Sunday 17 November 2013

This is the end!

Keep reading my blog at

Well, it had to come. My life and my ambitions have expanded beyond the cramped confines of blogspot and thus I've secured my own website - I am now master of my own domain.

This new site's going to let me ... well, do all sorts of cool things. I'll be able to... hm, well, you know! Just look at it! Isn't it cool?

If you're a follower you can either join my new Facebook group or  follow me on twitter @miwantok.

I'm shutting down the comments here (apologies recent commenter Andreas!) and I'll be moving everything over to the new site. Some of my older posts need formatting but so it goes. Thanks to blog spot for four or so years of terrific service.

See you soon at my new pad! Visit the brand new Pointless Philosophical Asides.

Tuesday 12 November 2013

A Game of Rat and Dragon by Cordwainer Smith

First publishedin Galaxy Science Fiction, October 1955.

Another one available as a free download from Project Gutenberg! It’s listed under the pseudonymous Smith’s real name, Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger.

This is a story about, of all things, an office romance. Well, okay, not the office; in fact the battle room of an interstellar spaceship. Underhill is a telepath who uses his powers to detect what he calls ‘Dragons’, creatures that dwell in outer reaches of interstellar space. The object of his affections is his Partner Lady May, who works with him to detonate the ultra-vivid miniature photonuclear bombs in the creatures’ vicinity, as only intense bright light can damage them.

Theirs, however, is an impossible love. For Lady May is a Persian cat.

Sunday 10 November 2013

He Walked Around the Horses by H Beam Piper

First published in Astounding Science Fiction, April 1948.

This is another one that’s available free from Project Gutenberg.

In a coincidence that Charles Fort himself might have enjoyed, Piper and this story in particular are name-dropped in the latest issue of Fortean Times. An article by Bob Rickard outlines the close relationship between SF and Forteanism, and a photograph of Piper shaking hands with John W Campbell illustrates the article: an example of a writer who used Fortean ideas in his ficiton.

I’ve mentioned this before, of course, in relation to a lot of different stories, including Don’t Look Now and Up There. Science fiction and Fortean interests are also commonly associated in the public mind – SF fans are almost always as UFO nuts in popular culture , and the reverse is even more true. The reason for this is easy to spot, of course: they’re united by a love of UFOs and aliens, animal cryptids and the secrets of lost civilizations.

Sunday 3 November 2013

Specialist by Robert Sheckley

First published in Galaxy Science Fiction, May 1953.

This is a great little story that’s on a par with the enjoyable Hands Off! that was in volume three of the History of the Science Fiction Magazine. These two stories remind me of how much I enjoyed Sheckley’s stories when I was a kid. In the olden days he was one of the relatively few writers who I’d bother with in single-author collections.

By coincidence, both of these stories focus on a key SF idea: the convincing and sympathetic portrayal of aliens. These types of story seek to answer one of the key questions of science fiction: if man is not unique in creation, what do other men look like?

Wednesday 30 October 2013

The Voices of Time by J G Ballard

First published in New Worlds #99, October 1960.

Interestingly, J G Ballard reviewed The Golden Age of Science fiction for the Guardian. He mentions the stories in passing, praising the selection rather faintly as one of ‘accurate judgements’, but he’s not unjustifiably annoyed at some of Amis’s comments in the introduction. Ballard quotes the same section as I did in my note about The Old Hundredth.
The perpetrators of all this are whipped unmercifully. Moorcock's fiction "gives rise to little more than incurious bewilderment." Aldiss, in Barefoot in the Head, "interlards an adventure story with stylistic oddities, bits of freak talk, poems, some of them ‘concrete'." As for Ballard, on whom no verdict can be harsh enough: "Solipsistic… mystification and outrage… physical disgust… stories with chapters subdivided into numbered paragraphs [not true]… has never been in the genre at all."
According to Ballard the old man is out of touch; saying his hatred of modern SF is bound up with his hatred of modern life in general. He’s just a bitter old critic who backed the wrong horse.
To some extent Amis's distaste for science fiction can be put down to simple pique. Sharp observer though he was of 1940s and 1950s s-f, his prediction in New Maps of Hell that science fiction would become primarily a satirical and sociological medium proved totally wrong. In fact, American s-f veered away into interplanetary fantasy (Le Guin, Zelazny, Delaney), while the British writers began to explore the psychological realm of inner space.
However, it’s a long race and sometimes it has a surprise finish. Coming in on the inside straight was a dark horse that I think proves Amis right: cyberpunk.

Sunday 27 October 2013

Lou Reed has died

This is the first proper record I ever owned, not counting Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds and 'Rasputin' by Boney M. It was a present on my eleventh birthday from my brother Alistair.

Saturday 26 October 2013

Rise of the Robots: reading log, third quarter 2013

Once more the clock of the year arrives at quarter to midnight... well, practically ten-to now, but I’m doing the best I can here. It’s been a busy quarter covering the summer holiday period, although I know I make that excuse every time. My holidays were particularly great this year and I’ve been enjoying the Indian summer culminating in an amazing, albeit fleeting, literal trip to India for work.

So once again I find myself being thankful for all the gifts that life has brought while working hard to squander, ruin or debase them. Oh well, mustn’t grumble!

In the meantime, I distract myself with writing – the writing by others and writing of my own. In this reading report I’ll mainly be talking about Comixology, the gradual failure of my anti-gadget resolve and a bit more about – perhaps my final word on – the death of science fiction.