Sunday, September 30, 2012

Review - Analog Science Fiction and Fact: Volume CXXIX, No. 11 (November 2009) by Stanley Schmidt (editor)

Stories included:
To Climb a Flat Mountain, Part I of II by G. David Nordley
Amabit Sapiens by Craig DeLancey
Joan by John G. Hemry
Foreign Exchange by Jerry Oltion
Thanksgiving Day by Jay Werkheiser

Science fact articles included:
Rock! Bye-Bye, Baby by Edward M. Lerner

Full review: November 2009 seems to be a lackluster month for Analog with a collection of mostly mediocre stories and a couple of fairly dry science fact articles. Overall, there seems to be little to indicate that this issue will be particularly memorable.

The two best stories in the volume are also the shortest: Foreign Exchange by Jerry Oltion is a mildly humorous story about an unexpected alien contact and the rather foolish and faulty assumptions made by the crew of an expeditionary mission to Mars. The story is just silly enough to be fun, and just serious enough to avoid being a farce. Thanksgiving Day by Jay Werkheiser is on the opposite end of the scale, as a hard science fiction story about the colonization of an alien world and the struggles of the colonists to figure out why all of their attempts to grow crops result in poisonous produce.

Amabit Sapiens by Craig DeLancey marks the return to Analog of Marrion's kids, a collection of children genetically engineered to care more about the distant future. This time, the children's long view is put into use, as they are recruited into a plan to ward off environmental disaster and the looming energy shortage. There is nothing particularly good or bad about the story, although it does seem to state that humanity cannot solve its problems without a sort of magic Santa Claus to do it for us, which I find mildly offensive. Joan, by John G. Hemry, also deals with humanity's lack of foresight, in this case the lack of foresight exhibited by a woman who idolizes Joan of Arc. She serendipitously gets access to a time machine and sets about trying to save Joan from being burnt at the stake. Things don't turn out how she expects, as fate seems to have been preordained for Joan. The story falls apart upon the protagonist's return to the present, as the changes she wrought on the past seem to have had no noticeable effect on the present beyond changing a few pictures and records. Overall, the lack of evaluation of the consequences of the time-traveler's actions makes this story little more than a description of a holiday in the middle-ages.

The anchor story of the issue is the first part of the two-part To Climb a Flat Mountain by G. David Nordley. This part establishes the protagonist (and all the other characters in the story) as the survivors of an interstellar expeditionary force gone astray as a result of sabotage. They have crash-landed on a truly alien planet with flat square sides (hence, the "flat mountain"). The protagonist meets up with a handful of other survivors and they set about trying to establish a functioning society to ensure their survival. The survivors quickly diverge into two camps, with one being driven by sexist religious fundamentalism and the other (including the protagonist) taking a more egalitarian view. The trouble with this plot element is that the arguments made by the religious fundamentalist spokesperson are so obviously unconvincing that the adherence of others to his viewpoint seems ludicrous, and drags the story down. The hunt for the saboteur and the struggle to survive in this very alien environment make for much better stories, but the religious conflict is so weak as to make the entire story fairly mediocre.

Edward M. Lerner discusses the likelihood of asteroids or comets striking the Earth in Rock! Bye-Bye Baby, focusing on those that would be significant enough to cause a natural disaster of sizeable proportion. The article also discusses the steps humanity can take to prevent such a disaster from occurring. The article is filled with facts, but makes for fairly dry reading as the territory has been covered numerous times before. In The Alternate View Jeffrey D. Kooistra discusses what appear to be systematic methodological problems with the collection of data by the U.S. climate monitoring stations and the impact this may have on global warming calculations. This article is much more interesting, and raises some very significant questions.

In the end, this is simply a very mediocre issue of Analog. With two slightly above average stories (which also happen to be the shortest two), two average stories, and one weak story, the issue is simply devoid of any outstanding fictional material. Coupled with a dry primary science fact article, the issue simply seems to be a placeholder put out to fill the space between the September issue and the December one. The second half of To Climb a Flat Mountain could raise that story from being mediocre, but that seems to be damning with faint praise. Here's to hoping that the weak array of stories in this issue means that they are saving a bunch of good ones for December 2009.

Previous issue reviewed: October 2009
Subsequent issue reviewed: December 2009

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Saturday, September 29, 2012

30 Days of Genre - What Is the Cover of Your Current or Most Recent Genre Read?

Time Untamed by Ivan Howard (editor)

My efforts to work through the list of International Fantasy Award winners is currently on hold as I wait for my copy of Edgar Pangborn's A Mirror for Observers to arrive. On the Hugo front, I need to track down my wayward copy of James Blish's A Case of Conscience. To fill in the gap while I'm waiting to get my hands on those, I'm catching up on some collections of short fiction that I have on hand. I've read through several volumes of Hugo winning novelettes and short stories, and right now I'm working on Time Untamed, another collection of short fiction.

Time Untamed is a quirky collection. It has no listed editor, and it took a fair amount of research to determine that the editor was Ivan Howard. But there appears to be very little information available about Howard other than the fact that he seems to have edited a small number of short fiction anthologies in the 1950s. The anthology is also unusual in that it features a collection of notable authors - Isaac Asimov, Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, Clifford D. Simak, John Wyndham, Theodore Sturgeon, L. Sprague de Camp, and Fritz Lieber - but I am unfamiliar with the stories included in the collection. Given that I have read a fair amount of work by all of these authors, this is a somewhat difficult achievement. This may mean I have on my hands a trove of hidden gems. On the other hand, this may mean that these stories are all to lousy to have enduring appeal. Either way, this should be interesting.

Book Blogger Hop September 28th - October 3rd: "Nineteen" Is a Song About the Vietnam War by Paul Hardcastle

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books has restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them. A complete explanation of the history and the rules of the Hop can be found here.

This week Jen asks: Hosting a giveaway? Tell us about it! Write a great discussion post this week? Promote it! This is the week to pick ONE POST from the past week to highlight for the Hop!

I'm picking my review of More Than Human as my post of the week (go read it). This particular post is part of my effort to read and review all of the books that won the International Fantasy Award, which is a subset of my larger effort to read and review all of the books that have won the major science fiction and fantasy awards. Because they are the most venerable awards, I am currently working my way through the International Fantasy and Hugo Award winners, reading them in order starting with the oldest winners first and working forward.

Once I get to them chronologically, I will start reading and reviewing the Nebula winners, the World Fantasy winners, the Locus winners, the Mythopoeic winners, and the Prometheus winners. While I'm at it, I'll probably get to the Campbell, Dick, Stoker, Gandalf, and Balrog award winners too. And after that? I guess I'll have to go back and read all of the nominees for all these awards as well.

