1998, Seven Stories Press, Octavia E. Butler (Earthseed)
    5. “The Book of the New Sun”, Gene Wolfe (“Shadow of the Torturer”, 1980, Simon and Schuster, and after)
    6. “The Knight” and “The Wizard”, 2004, Gene Wolfe, Tor
    7. “Ministry for the Future”, Kim Stanley Robinson, 2020, Orbit/Hachette B and Blackstone
    8. “Hard Landing” by Algis Budrys, 1993, Questar/Warner Books (after a 1992 novella release)

    This file includes two sheets, labeled “No Spoilers!” and “With Spoilers!”. “With Spoilers!” has my full comments/reviews/etc. in it, which is chock full of spoilers! Do not look at this sheet, or avoid that column, if you want to be surprised. The other sheet, “No Spoilers”, has that info excised.

    For my own purposes, I sorted the stories/novels by order of my personal ranking scale, from 5/5 (a perfect story, which “Flowers for Algernon” is for me) to either a 2/5 (Did Not Finish, for some reason), or no rating, which usually means I did not even attempt to read it for some reason. My not reading a story does not mean that it’s not good or that you should not give it a go. I might have decided I was too busy, ran out of time, just felt it was not for me, or felt that I had a good enough grasp on it without a read or reread. I assume that you could download/copy the sheets and re-sort them as you desire, but have not checked this.

    I also added a column in which I attempted to roughly categorize the entries. When I say “traditional”, it’s a classic epistolary form of letters to and from people, or something like that. I did not overthink this, so it’s possible I have not been completely consistent. These categories made sense to me, but I know there are innumerable ways of categorizing them.

    The sheets are organized into 3 sections, Short Fiction at the top, Novels in the middle, and Other examples of epistolary novels or short fiction, whether speculative fiction or not, from the panel and the audience. Below the bottom section, I’ve added a brief list of References for websites and posts I looked at for examples of epistolary speculative fiction.

    Maybe I was not paying attention, but I don’t think I heard Meg Elison mention that she has an epistolary novel, “The Book of the Unnamed Midwife”, 2014, Sybaratic Press. I’ve added that to the list.

    I had a great time on this. I’d love to get your thoughts, added suggestions for epistolary speculative fiction reading, or any corrections.

    I will be blogging on my other Chicon 8 panels, such as the Titus Groan panel and two other 1946 Project panels.

  • Octavia Butler: A Black History Month post

    Octavia Butler: A Black History Month post

    Octavia E. Butler was a great science fiction (mostly) writer, who unfortunately died way too young (2006, at age 58).

    She was African-American, or Black, and she might be my favorite African-American SF writer, and she is one of my favorite SF writers. The only reason I say “might” is that I don’t want to overthink this, and get down into the weeds of figuring out who else I would consider, or even who else is a African-American SF writer (Samuel R. Delany would be my next choice).

    She won a number of awards that matter in the SF and speculative fiction field, with three Hugo Awards, two Nebula Awards, a Bram Stoker Award, the first Ignyte Award, and a Locus Award. She became the first SF writer to win a MacArthur Fellowship (AKA “Genius Award”) in 1995. She is a member of the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. Mark R. Kelly’s Science Fiction Awards Database has a very good entry on her works and awards. The SF Encyclopedia has a very good entry on her, as does Wikipedia.

    Her works are taught, remembered and discussed. She matters, and her works matter!

    A bookstore from her home town of Pasadena, California, is opening in February (not an accident, I think) in tribute to her, “Octavia’s Bookshelf“. Octavia’s Bookshelf is “Pasadena’s first independent bookstore highlighting BIPOC authors”, to quote their website. There is a great interview of the owner, Nikki High, at the KQED California Report from the January 20, 2023 show, between about 19:35 to about 27:40.

    One of my favorite quotes of hers comes from Carolyn S. Davidson’s 1981 “The Science Fiction of Octavia Butler.” In it, she said, “I began writing about power because I had so little.”

    As I said, Octavia Butler left us way too soon. I don’t know, but I have to wonder if the systemic racism and resulting stress and health impacts found in all parts of the United States had an effect on how long she lived.

    That makes me sad just to consider. If she were still with us, we’d have both more of her fiction and she’d still be making “good trouble” to quote John Lewis, including talking to us or writing about today and how things could be better or different, or not.

    But, I really wanted to mention some of her works at both short fiction and novel length that I just love. Especially if you have not read her works, or even if you have, Black History Month would be a great time to revisit her. She is a proud and outstanding part of that.

    At the same time, I don’t want to sugar coat things. She did write about brutal things, and did not avoid them or inordinately use euphemisms.

    Some of my favorite of her short fiction works include:

    Speech Sounds”, a short story, from Asimov’s Science Fiction, Mid-December 1983. Her first work to win a Hugo Award.

    Bloodchild“, a novelette, Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, June 1984. Hugo, Nebula and Locus Award winner.

    It’s true that she mostly published novels, but these were two amazing stories from her. I rated them as “Superlative” on my rating scale. These both have many, many reprints, so they are not hard to find. They are both found in her superlative collection, “Bloodchild and Other Stories“, 1995 Four Walls Eight Windows. This collection could be a great place to start if you have not read anything by her.

    She wrote a lot of novels, many of which were parts of series. I think I’ve read most of them; this is confused a bit by my reading some of them from the library before I created a Book Database, so I don’t necessarily know for sure if I’ve read them all or not. For her, not appearing in my Book Database does not mean that I did not read or love the rest, but is more an accident of timing.

    Looking at my Book Database, I have six of her novels rated as “Superlative”, including:

    Fledgling“, 2005 Seven Stories Press, her last novel and for me her great horror/fantasy novel.

    Patternmaster“, 1976 Doubleday, her first Patternist series novel.

    Wild Seed“, 1980 Doubleday, another in her Patternist series.

    Parable of the Sower“, 1993 Four Walls Eight Windows, first in her Parable of the Sower/Earthsea series.

    Kindred“, 1979 Doubleday.

    Adulthood Rites“, 1988 Warner Books, the second novel in her Xenogenesis/Lilith’s Brood series. (You really should start with the first one, “Dawn“, 1987 Warner Books, which I had as “Great”).

    If you look at the “Octavia E. Butler” page at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (or ISFDB), you’ll see her fiction summarized, along with interviews and essays listed. For me, of the fiction noted, the only book of hers in my Book Database that is below a “Great” rating is the posthumous “Unexpected Stories“, a 2014 collection of her unpublished fiction on Open Road Media. I have that at “Very good”, and I was very happy to see it.

    Many libraries and all the usual sources stock her works.

    So get out there, read some Octavia Butler, and take action to make the world a better place. I know I’ll be revisiting some of her work as part of Black History Month.

  • The Best of Elizabeth Bear

    The Best of Elizabeth Bear

    The Short: I really enjoyed “The Best of Elizabeth Bear” (2020 Subterranean). Rated 3.67/5, or “Very Good”. Recommended.

    The Full Story: I’ve been a fan of Elizabeth Bear for a while. The first novel I read by her was “Dust” (2008 Bantam Spectra), a very good generation ship story.

    Since then, I’ve read more than a few of her novels, and more than a few pieces of her short fiction. “Ancestral Night“, her 2019 White Space universe novel, is my favorite novel of hers. I loved her 2012 collection “Shoggoths In Bloom” (2012 Prime Books), and I’ve loved a fair amount of her short fiction since then.

    I was quite excited to see “The Best of Elizabeth Bear” announced in 2020. Reading it in February 2021, my comments were “I just finished reading ‘The Best of Elizabeth Bear’, 2020, Subterranean Press. This includes SF, fantasy, horror and other stories and novellas that are hard to categorize, from 2005 to 2019. It’s a doorstop of a book, with over 550 pages of fiction. Favorite stories for me included ‘Shoggoths In Bloom’, “Boojum’, ‘This Chance Planet’, ‘Tideline’ and ‘In the House of Aryaman, a Lonely Signal Burns’. Two Hugo winners. All in all, I really enjoyed it. Recommended!” Although I did not mention it originally, she is also the winner of a Sturgeon Award and two Locus Awards, not to mention two Hugo Awards for fancasts, and has numerous award nominations and reprints.

    There is an excellent and insightful Introduction by C. L. Polk that does a good job of discussing Bear’s fiction and giving story specific thoughts. I am glad to see this, as something of this nature is definitely a mark of what I expect from a “Best Of” collection for an author.

    There are 27 stories in this anthology.

    While my overall average rating of 3.67/5, or “Very good”, is acceptable to me, I am somewhat disappointed that there were 11 stories in my 3.1 – 3.5 range of “Good”. This could just a result of my personal taste, but to me this is a somewhat disappointing result in a “Best Of” collection for an author of this magnitude.

    My first question is, “Were stories left out that would have been more appropriate to include?” I took a look at Mark R. Kelly’s Science Fiction Awards Database (thanks Mark!) to see what other Elizabeth Bear stories had significant award nominations or significant reprints. Stories that I feel could have been included are:

    1. The Red Mother“, 2021 Tor.com, Locus Award #6. Published after this book, it would be a good candidate in my opinion if this “Best Of” had been published later.
    2. Lest We Forget“, a short story from Uncanny May/Jun 2019, was a Locus finalist.
    3. Follow Me Light“, a short story from the Sci Fiction website Jan 12 2005, was reprinted in these anthologies:
    4. Wax“, a New Amsterdam novelette, from Interzone #201 Dec 2005, had these award nominations and a reprint:
    5. The Ile of Dogges” (by EB & Sarah Monette), from Aeon Aug 2006, was reprinted in these anthologies:
    6. Cryptic Coloration“, a novelette from “Jim Baen’s Universe“, Eric Flint & Mike Resnick editors, Jun 2007 Baen, had these award nominations and reprints:
    7. Mongoose” (by Sarah Monette & EB),a Boojum novelette from “Lovecraft Unbound“, Ellen Datlow editor, 2009 Dark Horse Books had these award nominations and reprints:
    8. The Ghost Makers”, an Eternal Sky short story from “Fearsome Journeys”, Jonathan Strahan editor, 2013 Solaris, was reprinted in these anthologies:
    9. The Hand is Quicker”, a novelette from “The Book of Silverberg: Stories in Honor of Robert Silverberg“, Gardner Dozois & William Schafer editors, 2014 Subterranean Press, has these award nominations and reprints:

    I can’t say that these are all better choices than the 11 stories I wondered about above, but I suspect some of them are. I am sure there were reasons for inclusion and non-inclusion, but this does make me wonder.

    Second, was there an editor involved? I have not found any evidence of this. I don’t see an editor listed. I could be missing this; perhaps the editor is noted on the dust cover, which I don’t have. Regardless, I think any author can use a good editor, even if it’s only to have a different set of eyes on story selection. I hope there was an editor involved, but I don’t know.

    Third, were too many stories included for a heftier page count value beyond what the quality of the stories would warrant?

    I do know that over the last ten to twenty years, “Best Of” author collection have become heftier, compared to what was common in the 1970s and 80s. 550 pages and up have become common.

    Fourth, was this “Best Of” collection issued too soon in Elizabeth Bear’s career? I do wonder if perhaps it is a bit early in her career to put out a “Best of” collection of this many pages, but this may have more to do with publishing than anything else and perhaps I am out of touch.

    We all want quantity and quality, and a huge page count can lead to us feeling like we received good value. I wonder if these factors can lead to a dilution of the quality of a “Best Of” collection.

    Regardless of these questions about story inclusion and the overall success of the stories included, I really enjoyed reading “The Best of Elizabeth Bear”. I did finish reading all of the stories. I do recommend it to others.

    Now I need to read the rest of her “New Amsterdam” stories, as I enjoyed “The Body of the Nation” here.

    My Book Database has this as “Great”. My overall average story rating was 3.67/5, or “Very good”. I am inconsistent, and I can live with this.

    Detailed Review/Comments: Spoilers Everywhere!

    Covenant“, a short story, first published in “Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future“, Kathryn Cramer and Ed Finn editors, 2014 William Morrow/HarperCollins. Interesting, well thought out story of a serial murderer who is “right-minded” and then, after a sex-change and whatnot, ends up needing to escape from a rapist/murderer. This “right-minding” may be a precursor to what shows up in her White Space universe novels, “Machine” and “Ancestral Night”. Good characters. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”. Locus finalist, and reprinted in “The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year: Volume Nine“, Jonathan Strahan editor, Solaris 2015, “The Year’s Top Ten Tales of Science Fiction“, Allan Kaster editor, 2015 Infinivox, “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Second Annual Collection“, Gardner Dozois editor, 2015 St. Martin’s Griffin.

    She Still Loves the Dragon“, a short story, Uncanny Magazine, January-February 2018. A story of a woman who loves a dragon, and survives it, changed. I liked this a lot. I get the feeling I have read it, but unsure where. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.

    Tideline“, a short story, Asimov’s Science Fiction, June 2007. A great story of a failing AI war machine and a young man, after an apocalyptic war. Hugo and Sturgeon winner, Locus finalist, and reprinted in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Fifth Annual Collection“, Gardner Dozois editor, 2008 St. Martin’s Griffin. Rated 4.1, or “Superlative”.

    The Leavings of the Wolf“, a short story, Apex Magazine, November 2011. I liked this story a lot, with the crows, the woman who has a failed marriage, and the wolf, rather related to Norse mythology. Not sure if this is a fantasy or a metaphor. Rated 3.5/5, or “Good”.

    Okay, Glory“, a novelette, from “Twelve Tomorrows“, Wade Roush editor, 2018 The MIT Press. I really liked this story of a very antisocial, eccentric tech billionaire whose AI controlled house is hacked to confine him until he pays a ransom. He finally has to become a better person, to the AI, and a better friend, to escape. A Locus finalist. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.

    Needles“, a short story, from “Blood and Other Cravings“, Ellen Datlow editor, 2011 Tor. A story about vampires in the desert city of Needles. A desire by one to be slightly different, a tattoo. This felt slight. Rated 3.1/5, or just barely “Good”. 

    This Chance Planet“, a short story, Tor.com, October 22, 2014. A great story in a somewhat future Russia, perhaps Moscow, about a woman hoping and planning for more, a useless wannabe rocker boyfriend, and a dog who perhaps is more than the dogs we know today. Rated 4.1/5, or “Superlative”.

    The Body of the Nation“, a New Amsterdam short story, first published in “Garrett Investigates“, a Elizabeth Bear “New Amsterdam” collection, 2012 Subterranean Press. A very good alternative world/history story of a Crown Investigator and sorcerer in New Amsterdam. Reminded me somewhat of Randall Garrett’s “Lord Darcy” series, in a good way. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.

    Boojum“, a Boojum universe short story by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette, from “Fast Ships, Black Sails“, Ann & Jeff VanderMeer editors, 2008 Night Shade Books. A great story, I love Black Alice and Vinnie, and an interesting end for “Boojum”. A Locus finalist, and reprinted in “Year’s Best SF 14“, Kathryn Cramer & David G. Hartwell editors, 2009 Eos/HarperCollins, “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Sixth Annual Collection“, Gardner Dozois editor, 2009 St. Martin’s Griffin, and “The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy”, Rich Horton editor, 2009 Prime Books. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.

    Although not germane to my appreciation of the story, the first time I encountered “Boojum” was in the Gardner Dozois “The Very Best of the Best: 35 Years of The Year’s Best Science Fiction” (2019 St. Martin’s Griffin). The story listed in the Table of Contents, the copyright page and on the story heading page is actually “Mongoose”, another superlative “Boojum” universe story. It is not clear if Gardner Dozois had really intended to include “Boojum” or “Mongoose”; Gardner was no longer alive. Both stories had appeared in “Year’s Best” anthologies by Gardner. Elizabeth Bear was no longer certain which one Gardner intended to include (personal communication to Piet Nel). There is some evidence that Gardner intended to include “Mongoose” and this was an editing/publishing mishap, but we’ll never know for sure.

    The Bone War“, a short story, F&SF September-October 2015. A great story of the wizard Bijou the Artificer and her effort to bring a dinosaur back to mechanical/magical life, combined with feuding academics. I loved the joy put into the recreated dinosaur, and the name. Good characters. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.

    In the House of Aryaman, a Lonely Signal Burns“, a Sub-Inspector Ferron Mysteries novella, Asimov’s January 2015. A great update on the locked-room murder. I loved the characters and where it went, and the setting in a future India. Locus finalist, and reprinted in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirtieth Annual Collection“, Gardner Dozois editor, 2013 St. Martin’s Griffin, “The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2013 Edition“, Rich Horton editor, 2013 Prime Books, and “The Year’s Top Short SF Novels 3“, Allan Kaster editor, 2013 Infinivox. Rated 4.1/5, or “Superlative”.

