Thursday, 30 May 2013

Jack Vance has died

There is a human quality that cannot be precisely named: possibly the most noble of all human qualities. It includes but is larger than candor, generosity, comprehension, niceness of distinction, intensity, steadiness of purpose, total commitment. It is participation in all human perceptions, recollection of all human history. It is characteristic of every great creative genius and can never be learned: learning in this regard is bathos - the dissection of a butterfly, a spectroscope turned to the sunset, the psychoanalysis of a laughing girl. The attempt to learn is self-destructive; when erudition comes in, poetry departs. How common the man of intellect who cannot feel! How trifling are his judgments against those of the peasant who derives his strength, like Antaeus, from the emotional sediment of the race! Essentially the tastes and preferences of the intellectual elite, derived from learning, are false, doctrinaire, artificial, shrill, shallow, uncertain, eclectic, jejune and insincere.

Life, Volume IV by Unspiek, Baron Bodissey, quoted in The Killing Machine.

The Cadwal Chronicles

Fantasms & Magic

The Durdane series

Lurulu (review for The Zone)

A short profile (also written for The Zone)

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

The History of the Science Fiction Magazine vol 1 - post script!

So, that’s the first volume done, and I’m even now cracking on with volume two. 

I’ve also found some of these texts online. I’ll add links to the separate entries in the fullness of time (it’s getting late here), but for now, here’s a list:

As far as I know, these links are all legit. Let me know if that's not the case and I shall remove.

My main interest here has been to review the themes in these early stories, so that I can make a judgement later on if contpemporary SF has got anything new to say. Let’s just take a quick look at the the themes we’ve found so far.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Davy Jones’ Ambassador by Raymond Z Gallun

First published in Astounding Stories, December 1935.

There’s been one big thing missing from this anthology: aliens. Sure, yes, we’ve had a few Martians, but they were basically humans in drag, and while TheMachine Man of Ardathia was pretty freaky his petulant manner was all too recognisably human. Maybe it’s just the particular stories chosen here, but these early SF writers don’t really seem to have grasped the nettle when it comes to exploring non-human life.

Until now. This story presents us with a fascinating alien society with its own weird morphology, technology and society. It’s more bizarre than any of the Martians we’ve seen so far or the far-future societies that have featured. An yet it’s relatively close to us in both time and space.

The title of this one’s the give away, of course: the alien society is deep beneath the sea.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

One Prehistoric Night by Philip Barshofsky

First published in Wonder Stories, November 1934.

You can download this story from this site. I'm not sure if this is in the public domain: if you're the copyright holder let me know and I'll take this link down if you want. Otherwise I'll leave it up as a service to readers.

Many of the stories in this collection revolve around science lessons of one sort of another. We’ve had lectures on the sub-atomic world in Out of theSub-Universe, cellular biology in The Eternal Man and The Coming ofthe Ice, and astronomy in The Voice From the Ether; scientific principles are more subtly laced through The Asteroid of Gold but the story still provides a decent grounding in the physics of gravitation and space-travel.

This didactic element is one of the key parts of what I think of as ‘real’ science fiction. The story needs to outline the science that surrounds the plot, and it can’t help but be somewhat pedagogic. It was one Gernsback’s original motivations for publishing ‘scientifiction’ and maybe it’s why my school years were packed with those junior SF anthologies stocked with Golden Age stories like these.

As the title implies, this one gives us a Walking With Dinosaurs-style glimpse into the Jurassic age.

Grant Morrison explains his take on Batman

Here's a terrific video (via Bleeding Cool) where Grant Morrison talks to Kevin Smith about how he approached his recently finished run on Batman.

I read most of it, starting around about issue 666 and bailing out about halfway through Batman Inc. It's one I'll come back to this someday, I think, filling in the gaps with trades, as I did with Jonathan Hickman's run on Fantastic Four.

I'm reading his run on X-Men - New X-Men - at moment. It has its moments but it's a bit up-and-down, I think. I might write more about this in the near future...

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

The Island of Unreason by Edmond Hamilton

Yep, that's the sort of thing I mean.
First published in Wonder Stories, May 1933.

Left and right, right and left: what do these things mean, really? SF fans generally pride themselves on being a pretty progressive lot – being champions of new technology and new ways of living surely inclines one to progressive views. And in fairness, the large majority of SF fans I’ve met over the years have been socially liberal, at least.

But there are very strong and enduring elements of SF that I have always found distinctly right wing. The elitist ‘fans are slans’ tendency, the hedge-fund venture capital view of life of the cyberpunks and the racist implications of a lot of planetary romance all stick out as distinctly conservative view-points. It’s a range of views that sees Ayn Rand still held up as a paragon by many and feeds the ‘libertarian’ view of life that runs so powerfully through the work of Robert Heinlein.

Not surprisingly, it’s something that’s in evidence from early on, and this story is pretty good example.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

The Asteroid of Gold by Clifford D Simak

First published in Wonder Stories, November 1932.
What's really important to readers!

This is exactly the type of story that I loved when I was a kid: tough guys in a realistic future with a an exciting problem. It’s the sort of thing that filled up the junior anthologies I used to get from the school library or the children’s sections of Titahi Bay and Porirua libraries.

We've left the era of obscure journey men and we're into the Golden Age proper now. I wouldn’t say I was ever a particular fan of Clifford D Simak, but his was one of those names I’d spot in the contents list – alongside other reliables like Asimov, Heinlein, Sturgeon, Pohl, Le Guin, Sheckley, Moorcock or Dick that would indicate an anthology was probably worth picking up. It’s a name that I associate indelibly with what I think of as ‘real’ science fiction, and this is a great example of what I mean.

The Voice From the Ether by Lloyd Arthur Eshbach

First published in Amazing Stories, May 1931.

You can download this story from this link. I'm not sure if it's  in the public domain: if you're the copyright holder let me know and I'll take this link down if you want. Otherwise I'll leave it up as a service to readers.

My favourite pulp-era cliché is the ranting mad scientist super villain. The best pulp villains are like tragic romantic heroes, driven to extreme acts by the power of their passions. Spurned in love or by society, they exact their revenge.

'The Voice From the Ether' tells the story of Tuol Oro, one of the greatest scientists on Mars. When his latest amazing discovery is dismissed as a mistake by the Martian scientific establishment, Oro decides to exact  ironic revenge – he will destroy them using the very discovery they mocked so cruelly! Like the scientists in Out of the Sub Universe, he’s discovered life in the sub-atomic realm and using Mad Science he’s able to grow the sub-atomic creepy crawlies to a macro-scale and unleash them against his tormentors.

Oro’s spirited description of his ghastly revenge makes this an enjoyable take on a story that never gets old. Tuol Oro is just a vehicle for the legendary forces of retribution that have been in existence since ancient times. Like a storm from the heavens, he merely unleashes the forces that destroys a decadent society.