Go to previous Book Blogger Hop: Alice Cooper's First Top Ten Hit Was "I'm Eighteen"

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Follow Friday - A Typical Tarot Deck Has Seventy-Eight Cards

It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the two Featured Bloggers of the week - (un)Conventional Bookviews and J'adore Happy Endings.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: What is the BIGGEST word you’ve seen used in a book lately – that made you stop and look it up? Might as well leave the definition & book too.

The word I am picking is sabretache, which I first encountered in Gene Wolf's Shadow of the Torturer, and is used throughout the remaining three books of the Book of the New Sun series. I don't know if it was the biggest word used in the book, but it was the one that I actually looked up. Wolfe uses a lot of unusual and archaic words, such as optimates, aquaestor, and fiacre, and most can be figured out from context. And sabretache is no exception. Based upon how the main character Severian uses it, one can pretty readily figure out that it is some sort of bag or pouch. And that is the case for most of Wolfe's writing - you can figure out what he's talking about, but not exactly.

But I wanted to know exactly what he was talking about, so I looked it up. A sabretache is a flat leather bag used by hussar cavalry starting at the beginning of the 18th century, and spreading to use among many other types of cavalry by the beginning of the 19th century. The British cavalry still used them in the Crimean War, and the Prussian Guard Hussars used them in the Franco-Prussian War. By the beginning of the 20th century the sabretache had been discarded by most cavalry forces. So that is exactly what Severian was supposed to be carrying. But the odd thing is that except for some limited time serving in the Autarch's army as part of his destrier cavalry, Severian walks pretty much everywhere he goes. In any event, that's what sabretache means, even if it is used by someone who isn't technically the sort of individual who would traditionally use one.

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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Review - More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon

Short review: At the edges of society something new is growing, spread through many bodies, blindly searching to find one another and become whole.

An outcast or boy
Three girls, and a strange baby
Need still one more thing

Full review: The 1954 winner for of the International Fantasy Award for Best Fiction Book and a 2004 nominee for a "Retro Hugo", More Than Human is made up of three linked stories detailing the rise of Homo Gestalt, a new form of life that is made up of several individual people who gather together to form a single entity. Because the book does not rely upon the technology of the 1950s to make its story effective, the fact that it is very decidedly set in that era does not detract from the book, even though it is now sixty years old. Like some other Sturgeon stories I have read, More Than Human could be taking place right now, or it might have already happened, and we, living our mundane lives, would never even know it. The story is, at its core, a coming of age story, but it is a coming of age story for a life form that is similar to a human, and yet not a human. And that is also very alone in the world.

Of the three stories that make up the novel, only the middle one Baby Is Three, was not specifically written for this book. The first, The Fabulous Idiot, and the third Morality, were written specifically for publication as part of More Than Human. Although it was fairly common in the early era of science fiction to construct a novel by stringing together preexisting shorter pieces, but in this case, this style of book design was intentional. And perhaps that is part of the point, because that makes the book's form parallel the new entity that the book is about, both constructed of smaller subparts that work together to create a complete whole.

And this is part of the poetry of the book: its structure seems to reflect the development of the entity at the core of the story. In The Fabulous Idiot, the story is told in something of a confused jumble, but that is because it is told from the perspective of Lone, for whom the world is a confusing and jumbled place. Lone's stumbles lead him to Evelyn, a young woman who shared Lone's apparent gift of telepathy, but who lives under the thumb of a domineering ultra-religious father. Their meeting ends in disaster, and Lone finds himself on the Prodds' farm, where he finally is able to stop wandering long enough to make a human connection. Meanwhile, a young girl named Janie and a pair of black twin girls named Bonnie and Beanie form a friendship, although given the mores of 1950s society, their friendship is considered scandalous by those around them. In these sequences, Sturgeon explores the casual racism surrounding him, and also details the difficulties that would be faced by children with the unnerving gifts of telekinesis and teleportation. Although all three of the girls have extraordinary gifts, they are viewed with suspicion and fear by the adults in their lives.

Eventually the three girls find Lone, who left the Prodds when the couple was expecting a baby and is now living alone in the woods near the now abandoned house that Evelyn lived in. The girls and Lone begin to work together, forming the first parts of the gestalt creature. Eventually Lone returns to the Prodd farm and finds his only friend despondent. It seems that the child was not what he ad expected, and the disappointment is made even more bitter due to the child's apparent disability. Prodd recognizes the child, described as a "mongoloid", as properly being part of the gestalt, and takes him back to Evelyn's house, but first using his mental abilities to convince Prodd that his wife didn't die but instead took the child and went to visit Pennsylvania. With the telepathic Lone, the telekinetic Janie, the teleporting Bonnie and Beanie, and finally, the computing Baby, the gestalt is now complete. Lone continues to visit Prodd, and decides to help him with his truck that continually gets stuck in the mud by asking Baby to devise a way to prevent that from happening. Displaying the awesome powers of the new entity, Baby devises an anti-gravity device, which Lone installs on Prodd's truck. The fact that Prodd has left to go find his wife in Pennsylvania makes this something of a futile gesture, but the power and the idiocy, of the new life form is demonstrated. The true revelation is that while at first glance one might think that Lone is the one referred to by the title The Fabulous Idiot, the reference is to the gestalt as a whole: capable of almost accidentally creating and building wondrous items of technology, but not capable of thinking of a use for them better than to install them on a rusting abandoned truck.

While The Fabulous Idiot starts as a confused jumble that works towards coherence, much like the gestalt entity, Baby Is Three is told with a clinical, and almost cynical detachment. This entire section is told as a flashback, with Gerry Thompson, the new head of the gestalt, consulting with a psychiatrist in an effort to recover his lost memory. Thompson replaced Lone when the older man died, becoming the new telepathic "head" of the gestalt. But even though Thompson is much more intelligent than Lone ever could be, he is also a child when he inherits the role, whereas Lone, although an idiot, was an adult. Consequently, they gestalt is forced to seek out Evelyn's sister Alicia and take refuge with her, leading to conflict as their close-knit group offends Alicia's conventional ideas about society. By giving the story a viewpoint character that would be the voice of society at large in the form of Alicia, Sturgeon is able to revisit the questions of racism and the treatment of the handicapped that he touched upon in the first part of the story. Each time Alicia tries to impose her ideas about how society should function upon the gestalt, Gerry and Janie fight back, keeping their little group together. The story features several 1950s era ideas about psychiatry, and in the end the mystery of Gerry's missing memory is solved by finding "recovered memories", a concept that is now regarded as dubious at best. On the other hand, Gerry lost his memory as a result of the use of his telepathic powers, so it is difficult to draw any conclusions about psychiatry in general from his treatment.