    Shoggoths In Bloom“, a short story, Asimov’s March 2008. Won 2008 Hugo novelette award. A great story, with great characters and insightful treatment of shoggoths and their self determination. Hugo winner and Locus runner-up, and reprinted in “The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Three“, Jonathan Strahan editor, 2009 Night Shade Books, “The Year’s Top Ten Tales of Science Fiction“, Allan Kaster editor, 2009 Infinivox, “Year’s Best Fantasy 9“, Kathryn Cramer & David G. Hartwell, 2009 Tor, and “The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy, 2009 Edition“, Rich Horton editor, 2009 Prime Books. Rated 4.4/5, or “A Classic”.

    Skin in the Game“, a short story, from “Future Visions: Original Science Fiction Inspired by Microsoft“, Jennifer Henshaw & Allison Linn editors, 2015 Microsoft. Another story of transmitting/sharing feelings, emotions, etc. of a performer (rock star here). I liked the characters and enjoyed the ending. Rated 3.3/5, or “Good”.

    Hobnoblin Blues“, a short story, from Realms of Fantasy February 2008. Good story of Loki as a fallen/exiled god, rock journalists, and the end of the world Rated 3.4/5, or “Good”.

    Form and Void“, a short story, Fireside Winter 2012. A story of a maybe friendship and a change into a dragon, and entitlement. Rated 3.3/5, or “Good”.

    Your Collar“, a short story, Subterranean Online Spring 2008. An enjoyable story of the minotaur, and a queen. Rated 3.3/5, or “Good”.

    Terrior“, a novelette, from “Harvest Season: An Anthology by SF Squeecast“, Bill Roper editor, 2014 ISFiC Press. A very good story of a high tech tycoon trying to come to grips with the war business his company does. He chooses to visit Normandy to address the ghosts of the dead, past and future. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.

    Dolly“, a short story, Asimov’s January 2011. A great story of a robot sex-toy that no longer wants to do that, murder, and potential emancipation. All the characters are good. Reprinted in “Year’s Best SF 17“, Kathryn Cramer & David G. Hartwell editors, 2012 Harper Voyager, and “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Ninth Annual Collection”, Gardner Dozois editor, 2012 St. Martin’s Griffin. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.

    Love Among the Talus“, a short story, Strange Horizons December 2006. A princess, perhaps among descendants of the Khan, not wanting to marry, and magic, and a witch. Well done. Rated 3.5/5, or “Good”.

    The Deeps of the Sky“, a short story, from “Edge of Infinity“, Jonathan Strahan editor, 2012 Solaris. A very good story of first contact in the winds and turbulence of a giant planet. A Locus finalist. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.

    Two Dreams on Trains“, a short story, Strange Horizons January 2005. A good story of an indentured mother in a New Orleans floating city from sea level rise,  and her artist son, and tagging a space ship. Reprinted in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Third Annual Collection“, Gardner Dozois editor, 2006 St. Martin’s Griffin. Rated 3.6/5, or “Very good”.

    Faster Gun“, a novelette, a 2012 Tor.com original. A nice story of Doc Holliday, a crashed alien ship with a survivor, and a team from an alternate future timeline looking for that alien. And Johnny Ringo. A Locus finalist, and reprinted in “Some of the Best from Tor.com: 2012 Edition”, Liz Gorinsky, David G. Hartwell, & Patrick Nielsen Hayden editors, 2013 Tor. Rated 3.4/5, or “Good”.

    The Heart’s Filthy Lesson“, a novelette, from “Old Venus“, Gardner Dozois & George R. R. Martin editors, 2015 Bantam Books. A very interesting and well written story of a Venusian researcher traveling through the jungle to prove an archeological hypothesis about extinct aborigines. Good characters, great story. I’m ignoring that the story is impossible without terraforming, but I assume that is part of the framing for “Old Venus”. Locus finalist, and reprinted in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2016 Edition“, Rich Horton editor, 2016, and “The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Ten“, Jonathan Strahan editor, 2016 Solaris Prime Books. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.

    Perfect Gun“, a short story, from “Infinity Wars\”, Jonathan Strahan editor, 2017 Solaris. A very good story of a morally challenged mercenary, and the AI combat suit he buys used and illegally. They part ways under difficult conditions. Rated 3.5/5, or “Very good”.

    Sonny Liston Takes the Fall“, a short story, “The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy: Sixteen Original Works by Speculative Fiction’s Finest Voices“, Ellen Datlow editor, 2008 Del Rey/Ballantine . A good story of Sonny Liston; I’m not sure if it is genre or not. Rated 3.4/5, or “Good”.

    Orm the Beautiful“, a short story, Clarkesworld Magazine January 2007. A pretty good story of the fate of the last dragon. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.

    Erase, Erase, Erase“, a novelette, F&SF September/October 2019. An interesting story of a very troubled woman, abused as a child and a cult member as an adult, trying to forget and then trying to remember. A Locus finalist, and reprinted in “The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy“, Diana Gabaldon editor & John Joseph Adams, series editor, 2020 Mariner Books. I rated this as 3.4/5, or “Good”, but clearly some disagreed.

  • “The Fifth Head of Cerberus” by Gene Wolfe

    “The Fifth Head of Cerberus” by Gene Wolfe

    So far, I have not really written reviews of any novels on my blog. Thinking about it, I am not sure that I have enough to say about most novels that would make a post worthwhile. That could change.

    I’m driven to write about “The Fifth Head of Cerberus” by Gene Wolfe, a 1972 “novel” on Charles Scribner’s Sons. At the same time, I’m going to split hairs by stipulating that this is a collection of related stories and not a novel. I’ll blog about fix-up novels eventually, but I don’t consider this a fix-up novel either.

    I own the 1976 Ace paperback, used and rather worn, from Recycle Bookstore in San Jose. I assume I read it after I bought it in the late 1970s, but after 45 years I mostly remember the title and that it is an important book by Gene Wolfe. Here is my modest Wolfe collection, as I mostly read Wolfe from the library.

    According to Wolfe’s story in the Afterword to “The Fifth Head of Ceberus” novella in “The Best of Gene Wolfe: A Definitive Retrospective of His Finest Short Fiction” (a 2009 Tor collection, he sold the novella to Damon Knight for “Orbit 10” first, and then presented the story at the Milford Writer’s Conference because he wanted to hear what others thought. Larry McCaffery interviewed Gene Wolfe extensively in Science Fiction Studies, #46 November 1988 for Depauw University. In that interview, Wolfe discussed how the book came about from the novella:

    Wolfe’s novella “The Fifth Head of Cerberus” was published in the “Orbit 10” anthology, February 1972, Damon Knight editor, G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

    In April 1972, Charles Scribner’s Sons published the Wolfe “novel” “The Fifth Head of Cerberus“, which added the related novellas “‘A Story’ by John V. Marsch”, and “V. R. T.” to “The Fifth Head of Cerberus” novella. I believe all 3 novellas were written before the first was published.

    I think “The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories“, a short story in Damon Knight’s “Orbit 7” anthology and a 1971 Nebula finalist for short story was perhaps the first great Wolfe story. However, “The Fifth Head of Cerberus” was a 1973 Hugo, Locus and Nebula finalist for the novella, and was a bigger deal that focused even more attention on Wolfe.

    I had owned “The Fifth Head of Cerberus” book for decades, but remembered very little about it.

    Upon checking my Book Database, I last read it in 2001. My overall rating was “Very good”, and my comment was “Very interesting, and surprising, trio of stories of life on another world – very literate”. In hindsight, I had sure missed that two worlds were involved.

    I was not planning to review the book, but I had reread “The Fifth Head of Cerberus” novella twice in the last two years, first for the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction Facebook group and recently in “The Best of Gene Wolfe: A Definitive Retrospective of His Finest Short Fiction“, and my last read changed my opinion of the story, to 4.1/5, or “Superlative”. I had read “V. R. T.” last year, for the Chicon 8 epistolary speculative fiction panel (it is!), and thought it was “Great”, at 3.8/5. I finally decided last week to read (or reread) “”A Story’ by John V. Marsch“, as I was getting fairly close to having reread the whole book recently, and I was curious.

    I finished “‘A Story’ by John V. Marsch” a few days ago. I did not find it as interesting as the other two novellas, and rated it 3.7/5, or “Very good”.

    The Fifth Head of Cerberus” has been fairly well reprinted as a novella. “‘A Story’ by John V. Marsch” has been reprinted once as a novella, in the 1994 Kim Stanley Robinson anthology, “Future Primitive: The New Ecotopias” (Tor). “V. R. T.” has been reprinted only once as a novella, in German, extracted from the German translation of “The Fifth Head of Cerberus”. The book “The Fifth Head of Cerberus” has been reprinted periodically, as recently as 2022 by Tor.

    Looking at reprints and awards, there is a lot more attention, discussion and remembering of “The Fifth Head of Cerberus” novella than the other two novellas from the book.

    My overall average rating for the three novellas, from the story ratings of 4.1, 3.8 and 3.7, is a “Great” 3.87/5. I think my rereading of “The Fifth Head of Cerberus” novella drove both a better understanding and greater appreciation of that story, which produced a change from “Very good” to “Great” for me. I will admit that I am not enough of a Gene Wolfe fanatic to reread “V. R. T.” or “‘A Story’ by John V. Marsch” again.

    Some general and specific thoughts about Gene Wolfe, his writing and fiction, and these 3 novellas:

    1. I was lucky enough to meet Gene Wolfe briefly at ConJose in 2002, where we were both waiting for a hallway blockage to abate. We chatted for several minutes as one does. I expressed that I was a fan of his, and hopefully mentioned some of his works that I liked without getting into those I did not like. He seemed very nice and charming, and I was excited to meet him. This positive interaction probably drove me to read more of his fiction, but it did not eliminate some of the issues I have with some of his work.
    2. I have mixed feelings about his fiction. I feel he is one of the premier writers of speculative fiction over his career. I have just loved some of his work, but I have really disliked some of it to the point of not wanting to finish that work.
    3. I have noticed that he is a real fan of unreliable narrators and other such complex narrative elements that can require reading a piece of fiction at least two or three times to have a clue, maybe, about what the hell is really going on. His 1995 novella “The Ziggurat” is another example of this. While I like a well written story and I can enjoy fiction with many elements of a more literary style as long as the plot and characters are good, there are times when I just don’t want to work that hard to understand or appreciate one of his works. This is probably a combination of my capabilities as a reader, personality and interests in life. Perhaps if I was an academic or had a BA or MA in English or Literature I might have a different opinion, but perhaps not.
    4. Looking at “V. R. T.” and “‘A Story’ by John V. Marsch”, there are very substantial issues with unreliable narrators and having a clue about what is actually happening in these stories. I don’t think I ever actually understood all of what was going on, and I don’t want to reread them enough to figure it out. For all of that, I enjoyed reading “V. R. T.” much more than “‘A Story’ by John V. Marsch”.
    5. There is no doubt that these 3 novellas are related, are set in the same solar system, and all relate in some way to the humans who came from Earth and the aboriginals native to at least one of the two worlds the stories are set in who might or might not exist and might or might not have ever existed.

    I’m glad I reread Wolfe’s book “The Fifth Head of Cerberus”. It’s very possible and even likely that some of my interpretations of and conclusions about these three stories are incorrect. This is on both me and Gene Wolfe. I’ll probably reread “The Fifth Head of Cerberus” novella someday, but I doubt I’ll reread the other two novellas. Your experience might vary.

    Detailed reviews/comments on the stories. Spoilers all over:

    The Fifth Head of Cerberus“, a novella from the “Orbit 10” anthology, February 1972, Damon Knight editor, G. P. Putnam’s Sons. 2021 Read: This is where I show my shallowness as a reader of SF. For me, this leans rather more towards the literary end of SF. Great writing here, interesting characters and setting, and an interesting story set on the planet of Sainte Croix, and a very gradual (but hinted) reveal on the clones. I did enjoy “Mr. Million”, who is revealed to be patterned after the “grandfather” of the characters. At the same time, I found the story dragging a bit. I found the drugged interviews rather opaque in terms of why they were happening, although I agree that the search for identity was in play. This novella is definitely where Wolfe first showed me what a great writer he would be but the story is not among the best of all time for me. January 2023 Reread: I love the mention of “…The Mile-Long Spaceship, by some German)…”, a reference to the 1963 collection by Kate Wilhelm. story by. Followed shortly by”…a crumbling volume of Vernor Vinge‘s short-stories that owed it’s presence there, or so I suspect, to some long-dead librarian’s mistaking the faded V. Vinge on the spine for Winge.” This is fun because Wolfe took the time to insert works by his contemporaries that would have been shelved nearby, perhaps, including a then imaginary collection by Vinge. I also loved realizing this is an epistolary story, which I had forgotten, with the frame at the very end. Finally, I really loved this story more on what must be at least my third read over the last 50 years, twice in the last few years. I am upgrading my rating to 4.1, or “Superlative”. (From 3.7 or “very good”). It was a Nebula, Hugo and Locus finalist, and selected for “The Best Science Fiction of the Year #2” by editor Terry Carr (1973 Ballantine Books).

    ‘A Story’ by John V. Marsch“, a novella, published as part of Gene Wolfe’s “The Fifth Head of Cerberus” collection of related stories, Charles Scribner’s Sons April 1972. Read this month for the probably the second time since buying the paperback of “The Fifth Head of Cerberus”, 1976 Ace edition. Not a great story for me, but interesting to read and consider. The story of men who came to the world of Sainte Anne and encountered the shape shifting aborigines, with no clarity here or in “V. R. T.” as to which is which. I am not an expert, but I suspect the aborigines and their interactions with the world here have some resemblance to Australian aboriginals, and today you would have to consider cultural appropriation. Certainly, like “V. R. T.” and much Gene Wolfe, unreliable narrators abound. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”. Only reprinted once separately from the “novel”, in German, extracted from the German translation of the book.

    V. R. T.“, a novella, published as part of “The Fifth Head of Cerberus”, April 1976. Read here perhaps the second time since buying the 1976 Ace edition of “The Fifth Head of Cerberus”. A definitely
    very epistolary story, set on the same world of “Sainte Anne” as the novella “The Fifth Head of Cerberus” and in the same solar system as “‘A Story’ by John V. Marsch”. The frame is an official evaluating and interrogating a man being held for some unspecified crime, perhaps as a spy from the neighboring world. There are found materials, such as a box of artifacts, of interrogation tapes, diary entries, etc. It is very unclear if the material is based on interactions from the academic (anthropologist) who came to these worlds to research the aboriginals who may have lived there before humans came, or if perhaps a young man assisting the academic has taken his place or a shapeshifter, or what. Although I am not a big fan of unreliable narrators, this is a great story and I enjoyed the epistolary format of found materials. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”. Reprinted once separately of the “novel”, in the 1994 Kim Stanley Robinson anthology, “Future Primitive: The New Ecotopias” (Tor).

  • The Collected Stories of Greg Bear, Tor 2002

    The Collected Stories of Greg Bear, Tor 2002

    Summary: After Greg Bear’s death in November, I decided to honor his memory by (re-) reading “The Collected Stories of Greg Bear“, Tor 2002. My overall rating for the stories here is 3.67/5, or “Very good”. The great fiction included and the essays and story introductions make this a worthwhile retrospective of Bear’s short fiction. Recommended, with a minor quibble noted below.

    The Full Story: I’ve been a fan of Greg Bear’s fiction for decades. I suspect “A Martian Ricorso (Analog February 1976) was the first work by him I read. Looking at my Book Database, I have 28 entries for books of his I have read and generally enjoyed, mostly novels with a few collections and anthologies. Although I have mostly read his science fiction, I read and enjoyed what I believe to be his last book published during his life, the fantasy/horror “The Unfinished Land” (2021, John Joseph Adams Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).

    I’ve been reading and enjoying his short fiction as I encountered it over the last few years as I have focused on reading short speculative fiction. Upon hearing of his death, I decided to revisit his short fiction in a more organized way as a tribute to him.

    To the best of my knowledge, there is no “The Best of Greg Bear” collection.

    There is a 3 volume “The Complete Short Fiction of Greg Bear” (2016 Open Road Integrated Media). I love Greg Bear, but that seemed a bit much for me. I did read the first volume, “Just Over The Horizon: The Complete Short Fiction of Greg Bear” about 5 years ago and loved it, but I did not feel the need to read Volumes Two or Three, and I have no interest in rereading Volume One.

    When I checked my Book Database, I confirmed that I had read “The Collected Stories of Greg Bear” in 2016. I rated it at “Superlative” (right below my best rating, “A classic!” and my comments were “Great collection – what a resume!”.

    I considered, and decided to reread “The Collected Stories of Greg Bear”. Luckily, my regional library consortium had it.

    There is a lot to like about “The Collected Stories of Greg Bear”. It includes 24 stories, which I assume were selected by editor Beth Meacham and Greg Bear. Including essays and story introductions, it comes in at 653 pages.

    I have not found any explicit statements by Meacham or Bear on how the stories were selected, but I assume they were both heavily involved.