The final section of the story is told from yet another amnesiac viewpoint character, this time Air Force Lieutenant Hip Barrows, fresh out of the insane asylum and jail. He is nursed back to health by Janie and slowly recovers his memories that include Gerry's attempts to drive him insane and kill him. This portion of the story illustrates the dangers of the gestalt, as Gerry is unstable, and as a result of his tumultuous upbringing, probably a sociopath. Once he killed Alicia, and realized that he could do such things with impunity to those around him, erasing and altering memories to cover up his actions, his innate paranoia caused him to become a monster. And because he was a monster, the entire gestalt became a monster. But it is the kind of monster that is created when an unreasoning child is gifted with unlimited powers. Because the gestalt is formed of those on the fringes of society and is dreadfully and painfully alone, it never had an opportunity to develop a sense of empathy towards those around it. Lone is almost certainly mentally retarded, and is treated with the disdain that society of the time handed out to those with mental handicaps. Janie was the unwanted child of an alcoholic mother and abandoned by her father. Bonnie and Beannie are impoverished black children living in a society that institutionalized discrimination against them. Gerry is an orphan handed over to the state and raised by adults who were alternatively uncaring and abusive. Alicia's efforts to inculcate the parts of the gestalt with what she believed were proper mores fails, both because she tried to instill in them mores that would have destroyed the gestalt, and because she attempted to pass on human values, and although the gestalt is similar to a human, it is not a human. Janie's efforts in trying to aid Hip are a desperate attempt to avert the growing monster and force the gestalt to grow to maturity. In the end, Hip is healed, and even though it did not know it was sick, so is the gestalt. In the final pages of the book, the gestalt begins to hear from other similar entities, revealing that even though it thought it was alone, it was not.

More Than Human is a sterling example of what science fiction can be when it is at its best. Using the vehicle of the genre, Sturgeon was able to examine delicate issues such as racism and demonstrate just how foolish the notions held by society were. But the book also explores the issue of identity and loneliness. For much of the book, the gestalt believes itself to be the only one of its kind, and as a result it has to grope towards understanding itself. An unanswered question raised by the book is the question of the individual components of the gestalt. As Hip discovers, any part of the gestalt could be replaced, making it an effectively immortal entity. But what of the individual parts? They are both themselves, and part of a greater whole. What if, as is implied might happen, Hip and Janie form a sexual relationship and have a child? Would that child be part of the gestalt too? What if the child had no capabilities that would allow it to join the gestalt? Would it be raised by a collective, but be condemned to be forever outside looking in? More Than Human raises as many questions as it answers, which is a hallmark of truly great science fiction. But it also explores what it means to be human, and what it might mean to be something else, living among humans and blindly groping towards establishing one's own identity. This book is Sturgeon at his most poetic, most insightful, and most brilliant.

1953 International Fantasy Award Winner: City by Clifford D. Simak
1955 International Fantasy Award Winner: A Mirror for Observers by Edgar Pangborn

What are the International Fantasy Awards?

International Fantasy Award Best Fiction Book Winners

1954 International Fantasy Award Nominees

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Review - Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time by Michael Shermer

Short review: Some people believe in odd, weird, and downright crazy things like UFO abductions, creationism, psychic powers, and holocaust denial. Almost all of their ideas are wrong, and this book explains why.

Belief in weird things
May be unexplainable
Shermer still tries to

Full review: Why People Believe Weird Things probably should have been titled Weird Stuff People Believe, and Why They Are Wrong. On the other hand, the subtitle of the book, Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time, pretty much sums up what the book describes. Through the book Michael Shermer systematically debunks pseudoscience and superstition while making what seems to be a mostly unsuccessful attempt to explain why people are so persistently attached to beliefs such as holocaust denial and creationism that are simply demonstrably wrong as a matter of fact.

In his forward to the book, Stephen Jay Gould explains the need for skepticism, and the dangers of accepting pseudoscience as fact, drawing a connection between Michael Shermer's efforts and Carl Sagan's similar body of work. With that preliminary out of the way, Shermer begins the hard work of trying to unravel what it is about superstitious nonsense that draws fervent believers. Shermer opens by discussing his own credulous acceptance of various "weird things" that he indulged in to bolster his efforts at competitive cycling, detailing his various efforts to gain a competitive advantage. At one point, he and a group of cyclists sent several samples of a single person's blood for "cryptoxic blood testing", and in response received as many different diagnoses as they had sent samples. Finally, Shermer was working with a nutritionist who told him massive doses of megavitamins would help him win, and placed him on a regimen. The pills nauseated Shermer, so he began simply spitting them out when his nutritionist wasn't looking. At that point, Shermer realized that perhaps taking all claims at face value wasn't a particularly good idea.

Shermer uses the next section to sketch out what skepticism is, and how it relates to science. He then turns to defining pseudoscience and pseudohistory, explaining how each one respectively differs from real science and real history. A particularly notable example concerns attempts by an actual historian to point out the fallacies engaged in by a proponent of an Afrocentric pseudohistory that culminates in her dean telling her that "everyone has a different equally valid view of history", and that it didn't matter that what the Afrocentrist was claiming was physically impossible. Pseudoscience and pseudohistory start with their conclusions and seek out supporting evidence, real science and history start with the evidence and draw conclusions from that, no matter how uncomfortable or painful those conclusions may be.

Following on his description of what science is, and how it differs from pseudoscience, Shermer provides twenty-five fallacies describing how people fool themselves. Three are problems with scientific thinking, and which a careful scientist (and an honest skeptic) has to be on guard against. Eleven are common fallacies that are used by pseudoscientists and pseudohistorians to bolster their unreliable claims. Seven are common logical fallacies, and the remaining three are psychological problems with human cognition. In each case, Shermer explains what the fallacy is, how to identify it when it is used, how it affects human perception, and describes how to avoid falling victim to it, both in one's own thinking and when evaluating claims made by others. This chapter, more than any other, does the job of explaining "why people believe weird things". Or more accurately, how people fool themselves and others into believing weird things.

At this point the book shifts to specific examples of the weird things that people believe, and the reasons their beliefs are simply unfounded. One by one Shermer takes on E.S.P., near death experiences, cryonics, alien abduction stories (including a near surgical dismantling of the "alien autopsy" video), witch crazes both in the medieval period and the modern day, including an analysis of how accusation webs perpetuate and an examination of the "recovered memory" phenomenon, and the bizarre personality cult that has sprung up around Ayn Rand. Shermer then devotes a substantial portion of the book to debunking creationism and holocaust denial, in the process pointing out the parallels between the two systems of pseudo-belief. Along the way he dissects twenty-five common creationist arguments, most of which are still used by shills for creationism despite these arguments having been discredited years ago. As debunking holocaust deniers is Shermer's specialty, he spends an entire chapter of the book comprehensively demolishing their claims and demonstrating exactly how their claims of being unfairly persecuted as anti-Semites simply don't hold up to scrutiny. As detailed in the book, they are anti-Semites, and their claims that the holocaust was fabricated are simply unsupportable.

Although Why People Believe Weird Things is only somewhat successful at its stated objective of explaining why people continue to adhere to superstition and pseudoscience despite all the evidence to the contrary, it is a brilliant deconstruction of the various confused and illogical positions espoused by those people. Each of the pseudo-beliefs addressed in the book are thoroughly and completely debunked with ruthless efficiency. If one is not so much concerned with why people believe silly things, but is instead interested in why they are wrong to do so, this is a brilliant book. Even if one's primary interest is "why" this is still a worthwhile book, and well worth reading.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Review - Second Skin, Too by Peter Darrach

Short review: A cartoon-like villain foments war between Earth and Mars. Meanwhile, Elaine gains Max's super-powers, which should surprise no one given the title of the book

Earth wants minerals
Mars wants to keep everything
Max visits T'chell

Disclosure: I received this book as a Review Copy. Some people think this may bias a reviewer so I am making sure to put this information up front. I don't think it biases my reviews, but I'll let others be the judge of that.

Full review: Second Skin, Too is the sequel to Second Skin and the second book in the trilogy of the same name. Taking place shortly after the events of the first volume, the book follows Max Cody, recently enhanced with super powers, as he attempts to prevent an interplanetary conflict between Earth and Mars. Shorn of its need to provide quite as much explanatory exposition as the first book, this installment picks up the pace a bit, and that proves to be both good and bad. It is good in the sense that there is more plot and character development, but it is bad in the sense that when one sits back to think about these elements, they frequently don't make a whole lot of sense. The end result is a book that is moderately interesting, but ultimately isn't much more than a diverting way to spend a couple hours.

As with Second Skin, Second Skin, Too starts with an action sequence in which the reader follows an intruder as he infiltrates what is supposed to be a secure area. The main difference between Suicide Sam's assault on a Martian military vessel and Nigel Deftly's infiltration into a Martian prison to free Gilberto Mendoso and Artemesia Glittereski, imprisoned at the end of Second Skin, is the the level of lethal violence employed. Whereas Sam casually slaughtered the crew of the doomed navy cruiser, Nigel manages to accomplish his mission without killing anyone. This reluctance to kill seems unique to Nigel, as everyone else in the book seems to consider randomly beating and killing people on the way to one's objectives to be more of less par for the course. And it is this level of random violence that makes the book both so action-packed and monotonous.

The overarching plot of the book relates to the increasing political tension between Earth and the newly independent Mars. In a fit of grandiosity, the freshly minted Martian government laid claim to the entire solar system from the orbit of Mars outwards, an assertion of authority that Earth is understandably less than pleased about. On the other hand, Earth has no facility like MOSA or MOSA II that could process the bounty provided by the asteroid belt, and shows no interest in building one, which makes their assertion of competing authority seem somewhat hollow and meaningless. Even if Earth had a practical means of reaping the benefits of the asteroid belt, it is glaringly obvious that Mars could not possibly maintain any kind of control over the vast area of the asteroid belt - Mars doesn't actually occupy its entire orbit, and even if Mars and Earth were aligned, Mars would be further away than the Earth from the portion of the asteroid belt on the opposite side of the Sun, meaning that Earth would have an advantage in trying to get there at those times. Consequently, the entire idea of Mars "claiming" the asteroid belt, let alone the entirety of Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus, all of their moons, as well as the Kuiper Belt, is almost ludicrous on its face.

Nonetheless, in Second Skin, Too tensions over asteroid belt mining rights have brought both worlds to the brink of war, and to try to avert it, Mars decides to send a delegation to attempt a negotiated settlement. Because he is the hero of the book, Max Cody joins the expedition for more or less contrived reasons, as does his fiance Elaine. So everyone heads for Earth as part of the ambassadorial entourage, armed with the knowledge that someone from Earth had liberated Gilberto and Artemesia, and that the same unknown individual probably also kidnapped Denis Dermott, a scientist working on the top secret Martian teleportation based p-drive. After a brief trip, they arrive and are sent to Mauritius, a rather obscure island in the Indian Ocean, which seems like an odd choice for a diplomatic summit.

But before too long we learn why Mauritius was chosen: it is conveniently near a corporate installation owned by the industrialist and arms merchant Xanthus Rex, who serves as the not-so-subtle villain of the story. This lack of subtlety is somewhat disappointing, as Xanthus is such a scenery chewing over-the-top villain who is so boorishly clumsy that one has to wonder how he came to wield the influence that he displays in the book. Xanthus is presented and treated like a clever schemer, but he is more of a bull in a china shop than a sleek barracuda. He is desperate to instigate a war between Earth and Mars so as to get his hands on Martian resources, and to get the advanced Martian technology represented by the p-drive. But to get his way he engages in the most ham-fisted array of techniques one could imagine. At one point he decides that he has to figure out the secret of Max's unusual abilities, but rather than try to bribe Max, or do anything more sneaky first, he sends a band of thugs to try to beat Max up. When that doesn't work, he tries to kill Max by throwing him off a boat into shark-infested water. And when that doesn't work he kidnaps Elaine and shoots her, threatening to let her die unless Max divulges his secrets.

And that's the way Xanthus handles pretty much every situation. When trying to steal the secrets of the Martian p-drive, Xanthus doesn't try to bribe someone, or hack into the project's computers and steal the data, or any other sensible method. Instead, he kidnaps one of the scientists on the project and gives him hallucinogenic drugs to try to manipulate him into working for Xanthus. Xanthus kills the scientists working for him in an almost offhand manner, for no real apparent reason, and pointlessly alienates many of his underlings. Not only that, several of his gambits seem to be almost entirely pointless as well - had he managed to kill Max by tossing him into shark-infested waters, how would that have helped him to unravel the secret of whatever gave Max his powers? Leaving aside the fact that the "secret" is bonded to Max, a fact that Xanthus has no way of knowing, killing Max by casting his body into the ocean would mean that his body would be lost, and likely the technology he was using would have been as well. Like so many of Xanthus' other plots, this seems short-sighted and poorly thought out.