    I really liked the Introduction and the Appendix material by Bear; it’s definitely a plus. The story introductions are great also, with a fair amount of information about both the story and how it came to be written or published. These story introductions include “commentary and reminisces” as noted on the back flap which were both personal and interesting. The inclusion of this kind of material is essential for me to really feel a collection of this kind is top notch.

    There were a number of great stories that I expected to see here, and did, such as:

    1. “Blood Music”, the 1983 novella.
    2. “Heads”, a 1990 novella.
    3. “Tangents”, a 1986 short story.
    4. “Hardfought”, a 1983 novella.
    5. “Schrödinger’s Plague”, a 1982 short story.

    There were also quite a few great stories that I had read before but did not remember, including:

    1. “Sisters”, a 1989 novelette.
    2. “The Wind from a Burning Woman”, a 1978 “Thistledown” novelette.
    3. “The White Horse Child”, a 1979 short story.
    4. “Dead Run”, a 1985 short story.
    5. “Through Road, no Whither”, a 1985 short story.
    6. “Sleepside Story”, a 1988 novella.
    7. “The Way of all Ghosts”, a 1999 “Thistledown” novelette.

    This is a very good collection, which does a good job of presenting Greg Bear’s short fiction. My overall rating is 3.67/5, or “Very good”. I am really glad I reread it, as there were a number of great stories by Bear I had forgotten I had read.

    I recommend this book as a good collection of his best short fiction.

    Regarding Greg Bear the person, I saw a lot more information about him that I was not very familiar with after he died, in various obituaries and such. Several things surprised me, including a) for all that he wrote a lot of “hard” science fiction, and did it very well, his degree was in English, and b) he was an artist and illustrator. I was also very impressed with the pretty uniform stories from people in the writing and SF arena about what a nice and helpful person he was. This does not have direct bearing on his published short fiction, but it does fill in the picture a bit about him and informed my recent reading.

    I do have one minor niggle, of several stories that I did not care for and that could have been omitted without losing anything in my humble opinion.

    This is not a “Best of”, or a complete short fiction series or volume, but rather something in between. Clearly, Greg Bear and editor Beth Meacham thought this was a good idea. Whoever wrote the front flap called it a “career retrospective”, which I think is fair description.

    The choices of stories for inclusion are the business of Greg Bear and Beth Meacham, within whatever publishing constraints existed. At the same time, there were two stories that I “Did Not Finish” reading that I felt could have been omitted without losing anything, and one more that I was very underwhelmed by. For me, inclusion of these three stories knocked it out of a “Great” collection, but that is my personal opinion. You might love those stories.

    1. A Plague of Conscience“, a novelette which is part of the group author novel/anthology “Murasaki”, 1978 Bantam Spectra. The characters did nothing for me, and I did not care enough to finish it. This might have been better in the novel.
    2. Richie by the Sea“, published in “New Terrors Two”, Ramsey Campbell editor, 1980 Pan Books. This is probably a great horror story, but I am not a big fan of such, and I did not finish it.
    3. ” Webster“, published in “Alternities”, David Gerrold & Stephen Goldin editors, 1974 Dell. I was just not impressed.

    I will note that I rated “Perihesperon” at 3.3, lower than I rated “Webster”, at 3.4. I’m listing “Webster” here as a story I felt could be omitted because I felt “Perihesperon” was closer to being a good story, despite it’s flaws. You could equally argue that “Perihesperon” should have been omitted as well.

    Another way of looking at this collection is as functionally a great “The Best of Greg Bear” collection, with some bonus fiction. I am not making that argument, but it’s a legitimate thought.

    This collection was published in 2002, with no stories written after 2000. Looking at Mark R. Kelly’s Science Fiction Awards Database for Greg Bear (Thanks, Mark!), there are two Greg Bear stories published after 2000 that were included in “Year’s Best” anthologies that would warrant consideration for a full career survey. These stories were:

    1. The Machine Starts”, a novelette from the anthology “Future Visions: Original Science Fiction Inspired by Microsoft“, edited by Jennifer Henshaw, Allison Linn (2015, Microsoft), reprinted in “The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Ten“, Jonathan Strahan editor, Solaris 2016.
    2. RAM Shift Phase 2 ”, a short story, from Nature Dec 15 2005, reprinted in “Year’s Best SF 11“, Kathryn Cramer/David G. Hartwell editors, 2006 Eos/HarperCollins.

    I don’t think I have read these stories, but I need to. Without knowing any more, I wonder if “The Machine Starts” might be in conversation with E. M. Forster’s classic 1909 story, “The Machine Stops“?

    My other question was whether this collection omitted any stories that I felt should be included from Bear’s career up to 2002. Looking at award nominations and reprints, the only other story I found that I feel I should read but did not see here is “Mandala”, a 1978 Bear novella, first published in “New Dimensions: Science Fiction: Number 8“, Robert Silverberg editor, Harper & Row.

    A revised form of “Mandala” was later published as Book One in the Bear novel “Strength of Stones”. Being published in “New Dimensions” does not make it great, but it does get my attention. I don’t think I have read “Strength of Stones”, but my Book Database shows that I read the related Bear novel “Beyond Heavens River”. I had “Beyond Heavens River” as “Okay”, which is not very encouraging, and noted it as “An early Bear book, readable but not his best”. This does not change my mind about reading “Mandala” to see for myself, but I’ll see about that.

    Detailed Reviews/Comments: SPOILERS GALORE!

    1. Blood Music“, a novelette, Analog June 1983. A Hugo & Nebula Award winner, Locus Award finalist, and reprinted in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: First Annual Collection“, Gardner Dozois editor, 1984 Bluejay Books, and “The 1984 Annual World’s Best SF“, Arthur W. Saha and Donald A. Wollheim editors, 1984 DAW Books. A classic story, kind of an inside out Microcosmic God, where a biologist/genetic researcher develops cells and cell groups using his own blood that can think and evolve. He injects them into his own body. His only friend, an MD, kills him in an attempt to contain them. His friend has already been infected via a handshake, and he and his wife are taken over and changed. The end of human civilization is coming, perhaps. Rated 4.5/5, or “A Classic”, and perhaps my favorite story by Greg Bear. I’m not prepared to say if I prefer the novella or the novel.
    2. Sisters“, a novelette, first published in Bear’s “Tangents” collection, 1989 Warner Books. A wonderful, sad yet strong story of a high schooler who has a natural, unmodified genome (or “NG”). She struggles with being the slow, ordinary one, in a school mostly full of PPCs (Pre-Planned Children) with genomes modified for good looks, intelligence, etc. After struggles, she befriends one of the PPCs while doing a play. A surge of PPC children deaths occur due to unforeseen challenges with genemods. Her PPC friend Reena dies. She delivers an amazing speech at the school’s ceremony. Locus and Nebula finalist. Rated 4.1/5, or “Superlative”.
    3. A Martian Ricorso“, a short story, Analog February 1976. I am pretty sure this is the first Greg Bear fiction I read anywhere. I remember reading this story in the February 1976 Analog, but nothing else. Not quite great, but a very good story of a troubled Martian expedition and their encounters with a Martian species that may be intelligent, albeit it is unclear in what way they are intelligent. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
    4. Schrödinger’s Plague“, a short story, Analog March 1982. An amazing story of a physicist’s qualms about quantum uncertainty, and a diabolical experiment he sets in motion with an experimental virus. Bear claims this is his only epistolary story. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.
    5. Heads“, from the Queen of Angels universe, a novella, Interzone, #37. This is a superlative story of science (the search for absolute zero), cryogenically frozen heads, politics, religion, obsession, ambition, and naiveite on the moon. Great characters, and it’s epistolary, as a memoir related by the protagonist 30 years later, so “Schrödinger’s Plague” is not the only epistolary story from Bear. Locus Award runner-up. Rated 4.1/5, or “Superlative”.
    6. The Wind from a Burning Woman“, a Thistledown novelette, Analog October 1978. I read this first in the October 1978 Analog. It’s a great story of a Geshel (technical, science oriented person) who decides to get revenge against the ruling Naderites (anti-science, etc.) on Earth after she discovers that her grandfather was killed on the asteroid Psyche slated to be an interstellar ship by a Naderite plot. She hijacks and wakes up that asteroid ship, and threatens to impact Earth unless the Naderites admit what happened. She dies, but we don’t find out if Psyche hits the Earth or not. Bear states that this is part of his Thistledown series; I assume the outrage at the Naderites over the sabotage of Psyche leads to more space exploration and other science. It’s also fun that Bear had seen the 1964 Analog science fact article “Giant Meteor Impact”, which predated most thinking on that subject. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.
    7. The Venging“, a novelette, Galaxy June 1975. I like this story, but I don’t get to what Bear wrote in the intro or the afterword, and I’m too lazy to reread it and really think about it in depth. Humans have conducted scientific research that can be seen as attacking the religious beliefs of aliens. Pursuit occurs in a nebula full of black holes. The protagonist Anna Sigrid-Nestor survives, and some end up in a dead universe. I may need to read Bear’s connected books, “Beyond Heaven’s River” and “Strength of Stones”, or maybe not. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
    8. Perihesperon“, a short story, first printed in “Tomorrow: New Worlds of Science Fiction“, Roger Elwood editor, 1977 M. Evans and Company. An interesting story of a young woman on an almost deserted space ship, and a man from another ship. All of the other passengers and crew are gone. We find out they are both going to die, as the ship is in a very dangerous orbit or course. He tells her that a meteoroid depressurized the ship and everyone else died. I am not sure this makes sense to me. We also find out that the man was a gigolo for Anna Nestor-Smith, the richest woman around, so this story is connected to “The Venging” . I liked some things about this, but I am troubled by the disappearance of the others – I am not convinced it makes sense. Rated 3.3/5, or “Good”.
    9. Scattershot“, a novelette, first published in “Universe 8“, Terry Carr editor, 1978 Doubleday. This story refers to the Aighors, same aliens as in “The Venging”, as a race that uses “disrupters” to get rid of their enemies. The protagonist Geneva is “disrupted” into another universe, where she is in a ship that is in bits from different universes, and many alien races from them. Geneva struggles to survive and understand, with an unexpected outcome. Reprinted in “The 1979 Annual World’s Best SF“, Arthur W. Saha and Donald A. Wollheim editors, 1979 DAW Books. Rated 3.7, or “Very good”.
    10. A Plague of Conscience“, a novelette, from “Murasaki”, an anthology edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Robert Silverberg, 1992 Bantam Spectra. I just could not maintain interest in the characters or the story. Bear notes that this is really an excerpt of a multi-author novel/anthology, “Murasaki“, that is all linked. He notes that it makes more sense with the rest of the novel for background, but I don’t care enough for that. Did not finish, or DNF. Rated 2/5, or “Did Not Finish”.
    11. The White Horse Child“, a short story, first published in “Universe 9“, Terry Carr editor, 1979 Doubleday. A great story, of a young man who learns to tell stories despite religious opposition by his family. I agree that is is very Bradburyesque, as noted by Bear. For all that Bear says this is his most reprinted story, I don’t remember it. Rated 3.9, or “Great”.
    12. Dead Run“, a short story, Omni April 1985. A man is a truck driver, taking dead souls to Hell. He has a revelation that some of the souls he takes to Hell do not belong there; he finds out that God (“the Boss”) has not been heard from in a while, and so a perhaps TV evangelist is doing the choosing. He is offered a promotion to the main office, but declines and starts to turn loose dead souls who don’t belong in Hell. For all that this story was not nominated for any awards and did not get into any “Year’s Best” anthologies, it’s one Hell of a story! It’s pretty well reprinted, so others agree. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.
    13. Petra“, a short story, Omni February 1982. A good theological fantasy, of the death of God and of the world resulting. It was a Nebula and World Fantasy Award finalist, and has been reprinted often, so perhaps others like it more than I do. Rated 3.5/5, or “Good”.
    14. Webster“, a short story, first published in “Alternities“, David Gerrold and Stephen Goldin editors, 1974 Dell. A lonely woman creates a lover out of the dictionary and desire. Things do not end well. Rated 3.4/5, or “Good”.
    15. Through Road, No Whither“, a short story, “Far Frontiers“, Jim Baen and Jerry Pournelle, 1985 Baen. A great short short, on Nazis and vengeance from across time and space. Rated 3.9, or “Great”.
    16. Tangents“, a short story, Omni January 1986. A great and obvious homage to Alan Turing with Flatland thrown in. An aging, gay math genius encounters a young, adopted man with a genius for topology. The young man goes to the 4th dimension voluntarily, and the older man is rescued by the denizens there when Homeland Security is about to deport him or worse. Hugo and Nebula winner and Locus finalist, and reprinted in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Fourth Annual Collection“, Gardner Dozois editor, 1987 St. Martin’s Press. For me, this would fall into “Superlative”, rated 4.1/5.
    17. The Visitation“, a short story, Omni June 1987. A fun short short about our relationship with a God that is very different than many think. Rated 3.7, or “Very good”.
    18. Richie by the Sea“, a short story, first published in “New Terrors Two“, Ramsey Campbell editor, 1980 Pan Books. A horror story that is just not my thing, so “Did Not Finish”. Rated 2/5.
    19. Sleepside Story“, a novella, first published as a chap book, 1988 Cheap Street. A great fantasy of a young man with a challenging family, an ancient hooker (Miss Belle Parkhurst) with magic who needs help, and an ending and beginning. Reprinted in “Full Spectrum 2“, Lou Aronica, Pat LoBrutto, Shawna McCarthy, and Amy Stout editors, 1989 Doubleday Foundation, and the Datlow/Windling “The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror: Third Annual Collection“, 1990 St. Martin’s Press. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.
    20. Judgment Engine“, a novelette, first published in “Far Futures“, Gregory Benford editor, 1995 Tor. A very good tale of the far future, with artificial/virtual descendants of humans, living in group Libraries. The story revolves around the death of the universe and steps to perhaps influence the next one, and a conflict between Teachers and Students as the end approaches. A digital ancestor of a group mind is reconstituted to look at the impending end from a different perspective. He encounters the virtual descendant of the woman who divorced him after he was scanned. The universe still ends, but he has learned enough to not want to continue. Bear has some thoughtful ideas about the challenges of writing about the far future, as noted in the afterword. Rated 3.7/5, or “Great”.
    21. The Fall of the House of Escher“, a novelette, first published in “David Copperfield’s Beyond Imagination“, Janet Berliner and David Copperfield editors, 1996 HarperPrism. A very good horror/SF story of a man brought back to life by a “friend”. He is a magician, unparalleled with cards. He ends up as the horrific focus of 100 billion demanding experience and novelty, with no way out. Rated 3.6/5, or “Very good”.
    22. The Way of All Ghosts“, a Thistledown novelette, first published in “Far Horizons: All New Tales from the Greatest Worlds of Science Fiction“, Robert Silverberg editor, 1999 Avon Eos. One hell of a Thistledown story of the Way, of an illegal, unsanctioned action to ensure a universe is properly born. The protagonist, Ser Olmey, succeeds as a patsy or a stalking horse. Great characters, and a worthy Locus Finalist. I guess I need to reread the whole series. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.
    23. MDIO Ecosystems Increase Knowledge of DNA Languages (2215 C.E.)“, a short story, Nature January 13, 2000. A very good, fun story written in the form of a future scientific report on how exoplanets in the Oort zone have environments where early RNA/DNA systems are evolving as life. This definitely qualifies as epistolary, the third after Bear has noted he only wrote one. This might be a matter of semantics. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
    24. Hardfought“, a novella, Asimov’s February 1983. One hell of a story of far future conflict, with lovers who will always be together, and two races in conflict that become more alike as time passes. A phenomenal story, Nebula winner, Hugo runner-up, Locus finalist, and reprinted in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: First Annual Collection“, Gardner Dozois editor, 1984 Bluejay Books, and “The Best Science Fiction of the Year #13“, Terry Carr editor, 1984 Baen. Rated 4.1/5, or “Superlative”.

  • The Rosetta Archive: Notable Speculative Short Fiction in Translation

    The Rosetta Archive: Notable Speculative Short Fiction in Translation

    The Short: I was very excited to see an anthology of recent, translated speculative fiction. I am very interested in these different voices and perspectives in good speculative fiction. I enjoyed reading “The Rosetta Archive: Notable Speculative Short Fiction in Translation“, Alex Shvartsman and Tarryn Thomas editors, 2022 UFO Publishing. My overall rating was 3.69/5, or “Very good”. Recommended.

    The Full Story: I love short speculative fiction, especially short science fiction. While I love the authors and sources that I have experience in and have enjoyed before, I also like new fiction by new authors with different voices and perspectives. International and translated speculative fiction hits that on the head for me.

    I suspect we’re in a great era for translated and international speculative fiction. I don’t love all of it, but I do love the different voices and perspectives. We’re seeing so much that it’s become hard to keep up with, which I think is a good thing.

    We are seeing quite a few speculative fiction anthologies that are specific to a language, culture, country or geographic region. This is great, but for variety I like anthologies like this one and Lavie Tidhar’s “The Best of World SF: Volume 1” (2021, Ad Astra / Head of Zeus), which are broader.