This sort of blunt force method of persuasion leaks out to the other characters in the book as well. Xu, a genetically modified space pilot who starts the book in the employ of Xanthus, is sent with Gilberto to try to make contact with Suicide Sam's gang, with the stated objective of inducing them to foment discord on MOSA. Xu's method of persuading Sam to support Xanthus' ambitions is to show up uninvited in his hideout and start a fight with his men, killing half of them before blasting her way out. Supposedly, this works, but Sam's men seem to have almost no impact on the impending hostilities. This sort of negotiation style is endemic throughout the book: when Martian Navy Lieutenant Sandra James goes undercover to work on the MOSA docks to look for trouble, she secures her job by punching the shift supervisor in the mouth when she meets him. Maybe I've just led a sheltered life, but in my experience socking your potential supervisor in the jaw is generally the way to screw up a job interview, not a way to get yourself hired.

Amidst all the punching people in the head to get them to join sides, tensions between Earth and Mars ratchet up, with the Earth holding a substantial edge in military equipment despite being starved for raw materials. Gilberto's net contribution to the effort to undermine Mars seems to be lying about as an invalid after a particularly difficult space flight back from Earth (having been kidnapped and taken there at Xanthus' behalf, only to be almost immediately drugged and returned to Mars, also at Xanthus' behest). Artemesia helps put together a fake propaganda video, an endeavor she has second-thoughts about, but that video is almost immediately shown to be a fraud, and the Earth government, which had thrown its support behind an invasion of Mars, immediately reverses course. Suicide Sam makes a couple of desultory appearances in the book, having almost no impact on the plot at all before he is summarily dispatched by Max. All in all, almost no plot elements from the first book other than Max's newly developed superpowers have any real effect on the plot of this book.

Max more or less accidentally bestows his superhuman powers upon Elaine while trying to save her life, and she becomes the "too" in the title. Max and Elaine discover a new collection of super powers, and both wind up in the "Tavern at the Edge of Time" and meet with its seemingly immortal proprietor T'chell. This element, foreshadowed since the beginning of the first book, is something of a disappointment as it turns out that Max's encounter with the alien was purely accidental, and the source of Max's powers was an almost trivial fix-up. Given that the first two books have been about human politics, introducing mysterious and inscrutable aliens into the mix seems like something of a left turn for the series, but then again most of the elements from the first book didn't have much impact on the second book, so one would probably expect the same to hold true for the transition from the second to the third.

In the end, Xanthus goes into full-on comic book villain mode, commandeering the Earth invasion fleet by impersonating its commanding admiral. Following a lifetime of abuse, Xu decides to switch sides and joins up with Mars for the climatic showdown. Nigel attempts to steal the p-drive technology amidst the fighting, but is foiled by a debilitated scientist wearing magic pants, and Max and Elaine use their super powers to save the day.

Overall, while Second Skin, Too manages to avoid many of the pitfalls that ensnared Second Skin, it has its own set of problems. The plot of this book is poorly connected to the plot of the first book, and many of the plot threads in this volume simply peter out. The plot points that do ripen to fruition are presented at an almost frenzied pace, and instead of the intrigue and skullduggery the book aspires to describe, the reader is given a collection of loosely connected lethal brawls. Many of the troubles in the book are directly traceable to the unbelievability of Xanthus as the villainous mastermind - his machinations are simply too clumsy to make him a credible criminal kingpin. And without a viable villain, the rest of the book more or less just falls apart, and is made almost surreal by the introduction of the T'chell. Second Skin, Too is a book that is perhaps too ambitious, and tries to incorporate too many elements, and as a result is too unfocused with too many moving parts to hold together.

Previous book in the series: Second Skin
Subsequent book in the series: Tavern on the Edge of Time
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Monday, September 24, 2012

Musical Monday - Apostrophe: A Grammatical Lament by The Doubleclicks

The Doubleclicks are on a East coast tour right now with Molly Lewis. Sadly, due to prior commitments, I will not be able to go see them when they come to play in Alexandria this Friday. This makes me sad, kind of like a lonely apostrophe. This song encapsulates a love of grammar with the inherent sadness of seeing it misused. I think that we need more songs about grammar and how terrible it is to be a much abused punctuation mark.

I don't think it is possible for me to adequately express how much I love the Doubleclicks and their music. In addition to being incredibly nice, witty, and interesting women, they write brilliant music with fantastic lyrics. I think that I love them mostly because their songs are not just about nerdy things, but are about nerdy things in an insightful, clever, and funny way. They don't just point to a nerdy thing and say "Hey, we're in the club, let's laugh at this funny nerdy thing." They take off-kilter topics, run them through their delightfully nerdy brains, and then make them even better than they were before.

Previous Musical Monday: Our Biggest Challenge by Symphony of Science

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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Review - Analog Science Fiction and Fact: Volume CXXIX, No. 12 (December 2009) by Stanley Schmidt (editor)

Stories included:
To Climb a Flat Mountain, Conclusion by G. David Nordley
Formidable Caress by Stephen Baxter
Wilderness Were Paradise Enow by H. G. Stratmann
The Jolly Old Boyfriend by Jerry Oltion
The Universe Beneath Our Feet by Carl Frederick
A Flash of Lightning by Robert Scherrer

Science fact articles included:
Plate Tectonics, Goldilocks, and the Late Heavy Bombardment: Why Earth Isn't Mars or Venus by Richard A. Lovett

Full review: Overall, this is not a very good issue. With really only two decent stories and a bunch of clunkers, this issue seems even more disappointing coming on the heels of the less than stellar November issue of Analog. One weak issue once in a while is merely annoying, two weak issues in a row is a disturbing trend that I hope is reversed soon.

As the most famous author with a story in this issue, Stephen Baxter gets the cover illustration for his Formidable Caress. Unfortunately, being written by a famous author doesn't prevent the story from being fairly uneven in quality. While the setting - a collection of civilizations on interlinked layers each moving at different relativistic speeds, and thus experiencing a different flow of time - is interesting and well-laid out, as are the interactions between the inhabitants of the various layers, the artificial intelligence character seems to be fairly dim, relying upon the human protagonist for information about the periodic "formidable caresses". In the end, the "formidable caress" element of the story seems not particularly interesting and figuring them out seems like it should have been a trivial exercise for the artificial intelligence. The central mystery of the story, focusing on the nature of humanity's "effigies", ends up mostly unresolved and what resolution there is comes out of left field and is completely unrelated to any of the story that preceded it, giving the story a somewhat unsatisfactory feel.

The issue also contains the second half of G. David Nordley's two part To Climb a Flat Mountain. As I said in concerning the first half, a decent conclusion could raise the story from mediocre to good. However, the second half of the story actually moves the rating the other direction, as a somewhat interesting setting and moderately interesting opening is wasted with a "super powerful aliens save the day" twist. The story chugs along in fairly predictable fashion until aliens start resurrecting dead people, reveal that the cube world is indeed an artificial construct, and tell everyone they can go home or not, depending on what they want to do. And then they tie everything up with a big bow and give humanity a figurative kiss. Needless to say, I found the resolution fairly disappointing.

Also featuring super powerful aliens is H.G. Stratmann's Wilderness Were Paradise Enow, featuring the return of Katarina and Martin originally introduced in The Last Temptation of Katerina Savitskaya. Picking up right where the previous story left off, our intrepid explorers are now presented with an awesome choice by the aliens they encountered on Mars. To explain too much of the story would give everything away, so I'll just say that the shape of the future of humanity is at stake and the wrong choice could be fatal. The story is probably the best of the issue, even though in many issues it would be merely middle of the pack.

The Jolly Old Boyfriend by Jerry Oltion is this year's designated December Christmas story, and like most Christmas stories in Analog, the Christmas element seems fairly forced. Thankfully, this story about the return of an apparently dead boyfriend is fairly short, although it is highly predictable and not particularly interesting. Carl Frederick's The Universe Beneath Our Feet is told from an alien viewpoint and requires the reader to unravel exactly what is going on. It is a hard science fiction story, so it all makes sense and everything becomes clear in the end. There's not much to the story, and I would have liked more from the story, as it seemed to end just when things got interesting.

Richard A. Lovett contributes another excellent science fact article Plate Tectonics, Goldilocks, and the Late Heavy Bombardment: Why Earth Isn't Mars or Venus, which seems kind of apropos considering the nature of the fictional events in the background of Wilderness Were Paradise Enow. I have begun to wonder where Lovett finds the time to write as much as he does though: he seems to have a story or article (or both) in almost every recent issue of Analog, and all seem to be thoroughly researched and well-written. Seriously, the man must never sleep.

The combination of Wilderness Were Paradise Enow and Lovett's sceince fact article manage to rescue this issue from being a total loss. Baxter's contribution is also not a complete waste, although it clearly is not his best work. The rest of the issue is pretty much filler at best. Even the installment of Probability Zero is weakly executed. This was, in short, an underwhelming issue full of mediocrity.

Previous issue reviewed: November 2009
Subsequent issue reviewed: January/February 2010

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Saturday, September 22, 2012

30 Days of Genre - What Is Your Favorite Book Trailer for a Genre Novel?

These are the sorts of questions that highlight just how idiosyncratic of a book blogger I am. Whereas it seems that most of my fellow book bloggers are plugged into the world of upcoming releases, exciting book trailers, and fan-made soundtracks for books, I find myself mucking about with cheap paperbacks published a decade or more before I was born, or collections of short stories that appeared in pulp magazines back when there was still a thriving pulp magazine industry.

So, the problem for me for this question is that most of the books I read and review don't actually have book trailers, that sort of thing being in the far future when they were published and marketed. And for the books I read that are recent enough to have book trailers, I just don't watch them. The truth is that I had never even heard of a book trailer until I started doing the 30 Days of Genre meme. So my range of choices is fairly limited, both by the nature of the books I read and my own personal lack of experience looking at book trailers.

So, I'll pick a book that I like that happens to be one of the few books that I have seen the book trailer that goes with it. The Dust of 100 Dogs (read review) by A.S. King is a brilliant book about Saffron, a poor girl in modern day Pennsylvania, and Emer, an Irish pirate in the 16th century, and their oddly intertwined lives, as well as the curse that requires Emer to live out a hundred lives as a dog. I have no idea how the trailer for this book matches up to trailers for other books, but I loved this book, so I figure that's as good a reason as any to choose this as my favorite trailer. Because a trailer is supposed to promote a book, and anyone who picks up this book is going to enjoy reading it.

As long as I'm at it, I may as well point out that the other brilliant book by A.S. King that I have read is Please Ignore Vera Dietz (read review), and it also has a fun trailer to watch. I didn't select Vera Dietz here, but that is only because the book is not really a genre book, although it does have some genre-like elements. In any event, I'm going to put that book trailer here too, because I can. I hope that you enjoy both of the trailers.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Book Blogger Hop September 21st - September 27th: Alice Cooper's First Top Ten Hit Was "I'm Eighteen"

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books has restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them. A complete explanation of the history and the rules of the Hop can be found here.

This week Jen asks: What is one thing that your blog readers probably do not know about you?

This is a mildly difficult question to answer, because I have been fairly open about most of the somewhat unusual things about me. Anyone who has read this blog for any amount of time would know that I am a lawyer, I work for the Federal government, I lived in Africa for several years, I went to a boarding school for high school, and I hold a black belt in Tae Kwon Do.

I suppose I will go with the thing that surprises people the most in real life, which is that I was a fairly serious athlete in high school, although I was a fairly monomaniacal one. I earned seven varsity letters in high school, all in cross-country or track, and I was All-State in cross-country my 6th form year.

Go to previous Book Blogger Hop: William Holden Starred in the Movie Stalag 17

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Follow Friday - Seventy-Seven Is the Smallest Positive Integer to Require Five Syllables in English

It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the two Featured Bloggers of the week - Northern Plunder and The Authoress.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: What hyped up book do you think was worth all the talk?

This week's question and I'm going to go to the inverse of last week's answer and pick Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (or, the original title which doesn't assume the reader is illiterate, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone). I know that choosing this book means that I am bypassing jumping in on the Hunger Games (read review) bandwagon, and although I think that the Hunger Games did live up to its hype, I think the first Harry Potter book did so even better, at least for me.

I know that last week I picked Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as the book that most failed to live up to its hype, and I stand by that assertion. But the first book in the series was an entirely different kettle of fish. When the first Harry Potter book came out, I didn't really pay much attention. It was a fantasy series for kids, and I was busy sucking in as much science fiction as I could get my hands on. But my brother read them and was converted, and then spent his time telling me I should read them. It wasn't until he sent me the first three books in the series as a Christmas present that I actually deigned to read them. And he was absolutely right. The books were great, and completely lived up to the press they were getting. The series slowly slid downhill later, but the first book more than lived up to the attention it was given.

Go to subsequent Follow Friday: A Typical Tarot Deck Has Seventy-Eight Cards

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Review - The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov

Short review: Andrew Harlan and the other Eternals guard humanity by changing time. But their "help" may turn out to be not so helpful after all.