    I was very interested and excited when I heard about this anthology.

    Although I read most forms of speculative fiction in English, I tend to prefer science fiction. This volume definitely included the major areas of speculative fiction in my view, with science fiction, fantasy and horror. I don’t fault the editors for their choices, and the title and other information available made it very clear that this would include all three. While I enjoyed the variety and selection of stories, I might have rated the anthology higher if it had been all science fiction. I don’t see this as a negative, but it’s something to be aware of.

    I appreciated the Foreword, which presented a somewhat complex and interesting story about how the anthology came to be, and how the contents were selected. There is definitely a relationship to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Rosetta Awards, founded by the Chinese Future Affairs Administration (FFA). The FFA is focused on producing original science fiction content, translating international fiction, and translating the works of Chinese authors into other languages.

    The author and translator information with each story was helpful and interesting. My average, overall rating of all the stories is 3.69/5, or “Very good”. I enjoyed the stories and was pleased that I had not read any of them previously.

    “Debtless” appeared here
    “Long Iapetan Night” appeared here

    The only authors here that I have read before are Chen Qiufan (novella “Debtless” is a past favorite), Michèle Laframboise, Taiyo Fuji, K. A. Teryna, and Julie Nováková (I had read her “The Long Iapetan Night”). The other authors were all new to me, which I liked.

    My favorite stories here include:

    1. Biography Of Algae”, a short story by Martha Riva Palacio Obón, translated from the Spanish by Will Morningstar, first published in Strange Horizons, 30 November 2020.
    2. The Curtain Falls, The Show Must End”, short fiction by Julie Nováková, translated from the Czech by the author, first published in Samovar, 27 July 2020.
    3. Whale Snows Down”, a short story by Kim Bo-Young, translated from the Korean by Sophie Bowman, first published in Future Science Fiction Digest, December 2020.

    It’s positive that two of my three favorite stories here are by authors new to me.

    I have used information from the Internet Speculative Fiction Database and from this book for first publication information. I am not worrying about this, but it is possible that some of these stories had original appearances in their original language that are not noted here.

    Detailed Reviews/Comments: SPOILERS AHEAD!

    1. Roesin”, a novelette by Wu Guan, translated from the Chinese by Judith Huang, Future Science Fiction Digest, December 2020. A very good story of robots and humans, and art, told in epistolary form. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
    2. “Whale Snows Down” by Kim Bo-Young, translated from the Korean by Sophie Bowman, Future Science Fiction Digest, December 2020. A great and harrowing story of life in the deeps and the end of life on the surface. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.
    3. “The Green Hills Of Dimitry Totzkiy”, a short story by Eldar Safin, translated from the Russian by Alex Shvartsman, Samovar, 27 April 2020. An enjoyable fantasy of the creation of a universe and what it takes from there. Rated 3.5/5, or “Good”.
    4. “Raising Mermaids”, a short story by Dai Da, translated from the Chinese by S. Qiouyi Lu, Future Science Fiction Digest, December 2020. An interesting story of a nonhuman acquiring a mermaid, and things do not work out in any way. Rated 3.6/5, or “Very good”.
    5. “Mater Tenebrarum”, short fiction by Pilar Pedraza, translated from the Spanish by James D. Jenkins, “Arcano trece: Cuentos crules” (Madrid: Valdemar, 2000). A gothic story of horror with a bit of wry humor. Rated 3.5/5, or “Good”.
    6. “Vik From Planet Earth”, a short story by Yevgeny Lukin, translated from the Russian by Mike Olivson, Future Science Fiction Digest, March 2020. An amusing short short story of tourists on a planet where sentient tourists are not allowed to kill any of the local wildlife in self defense, but are allowed to bring non-sentient pets for defense. Vik from Earth has a different pet. Rated 3.6/5, or “Very good”.
    7. “Biography Of Algae”, short fiction by Martha Riva Palacio Obón, translated from the Spanish by Will Morningstar, Strange Horizons, 30 November 2020. This story’s point of view is rather interesting. It’s not clear that the “now” narration has any connection to life in Europa. This is probably an epistolary story variation. Regardless of the fact that very little happens, I love it. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.
    8. “The Post-Conscious Age” by Su Min, translated from the Chinese by Nathan Faries, Future Science Fiction Digest, September 2020. A good story of a therapist’s encounter with and transportation to post-consciousness. Rated 3.5/5, or “Good”.
    9. “Just Like Migratory Birds”, a short story by Taiyo Fujii, translated from the Japanese by Emily Balistrieri, Future Science Fiction Digest, December 2020. A good story of a researcher into migratory animals and the prospect of moving to another solar system for research and probably never seeing someone she loves again. Rated 3.6/5, or “Very good”.
    10. “The Witch Dances”, a short story by Thiago Ambrósio Lage, translated from the Portuguese by Iana Araújo, Eita! Sep 5, 2021. A charming short short story of a Witch, a Priest, a Scientist, the fae and imps cooperating to immunize a village against a deadly disease. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
    11. “Formerly Slow” by Wei Ma, translated from the Chinese by Andy Dudak, Future Science Fiction Digest December 2020. A great story of a family in Shenli, where biomedical technology allows those with the right biology to go dormant, waking one day of the week. The population is split into 7 cohorts, one for each day, with substantial benefits. A child is discovered to be unable to go dormant, although her biology should work for it. Time goes on, and her father decides to take her out of the city so she can have a normal childhood. Her mother stays, as she likes dormancy. This reminds me bit of the idea from the Karl Schroeder “Lockstep” novel. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.
    12. “Menopause”, short fiction by Flore Hazoumé, translated from the French by James D. Jenkins, “Cauchemars” (Abidjan: Edilis, 1994). A very good story of a world where menopause is very different, and perhaps women transition to men. This was published as a horror story, and I can see that. Rated 3.7/5 or “Very good”.
    13. “The Mole King” by Marie Hermanson, translated from the Swedish by Charlie Haldén, first published in Hermanson’s 1986 collection “There Is A Hole in Reality”. A very good story of a King who becomes a Mole King and the Princess who loves him. This felt a bit like a fable or a fairy tale. If I’d finished reading “The Big Book of Modern Fantasy” by the VanderMeers, I would have read this before. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
    14. “The Ancestral Temple In A Box”, a short story by Chen Qiufan, translated from the Chinese by Emily Jin, Clarkesworld January 2020. A great story of a man who has battled with his father over using modern technology in the family business of carving, with an unexpected outcome after his father dies. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.
    15. “No One Ever Leaves Port Henri”, a novelette by K.A. Teryna, translated from the Russian by Alex Shvartsman, Galaxy’s Edge, September 2020. A very good horror story, perhaps post WW1, of a Caribbean king and his ongoing scheme for immortality. Rated 3.7, or “Very good”.
    16. “Cousin Entropy” by Michèle Laframboise, translated from the French by N. R. M. Roshak, Future Science Fiction Digest, June 20201. A very good story of posthumans, deep time, the end of the universe (or at least of any energy above absolute zero), and Cousins Enthalpy and Entropy. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
    17. “The Curtain Falls, The Show Must End” by Julie Nováková, translated from the Czech by the author, Samovar, 27 July 2020. A great story of a German theatre in Prague, the Neue Deutsch Theatre, as World War 2 approaches. Austria had been annexed, and life is scary and very tense as the theater’s staff work to put on a new play. Ghosts come into play, with strong currents for and against the new play and the survival of the theater. Prague is one of my favorite cities, and I love this story based upon a real theatre. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.

  • Ascendancies: The Best of Bruce Sterling

    Ascendancies: The Best of Bruce Sterling

    The Short: I really liked the 2007 collection by Bruce Sterling, “Ascendancies: The Best of Bruce Sterling“, Subterranean. He is a major speculative fiction author and certainly deserves a “Best of” Collection. My overall rating was 3.77/5, or “Very good”, just below “Great”. I’m very glad I read it. I do recommend it, but with a few minor reservations.

    The Full Story: I’ve been a fan of Bruce Sterling for a long time. Historically, I have probably read more of his novels than his short fiction. I am very sure I read “Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology” edited by Bruce Sterling, Arbor House 1986, which included two stories that Sterling was a co-author on, “Red Star, Winter Orbit“, a novelette with William Gibson from Omni July 1983, and “Mozart in Mirrorshades“, a short story with Lewis Shiner from Omni September 1985.

    I suspect I read other Sterling stories and novels from that era, including “Green Day in Brunei” in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction, Third Annual Collection“, Gardner R. Dozois editor, Bluejay 1986.

    Although I have not been a completist, I have continued to read and enjoy Bruce Sterling’s fiction. With my recent pivot to short fiction, I have read a number of Bruce Sterling stories recently that I really enjoyed. When I heard that there was a “Best Of” volume for him, I knew I had to read it.

    I really enjoyed reading “Ascendancies: The Best of Bruce Sterling”.

    There was a lot to like about it. It included all of the great short fiction stories of Sterling that I was expecting to see, including

    1. Swarm“, a novelette from the April 1982 issue of F&SF, and his first Shaper/Mechanist story
    2. Dinner in Audoghast“, a short story from the May 1985 Asimov’s
    3. Bicycle Repairman“, a Chattanooga universe novelette from the anthology “Intersections: The Sycamore Hill Anthology”, 1996, Richard Butner, John Kessel, & Mark L. Van Name editors, Tor
    4. Maneki Neko“, a short story first published in Japanese in Hayakawa’s Science Fiction Magazine in 1996 and then in F&SF May 1998.
    5. Green Days in Brunei“, a short story from the October 1985 Asimov’s

    There were also a number of great Sterling stories that I did not remember ever reading before. I love it when this happens, especially for an author’s Best Of collection. These included:

    1. Spider Rose“, a short story, F&SF August 1982
    2. Twenty Evocations“, a short story, Interzone #7 Spring 1984
    3. Flowers of Edo“, a novelette, Asimov’s May 1987
    4. Dori Bangs“, a short story, Asimov’s September 1989
    5. Hollywood Kremlin“, a Leggy Starlitz story from F&SF October 1990
    6. Deep Eddy“, a Chattanooga novelette from Asimov’s August 1993
    7. Taklamakan“, a Chattanooga novelette from Asimov’s October-November 1998
    8. In Paradise“, a short story from F&SF September 2002
    9. Kiosk“, a novelette from F&SF January 2007
    10. The Blemmye’s Strategem“, a novelette from F&SF January 2005

    There were several stories that I was underwhelmed by that I felt did not need to be included. These included:

    1. The Sword of Damocles“, a short story from Asimov’s February 1990, which I found to be too self-referential and post-modern to be of interest to me. Others might love it.
    2. The Compassionate, The Digital“, a short story from Interzone, #14 Winter 1985/86.
    3. Cicada Queen” and “Sunken Gardens“, a pair of Shaper/Mechanist stories from Terry Carr’s “Universe 13” anthology, Doubleday 1983.

    Stories that I have not explicitly mentioned here all fell into the “Very good” category, worthy of inclusion but not quite “Great” or better.

    It’s a generous 547 pages with 24 stories, although I think four of the stories could have been omitted. Editor Jonathan Strahan and author Bruce Sterling felt otherwise, and I don’t fault them for that. Most but not all of the stories are science fiction.

    I loved the Introduction by Karen Joy Fowler and the Preface by Bruce Sterling. These were both extensive, informative and interesting, and definitely something I expect to see in a good “Best Of” for an author. For me, they both help put the author and stories into context. I especially loved Sterling’s story of how the title “Ascendancies” came about.

    I am a bit disappointed that there are no story introductions. It’s a style choice for the author and editor, but I personally like them and feel they bring value to my enjoyment and understanding of the stories.

    My overall average rating for the stories included is 3.77/5, or “Very good”, just below “Great”. It’s worth noting that if I was a fan of post-modern, self-referential fiction like “The Sword of Damocles” and had rated that as “Very good”, the overall average rating would have been 3.8/5, or “Great”. My first minor quibble is that it includes several stories that I don’t think need to be included. This is not a major problem, and many might view this as a plus. My other minor quibble is the lack of story introductions. Regardless, I strongly recommend “Ascendancies: The Best of Bruce Sterling”.

    One final thought is that Bruce Sterling was only 53 when “Ascendancies: The Best of Bruce Sterling” was published. Although he had been a published author for 31 years when it was published, he is still writing and publishing speculative fiction. I count at least six stories that are included in various “Year’s Best” anthologies after 2007. Although his only major award finalist story after 2007 is “The Peak of Eternal Light, 2013 Sturgeon finalist, Bruce Sterling is still writing worthwhile fiction and we should continue to pay attention to him and read his fiction.

    Detailed Review/Comments: SPOILERS HERE!