Travel throughout time
For humanity's safety
And that's the problem

Full review: Asimov is most famous for writing his Robot books and the Foundation series, but I think his stand alone novels are among his best works. This is one of his best - a time travel story that avoids creating a situation in which time paradoxes weigh the story down while pointing out some of the troubles time travel might cause, even if applied for apparently benevolent purposes.

Asimov liked time travel stories. His catalogue of short stories is full of them, but this appears to be his only time travel novel. The central character, Andrew Harlan, is a member of the Eternals, an organization that controls time travel technology, and as a result, controls history. The organization is run for generally benevolent purposes, and seeks to protect humanity from danger. Harlan travels through time "fixing" small events to prevent the development of dangerous technology, and protect humanity from itself. Unfortunately, as the plot develops, it turns out that this benevolence comes at a cost, and protecting humanity from danger also means protecting it from opportunity, leading to stagnation and death.

Though Asimov's characters are generally seen as somewhat one-dimensional, the character of the protagonist in this novel makes sense (even if he is a bit wooden). What truly drives this book is its examination of the implications of time travel, even if it were to be used wisely (and not, for example, to go back and create a time paradox by killing your own grandfather before he sired your father). This is one of Asimov's best works, and one of the reasons he is considered to be one of the "Big Three" of the genre.

1956 Hugo Award Finalists

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Review - For Us, the Living by Robert A. Heinlein

Short review: Perry falls forward into the future and finds a utopia built on nonsense.

Jump to the future
Find a utopian world
Too bad it's nonsense

Full review: This novel was not published until after Heinlein's death, but was written by him in 1938 or 1939, and consequently has been called Heinlein's first novel. When reading the novel it quickly becomes apparent why no publisher wanted to release it when Heinlein originally tried to sell it: the book simply isn't that good. It would also have been unsalable in the 1930s with its open attitude towards sex, and almost offhanded acceptance of lesbianism. The story, such as it is, follows Perry who is catapulted from a fatal accident in 1936 forward 150 years to the U.S.A. of the future. The reader is then treated to a badly written utopian fantasy that only makes sense if you assume that the entire book is merely Perry's dying brain spinning an elaborate delusion in the last seconds of his life.

The novel shows glimpses of ideas that Heinlein would flesh out and make interesting in other books. One can see the first elements of his future history here, including Neimiah Scudder, the development of Coventry as a place to store disaffected exiles, the use of psychology to treat criminals rather than using a penal system, and so on. Many of Heinlein's ideas are here in embryonic form as well: The idea that government should leave people's social relations solely up to them, an advocacy for an open "free-love" type arrangement between the sexes, and so on.

But the novel is saddled with characters so wooden that you get splinters reading about them. The novel is so didactic that much of it is nothing more than characters giving long lectures on the "correct" ways of doing things. The economic system presented in the novel is ludicrous in the extreme (and is clearly one that only an engineer could love) that has so many things wrong with it that it would be difficult to list them all (some of the most glaring are that the system presented is a recipe for hyperinflation, demonstrates an abject lack of knowledge concerning how banks work, and clearly has no grasp of the time value of money). The social system presented (in the same heavy handed moralizing manner as the economic system) is just as silly, requiring characters to behave in inhuman ways to make it work. The novel is almost as annoying as Bellamy's Looking Backward or Star Trek: The Next Generation, littered with repeated statements about how the humans of the future are so superior to those who lived in the past (the extended lecture supposedly demonstrating why Congress is so much better run in 2086 is simultaneously absurd and offensive).

One element that is clear is that the young Heinlein had an almost child-like faith in the ability of government to cure all ills. Political campaigns are regulated by the government, which makes politicians better. The government takes over banks, which makes them better. The government runs the economy on an engineering basis, which makes it better, and on and on.

The end result is a novel that is boring to read when it isn't making your head hurt with the incredibly silly ideas that are presented as being incredibly good ideas. The book is really only of interest to a Heinlein fan looking to see the development of Heinlein's thought process. For anyone else, this book is simply not worth the time it takes to read it.

2005 Locus Award Nominees

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Musical Monday - Our Biggest Challenge by Symphony of Science

Once again Symphony of Science gives us a collection of scientists singing about reality in a way that reveals the true poetry in the universe, and the true dangers we face in our future. Two kinds of people will hate this video: (1) people who hate autotune, and (2) people who think global warming is a myth. And I don't care, because this video has Isaac Asimov singing about how we need to have global cooperation for global problems. It also has Bill Nye, Richard Attenborough, and David Alley, who are all cool guys and great advocates for science, but none of them are Isaac Asimov.

This song is unavailable on Amazon, but you can acquire it for free (or a donation of your choosing) on the Symphony of Science Collector's Edition.

Previous Musical Monday: Flash by Queen
Subsequent Musical Monday: Apostrophe: A Grammatical Lament by The Doubleclicks

Symphony of Science Playlist     Musical Monday Playlists

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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Review - Analog Science Fiction and Fact: Volume CXXX, Nos. 1 & 2 (January/February 2010) by Stanley Schmidt (editor)

Stories included:
Neptune's Treasure by Richard A. Lovett
Thus Spake the Aliens by H. G. Stratmann
The Possession of Paavo Deshin by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Simple Gifts by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff
Shame by Mike Resnick and Lezli Robyn
On Rickety Thistlewaite by Michael F. Flynn
Rejiggering the Thingamajig by Eric James Stone
A War of Stars by David L. Clements

Science fact articles included:
Twins: Never Identical by Victor Raggio, M.D.
Take Off Your Hat: You're in the Presence of Culture by Stephen R. Balzac

Special features included:
Making Reality Ring Untrue: Writer's Tricks for Bringing Stories to Life by Richard A. Lovett
Across My Life . . . by Ben Bova

Poems included:
Undocumented Alien by Robert T. Lundy

Full review: As usual in a double issue, this edition of Analog has more than the usual ups and downs, which is to be expected as it has more content. Unusual for a double issue, there are more ups than downs, resulting in a pretty good issue.

Brittney and Floyd return in Richard A. Lovett's Neptune's Treasure, a hard science story about finding evidence of aliens in the outer solar system. Having previously appeared in Brittney's Labyrinth the two companions, a taciturn outer system engineer and his hyper intelligent juvenile self aware AI continue their adventures in the even more dangerous territory of Neptune's moons (having left the relative safety of Saturn's moons). As usual, the story is well-executed and interesting. Lovett also contributes an article on effective fiction writing, focusing on making a story seem real by using indiosyncratic background details.