    1. Swarm“, a novelette from the April 1982 issue of F&SF, and his first Shaper/Mechanist story. A great story in the battle between two perhaps posthuman factions, the cyborg Mechanists and the bio/genetically modified Shapers. They both send agents to take advantage of the biological/genetic and other riches of the Swarm, a nominally non-intelligent species. The surviving agent of the Shapers discovers that the Swarm does possess frightening capabilities and intelligence, only manifesting it when needed. The Swarm is a trap, and they plan to use humans as another modified Client species. Hugo, Locus and Nebula Award finalist. Included in the Terry Carr anthology “The Best Science Fiction of the Year #12“, 1983 Timescape/Pocket Books and the Donald A. Wollheim/Arthur W. Saha “The 1983 Annual World’s Best SF Year’s Best“, 1983 DAW. Rated 4/5, 0r “Great”.
    2. Spider Rose“, a Shaper/Mechanist short story, F&SF August 1982. A great story of a Mechanist, an Investor “pet”, and an attempt to kill her by her dead husband’s clone. She is forced to eat the pet, but her end is unexpected. Locus and Hugo finalist. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.
    3. Cicada Queen“, a Shaper/Mechanist novelette from Terry Carr’s “Universe 13” anthology, Doubleday 1983. A very good story of a Cicada Queen faction scientist focused on Mars terraforming. Rated 3.6/5, or “Very good”. This was a Nebula finalist and was included in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: First Annual Collection“, Gardner Dozois editor, 1984 Bluejay, so clearly others think more highly of the story than I do.
    4. Sunken Gardens“, a Shaper/Mechanist short story from Terry Carr’s “Universe 13” anthology, Doubleday 1983. More Mars terraforming, set in future of “Cicada Queen”. A subservient, fallen faction biologist has ambitions, but at what price? Rated 3.6/5, or “Very good”. This was a Nebula finalist and was included in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Second Annual Collection“, Gardner Dozois editor, 1985 Bluejay. Perhaps I am more severe than others.
    5. Twenty Evocations“, a Shaper/Mechanist short story, Interzone #7 Spring 1984. I really like this story of 20 vignettes of the life of a Shaper/Mechanist, from start to finish. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.
    6. Green Days in Brunei“, a short story from the October 1985 Asimov’s. Nebula finalist. Great, optimistic story of a young engineer who is the Overseas Chinese grandson of a Triad headman, and a princess in Brunei, and their efforts to escape their families. Robots and phone line modems, and a Green Revolution are also key elements. Nebula finalist and included in the Gardner Dozois “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Third Annual Collection“, 1986 Bluejay. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.
    7. Dinner in Audoghast“, a short story from the May 1985 Asimov’s. Set in Audoghast, Saharan Africa, perhaps circa 1100 AD. Four men, rich and successful, are dining. A poor, leprous storyteller and fortune teller is brought to entertain them, and he tells the future in specific and probably true detail, including the destruction and erasure of the memory of their city. No one takes him seriously. Not sure this is SF, perhaps more fantasy or speculative fiction, but a great story. Hugo and Locus finalist, and included in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Third Annual Collection”, Gardner Dozois editor, 1986 Bluejay, and the Arthur W. Saha “The Year’s Best Fantasy Stories: 12“, 1986 DAW. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.
    8. The Compassionate, The Digital“, a short story from Interzone, #14 Winter 1985/86. Epistolary story of the success of artificial intelligence of the Union of Islamic Republics to penetrate the fabric of space-time. This story is interesting but it did not wow me. Rated 3.6/5, or “Very good”.
    9. Flowers of Edo“, a novelette, from Asimov’s May 1987. I am not sure if I have ever read this before or not. A great story of an Edo after foreigners have come to Japan, and a modern electricity demon perhaps. A Hugo, Locus and Nebula finalist, and included in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Fifth Annual Collection“, Gardner Dozois editor, 188 Bluejay. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.
    10. The Little Magic Shop“, a short story by Bruce Sterling from Asimov’s October 1987. A very good fantasy story of a little magic shop and an unusual customer, and freedom. It was included in the Arthur W. Saha “The Year’s Best Fantasy Stories: 14“, 1988 DAW. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
    11. Our Neural Chernobyl“, a short story from F&SF June 1988. A review of a book by a 95 year old genius, who may be a secret master of the Neural Chernobyl, about that and its effect on the world. This epistolary story also features gene hackers. A Hugo finalist, and included in the Gardner Dozois “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Sixth Annual Collection“, 1989 St. Martin’s Press. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
    12. We See Things Differently“, a novelette from the “Semiotext[e] SF” anthology, Rudy Rucker, Peter Lamborn Wilson, & Robert Anton Wilson editors, 1989 Autonomedia. A Muslim travels to a failed US, where the world economic system no longer favors the US. Pretending to be a journalist, he takes actions that will kill a major American rock star/political figure. Included in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Eighth Annual Collection“, Gardner Dozois, 1991 St. Martin’s Press. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
    13. Dori Bangs“, a short story, Asimov’s September 1989. I don’t know how I missed this sfnal alternative world tale of rock critic Lester Bangs and an underground “comix” artist, and their perhaps progeny if life had been different. I loved it. Sturgeon, Locus, Nebula and Hugo Award finalist, and included in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Seventh Annual Collection“, Gardner Dozois editor, 1990 St. Martin’s Press, “The Orbit Science Fiction Yearbook Three“, David S. Garnett editor, 1990 Orbit/Futura, and “The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror: Third Annual Collection“, Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling editors, 1990 St. Martin’s Press. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.
    14. Hollywood Kremlin“, the first Leggy Starlitz story, a novelette from F&SF October 1990. A great story of a mysterious hustler in Azerbaijan in the mid 1980s. He thrives while others do not, and is said to not show up on video devices. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.
    15. Are You For 86?“, a Leggy Starlitz novelette from Sterling’s “Globalhead” collection, 1992 Mark V. Ziesing. More fairly gonzo Leggy Starlitz, this time with abortion pill smugglers, the Mormon Meteor, a Japanese girl band and perhaps Janet Reno, all back in the USA. 3.7
    16. The Littlest Jackal“, a Leggy Starlitz novella from F&SF March 1996. An enjoyable story of Leggy Starlitz, Finnish Aland revolutionaries, an international terrorist, and the Russian mafia. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
    17. Deep Eddy“, a Chattanooga novelette from Asimov’s August 1993. The first Chattanooga story, but read second. A great story of Deep Eddy, a young man and data mule visiting Dusseldorf with a delivery. A Hugo and Locus finalist, rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.
    18. Bicycle Repairman“, a Chattanooga novelette from the anthology “Intersections: The Sycamore Hill Anthology“, 1996, Richard Butner, John Kessel, & Mark L. Van Name editors, Tor. A great story of a bicycle repairman, Lyle, in a very different world, living in an urban anarchist area. He just wants to be left alone, but encounters a black ops woman working for an AI front for an almost dead Senator. A Hugo winner, Locus nominee, and included in “Year’s Best SF 2“, David G. Hartwell editor, 1997 HarperPrism and “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Fourteenth Annual Collection“, Gardner Dozois editor, 1997 St. Martin’s Griffin. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.
    19. Taklamakan“, a Chattanooga novelette from Asimov’s October-November 1998. A wonderful story of two future, freelance climbers on a spy mission in the Taklamakan Desert in Asia and their penetration of an old hydrogen bomb cavity where they find 3 simulated starships and an amazing mess of genetically evolving security biomechanical robots. Pete, the older climber, is from Chattanooga and knows Lyle. A Hugo and Locus winner and Nebula finalist, and included in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Sixteenth Annual Collection“, Gardner Dozois, 1999 St. Martin’s Griffin. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.
    20. The Sword of Damocles“, a short story from Asimov’s February 1990. Not my thing, too self-referential and post-modern, clever but boring. I am surprised to find this story in the Best Of Collection; others might love it, but not me. Rated 2.9/5 or “Okay”.
    21. Maneki Neko“, a short story first published in Japanese in Hayakawa’s Science Fiction Magazine in 1996 and then in F&SF May 1998. Fantastic story of life and alternate economy/gift/ friend networks on hand held devices in Japan. This deservedly won the Locus, was a Hugo runner-up, a Sturgeon finalist, and was included in “Year’s Best SF 4“, David G. Hartwell editor, 1999 HarperPrism. Rated 4.3/5, or “Superlative”.
    22. In Paradise“, a short story from F&SF September 2002. A great story of a young plumber and an illegal political refugee who fall in love. They find paradise while being deported. Locus and Sturgeon finalist, and included in “Year’s Best SF 8“, Kathyrn Cramer/David G. Hartwell editors, 2003 Eos/HarperCollins, and “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twentieth Annual Collection“, Gardner Dozois editor, 2003 St. Martin’s Griffin. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.
    23. The Blemmye’s Strategem“, a novelette from F&SF January 2005. A fun and twisty story of conflict, assassination and perhaps aliens in the middle East during the Crusades, with the Old Man Of the Mountain and Hudegar the Abbess. Sturgeon finalist, and included in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Third Annual Collection“, Gardner Dozois editor, 2006 St. Martin’s Griffin and “Science Fiction: The Very Best of 2005“, Jonathan Strahan editor, 2006 Locus Press. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.
    24. Kiosk“, a novelette from F&SF January 2007. A great tale of future Transitions in society including one from fabbing. A Nebula finalist, and included in “The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume Two“, Jonathan Strahan editor, 2008 Night Shade, and “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Fifth Annual Collection“, Gardner Dozois editor, 2008 St. Martin’s Griffin. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.
  • 2022: A Year’s Reading in the Rearview Mirror

    2022: I did a lot of reading in 2022, for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it’s my favorite hobby/recreational activity. My Book Database says that I read 64 books; this includes novella entries published as books. Looking at my short speculative fiction tracking spreadsheet, I read 1,026 stories, many but not all of which appeared in one or more of the books I read. These numbers both included books and stories that I started but could not bring myself to finish, or “Did Not Finish” or DNF.

    The 64 books included:

    1. 20 SF anthologies
    2. 18 SF novels/novellas
    3. 8 SF/ Fantasy anthologies
    4. 7 Fantasy novels/novellas
    5. 7 SF/Fantasy collections
    6. One non-fiction book, Richard White’s “Who Killed Jane Stanford?: A Gilded Age Tale of Murder, Deceit, Spirits and the Birth of A University” (a bit academic, but it resonated with a family story for me, of a great-grandfather who taught at Stanford between 1900 and 1910 and was fired for activism)
    7. One SF-Fantasy novel, Xiran Jay Zhao’s “Iron Widow
    8. One SF/Mystery anthology
    9. One perhaps SF novel

    Here is a link to my Google Sheets file for both the books and the stories I read in 2022.

    The 28 novels and novellas included a number read for either the Hugo Awards or 2022 Chicon 8 panels, with only a few read just because I wanted to read them. My favorite new novel read last year was the 2022 debut SF novel by Ray Nayler, “The Mountain in the Sea“. I had this as “superlative”, and will be nominating it for the Hugo Awards. I was also very pleased to reread the 1946 Mervyn Peake novel, “Titus Groan“, and was very pleased to find it still a classic, with unremembered humor. See my discussion, “Titus Groan and Chicon 8“.

    Other great novels and novellas included:

    1. A Desolation Called Peace“, Martine, Arkady, 2021 Tor
    2. Eversion“, Alastair Reynolds, Gollancz/Orbit 2022 (another probable Hugo nomination for me)
    3. Upgrade“, Blake Crouch, 2022 Macmillan UK/Ballantine

    With my decided focus on short speculative fiction, I read a lot of great anthologies and collections.

    Two superlative SF anthologies were “The Best of the Best Vol 2: 20 Years of the Best Short SF Novels“, Gardner Dozois, 2007 St. Martin’s Press, and “The Future is Female! 25 Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women, from Pulp Pioneers to Ursula K. Le Guin”, Lisa Yaszek, 2018 The Library of America. These were both a reread for me, but still as great as the first time and fun to get reacquainted with the stories. Other great SF anthologies were:

    1. Tomorrow’s Children“, Isaac Asimov, 1966 Doubleday
    2. The Great Science Fiction Stories Volume 8, 1946“, Isaac Asimov & Martin H. Greenberg, 1982 DAW Books
    3. The World Turned Upside Down“, Jim Baen, David Drake & Eric Flint, 2005 Baen Books, see my post.
    4. The Best Science Fiction of the Year #6“, Terry Carr, 1977 Holt Rinehart & Winston/Del Rey/Ballantine
    5. Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year: Sixth Annual Collection“, Gardner Dozois, 1977 E. P. Dutton
    6. The Arbor House Treasury of Modern Science Fiction“, Martin H. Greenberg & Robert Silverberg, 1980 Arbor House/Priam, see my post
    7. Science Fiction: Stories and Contexts“, Heather Masri, 2008 Bedford Books of St. Martin’s Press, see my post on this and other comparable works
    8. The Year’s Best Science Fiction, Volume 2“, Jonathan Strahan, 2021 Saga Press
    9. The Future Is Female! More Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women, Volume Two: The 1970s“, Lisa Yaszek, 2022, see my post

    I read one superlative” science fiction and fantasy anthology, “Hugo and Nebula Award Winners from Asimov’s Science Fiction“, Sheila Williams, 1995 Wings Books. Other great SF and fantasy anthologies were:

    1. Some of the Best from Tor.com: 2012 Edition“, Liz Gorinsky, David G. Hartwell & Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Tor 2012
    2. Yesterday’s Tomorrows (Favorite Stories from 40 Years as a Science-Fiction Editor)”, Frederik R. Pohl, 1982 Berkley Books, see my post

    I reread one superlative collection, Ted Chiang’s “Stories of Your Life and Others“, 2002 Tor/St. Martin’s Press. Not every story is a classic, but this is an amazing collection. I read two great collections, both on Subterranean Press:

    1. John Kessel’s “The Dark Ride: The Best Short Fiction of John Kessel“, 2022, see my post
    2. The Best Of Nancy Kress” by Nancy Kress, 2015

    I read a number of stories that I know I’ve read before but sometimes not for decades. My favorites of those included:

    1. The Nine Billion Names of God“, a short story by Arthur C. Clarke, “Star Science Fiction Stories”, Frederik Pohl editor, Ballantine Books 1953
    2. Day Million“, a short story by Frederik Pohl, Rogue Feb-March 1966
    3. The Ballad of Lost C’mell“, a novelette by Cordwainer Smith, Galaxy October 1962
    4. There Will Come Soft Rains“, a short story by Ray Bradbury, “The Martian Chronicles”, 1950 Doubleday
    5. A Planet Named Shayol“, a novelette by Cordwainer Smith, Galaxy October 1961
    6. Pathways“, a novelette by Nancy Kress, “Twelve Tomorrows”, Stephen Cass editor, 2013 MIT Technology Review
    7. Press Enter ▮?“, a 1984 novella by John Varley, Asimov’s May 1984
    8. The Lottery“, a short story by Shirley Jackson, The New Yorker, June 26 1948
    9. A Saucer of Loneliness“, a short story by Theodore Sturgeon, Galaxy February 1953
    10. Ender’s Game“, a novelette by Orson Scott Card, Analog August 1977
    11. Even the Queen“, a 1992 short story by Connie Willis, Asimov’s April 1992

    I also read and enjoyed many stories new to me. Favorites of those included:

    1. The Last of the Winnebagos“, a novella by Connie Willis, Asimov’s July 1988
    2. The Million Year Picnic“, a Martian Chronicles short story by Ray Bradbury, Planet Stories Summer 1946
    3. Strangers”, a novella by Gardner Dozois, “New Dimensions IV” Robert Silverberg editor, 1974 Signet/New American Library
    4. Colors of the Immortal Palette“, a novelette by Caroline M. Yoachim, Uncanny Magazine March-April 2021
    5. Hardfought“, a novella by Greg Bear, Asimov’s February 1983
    6. L’Esprit de L’Escalier“, a novella by Catherynne M. Valente, 2021 Tor.com
    7. Open House on Haunted Hill“, a short story by John Wiswell, Diabolical Plots June 2020
    8. Pride and Prometheus“, a novelette by John Kessel, F&SF January 2008
    9. Remaking History“, a short story by Kim Stanley Robinson, “Other Edens II”, Christopher & Robert Holdstock editors, 1988 Unwin Paperback

    Finally, I started writing a blog on speculative fiction and other things in January 2022, “A Deep Look by Dave Hook” at WordPress. I wrote 37 blog posts last year on reading, speculative fiction and related subjects, and one that has nothing to do with any of those things. One of those posts was the May 4 “My Imaginary Reading Plan, and Yours?“. Let’s revisit how I did against that imaginary reading plan:

    1. Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction (BSFFSF) group reads (ongoing, typically one story each day). Done, and more!
    2. Not the Retro Hugo’s 1946 reading (in progress) for possible ChiCon 8 panels in September. Done. Read over 100 stories and novels, although I did bail out of the Stanislaw Lem panel and never finished reading the 2021 Lem collection based on new translations, “The Truth and Other Stories“, which I was really enjoying. I also had fun reading for the Chicon 8 panel on epistolary speculative fiction, see my post. I was definitely well prepared for my Chicon 8 panels.
    3. 2022 Award Hugo Nominations that I have not read yet (waiting for the voter packet). Done.
    4. BSFFSF Recommended Reading List entries I have not read yet (in progress). Made some progress, but more needed.
    5. Rich Horton’s Best of the Last 20 Years List entries I have not read yet. Read a few, but need to get back to this.
    6. “The Norton Book of Science Fiction: North American Science Fiction, 1960-1990”, edited by Brian Attebery and Ursula K. Le Guin (requested from the library). Done, see my post.
    7. “Science Fiction: Stories and Contexts”, edited by Heather Masri. This is the last of the 6 door-stop surveys of the 20th century (and 19th and 21st for some) SF I plan to read, compare and discuss later this year. Done. Here is a link to my essay that discusses the 6 giant 20th century survey anthologies, “A Ton of Science Fiction!
    8. Other collections, anthologies, stories, novels and non-fiction books that come to my attention, especially from our BSFFSF members. I have made a good faith effort on this. I’m not sure I am reading faster than my TBR (To Be Read) list is expanding.
    9. Miscellaneous comfort rereads of books and stories that I feel like rereading when I need it. Yep. I had a mild (not death threatening but definitely symptoms) of COVID this fall, with about a week where fatigue and other symptoms kept me from anything but comfort reads. I reread the first four volumes of the Raymond Feist “Riftwar Universe” series, which definitely hits the “comfort read” spot for me, entertaining yet not challenging and easy to follow.
    10. I am not yet signed up, but I am reading enough short fiction that I am going to get subscriptions (e-book, not paper) for one or two SF(F) magazines. My thoughts are currently Clarkesworld and Asimov’s. Done. I signed up for Asimov’s, and I’ve read two issues. I am enjoying this.

    Others who have written about their reading in 2022:

    Mark R. Kelly

    Austin Beeman

    James Wallace Harris (my thanks to Mark R. Kelly for the reminder)

    2023: I’m not ready to prepare a 2023 Reading Plan yet, imaginary or otherwise. However, I am reading and enjoying the “Twenty-First Century Science Fiction” anthology, David G. Hartwell & Patrick Nielsen Hayden editors, 2013 Robinson/Tor, and “The Collected Stories of Greg Bear“, 2002 Tor (Rest in peace, Greg). I’m sure I’ll write about both of them when I’m done. Also sitting on my headboard from the library is “Africa Risen: A New Era of Speculative Fiction“, Ekpeki Oghenechovwe Donald, Zelda Knight and Sheree Renée Thomas editors, 2022 Tor.com, which I am looking forward to.

  • The World Turned Upside Down

    The World Turned Upside Down

    Summary: I recently read the Jim Baen/David Drake/Eric Flint anthology, “The World Turned Upside Down” (Baen 2005). Quoting the editors in the Preface, the anthology wanted to “…select those stories which had the most impact on us as teenagers and got us interested in science fiction in the first place.” Overall, I really liked this anthology, rated it a “Great” 3.83/5 on my rating scale, and I am very glad I read it. For me, the story preface and afterword material was just as important and fun as the short fiction. Recommended.

    My general thoughts: An online reading group I am a member of (Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction on Facebook) selected the 2005 anthology “The World Turned Upside Down” (Baen, edited by Jim Baen, David Drake and Eric Flint) to read earlier this year.

    It is a reprint anthology with stories that had the most impact on the editors as teenagers and got them interested in science fiction, as noted in the Preface:

    Preface page 2
    Preface page 1

    I was able to find the anthology at my regional library consortium.

    The stories range from 1933 (“Shambleau”, by C. L. Moore, her first story and a classic featuring Northwest Smith) to 1967 (“The Last Command”, a “Bolo” story by Keith Laumer).

    Like any reprint anthology, the editors did not always get the stories and authors they wanted. Two omissions are discussed. First, Andre Norton is omitted, because the stories that impacted the editors were all novels. Second, they had really wanted an Eric Frank Russell story, but the negotiations with the estate for the rights were unpleasant and insurmountable. There are also plenty of other major authors active during the period these stories came from but were not included, such as Ray Bradbury. I’m not worrying about that; I am taking it on face value that these stories fit the stated criteria and met other editorial requirements.

    For me, the 29 short stories, novelettes and novellas here were mostly a great mix of classics, stories that I wanted to reread because I liked the authors and/or had a vague positive memory of them, or stories I don’t think I had ever read but wanted to read.

    Even on the stories that I did not reread, I really enjoyed the story prefaces and afterword’s. These were worth reading the book alone, even if I had not read the stories. I found them to be insightful, interesting, and personal.

    My overall rating was a “Great” 3.83/5. I read or reread 17 out of 29 stories; I vary on this, but I don’t always reread a story I have read in the last year or two.

    There was one story that I don’t think I have ever read before but loved, “Thy Rocks and Rills“, a novelette by Robert E. Gilbert, IF September 1953, an author I had never heard of before. Discovering this obscure yet great story was reward enough for reading this anthology.

    There were a number of classics that I loved, including:

    Shambleau“, a novelette by C. L. Moore, Weird Tales November 1933

    The Cold Equations“, a novelette by Tom Godwin, Astounding August 1954

    Who Goes There?“, a novella by John W. Campbell, Jr., Astounding August 1938

    There was one story that I understood why the editors included it but just felt the story was not that good and wished they had included something else, “Heavy Planet“, a short story by Milton A. Rothman, Astounding August 1939.

    The rest of the stories were all in the “Good” to “Great” range for me, with a number I had read previously but did not remember much about and that I enjoyed meeting again. This included stories like Fritz Leiber’s “A Pail of Air” and “The Menace from Earth” by Robert A. Heinlein.

    Finally, I did find the inclusion of “St. Dragon and the George” to be somewhat incongruous and off-putting. The editors admit that it is fantasy, but this is nominally an SF anthology. The discussion about why they included it is worth reading. Others have done this as well; I recollect Gardner Dozois certainly did this occasionally in his “Year’s Best Science Fiction” anthology series.

    Others of our reading group also reviewed this book, Austin Beeman and Jeppe Larsen, with equally valid and contrasting views and thoughts. I wrote this review before I read their reviews; I agree with many things they both have to say.

    Detailed Review/Comments, with Spoilers!

    Rescue Party“, a novelette by Arthur C. Clarke, Astounding May 1946. Noted by Clarke as his first published story, but it appears his story “Loophole” was published one month earlier. Regardless, it is quite a good early story by him. I did not remember the details of the story, but I sure recognized it when I read it. I’m not sure where I first read it. An advanced starship lead by an advanced elder species races to the Earth to attempt to rescue the human race that was about to die due to the Sun about to go nova. They arrive hours before the nova, and are frustrated they do not find anyone to rescue. They follow a mysterious TV signal into interstellar space, where they find a giant fleet of primitive rocket driven generation ships. The aliens are happy to help rescue the humans, saving centuries of travel. They are a little afraid of the humans due to the rapid and aggressive progress of the humans; their fear turns out to be well placed. I do think it is interesting how often this story was anthologized; I like it, but I don’t think it is a classic. Perhaps it is partly the tenor of human achievement against the odds? Reprinted in Groff Conklin’s 1948 “A Treasury of Science Fiction” and many other places.  Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.

    The Menace from Earth“, a Future History novelette by Robert A. Heinlein, F&SF August 1957. Most recently read in Isaac Asimov’s anthology “Tomorrow’s Children“, see my review. I’m not sure where I first read this, probably in Heinlein’s collection “The Past Through Tomorrow“. I had forgotten most of the details but the opening page got me back. As was noted by Eric Flint in “The World Turned Upside Down”, this was a Heinlein story with that great young adult flavor that was short enough to fit in an anthology. The story of a young woman on the moon, a guide to tourists and an engineer in training. The story shows the confusion of being a teenager wonderfully. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.

    Code Three“, a novella by Rick Raphael, Analog February 1963. Checking ISFDB, this story was not reprinted in an anthology in English until 1991, and I had read it decades ago, so I must have read it in my Analog back issue. Checking some more, I found out that a “Code Three” fix-up novel including this story and “Once a Cop” was issued in 1966, and reprinted a few times. So, this Hugo finalist is somewhat obscure, but not as obscure as I thought. All that aside, and how I feel on reread, I love Eric Flint’s story of how they really, really wanted an Eric Frank Russell story (which makes total sense!) but could not secure the rights and how he accidentally came across the “Code Three” Rick Raphael story 40 years later after his first read and loved it. The last two sentences of the story preface reads, “The third story of the anthology, to serve all of us as a reminder that science fiction was constructed by many people, not simply by a small number of famous writers. Rick Raphael came and went, but he had his moment in the sun.” It’s fun to see Raphael as the winner of the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award in 2020 also. On reread after 30 to 40 years, this is a good story, focused on the John Campbell desire for a story of men at work, in this case on a futuristic North American (Mexico, Canada and the US) freeway police trooper team and their giant vehicle on patrol. I don’t think this story deserved a Hugo nomination, but I enjoyed the reread. My only real problem is the rather off key male/female interaction of the crew members, but this is perhaps to be expected for an SF author born in 1919. Rated 3.6/5, or “Very good”.

    Hunting Problem“, a short story by Robert Sheckley, Galaxy September 1955. I don’t remember reading this story although I I own the issue of Galaxy it appeared in. A very enjoyable and funny story of an alien Scouter second-class, Drog, who must do something before the big Jamboree. He lies about his skills and must then produce by capturing the skin of an ancient enemy, a Mirash. The role of Mirash in this story is filled by human explorers looking for riches. They all survive, so I am assuming that the skin is perhaps clothing from one of them. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.

    Black Destroyer“, a Space Beagle novelette by A. E. van Vogt, Astounding July 1939. I think I first read this in the 1946 Healy & McComas “Adventures in Time and Space“. A first story by van Vogt, and a rather classic story of scientists encountering a dangerous being they do not understand in far outer space. Rated 4/5, or “Great”.

    A Pail of Air“, a short story by Fritz Leiber, Galaxy December 1951. Most recently read in Asimov’s 1966 “Tomorrow’s Children” anthology, this is a story that I know I’ve read before, either in Galaxy, or “The Best of Fritz Leiber“. I remembered in general what the story is about, but not the details. Rereading some decades later, this is a great story of a family surviving after a dark star rushes through the Solar System, wrenching the Earth away from the Sun. The atmosphere freezes, leaving layers of different gases. The family survives in the Nest, with 30 layers to help retain heat and oxygen. They are surviving, but just barely The preteen son is out gathering oxygen snow when he sees a moving light. After some stress and doubt, things change and get better. Just a great story. I have seen some whinging about doubtful physics involved, but that did not affect my enjoyment of the story. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.

    Thy Rocks and Rills“, a novelette by Robert E. Gilbert, If September 1953. This is a rather unique story with a unique voice, by an author new to me. A man lives a different life, outside of social norms, in a very different future. He trains a mutated, intelligent bull for the bull ring. He is caught and perhaps killed after cheating in a duel that was unfair. Apparently, the author was an artist who was a real outsider. David Drake’s intro mentions the points of “1) You can live your life outside the norms of society, but 2) Society will probably crush you if you try, but 3) It may be worth it to be crushed.” This seems very on target. Interesting discussion of the author at https://dumbfoundingstories.com/2014/07/13/artist-robert-e-gilbert-reg/: This was not reprinted until “The World Turned Upside Down”. Rated 4/5, or “Great”. “A Case of Conscience” by James Blish is also in this issue of If.

    A Gun for Dinosaur“, a novelette by L. Sprague de Camp, Galaxy March 1956. A great time travel, dinosaur hunting, bad client story. I don’t know how I missed this one before 2021. It was just as good on 2022 reread, especially the Flint afterword. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”. I have not read that much de Camp lately, but this might be my favorite short fiction by him.

    Goblin Night“, a Telzey Amberdon novelette by James H. Schmitz, Analog April 1965. Reread, of a story I have read many times. First read in Analog; I love the John Schoenherr cover. Most recently read before this in the 2000 “Telzey Amberdon” Baen collection edited by Eric Flint and Guy Gordon. A young but learning telepath encounters a psychotic scientist/hunter who is an unknowing telepath and his very scary spook. Even though this first year of the Nebula Awards had a somewhat wide open nomination threshold, this story is a worthy Nebula nomination. I enjoyed the Flint preface on how Schmitz deserved more awards and recognition, but was unlucky. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.

    The Only Thing We Learn“, a short story by C. M. Kornbluth, Startling Stories July 1949. I know I’ve read this before, probably in the first 1950 “Big Book of Science Fiction” (Conklin) or Kornbluth’s collection “The Marching Morons and Other Stories” (1959, Ballantine). An academic tale of the fall of a decadent Earth civilization to a vigorous Frontier Fleet, with a brief preview that the same is happening again. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.

    Trigger Tide“, a short story by Wyman Guin, Astounding October 1950. This had quite an impact on David Drake, by an author I am not very familiar with. I find it a headlong, action filled story, but not totally satisfying. An Operator visits a planet, to stop an incipient war. After challenges and torture, he succeeds. Previously read in Conklin’s 1952 anthology “Omnibus of Science Fiction” but not remembered. Rated 3.6/5, or “Very good”.

    The Aliens“, a novelette by Murray Leinster, Astounding August 1959. I own the issue of Astounding this first appeared in, and I am sure I read it. Nonetheless, it was not reprinted from 1967 to 2005, and was clearly rather obscure. Still, a fine story of an exploration ship looking for a possibly dangerous alien race that is accidentally welded to an space ship of that alien race, with death for all probable. Not quite as good as his “First Contact“, but still a very good story. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.

    All the Way Back“, a short story by Michael Shaara, Astounding July 1952. This was published one month after his first story was published, so very early in his career. I have this issue of Astounding, so I assume I read it 45+ years ago but I don’t remember anything. A pretty darn good story for one that is almost his first published. I know him more for his Civil War Pulitzer Price winning novel, “The Killer Angels” (1974). Earthmen are exploring far from Earth, and have found no inhabitable planets. They visit one last planet, and it seems perfect. They encounter Galactic Federation members, who inform them they are the remnants/descendants of the Antha, who had fought the rest of the galaxy to a standoff before being exterminated. They are killed as a threat to the Galaxy, but the Galactics cannot trace their voyage back to Earth, and know the Antha/Humans will be back. Definitely a twist ending. Jim Baen does a nice job explaining why the issue of extermination and the Fermi Paradox engaged him. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.

    The Last Command“, a Bolo short story by Keith Laumer, Analog January 1967. I am not sure where I first read this, whether in a back issue of Analog or in Laumer’s “Once There Was A Giant” collection. However, I do think it’s very good Keith Laumer short fiction. Following a major interspecies war, a very powerful AI war machine has been decommissioned for many decades. It wakes up accidentally. Believing it is still at war, it threatens a now peaceful planet until an aging veteran sacrifices himself to save others. Good afterword by Eric Flint, with mention of the appeal of an ordinary man as hero, as opposed to the fairly common story of superman as hero. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.

    Who Goes There?“, a novella by John W. Campbell, Jr., Astounding August 1938. Most recently read in the 2011 anthology by Leigh Grossman, “Sense of Wonder: A Century of Science Fiction“. Reprinted in many places, including “The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two A: The Greatest Science Fiction Novellas of All Time Chosen by the Science Fiction Writers of America” (1973, Ben Bova editor). A Retro Hugo Award winner. A bona fide classic of alien nature, with said alien and discovered by an Antarctic expedition, frozen in the ice for 20 million years. Who is human and who is not? Great story. It’s worth contrasting this with “The Things” by Peter Watts 2010, Clarkesworld, told from the perspective of the monster, which was a Shirley Jackson Award winner, and a Locus, Hugo and Sturgeon Award finalist. Rated 4.3/5, or “Superlative”.

    Quietus“, a short story by Ross Rocklynne, Astounding September 1940. A very good story of a pair of avian aliens who visit a devastated Earth. They search for intelligent life. They find the last man in the world, who is traveling with a talking bird and who is pursuing the last woman in the world. One of them kills the man, who is threatening the bird out of frustration, as they aliens thought that the bird might the the intelligent species. Concluding it was the humans, they leave in shame. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.

    Answer“, a short story by Fredric Brown, first published in his 1954 collection “Angels and Spaceships“. Fredric Brown is known as a master of the short short story. Here he presents a classic short short, of the creation of God, by the linking of widespread, galaxy wide computer networks. The linked computer is asked, “Is there a God?”, and the answer is, “There is now.” Rated 4/5, or “Great”.

    The Last Question“, a short story by Isaac Asimov, Science Fiction Quarterly, November 1956. Most recently read in “The Big Book of Science Fiction: The Ultimate Collection” (2016 Vintage) edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer. A pair of drunken technicians ask Multivac (a worldwide computer) what the human race should do about running out of energy when entropy reigns and all of the suns are dead. “INSUFFICIENT DATA” continues to be the answer until after the end of the universe, when only the Universal AC remains. “LET THERE BE LIGHT” is the answer. I think this story is a response to Fredric Brow’s “Answer”. A very good story, and Asimov is quoted as this being his favorite short story of his own. One source suggests that the prior Fredric Brown story “Answer” (1954) is better, and I agree. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.

    The Cold Equations“, a novelette by Tom Godwin, Astounding August 1954. A young woman stows away on a space ship, wanting to visit her family. The space ship does not have enough fuel to get her, the pilot and the cargo of emergency medical supplies to the colony. Even knowing what is coming, I find this story heartbreaking, much more so than when I first read it as a teen. I may have this reaction because I am now a parent, with a daughter. I realize this story continues to be the subject of controversy, but it’s a great story. This story has many, many reprints. I rated this 4.5/5, or “A Classic”.

    Shambleau“, a Northwest Smith novelette by C. L. Moore, Weird Tales November 1933. Last read in the Leigh Grossman “Sense of Wonder: A Century of Science Fiction”.  This was C. L. Moore’s first professional sale, and it’s a classic. Northwest Smith and Shambleau, perhaps a psychic vampire and Medusa/Gorgon type, in a planetary romance. Rated 4.6/5, or “A Classic”.

    Turning Point“, a short story by Poul Anderson, If May 1963. I’m not ready to say this is one of his best, but it’s a darn good story of Earthmen far from home encountering a superior yet primitive race. I probably read this first in the Poul Anderson collection “Time and Stars“. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.

    Heavy Planet“, a short story by Milton A. Rothman, Astounding August 1939. First reprinted and read in the Healy/McComas 1946 “Adventures in Time and Space“, and recently read in the 1979 Asimov/Greenberg “The Great Science Fiction Stories, Vol 1: 1939“. Not a bad story, but the characters are too human despite the pressure and gravity. Flint states that it is one of the first SF stories with an alien POV/protagonist. My opinion does not change on reread, despite the afterword. Rated a rather ordinary 3.2/5, or “Good”.

    Omnilingual“, a novelette by H. Beam Piper, Astounding February 1957. I know I’ve read this before, either in Astounding or the 1962 anthology “Prologue to Analog” (Doubleday, John W. Campbell, Jr. editor). Decades later, all I had left was a general concept of the story. A scientific expedition is sent to Mars, with a large staff including archeologists. The protagonist is a female archeologist. The story does a good job of showing academic rivalries among the archeologists. The Martians have been dead for a long time. Finally, the female archeologist figures out how to use the periodic table to help translate the Martian language. I do like how science and knowledge is used to figure the language out. There were no major SF awards for 1957 stories. This story was not included in the 1958 Merrill “SF: The Year’s Greatest Science-Fiction and Fantasy: Third Annual Volume” or the 1958 T. E. Dikty “Best Science Fiction Stories and Novels: 9th Series” volume. There were very few comments on stories from 1957 by Jo Walton in her Revisiting the Hugo post for the 1958 Hugos, and this story was not mentioned by Rich Horton or Gardner Dozois in their comments on that, nor by Richard A. Lupoff in his “What If?” anthologies of his preferred Hugo winners. Rich Horton does mention it in his post on the 1958 Hugo awards. The story has been reprinted quite a lot, including in the Asimov/Greenberg Great SF volume, so clearly it really resonated with a lot of fans, authors and editors. As analyzed and concluded, the Martians were very similar to humans. It’s a fun read, but I find the similarity to humans and their history hard to believe, which diminishes an otherwise excellent story for me. Rated 3.6/5, or “Very good”.

    The Gentle Earth“, a novella by Christopher Anvil, Astounding November 1957. I know I’ve read this before several times in Astounding. It has been reprinted a few times, with no awards or Best Of anthology inclusions. It’s Analytical Laboratory (issue specific reader poll) score in Astounding was a very strong #2 to Heinlein’s” Citizen of the Galaxy”. Given that readers typically favor the longer serials, this was a sign that the Astounding readers liked it. Anvil was a longstanding Astounding/Analog author and a pretty well known quantity to be editors and readers; not brilliant or challenging but humorous and reliable. Aliens land and appear to want to conquer the Earth. They are challenged by the climate, which is more variable than their planet. The invasion brings humans together, to resist. They finally agree to a treaty with the aliens. Not major but entertaining. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good.”