Also returning are H.G. Stratmann's Katerina Savistskaya and Martin Slayton in the story Thus Spake the Aliens, who had previously appeared in Wilderness Were Paradise Enow. This story picks up where that one left off, as Katerina, having apparently failed the aliens test in the previous story and doomed mankind to extinction, attempts to figure out a way to reverse this mistake. As usual, dealing with aliens of Godlike power is difficult at best, and Katerina and Martin muddle through to an ambiguous and somewhat hopeful ending.

Another story in the hard science fiction genre is A War of Stars by David L. Clements, which takes interstellar war to an extreme future without breaking any known laws of physics on the way. The future he describes is bleak and harsh, and in the end you aren't even sure who to root for.

Mike Resnick and Lezli Robyn contribute the story Shame, which seems to be a Western redressed as a science fiction story about a covert operation gone wrong, and the awful consequences of jumping to the wrong conclusions. The story is okay, but a little predictable. On Rickety Thistlewaite by Michael F. Flynn is also somewhat predictable, although its more exotic setting and strange court politics makes it more interesting.

Rejiggering the Thingamajig by Eric James Stone, featuring a sapient tyrannosaurus Buddhist, a buggy interstellar travel network, a sentient (and enthusiastic) gun and a less than honest help line is my favorite story of the issue. It is funny and serious, and accomlishes the difficult feat of merging these two elements without it seeming forced while telling an interesting story. Also humorous is the Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff story Simple Gifts, although the humor mostly emerges as it turns out that the seemingly simple minded aliens are not quite as simple minded as some of the humans seeking to trade with them believe.

My least favorite story was Kristine Kathryn Rusch's The Possession of Paavo Deshin in which terrible birth parents and terrible adoptive parents engage in a legal battle over a young boy. An opportunistic lawyer seeks to use the case to right a clear injustice in the structure of the laws humanity has bound itself too, but loses her will because she decides that an arrogant father is worse than a mobster father. Almost everyone in the story drips indifference for the boy at the center of it (which I think was kind of the point), but even those who supposedly care for his welfare are shockingly indifferent, and set up a situation where it is inevitable that more children will be subject to this sort of legal shuffle. Despite the fact that the story was well written I found myself just wanting every character in the story to die and get the misery over with.

Victor Raggio contributes the science fact article Twins: Never Identical, which discusses the genetic differences being found even in identical twins. The article doesn't offer much more than that, which is a pity, as drawing some conclusions or even engaging in some speculation based on this data would have been interesting. Stephen R. Balzac's fact article Take Off Your Hat: You're in the Presence of Culture is, in my opinion, a better article. It focuses on how culture is created and transmitted, and how this could be applied to science fiction stories. Ben Bova contributes a retrospective about his life as a science fiction editor and author in Across My Life . . . , which I found quite interesting.

Overall, with only one poor story (and it was only poor because I hated all the characters) and several good ones, this is an above average issue of Analog. Anyone who enjoys the straightforward mostly hard science fiction bent of Analog will not be disappointed by this issue.

Previous issue reviewed: December 2009
Subsequent issue reviewed: March 2010

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Saturday, September 15, 2012

30 Days of Genre - What Genre Novel Have You Read More Than Five Times?

This is kind of a difficult question for me, not because I haven't read a particular genre novel more than five times, but rather because I have read several, and it is mildly difficult do pick which one to highlight. I could pick The Lord of the Rings, but I have used so much of J.R.R. Tolkien's material already in the meme that choosing that book seems like I would run the risk of being a little repetitive. I could pick one of the many Asimov or Heinlein titles that I have read multiple times - Foundation, Starship Troopers, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, The Caves of Steel, and so on, but I write a lot about those guys anyway. I could go way into left field and pick one of my very idiosyncratic favorites like Ten Thousand Heroes by James Barbary, but that book is so obscure that citing it won't mean much to very many people, and it isn't really a genre novel anyway. After all of this, my pick is:

Dune by Frank Herbert

I've come back to Frank Herbert's saga of religious fanaticism and space opera several times, and each time I find something new in the story. The first time I was too young to get the allegory that Spice Melange represents, filling the role in the book's galactic empire that oil has in ours. That time I saw the attempt to make the unrealistic tropes of classic space opera - soldiers in the far future using swords, a world in which computers are oddly absent, and so on - plausible.

The next time through I saw the Spice/oil allegory. And then the dangers posed by the fanatical Fremen Fedaykin bodyguards for the messianic Paul Muad'dib Atredies, who had seemed so noble and admirable in earlier readings, became apparent with the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, and a novel in which prescience plays a major role came to seem oddly prescient. And on further readings the issue of prescience came to the fore, and what that would imply for humanity to have, at its head, a leader who could predict the future and take steps to eliminate those futures displeasing to him. I expect that the next time I read Dune, I will find something else about it that I hadn't seen before. The books that you want to reread are books like that, books that you can glean something new from each time you read them. Dune is that kind of novel.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Book Blogger Hop September 14th - September 20th: William Holden Starred in the Movie Stalag 17

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books has restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them. A complete explanation of the history and the rules of the Hop can be found here.

This week Jen asks: Highlight one of your favorite reviews from the past month!

The Sundered by Ruthanne Reid

Go to previous Book Blogger Hop: There Are Sixteen Myers-Briggs Personality Types
Go to subsequent Book Blogger Hop: Alice Cooper's First Top Ten Hit Was "I'm Eighteen"

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Follow Friday - There Were Seventy-Six Trombones in the Big Parade

It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the two Featured Bloggers of the week - Escapism and Readers Confession.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: What hyped up book do you think was not worth all the talk?

My answer is: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. To a certain extent, this is unfair, because there is almost no way a book could have lived up to the hype that the final installment of the Harry Potter series was subjected to. But the book that Rowling produced to cap off her signature series was simply not up to the task of even qualifying as a decent young adult fantasy, let alone the climax of a world wide phenomenon.

In some ways, the lackluster nature of Deathly Hallows was somewhat predictable. The Harry Potter series had been steadily declining in quality since Goblet of Fire, with each new book becoming more long-winded and pointlessly meandering than the previous one. Deathly Hallows, however, marked the nadir of the series. The book was interminably long, and large chunks of its length were made up of an endless camping trip during which nothing of any consequence happened. Potter himself does almost nothing for most of the novel, and then in the end, he defeats Voldemort more or less simply because he is faster on the draw than the evil wizard. Nothing that happens in the book is particularly surprising, or even particularly interesting. The final chapter, which was much hyped as having been written long before, was dull and lifeless. In the end, after all the hype, this book was simply limp and uninteresting, like having a bowl of cold porridge as the dessert following a steak dinner.

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