    Environment“, a short story by Chester S. Geier, Astounding May 1944. Recently read for the Retro Hugo 1945 nominations. A city has been designed and constructed by its builders to be an ideal environment for humanoids to transcend. A great story about change, and about education. I don’t know much about Geier, who mostly sold to Amazing and Fantastic. He sold two stories to Astounding, and also two to Unknown. I suspect this is one of his best stories; it’s the only one listed in the Geier entry at Mark R. Kelly’s Science Fiction Awards Database site. This story’s major reprint was in Conklin’s 1952 “Omnibus of Science Fiction“. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.

    Liane the Wayfarer“, a Dying Earth short story by Jack Vance, from Vance’s 1950 collection “The Dying Earth”. A great, early Vance story, and short. I agree with Eric Flint that Vance was essential, and we knew him more for his longer work. My Book Database lists that I owned “The Dying Earth”, but that it was stolen(!), so I have read it before, decades ago. A wonderful tale of a sociopath, who comes to a bad end. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.

    Spawn“, a novelette by P. Schuyler Miller, Weird Tales August 1939. A very interesting and different story for Miller, more horror than anything else, but SF too, not unlike some H. P. Lovecraft in Weird Tales. David Drake loves the unique, compelling narrative, unlike anything else by Miller. A story of monstrous life, in several different forms. I almost chose not to finish, as I found the writing a bit slow, but in the end I had to find out how it finished. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.

    St. Dragon and the George“, a novelette by Gordon R. Dickson, F&SF September 1957. A good, humorous fantasy, role reversal, dragons, and people (“georges”). I don’t remember reading this before. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.

    Thunder and Roses“, a novelette by Theodore Sturgeon, Astounding November 1947. First read in 2021 in “The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction” (2010 Wesleyan University, Arthur B. Evans et al editors), which I discussed in my post “A Ton of Science Fiction!“. What a great story to not remember ever reading. This was reprinted in the 1952 “The Astounding Science Fiction Anthology“, and I am sure I read it there decades ago. A few weeks after a very big nuclear attack on the US, there are only about 1,000 people left alive in the US, and they will die soon. Due to surprise and chance, no retaliation occurred. A soldier becomes convinced that the US must not retaliate, as it would be the end of all life on Earth. He has figured out the last key to initiate retaliation is at his base, and he kills his friend to stop retaliation. On reread, Flint and Drake both talk about being children of the 1950s, and of knowing you could die anytime in a nuclear war. Drake also mentions the kind of “cellar” courage of the story’s hero, who does the right thing for the future of the human race but no one will ever know. I remember what it felt like with the Cold War, and the active possibility of death in nuclear war, and remember a neighbor of my grandparents with a bomb shelter in the 1960s; this does resonate for me as well. Rated 4/5, or “Great”.

  • “Tomorrow, the Stars” 70 Years Later

    “Tomorrow, the Stars” 70 Years Later

    Summary: I read the 1952 Doubleday anthology “Tomorrow, The Stars” primarily because a) this is the only anthology Robert A. Heinlein was an editor for, and b) I read several great stories that were first reprinted here when reading for the 1946 Project for Chicon 8. My average rating for the stories was 3.74/5, or “Very good”. I enjoyed reading it, but I give a qualified opinion as noted below.

    The Full Story: I became aware of this anthology while reading for the 1946 Project for Chicon 8. See my post, “Not The Retro Hugos at Chicon 8“.

    I was not reading for the 1947 Retro Hugo Awards, as Chicon 8 decided that there were not enough good reasons to award them. However, in a very creative and canny move, they decided to organize a 1946 Project program track for the convention to discuss a broad range of subjects that pertained to SF, fandom and publishing in 1946. I believe this allowed them to have the best of both worlds, avoiding the Retro Hugo controversy while getting to talk about 1946 SF and fantasy that might have been Retro Hugo worthy.

    Having experience with several Retro Hugo nomination and award processes, I was interested in trying to screen out some of the chaff while identifying stories from 1946 that might be worthwhile. This became essential after I was selected to be on several 1946 Project panels.

    One of the ways I did this was to look at anthologies with stories from 1946. While this was not a guarantee that the stories therein were great or even good, it did affirm that at least one editor thought a story was worthwhile.

    1946 was before any of the various “Best of the Year” anthologies came out. This left only once obvious choice devoted solely to 1946, the Isaac Asimov/Martin H. Greenberg anthology, “The Great Science Fiction Stories Volume 8, 1946” (1982 Daw Books). I found this uneven, but there were some very good stories there that I had never read or did not remember.

    “Absalom” by Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore, a short story from Startling Stories, was one of those great stories. Upon thinking about all of this and preparing for Chicon 8, I also took a look at where stories were reprinted, how often, etc. I noted that “Absalom” was first reprinted in “Tomorrow, The Stars” in addition to the Asimov/Greenberg anthology and Kuttner’s “Bypass to Otherness” and “The Best of Henry Kuttner”.

    Checking the Table of Contents for “Tomorrow, The Stars”, I found two other stories that I had liked had been reprinted there:

    1. The Report on the Barnhouse Effect“, a 1950 short story by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., a great first story, Collier’s February 11 1950
    2. The Monster“, a 1951 short story by Lester del Rey, Argosy June 1951

    I also found that “Tomorrow, The Stars” had a very interesting list of editors, including Robert A. Heinlein, Judith Merril, Frederik Pohl, Walter Bradbury and Truman Talley. I confirmed this is the only anthology that Heinlein had been an editor for. At least as far as ISFDB is concerned, neither Walter Bradbury (no relation to Ray) nor Truman Talley were listed as editors for any other anthologies.

    Thoughts on “Tomorrow, The Stars”: This encouraged me to read “Tomorrow, The Stars”. I found it to be a decidedly mixed-bag. My overall rating was a “Very good” 3.74/5. I am not unhappy I read it, but disappointed in some aspects. I don’t explicitly know if any of this is related to my perspective 70 years later, but that could be a factor.

    One the plus side, I did like the Preface by Robert A. Heinlein. Heinlein does come out and say what he thinks the purpose or goal of the book is, “The Purpose of this book is to give you pleasure.” Fair enough, and hard to argue with.

    There were several stories that were new to me (or that I did not remember) that I really liked, including:

    1. The Tourist Trade“, a short story by Wilson Tucker, Worlds Beyond January 1951
    2. Keyhole“, a short story by Murray Leinster, Thrilling Wonder Stories December 1951
    3. Survival Ship“, a short story by Judith Merril, Worlds Beyond January 1951
    4. The Sack“, a short story by William Morrison, Astounding September 1950

    There were also a number of stories that I had read before that I loved, including:

    1. The Silly Season“, a short story by C. M. Kornbluth, F&SF Fall 1950
    2. As previously noted, “Absalom“, a short story by Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore, Startling Stories Fall 1946
    3. Jay Score“, a short story by Eric Frank Russell, Astounding May 1941
    4. Betelgeuse Bridge“, a short story by William Tenn, Galaxy April 1951 ( my favorite story from the anthology)
    5. Poor Superman” (AKA “Appointment in Tomorrow”), a novelette by Fritz Leiber, Galaxy July 1951

    There were several stories that I really wondered why they had been selected:

    1. I’m Scared“, a short story by Jack Finney, Colliers September 15, 1951 (my least favorite story here)
    2. Misbegotten Missionary” (AKA “Green Patches”), a rather ordinary short story by Isaac Asimov, Galaxy November 1950

    A positive factor that I need to update this to reflect is the use of non-genre mainstream press stories. I suspect this was due to Merril’s role as an editor here; she certainly did that often on her later “Year’s Best SF” anthologies. This included the Finney story “I’m Scared” (Collier’s), Vonnegut’s “The Report on the Barnhouse Effect” (Collier’s), and Reese’s “The Rainmaker” (Saturday Evening Post). While I really don’t like “I’m Scared”, “The Report on the Barnhouse Effect” is a great first story and one that is a real credit to the editors for inclusion.

    It’s also worth mentioning that only one of these stories had been previously reprinted, with Tenn’s “Betelgeuse Bridge” showing up several months before in the spring 1952 Crown anthology “Galaxy Reader of Science Fiction” (H. L. Gold editor). This is impressive, especially considering how good most of the stories are.

    The other side of the coin is that Tucker’s “The Tourist Trade” was never reprinted again, which I think unfortunate given how good I think it is, and Reese’s “Rainmaker” has only been reprinted in a Russian anthology, “Рай земной?“. I don’t think this is positive.

    I have several issues with this anthology. To start with, the blurb on the back cover states, “In his only published anthology, the famous author of STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND makes his one-time personal selection of the finest stories by the greatest talents in science fiction.” Cleary this was added for a later printing after 1961.

    While I know that blurb material is advertising and is often dramatically optimistic about how good a book is, I find several things about this blurb ludicrous. Looking at the authors and the stories included, I especially take issue with the phrase “…finest stories by the greatest talents in science fiction”. In my humble opinion, there is material here that clearly represents neither the finest stories nor the greatest talents in SF. I agree with the comments I have received that this is just what happens in publishing. I don’t disagree, especially for an edition at least 25 years after first publication.

    Additionally, and perhaps this is an artifact of the times, there is nothing here that gives us any idea why the authors and stories were included. That is what I have come to expect today, perhaps along with story/author biography information. I am guessing this was practice of not having that level of details on the authors and stories was typical for the time.

    Finally, I really wonder about having five editors. Heinlein is listed as the only editor on the book cover, title page and back cover for the edition I read (the 1981 Berkley paperback edition). However, he does note in the Preface that there are five editors.

    Heinlein “Tomorrow, The Stars” Preface page xi excerpt

    It is not at all clear which of the editors did what here to me. The best source I have found is William H. Patterson, Jr, author of the two-volume authorized Heinlein biography, “Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century: Volume 1: 1907-1948: Learning Curve” (2010) and “Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century: Volume 2: 1948-1988: The Man Who Learned Better” (2014). The ISFDB entry on “Tomorrow, The Stars” quotes Patterson:

    “According to Bill Patterson, who reviewed the correspondence between the editors at one point (http://groups.google.com/group/rec.arts.sf.written/msg/6ec509cd5e4fcd57):

    ‘Both Truman (Mac) Talley and Walter Bradbury did participate in the editorial process, but not to the same extent as Heinlein and Merril. They both read and commented on the first and second round of manuscript selections, for example.

    If I had to put it in descending order of amount of work it would be (1) Merril for doing all the legwork of gathering the nominated stories and sending them around and getting the permissions on the finished work; (2) Heinlein for general oversight of the selection process plus the introduction; (3) Bradbury for more comments on contents than Talley but (4) Talley did make some comments on selection. (5) Pohl comes last simply because I don’t recall any direct input from him, but he may deserve to be higher on the list — after Heinlein, say, but before Bradbury — simply because his participation might well be hidden in Merril’s.’”

    I have heard at least one opinion (Thanks, Rich Horton) that Merril essentially ghosted the editing here for Heinlein. I tend to believe Patterson is factually correct as he reviewed the correspondence, but I don’t know this. Regardless, I am not at all clear if having 5 editors for the anthology in some capacity was a plus or minus for the book. It’s hard to ascribe responsibility to any of them individually, but I was somewhat disappointed in the author and story selection.

    Overall, I’m glad I read this anthology, but my recommendation to read it is somewhat qualified.

    Detailed Review/Comments: Spoilers Abound!

    I’m Scared“, a short story by Jack Finney, Collier’s, September 15, 1951. Most recently read in “The Arbor House Treasury of Science Fiction” (1980, edited by Martin H. Greenberg & Robert Silverberg), see my review. A man is collecting stories of unusual occurrences, and gradually concludes they involve time dislocation. He notes that this appears to be accelerating, connects it to dissatisfaction with the present, and wonders if the world is about to go to hell? Seems rather weak for inclusion, and especially to start the anthology. Rated a rather ordinary 3.3/5, or “Good”.

    The Silly Season“, a short story by C. M. Kornbluth, F&SF Fall 1950. I’ve read this before, probably in Kornbluth’s 1959 Ballantine collection “The Marching Morons and Other Famous Science Fiction Stories“, and later in “His Share of Glory: The Complete Short Science Fiction of C. M. Kornbluth.” A great story of how a blind newsman foretells a Martian invasion, but no one believes him. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.

    The Report on the Barnhouse Effect“, a 1950 short story by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Collier’s February 11 1950. I read this most recently in the Frederik Pohl Anthology “Yesterday’s Tomorrows” (1982 Berkley Books), reviewed here. It’s a great first story. I suspect I have read this before, perhaps in Vonnegut’s 1968 Delacorte Press collection “Welcome to the Monkey House“. Professor) Barnwell discovers a means of learning to release energy and influence the world with specific mental effort. He is sequestered for security, but eventually decides to escape to avoid military oversight and to make the world a better place. He is on the run while making the world better. He divulges the secret to an academic he is mentoring, amid his attempts to escape. This person is initially clueless, but finally understands and begins the mental exercises needed. This story is a well written farce. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.

    The Tourist Trade, a short story by Wilson Tucker, Worlds Beyond January 1951. This is a great story of tourists from the future, with a young woman’s bedroom the nexus of their repeated, unwelcome visits. The future tour guide and tourists are insubstantial. The family is on the verge of fleeing the house when the father turns the tables, billing the insubstantial tourists as ghosts for curious neighbors. I have not read much other fiction by Tucker but this was great. I am surprised that it has not been reprinted anywhere other than in “Tomorrow, The Stars”. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.

    Rainmaker“, a short story by John Reese, The Saturday Evening Post, February 19, 1949. A fun early story of weather modification by cloud seeding. I found this especially interesting as I worked at a water wholesaler that attempted to use cloud seeding to increase runoff for some years, but no longer does so. I believe the tradeoff between results and liability made it unappealing, and I suspect that the idea has been been discredited today. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”. This has never been reprinted anywhere other than “Tomorrow, The Stars”, which is not encouraging.

    Absalom“, a short story by Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore, Startling Stories Fall 1946. Most recently read in the Asimov/Greenberg anthology “The Great Science Fiction Stories Volume 8, 1946” (1982 Daw Books). I have read this before, in Kuttner’s 1961 Ballantine Books collection “Bypass to Otherness“, the 1975 Nelson Doubleday/SFBC collection “The Best of Henry Kuttner“, and the 2006 Centipede Press/SFBC collection “Two-Handed Engine: The Selected Stories of Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore“, which I recommend. It’s a great story, of a mutant son of a mutant son, genius’s both. The father attempts to control the son, for eventually what are revealed to be controlling and unhelpful reasons. The son revolts, controls the dad, and the dad lives in unhappy, resentful compliance without a choice, just knowing that eventually his mutant son will have a son as well. Good characters, etc. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.

    The Monster“, a short story by Lester del Rey, Argosy June 1951. I did not remember it but probably read it many decades ago in the 1957 Del Rey collection on Ballantine Books, “Robots and Changelings.” A being is amnesiac and feels persecuted. Gradually, he understands he is an artificial being, a test for beings humans hope to use to fight their own battles and explore space. In the end, he accelerates his already miniscule lifespan and convinces his creators robots/whatever are not feasible. This is a great story for 1951, and just as good on a recent reread. It has been reprinted a number of times, including the 2010 NESFA Press collection “Robots and Magic: Selected Short Stories of Lester Del Rey“. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.

    Jay Score“, a short story by Eric Frank Russell, Astounding May 1941. Most recently read in 2007 anthology “The Prentice Hall Anthology of Science Fiction and Fantasy”, see review here. It’s good to reread “Jay Score”, which I’m guessing I first read in my copy of the 1958 Berkley collection by Russell, “Men, Martians and Machines. I really like this story, with a lot of great characters and without much of the racism and colonialism commonly present in SF of this era. A spaceship on the way to Venus is hit by and damaged by a piece of floating junk, disabling the navigation computer. They are headed for the sun and death. The new Emergency Pilot saves the day at the cost of his eyes and vocal cords. At the end, we learn that the emergency pilot is a robot, which helped him survive to pilot the ship in a very close cometary orbit around the sun. As a result, the emergency pilot is inducted into a very exclusive club, with the strong praises embarrassing him. The last sentence is great, “Don’t let anyone tell you that a robot can’t have feelings!” The other “Jay Score” story I have read recently was “Symbiotica“, which was good but not as good as this. Looking back, the May 1941 issue of Astounding this appeared in was a really good issue, with two stories from the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction Facebook group Recommended Reading List as well (“Universe” by Robert A. Heinlein and “Liar! by Isaac Asimov). Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.

    Betelgeuse Bridge“, a short story by William Tenn, Galaxy April 1951. Most recently read in the 1980 Playboy Press anthology “Galaxy: Thirty Years of Innovative Science Fiction“, edited by Martin H. Greenberg, Joseph D. Olander, and Frederik Pohl . I love this story, involving a swindle and it’s comeuppance with aliens. Phillip Klass (Tenn) had a way of combining humor and satire with SF that was not common, and doing it well. The characters are great, although there are really only three- the adman, the academic, and the aliens. I have this in Tenn’s 1968 Ballantine Books collection, “The Wooden Star“. Rated 4/5, or “Great”.

    Survival Ship“, a short story by Judith Merril, Worlds Beyond January 1951. A very good story of a exploration ship leaving the Earth. The nature of an unusual arrangement with the sexes is discussed, with 20 of one group and four of the other. A twist ending, with women revealed to be the twenty and men for, with women stronger, hardier, better able to withstand space. Men are to be shared. A story new to me, although fairly well reprinted. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.

    Keyhole“, a short story by Murray Leinster, Thrilling Wonder Stories, December 1951. A great story of humans on the Moon, attempting to set up the basis for exploration of the planets. They encounter nonhumans who may be intelligent. They attempt to study the Moon natives, and the natives learn more from them than they do learn of the natives. I have this in the 1969 Scholastic Book Services anthology edited by Richard J. Hurley, “Beyond Belief“, which I have probably not read since then. It’s a pretty good anthology, including the Sturgeon “The Man Who Lost The Sea” and “History Lesson” by Arthur C. Clarke. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.

    Misbegotten Missionary” (AKA “Green Patches”), a short story by Isaac Asimov, Galaxy November 1950. An emissary from a planet of unified life sneaks into an Earthbound ship, hoping to help Earth life unify. It almost succeeds. I own this issue of Galaxy, but sure don’t remember this story. This is a rather ordinary story, rated 3.5/5, or “Good”.

    The Sack“, a short story by William Morrison, Astounding September 1950. A very good story by an author I don’t know much about. Previous stories by him I have read are “The Model of a Judge” and “Country Doctor“, both “Very good”. The Sack is discovered in the asteroids. The Sack, an astoundingly intelligent outer space entity, can answer almost any question. It wants to die, as it is the last of it’s race. It’s human keeper establishes a relationship, and the Sack tells him that depending on it is bad for the human race. The Sack arranges to die. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.

    Poor Superman” (AKA “Appointment in Tomorrow), a novelette by Fritz Leiber, Galaxy July 1951. Previously read decades ago, probably in the 1974 Leiber collection “The Best of Fritz Leiber” (Ballantine/Nelson DoubleDay-SFBC/Sphere). A very good story of a man wanting to be a Superman, and his group the Thinkers, who are a fraud. Things do not go well for him. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.

  • “The Future Is Female! More Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women, Volume Two: The 1970s” by Lisa Yaszek

    “The Future Is Female! More Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women, Volume Two: The 1970s” by Lisa Yaszek

    Summary: I just finished reading Lisa Yaszek’s “The Future Is Female! More Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women, Volume Two: The 1970s” (9/2022, The Library of America). Strongly recommended, with an overall rating of 3.9/5, or “Great”.

    The Story: I am a big fan of science fiction stories, whether short fiction or novels. I have also become a fan of anthologies that focus on historically underrepresented or suppressed SF authors, such as women SF authors.

    I can’t say for certain that the first such anthology I read was Pamela Sargent’s 1975 “Women of Wonder” anthology on Vintage, but it probably was. After reading that in 1997, I have continued to look for and read other such anthologies, such as:

    Last but not least, I read Lisa Yaszek’s anthology, “The Future Is Female!: 25 Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women, From Pulp Pioneers to Ursula K. Le Guin“, 2018 The Library of America. The stories included are from 1928 to 1969. I had this at “Superlative” (one step below my highest book rating of “A Classic”) in my Book Database. Upon a March 2022 re-read, I had it at “Great” based upon my individual story ratings. Either way, I loved it.

    I know there are other similar anthologies that I have not read, such as the Justine Larbalestier anthology “Daughters of Earth: Feminist Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century“, 2006 Wesleyan University Press.

    Regardless, I heard earlier this year that Lisa Yaszek’s “The Future Is Female! More Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women, Volume Two: The 1970s” (“Volume Two”) would be published this year. I was quite excited about this, and purchased the e-book version this fall after it was issued by The Library of America.

    “Volume Two” contains 23 stories, from 1971 to 1979, and several essays.

    For me, it’s a great anthology. My overall rating for the fiction was 3.9/5, or “Great”. While there were classics that I had previously read (such as the Joanna Russ story, “When It Changed“), there were also a number of great stories I had never read before, often by authors I was not familiar with. It’s always possible I have read some of those but have forgotten them 50 years later, but I am very sure some of these I have never seen before due to where they were published.

    Favorite stories that were new to me included:

    1. “The Anthropologist”, a 1975 short story by Kathleen M. Sidney
    2. “… The Best Is Yet to Be …”, a 1978 novelette by M. Lucie Chin
    3. “Cassandra”, a 1978 short story by C. J. Cherryh.

    I loved that the first two were from authors I was not familiar with.

    I know you could find many of these stories in various online forms for free, although I doubt you could find all of them. For me, the readable yet informative, authoritative and insightful Introduction essay, the Biographical Notes, and the Notes were as essential as the fiction. These were equally important and of value as a complement to the fiction, and an argument for buying the book or checking it out of the library.

    I was also pleased that Yaszek took the effort to discuss both parents of the authors in the Biographical Notes. Depending upon the era, it can be a lot harder to find information on female parents versus male parents, and it matters that she worked on this to cover both.

    I do have two minor nits to pick. First, I am generally a fan of having author/story introductions adjacent to each story. For me at least, it helps me group the information and apply it to the story; it’s a bit harder for me to do this when that information is found in the Introduction, Biographical Notes, and Notes. However, I can see very valid reasons for having the book organized as it is, and this content is great and valuable. Second, I feel that the 1974 Eleanor Arnason story, “The Warlord of Saturn’s Moons“, and the 1979 Connie Willis story, “Daisy, In The Sun“, are perhaps more speculative fiction than science fiction. Still, these are both very minor complaints and don’t in any way impact my overall feeling about this outstanding anthology.

    I know this is available in e-book and paper, but I have not yet seen an audio book version. My library did not have this, but there are copies available at my regional library consortium.

    Strongly recommended, and a great Holiday gift! I hope Lisa is able to continue with a Volume 3 and later.

    I have also added the Lisa Yaszek/Patrick B. Sharp anthology, “Sisters of Tomorrow: The First Women of Science Fiction” (2016, Wesleyan University Press) to my TBR list. It looks like an interesting combination of essay and fiction. I am surprised it was not in my Book Database.

    Detailed Story Review/Comments: Here There Be Spoilers!

    Bitching It“, a 1971 short story by Sonya Dorman, originally published in “Quark/2” (Paperback Library, Samuel R. Delany & Marilyn Hacker editors). A great, powerful story about gender and sex and power. I can see why it was not reprinted much until this anthology, as it’s not comfortable at all, but with a setting that is banal and normal. As one commentator said, “what if women raped men and it was normalized?” Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.

    Frog Pond“, a 1971 short story by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Galaxy March 1971. I love this story of a young woman in a semi rural setting, near future, perhaps during some societal collapse or conflict, perhaps not far from Mill Valley. During a frogging expedition to a local creek, she meets a man who wants to teach people. She is also revealed to have had genetic engineering, perhaps, with nictating eye flaps. I own this issue of Galaxy, so I expect I must have read this story but do not remember anything. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.

    “The Funeral“, a 1972 novelette by Kate Wilhelm, originally published in “Again, Dangerous Visions“, Harlan Ellison editor, 1972 Doubleday etc. Wow. A searing story of reshaping society, with some foreshadowing of Margaret Atwood’s later “The Handmaid’s Tale“, told by a young woman who is not a citizen. I own “Again, Dangerous Visions” and I’m sure I’ve read this, but I did not remember this Nebula nominated story. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.

    When It Changed“, a 1972 short story by Joanna Russ, also published in “Again, Dangerous Visions”. A Nebula winner and Tiptee Retrospective winner, Hugo and Locus nominee. Perhaps read most recently in the VanderMeer’s 2016 “The Big Book of SF: The Ultimate Collection“. A classic tale of a planet where all the men died in a plague, and women lived on without them. Six centuries later, men return to Whileaway. Life will change. Rated 4.3/5, or “Superlative”.

    Lament of the Keeku Bird” a 1973 short story by Kathleen Sky, first appeared in Stephen Goldin’s “The Alien Condition” anthology (Ballantine Books). A very good story of life and death by an alien female, by an author I am not familiar with. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good.” It’s also interesting that the cover art for “The Alien Condition” was an excerpt of the Mati Klarwein cover art for the 1970 Santana album “Abraxas“.

    A Way Out“, a 1973 short story by Miriam Allen deFord, also published in “The Alien Condition”. A great story of an alien delegate to the United Planets and his attempt to be banished back home. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.

    Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand“, a 1973 novelette by Vonda N. McIntyre, Analog October 1973. Originally read in Analog, and perhaps not since then. A great story of a young woman who uses poisonous snakes for healing on a harsh planet. She meets a challenge, but loses one of her snakes. Nebula winner, Hugo and Locus runner-up. Reprinted in the “The Best Science Fiction of the Year #3” (1974, Ballantine Books) by Terry Carr and in the 1975 Pamela Sargent “Women of Wonder” anthology on Vintage Books. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.

    The Girl Who Was Plugged In“, a 1973 novelette by James Tiptree, Jr., “New Dimensions 3“, Robert Silverberg editor, Nelson Doubleday/SFBC. Read before, at least in Tiptree’s 1975 collection “Warm Worlds and Otherwise” and the 1990 Tiptree retrospective “Her Smoke Rose Up Forever” (Arkham House), and then most recently for Heather Masri’s giant 2008 “Science Fiction: Stories and Contexts” anthology on Bedford Books of St. Martin’s Press (I wrote about this giant 20th century SF survey volume and others like it at “A Ton of Science Fiction!“). Hugo Award winner and Nebula and Locus Award nomination. An amazing story of an almost dead (suicidal) young woman who becomes the Waldo handler for a beautiful young body. She is an influencer for commerce, and she falls in love. Rated 4.1/5, or “Superlative”.

    If Ever I Should Leave You“, a 1974 short story by Pamela Sargent, Worlds of If Jan-Feb 1974. A woman and a man are of an era when most people live 300 years. They both use the Time Station to visit each other at different parts of their lives, and both die young due to their use of the Time Station. Finally, when he is dead and she almost so, she uses the Time Station to urge him to meet her. A very good story, rated 3.7/5.

    Pale Hands“, a 1974 short story by Doris Piserchia, “Orbit 15“, Damon Knight editor, 1974 Harper & Row. A very good story of an overpopulated future where people are conditioned to masturbate in public stalls. A young woman falls in love, but cannot overcome the conditioning. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.

    The Day Before the Revolution“, a 1974 Hainish short story by Ursula K. Le Guin, Galaxy August 1974. Most recently read in the anthology “Galaxy: Thirty Years of Innovative Science Fiction“, Martin H. Greenberg, Joseph D. Olander, & Frederik Pohl editors, 1980 Playboy Press. A great story of an aging revolutionary after a stroke, many years later. Great character. 1975 Locus and Nebula short story winner, Hugo nominee, rated 4.3/5, or “Superlative”.

    The Warlord of Saturn’s Moons“, a 1974 short story by Eleanor Arnason, “New Worlds 7“, Hilary Bailey & Charles Platt editors, Sphere 1974. First read in “The Norton Book of Science Fiction: North American Science Fiction, 1960-1990“, Ursula K. Le Guin and Brian Attebery editors and Karen Joy Fowler “consultant”, W. W. Norton & Company 1993, see my review. I love this story, but it is perhaps more speculative fiction than science fiction. An author spends a lot of time writing a story about the Warlord of Saturn’s Moons, and she really loves one of her characters. I believe this is the 2nd story Arnason had published. Nebula nomination. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.

    A Scarab in the City of Time“, a 1975 short story by Marta Randall, “New Dimensions Science Fiction Number 5“, Robert Silverberg editor, Harper & Row 1975. A woman and teacher breaks into an enclosed City, where the residents have lived believing there is nothing outside. Finally, she escapes when young people break out. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.

    The Anthropologist“, a 1975 short story by Kathleen M. Sidney, “Orbit 17“, Damon Knight editor, Harper & Row. Humans come to an alien planet, where they encounter the triceph. It is unclear if the tricephs are intelligent or not, which dictates whether humans settle the planet. The tricephs leave three triceph eggs, apparently in an effort to learn more of humans and whether the races can live together. One of the eggs grows to adulthood, raised by a human scientist and her family on Earth. The alien, Robert, returns to the home planet trying to do anthropological research on their species. They have a child, and the effort may succeed. I thought this was a fantastic story. I am surprised this is the first reprint of this story. I am not sure I have read any other fiction by this author. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.

    Hey, Lilith!“, a 1976 short story by Gayle Netzer, first published in fanzine “The Witch and the Chameleon, 1976”, Amanda Bankier editor. A very good story, deconstructing all kinds of tropes and stereotypes. I am not sure I have read any other stories by this author. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.

    The Screwfly Solution“, a 1977 novelette by James Tiptree, Jr., Analog June 1977. I probably first read this in my copy of the 1981 Tiptree collection “Out of the Everywhere and Other Extraordinary Visions“, Del Rey/Ballantine. This is a scary, outstanding story of the end of the human race by biological jiggering of the adjacency of sexual and violence urges in men by an alien species, leading to the killing of all women. Outstanding writing, voices and characters. A great and chilling last sentence in the book, regarding the aliens, “I think I saw a real estate agent” for those who will take the planet. Nebula winner, Locus runner-up, and #3 Hugo. I agree with Jo Walton and Gardner Dozois that it should have won the Hugo Award; I wrote about this at “Hugo Award Hindsight“. Rated 4.3/5, or “Superlative”.

    Time to Kill“, a 1977 short story by Elinor Busby, Amazing Stories October 1977. A good but not major story of an attempt to rewrite history with a time machine. Rated 3.6/5, or “Very good”.

    … The Best Is Yet to Be …“, a 1978 novelette by M. Lucie Chin, Galileo, January 1978. A great story of a woman who has had 9 brain transplants into donor bodies, and decides it must end. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.

    View from a Height“, a 1978 short story by Joan D. Vinge, Analog June 1978. I own this issue of Analog, and originally read it there. A great story of a woman born without an immune system. She goes into astrophysics, and is hired for an outer space observatory launched into extra-Solar System space and that will never come back. Her only company is a parrot. After 20 years, she finds out that science can now give her an immune system. She has a crisis, but survives and rededicated herself. Locus and Hugo finalist, reprinted in “The Best Science Fiction of the Year #8” by Terry Carr. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.

    No One Said Forever“, a 1978 short story by Cynthia Felice, “Millennial Women“, Virginia Kidd editor, 1978 Delacorte Press. A very good story of a woman transferred to a secret project in Antarctica. She has a son with her boyfriend, but she has commitment issues and almost breaks up with him. This could be SF, but it is not clear that it has to be. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.

    Cassandra“, a 1978 short story by C. J. Cherryh, F&SF October 1978. Most recently read in Heather Masri’s “Science Fiction: Stories and Contexts“. From my perspective, this is quite a a different story for Cherryh. A woman sees the future, which comes to include death and destruction, and perhaps a nuclear attack. A great story. Hugo winner, Nebula and Locus finalist, and reprinted in “The 1979 Annual World’s Best SF“, Arthur W. Saha and Donald A. Wollheim editors, Daw Books. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.

    Wives“, a 1979 short story by Lisa Tuttle, F&SF December 1979. Most recently read in “The Big Book of Science Fiction: The Ultimate Collection” by the VanderMeers. The story reveals that the “wives” of Earthman are nonhuman. The Earthmen know this, but they generally ignore the fact as long as the “wives” act as expected. One of the “wives” realizes life with an Earthman no longer works for her, and attempts to recruit others to go with her. An old leader, who still remembers the coming of the Earthmen, explains that their prior life is over and survival depends upon being “wives”. They kill the protagonist with her willing acquiescence, and a spare “wife” takes the place. Reprints include “The Best from Fantasy & Science Fiction: 24th Series“, Edward L. Ferman editor, 1983 Charles Scribner’s Sons and “The Penguin Book of Modern Fantasy by Women“, Richard Glyn Jones & A. Susan Williams editors, 1995 Viking. Rated 4.3/5, or “Superlative”.

    Daisy, in the Sun“, a 1979 short story by Connie Willis, Galileo November 1979. IMHO, perhaps the first great story by Connie Willis, of a young woman and the sun going nova, and her perhaps metaphysical existence thereafter. Hugo nomination, and reprinted in “The 1980 Annual World’s Best SF“, Arthur W. Saha and Donald A. Wollheim editors, 1980 Daw Books. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.